"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 37 The Lincoln Sea p439~455

Hollister looked about the area around the SHY LADY
was about as desolate as could be imagined. Cold, dark
and…dare he say it? Frightening to anybody with
imagination to see this place as it really was, a sterile
after world that destroyed the fragile body and devoured
men’s souls, was this really the mythical Hades of past?
They had been stuck in the ice for the last 17 days and
after the tenth day when it was obvious that the SHY
LADY wasn’t going anywhere, they started to unload the
dogs and equipment. The Inuit themselves had moved off
the ship, grateful for the freedom of space and set up a
camp on the ice.
Dunn, Mason, Hollister, Goodman, Sherman and
Michaels along with Peter and the other Eskimos spent a
lot of time working with the dogs and sleds. Dunn and
Mason didn’t have too many problems but Hollister was
a complete novice. He was losing weight and felt tired,
though he did his best not to show it. His muscles ached
and his hands were chapped and blistered. He hadn’t felt
like this in years, not since the war and for the life of him
couldn’t think of a more disagreeable, mean ass animal
than a working sled dog, they really were bastards and
sons of bitches! The white, once clean pristine snow
outside the ship was now littered with open boxes, scrap
wood, paper and dog shit, so much for arctic beauty.
MacDonald came on deck. “Hello Jack, taking in the
sights I see!”
“What there is of them,” said the newspaperman
glumly. It was easy to be so in this place.
“Get used to it Jack,” said MacDonald. “Where you
boys is going, there ain’t much else.”
“Yeah, and I thought I was the lucky one.”
“I don’t think it will be as bad as all that,” said the first
mate.
Hollister sighed. “How long do you think it will take us
to get there and back, Aesop?”
The black man shrugged his shoulders, “Don’t rightly
know, Jack. Four weeks, maybe six, maybe eight.
Nobody’s ever been there before, depends on the weather
and the ice, ya know.”
Hollister nodded, “Seen Isaac?” he asked. Tomorrow, he,
Peter and Dunn would be traveling to set up a second
supply depot. Mason and Sherman and a party of
Eskimos had just returned yesterday from setting up the
first one. Mason said that all went well, but from the
looks of him, the trip was possibly harder than he
expected.
MacDonald shook his head, “Naw, I haven’t seen him
since we knocked off ship’s work but my guess is he’s
probably with Ahnah some wheres in the Eskimo camp.”
Hollister agreed. The second mate had been spending a
lot of time with the scarred Inuit girl.
“He seems quite taken with her,” said Hollister.
MacDonald shrugged his shoulders, “He’s happy with
her. Lord knows he deserves some joy after all the shit in
his life.”
“Are you disappointed at not being included in the Pole
party?”
The first mate shook his head and smiled. “No Jack, I
can honestly tell ya I’m happy staying right here, it’s a
trip I certainly don’t want to make. Besides, somebody
has to take care of the old girl,” he said patting the ship’s
rail with a gloved hand, “while you’re all away.”
“That’s true and it does make me feel a little better.
But I’m telling ya, Aesop, as soon as we get back I want
to be on my way home.”
“As soon as we can Jack, believe me, I want to go home
too.”
The newspaperman nodded. “I know Aesop,” he sighed.
“Look, I’m gonna go below, I wanna get some sleep.
Tomorrow’s gonna be a busy day.”
MacDonald nodded. “Yeah Jack, get some sleep, you’re
gonna need it.”
Hollister walked down the creaking ladder leaving the
open darkness for the confined darkness below decks, he
had become accustomed to the wooden world which
sheltered him and no longer took exception to the smells
and sounds that his senses came in contact with.
Damned if it wasn’t cold. With the exception of the dogs
barking outside, it was quiet. Most of the Inuit were on
the ice as well as most of the crew. For a brief moment
Hollister felt as if he was the only man alive in this
frozen hell and it frightened him. He walked into his
small cabin. There at least he had some form of privacy.
There were two tin types of Nancy on a small shelf
attached to the bulkhead and an unfinished letter on his
bunk. He thought about writing an end to it but he knew
that was pointless. He’d be back before the letter would
ever reach her, well, probably. The only reason he started
writing it in the first place was because he felt it gave
them some form of connection with her which he so
desperately wanted at that moment. Maybe that was a
sign of age, wanting to be with someone, wanting to be
cared about. When he was younger, such a thing
concerned him in no major way, but now…well, the
concept was becoming more important to him and he
began to realize that he meant the words he spoke to
Nancy before he left.
He turned his attention to the notes he’d been taking
for the story. He had quite a few pages in the “rough” so
to speak. Enough to have a fair story even if they didn’t
find this mythical whale’s graveyard, which privately
Hollister began to have his doubts about, though this
place had an absence of life as he saw it, he could see
little point in whales swimming all this way to fucking
die when he was sure there were much more pleasant
waters in which to pass on in, though who was to say?
Mother Nature had surprised him more than once over
the last twenty years that was for damn sure. If such a
place did exist, this place would be transformed like the
gold towns out west, he was sure of that, man descending
on this place like a plague bringing every conceivable
vice with them, not that Hollister was against vice so
much but he did feel that it should be kept in its proper
place. He took off his boots and climbed into his messed
up bed. It was too cold to remove all his clothes, he was
alone and he didn’t care how he smelled, and besides
working with the dogs and carrying equipment out on to
the ice had exhausted him. Extinguishing the kerosene
lamp in his small space, Hollister closed his eyes and
drifted quickly into a dreamless sleep.
Mason leaned back in his chair and yawned loudly,
enjoying the somewhat brutish sound that he made in
the silence. His cabin was illuminated by two kerosene
lamps burning brightly, the light flickering like playful
creatures against his cabin bulkhead. It was easy to
imagine in this place, to see demons and angels however
one was so inclined. To lose one’s self, the line was so
thin in such an instance, and find religion or lose it. In
the end it didn’t matter much, if you went crazy that is.
He cracked his knuckles and flexed his fingers. It felt
good to back aboard the ship. His surroundings were
comforting and its familiarity soothed him. He made a
note to compliment Burger when time permitted, he had
done well keeping Mason’s cabin clean and tidy as well
as a word or two to the rest of the crew to let them know
that he appreciated what they had done thus far. A small
gesture, he knew but it would go a long way with them.
He also needed to remember to invite MacDonald,
Higgins and Hollister to dinner to show some gratitude
for their efforts as well as his own peace of mind, for
Mason needed conversation as much as any other to curb
his loneliness. There was much to be done, he never
thought for a moment it would be otherwise but for the
moment, he could afford to relax a little.
They had set up the first depot, 50 miles from their
current position, far enough away for a good start, close
enough to return if they’d forgotten something. They had
been running sleds for four days straight setting it up
with supplies and breaking in the dogs. Tomorrow, Dunn,
Hollister and Peter along with four other sled teams
would travel another 100 miles past the first depot and
load another load of supplies. He marked the chart, he
had decided on six supply depots, each marked with
black and white flags, evenly spaced at 100 foot intervals
for 500 feet in four directions, making it possible for
them to find the depots themselves, providing the pack
ice didn’t shift on them in any radical way that is. He
figured with what they were carrying up, it would work
out enough to get them back, he hoped.
It hadn’t taken long to get used to working with the
dogs again though he had to confess it wasn’t something
he enjoyed very much. He’d first learned to handle them
in Alaska as a young fur trader and later used them for
hunting expeditions when he first ventured to Greenland
to go whaling. He liked dogs but these were the meanest
bastards he’d ever had to deal with. They didn’t care who
they bit and sure as hell weren’t sorry when they did. He
had already chosen his team and started working with
them but the more time he spent with them, the more he
was convinced that he was being punished for the sins of
a past life. Damn dogs.
Mason sighed. To others he projected confidence and
authority but in the privacy of his own cabin he had
doubts that he told no one of. They had food and supplies,
knowledge of past expeditions and the right men but this
wasn’t winter in New England. This was the Arctic, one
of the most inhospitable places in the world, poor
planning and simple mistakes here were costly and
deadly. He didn’t have to remind his men, even the
dullest crewman would have figured that simple rule of
thumb very quickly by just seeing what was around them
which was nothing. Nobody wanted to be left behind here.
Another thing that lingered in the back of his mind was
Keelut and the things he had stolen. The missing glass
he could understand, but the chart? What was the
importance of that to him? He didn’t think he’d seen the
last of the troublesome Eskimo, there was that nagging
feeling that the drunk bastard would make his presence
known to them again, that was for sure.
He wondered about Mai-Ling and smiled. What book
had she picked off the shelf to read? Was she still
working on that afghan she was knitting or was it
finished? Did she and Bess finish the nursery? He was
sure that would be done by now. He imagined it full of
toys and other childish items. Did she consult the
Chinese fortune teller she knew in Boston? She said she
wouldn’t, saying it would be silly to do such a thing but
he knew that she would. Though she had been born in
America, the ways of the old country were deeply
ingrained into her, whether she liked to admit it or not.
She must be getting big. He wished he could be there but
by being where he was, he could give her and their
unborn child a better life, a positive note to his karma,
he hoped. This was not the time for past debts to be
collected, his luck better hold out. There was too much at
stake on this expedition. Well, enough of his private
thoughts. He needed to get back to ship’s business.
“Burger!” he yelled.
The ship’s steward poked his head into the captain’s
cabin. “Yes sir?”
“Tell, Ed to send that young ‘un of his to find Mr. Dunn
when he gets the chance and have him report to me.”
“Yes sir,” the steward nodded. “Right away sir” and he
left for the galley.
“Right away, my ass,” said Mason looking at the chart
again.
Timmy Reiner blew into his hands and rubbed them
together quickly in hopes of restoring some circulation
into his cold extremities. Winter at home didn’t compare
with this place, that’s for sure! He’d be sure glad to be
home again.
“Tim!” said Ed working over the stove. “Fetch me some
more wood, we need to keep this fire going so’s everyone
gets something hot in their bellies.”
“Ok Ed,” said the boy jumping off two crates of onions
they had picked up in Nova Scotia. The wood pile was
just outside the galley, something Tim was grateful for.
Grabbing an armful of wood, he walked back into the
galley and placed the wood on the deck. Grabbing a rag,
he opened the gate to the cast iron stove and after
stirring the hot orange embers a bit with a poker, he
tossed in two rough cut logs and shut the gate.
“Hey Ed, how’s come the captain, Mr. Dunn and the
Eskimos is running sleds with supplies?”
The old cook shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t rightly
know, Tim. Figure Captain Mason must have a good
reason.”
“You think he’d let me go with ‘ em, just once?”
Ed smiled, “Well, they’s pretty busy Tim. If’n ya wants
to help, help ’em load the sleds. Mr. MacDonald and Mr.
Dunn and them others can show ya how.”
“You know Ed, I bet ya’s I’m the only one in my school
that’s been this far north,” said the boy proudly.
“I dare say you’se right lad,” replied Ed. “But it’s
important you keep your wits about ya. This ain’t the
place to be day dreaming.”
“Ok Ed,” said the boy.
“Now make yourself useful and tell them’s on deck and
on the ice we got some food. After ya do that, you go find
Mr. Dunn and tell ‘im the captain wants to see him.”
“Ok Ed.” Walking out into the cold darkness, he found
a few men and relayed the cook’s message, for which they
were grateful. After going to the crew’s quarters and
telling those there that there was hot food, he walked off
the ship onto the ice. Once he stepped off the gangplank
he stomped his boots, an old habit from New England to
test the ice. Ed had told him they we’re actually locked
into a frozen sea and though he didn’t doubt what the old
cook had told him and that the chances of him falling
thru the ice here were pretty remote, still…
After telling those working on the ice that there was
warm grub waiting for them on board ship, he went in
search of the second mate.
Dunn stretched out on the warm furs of Ahnah and
Peter’s family shelter. Ahnah smiled as she watched little
Tah climb up on the man’s chest and stare intently into
the outsider’s face before breaking out into a fit of giggles.
“Oh what a mighty hunter I see in you!” said Dunn
lifting the little boy up and tickling him, Tah’s little feet
kicking in the air. The mate certainly had a way with
children.
Allawah reached out and took her son from Dunn. “It’s
time for you to sleep Tah.”
“But I want to play with Dunn!” protested the little boy.
Dunn grinned and tousled the boy’s dark hair. “Do as
your mother says, she knows best.”
“Are you and my father going away?” he asked.
Dunn nodded. “A short time, then we’ll be back.”
“Can’t I go with you?”
Peter leaned back and shook his head but happy that
his young son was so eager. “You must stay here. Young
men are needed in camp as well.”
“Can I go next time?” Tah asked.
“Perhaps,” answered his father. “Now lay down and
sleep, all hunters need rest.”
Dunn watched the little boy lie down with his mother.
“A fine boy, Peter,” he said.
Peter nodded, “He is my pride. I hope someday he will
lead this band.”
“He has a good man to follow,” said Dunn.
“Have you thought about tomorrow?” asked Peter.
Dunn nodded. “You and I will carry the biggest loads
for the second depot. We’ll have to watch Hollister but I
think he’ll be alright.”
“I could go with you,” suggested Ahnah, meaning the
Pole trip itself.
Dunn shook his head. “No, Ahnah, we’ve already
discussed this. You’ll have to help Aesop while we’re gone.
If something should happen…” he didn’t need to finish
the sentence.
“Maybe nothing will,” said Ahnah simply. She wanted
to be wrong, she wanted to be like a normal person.
Peter agreed with Dunn. “It is better that you stay. Our
people will need guidance if there is a problem.”
“I’m not the leader of this band PETER,” she said
emphasizing his name.
“No, you are my sister and Angakkug. The people
respect you, they will need someone strong.”
Ahnah looked towards the ground of the shelter,
averting her gaze from the others. “I’m not that person,”
she said quietly.
“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Dunn, his words not
exactly clear to her. “You have strength and if the time
comes when you need to use it you’ll know how.”
There was a knock on the tent pole and Tim poked his
head through the flaps. “Mr. Dunn, sir, Captain Mason
wants to talk to ya.”
Dunn nodded. “Thank you Tim. Would you like some
hot tea before we head back?”
The boy knew that he probably shouldn’t but it was
very cold outside and Mr. Dunn did make the offer. He
nodded his head. “Yes sir, Mr. Dunn, that would sure be
good, sir.”
“Alright lad, be polite and sit your ass down. Ahnah,
could you please get our young Tim some tea.”
The Inuit woman smiled. She had a soft spot for the
boy and the old cook he worked for. “Please Tim, sit,” she
said gesturing to a place.
The boy complied and removed his knitted wool cap,
after which he nodded to Sedna, who gave the boy a
toothless grin and to Peter who returned the nod.
“Welcome Tim,” said Peter.
Tim took a deep breath, trying to think of the proper
words, after all this was a chief’s tent, he certainly didn’t
want to make a mistake. “It…it is an honor, Chief Peter,”
the boy sputtered.
The older man smiled, “Peter is fine here, Tim.”
“Yes sir…Peter,” said Tim trying to relax. He hadn’t
spent too much time in such exalted company and he was
a little nervous.
Ahnah passed him some hot tea and seal blubber, for
which he thanked her for. Dunn noted with some
satisfaction that the boy overcame any squeamishness he
might have had and ate what was offered, very polite
indeed.
In the quiet, with the flickering light, Dunn thought
how peaceful it was. These people didn’t have much but
in a sense they had more than most people ever have in a
lifetime. They had their problems, that was only
natural and for the most part, their bickering was
limited. They were caring of their own and decisive on
matters of survival. Dunn was beginning to wonder why
he left a similar situation all those years before. He
sighed, he knew why. He had been attracted to a girl
then just as he was to Ahnah now. She wouldn’t leave her
people and at that time he had no desire to stay, but
now…
“I’m finished Mr. Dunn.”
Dunn looked at the cook boy, “I’m sorry Tim, what did
you say?”
“I’m finished Mr. Dunn, with my tea and food, I mean,”
said the boy.
Dunn smiled, “Alright lad, let’s head back and see what
Captain Mason wants, shall we?”
They left the Inuit camp and walked across the ice to
the SHY LADY. After boarding, Tim went to the galley
and Dunn made his way to Mason’s cabin. He knocked on
the door and heard Mason say “Enter” .
Walking in, he saw Mason sitting at his desk. “You
wanted to see me Captain?”
Mason nodded his head, “Yes, Isaac. You and Peter and
Hollister are going to set up the second depot tomorrow. I
want you to carry extra supplies for the first depot. We’ll
do the same for the others as we continue to move
forward. I want them well stocked.”
“I can understand that Captain, but that means we’ll
have to pack Hollister’s sled with more supplies. I don’t
think it’s a good idea sir, he’s still a novice.”
Mason looked at the second mate. “We don’t have much
choice. We need to set up those depots as soon as we can.
Hollister’s going to have to pull his load if he’s going with
us. Besides, it’ll be good practice for him.”
Dunn nodded his head. It would be pointless to argue
with Mason on this, besides he knew the captain was
right. “Very well captain, we’ll load up his sled as the
others.”
“Good,” said Mason, “any questions about tomorrow?”
Dunn looked at the chart. “The depot spacing looks
alright. If the ice holds, we should be ok.”
“That’s what I was thinking, when do you think the
drift will start?” asked the captain.
Dunn shrugged his shoulders, “Hell, I don’t know
Captain. That’s the trick, right? Get up there while the
ice holds and get back before it breaks up so we can get
out of here.”
“Yes, Mr. Dunn that is the trick,” agreed Mason.
“Well Captain, let’s work on the magic.”
And so they labored, sled teams moving from the ship
to the north, establishing the depots they would need to
accomplish the job they were sent to do. Surprisingly,
there were few accidents and with as many sleds
traveling back and forth even Tim and Ahnah made trips.
Being busy under the watchful eyes of MacDonald, Dunn
and Higgins helped to ward off the ill effects of the long
arctic night. Ed made sure everyone had hot food and the
incidents between the crew and Inuit were few. Even
Mason had to admit that he was surprised that things
were moving as smoothly as they were.
Hollister made repeated trips which at first he disliked
but understood that it was necessary if he was to be a
member of the Polar team. Over time he became more
proficient in handling the dogs and MacDonald taught
him enough elementary navigation so he could get from
point A to point B. He was beginning to understand the
real complexities of what they were trying to accomplish
and only hoped he would be able to write it up so the
people in New York would understand as well.
As Mason watched the progress of his people, so did
others. Keelut impatient as ever, wanted to attack,
Jenson was in agreement. He’d hoped to show the band
leader what he had accomplished. Lak and his
lieutenants ignored them. There would be little to gain in
an attack conducted so early but as Lak and the others
had already seen, Keelut and Jenson were not men
capable of thinking very far ahead. Keelut seemed to
think that if he persisted in his idea for attack, it would
show Lak strength. His persistence only irritated the
Eskimo leader until one day he felt the need to speak.
“Keelut,” asked Lak in a tight voice. “Why do the
outsiders stock food where they do?”
Keelut looked somewhat bewildered. “I…I don’t know,”
he stuttered.
“Nor do I,” said the older leader, “and that is what I
would like to know.”
“When will we take the ship?” asked the other in a
somewhat demanding tone.
“When I say so,” said Lak coldly. “Do you dispute me?”
“No, no Lak,” said Keelut backing off. “I would never do
that.”
“Know your place Keelut or you shall see the strength
of mine.”
Keelut bowed his head. Lak did not make idle threats.
“As you wish Lak…as you wish,” said the underling who
could see that change was needed. He left without
further comment.
Lak smiled. Keelut was almost too easy to understand
but a dangerous man none the less. A fool with a knife
can cut himself as well as others. Lak hoped he would do
so before the old renegade no longer needed him.

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