"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 39 A Feeling, A Bad Feeling p462~470

MacDonald walked about the ice inspecting the dark
wooden hull of the SHY LADY, his eyes a squint and his
breath coming out like puffs of smoke. It was his habit
every two days to walk completely around the outside of
the whaling ship, taking note of anything unusual. As of
yet, they had been fortunate, the old girl was holding up
well. But MacDonald knew that that could all change
very quickly, they had been lucky so far. They were stuck
in the pack ice and though they weren’t going anywhere,
they were safe for the time being.
The pole party had been gone for three weeks and since
that time, MacDonald had had his share of worries and
problems. The weather, the ice, crewmen not used to the
environment they found themselves in. Already, three
fights had forced MacDonald to move all the liquor and
keep it under lock and key. Two more men were blind
from drinking the alcohol they had brought for the cook
stoves after which he ordered the ship’s carpenter to
section off that section of the hold which once done was
locked down. He could do nothing for the blind men
except make them as comfortable as possible. It wasn’t
the first time, nor was he sure it would be the last that
he wished that they had carried a doctor aboard on this
trip. Normally, a whale ship wouldn’t carry a physician,
the captain or mate taking care of any physical ailments
that the men had, but now…
Finishing his inspection, he began to walk to the
midships gangplank when he saw Ahnah walking
towards him. He stopped and waved a heavily gloved
hand, a gesture which she returned. He continued to
walk to the gangplank, stopping when he arrived and
waited for her.
“Hello Ahnah.”
“Hello Aesop,” she said. “The men will leave soon.”
MacDonald nodded. He’d almost forgot about the hunt
that had been planned. “When are they going?” he asked.
The young woman thought for a moment. Her English
had improved over the last few weeks with the help of
young Tim Reiner but sometimes she still had to search
for the right word. “Tomorrow?” she said questioningly.
“Yes, tomorrow they leave.”
“Do you know when they will return?” asked the acting
captain.
Ahnah shrugged her shoulders. “I do not know. They
will come back when they do.”
He knew it would depend on how far the hunters would
have to travel to find game. Lately they hadn’t seen
much around and for some reason it gave MacDonald an
uneasy feeling.
“You look troubled Aesop.”
The man frowned and nodded.
“Mason, Dunn and my brother?” she asked.
The black man shook his head. “No, it’s not that,
though I am concerned. No, this is something different, I
can’t really explain it…”
“Like we’re being watched,” said Ahnah.
MacDonald looked at the Inuit girl. “Yes, that’s right,
how long?”
Ahnah shrugged her shoulders. “I think five sleeps.”
Roughly a week, “How many others know?” he asked.
Ahnah shrugged again. “All of my people,” she said in a
matter of fact way. MacDonald nodded, of course they
would know, this was their home. “Does anyone know
who is watching us?”
“No,” said Ahnah.
“Do your dreams still speak to you?”
Ahnah looked at the snow and nodded. “Keelut’s image
is strong and it frightens me.”
“Have you told the others of Keelut in your dreams?”
he asked.
“No, it would do little good.”
MacDonald sighed. “Good point. Look Ahnah, after the
hunters leave, let’s get everyone back aboard the SHY
LADY.”
“I don’t think we have to do that Aesop,” her people
wouldn’t welcome the close confines of the ship again
after being on the ice. “It’s just a feeling.”
“I do,” he said. “It’s a bad feeling and I would feel much
better if everyone was aboard.”
“I understand, after the hunters leave tomorrow. I’ll
tell my people to prepare.” She turned and walked to the
shelter she shared with Sedna, Allawah and little Tah.
MacDonald walked aboard the SHY LADY and after
lighting a cigarette went to the starboard rail. He’d
played this scene before and was lucky. God, he hoped his
luck held out on this one.
“How’s the hull look Aesop?”
MacDonald looked to his right and saw Higgins leaning
on the rail.
“It looks alright Danny. How are Braun and Schultz?”
he asked referring to the two blind men.
“They’re…resting,” said the third mate. “I mean, what
else can I tell ya Aesop?”
“Yeah, I know Danny, I know,” said the first mate.
Higgins turned and looked over the rail. “I’ve never
seen anything like this. I still can’t believe we’re here,”
he said observing their almost virgin like surroundings.
MacDonald smiled. “Few people have Danny and
believe me we are here but I don’t mind telling you, I’ll
be glad when we’re out of this God damned place.”
“I hear ya Aesop,” said the young third.
“How are the men holding up?”
“Good,” said Higgins. “They’re being kept busy.”
“No trouble then?”
The third mate shrugged. “Some of ’em have been
puttin’ their liquor ration aside, there’s been a few
hangovers in the morning, but Denhard, Smith and
Black,” he said in reference to the boat steerers, “have
been keeping ’em in line.”
“Any problems with the crew and Eskimos I haven’t
heard about?” Higgins shook his head, “Naw, not really.
Things have been pretty quiet for the most part.”
“Good, because tomorrow they’re coming back on
board,” said MacDonald.
“Do ya think that’s wise Aesop? We’re crowded enough
as it is here.”
“Yeah, I know Danny, but it can’t be helped so we need
to make room for ‘ em again. Another thing starting
tomorrow, we’ll have armed watches on deck. I’ll explain
later.”
“You’re the Captain,” said Higgins
“That I am, Daniel that I am.” He tossed his cigarette
butt over the side into the snow. “I’ll be in my cabin.
Notify me if there are any changes, ice or otherwise.”
“Aye, aye Captain,” said Higgins. MacDonald grinned
and walked aft to his quarters, stopping at the galley to
inform Ed that the Inuit would be aboard tomorrow.
“All of ‘em, Mr. MacDonald?” said the cook a bit
surprised.
“Yeah, Ed, all of ‘em, ‘cept the hunting party. Do you
think there will be a problem?”
“No sir, we got the room of course and them women folk
is welcome to use the stove if they got a hankering to, we
can just go back the schedule we set up before, but…” the
old cook looked a bit concerned. The feelings of the crew
as he saw it were part of his responsibility as well. “…is
anything wrong Mr. MacDonald?”
MacDonald looked around and saw that no others were
about. The first mate had served too long with the old
cook and knew it would be pointless to try and deceive
him among all people. “I don’t know Ed, It’s a precaution.
I know this is gonna sound silly, but I got a feeling that
someone is watching us.”
The cook shook his head. “It ain’t silly Mr. MacDonald
and if ya think it’s better that everybody’s aboard so be it.
The men are gonna ask sir, what do ya want me to tell
them?”
MacDonald looked up and sighed. If there was a
question, he knew the crew would come and ask the old
cook first. “Tell ‘em the ice is unstable, better for the
Eskimos to be onboard with us.”
Ed nodded, “Yeah, most of ’em have don’t have that
much experience up north and none of ’em have been this
far before. I think if I tell ’ em that, they’ll believe it.”
“Another thing Ed, starting tomorrow, we’ll have
armed watches on deck, we’ll tell ‘em it’s cause of Polar
bears. Make sure we got plenty of hot soup in the pot,”
said MacDonald.
“Mr. MacDonald them bears ain’t gonna climb on the
ship.”
“Ed, I know that and you know that but the crew don’t
know that.”
“I get ya sir,” said the cook.
The black man patted the man on the shoulder and
proceeded aft. Though Mason had said that MacDonald
was at liberty to use his quarters, he only did so during
the workday and continued to use his own quarters
which were comfortable for him and offered him a
familiar privacy.
Opening the door to his small cabin, he entered and
removed his peacoat, hanging it on a hook attached to
the back of door. He sat down at his small writing desk
and rubbed his eyes. He disliked being frozen in like they
were, it made him feel helpless. He wished they were out
hunting whales but under the circumstances he knew
that wasn’t gonna happen anytime soon. He wasn’t
worried so much what the crew might think, Ed would be
able to convince them in that conspiring tone of his, after
all if anyone on board had a question the old cook always
had an answer. The armed watches were another matter.
He decided to resort to a half truth for the time being.
Lack of game might encourage the white bear to attack
their people working on the ice, it was better to have
men with rifles on hand. At least it sounded good to him.
MacDonald rubbed the side of his face and thought of
Bess. That at least was something of a light in this
otherwise dismal area of darkness. He wondered what
she was doing at that particular moment. She was a good
woman, better than he deserved and he felt fortunate.
The money for this expedition would set them up well
and he had no intention of not being there and missing
time with her. He figured seven more years in the trade,
ten at most and then he would retire. Damn, he wanted
out of this place.
He wondered about Mason and the others and hoped
they were alright. He’d wait as long as he could but
Mason had given orders that if the ship were in danger
and if it was possible, they were
to sail to Ellesmere Island and wait two months. After
which, if Mason’s party had not returned than
MacDonald and the crew of the SHY LADY would set
sail for New Bedford and he would explain to those in
New York what had happened and why the expedition
they had spent so much money on had failed, it was task
that MacDonald did not wish to carry out and hoped it
would not be necessary. And so while the first mate
wanted desperately to be rid of this place, he didn’t want
it to be at the cost of his friend’s lives and those of the
polar party. It was something he didn’t even want to
consider. He was still thinking about it when he closed
his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
There were four of them, Anga, Kalut, Omoo and Tama
waiting on the ice with packed sleds and rifles. It was
“morning” or at least what passed for it time wise where
they were at. MacDonald and Ahnah met them before
they set off.
“Listen,” said MacDonald with Ahnah translating his
words. “If the ice weakens and the ship isn’t here, make
for Ellesmere Island,” he pointed to the chart he’d
brought with him. “Ahnah has told me you share my
suspicion of being watched. I don’t know who is out there
but I want you to be careful. If there is any sign of
trouble, you are to return to the ship, either here or at
Ellesmere Island, understand?”
Anga and the others nodded and Ahnah spoke. “They
understand Aesop.”
MacDonald nodded, “Be on your way then, be careful.”
The crack of a dog whip broke the morning silence and
a scene very familiar in the arctic showed itself,
departing Inuit hunters setting out to feed their people.
MacDonald like the others watched the sleds become
smaller in the distance and with a sigh turned toward
the Inuit woman standing with him.
“Ahnah, let’s get your people aboard the ship, the
quicker, the better.”
Ahnah nodded and walked to the Inuit encampment.
She silently agreed, the quicker the better.

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