"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 42 Assault on the SHY LADY p479~492

Lak and Ogwah watched the SHY LADY from a
concealed position, not that it made much difference.
Within a short time, their presence would be known to
the crew and the Inuit aboard the ship. They had over 70
men spread out and ready to converge on the helpless
individuals aboard. The ship appeared to be silent and
unknowing, unaware of the fate that was about to
descend. This was going to be almost too easy thought
Lak with a tinge of disappointment.
“Jenson understand what you told him?”
Ogwah nodded. Jenson was leading the first attack
with a group of twenty men and though he felt privileged
for the honor, Lak didn’t see it that way. He needed to see
what the ship had in way of defense and Jenson and the
twenty men he was leading were considered expendable
as far as the band leader was concerned. Lak nodded to
Ogwah who signaled to Jenson. Let it begin.
Jenson saw the signal from behind his blind and
nodded his head though there was no one to see. This
without a doubt would be his finest moment, to prove
himself to Lak and make his life better. At least he had
unhitched himself from Keelut, the native who would
most surely bring him down. He had gotten used to this
place and to be honest, it was as good as any other. At
least he could tell people what to do here, it was easy
enough to bully these Eskimos, well most of ’em that is.
After signaling the others he stood up and began walking
toward the whaling ship trapped in the ice.
Charles Rivers walked the deck of the SHY LADY and
shivered, the Sharps carbine he had slung over his
shoulder was getting heavier the longer he was out in the
cold. Well, he sighed, he knew this wasn’t one of them
fancy ships for rich people when he signed on, but still,
this damned cold could wear a body down. At least there
was hot soup in the galley, as much as he could eat when
it was his turn for a break from this guard duty of sorts,
if ya had to call it anything at all. He still didn’t
understand why he and the others were doing it. He
knew what Mr. MacDonald said about bears and such
but still, he hadn’t seen no bears yet and no one else yet
either. But Mr. MacDonald was the boss and that’s all
there was to it.
Antonio Grubber came over to Rivers, a rifle slung over
his shoulder as well. By the chattering of his teeth,
Rivers surmised that he disliked the cold as well.
“Hi Tony, ya see anything?”
The other man shook his head, “Not a darn thing
Charlie, you?”
“Nothing,” said Rivers. “If ya ask me, this is just a
waste of time.”
The small Austrian immigrant shrugged, “Yeah, well
Mr. MacDonald wants us to watch out for anything, so I
guess we better.”
“Yeah, but what?” asked Rivers.
Grubber looked over the starboard rail which was to
Rivers’ back. “Maybe that Charlie,” he said pointing to a
large group of armed men approaching the ship.
“What the hell?” said Rivers after he turned around,
“Hey Denhard, come over here and take a look at this.”
The boat steerer poked his head out of the galley,
chewing on a piece of bread and holding a hot mug of tea.
“What is it Rivers? I’m fuckin’ eatin’.”
“Yeah, well it looks like we got company Denhard,” said
the landsman, “and they’s coming this way.”
Denhard walked over to the two men and looked to
where they were pointing. “Tony, go below and ask Mr.
MacDonald to come up here.” There was a sense of
urgency in his voice.
“Ok, Denhard.”
Within minutes, MacDonald was on deck accompanied
by Higgins, followed by Grubber. “Over there, sir,” said
Denhard pointing.
“How many?” MacDonald asked.
“Twenty, sir,” said Denhard.
“An’ another ten, it looks like coming on this side, sir,”
he said pointing over the larboard rail.
“A hunting party, perhaps?” said Higgins.
MacDonald grunted, “Thirty men? Not likely.” He
turned towards the third officer. “Call out the men and
issue arms and get Ahnah up here.”
“Aye, Aesop,” said Higgins going below.
MacDonald sighed but was glad. At least his suspicions
were correct. Now it was time to find out who these
people were and what they wanted.
Armed men clattered on deck. “Take your positions!”
shouted Higgins. A speaking trumpet was handed to
MacDonald as Ahnah came up and stood by him.
“Do you know who they are?” he asked. Ahnah looked
over both rails. There was still some distance and it was
still too dark to make out any one individual.
“I don’t know Aesop. It’s too big for a hunting party.”
“And coming at us from two sides,” added Higgins.
Macdonald raised the speaking trumpet to his mouth
and addressed the largest group. “You men, approaching
the ship, stop where you are.”
The bodies continued to move slowly toward the vessel
locked in the ice. The mate handed the speaking trumpet
to Ahnah. “People on the ice,” she called in her native
tongue, “you are asked to stop and tell us who you are
and what you want.”
The men did not stop. “They are not stopping Aesop,”
she said.
“Yes, I can see that,” said MacDonald. And then as if
there was some unspoken order, the men coming at them
stopped.
“Sir, they’ve stopped,” said Rivers.
“Yes, I can see that,” said MacDonald.
All was quiet. The twenty men on the starboard rail
were drawn up in two lines of ten each facing the ship,
on the larboard side, only one.
“First rank, kneel!” a voice on the starboard side
commanded, a voice that caused Ahnah to tense.
“Ready…aim…”
“Shit!” yelled MacDonald, “Everyone down! Down on
deck!”
“Fire!” the voice on the starboard side shouted. Gunfire
rang out, the high speed lead projectiles hitting their
large dark target causing wood chips to fly off the
midship rails on both sides of the ship.
“Higgins, Denhard!” called MacDonald, “Return fire!”
The men on the whaleship loaded their rifles and
began shooting back, though as MacDonald could see,
those on the ice were far better organized and more
disciplined then the ship’s crew, a situation they were
going to have to remedy very quickly if they wanted to
live and MacDonald had no intention of dying in this
place.
“Mr. MacDonald!” shouted Denhard, “I think we can
rule out friendly!”
MacDonald moved among the men firing. Three were
down and with the help of Ed were pulled into the galley.
No sooner was that done, when another volley was fired
from the larboard side, taking down four more crewmen.
“Choose your targets!” shouted MacDonald. “Hit what
you aim at!”
“Shoot straight, damn it!” yelled Higgins.
“Sir!” cried Denhard, “The little bastards are moving
aft!”
“And forward sir!” said Rivers.
“Denhard!” shouted MacDonald, “take some men aft,
Higgins forward!” The men gathered others and rushed
to their respective places, this was quickly getting out of
hand and then when MacDonald thought things couldn’t
possibly get worse…
“Sir, Mr. Higgins, he’s been hit!”
“Christ on a crutch!” said MacDonald. “Keep firing!” he
rushed forward, Higgins had been brought a little
further aft and sheltered at a low bulkhead. Through the
folds of his open peacoat, the mate could see the younger
man’s sweater was drenched in blood.
“Get ‘im to the galley!” he said. “You there!” said
MacDonald pointing to James Black, one of the boat
steerers, “Take charge of the forward party, don’t let ’em
get any closer.”
“Yes sir,” said the bundled figure. And then, as
suddenly as it all had started, all was quiet. The men on
the ice backed away carrying their wounded.
MacDonald scratched his chin, gave the order to cease
fire and watched them leave. He didn’t know who they
were but he was sure as hell going to find out.
“Denhard, double the watches on deck and make sure
everyone is armed. Don’t let anyone get close to us, you
understand?”
“Yes Mr. MacDonald.”
“Good, see to it,” he said. “Are the wounded below?”
“Yes sir.”
“I’ll be below then. If we get another visit, send for me
at once.”
“Aye sir,” said the boat steerer.
MacDonald went below, he didn’t like what he saw, a
lot of blood and frightened faces. He found the Eskimo
women and Ed dressing those who had been injured.
“How’s it look, Ed?”
The cook looked up and motioned the first mate to the
ladder away from the wounded and quietly spoke. “I ain’t
no doctor, Mr. MacDonald, I did the best I could.”
“I know Ed,” he said softly, “just tell me what we got.”
Ed sighed and nodded his head. “Walker’s dead and
so’s Jones. Dan Crown is wounded and so’s Oaks and two
of the Eskimos.” He stopped for a moment to collect his
thoughts. “I stopped the bleeding and was able to clean
out the wounds, they should be ok.”
“What about Higgins?”
The cook shook his head. “Ahnah’s with him now. He
took two rounds in the chest, and I can’t get to them.
He’s hurt pretty bad, bleedin’ on the inside I reckon. He’s
still with us, but I don’t know for how long.”
MacDonald nodded “Ok, Ed, you did well. Why don’t
you get some rest.”
Ed nodded, “Yeah, I’ll do that Mr. MacDonald, thanks.”
They mate walked over and looked at the bodies of
Walker and Jones. They looked peaceful where they were,
like they were sleeping than again sleep and death went
hand in hand in the arctic, there really wasn’t much
difference. One was just a rehearsal for the final act. He
took a few minutes to check on Crown and Oaks and
after a smile and a few words of assurance he braced
himself for his most difficult task.
Putting on a confident face he walked to where young
Higgins lay. Ahnah wiped his sweating brow with a damp
cloth as the third mate struggled to breathe. His chest
wheezed with labored gasps, each one sounding worse
than the one proceeding it, if that was possible.
MacDonald knelt next to him and held his clammy hand.
“Hi ya Danny, how you feel?” Aesop knew it was a
stupid question, but at the moment he really was at a
loss for words. He had known the young man for many
years. The fact that his life was draining away in this
unforgiving place and the fact that he was powerless to
stop it made him angry.
Higgins smiled weakly. “I’ve felt better, Aesop.”
MacDonald smiled and nodded his head. “Yeah, Danny,
I know, I know. Listen, you just rest up, you’ll be on your
feet in no time.”
Higgins shook his head, “I don’t think so Aesop, not
this time.”
MacDonald shook his head, “Look Danny, I know it
looks bad, but you rest, Ahnah will stay with you and…”
Higgins smiled. “You’re a good man Aesop, but this
ain’t like that time in Brazil, remember that?”
MacDonald nodded. Some of the crew had gotten drunk
and ran afoul with the locals when MacDonald and
Higgins arrived to bring their men back to the ship, it
damn near caused a riot causing the local militia to take
some shots at them, one of the bullets grazing Higgins’
left arm.”Yeah, Danny, I remember.”
“Ya gotta take care of the ship and crew and the
Eskimos Aesop, they’re depending on you. The Captain is
depending on you.”
“I will Danny.”
“Aesop, when ya gets back, tell Beth, I’m sorry. I really
wanted it to be good with us.”
MacDonald wiped a tear from his eye, “I’ll tell her
Danny.”
“Aesop?” said Higgins before he closed his eyes, “Who
were those guys?”
MacDonald took a deep breath. “I don’t know Danny
but you can bet your ass I mean to find out.” He looked at
Higgins, the mate was asleep. MacDonald looked at
Ahnah, “Stay with him please?”
The Inuit woman nodded. “Fear not Aesop, I will stay.”
Collecting himself, MacDonald went back on deck.
“Denhard!”
Within a few minutes the boat steerer appeared. “Yes
Mr. MacDonald?”
“Are the watches set?”
“Aye sir, as you ordered.”
MacDonald nodded. “Good. Get someone to help Ed in
the galley.”
“Ahh, well sir,” began Denhard, “I don’t know who else
can cook and besides he’s got the cook boy.”
“They don’t have to cook, Denhard, just tend the galley
fire and keep the soup warm, and besides” said
MacDonald, “Reiner is the only other person in this crew
besides Ahnah who has some workable grasp of the Inuit
language and speaks English. He’ll be busy enough as
is.”
“Yes sir.”
“Make sure Mr. Higgins is moved to his cabin and
made comfortable, Move Crown and Oaks into Mr.
Dunn’s and Mr. Hollister’s cabins, same orders and see
that the injured Eskimos are not wanting.”
“Aye sir, what about Walker and Jones sir?” asked the
boat steerer.
MacDonald looked across the ice. “They didn’t make it.
Sew them in shrouds and we’ll…we’ll take care of them.”
“Aye, sir,” said Denhard a little sadly. “Me an’ Walker
was shipmates before, he was a good man.”
“I know, Denhard…we lost some good people today.
Let’s try not to lose anymore.”
“Aye, sir,” said Denhard.
MacDonald sighed. Orders had been given, there was
nothing more he could do at that moment. “Christ, what
mess. I’ll be in my cabin.”
“Aye, aye sir,” responded the subordinate.
MacDonald went into his cabin and locked the door. He
sat on his bunk and leaned his back against the cold
hard bulkhead. What in the hell was going on? He asked
himself. Within twenty minutes, his whole world was
turned upside down. What began as a simple expedition
was quickly becoming very complicated. What the hell
happened?
Tim Reiner was sitting in the corner of the galley
shivering, in this case, not from cold but from fear. He’d
never been shot at before and it was a sobering
experience, a very fearful one to be sure. He didn’t know
how long he’d been sitting there and he didn’t care. It
was quiet and safe.
“Tim?” said Ed, noticing the frightened boy in the dark.
“Are you alright?”
Reiner wiped the snot from his nose with the back of
his sleeve. “I’m afraid Ed,” said the boy in a small voice.
Ed walked over and pulling the boy up, set him on a
barrel and wiped his face. “Ain’t no shame in that Tim, I
imagine many a man were ascared of what just
happened.”
“Yeah, but none of ‘em is crying.”
The old cook smiled softly, “Well, I wouldn’t say that
exactly lad. Fear and tears are strangers to no one.”
“Everyone will think I’m a coward,” said the cook boy.
“Why?”
“Cause I didn’t help in the fightin’ and hid.”
“Boy,” said the cook, “do you know how to handle one of
them rifles?”
“No,” said Tim.
“And if’n I ain’t mistaken, didn’t Mr. MacDonald order
everyone to get down?”
“Well…yeah,” agreed the boy.
“So you was obeying orders, just like ya was supposed
to be doing, right?”
“Well,” said the boy a bit grudgingly, “yeah, but I was
still scared.”
Ed smiled, “You and me both, youngster, you and me
both. Now, why don’t ya wipe them tears of yours and get
some sleep. Something tells me we’re gonna be busy for
the next few days.”
Tim nodded his head, “Ok, Ed,” and scampered off. The
old cook just shook his head, the next few days…shit!
Higgins was sleeping. Ahnah continued to sit next to
the young mate and watched as his life slowly left him.
One did not have to be a healer to see what was
happening. In the last four hours he had stirred only
twice calling the name Beth, as if somehow her presence
could change his present condition. Ahnah was sure that
wherever he was now with his eyes closed, it was much
better than where he was with his eyes open. She liked
Higgins and was sorry this thing had happened to such a
fine young man. He had told her earlier of this Beth who
was waiting for him in New Bedford. Ahnah thought it
was sad that they would never see each other again.
After today’s attack she wondered if Dunn, Peter and the
others were alright, she hoped they were as she had no
visions of late that told her otherwise. She thought about
them as she drifted into sleep holding Higgins’ hand.
Lak looked at Jenson and listened as the outsider
spoke. “It weren’t too bad guv. We took some of ’em down,
I could see that, rag tag bunch that group there. I
wouldn’t worry too much about taking ’em,” said the
Englishman with confidence.
No, I’m sure you wouldn’t, thought Lak, hearing the
translated words. “How many did we lose?”
Jenson looked uncomfortable at the question poised to
him and cleared his throat. “Yeah, well we lost some 6
men killed and three wounded in my group and two
wounded and three killed in the group of ten, but ya
know, ya can’t make an omelet without breaking a few
eggs, ehhh?”
Lak was unfamiliar with Jenson’s last remark but the
numbers told him that the ship had some sting, far more
than he expected. Not that he wasn’t expecting a fight,
he would just have to plan accordingly.
“Go Jenson, I will speak with you again,” said Lak.
When the man departed, Lak turned to Ogwah, “Well?”
“We have more men and more guns. It is only a matter
of time.”
“Any word on the hunting party?” asked the leader.
Ogwah shook his head, “No, but Kamei will find them,
of that you can be sure.”
Lak nodded, “Well, I hope it is soon. They will fit in
with my plan nicely, if needed.”
“Do you anticipate any unseen difficulties?” asked
Ogwah.
Lak smiled. “Merely a method of persuasion, that’s all.”
Ogwah nodded, after all, Lak knew best.
“Come on old friend, let’s eat and think no more of
today,” said Lak and the two men sat down to a simple
meal.

コメントを残す


%d人のブロガーが「いいね」をつけました。