"North" by Joseph Fick

Chapter 46 The Second Attack p512~522

The rapid ringing of the ship’s bell awoke MacDonald
from a sound sleep. Without a second thought, he
grabbed his peacoat and rushed to the ship’s waist where
Denhard was waiting for him.
“What have we got, Mr. Denhard?”
“Another two groups Mr. MacDonald, ‘cept more of ‘em”
MacDonald looked over the rails of the SHY LADY.
About 100 men were coming towards them, it didn’t look
good. “Let’s get the men spaced out,” he said to the third.
“Everyone keep yourselves concealed. Don’t fire until
you’re given the order.” The armed crewmen and Inuit
quickly took their positions.
The first volley of shots came and those aboard the
SHY LADY instinctively ducked and before they could
rise, a second and third volley hit them.
“Damn it!” shouted MacDonald. “Denhard, they’re
getting closer.” He did a quick calculation. “After two
more volleys get your first group up and fire!”
“Aye Captain!” replied the third.
Captain! Thought MacDonald with a fleeting smile.
Well, not for much longer if they couldn’t handle the
crisis on them at the moment.
“Fire!” shouted Denhard to his men on the larboard rail.
MacDonald looked out onto the ice, “Starboard rail,
FIRE!” he shouted.
Lead and wood splinters flew and men on both sides
fell as well as those aboard the ship. The wounded were
rushed below as quickly as possible and for the
hundredth time, MacDonald wished they’d carried a
doctor on this trip. The gunfire continued. Nobody could
really say for how long. It was if angry bees flew about,
all involved in a frenzied state. Men screamed in pain,
yelled in frustration and cursed with anger. There was
fear.
Lak and Ogwah watched as their men advanced on the
SHY LADY. He had to give the crew credit, they were
putting up a good fight but it was a fight that would
prove to be a useless waste of time in the in the long run.
Lak had more men, more ammunition and just, if not
more importantly, more time. Lak was no fool, he knew
the importance of time. A concept frightening to many
which he befriended. In time he would know why the
outsiders had come so far and in time he would take the
ship and soon afterwards control of the other bands
would be his. Seeing that those on the ship were
preoccupied as he knew they would be, he turned to
Ogwah. “Send them my gift,” he simply said. Ogwah
nodded and smiled, he had been looking forward to this.
He called the men designated for the required task.
MacDonald wiped his brow, damned if this wasn’t some
work. He wondered how long the little bastards intended
to keep it up. “Irwin, Rivers! Lay aft and assist Mr.
Denhard,” shouted MacDonald. “Visser, go below and
bring up two more cases of ammunition.”
“Mr. MacDonald,” called Smith, “fire seems to be
slacking forward.”
“Smith,” said the acting captain with some
exasperation. “When they have ceased firing all together,
then we can consider it slack, now get your ass back up
there!”
“Aye, aye sir!” replied the boat steerer.
“Mr. MacDonald.” called Denhard from the mizzen
shrouds he’d climbed to get a better view. “I think Smith
is right. They look like they’re moving off.”
MacDonald looked across the ice. The Inuit had indeed
stopped firing and were in retreat taking their wounded
with them. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said with some
surprise. “We kept ’em away a second time.” The
retreating Inuit were moving quickly, very quickly,
MacDonald noticed. They were in a big hurry to get away
from the ice bound ship. “Why would that be?” he asked
himself. One minute later he had the answer when the
SHY LADY shook in her seemingly immobile position
and the hull forward seemed to disappear with a loud
explosion that caused all aboard to fall on the deck and
to suffer some measure of deafness. The attacking Inuit
had used dynamite against the whale ship.
“What the fuck was that?!” a voice shouted.
MacDonald pushed himself up and tried to focus, ears
still ringing from the blast. The forward section of the
hull and bowsprit were gone, there was nothing but wood
wreckage and collapsed rigging. Anybody who was
forward ceased to exist. MacDonald looked about for the
senior man, any senior man who could take charge.
“Sanders!” he called to the sailmaker. “Get some men and
put out any fires we might have.”
“Captain!” shouted Denhard again, “here they come
again!”
MacDonald turned and saw the Inuit coming at their
starboard side howling like mad and sending lead their
way by the pound. “All hands! Line up on the starboard
rail, count off!”
MacDonald heard the voices sing out, “One, two,
three…” even the Inuit with little or no English spoke up.
He had sixteen armed men on the rail. “Alright, listen
up! They’re firing crazy. Let ‘em get close. When Denhard
gives the word, odd numbers fire. Wait one minute then
even numbers fire, immediately after, odd numbers fire
again!” He wanted to keep up a constant rate of fire. It
might just give them some time.
“McKee!” called the acting captain for the ship’s
carpenter. “McKee, show yourself!”
“Here sir!” came a voice.
“McKee, take Sanders and Grubber as well as some
Eskimos. Check forward, make repairs and get some
people on the pumps. Take Tim Reiner with ya!” He
hated exposing the boy to danger but he would be able to
communicate with the Inuit concerning repairs.
“Aye, captain!” replied the carpenter.
One problem at a time, thought MacDonald. Handle
one, take care of another. Two men fell at the rail and
Denhard called for replacements. MacDonald was
surprised to see Ahnah take up a rifle and replace one of
the fallen. Well, if she could handle it, he wasn’t going to
argue. He had more important things to deal with at that
moment.
“Sir, they’s backing off again!” yelled Denhard.
MacDonald breathed deeply and nodded. It wasn’t
difficult to see what was happening. His opposite was
toying with them. Within twenty minutes there was
quiet. The crew of the whale ship were alone and spent.
This attack was far worse than the first one they
suffered through.
“Denhard, set up the watches. I’ll be forward.”
“Alright, Captain,” said the third mate.
Five hours later…
MacDonald sat in his cabin and buried his face in his
hands. He wished the whiskey he was drinking would
deaden the pain but he wouldn’t let that happen, he had
too many responsibilities, the people and the ship…what
was left of it.
“Burger!” he yelled.
The door opened, “Yes, Mr. MacDonald?”
The man raised his head, “Does Ed have any coffee on
the stove?”
“Ed’s coffee, sir?”
“Yeah, Ed’s coffee, does he got any?”
“I’ll check sir, I’m sure he does.”
MacDonald nodded, “Yes, thank you.”
Ten minutes later there was a knock on his door.
“Enter,” said MacDonald. Ed came in with a tray of
sandwiches and hot tea. MacDonald looked up, “Ed?”
The older man smiled. “You been busy Mr. MacDonald
and you ain’t eat nothing.”
MacDonald looked at his bunk, “I ain’t hungry.”
“Mr. MacDonald, ya gotta eat.”
“Ed!” said the acting captain.
“Mr. MacDonald,” said the cook a little more firmly.
“You eat, you need to keep up your strength.”
The black man looked at the sandwiches the cook had
brought and smiled. “You know Ed, I do confess to being
a bit hungry.”
The old cook grinned, “I figured as much.”
MacDonald looked at the teapot. “Tea?”
“Mr. MacDonald,” said the cook, “I know what people
say about my coffee, trust me, the tea is better for ya.”
The mate smiled, “Ed, your coffee has always kept me
awake.”
“Mr. MacDonald, my coffee keeps everybody awake. I
want ya to relax.”
“Thanks Ed,” he said and grabbed one of the
sandwiches. Biting into it. He nodded his head in
approval. “Chicken?” he asked.
Ed nodded. “Yeah, well, two of our chickens was killed
in the last attack and one of the pigs too. Figured now
was as good a time as any to put on a feed.”
“Yeah, do that. Hot food will help everybody right now.”
“Alright, Mr. MacDonald. Anything else you want?”
The mate thought for a moment. “Yes, have Mr.
Denhard, McKee and Ahnah meet me here in one hour.”
It will be crowded he thought but he needed to talk to
them.
“One hour,” said the cook.
Ogwah looked at his leader with some discomfort. Lak
had said nothing since their return and at the moment,
quietly sat, watching the a fire burn. Finally Ogwah felt
the need to speak and thought now was as good a time as
any.
“We could have taken the ship today.”
Lak looked from the fire and smiled. “Oh, we might
have taken the ship today but this way is better. You
must trust me.”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you but others in our band do
not understand your ways and sometimes I myself do not
either.”
“I understand old friend, you have been honest with me,
I’m glad. Can you trust me a little longer?”
“Always Lak, I trust you. But I fear that if we do not
take the ship soon our people will leave and everything
will be for nothing.”
“Appearances are important and to prove our strength
we must show it.”
A younger Inuit entered Lak’s shelter. “Kamei has
returned,” he said.
Lak nodded. “Appearances Ogwah, appearances!” The
leader walked from the tent followed by his bewildered
subordinate.
MacDonald looked at the three people assembled in his
small cabin. There was room enough to move, but just
barely.
“McKee, what’s the ship’s situation?”
The carpenter took a deep breath and quickly let it out,
the news certainly wasn’t the best in normal conditions,
but where they were at now… “It ain’t good Captain. The
upper section of the bow has been completely blown away
and the force of the blast lurched the ship and pushed
the lower section of the hull under the ice forcing water
into the lower forward compartments.”
“So we’re sinking?” asked MacDonald.
McKee shrugged his shoulders. “We have severe
structural damage. We’re fortunate that Mr. Dunn
strengthened the hull or the damage would’ve been
worse.”
“What about the flooding?”
McKee scratched his head, “Yeah, well those
compartments are sealed as best as we could do and we
got people on the pumps but they’re gettin’ worn out and
one of the pumps is down.”
“Which of course means, our ability to remove water is
severely reduced,” said MacDonald.
“The water is rising. We’re keeping everything in check
right now but it’s not gonna last.”
“Mr. Denhard, what’s the status of the crew and our
guests?” asked the Captain.
Denhard rubbed his chin. “Well, 7 of our men are dead,
3 men are wounded and one is blind. Braun died in the
forward explosion.”
“And the Inuit?”
“Eight of my people are dead and five are injured,”
answered Ahnah.
“Which,” MacDonald sighed, “leaves us with nine crew
uninjured and thirty-one Eskimos.”
“Yes sir,” replied Denhard.
“Oh boy,” said MacDonald. “Can things get any worse?”
“We still have no word on the polar party sir,” said the
third mate. “We don’t even have the men to send after
them.”
“Which means for the time being, they are really on
their own,” said MacDonald.
“What about sending some Eskimos after ‘em?”
suggested McKee.
MacDonald shook his head. “No, I doubt they would
make it past those who have been attacking us. Right
now, we have to take care of ourselves besides, we’re
stronger if we stay together. We need the numbers.”
“Yeah but what about the Captain and the others? We
just can’t leave ‘em out there.” said the third mate.
“At the moment, we don’t have any choice,” said
MacDonald. “Whatever problems they’re having, I’m sure
they can take care of things until we can send help.” He
turned to face the Inuit woman in the meeting. “Ahnah,
how are your people?”
“They are fearful Aesop but they trust you.”
That’s reassuring, thought MacDonald. “Alright,” he
said. “McKee, you, Visser and Sanders continue the work
forward and supervise the pumping teams”
“Sir, that’s only gonna leave us with five crew,” said
Denhard.
“Six,” said MacDonald.
“Five,” said Denhard. “Timmy Reiner don’t count, he’s
just a kid.”
“Six,” said MacDonald again. “Tim is part of this crew,
he’s gotta pull his weight. Denhard, teach him how to
handle a rifle.”
“Why not put him with McKee and Visser forward, I’m
thinking that would be better.”
“Because we need experienced men forward. McKee,
Sanders and Visser can work together and jury rig any
damage, Tim can man the rail if need be.”
“I don’t like it,” said the third mate.
“God damn it Denhard! Do you think I do? It’s
necessary.” He calmed down. “I’ll hear no more about it.
Those are my orders, they stand.”
“Ok, but six crew on the rails ain’t gonna save the ship,
nor can they man the pumps.”
“The Eskimos will have to keep helping us,” said the
acting captain.
“Yeah, if they stay,” said Denhard. “What’s to stop ‘em
from leaving?”
MacDonald gave the third mate a hard look but it was
a fair question. “Ahnah, will your people stay with us?”
Ahnah nodded her head. “If it is Lak out there, my
people want nothing to do with him and right now, we
have no place to go.” She looked at MacDonald. “As I said,
they trust you, they will stay and help.”
“Alright, its settled then. Denhard work with Ahnah on
pump shifts and watches. McKee, you and your men
know what to do.”
The assembled group nodded and left, leaving the
black man alone in his cabin and his thoughts. He was
tired, then again, so was everyone aboard. Sleep was
something he was going to be doing without for awhile.
Flashbacks from his youth began to climb out of the
recessse of his memory along with an old fear.
MacDonald sure hoped he knew what he was doing
because to die in this wretched place was not part of any
plan he had.

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