Ten

 

“Cap’n-a-been-at-the-wheel all night & most of the day a’fo’ah that.” Pauly says. “Sat the’ah quiet…. Not said nothin since we left the Banks…. The hold only ha’hlf full…”

The boys huddle around the foc’sle table under a gyring lantern. When Pauly starts in on a gam even Fields and Gaspar stop arguing.

“He just stayed the’ah. Cookie give him some coffee once in a while. He’d dunk a fry cake in-t-it. Didn’t say nothin.”

“Was a good breeze, west sou’west. Close hauled; but we was makin good time. She was light. So she dipped to the gusts. Rode the old swell out of the East like a gull. Every scrap up. Fish’ahman, Jumbo & Tops’ls, Fo’ah & Main. I ought-a-know t’was up in the maintop when we set ‘em. Still da’hk. Just done with the last of the guttin’ and splittin’. Didn’t touch a line fo’ah a day & a ha’hlf. Rode rail-down day ’n night.”

“That mohnin when-t-sun-come-up the last of the sta’hs flick’ah’ed out in a mackerel sky to west’ahd. Was wahm fo’ah Decemb’ah. The ai’ah that mohnin was mild. The wind vee-ah-ed a bit to the southa’hd. Then died out. The sun popped out like it t’was Joo’lie. I swea’yah it felt ho’ht on the face. The sea goes ca’hm & by mid-mo’hnin’ t’was like a mirr’ah. The old swell peta’hd out.”
“We was rollin a bit. Sails slattin’; but the Cap’n still don’t say nothin. T’wan’t one for puttin’ up with chafe. He’d have us roll our teeth out in a ca’hm; but we’d get the sails down to save a stitch! This time nothin. Just sat the’ah. Sails a slattin’ & a boomin’.”

“Old Luke took a sound. The Cap’n ain’t a’hsked fo’ah-it; but he always did on the last mo’hnin’ out. So Old Luke goes ’head anyway. Yell-t-out, ’Thi’teen Fathoms!’ From up the stahb’d fo’ah chunnels & takes the lead back ah’ft.”
“Cap’n tol’t ’im, ‘Scaw’llop shell & blue gravel.’ Fore Old Luke has a chance to show ’im.”

“Now he said sumfin’ the Cap’n sta’hted mutterin-t-’is self, ‘Still too fa’h…! Should’ a know-ed it! Gohd-damn wind!’”

“Most of us been out east ‘nough times to know that sumfin’ was up. A ca’hm nev’ah did bring nothin good! T’was too wahm & the sky fillin’ up with Mack’rel clouht’s & ma’yah’s tails. Ai’ah kinda milk’ay & a coupl’a sha’hp sun-dogs no’th & south.”

“Still, a blow in Decemb’ah’s nothin’ new. We’d all seen plent’ay. A few mo’ah days out ridin’ the greybe’ahds. Hove too. We’d finish the trip by Christmas anyway. The way the Cap’n been all quee’ah over it had us all on edge, ‘Wha’s wif da Cap’n ?… Ain’t he seen it blow a’fo’ah ?… If-n-he’s-scay’ahed what’s a comin?…’ T’was the talk in the foc’sle that breakfast. Blackie & Mann’ay a‘most got in a fight o’er it! Mann’ay tellin’ ’im t’a take it back. Cap’n nev’ah was scay’it. T’wan’t no cow’it like Blackie!”

“Took a coupl’a us to keep ’em ‘pa’ht. After that we all ent’ed up on deck. Tryin’ to look busy. Cercl’in ‘bout the break, lookin’ fo’ah ‘xcuses to go ah’ft & git a look at the Cap’n. Maybe he’ah what he’d say next. Watchin’ the look on t ’is face….”

“Ou’ah Cap’n t’weren’t any old fish-boat driv’ah by the Jesus! Been out man & boy fo’hty-ye’ahs. Had a schoon’ah under his comma’hnd at nineteen. Old Nickerson’s boat, Mary N. Been through-it-t-all. Seen-it-t-all. Once saw ’im step over the jaws of an old Mack’rel Sha’hk. Ne’ah bit an o-ah off’n his do’hry ‘long-side. He steps over-it-t-the-waist like he was crossin’ a mud puddle on Front Street! Wan’t one for gettin scay’it.”

“Not one for mutterin’ & starin’ eith’ah; but the’ah he was. By now we was all in a cercle ’round the wheel. With one last, ‘Nothin to it!’ & a shake of his head he comes ’round ag’in.”

“When he seen us all gapin’. He st’ahts in a swearin’ like old times! By the time he’s done we was jumpin’ to it!”

“‘Gybe the head’sls & fo’ah’sl!’ He cries! Was crankin’ the wheel ha’hd ov’ah to po’ht & lettin’ the main sheet go ’lread’ay. Took a coupl’a minutes to bring h’ah ’round; but now he was pint’in us back No’theast. Wing on wing.”

“‘Set up the prevent’ahs!’ He goes! Not much else to keep the sails out the’ah ’gainst the roll in the calm noontime.”

“We sta’hted to dip & pitch a bit. A new sea makin’ up from the South. Built up from nothin ‘till we was co’hk-screwin’ real good, spankin’ the count’ah & sendin’ spray up the dolphin strik’ah with not a flick’ah-o-breeze yet & no way on.”

“When it come…, a ripple on the afternoon glay’ah. T’was right behind us. Off the stahb’d quart’ah. The prevent’ahs keepin’ the sails foh’ad from gybin’ on us. We st’ahts to make way & he settles us in on a co’ahse No’th No’theast. Right back whe’ah we come from! Nothin’ new to a sail’ah-man that!”

“Wanted some sea-room now we couldn’a made Long Pint a’fo’ah she struck. Sensible. He always was. We rides the south’ahly from a catspaw to a breeze. At sunset she goes to Sow Sow-east. We gybes the heads’ls & fo’ah’sl agin with a crack & schooned off a’fo’ah it! Makin ou’ah fo’ah-teen knots!”

“She could sail that one! Wind backin’ the whole time. Full moon risin’ in the cleah. Sun settin’ in a low’ah-in cloud bank. Wind backin’. Gets strong’ah & st’ahts to get cold’ah. Broad reachin’ & the breeze gettin’ stiff. Twent’ay five knots maybe. The po’ht rail well und’ah. Wat’ah breakin’ on the hatchway’s & house front. The moon-glow to stahb’d & the red o the po’ht runnin’ light shows comb’ahs buildin up ah’stern.”

“Once he’s got us on ou’ah co’ahse Cap’n goes below. Seen him settin’ on the quart’ah b’herth rollin’ with h’ah. Eyes closed & dead to the wo’hld. Settin’ straight up!”

“A bit aft’ah da’hk a ha’hd gust hits & the fish’ahman thro’aht-haly’ahd pa’hts like a sho’ht! Cap’n was on deck a’fo’ah we know-ed it. Bellowin’ ord’ahs, ‘Paulay, git up the’ah! Bring in the top’sls! No sense losin’ any mo’ah sails less we have to!’”

“We gets in them tops’ls & doused the fish’ahman & gets it on deck a’fo’ah she flogs to bits. He yelled out ’gainst the wind, ‘Git the Balloon’ah & Jib off’n h’ah boys!’ & off we goes foh’ad. T’was st’ahtin’ to get a bit nasty. Gets into ou’ah foulies & was wish’n the’ah was mo’ah newspap’ah abo’ahdh to wrap ’round us und’ah ou’ah shi’hts! Tomm’ay & Mann’ay & Blackie & Old Luke & me st’ahts foh’ad & times it best we could ‘tween the seas bo’ah’din h’ah. The crests breakin’ ‘midships. We was ridin’ up the backs of ’em & the biggens ’ld break right ’cross h’ah!”

“Old Luke stops at the fo’ah-m’ahst shrouds-t-a-let-go the hal’ya’rds. The rest of us goes off ’round the windlass & out on-t-the ’sprit. She was one-o-them old’ah boats. She was. Clip’ah bowed. A ’sprit with a jib-boom. Jumbo, Jib & Balloon’ah head’sls.”

“T’was a bit wet out the’ah. We st’ahts with the balloon’ah. Old Luke lets go the haly’ahd & hauls in on the downhaul. Mann’ay & me smoth’ahed h’ah best we could & gasketed h’ah down. Tomm’ay collectin’ the sheets & helpin’ as he could. So f’ah we ain’t got soaked all the way through. She keeps h’ah head up pretty good & we was just clippin’ the tops off the comb’ahs. Lots-o-spray. Nothin sol’it yet.”

“Jib come down. Nothin too ha’hd yet. Just a ha’hlf a gale & no ice foa’hmin’ yet. We gets the gaskets on & trice ‘em back up out-o-the-way-o-the-break’ahs. Come back in over the gammon-iron & t’was time to reef the Jumbo. Now that t’was a sail to handle in a bit-o-breeze! Has that club on the clew. Bigg’ah-n-a-do’hry mast & once the sheet’s eased she takes to flailin’ prett’ay good. Once we gets a hook on-t-a the reef clew & sheeted h’ah home she’d be a’right; but what wit easin’ the haly’ahd & bringin’ the tack down too. Had ou’ah hands full. Cou’hse now she’s a bit ha’hd on the helm. All that sail off foh’ad & the main still unreefed. Wind keeps backin’ & the seas followin’ it ’round too.”

“We was close hauled by then. Right then Old Luke & Blackie st’ahts to let the haly’ahd out. She takes a gust out-a-the-da’hk & rounds up on h’ah helm a bit. That luffs h’ah a’fore we was ready. Just then a big-en comes in ov’ah the knightheads! Mann’ay & me was reachin’ fo’ah the reef clew & Tomm’ay pullin’ on the wind’ahd sheet tryin to settle that damned boom. We was all holdin’ on prett’ay tight to sumfin’ at least; but Mann’ay was to lew’ahd & reachin’ up. As I tol’t ya. The sea catches the sail & flings the boom in-t-a-his Poh-ta-gee bell’ay with a vengeance! He doubles up good. I dives fo’ah his ankles as he st’ahts off down-t-the-lew’ahd rail in a lump-o-green-sea. I gets holt-o-im & we tangles up in the po’ht cathead ge’ah.”

“Mann’ay was a bit shook-up & clutchin’ at his gut; but we gets the sail reefed & head back ah’ft. Some-o-t-others sta’hted in on reefin’ the main & I took a spot helpin’ Joe sweat the haly’ahd. A couple-o-the-boys, out on the boom heavin’ in the reef outhaul. Cap’n’s takin sail off big time! Down to the thi’h’ed reef. Takes three in the fo’ahs’l while we was at it too.”

“We’d been makin ou’ah east’in now since late aft’ah noon. ‘Bout fo’ah-teen knots most o-the-time. Gahn some hun’at-miles by two bells in the evenin’ watch. She just ate up them miles! St’ahtin’ to snow a bit. Fi’hst, some flur’ays wit the moon still showin’ in the cracks. Then, it settles in & t’was ha’hd to tell whe’ah the spray end-it & the snow beg’ahn. All t’was white & sideways.”

“We’d come as close to the wint as we couh’t & it keeps on backin’ & buildin. Cap’n tacks h’ah ov’ah so we couh’t git some mo’ah sea room. Now wit the wint out’ah the No’theast for real t’was gettin cold’ah fa’hst. She st’ahts to make ice up foh’ad. The catheads & anch’as. The ’sprit shrouds & backropes & the foh’ad shrouds all gettin kinda thick. Some-o-the-gusts gettin vish’us now. The wint ‘ld back in the puffs & she luffs int’ it. Ice flyin’ off the stay’sl in chunks! The seas gettin long’ah. Jest ’bout all of ’em breakin’ all ’bout. She puts h’ah head into one-o-those-biggens right up to the fo’ah-mast. Jest ‘bout springs the top’masts out-o-h’ah on that one! Cap’n calls to heave h’ah to. Tacks h’ah like a yacht. Leaves the stays’l ov’ah t’a wind’ahd. She settles down a bit. Still fo’ah-reachin’ to the east’ahd.”

“We fu’hls the main now & set the trys’l. She’s ready fo’ah anythin’ at that pint. The wheel lashed. Helm down. We all goes below. Don’t know what they was doin’ ah’ft. In the focs’le we et some grub & wa’hmed up as best we couh’t. Dryin’ clothes ‘round the galley stove. Steam risin’ & them seas knockin’ ‘gainst the plankin’ so we was shoutin’ to be hea’hrd. We settles down in ou’ah bunks & shuts-out-the-wo’hld wit ou’ah chintz cu’htins!”

“Fi’hst light wa’n’t much to see. A peak out the scuttle & it t’was all snow & greybe’ahds. Seas gettin’ good sized ‘bout now. Long’ah but still steep & angr’ay. I he’ahs one tanglin’ wit the ‘sprit riggin’ & watches it shoot p’ahst. Couldn’t see much ah’ft-o-the-taffrail wit the snow. The moanin’ in the rig was p’ahst the sca’ray stage. Jest fillin’ the wo’hld wit noise.”

“Mann’ay ain’t sayin’ much when we settles in & most-o-the-boys still have the’ah cu’htins closed ’till the coffee’s read’ay. Nothin like a spell-o-weath’ah fo’ah some extra rest! Didn’t think-o-Mann’ay ag’in ‘til lat’ah when we he’ahs a new moan top the one in the riggin’. Pull-t-back the cu’htin & the’ah he was. All gray in the face & holdin’ his bell’ay. Tommy st’ahts a joke ’bout lubb’ahs out in sto’ahms. The look in Mann’ay’s eyes stops ’im in ’is tracks.”

“Mann’ay don’t say nothin. Don’t look like he could any mo’ah. Ain’t puked any; but it smelt wo’hse-n-usual. When Tommy pulls back the ho’hse blank-it he sees he’s soilt his-self. The blank-it t’was all sme’ahed wit black shit & streaked bright red. The bastahd must-a-bust-a-gut on that Gohd-damned jib-club.”

“He was fev’ah-ish & lost in ’is pain. Once in a while he grits ha’hdah & lets out a groan; but that was it. Not much we could do fo’ah ’im out the’ah now. Still, Cap’n needs to know. I ge’ahs up & heads ah’ft. Not too bad if y’a times it right. Wait ’till one sweeps the deck & run aft’ah it ’till I gets to the skylight.”

“I thumps on the housetop to let ’em know I was comin & come ‘rount the companionway as the hatch slides back. I tumbles in ov’ah top-o-Old Luke & we ends up in a pile on the sole. Cap’n’s closin’ the hatch when the next sea hits. Only a coupl’a gallons makes it in aft’ah me.”

“‘How’s she foh’ad?’ He ’ahsks while-t-I untangles me-self from Old Luke & gets to my feet.”

“Was ’is old self now. All business. Levels them gray eyes at me cleah. Ca’hm he was; but ser’yous. Couh’t see through-t-yo’ah-soul wit that look!”

“Tol’t ’im ‘bout Mann’ay bustin’ a gut & bleedin’ & fev’ah-ish & all. He takes it in wit no change-t-’is expression. Asks me t’was anythin’ else to repo’aht; but t’wan’t nothin’ I could tell ’im ‘bout the state-o-his-schoon’ah he ain’t already know-ed his-self. She’s makin’ some wat’ah. Wo’hkin’. Wo’hkin’ h’ah seams a bit. Wat’ah runnin’ down the po’ht cov’ah-in bo’ahd. Ice druggin’ h’ah bow a bit. Not too bad. She was risin’ well enough to the seas & though she fell off a coupla’ waves a bit rough she was doin’ h’ah job so f’ah.”

“He tol’t me to wahm up by the potbelly stove a bit & he stands wit his left hand hooked und’ah the po’ht house-side lookin’ up at the skylight fo’ah a spell. Don’t say nothin. Jest sways to the seas & looks up the skylight. Settin’ ne’ah the stove to po’ht I pretends to look up & out too; but mostly t’was watchin’ ‘is face. Nobody said nothin’ in the ah’ft cabin. Old Luke back at ‘is spot by the stove to stahb’d & the rest-o-em noddin’ out in the’ah bunks. O-ah settin’ & weavin’ to the seas like me.”

“Maybe a half ou’ah past like that. Sometimes a big-en ’ld knock her down a bit & the Cap’n steps a foot up the stahb’d bh’erth front & hangs off ’is a’hm ’till she comes back up. ’Is face nev’ah changes. He jest rides them waves in the bell’ay-o-his-schoon’ah.”

“Was still lookin’ up at the Cap’n. He turns his eyes down to me & says, ‘Taint nothin’ we can do for Mann’ay he’ah. We’ll try for T-wha’hf when it’s ov’ah. The hospital in Boston…. Might have an operation fo’ah ’im…. Keep ‘im wahm & quiet. All we can do now.’”

“Goes on lookin’ up at the skylight. Then he tol’ts me to git back foh’ad & tell ‘em we’d try for Boston once it cleah-ed.’”

“Goes on like that all day. Mann’ay moanin’ in his bunk & the rest of us jest settin’. We cleans ‘im up a bit. The wind keeps up & the snow. Ice keeps gettin’ thick’ah. Plenty-o-coal fo’ah the stove & the coffee’s hot. Nobody much int-rested in ca’hds ou’ah ga’hmin. Not wit Mann’ay up the’ah groanin’ & grittin’ ’is teeth.”

“No dif’rent from any oth’ah wint’ah sto’hm on the Gulf-o-Maine. Cept fo’ah Mann’ay bein’ in a state like he was. We rided out plenty like it all ou’ah lives. By next mo’hnin the wind ’ld back ’rount to No’th-west and she’d cle’ah. Git cold’ah some & blow some mo’ah; but we gybes h’ah ‘round & heads close-hauled back to the west’ahd. Back round the Pint. This time we tacks a coupla’ times & heads in no’th-o-Minot’s Light. Past Hull & in-t’a-T-wha’hf. Git Mann’ay loaded in-t’a-the meat wagon & ride the fadin’ Westa’hly cross-t-P-town. Be ready to leave the old lady’s naggin’ behind agin in a coupla’ mo’ah days. Be right back out he’ah agin on-ou’ah-way-t-the-Banks. Cuttin’ bait & baitin’ trawl agin a’fo’ah we know-ed it!”

“T’ wasn’t gonna be that simple.”

*

Pauly stops. Pours himself some more coffee. Checks the scuttle. Spits to leeward before coming back to the table. The others move out of his way without a word. He takes no notice.

Short, with nimble movements. Pauly’s cropped, stubble forms a gray border around his watch-cap, covering most of his face. A magnificent matching gray handlebar mustache, his pride and joy. It wags up and down while he talks. He works his fingers through it whenever he pauses to wipes away spittle or coffee or food crumbs. His eyes are dark with deep crow’s-feet. Set close to the bridge of his sharp nose. Deep creases run down each cheek. He’’s a commanding presence in the foc’sle.

The night closes in. The engine keeps up a steady thrum from aft. The hiss of the bow wave and the occasional thump as a sea hits her hull go unacknowledged as they imagine the gale on that schooner. Fields and Gaspar have been out on bankers. Josey’s too young. He’s only been on George’s Draggers and Scallopers. Caught out a bit; but mostly these boats stay close enough to avoid the worst weather, running for port early or waiting until it clears to go out. This is Stevie’s first trip outside Long Point.

They have all known rough seas and ice to the main trucks. It doesn’t take a mythical gale to make it dangerous and damned uncomfortable out on these waters. A snag, catching an otter-trawl, can pull a boat over in the space of one, deep breath. A parted cable can take a man’s head off before he hears the pistol-crack of the wire. Still this old story fascinates them. They’re held by the arc of its telling. It distracts them from their aches and pains.

Its beginning, middle, and end make for a cozy circle. They sit together under the gyring lantern. It takes their minds off the cold, dark sea around them. The next day’s drudgery forgotten so long as Pauly can keep them on that old schooner. Lost in dread after a tale long-done. They feel it’s cozy in a way that men have been comforted in harm’s way since story telling began.

The galley stove banked. Pauly shakes the grate with a few turns of its crank. Resets the lids to his liking. Coffee refreshed. Command of his audience renewed.

*

“Jest anoth’ah No’th-east’ah! We was fools to think so. Cap’n don’t go all quee’ah jest fo’ah some old No’th-east’ah! He don’t spend two days at the helm & leave the Banks ha’hlf-loaded. Jest fo’ah some old No’th-east’ah!”

*

Pauly takes another sip. Hunches his shoulders. The crew lean in. Can’t help it. Don’t care to. He goes on in a low, even tone.

*

“St’ahts to back ’round to the No’th-west that night & the moon shines out once ’tween some squalls. ‘Cept fo’ah Mann’ay bein’ peak-it we was all thinkin’ t’was ov’ah. All right wit the wo’hld. No soon-ah than we thunk it the wind ve’ahs back-t-east’ahly so fa’hst she tacks ov’ah on-t-a-stahb’d.”

“Wit the helm lashed down fo’ah hovin’-to on-t-oth’ah tack she don’t take it too well! We was scramblin’ out the scuttle fast as we can! Nobody stoppin’ fo’ah the’ah ge’ah! Nothin! Last man out closes the hatch & back ah’ft they close up the companion & they’s all out like us. Cap’n spinnin’ the wheel round by the time we hits the deck! Hatchet on a lany’ahd on ‘is wrist. Cut the lashin’. Too much strain to slip h’ah off!”

“She don’t take kindly to this manoov’ah I tell ya! When she tacks ov’ah. Well, y’all know what that did to h’ah! Now she has the Stays’l runnin’ cle’ah & takes off to wind’ahd. ‘Cept now the helm’s lashed-up! Sendin’ h’ah off onto a reach wit the sails set fo’ah close hauled! By the time we was on deck she was racin’ off ‘bout beam to. She ain’t got much sail on h’ah; but this new wind was even strong’ah than befo’ah! The deck risin’ up to stahb’d & the po’ht rail und’ah & she jest kept on goin!”

“Some-o-the-boys lost the’ah footin’ slippin’ off down-t-the-lew’ahd rail. Coupl’a us guys hangs on & head fo’ah the sheets wit ou’ah sheath knives out! Cap’n yell-t foh’ad, ‘DON’T CUT’EM!’”

“Was spinnin’ the wheel ha’hd & she was still goin’ ov’ah. But by now y’a ca-tell she was slowin’-up. The rudd’ah bitin’. Still, she t’wan’t comin up! The gust holts h’ah the’ah & jest blows! Cap’n standin’ on-t-side-o-the-coamin’. Waist deep in-it. Playin’ the wheel. A quart’ah t’uhn one way then-t-the-oth’ah. Keepin’ the rudd’ah bitin’ best he can & tryin to lead h’ a’h back up.”

“We was all jest watchin’ & waitin’. The boy’s what fell-t-lew’ahd scramble back up to the high side & a coupl’a us still standin’ by the sheets foh’ad. Too much strain on ’em to try to slack ’em & Cap’n’s shout not to cut ‘em ringin’ in ou’ah ea’ahs. Old Luke & the rest of ‘em back ah’ft standin’ by the trys’l sheet too. No sense lettin that one go. She needs all the presh’ah she can git ah’ft to help h’ah round up!”

“We was all hangin’ the’ah at fi’hst. Some-o-the boys watchin’ the rail go und’ah. Ow’ah watchin’ the masts come down clos’ah to the wat’ah; but aft’ah a bit everybody was jest watchin’ the Cap’n. I watched ‘im the whole time. Case he wants the sheet cut aft’ah all or anythin’ else needs doin’; but t’was all on ‘im now. If he cain’t hold’ ah nothin was gonna save us!”

“Had that ca’hm look-in-t-’is-eye & nothin’ on ’is face showed dif’rent. Wat’ah runnin-t-is chest. Ha’hlf-wedged in ‘tween the wheel & the steerin’-ge’ah box. T’was the only thin keepin’ ‘im from washin’ ov’ah bo’ahd. Two hands-n-the-spokes. One o’clock & nine o’clock. Bay’ah headed & in ‘is long-johns open at the coll’ah. T’was concentratin all right. He was! But it could-ah been a st’ahtin’ line-o-a-schoon’ah-race fo’ah all y’a could tell by lookin’ at ’is face!”

“Jest keepin’ on like that. Goes on long ‘nough fo’ah us-t-st’aht gettin used-t-it! T-be a funny way-t’-go on through life! Schoon’ah jest ridin’ on h’ah ea’ah like that. Gust holdin’ h’ah flat. Cap’n keepin’ h’ah alive. Rest of us jest watchin’ & waitin’.”

“Fi’hst thing-t-change was the look on-t-Cap’n’s face. His eyes soften up a bit & fo’ah we know-ed it a smile st’ahts-t-spread. Nothin big, nothin too g’zaggerrated. Nev’ah did go in fo’ah that kind-o-thin. But t-those that know-t ‘im he ain’t looked this happy since we tied up-a-T-wha’hf ahead-t-all-t-oth’ahs wit a load-o-Haddock on Good Friday mo’hnin’!”

“She was still down & the gust still holdin’ h’ah to-it. Must-ah felt sumfin’ in the rudd’ah. She st’ahts-t-round up a bit & that dug the rudd’ah in deep’ah & brings the wind a bit foh’ad. Once she felt that no blow couh’t hold h’ah down! She st’ahts to come up & the wint gust play-t out. He rounds h’ah right up & put h’ah back to sleep on the Po’ht tack. Hove to ’gin jest like she’d been!

All-o-a-sudden we t’was all shiverin’! No time-t-feel colt ‘til then! Long-johns & und’ah shi’hts freezin’ to ou’ah backs-t-whole time! Cap’n st’ahts right in wit new ord’ahs. ’Drop the Stay’sl! Haul the Fo’ahs’l sheet to wind’ahd ‘till she balances!’”

“We was hove to und’ah Fo’ah & Try’sl now. Helm lashed jest ‘bout midships. She holds her nose-t-it; but t’wan’t fo’ah reachin’ no mo’ah. A slick to wind’ahd shows we was driftin’ off now.”

“We’d hel’t on-t-most-o-ou’ah eastin’ on the day befo’ah; but now we st’ahts-t-lose it back. Mo’ah snow st’ahts-t-fall & the new wind was heavi’ah than befo’ah. East No’theast & stead’ay.”

“That old wind was strong & gust’ay. This one t’was a lot strong’ah & stead’ay. The seas gettin’ jumbled now too wit the change in d’rection. Wint flattens out all the small stuff. Cuts the crests off the break’ahs like a bah-keep choppin’-off a bee’ah head! The biggens come out the No’th & right quick a new set buildin’ up on top of ’em out the East. Fo’ah too long the new ’ens was e’en bigg’ah! We was takin ’em slow. She falls back a bit on the front face. Splits the crests & gains a bit on the backsides. But now some of ’em was buryin’ h’ah bow in the faces & she was up in-t-ai’ah to the fo’ah mast on the crests! She falls off with a shudd’ah & puts h’ah nose in’ta the next one. Wo’hkin’ now.”

“Big dif’rence when a boat’s doin’ h’ah job & when she’s wo’hkin’! A vessel’s got a ha’ht beat to a’h & when she’s comfo’htable feels like she’ll go on foa’ev’ah. A fellah can sleep sound. E’en with h’ah jumpin’ & rollin’ und’ah ya she feels safe as houses! Most nights on a schoon’ah-t-the-east’ahd feel like that. Gale ow-ah no gale. Y’a tiy’it from the day’s fishin’ & y’a feel h’ah ha’ht beatin’ & y’a don’t think nothin of it!”

“‘Till she st’ahts a wo’hkin’. Sometimes it’s jest ‘cause the sails need trimmin’ ow’ah she’s loaded wrong. A tub what’s got too much limb’ah to h’ah feels off in a ha’hlf-a-gale. Feels like a soggy loaf-a-bread ridin’ the waves. No spring. No life! But when a vessel in h’ah prime st’ahts wo’hkin’ it’s a dif’rent st’ohry. Makes y’a pause & st’ahts ya-t’a-wo’hryin’. Lost some-o-h’ah grace & poise. She stumbles & it shames ya-a-bit to see it!”

“We was back in the foc’sle now dryin’ out agin. Stove all out-a-whack from the knockdown. The cabin all smok’ay & the lids ha’hlf off. Took some so’ht’in out t-git thin’s right agin! Mann’ay had a hart time-t-it. ’Is bunk to stahb’d. When she gone up like that he fell right out on-t-the-sole! Best he could do fo’ah ’is-self t’was-t-prop ’is back ’ginst the settee front. Crock-ray & ge’ah all on top-o-‘im in a pile. He t’wan’t lookin’ too good when we’s come back below!”

“T’was a’most a good thing havin’ Mann’ay-t-wo’hray ’bout! Keeps ou’ah minds off’n the st’ohm. By the time we settled ’im back in ’is bunk & straightened out the foc’sle we was st’ahtin-t-git used-t-the sit-iation. Not much mo’ah we could do else-n-stay in ou’ah bunks too! When she falls off a crest we bumps up ’ginst the bunk-bottom ‘bove ou’ah’s! Spendin’ ha’hlf the time squashed down in’ta ou’ah bunk. T-oth’ah ha’hlf squashed up ’ginst the one ‘bove! The rest-o-the-time slammin’ ’tween one & t-oth’ah!”

“Not too shu’ah how long we was like that. Felt like we was all in a Prize Fight! One o’ them hun-at round bouts y’a he’ah ’bout down in Boston ow’ah Noo Yo’hk! Got prett’ay tiy’rin aft’ah a spell! Nothin-t-do ’bout it. Be suh’prized how a fellah ’ll git t-a-sleep e’en when it’s like that! A’hm hooked ’round the bunk bo’ahd. Jack-it balled up ov’ah y’a face-t-take the hit from ’bove. Co’hn husks ‘soh’bin’ the hit from b-low. Aft’ah a while e’en a specially bad hit not ’nough-t-a-really bring y’a round. Punch drunk & ’xhausted we was.”

“Kept on like that fo’ah ‘long time. La’hntin runnin’ out-a-oil, splutterin’ & smokin’. Stove couh’n’t keep a fi’ah banked wit all that jumpin’ ‘round eith’ah. Lids half off & coal smoke mix’n wit the la’hntin’ fumes. The fug-o-a-dozen men & all the’ah clothes & ge’ah hangin’ ha’hlf-dry every whe’ah. Rollin’ & swayin’ ha’hlf-seen. A mist hangin’ in lay’ahs in the shad’ahs. The vents all plugged off-t-keep the wat’ah out. Deck leaks ov’ah most-o-the-bunks from the vessel wo’hkin’ ha’hd. Soakin’ the co’hn-husk mattresses & ho’hse blankets. T’was a bit uncomfo’table in that Foc’sle.”

“Stuck in ou’ah bunks. Vents plugged. No light but the deck prisms & they was und’ah wat’ah ha’hlf the time! Ha’hd-t-tell day from night! Once I thought I saw Mann’ay up & ‘bout. Look’t like he was gettin’ ’is foul weath’ah ge’ah. Looked a fright! Wool socks. No paints. We took ’is old ones. T’was all soilt. Foul weath’ah jack-it & a black Sou’west’ah stuck on ‘is head. Was lookin’ fo’ah ‘is boots look’t like. Look’t mo’ah like t’was a battle he was fightin’ wit an ’nvisible foe! T’rown this way & that. Blood on ‘is face whe’ah he kept hittin’ ‘is head he’ah & the’ah. Hoppin’ ‘bout. Clutchin’ ’is bell’ay. Blood runnin down ‘is back-site. All crust’ay & mixed wit dried shit. Mo’ah like t’was havin’ a nightmay’ah than watchin’ a messmate in trouble. Didn’t break through my brain. Didn’t seem t’was real….”

“Next I ‘memb’ah wat’ah’s crashin’ in the scuttle & Blackie & Tomm’ay’s wrastlin’ wit Mann’ay in the hatchway! Po’ah bastahd must-a-found ‘is boots & was headin’ out on deck! T’was daylight. Maybe or moon-glow. Ha’hd-t-tell ’cept t’was bright ’nough-t-see the’ah bo’days ’ginst the light in the hatchway. Didn’t take much to t’uhn ’im ’rount. Not much strength left in ’im by then. Tomm’ay drugged ’em back-t-’is bunk & Blackie gets the hatch closed. Probl’ay the hit-o-fresh-ai’ah what woke me up mo’ah than the cah-mo-shun.”

“T’was woke up now n-cuhyous ’bout how we was fai’y’ahn. Git dresst me-self & tol’t the boys I was off to the cabin-t-see what the Cap’n was up t’a. When I opens the scuttle ’most took m’a breath ‘way! Ain’t felt the wind d’rectl’ay. T’was ov’ah me head behind the boob’ay; but the suc’shon off-t-it t’was pullin’ the ai’ah out the hatchway ‘round me with a whoosh! Not much light & wit the spray & snow blowin’ right flat I ain’t seen much past the mainm’st!”

“T’was in a bubble-o-weak light. Mo’ah like the glow out the rime-o-ice ov’ah evr’ay thin. Runnin lights was out. Maybe washed cle’ah ‘way. The moan & rattle-o-the-riggin’ was loud’ah down below whe’ah the hull rang wit it like a drum. Up he’ah the wind sound takes ‘way all-t-oth’ahs. Mo’ah of a feelin’ than a sound t’was too. Funn’ay. All quiet wit all that noise drownin’ itself out!”
“Ain’t seen much-o-the sea. What I couh’t see looked flat mostl’ay. The break’ahs was so long by then. The’ah t’wan’t much slope to ’em. Still, when a crest come up behin’t me I felt h’ah tremble when the top tumble-t through the ’sprit & ’cross’t the fo’ah-deck. He’ahd it hit the back-o-the-boob’ay like a ‘spress train. T’was surround-id by green wat’ah on all sides as it ran ah’ft! Sol’it green t’was & bright’ah than the ai’ah, felt like. Filled the hatchway round me as it raced p’ahst. Blinded & gagged me. So colt it t’was that I takes in a gaspin’ breath & damned ne’ah drownt’ed right the’ah in the scuttle hatch! Splutt’ah-in & spittin’! T’was ign’ohrin’ the holl’ahs down behin’t me. Watched it race on out-a-sight p’ahst the mainm’st.”

“Ain’t git my wits in time-t-take off aft’ah that wave. Had t’a-wait out anoth’ah one ‘fo’ah headin’ ah’ft. ‘Bout then t’was bett’ah off on deck than facin’ all the cu’hrsin behin’t me! Hel’t my breath good this time as she p’ahst & takes off aft’ah the wat’ah! Yellin’ top-o-my lungs like a battle cry t’a keep my courage up & let ’em know I was comin’! Wit all the ice on evr’aythin’ & wat’ah still knee deep ‘rount me t’was no picnic out the’ah! The po’ht do’hries was gone. The skylight was a blob-o-ice on the housetop & the Cha’hlie Noble bent ov’ah flat. I pounded on the gurr’ay bo’ahds as ha’hd as I could as I goes p’ahst. Hopin’ they’d he’ah & open the companion.”

“Too much of a hurray to be scay’it ‘til then; but when I sees the companion slide locked in ice my yell chokes off in my gullet! Ain’t seen how they was gonna git it open fo’ah the next one sweeps down on me! Evr’aythin’ fat wit’ ice. Slid ‘round behin’t the cabin house & fell to my knees. The wind hit me. Me way still on from runnin’ ah’ft. Me feet slid ‘til they hit the steerin’ box. I grabs the wheel as best I couh’t. T’was cov’ahed in ice. The spokes as fat as baseball bats wit ha’hd’lay any space ’tween ‘em. The helm lashin’ taught as a b’ah. Thick as my a’hm with ice.”

“All I couh’t think ‘bout t’was the next wave headin’ out-th’a-gloom foh’ad & takin’ me right ov’ah the st’ehn. Makes me self as small as I couh’t & holds on. The best thin’ was this f’ah ah’ft the wave might lose some-o-it’s-strength. The crest und’ah the count’ah lift us up & cups me in the quart’ah deck inside the bulh’aks. All I can hope fo’ah!”

“The wave hits ‘fo’ah I can see it comin’. Was und’ah & t’was grabbin’ me & tuggin’ like a livin’ thin’ tryin-t-git-me-loose & take me ov’ah. Ain’t felt colt though. T’was iced ov’ah by then & the wat’ah felt wahm on me bod’ay.”

“’Fo’ah the wat’ah cleah-ed I was poundin’ on the House bulkhead fo’ah all I was wo’hth! I can he’ah them poundin’ on the companion slide und’ahneath. Ice crackin’ some; but don’t look like t’was gonna be cle’ah fo’ah the next one hit. Then the compass box light pops open on the bulkhe’aht in front-o-me. T’was a small rectang’lah openin’ ’bout a foot high & eighteen inches wide. The yellow lamp-glow busts through & a fig’ah blocks the light. ‘Paulay, can y’a fit?’” yell-t the Cap’n. ‘Take off y’a oilskin & git in he’ah!’”

“T’was livin in the beat-o-the-wave-crest’s timin’. ’Bout then t’was ‘xpectin’ the next one. T’was a’most a habit by now. Maybe t’was a little ’un this time. I hunk’ahd down & let it p’ahst. Soon as it cleah-ed I pull’t my jack-it off ov’ah me head & tossed it int-a-the-light. Fast as I can I put my a’hms through I jumped! Cap’n had me right a’hm. Luke me left ’en.”

“Good thin’ I’m on the bant’ay side! Still, me belt-buckle catches & me butt drugged tight ‘ginst the top-o-the-openin’. They pull-t & I yell-t my ’ncuragement! Belt pops & my shins rake ‘cross the sill. My boots catch; but by then my weight was in. We all jumbles in a pile on the sole! A spout o’ wat’ah like a fi’ah hose shoots in on top-o-us & somebody slides the cov’ah shut wit a bang! ’Aft’ah noon, Paulay’, says the Cap’n. ’Good-o-ya-t’a-drop-in!’”

“They was all wet & laughin’. I ain’t seen the hum’ah in-t-it quite yet. My shins bleedin’ & my paints down ‘rount my knees. All the buttons popped off. Broken belt buckle. My m’stache still ha’hd wit ice & me feet ha’hlf out’ah me boots. The heat-o-the stove in the smok’ay cabin hits me like a bo’ahd. I st’ahts-t-thaw out & smile a bit at the sorry sight I was makin’ in the ah’ft cabin!”

“T’was good to laugh a bit! T’wan’t much to laugh ’bout fo’ah a few days now! Kind-a took holt-o-me then & I lit right to it! Keeps laughin ’til the tears st’aht to come. Probl’ay the heat & smoke too couh’se. Cap’n quiets ’em all down & ‘ahsks me how-t-it-t’was up foh’ad. I pulls myself t’geth’ah best I can. Me paints bunch-t-up in me left ha’hnd & t’was wipin’ me face wit me right. Kicks me boots the rest-o-the way off & stoot the’ah bay’ah foot.”

“Jest then the thought-o-Mann’ay wit his boots on & no paints headin’ out the hatchway strikes me as too funn’ay fo’ah wo’hds! I gets back to laughin ‘gin. Only hard’ah this time. Cou’n’t stop! Tea’ahs in-me-eyes. Can see the Cap’n lookin’ at me. Smile’s fadin’ out. T’uhnin’ to a scowl through the ble’ah-o-my-te’ahs; but I cou’n’t stop me-self! Ended up jest sobbin’. T’ain’t ashamed-t-tell ya! All the woh’ray of the la’hst few days. The ‘xhaushun. Mann’ay lookin’-t-be-dyin’ on us. T-all come-t’geth’ah jest then.”

*

Pauly stares at each of them in turn. His face gray. Eyes welling up; but hard, daring any of them to judge him for this lapse. Nobody says anything. Gaspar’s habitual smirk fades as Pauly holds his gaze.

*

“I’d low’ahd me eyes then, tryin to hide the te’ahs I s’pose. Not much use that. They was runnin’ down me cheeks & dripping off me m’stache! I look-t-up & the Cap’n hel’t me wit his eyes. ’Is scowl gone. Not much-o-n-expreshun on ‘is face re-lay. But sumfin’ ’bout ‘is look & I dried up jest like that! Sobs sto’hped comin’ & I sta’hted to tell ’im ’bout the sit’y’a’shun up foh’ad.”

“Cap’n says might be bett’ah-t-tie ol’ Mann’ay-t-’is-bunk now fo’ah ’is own good. I tol’t ’im we alread’ay done it. I ’ahsks the Cap’n ‘bout ou’ah posi’shun. Knew he ain’t had no chance fo’ah a sound or e’en a peek at the sun in a coupl’a days. Not e’en much chance-o-watchin’ the drift we was makin’. The way it t’was out the’ah now. Still I know-ed it t’wan’t out-o-the quest-shun fo’ah the Cap’n to have a prett’ay good idea’er-o-whe’ah we was.”

“His eyes ha’hden a bit when I ah’sk ’im. Thinks he t’was mad ‘bout me ah’skin’ at fi’hst; but I re’ahlized t’was whe’ah we was that t’was both’ahin’ ’im. T’was almost sorr’ay I ah’sked at that pint!”

*

Pauly sets his mug down hard on the table top. Leans back on his bench, stretching to his full seated height. Stares around the circle of faces.

*

“Tis one thin’ to be lost-i-the-fog ’rount the backside wo’hryin ‘bout whe’ah the sho’ah is. Anoth’ah to be out in that & thinkin’ the same thing! Cou’hse t’was always the’ah in the back-o-ou’ah-minds the holt-time. Ev’ah you let yo’ah brain empt’ay out. The’ah it t’was waitin’ fo’ah ya! Y’a can see it in y’a minds eye. Seen it plent’ay from the sho’ah-side by the time any of us gits ’is long paints!”

“Goin’ ‘rount to watch some vessel breakin’ up on the ba’ahs-o-the-backsite. Sand hittin’ y’a so ha’hd to make y’a face bleed when y’a t’uhn y’a head in-t’a the wint; but y’a gotta look! The wat’ah jest white. Like a death’s head. Diht’ay, pale. All the way out s’f’ah as y’a can see. Not break’ahs & backwash jest a tangle-o-nast’ay, busted foam as f’ah as y’a can see. A speck-o-black out in tha’ snow. Jag-it wit masts stumps & riggin’ stickin’ up. Gettin’ bigg’ah as it comes in. It stops with a je’hk. Like a hanged man at the end-o-’is drop when she strikes the fi’hst bah. T’uhns beam-to in a secon’t & all smoth’ahed in foam. Y’a fo’ace y’a eyes-t-stay-open ‘gainst the sand-sting, lookin’ fo’ah little specks movin’ ’bout on h’ah. Y’a hope the‘ah the’ah & y’ah soh’ray fo’ah ‘em soon as y’a see’ em.”

“Lifeboat crew standin’ by. Ha’hlf the town on the beach wit ya. No bod’ay lookin’ at-t-oth’ahs. Backs t’uhned to the wint most-o-the-time then holt-in y’a breath & fo’ahsin’ a look ’til the sand makes y’a t’uhn y’a back ag’in. Y’a clothes cov’ahed in ice on-t-wind’ahd site. Sand in y’a pockets. In y’a ea’ahs. In y’a nose. Y’a cain’t stand it e’en the’ah on the beach; but y’a cain’t leave eith’ah. Cou’hse y’a know y’a can; but y’a know they cain’t & that holts y’a the’ah like a chain!”

*

Heads nod around the table. Eyes gaze off. Every one has been there. Lost relations that way. Watch them freeze to death on a wreck or seen their rag-wrapped corpses wash in through the foam. Limp with shattered bones and bloodless wounds. A chill brings the crew back to the foc’sle. Back to the thought of what surrounds them in that darkness. Even on a quiet night like this, Peaked Hill Bar just to the westward, it’s like walking past a graveyard.
Pauly’s sharp, explosive sigh  breaks them out of this funk he’s settled them into. He wills them back to his story.

*

“OOOSH! Bless ’em all! The po’ah bastahds! Was what we was all thinkin’. We was gonna’ end up like ’em. Wrecked on that B’ah!” Pointing over his shoulder to starboard, their eyes follow his crooked finger, shifting in their seats to peer after where he’s pointing. Half expecting the old schooner to be hovering over his shoulder. Nothing there but the chipped gray paint of the v-grooved Doug Fir bulkhead.

A groaning screech of tired wood-on-wood. Cap’n Pete pops his head into the foc’sle.

They all jump! Startles him too! They all shrink back, sheepish. Ashamed.

“Whoa! You-ah see a ghost?” Looking around the table, half in jest, “Oh, Paulay, you tell that história agin! I no wanna’ you es’cahre my crew! We not yet gone from town! Get me som caffee. Come to the wheel-house. Take the next watch.”

“Gaspar take ov’ah at four-ah. We-a-get-t-the-grounds by fi’rhst light!”

The captain behind him Pauly surveys the others around the table. Assured he’s held their attention he dismisses them with a nod. He would never disobey a Skipper or show the slightest insubordination. He’s devoted to Cap’n Pete; but his position in the foc’sle is as important to him as it is unofficial. No mate or even a bosun on a dragger. The crew’s too small for an official chain of command. There’s the Captain and the hands. One of them is bound to be more experienced or more intent than the rest.

Pauly swings around. Grabs the Captain’s mug and fills it from a chipped, blue enameled pot. Pours himself some more. Grabs his Sou’wester and oilskin and follows the Captain on deck.

 

Continue…

 

 

 

 

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