Monday, November 3, 2014

Sons of Orpheus--Chapter 3. Sorry about formatting--it will improve!

SONS OF ORPHEUS Chapter 3. 3 Indonesian Sea Adi was struggling to keep up with his more heavily muscled crew mates. His shoulders felt like fire ants were attacking him; each sting testing and tempting him to give up. He feared that he would disgrace himself if the chase did not end soon. He could not see the whale as it continued its life and death struggle to elude the chase boat. Just as the whale resurfaced, the harpooner balanced himself to cast his vicious weapon with its back-facing barbs. The harpoon was unleashed with a concerted hurl. The whale had been in such encounters before; he remembered the long, slow deaths of pod members and the blood-red sea. Just as the harpoon was thrown, the beast veered slightly away from the whale boat. It was enough to avoid being hit directly, but the harpoon cut across the flesh behind the enormous head; not enough to take hold, but sufficient to cause injury and infuriate the whale. It stopped, as if it had hit a submerged object; turned on its tormentors and with an upward sweep of its tail, crashed down on the exhausted crew, forcing the boat under the boiling surface, emptying the crew into the ocean. The whale rapidly left the scene, making a dive for the depths to re-emerge well away from the shattered whale boat and floundering men. Luckily for the men, one of the other whale boats had left the chase of the other whales and was soon alongside the damaged boat. Adi was fortunate to be one of those holding on to the partly submerged boat. Three were soon lost under the surface, after struggling pitifully in the dark green swell. It was with great relief that Adi and his fellow survivors were dragged into the sister whale boat. Overloaded, it made its way precariously back to the Plymouth where the survivors were lifted to the deck under the gaze of the Captain. ‘Damn. That’s three good men and a lost whale to add to the damage from the storm. What else can you throw at us God!’ he shouted. The men nearby him chose to move away, rather than risk the wrath he felt. ‘The poor buggers got to tell their families. Glad that’s not my job,’ one of the men whispered. The news arrived that the third whale boat had been successful. While Adi and his crew were being rescued, the boat had harpooned another member of the pod, much to the relief of the Captain. The oil from the rendered blubber would soon join that already stored from earlier in the season before the storm forced them to shore in the Sunda Straits. The Captain watched as the whale was cut with the long knives and brought aboard. The air became thick with the oily black smoke and cloying aroma common to whalers. His sight was drawn to the far south, where he observed massive roiling cloud formations that caused foreboding memories of past battles in the Southern Ocean. ‘Get underway with as much speed as you can!’ he yelled. ‘And see what you can do about rigging up an extra sail where the mast was lost. I know it won’t be much, but we must get away from that storm to the south of us. It’s a real mean lookin’ bastard.’ ‘Aye aye Captain,’ answered his chief. South West Pacific Alex was once again on deck, even though he wasn’t on duty. He was having difficulty sleepy in the warm sultry conditions. At least there was a breeze on deck, coming from the south west. Sydney was still at least ten days away, unless the weather turned. Alex wandered towards the cook’s station, knowing that he was supposed to wait until he was scheduled for breakfast in a few hours, but he often used his good relationship with the cook to garner little extras. This morning was such an occasion. ‘Ere he is, comin’ to fill ‘is guts again.’ ‘It’s me who should be worried. God knows what’s in some of that bilge water you try to pass off as porridge,’ Alex shot back. ‘Oh well, as long as you is ‘ere then, you might as well have some of this ’ere bread I just made for the captin then eh.’ ‘Mmmm, that smells bloody lovely I must say,’ Alex replied as he took a bite of the warm yeasty bread. ‘Yeah, just don’t tell the captin’. He’s right damn selfish about ‘is precious bloody bread.’ ‘I’ll take your secret to my grave then, won’t I?’ ‘Oops, ‘ere he comes now, Make yourself scarce,’ the cook replied and pretended to make himself busy as the Captain walked in to the cramped galley. ‘The usual, cook,’ the Captain mumbled, almost inaudibly. He appeared to be in a grumpy mood. ‘Those buggers kept me awake last night.’ He directed an accusing glance at Alex. ‘Who would that have been?’ Alex enquired, although he already knew the answer to the Captain’s question. He too, had been at the celebration in the Officers’ mess. They had drunk far more than the usual King’s Tot the previous evening and had carried their party on for longer than the Captain usually allowed. He had retired just after mid-night and it was only when he had sent a message to the officers at three in the morning that the ship returned to a more peaceful state. By then, the damage had been done; the captain’s sleep had been cut short of what he considered appropriate. ‘I think a bit of extra drill won’t go amiss then, will it Lieutenant?’ the Captain said. ‘I want a mid-day gunnery drill. You can arrange that. Maybe we will all get some sleep tonight.’ The captain took his early morning treat and returned to his cabin. ‘Ope the bastard chokes on it then,’ the Cook whispered to a shocked Alex. Indian Ocean. ‘Get yourself below!’ screamed Captain Pickering. He had trouble making himself heard above the rising whine of the steadily increasing wind. The sea was a foreboding deep green in colour, reflecting the mood of the gathering clouds. As the last of his passengers stumbled below he was able to concentrate his thoughts on the task at hand. He knew his ship was well able to withstand most of what nature could throw at it and that he had an excellent crew. When events turned sour he knew that they would rise to the challenge. Past voyages with the majority of his present crew had given him a strong faith in their abilities. Nevertheless he felt a growing sense of uneasiness as he watched the waves building in strength and unpredictability. He also noticed the wind changing in direction and slowly concentrating its force from the northwest. He knew that they needed to drastically reduce the amount of sail power in order to maintain direction and control. Jack was amongst those scampering about the rigging. This was his first real storm, his first experience in his new capacity as a crew member. ‘Keep your wits about you boy!’ screamed Adams, his mentor. Adams had quite a soft spot for the young Irishman, who reminded him very much of his own son, now dead for three years after been cruelly murdered in a brawl Liverpool. ‘Hurry up Jack. Bring in those bloody sails before they rip their guts out!’ For Jack, the reality of their situation was rapidly dawning. This was not fun anymore. He could see the mountainous waves lining up to take their turn to destroy the Emerald. The wind had now become a constant scream, blocking out any further chance of hearing Adams shouting out instructions. Jack made a last desperate attempt to secure the flapping section of sail, achieving this just as a rogue wave hit the ship. The Emerald almost came to a standstill, shuddering as the wave smashed down on the deck. Jack watched helplessly as the green water swept across the deck, taking anything not tied down. He was not sure if everyone survived, but he was anxious to get down to the heaving deck as the wind did all in its power to shake him loose from the riggings. As the maelstrom gathered in strength, Jack began to lose confidence. He seemed to be frozen in place, wrapped around the mast as the sway of the ship moved him violently across a wide arch. He was unable to move as the terror of his situation stole his ability to react. His fingers lost all feeling as he struggled to hold on. Surely it would be better just to let go. As he was about to let his hold slip, he felt the grip of a hand on his shoulder. Adams had managed to manoeuvre himself to Jack’s side and he knew from the terror in the young man’s eyes that he was near to giving up and plunging into the surging sea or crashing to the decks below. ‘Fight it lad!’ Adams screamed. ‘Move your hands, one at a time. I am right by you—come on, make it slow.’ ‘I c- cant,’ Jack replied weakly. ‘You bloody well can or I’ll kick your ass to kingdom come. You think I have put my efforts into getting over here just to watch you give up? Come on boy, move it!’ Jack slowly moved one hand at a time and crawled down the mast, accompanied by Adams. From below an anxious Captain Pickering watched the drama unfold. He had become fond of the young Irishman, with his willingness to take on a wide range of tasks, often without being told. Jack reminded the Captain of his own lost son; drowned and his body never found several years before in an Atlantic storm. He was relieved when Adams finally encouraged Jack to make the last few yards to the deck. By now Jack was barely conscious and totally unaware of his whereabouts. His mind momentarily retreated to his past. ‘Sorry Da,’ he muttered incoherently. ‘The spuds are buggered. We gona starve for sure: what we-------do-sorry Da,’ he left unfinished. If Adams had not been holding him up he would have collapsed. ‘Take him to my cabin,’ instructed the captain. ‘He’s been through enough for a young lad.’ Adams lifted Jack like a sack of potatoes and stumbled his way to the nearby Captain’s cabin where he carefully placed Jack on the Captain’s cot. Jack was still mumbling, unaware that he was in the middle of a maelstrom, somewhere near the south eastern coast of Australia. For the next three days Jack barely woke, as a fever gripped his body; the result of his exposure to the lambasting winds he had been exposed to. Miraculously, he was the only casualty amongst the crew and for that the Captain was grateful. He sat in the chair in the sparse cabin and slept fitfully as he observed Jack thrashing around, in another world beyond the confines of the cabin. Jack’s mutterings added to the Captain’s knowledge of what the boy had been through in Ireland, sensing the loss of his family and the anger he felt towards his departed father. He was not the only one who watched over Jack. Jack had become something of a mascot to the crew. His cheery nature brought out something that softened the normally hard-headed attitude of many of the crew. In the meantime the Emerald continued to battle its way through the storm and after three days the winds finally abated, as if the storm had never occurred. The sturdy clipper was relatively unscathed, adding to the high regard with which it was held by the crew. By the Captain’s calculations, the Emerald was in the middle of the Great Australian Bight, having been driven before the storm, making much faster progress than it would have ordinarily achieved. Jack woke, alleviating the worries of the crew and captain. The superstitious men saw this as a good omen and their spirits rose accordingly. There was renewed hope that the Emerald would make Sydney much sooner, especially if the now favourable winds continued in their present pattern. The Arafura Sea. Adi was once again ensconced in his favourite position far above the gently swaying ship. The Plymouth was making its way east in the Arafura Sea, heading towards the Cape York Peninsula and the narrow Torres Straits that separate the Australian continent from the huge island of New Guinea. Adi loved to sit at the top of the ship in the crow’s nest, even when there was only a slight chance of sighting the tell-tale signs of a spouting whale. He had begun to have doubts about the slaughter of the majestic beasts. He secretly wished for more of them to escape the harpooners’ aim, but kept those feelings to himself. He had no wish to alienate himself from the crew or endanger the regard the Captain held for him. Doctor Thomas Rankin was another who had taken a liking to the young man and had taken it upon himself to teach Adi the rudiments of English along with reading and writing. Adi caught on remarkably quickly and he could easily claim to be better educated than the majority of the crew. Captain Smith turned a blind eye to the amount of time Adi spent in the cramped Doctor’s quarters. It came as no surprise to the captain when he received reports that Adi was assisting Doctor Thomas in his duties and that the crew seemed to accept this willingly enough. This newly found knowledge stimulated Adi to ever new discoveries in the world of medicine. Although quite different from the traditional medicine of his village, based on herbs and a good measure of superstition, he noticed some similarities. Adi liked to watch the Doctor as he mixed the potions he stored in a large cupboard. ‘These like mine in home,’ Adi said one morning, surprising the Doctor again at his steadily growing vocabulary. He looked up from his task. ‘Yes Adi; I am quite sure many of the potions I use are based on traditional herbs, along with the science of chemistry.’ ‘The Dutch----they bring new things from their home.’ Adi stopped, struggling to explain himself. ‘I want to learn much; reading, writing.’ ‘I know boy. Yes I know. You’re a good lad. You are catching on really well. Just be patient.’ Adi nodded; having vaguely understood the doctors meaning. He continued to watch and learn as the doctor mixed new medicines, explaining as he went. Bass Straits. ‘What the ‘ell are ya doing Jack?!’ the Cook yelled. He wasn’t really annoyed by Jack’s latest act of exuberance. Now that he was fully recovered, Jack had reverted to his usual fun loving behaviour. This time, he had pushed the Cook to his limits. ‘What’s that you put in the bloody porridge?’ It tastes like shit boy.’ ‘It’s just a bit of salt and some of that other stuff you showed me the other day,’ Jack replied sheepishly. ‘Christ boy----that’s bloody curry mix----you tryin’ to kill us then?’ The Cook burst out laughing. Tell ya what. Let’s serve it to the morning shift. That’ll get the buggers goin’ eh.’ Jack immediately cheered up at the thought of watching the men eating his creation. The Cook had often complained about having too much to do, so when Jack poked his head in to the galley one morning; it wasn’t long before he spent most of his time there. ‘All I get is moans and insults from the crew, so maybe you can share the load a bit, and the laughs when they sort you out eh?’ the Cook added. The Captain learned of Jack’s helpful attempts to learn the skills of the galley and subtly let it be known that he approved of this. Jack was able to spend more time in the galley and he began to learn many of the basic recipes that the overworked Cook willingly passed on. Ship’s biscuits, often riddled with weevils, pickled beef and pork, the occasional fresh meat and vegetables when the Emerald called at a port, were the main fare served to the crew. The Captain and officers fared a little better, depending on the willingness of the Captain to share his private stock. On this voyage such opportunities had proven few and far between, leading to a level of grumbling that naturally focussed on the Cook. Jack noticed this and commented one morning ‘Hey Dick---why don’t you make some bread, or use some of those other stores in the larder?’ ‘Ah, too much bother and they would still moan even if I did,’ Dick replied with a guilty look on his face. ‘Well teach me then you lazy bastard,’ Jack joked. ‘I don’t blame the poor buggers.’ ‘You’re getting to be a cheeky little sod aren’t ya? Well if you are that damn keen, get your arse into the larder and bring me some flour and I’ll show ya how to make some ship’s bread. And we’ll use some of that chicken carcass that was left over from the Captain’s table last night.’ The Emerald carried about a dozen hens in crates for eggs and occasionally the Cook killed one for the Captain. Dick showed Jack how to make simple ship bread, a process that Jack found soothing. He loved the feeling of the soft dough, squishing between his fingers as he kneaded it on the floured board. The Cook and Jack developed a comfortable working relationship, ranging from quiet moments, to noisier joke-filled episodes that often bordered on the obscene. Even the Captain smiled as he passed the busy galley. They boiled the remains of the carcass and threw in some chopped onions, carrots and a generous portion of dried herbs that the Captain had allowed them to use from his own stocks; purchased when he had gone ashore in Batavia during the last voyage. This was all thickened with some flour; the end result being passable gravy, that when served with ripped up bread made a welcome diversion from the normal ship fare. Jack relished both the chance to learn from Dick and to add to the boring ship fare.