SCOTTSVILLE is one of those scenic treasures that Nova Scotia hides away in special holes and corners for the curious to find. The shore road brings you in from the west, and you tramp over the brow of the steep ridge and behold the village at your feet; and there is a long lagoon running back into the land, dotted with little green islands and a white flutter of terns, and the cobblestone beach, drawn in a fine mathematical curve, that guards the calm lagoon from the long green rollers of the North Atlantic, and the road running on across that beach and draping the green shoulder of the ridge on the far side with a steep yellow ribbon.
The ridge tops are dark with spruce woods, and the fields of the fishermen pour down the slopes to the lagoon like a pouring of green paint, and all about the little wooden church and schoolhouse in the hollow are clustered the red-painted roofs of Scottsville, with their bedroom dormers looking out over the steep beach to the sea. Most of the Scottsville men are inshore fishermen, but some go to the Banks every summer, and have not, since they were boys, seen that beauty from the west ridge when the wild roses bloom along the grey stone field walls, and the shore pastures are rich with buttercups, and the houses on the far side dance in the shimmer of an August sun.
One such is Solomon McRobbie, whose white-shingled cottage sits just below the western crest. Solomon is fifty or so and a bigamist, wedded to the sea and to a stout good-natured woman named Ada-Belle, who has milked a cow and churned butter and planted and hoed the little garden patch behind that house for twenty-six summers, “all by her lonesome,” as Solomon says.
I came over the hill on a burning fall day when the sea had changed from the mild blue of summer to the hard cold blue which marks the turn of the season, and the swamp maples at the lagoon’s end flourished their red banners by the waterside, and Solomon McRobbie was home from the summer’s fishing, walking slowly to the gate on his short thick legs to give me a roar in the passing.
“There you are,” he thundered, as if I were a dory a quarter-mile to windward on the Middle Ground, “a man that’s got a auto-mo-heel, an’ him trampin’ the dusty road like a hobo.”
“Hush, Sol, do,” admonished Ada-Belle from the porch, with her broad red smile.
“A man that walks—an’ him with a car—has got his brains in his feet!”
“Feet or wherever,” returned Ada-Belle, “he’s brains enough to stay ashore an’ make his livin’.”
“Ink-slingin’!” shouted Sol McRobbie, and I cannot describe the contempt in that.
“Set on the stoop,” said Ada-Belle to me, “while I fetch a glass o’ fresh buttermilk to sweeten your throat after the dusty road. My, the sweat on your face!”
So I sat in the cool of the porch, and Ada-Belle put a tall glass in my hand and sat with her own strong hands clasped over her apron, swaying her rocking chair gently.
“There now,” boomed Sol. “Take a sip o’ that, man. Beats all the beer in creation. There is no drink for a hot day like buttermilk, an’ no buttermilk like our’n. It’s the salt in the shore pastures does it, and the firwood staves o’ the old-fashioned churn. Sit there now an’ take it easy, while I spin you a yarn will make them stories o’ your’n sound like fairy tales. I have got a tale, mister man, the like o’ which you never heard in all your born days—an’ all God’s good truth, too. Ah, to think I’ve seen such things an’ lived to tell of ’em! A warnin’, that’s what it is, an’ I’ve a great notion to stay home an’ go to sea no more.”
“About time,” said Ada-Belle, rocking.
IT ALL come o’ goin’ to the Greenland sea (Solomon began). Every wanst in a while some of us Nova Scotia-men strike a spell o’ poor fishin’ on the Banks, where the good Lord meant us to fish, an’ then somebody remembers the time they got a full fare in two or three days in the Greenland sea, an’ off they go to the cross-trees o’ the world, where there ain’t no night in summer, an’ the sun goin’ round the horizon fit to dizzy a man, an’ the compass pointin’ west instead o’ north. I’ve got nothin’ ag’in young Cap’n Jimmie Haydon, mind. I sailed many years with his father in the ol’ Bluenose Maid, an’ always got a good summer’s fare, an’ when the ol’ man died ’twas on’y nat’ral for young Jimmie to take his place. Jimmie’s got lots o’ education—what he don’t know about latitood an’ longitood an’ star sights an’ weather forecasts ain’t wuth knowin’—an’ while Jimmie ain’t got the ol’ man’s nose for fish in the sea, he ain’t done so bad, high-liner last year, an’ a close second the year afore—an’ that year all the fleet done well. Jimmie’s got the ol’ man’s blue eyes, that kinda look ye through, an’ yaller hair, an’ a fine yaller whisker after a week at sea, an’ ain’t afraid o’ nothin’ this side o’ Davy’s Locker.
But he’s full o’ notions, is Jimmie. First thing he done after he got command o’ the ol’ Maid was to put in a Diesel oxillary, an’ a ’lectric light outfit besides. All the Bank fleet’s got ’em nowadays, but I dunno—I guess I’m set in my ways, for I like plain sail, an’ lanterns, an’ flare pots. ’Tain’t canny to be workin’ about the deck at night with a string o’ ’lectric bulbs glarin’ to heaven, out there on the wide black watter, an’ you feelin’ like you was on a theayter stage an’ the night full o’ eyes. An’ if you’re fishin’ in company it looks no better—all the vessels about you, lit up like Christmas trees.
The hard luck begun wi’ the lights. We got out on the Lahave Bank an’ somethin’ went adrift in the patent lightin’ system, an’ there we was, blind as ol’ Joe Crummle’s dog. We had to go all round the fleet, borryin’ lanterns an’ puttin’ up wi’ smart remarks. An’ it turned out we didn’t need ’em—not there anyways—for the fishin’ was desperate poor, an’ the day’s catch clear o’ the deck long afore dark. The fleet h’isted sail for the Middle Ground, but t’wan’t no better, an’ after a week o’ settin’ an’ haulin’ empty trawls we all hove up anchor for the Grand Bank. We scattered, wanderin’ over that big bank, feelin’ for fish that wasn’t there. Oh, ’twas desperate, desperate, man, I tell ye, an’ all the crew grumblin’ but the Finn cook an’ the header an’ throater—them bein’ on wages an’ not carin’.
It begun to look like a thin summer, an’ then one day, jist off the Virgin Rocks, who should we see but Harry Buler in the Sorella R. Chivers, an’ her deep-loaded, rollin’ south for home. Young Jimmie run over an’ spoke her.
“Looks like a full fare, Harry,” yells young Jimmie.
“You’re durned right!” bawls Harry, cheerful. “How’s everything home? Did Missus Bill Hickson have her baby yit? How’s prices holdin’? Did Ab Reeves git my house painted?”
“Everything’s fine. Bill Hickson’s got a boy, prices fair. Ab jist doin’ the back porch when we left, an’ there’s to be an election in the fall,” says Cap’n Jimmie, businesslike. “Where’d ye git them fish?”
Harry waves a hand to the no’thard. “Greenland,” he says.
“Plenty up there?” young Jimmie cries, eagerlike.
“Man!” roars Harry, “the sea is dry with ’em! I tell ye, Jimmie, we spent a whole day haulin’ fish into the dories with gaffs an’ fish forks—no trawls, hooks, bait or nothin’! I never seen the like in all me born days. The cook an’ flunkey caught ten quintal a day over the side wi’ hand lines, ’tween meals. Put fer Greenland, man, an’ don’t stop this side the Circle. I got mine under the shadder o’ Disco Island. Ah, it’s the grand place, I tell ye, an’ daylight the clock around.”
“There’s the place for us, boys,” says young Cap'n Jimmie. “Fish galore, a midnight sun, an’ no need o’ them stinkin’ lanterns”—an’ he swings the Bluenose Maid for the north.
Man, I tell ye, that’s a long, long journey to the Greenland sea. When ye git to Noo-fun-land ye ain’t a quarter the way. Ah, the wide cold sea an’ the strong cold wind, an’ the icebergs sailin’ by, an’ the compass actin’ wuss an’ wuss, an’ Jimmie hunched over his chart watchin’ the frost pinch the lines o’ longitood together like a hand on hammock strings. We was all so wishful for landfall that there was a dozen false alarms—icebergs, see?—for we was lookin’ for Greenland’s icy mountings, same as in the hymn book. Some said young Jimmie’d made a mistake with his high education an’ missed Cape Farewell. But after many days we come out a patch o' fog an’ seen a range o’ snow peaks to the no’theast.
“There she is,” says Cap’n Jimmie. “An’ a sight for weary eyes. Hold your course an’ call me in two hours.”
Habit, that was; for our own coast is low, more or less, an’ when ye see land you’re close in. But in two hours them mountings was no closer, nor in five, nor seven. I tell ye ’twas strange, strange. There was the ol’ schooner snorin’ through the cold sea wi’ a good wind at wes’-nor’west, an’ them white peaks never cornin’ any closer, like we was bewitched. It’s all along of us not bein’ used to Greenland’s icy mountings, which goes halfway to heaven an’ shows up a tremenjus distance.
For that country’s built on end, see? She jumps out o’ the sea, out o' deep soundin’s, an’ goes sheer to the sky, a mile, two mile, an awful imposin’ sight for a man not used to it. Rock, rock, half the rock in the world, all piled up in a great mountaneous heap as big as a continent, an’ harbors like slots in a comb, that go back into the land as fur as the eternal ice; ay, an’ rivers o’ ice they call glasheers creepin’ into the head of ’em. Ye sail up them harbors, which they call fee-ords in them parts, wi’ the black rock walls sheer on either quarter, an’ half the time no bottom to hold an anchor. An’ frequent there’s a roar some-wheres up the crick, an’ a great wave cornin’ out o’ the heart o’ the land, an’ bimeby an iceberg comes sailin’, headin’ fer the open sea. Ay, the glasheer launchin’ bergs like ships, an’ you layin’ under them shuddery black walls watchin’ the fleet go past.
THINK it’d be cold, wouldn’t ye? But I tell ye it was hot, hot, like the devil’s kitchen, in them fee-ords, for the sun shines most hours o’ the twenty-four an’ it must be ninety in the shade o’ them clifts, an’ not a breath stirrin’, an’ them big white-headed mountings shudderin’ like jellies in the haze. But ag’in, ye’d be sailin’ past a fee-ord, full in the sunshine, wi’ no more’n a fair breeze, an’ there’d come a blast o’ wind straight off them icy mountings an’ down the fee-ord like the blast of a gun, pretty nigh takin’ the ol’ hooker’s sticks out o’ her, an’ the temperature droppin’ fifty or sixty degrees at a swoop. An’ there’s fogs, when ye prow'l about wi’ the Diesel at half speed an’ a man hangin’ in the jib stays an’ another at the foremast head, an’ there comes a yell, sudden, an’ young Jimmie roarin’ down the engine hatch “Full astern!” an’ the loom o’ somethin’ big an’ solid jist ahead.
Sometimes it’s ice, an’ I don’t mind, bein’ used to ice on the Banks; but sometimes it’s the land, the great nightmare o’ rock itself; there comes a puff o’ wind, an’ the fog’s whisked off, an’ there’s the clifts, an’ your eyes follerin’ up, an’ your head tippin’ back an’ back till it’s restin’ ’tween your shoulder blades, like findin’ yourself down the hold an’ starin’ through a hatch at the sky. A weird, weird country, I say, an’ no place for a sailorman. I ain’t afeared o’ the sea; it’s big an’ wide an’ uproarious, but it’s nat’ral, an’ a man can cope wi’ nature. But I don’t want to be any place where a man could spit on me deck from a thousand feet o’ dry land, an’ no soundin’s under me.
All this time there’s no fish to speak of. We set an’ hauled, set an’ hauled, wherever we got soundin’s, an’ takin’ no more’n half a dozen quintal a day. An’ ’twas them ugly Greenland cod, all head an’ long body. The first lot we got aboard, young Jimmie stands on the afterdeck wi’ his hands in his trousers an’ looks ’em over. “So that’s the Greenland cod,” he says. “Well, they’re no prettier than I expected, but where’s the quantity? Look at ’em, boys—a proper poorhouse Friday!”
So we went further’n further along that coast, an’ sometimes turned out into the sea for a try, an’ finally we struck a ledge out in deep water where a ledge ain’t no business to be. No damage much, but the rudder come unlatched, an’ that’s awkward.
“We must find a beach somewheres,” says Cap’n Jimmie.
“Where’ll we find a beach in that devil’s quarry?” says I, pointin’ at them shiny mountings.
“In the head o’ some o’ them fee-ords,” says young Jimmie, confident.
“Nothin’ but glasheers,” says I.
“Ah,” he says, out o’ his education. “But some o’ the glasheers stops short o’ the salt water, an’ there’s a beach the finest kind.”
So we go prowlin’ up the fee-ords, steerin’ like a crab, lookin’ fer a beach.
Bimeby we found the place, a narra crick where ye could pretty nigh reach out an’ touch the rock both sides. We crep’ up there like a fly in a gutter, wi dories towin’ ahead to keep her bow straight. It goes back an’ back into the country, till I had a feelin’ we was bein’ swallered by the land, but after a time we come round a bend an’ there’s a beach, sure enough. The glasheer is blue an’ white in the sunshine, an’ looks close enough to hit wi’ a stone, but it’s fifteen mile up the valley, an’ there’s a stream rattlin’ down amongst the boulders an’ grass to the beach.
“We’ll fill our water bar’ls yonder,” says Cap’n Jimmie. “There’s all modern conveniences.” All hands was anxious for a leg-stretch—it’s a month since any of us put foot to shore—so we drop two or three dories overside an’ away we go. There’s a pair o’ tents pitched on the turf above the beach, which we take for Eskimos, an’ a kind o’ mist, shimmerin’ in the sun.
“Looka the smoke ’round them tents,” says Enoch Towls.
“That’s muskeeters,” Cap’n Jimmie says. “Or black flies.”
“Whoever heard o’ flies in Greenland?” I says.
But they was flies, all right, and mostly they was m’skeeters, them big northcountry m’skeeters that feels wet on your face an’ bites a piece right out. Out o’ them tents comes two men, speakin’ English through the queer fly nets about their heads. Cap’n Jimmie was jubious at first, for the Danes own that country an’ they’re fussy who comes ashore in it; but it seems these fellers is American professors—out of a college, see?—an’ they’re diggin’ up an ol’ settlement an’ lettin’ their whiskers grow, like them educated people do when they git off into the wilds.
They was real interested in our manoovers wi’ the Bluenose Maid. I won’t go into the details ’cause it’d take too long, but we shifted for’ard the ballast an’ what fish we’d got, to git her stern up, an’ then backed her onto the beach where we could work at the rudder. ’Twas a job, I’m tellin’ ye, a job for a drydock, an’ us wi’ no gear worth the mention, an’ the m’skeeters round our heads like smoke. Why, we had to wear mittens to keep ’em from eatin’ our hands to the bone—mittens, like we was at sea in the ice, though the professors’ thermometer shows ninety-five an’ the sweat’s runnin’ into our boots.
We got the rudder rigged—an’ then unlatched her ag’in in the launchin’! Talk about swearin’! The whole thing to do ag’in. But we done it, an’ filled our water tanks besides, an’ all-in-all we was two weeks in that place, an’ all hands wore clean out wi’ the work, an’ the loss o’ blood, an’ no sleep. Sleep! A man can’t sleep proper where there’s no night to sleep in, an’ a heat like Ada-Belle’s oven on bakin’ day. Jimmie an’ me walked up the valley one day wi’ the professors for a look at the glasheer, an’ d’ye know what?—there was flowers—flowers!—growin’ right ag’in the ice in that everlastin’ sunshine. Ah, the things I’ve seen, the things I’ve seen!
THEM professors was diggin’ round some ol’ stone walls, jist the kind o’ thing ye see in a ’bandoned settlement here in Nova Scotia; but it seems they was built by some kind o’ squarehead people a thousand year ago. Norsemen, that’s the word, Eric the Red an’ them kind o’ people. Jimmie knowed about ’em, but ’twas all news to me, an’ the professors got out books an’ showed us what manner o’ people they were, an’ the queer houses, an’ the queer ships—long an’ double-ended, wi’ a monstrous outlandish animal head at the bow an’ his tail stickin’ up astern, an’ one mast wi’ a great clumsy square sail, all stri-ped like a shop awnin’, an’ a row o’ round shields set along the bulwark, a steerin’ oar over the starboard quarter, an’ a tent rigged amidships for the crew. Seems there’s a great mystery what became o’ these old-timers, an’ the professors is diggin’ in their ol’ garbage heaps an’ pulling the house foundations apart, all for the sake o’ science, which is a fancy name for curiosity.
“Did they perish here?” asks the professor wi’ the black whiskers.
“It’s a perishin’ country,” says I.
“Or did they go off to America, which they’d already explored, an’ perish there?” suggests the young feller wi’ the glasses an’ the brown whiskers.
“The Middle West is full o’ Norsemen,” says young Jimmie, pleasant, “but I guess they got there by the C.P.R.”
“There’s blond Eskimos in the Canadian Ar’tic,” says the black whiskers.
“An’ carrot-topped niggers down Shelburne way,” says I, prompt. “But it don’t prove a thing on Eric the Red.”
“I can see you been studyin’ the question,” says brown whiskers, larfin’.
Well, we got our rudder pintles back into the gudgeons ag’in, an’ floated the ol’ Maid without further mishap, an’ I can tell ye we hove a sigh o’ relief to be clear o’ that two-thousan’-fut tomb an’ its heat an’ m’skeeters. The professors waves us good-by an’ good fishin’, an’ we git our Diesel a-goin’ an’ nose our way out o’ that rocky alley to the sea. I wouldn’t ha’ stayed in them fellers’ shoes for no money. I ain’t thinkin’ on’y about the m’skeeters, mind; it’s tentin’ in the heart o’ that unnat’ral country, shut in like a cat in a well, an’ diggin’ up Norwegians that’s been dead a thousand year. I tell ye that coast is uncanny—an’ I ain’t told ye nothin’ yet.
We worked south for a spell, dodgin’ the ice an’ islands, an’ settin’ an’ haulin’, settin’ an’ haulin’, till we was sick o’ the feel o’ empty trawls. Then, one momin’, we struck fish. More truthful, the fish struck us. Yes, they come to us, swarmin’ all about the vessel, so ye could look overside an’ see nothin’ but the dark backs o’ cod, jist under the surface. I never seen dories launched any smarter in twenty years. There we was, killin’ fish right an’ left. We didn’t bother settin’ trawls, I tell ye now! ’Twas jig hooks an’ hand lines, yes—an’ arter a time we was flappin’ ’em into the dories wi’ gaffs an’ fish forks the same as they done in the Sorella R.
Not a word of a lie! I tell ye we forked ’em out o’ the sea the same as ye’d fork fish out o’ the hold alongside the wharf at home. I never seen the like in all me born days—fish pilin’ up the foredeck faster’n the gibbers could git ’em gutted an’ headed an’ stowed in the hold. An’ no night, see? A bit o’ twilight an’ then broad sunshine ag’in. We worked straight through whiles the fish held, twenty hours on end, an’ for the last six we moved like dream-walkers, the way I guess them Israelites must ha’ moved, the time Joshua bid the sun stand whiles they slew an’ slew. Then the fish went, quick as they’d come, an’ we lay on the deck, all amongst the big ugly Greenland cod that nobody’d time or stren’th to split an’ stow, an’ slep’ there under the midnight sun. Ah, the things I’ve seen—an’ I ain’t told ye nothin’!
Arter four hours the cook waked us, yellin’ we was ashore, but ’twas on’y a couple o’ growlers, wrapped in one o’ them li'l pocket-hankitcher fogs that comes up out o’ nowhere in the Greenland sea, an’ them grindin’ an’ growlin’ together the way they do, an’ the swell breakin’ on ’em, an’ spray flyin’ close enough to wet our faces there aboard the Bluenose Maid. What did we care for ice? ’Twas on’y the awful sky-scrapin’ land that scared us. We cussed the cook scandalous for breakin’ our sleep, but we was broad awake then, so we put off the dories ag’in an’ set trawls. When we come to overhaul the trawls there wasn’t no fish. They’d gone, clean. Cap’n Jimmie stood off into the Strait, an’ bimeby we set ag’in, an’ when we come to overhaul there was nothin’ but a few halibut—yeah—on a ground-fish trawl!
Several days went by like that. It was vexatious, for we’d three parts of a cargo. At last Cap’n Jimmie lets the ol’ hooker drift. “We can’t find the fish, it seems, boys. So we’ll let the fish find us. Everything is topsy-turvy in these latitoods.”
An’ sure enough, they come, swarmin’ about the schooner like before, an’ us out in the dories slayin’ like Joshua amongst the Amontes. Ha, that was fishin’, I tell ye! Ye’d fill your dory till the sea was sloppin’ in over the after gunnies; then ye’d pull alongside the ol’ Maid an’ take your fish fork, pitchin' fish up to the deck the way ye’d pitch hay into a loft. An’ the cook an’ gibbers an’ Cap’n Jimmie fishin’ wi’ hand lines overside! In three hours we’d filled what space was left in the hold an’ had the deck full besides, but we couldn’t seem to stop. Ay, we went on killin’ fish like crazy men, an’ chuckin’ ’em up to a deck that was heaped a’ready, an’ them hidjus big cod slitherin’ here, there an’ overboard on the other side, an’ no one carin’. I remember the cook, a Finn he was, an’ queer-minded like some o’ them people, standin’ ag’in the cabin house, his apron all splashed wi’ fish guts, laughin’, at us wi’ a voice high an’ crackin’ like a boy in the ’tweens.
I PULLED my dory alongside an’ begun forkin’ up another load—an’ the deck heaped, mind—an’ heard the cook gigglin’, an’ somehow looked up through the sweat o’ me face an’ seen Cap’n Jimmie leanin’ over.
"Snap out of it, man!” he roars down at me. “What’s the sense wastin’ good fish like this? We’ve got a full fare, a high-line for the fleet if I know anythin’! Tell them other fish-killin’ fools to come aboard an’ clear these cod off o’ the deck whilst I square the ol’ hooker away for home.”
“Let ’em have it out,” I says, wipin’ me face. “It’s on’y wanst or twice’t in a lifetime a man gits fishin’ like this. Think o’ the empty days we had, Jimmie, an’ the latitood an’ the queer country an’ climate. How d’ye expect a man to act right-minded wi’ the sun goin’ round in circles an’ the land growin’ down from the sky like Paul Bunyan’s forest, an’ the compass eight p’ints west o’ the truth? Let ’em kill fish till they’re sick of it,” I says, “for they’ll never see the like ag’in, I hope.”
“You hope!” says Cap’n Jimmie, fierce. I can see he’s plannin’ Greenland v’yages years ahead, as crazy as the rest.
“Right!” says I. “May we never see this loony country ag’in! Grand Bank’s fur enough for the likes o’ me. The fish may come slower, but they’re fatter an’ more nat’ral—everythin’s more nat’ral. The good Lord give us the Banks to fish on, an’ never meant us for the Greenland sea. It’s flyin’ in the face o’ providence.”
“We’ll be flyin’ afore the face of a nor’wester pretty quick,” young Jimmie says, lookin' anxious at the sky, an’ she’s comin’ up windy sure enough, the way it does in them parts, wi’ no warnin’ from the glass, an’ the clouds all blowed to feathers in the high sky, like a set o’ tops’ls gone to rags.
By the time we got the men aboard—all drunk wi’ weariness an’ the excitement—'twas blowin’ hard. We got the fores’l on her, stampin’ about amongst the fish, an’ she heeled to it, an’ the deck fish slid. They slid, an’ half went overboard an’ half we forked over the side, the deck all slippery wi’ gurry an’ blood so a man could scarcely stand. An’ it blowed. Man, how it blowed! Every half-hour, reg’lar as clockwork, she’d fetch a bigger gust than anythin’ afore, so ye wondered how much she’d got in store, an’ whether the next ’un wouldn’t fetch in the sticks clean out o’ the ol’ hooker.
We reefed the fores’l, but still she drove; we took it in an’ set a storm stays’l, an’ she drove, she drove; an’ that gale comin’ down past the Pole was cold, cold, an’ the great mountaneous seas rollin’ outa Baffin’s Bay behind us, an’ the wind flickin’ their tops away like a boy cuttin’ daisies wi’ a stick, so the air was thick an’ masthead-high wi’ spray. Yes, that’s the way we come down the Greenland sea for home, wi’ two men at the wheel, an’ them afraid to look behind, an’ Greenland’s icy mountings lost in the smother to loo’ard—but there, there, d'ye see? ready an’ waitin’, all them cruel hard clifts.
Times we’d catch a glimp of ’em, an’ times we wouldn't. But ’twas the ice that dangered most now. Not the bergs—ye could see them loom from the masthead, wi’ the spray flashin’ white about the windward face of ’em like a clo’esline of a windy Monday; but there’s patches o’ pack ice out o’ Baffin’s Bay, that ye can’t see till they’re under your forefoot. Slice the bottom out o’ your vessel, they would, like a cabbage on the kraut knife, an’ no time for prayers. An’ through it all young Jimmie stands on the main boom, wi’ an arm about the mast, starin’ ahead like he couldn’t trust no eyes but his own.
There’d come a yell from the masthead,” “Ice-hao! Starb'd! Starb'd yer hellum! An’ there’d be Cap’n Jimmie an’ the helmsmen cryin’, “Starb'd! Starb’d!” an’ all heavin’ together on the spokes; an’ in a moment there’s a glimp o’ somethin’ white an’ bothered off the quarter, slippin’ by like a ghost, an’ Long Dan bellerin’, “Jimmie, man, that was close!”—an’ young Jimmie, the salt white in his yaller whiskers, shoutin’, “Good as a mile! Oh, boys, did ever ye see such a fair wind for home? Where’s the southeasters they talked about?”
Ah, she drove, I tell ye, wi’ them sky-high clifts loomin’ an’ fadin’ off to loo’ard, goin’ by like a picket fence. Wi’ that wind an’ sea there’s no makin’ any westin’, so Cap’n Jimmie give up hopes o’ the Belle Isle Strait.
“It’s the ocean passage for us,” he says cheerful, “an’ Cape Farewell for a departure, the same as them ol’ Vikings.”
But I tell ye I was uneasy all that time. It’s that unnat’ral coast on the port side—I couldn’t breathe proper till we’d sunk them mountings astern an’ got clear into the good wide sea.
JIST SHORT o’ Cape Farewell the wind hauled sudden, the way it does in them parts, an’ there’s a warm breath from the south, an’ the rain come down. I stood in that rain, smilin’ to meself. D’ye know why? Because ’twas nat’ral, the fust nat’ral thing I’d seen in weeks, an’ ye could stick out your tongue an’ taste it warm an’ sweet on your whiskers. An’ that night, in the long twilight that goes for night in them latitoods, we seen the Thing.
The weather’s thick, wi’ a warm mist beatin’ up from the cold sea under the rain, an’ I’m at the wheel, wi’ the Finn cook beside me. “Look!” he says, sudden.
I look, an’ there’s a vessel o’ some sort not far to starb’d. It's hard to make her out at first; then the wind veers east an’ makes a pocket in the mist, an’ she’s close an’ clear, an’ me hair's pricklin’ the back o’ me neck. For it’s one o’ them Viking ships, the same as the professors’ book, as true as I’m standin’ here! Not a word of a lie! There's that queer animal’s head stickin’ up for’ard, an’ the tail cocked up for a stern post, an’ the shields along her waist, yes, an’ the stri-ped awnin’ for sail. She’s close-hauled, wi’ the tack o’ that big clumsy sail carried well for’ard, an’ she ain't doin’ bad till—pouf!—the wind fetches hard from the east’ard. It’s clear she ain't gonna make more eastin’, not without head sails—which she ain’t got. But then some people appears, an’ there’s a scurry, an’ they furl that big thrashin’ sail quick as lightnin’—an’ she keeps on, dead to windward, an’ her mast bare as a walkin’ stick!
That’s too much for me, I tell ye! I hammer on the skylight, yellin’ for Cap’n Jimmie, an’ in a minute he’s on deck in his shirt an’ trousers. We point to that Thing, me an’ the Finn, an’ our hands shakin’.
“Well I'll be blasted,” says Jimmie.
“Put her about,” I says, pleadin’like. “It's a warnin’.” An’ the F'inn backs me up. makin’ signs an’ babblin’ in his own language, havin’ lost his English in one glimp o’ the supernat'ral.
“About, nothin’!” says Jimmie, an’ looks like a Viking hisself, what wi’ his blue eyes shinin’ an’ his mop o’ yaller hair an’ his thick yaller whiskers, though there’s nothin’ but Highland Scotch in him an’ a drop o’ Old Dutch from the grandmother. “Gimme the wheel,” he says, “an’ you an’ the cook go for'ard an’ take a pull on them jib sheets. If that thing can go to windward, so can we.”
“But why?” I screeched at him. “Our road lies south.”
“He’s tryin’ to double Cape Farewell,” says Cap’n Jimmie, like he hadn’t heard me. “Headin’ up for Iceland, he is. We must have a better look at him. Pity the Diesel’s busted ag’in.”
So we give a pull on the jibs, an’ I hear the cook’s teeth rattlin’, an’ that queer ship drawin’ out ahead like she’s pulled by a string.
“Why, we’re losin’ her,” says Jimmie, dumfoundered.
“What d’ye expect?” I says. “There ain’t such ships no more, an’ them men’s been dead a thousand years.”
“Bah!” snaps Cap'n Jimmie. “I’d like to see the corpse could double Cape Farewell in the teeth of an easier. Look at him go! It’s the first time I ever seen a squarehead do what a Bluenose couldn’t!”
By this time the ghost ship’s out o’ sight in the mist ahead.
“There’s no catchin’ him,” says Jimmie wi’ a kind o’ sigh, “an’ I’d ha’ liked right well to speak the beggar. What a tale to tell in Lunenburg!”
The wind fetches harder. “Turn up the hands,” says Cap’n Jimmie. “We must get the mains’l off her, it’s goin’ to blow a buster.”
As I run to the skylight I hear the cook talkin’ queer an’ I turn jist in time to see him take a run an’ go flyin’ over the side, like a kid at the ol’ swimmin’ hole below home. Larfin’, he was, larfin’ like a fool. There’s no bringin’ the schooner round—not wi’ that wind blowin’ an’ all sail on her, an’ Jimmie an’ me alone on deck. We seen his two feet in the ol’ carpet slippers stickin’ out o’ the sea for a moment, an’ then he’s gone for keeps.
“There,” says young Jimmie, cool, “goes the best cook in the Bank fleet. It’s a queer world.”
By that time I’m rappin’ frantic on the skylight for the hands, an’ the ol’ Maid rearin’ an’ plungin’ fearsome to behold. Ah, the things I’ve seen, the things I’ve seen—an’ me here tellin’ it over a glass o’ buttermilk!
Never again! Never again for Sol McRobbie! There’s them that goes reg’lar to the Greenland sea, halibuters an’ such, an’ the ships for the cryolite mines, an’ yachtsmen goin’ for to photygrarf them fee-ords,—Let ’em go! They can have it, them an’ the Danskers an’ the Eskimos an’ missionaries. ’Tain’t for a man like me, that's thinkin’-minded an’ come to a serious time o’ life. Give the jug a push this way, Ada-Belle, for me throat’s dry as a hard-salted cod.
Solomon McRobbie drank a whole glass of the milk in silence. “Now,” he said triumphantly, “did ever ye hear such a tale in all your born days? An’ it’s true, gospel true. None o’ that trash ye and yer kind write!”
I PULLED the morning paper out of my pocket. I opened it with some diffidence, for it was a Halifax paper of a political faith anathema to Sol McRobbie. And I read slowly and aloud:
The sailing vessel Olaf Tryggvason, under Captain Svensen, arrived here yesterday, having made the north passage from America by way of Greenland, after a rough voyage. Captain Svensen and his crew of young Norwegians and Swedes are loud in praise of the ship’s performance. The Olaf Tryggvason is a replica of the old Viking long-ships, measuring sixty feet overall with a fifty-foot keel, and a beam of sixteen feet. She draws little more than three feet of water, and carries a large square sail on her fifty-foot mast. Captain Svensen states that his craft can sail within five points of the wind with this rig, but for dead windward work there is a powerful Diesel engine in a compartment aft with concealed exhaust. Captain Svensen had sailed his craft to America by way of the Azores, and exhibited her at New York, where many World’s Fair visitors paid to inspect her. He decided to return by the old Viking route, along the sixtieth parallel.
There was a long silence. Sol McRobbie stared at me with eyes of fire.
“A tory paper!” he exploded at last.
“It’s black and white,” I said.
“Writin’s!” roared Sol McRobbie, and crushed me in a word.