by Sam Ivey
Table of Contents|
Part 1, Part 2
Part 3, Part 4
appeared in issue 223.
Glossary of nautical terms
Epilogue: The Healing and the Hunger|
part 1 of 2
“Alone on the raging ocean, alone in my craft I ride,
Alone on the foaming billows, in all their crested pride,
No man before hath ventured, alone, so far to sail;
Nor mind hath ever yet conceived a ship so small, so frail.”
Sydney Punch - February 17, 1883, Sydney, Australia
Over a year had passed since he had returned home to Buffalo; a series of uneasy months wherein Catherine had struggled to understand the man who had come back to her, this man who was her husband. More than a husband, he was the father of their child. Yet he seemed to be almost just as much a stranger.
He was of course older, but older by far than simply the year and more that had gone by. He was thinner now, considerably so, the face being more sharply featured. And gone was much of the restlessness that had dominated his personality. He was a quieter man now; the flames of seeking which had burned with such unquenchable zeal, had been reduced to smoldering embers — subdued but not extinguished. For the yearning of that hunger was still there; and it would always be there.
But this was a healing time now, a time for salving the wounds inflicted by neglect and by the absence of affection. It was a time for repairing the family, just as he had repaired Pacific. William and Mary Guilboy had done a fine thing in looking out for Catherine and little Mary, but they could never be a husband; they could never be a father.
On this bitter-chilled December evening, with a biting wind cutting through the darkness outside, and the subtle, musky aroma of wood smoke from the maple-stoked fireplace permeating the home — the flames roaring bravely as they consumed the hardwood logs — he and Catherine sat together in the living room. Much of the last two hours had been spent in silence, they having been absorbed in their reading. He was sitting in the high wingback chair where his father had sat just last January. She was on the sofa.
Just now she had lowered her book and looked over at him, sitting there so quietly, his eyes intently following the writer’s thoughts down the page. She studied him closely, recalling how she had plied him with question after question throughout the weeks following his return; questions that had served to unite her vicariously in the events of his quest. And, if for no other cause, they had provided her with a reason to simply speak with him, to become more a part of him.
She had learned much in the course of those conversations. He had told her of the sharks, and the swordfish, frightening her terribly in describing the dark night of the capsize. His arrival in Maryborough, Australia, on February 2nd, 1883; had been explained, as well as his contracting typhoid fever and of recuperating in the local hospital there. He also had told her of how he had later sailed down to Syndey, aboard the S.S. Leichart, where he had looked for a place to put Pacific on display. A hope of earning some money from his adventures had been entertained, but he had found no suitable location.
Among the earliest matters he recounted were the details of his return to San Francisco last September. There in October, only two months ago, he had arranged to show the boat at the Woodward Gardens. No small amount of interest had been generated, and the response had been generally favorable. Especially was this so among local yachtsmen, and among young sailing enthusiasts in particular. But with several other things happening at the same time — there having been a famous cornet soloist by the name of Miss Aggie Taylor, as well as an acrobatic group and a pantomime comic on the same program — the opportunity to share his story had been somewhat diminished.
While she was remembering all of these many things, her musing was interrupted as he abruptly laid his book aside. Stretching both arms straight out ahead of him, and flexing his fingers, he spoke quietly, “Oh! I meant to mention that there was a letter came today; one I wanted to share with you.”
He rose then, and as he walked to the dining room he said over his shoulder, “It’s from a company in San Francisco that I’ve written to about employment. They’re offering me a job as a conductor on the Presidio Railway. It’s a cable car that runs from the ferry building near the waterfront up to the military reservation that’s located up on a hill that overlooks the town.”
He returned with the letter, which he handed to her, and she laid her book down. Unfolding the page, she read. Her eyes running swiftly over the words before she looked up at him: the question being on her face before it was on her lips.
“Do you want us to move to San Francisco?”
“Well, it’s quite a city, Catherine, and it’s growing. I believe we could have a future there.” Gesturing at the letter he said, “And that right there is a solid work opportunity. So if you’re agreeable to doing that — to moving — I think I’d like to.”
“It would mean some big changes for me,” she said. “I’m... I’m not like you are, Bernard.” Her brow furrowed and she shook her head. “You’re a wanderer, a gypsy; and I guess maybe you always will be. As for me?” She chuckled. “Me... I’ve lived my whole life here in New York State, so far. All of my family is here; all my friends are here, and of course your family as well. I’ve never even been to Pittsburgh — never been to Boston. And for me to think of moving clear to the west coast... well, it’s aah...”
“I know Dear, I know. It’s not an easy thing for you to think about doing. But I’ve no doubt that you’d like it out there. Most especially the weather.” He returned to his chair. “Take right now, for example; listen to that wind outside. Right now, San Francisco is probably awash in sunshine, or at least it will be in the morning. And it’s not just sunshine; it’s warm sunshine. They get their share of rain, of course, but that’s mostly in the winter, and the summers are just wonderful.”
She looked again at the letter and said, “Will you let me have a few days to think it over?”
“Sure. I understand. Take your time, but please don’t wait too long; because this chance for a job won’t last forever, and I think it’s something I’d like to do.”
He picked up his book, and they both resumed their reading as she said, “Let’s talk about it in a couple of days.”
She did think it over, and they did talk about it in a couple of days. In fact, within the week he had written to the Presidio Railway, accepting the position. Then having subsequently been hired, they had packed all of their belongings, had arranged for shipment by Railway Express, and before the month was out had boarded the train for San Francisco. There he worked at his new employment, rattling up and down the city’s hills for the next three years while the family grew.
But for all of the healing that took place during these years — with he and Catherine growing ever more closer together, and with him becoming a good husband and father — there remained the subtle urgings to get back to the sea, to feel the roll and pitch of a deck below his feet once again; to experience the surge of the wind in the sails and the hiss of the water along the hull. It was invariably at the back if not at the front of his mind.
And particularly was this so as he would overhear conversations among the cable car passengers, more than a few of whom were workers in the dock area at the harbor end of the car’s run. Personal contacts with many of them were inevitable, and along with his gregarious personality this had generated friendships. It was, therefore, only a matter of time before he found himself in conversation with one of them; one who offered him the opportunity to ship aboard one of the vessels as a seaman.
On the evening of that occasion, as he and Catherine sat over a dinner of roast pork, boiled cabbage and potatoes, he broached the subject with a certain care. Taking a long draft of his coffee, as if in preparation for the words, he spoke.
“Curious thing happened today as we were coming up the hill from the bay.” He took a bite of pork.
“Really, what was that, Dear?”
“Well, you know how guys get to talking. Anyway, one of them said they had an opening aboard the ship he’s on and...”
Copyright © 2006 by Sam Ivey