Teller’s Cove Chapter 21

By R.W. Van Sant

Chapter 21

A long hot bath soothed Jerry’s aching stomach muscles. The warm water removed the residue of the sea salt and the tensions of the day. Lying in the tub, his head mostly under water, he contemplated the events of the day. Ellie had taught him quite a bit more than Ted had. It was no criticism of his brother; it was just that she noticeably had much more experience. Ellie’s advanced training might give them a chance, and he would very much like to live through his vacation and maybe even retrieve the statues.

After his bath, Jerry slumped into the sofa with Ellie’s pile of books. She tagged them in several places with yellow post-it stickers. Ellie must have been up most of the night marking text passages. Jerry chose a book at random and opened to the first-page mark. It was a firsthand account of the experience of diving with sharks. After perusing a few books, he discovered that all the marked pages concerned diving accidents and how these divers dealt with emergencies; ripped hoses, collapsing hulls, dangerous sea life, and other assorted problems. What an angel! He wanted to kiss her all over again.

Jerry dove into his homework with greater interest, studying each account carefully. Many seemingly insurmountable problems had simple solutions. Others were purely inspired. He read a few incidents of divers who escaped death by pure luck. Those were obviously marked to read in an attempt to convince him not to try. The sections were short, and by the time Ted called out for dinner, he had finished reading each account.

Ted was not much of a reader, but Jerry convinced him that the best chance they had of retrieving the idols lay in remembering the passages Ellie marked for them. The knowledge in those books could mean the difference between finding the treasure and losing a brother. After dinner, Ted started in on Ellie’s pile of books. Jerry began to read the log book again.

March 6th, 1877

Matthew Teller, Captain

Canton China

We made port just before dawn. I sent the first mate and a small contingent of the crew to inquire into cargo and supplies. We will need to re-supply for the return trip to San Francisco.  The immigration market to America is still booming. Although I dislike dealing with passengers, there is every reason to believe that we can fill the rest of the hull with passengers and their personal effects. In truth, we will most likely have to turn some away.

Jerry’s vision blurred as he leafed through several pages of entries that were mundane to the point of tears. Occasionally he would find a legible entry interesting enough to investigate.

March 20th, 1877

Matthew Teller, Captain

Canton China

Robert Ives, my first mate, came back on a board, covered with a sheet. The bosen informed me that he was killed in a drunken brawl. The fight started over the affections of a local woman. Stupid fool, he was a good man, and a friend. I will miss him sorely; many a long voyage was made bearable by his wit.

Finding a replacement for him will be most difficult in this heathen land. I will send the bosen back out with posts. Inquiries will begin for tomorrow, yet I hold little hope of finding a qualified man.

The next several pages contained lists and details of the taking on of Chinese passengers and the storing of their positions for the long voyage to America.

March 29th, 1877

Matthew Teller, Captain

Canton China

I found a new first mate, one Thomas Carlow. The man claims to be a naturalist. Nevertheless, he has all the qualifications needed to serve as my first mate. As a young man, he served on a picket ship where he learned the ropes. I ran through the ship’s procedures with him. He gives every indication of being a competent seaman. Alas, he lacks Robert’s wit, and it will be a sad voyage without my lost companion.

The hold is now full of passengers, we took on more than I would like, but no more than we can handle. The increase in the number of mouths to feed will necessitate a longer course home for provisions. I have plotted a new route, which will take us to Japan and then Alaska before setting out on our final leg to San Francisco. Alaska holds many opportunities that I hope may tempt many of our passengers to disembark to try their fortunes.

April 14th, 1877

Matthew Teller, Captain

China Coast

The Sunshine encountered a storm during evening watch. It came in quickly from the Northeast, persisting even now. Driving winds have pushed the sunshine off course, and we have long ago lost sight of land. I fear each passing hour takes us farther from the trade routes. Our plight has been made all the more difficult because, at the height of the tempest, a boom broke loose smashing the ship’s compass. I’ll be unable to establish the ship’s location until the clouds clear enough to view the stars, and allow me to use the sextant.

Members of the crew have brought me the news that superstitious hogwash is spreading among the passengers. The story of the Indian man and the idols has spread among them. If I find out whose lips spoke of this, I’ll keelhaul them. They have endangered not only the ship but also the ship. Treasures of such value should remain secret. These strange heathen peoples do not seek treasures, however. Instead, they claim the objects are cursed and blame them for the storm. The new first mate has been invaluable in this regard, as he is a man of science he explains that the storm is natural and his calm demeanor does much to calm the nerves and diminish the fears of those who cower below decks.

April 18th, 1877

Matthew Teller, Captain

Lost

The storm subsided, yet the sky is still dark and overcast. It has become evident to me that we have lost our bearings. To keep up morale, the first mate has been giving astronomy lessons to the crew. They are all looking forward to the first clear night to try to reestablish our location. I have encouraged this and offered a five-dollar reward for the first one to succeed.

The Chinese passengers remain agitated, protests over the idols have sprung up among the more superstitious among them. They insist that I put them over the side. I fear I may have to lock up the ringleaders if they persist in disrupting our routine, or perhaps I can put them over the side instead. I will not drop the only profit this trip is likely to see simply to satisfy some heathen malcontents.

April 19th, 1877

Matthew Teller, Captain

Lost

We sighted land as the morning sun broke through the clouds. Mr. Carlow speculates that the storm may have blown the Sunshine toward the Sandwich Islands. The island, however, doesn’t match any of those recorded by Captain Cook. On a positive note, the clouds are thinning, and the first mate believes he will soon be able to get a navigational fix. We are sailing around the island in hopes of finding suitable portage, as we will shortly be in dire need of fresh water and provisions.

April 20th, 1877

Matthew Teller, Captain

Uncharted Island

The Sunshine anchored in a deep lagoon. The clouds cleared before dawn and First Mate Carlow was able to get a position fix, and we are far from the Island’s Cook visited, truth be told, this island doesn’t appear on any charts. Word has spread, and the crew is jubilant at the thought of discovery. Mr. Carlow marked its location on our map, but we haven’t, as yet, named it. I believe that that honor should go to Mr. Carlow.

After much discussion, I have allowed him to take a contingent of men around the island, making notes and sketches. A finding of this importance, he argued, should be studied for posterity. We might find a place in the history books.

All talk of ancient curses and unholy statues is forgotten as the men prepare to explore and hunt on this unspoiled paradise. I look forward to an abundance of fresh fruit, game and water.

I have allowed the passengers to go ashore in small groups to clean themselves and their clothes and to stretch their legs. The storm and uncertainty have been hard on them. The stench from below decks is becoming unbearable. I have ordered all hatches to be opened to air it out below decks. A group of passengers will stay aboard to clean up their living areas. I issued them swabs, and they quickly went about their work, clearly as sick of the stench as I.

April 21st, 1877

Matthew Teller, Captain

Uncharted Island

The crew has been more than fortunate in their hunting and gathering activities. Our larders are again full and fresh fruit and game line the deck. The cook is planning a large feast, and I have authorized shore leave to all but a skeleton crew. One of the china men is reputed to be an excellent cook and has offered to help him cook the wild pig. It will be an event to remember, much needed after the harrowing tensions and doubt of the past several days.

April 22nd, 1877

Matthew Teller, Captain

Uncharted Island

During the festivities, a Chinese child has wandered off into the jungle. Several of the men and many of the passengers are searching the island. It is a blessing that we haven’t seen any signs of large predators. Still, his parents are apprehensive as to his safety. The rest of the crew is salting down the remaining meat and boxing up fresh fruit for the long trip across the wide Pacific. We’ll need enough to make a direct shot straight to San Francisco, I believe about two months’ worth. It will be a speed run, but I feel that the men are well motivated.

There was a light rapping at the door.

“Did you order more pizza?” Ted looked up from Ellie’s book.

“No,” Jerry put the book down and moved toward the front door. Although he had just eaten, he could eat more, especially if Ellie brought it. “But I won’t turn it down either.”

The knocking grew more insistent.

“I’m coming.” Jerry opened the door. The woman on the porch was not Ellie. She was slimmer, cute, but more in an anorexic model way. Her straight black hair was shorter than the last time he had seen her. She wore a tight black dress with pink roses that, although popular in New Mexico, was a little out of place in California. Linda. “Becky,” Jerry said.

“I’d like to see Ted.” She smiled demurely, but didn’t fool Jerry. “Please.”

What could he do? “Ted, it’s your ex.”

Jerry left the door open and walked to the kitchen for a beer. Ted rose slowly from the couch and headed for the porch. Jerry felt cowardly for abandoning his brother. But Linda was Ted’s problem; he would have to deal with her. Jerry hoped he remembered how she used him and cheated on him. Jerry could at least hang around for support. He tilted the can and emptied the container, leaving the can on the counter and returned to the living room.

Rebecca was sitting on the couch, head resting against a stiff-looking Ted. Jerry could tell that she was crying. He felt awkward looking at them. “I’ll make some coffee.” He offered and headed back to the safety of the kitchen.

“Don’t bother.” Ted stood up. “We’re going to go out for coffee.”

“Okay,” Jerry said.

“Don’t wait up,” Ted said. Rebecca stood up next to him, her mascara artistically smeared around her eyes.

“Sure,” Jerry was tired enough to agree. An evil thought struck him, and he asked, “Do you need to borrow some money?”

“Na, I’m good. See you in the morning. Get lots of sleep, busy day.” Ted walked out with Rebecca in tow. Jerry could not be sure, but he thought he could see a smile behind her mussed hair.

The truck sputtered before roaring to life. Jerry grabbed another beer and sipped it, listening to the truck going down the dirt drive. Jerry walked out into the night and watched as the taillights disappeared onto the highway. The driveway was empty. She must have hitched in or taken a cab. Gutsy, she must be planning on staying. Jerry’s gut clenched up at the thought. “No need to worry until there is something to worry about,” he reminded himself.

He went back in, sat back on the couch, and tried to read the logbook again, but his eyes were too tired. Jerry closed the logbook and put it away. As interesting as the old story was, it would not be of any use with Ellie’s quiz the next morning. He needed to get his mind off Rebecca and back on Ellie; he did not want to disappoint her. The truth was, he had never wanted to be the teacher’s pet so strongly in his life. He grabbed his scuba gear on the couch, and put on a blindfold, then spent the next hour or so feeling equipment. He did not take a break until the name and function of each piece came readily to mind.


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