Authors: Michele Torrey
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BAMBERT'S BOOK OF MISSING STORIES,
CAUGHT BY THE SEA,
GIFTS FROM THE SEA,
is a beautiful creature, with the heart and spirit of a true giant. It is this author's dream that the commercial whale fishery become a relic of a bygone era, used only as a tool of enlightenment, so that the oceans will again be filled with the varied species of this magnificent beast for generations to come.
a true lady
Out of whose womb came the ice?
And the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath gendered it?
The waters become hard like stone
And the face of the deep is frozen.
he day my father returned from the sea, I was five years old. It was a day like any other. Blue skies dotted with clouds, seagulls floating on the breeze, me peering through my spyglass.
The year was 1842, and my older brother, Dexter, and I lived with our aunt Agatha in a considerable grand mansion on County Street. From the glass-enclosed cupola atop our home, I could see down the
hill, past our town of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and to the river. Dozens of ships lay alongside the wharves, their masts and yards like a jumble of spilled toothpicks.
There were always ships a-coming and a-going. I didn't know which was my father's; after all, he'd been gone since before I could remember. But every day I watched anyways, sometimes running down the steps to fetch my aunt, pulling her by the sleeve, asking her to come look through my spyglass and tell me whether this ship was
Aunt Agatha would look, sigh, say no, hand back my spyglass, and tell me not to bother her again, for she had a garden to tend and raspberry jam to put by.
On this day, though, my aunt fetched me. I turned, and there she stood, wiping her floury hands on her apron, with Dexter beside her. She brushed a wisp of salt-and-pepper hair out of her eyes, leaving a white smudge on her temple. “Your father's ship is here.”
I wanted to dash to the waterfront, not even stopping to put on my shoes. Aunt Agatha not only made me put on my shoes, but made me wash my face, scrub behind my ears, and then walk beside Dexter and behave proper. Dexter's whisper tickled my ear. “Do you think Father will like us?” Dexter was seven years old, and I couldn't imagine anyone not liking him. Everyone liked Dexter. As for me, I liked Dexter as well as I liked custard pudding. Maybe better.
I started to answer, to tell Dexter I liked him better than pudding, but Aunt Agatha yanked his arm, then rapped the back of my head. “Hush now.”
Long before we arrived at the wharf, a warm breeze wafted from the waterfront, thick with whale oil, fresh-cut oak, and pitch. Then, finally, we were there, standing beside my father's ship. My heart beat wild. He was here! Finally here! I kept pointing to the
different men who disembarked, tugging on my aunt's skirt. “Is that him? Is he my father?”
“Hush. You'll know soon enough, I expect. And stop that jumping. Ye make my teeth rattle.”
And then there he was. I near burst with joy. “Dexter! Nicholas! Right smart, lively children you be!” He laughed and swung us both onto his shoulders. He was thin and tall as a ship's mast, or very nearly, anyways, and so it was a great thing to be atop his shoulder. He smelled of the sea, of salt, and of the wind.
That night, when he tucked me into bed, he handed me a gift. “This is for you. Carved it myself, I did.”
It looked like a horn, curved and whitish yellow. On it was carved a picture of Father's ship. I looked at him, wondering. “'Tis a tooth from the mighty sperm whale,” he explained, “a monster fish so ferocious it can swallow a soul in a single gulp; it can crush a ship and eat all her sailors and still be hungry.”
“Have you killed a sperm whale?”
“Aye. Many. 'Tis what lights our lamps and makes our candles. Nothing burns so bright and white as sperm oil.”
I hugged the tooth, vowing to keep it forever. “It's grand,” I said, “and you are very brave.” That night I dreamed I battled a whale. He thrashed his mighty tail and smashed my boat to splinters, but not before my lance pierced his vitals.
Day after day we strolled through the city streets, my father, Dexter, and I, over the cobblestones and under the elms, past other stately mansions and into the city center. Past the apothecary, the livery stable, the blacksmith's shop. Father tipped his hat to folks, saying, “How be you, Widow Taber?” or “How be you today, Reverend Wood?”
Always they replied, “'Twas a fine, greasy voyage ye made, Cap'n Robbins. All the folks be talking 'bout it.” Then they
pinched my cheeks, shook Dexter's hand, and looked fair pleased to see us.
“Why,” said one woman, “but don't Dexter look like his mother used to, God rest her soul, what with his sandy hair, eyes the color of molasses, and a smile that takes my breath away. Handsome as a hackman's hat, he is.”
“The girls will be pining after him before too many years,” said another.
“And my stars and body, don't your other boy look just like you, Cap'n Robbins! Eyes like shamrocks, and thin as a splinter, he is! Tall as a steeple too.”
“Why, how proud ye must be, Cap'n Robbins.”