I have have always enjoyed this story, a soft little ditty…
about The man in the Fog
by my English friend Jonathon Dunn. – Doc
At the harbour Marcus crouched in the upturned shell of a disused tender, the familiar iron ship towering high above him, gentle ripples caressing her sweeping lines. Lost in her beauty he fell under her spell. Unwinding the bundle of papers he could see they were charts of the sea. His thoughts drifted away, as he imagined himself sailing far from the city under clear blue skies, with sparkling waves cascading over the deck following the course set by his father nearly two years past.“Have you got something for me?” Mr Yardley called down from the deck.
Marcus jumped, “Yes Sir, charts, from Mr Scarrow”
“Give them here then.”
Marcus ran up the gangway. “About time. Now, go see Chef, get yourself a bite to eat. Be quick, we sail on the tide”.
Below deck was a rare world, dull light struggling to give form to the narrow passageways, air heavy with tobacco as grey shapes shoved and heaved their travel worn bags onto narrow bunks. New boys sharing, whilst old hands set out their meager goods on the rough canvas to make their claim. Behind a sham of courage, they made ready for the journey, some, indeed were now at home others masked their sadness and confusion with awkward laughter. Reaching the galley, Marcus was enticed by the sight of fresh food laid ready and the warm glow of fire in the hearth reflecting off the copper lined sinks. In the corner was Chef, a large round man, perched on a small stool behind a big tub of potatoes. There was something of the child in the big man, his arms like hams but his round face was that of a mischievous school boy. He Looked up at Marcus and sighed.
“What’s wrong Chef” asked Marcus.
“Eh, that dammed galley boy has not turned up and we are about to sail”
“Is there anything, I can do?” Said Marcus quietly.
“Eh, well.. I don’t suppose you can you sail with us tonight, can you lad? ” Said chef.
“ I don’t know? I suppose, well, yes Sir, well at least I think so?” said Marcus.
Not to miss the opportunity, Chef quickly replied, “Then it sounds like I’ve found my self a new galley boy, eh? Eh, Marky ?”
Marcus smiled unsure of what he had let himself in for.
“I’ll see the captain and make arrangements to get a message to your mother, you can start here on these taters” instructed Chef.
All too soon they were away on the turn of the tide. As an errand boy Marcus had been badly used, perhaps not the most reliable of runners he was often paid with a birch from the hand of Mr Scarrow. But he worked hard that night in the heat of the galley and it was a relief when he got back up on deck and into the evening air. Unaccustomed to the pitch and roll of the ship he hung his head over the railing, the water churned below as the cold iron crashed into the waves sending up clouds of salty spray.
Chef leaned forward, a kind hearted smile lit his face, “this is your first time out, eh lad?”
“Yes sir” replied Marcus.
“Well the ocean isn’t such a big place when you get to know it. Your father was a good man Marky, we crossed the Atlantic many times together, I expect you miss him?”
“Yes sir I do, he said he would send for us from America, but we don’t know what has become of him”.
Just then the wind turned and the Captain called for the sails to be set, the great expanse of canvas filled with the mighty wind of the ocean and with the engine at full speed the ship raised its prow and sliced through the incoming waves. The wind was blowing hard and level foretelling of a storm and so it was, as that night out of a clear sky the heavens let loose a tempest, huge black waves reared high above the ship and crashed down onto the deck in glassy sheets of green water. Marcus in a terrified excitement clasped the handrail as the ship battled relentlessly against the onslaught. As each wave approached the engine rushed and they hit the wave with a great thud sending a shudder through every rivet and plate bringing them to a crashing halt only to be lifted high on the crest and then the rush of the engine as they steamed down the other side and into the next mountainous wave. Chilled to the bone Marcus found refuge below with the crew, who amused themselves drinking rum and spinning tales to Marcus of the Giant Squid.
The fog horn bellowed, Marcus woke with a start and was quickly on deck. Heavy and damp, the fog had obscured the horizon and was soaking up the gentle sound of waves lapping the hull. Standing on the foredeck eddies of fog swirled around him, disorientated, he couldn’t tell if they were still moving,. Alone, sadness seeped into his heart as stealthily as the damp fog through his coat. A tear let loose down his cheek, but to his surprise he found that he didn’t want to cry, he wanted to laugh. Behind him the sun rose and found the horizon, its slanting rays casting the shadow of a tall strong man into the fog above the sea. Marcus straightened his back and stood proud.
That evening, to the comforting rhythm of the engine he helped Chef prepare supper and as they slipped into Liverpool Harbour he ventured, “Am I to go home now? “
“Home?” “Home? said Chef, in a week we sail to the Americas, I rather thought you might like to join that adventure”
Marcus thought of Mr Scarrow and his birch, of his mother back home, his father in America, and of the giant squid, then he looked at Chef and smiled.
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end: Man in the Fog