September 3, 1903: Winds SW 0-5. Sunny. No ships in sight except Rainbow.
Summer Doldrums Ma called the weather.
Usually comes before a storm, she told Louie that morning. September storms-- Louie remembered how fierce they could be.
“Eerie,” Louie added.
After morning chores he’d taken his pocketknife and found just the right stick of driftwood to whittle. He’d milked the cow and fed the chickens but hadn’t caught a fish. He dreaded the thought of canned beans for dinner again but the fish just weren’t biting in this heat.
“Irascible rocks!” He mumbled.
Several times Louie changed rocks to find a more comfortable sitting position.
“Too lumpy,” he added, bending over the obstinate object in his hands. He brushed away a lock of bushy hair over his eyes with his arm and wiped his sweaty hands on his shirt.
Louie whittled away at the knot in the driftwood until a beak formed. He carefully closed his new pocketknife and placed it down beside him. Wish I could run – anywhere – around bases or up and down grassy slopes, he thought to himself, or even jump off the rock ledge into the icy cold ocean water. Instead, he stood up and with a two-step jumped over a nearby crevice to the next big rock. Lifting his arms for balance, he climbed up and over the rocks that made up most of the surface of the two-acre island. After two months on Two Tree Island, Louie had mastered and memorized all the rocks – just as he had the ships that passed the island on regular runs.
Besides all his other chores, Louie conducted tours when summer folk brought their families to visit the lighthouse. For the past week there had been no visitors – nor had the familiar summer pleasure vessels passed by. Each day had dawned bright and clear – and still.
Ma appeared at his side and pointed to the placid sea.
“Not a breath of air anywhere,” she said.
Louie felt as languid as the sea. He turned to Ma.
“I’m bored. There’s no one around to play with. Charlie’s gone home. Sammy’s gone, too - at least most of the time - except when I’m lighting the lamp beacon. Sometimes he comes back to sit on the tower railing. He “kuk kuks,” then flies away to be with the other seagulls. I don’t have any friends anymore. I need another pet.”
“There’s Betsy and the chickens,” Ma replied.
“But they’re not pets,” Louie said.
“If you’re bored, how about collecting some of that moss over there for me? With this bright sun ought to bleach fast – then we can make some sea moss pudding. You can start by picking out the weeds and seaweed and then spreading the moss on level rocks. Should be good drying weather since no rain in sight. Then pick us some blueberries for dinner.”
Louie moaned and muttered under this breath, “Just like Ma to give me something to do. Don’t mothers ever understand? I wish Charlie were still visiting or at least Uncle Sam. I haven’t seen either of them for a week. I can’t even look forward to going back to school like Charlie.” His thoughts rambled on. Since Uncle Sam was only a visiting summer preacher, I probably wouldn’t ever see him again.
Louie pulled some of the grey-green moss off the rock nearest him and picked out the seaweed. With a wide sweep, he threw the seaweed toward the open ocean. Then he laid the moss out on a flat, bare rock to dry. As he did so, he spied some luscious-looking blue berries, partly hidden under some nearby bushes He picked some of the little dark blue ones, leaving the green ones. He ate some and put a few in his overall pockets. Intent on finding as many blueberries as he could underneath the low-lying branches Louie never heard the dory approach.
Captain Bowline’s familiar voice booming over the water startled him.
Louie turned around, pocketing the last berry as he leapt over rocks to reach the dory before she landed.
Captain Bowline waved an envelope.
“Thought ye’d like this here letter. Postman gave it to me ‘afore I left. Looks like your friend Charlie writ’n you.” He handed the envelope to Louie.
“I’ll be a’visit’n with yer ma.” Captain Bowline turned and headed back up to the house while Louie eagerly tore open the envelope. Several penciled pages fell out. He grabbed one and read,
How ‘ya do’n?”
Louie could almost hear Charlie’s raspy voice. He read and reread the letter. He had been worried about Charlie – going back home to such a mean pa who hit his ma, Charlie, and his sister, Lucy, whenever he came home drunk.
“The whole fishing fleet left yesterday to catch cod off the Banks. Ben went with Pa on the Tipsy. I tried to convince Pa to take me, too, but Ma said I had to stay home a’ cause of school. Ben gave me that evil eye look, then mumbled ‘you ain’t old enough.’ Ben’s in charge of one of them dories and you’d think he was the captain instead of Pa. Ma also said I’d miss baseball practices then coach would kick me off the team. Wish you were here so’s we could talk.”
Here's cross hand’n ye.
With Charlie’s letter in hand, Louie skipped up the hill to join Ma and Captain Bowline in the kitchen.
“She’s going to the Grand Banks!” He announced.
“Who’s going?” Ma answered.
“Don’t you remember, Ma? The Tipsy joins the fishing fleet in the fall and spring to fish the Grand Banks near Nova Scotia.”
Louie had seen the fleet off with Charlie when they lived at Swanton Point. Each schooner carried about five dories on each side of the ship. When they reached the fishing waters, these dories would set off from the mother ship with a tub trawl. Leaving a floating barrel at one end of the line each dory would row downwind paying out the hooked line - waiting for the big fish to bite. Louie knew how dangerous the work was, especially in rough seas.
“Boy am I glad Charlie wasn’t allowed to go because I don’t want to lose him.” Louie knew that sailors’ lives had been lost and dories overturned in rough waters.
Charlie had a widow walk on top of his house. When Louie lived near Charlie at Swanton Point, he had often waited and watched for the Tipsy and the other schooners to come into port from that walk.
“Ma, please can I go visit Charlie. There’s nothing much to do here in the doldrums anyway.”
“Maybe. We’ll see. Maybe during our time off.” Ma answered.
“And when’s that going to be? We’re stuck here on this island...”
“I was a' thinking,” Captain Bowline interrupted. He was seated at the table enjoying one of Ma’s biscuits and coffee, “maybe ye’d like to see our new pups. Our Newfoundland Sally’s just had her first littah.” And turning to Louie’s ma he added, “Think you could manage while I whisk Louie back to town for a spell?”
“Could I, Ma?”
Ma looked at Louie sternly. “Hurry along now with Captain Bowline. But remember—puppies and islands don’t mix. “