Fredrick hated the beach. He hated the sand, the riptide, the disorientation of the receding waves as he stood in the sand, but most he hated the hugeness of the ocean. But on this beach (you couldn’t call it a beach as rocky as it was), the most prominent feature was the huge pier. At least he could walk on the pier and avoid sand in his shoes.
The letter said to be on the pier on June 25, 1889. It was Tuesday.
What could his brother have wanted? He hadn’t heard from his brother for two years. Last he heard his brother was doing something with a big ship that was supposed to carry oil. How crazy was that? A boat to carry oil. What would happen if it sank? That would be quite the mess.
Some benches were built into the pier, so Frederick took a seat. He had to admit that it was a different kind of place. Hobby fisherman showing off their catches, working fishermen selling their haul for the day, ships loading and unloading, sailors cussing and fuming. What an unpleasantly noisy place. He much preferred the calm of his office where he and the accounting books made little noise.
Frederick was watching a big boat dock. It had an odd shape and it was huge. “W. L. Hardison” was painted on its bow. It looked like the crew was leaving the ship. One man stood out. Frederick could not miss the red hair and the flowing red beard of his brother. It looked like neither had been trimmed since he last saw his brother.
“Ahoy there, Frederick!” said his brother with a wave of his arm. “You look white as a bleached whale bone! Do they never let ya out o’ that counting house?”
“I get out often enough to get my hair trimmed so’s I don’t look like a mad man!” smiled Frederick. “What a joy to see ya!” he said as he embraced his brother.
The two brothers spent the next few hours eating, drinking, and telling stories of the past two years. Some of the stories were even true.
“I finally have a foot on firm ground with my life,” said Henry. “After this next stop I’ll have a real nest egg saved up. I have a favor to ask. Most of the men have their money stowed away on the ship, but I know you have good places to keep money in that counting house of yours. Can you take this and keep it safe until I see you next? I want to use that to set up shop on solid ground and then to start a family.
I should be back in six months.” Henry handed Frederick a small satchel that was inordinately heavy.
“I’d be happy to. Not sure I can make it grow for you, but I’ll do what I can. Are you planning to set that shop around here? That would make our parents happy,” said Frederick.
“Yes, I have my eye on a sail-makers’ shop in town. The old man is having a hard time sewing. Seems to have the rheumatism pretty bad. I have two more hours before I need to be back on board. Would you like to go look at the place with me?” Henry asked.
“I’d be delighted,” said Frederick. “How far is it?”
“Just a few blocks, from what I understand. Here’s the address. You probably know more about where it is than I do,” Henry said as he handed Frederick the address.
“That’s just two blocks away. Let’s go.” With that they headed to the sail-maker’s shop and traded more stories. Frederick was pleased to think that his brother might be living near by within a few months.
As they entered the shop, they felt a blast from explosions near the pier. The force of the explosions almost knocked them down. The sail-maker fell of his workbench and hit his head. When they got to him his head was bleeding profusely and his hand and wrist were obviously broken. They found some rags to stop the bleeding and did the best they could to splint up the sail-maker’s wrist. Henry ran to the door and looked toward the pier. Heavy black smoke was billowing from the ship he had left just a few hours ago. Two more explosions threw flames high in the air.
“I’ll go find a doctor and see what’s happening if you can stay with him,” said Henry.
“Don’t be long. This fellow is losing a lot of blood and that hand is turning terrible blue,” said a close-to-panicking Frederick. Henry ran out the door and Frederick did what he could to keep the sail-maker talking. He thought it best not to let the man see his hand. It was beyond blue and was almost a grey color. He knew that wasn’t good.
About twenty minutes passed before someone rushed into the shop. “I’m Dr. Wilson. What happened?” Frederick recounted the events of the past half hour as Dr. Wilson examined the sail-maker’s various wounds.
“Jacob,” Dr. Wilson said, “I am afraid your sail-making days are over.
Your head is fine, just bleeding like head wounds do, but no real damage. Your hand is a different matter. If we can save your hand, it certainly won’t be up to sail-making.” Jacob looked pale and in shock.
“Is there anyone who can stay with you tonight and bring you to my office tomorrow?”
“What do you mean about my hand?” stammered Jacob. “I make sails.”
“I can stay with him. My brother will be back shortly and we can get him to my home and we will have him at your office first thing in the morning.” Frederick knew his wife would be willing to help Jacob and he suspected that Henry’s plan would raise his spirits as well.
“That would be good. I think I have him patched up as much as I can here. I need to get down to that ship. There are people all over the pier who need attention.” With that Dr. Wilson dashed out of the shop toward to pier.
Frederick fixed a place for Jacob to rest until Henry came back. They did not have long to wait. Henry came into the shop and looked dazed.
“The ship is lost. Some idiot lowered a lamp into the hold to see how much oil was in there and the whole thing exploded. There were half a dozen bodies on the ship and the pier and so many more injured.”
“Help me get Jacob to my home. You can both stay there tonight and we will get Jacob to Dr. Wilson’s tomorrow morning. We can’t do anything here now.” Frederick felt like he was probably thinking more clearly that either of these men who had just lost so much.
They locked up the shop and half carried, half supported Jacob the four blocks to Frederick’s home. His wife scurried around to fix the sofa for Jacob. She had some soup for him before he was even settled. “You look like you could use something warm. Try this,” she said. She wasn’t a nurse, but any woman worth her salt in a seaside town knew how to handle disasters. They happened more often than anyone wanted.
After Jacob was comfortable, they headed into the kitchen. Catharine offered Frederick and Henry coffee and then started supper. They told her what had happened at the pier and Frederick told them both what Dr.
Wilson said about Jacob’s hand and sail-making.
“What happens with you now, Henry,” Frederick asked.
“I think the shipping company probably will pay us wages from this last trip unless the loss of the ship makes the company go belly up,”
Frederick said. “I guess I can find another ship to head out on. I really don’t know.”
“You need to talk to Jacob. I think the two of you are good for each other right now. He can’t work and he will need money. You want a sailmaker’s shop and he has one he can’t use. Seems you two have some business to discuss.” Frederick sipped his coffee.
“Don’t you three start planning my life for me,” said a pale Jacob as he walked into he kitchen a bit unstable. “I still have good ears, one good arm, and two good legs. Thank you, ma’am. That was good soup. If you have any more, I think I am up to another bowl.” Catharine looked at him and was astonished that his eyes were twinkling with mischief.
She guessed that the stories around town about his seafaring days were probably true. You probably don’t spend 30 years at sea and let something like a broken hand and a cut head stop you.
“The pot is full and you are welcome to all you want,” she said as she ladled out another bowl for him. “Have a seat at the table, since we don’t seem to be able to keep you on the sofa.”
“Thank you, ma’am. What is this about you wanting to be a sail-maker?”
Jacob asked Henry.
“I am ready to get off those ships and have firm ground under my feet.
I have repaired more sails than I can count. And they seem to stay repaired. That surprised the captain. So, I figure that might be a talent I can use. I was going to your shop earlier to see if you were interested in selling it or hiring another sail-maker.” Henry figured he should just lay his cards on the table.
“You have anything to buy a shop with? It looks like I can’t use the one I have.” The color was actually coming back into Jacob’s face. It was still leaving his hand, through. “I suspect I won’t have this much longer,” he said looking at his hand. “And a one handed sail-maker isn’t much use.”
“Please tell me that my satchel hasn’t been lost in all of this chaos today,” said Henry looking at Frederick.
“No, it is right here,” said Frederick as went to the other room to get it. He came back and put it on the table in front of Henry.
“What do you want for your shop and everything that’s in it?” Henry asked Jacob.
“Have you got anything stronger than soup,” Jacob asked Catharine. She just looked at Frederick who got up and went to the cabinet and pulled out a crock and three glasses.
The whiskey was poured. The three men sipped. Negotiations started.
Supper was served and eaten and the negotiations continued.
“I figure you’re a little short,” said Jacob. “The shop is worth more than you have in that satchel. But, I can’t use the shop, so here is a deal. You pay me what you have and twenty percent of the profits for the next three years.”
“That is a little steep,” said Henry.
“Not if you consider that I am also throwing in three years of schooling for you in how to make the best sails in the California coast,” said Jacob as he finished his whiskey and asked for more. “To say nothing of the letters of introduction that I will give you to all of the major shipping companies. They will be pleased to know that you are my hand picked replacement. Maybe I shouldn’t say hand-picked.” He downed his second glass with a smile.
“We have a deal,” said Henry.
“Oh, and I still get to live above the shop rent free for life.” Jacob figured he might as well ask for he moon. He figured he should play on their sympathies as long as he could.
“As long as that means I can call on you whenever I have a question, we still have a deal,” said Henry.
“Done,” said Jacob. They shook hands. “Someone should write this all down in case that butcher botches this up tomorrow. If he does, you just have to bury me.” He grinned as he downed another glass of whiskey.