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M

y name is Earl. Some years ago -- never mind how long precisely -- having no money and November in my soul, I thought I would go to sea in an attempt to cheer up. This was in the early years of the last century, when travel between continents was achieved mainly by sea, and ships had to be guided by sail and were thus subject to the eye of the wind. Of the many ships crossing the Atlantic from Europe to the Americas and back again, some carried cargo for trade, some carried people looking to leave their native land for a fresh start in the New World, and others came to fish. These ships filled their hulls with hundreds of tons of salted fish or other fruits of the sea before returning to Europe.

Such was the mission of the fair "Peapod," who set sail each spring from Great Britain to fish for cod on the Banks of Newfoundland, the most treacherous waters in the North Atlantic. We departed on a warm, sun-filled day in mid-April, from the port of Southampton. Apparent winds were strong and we were soon underway. From my position in the crow's nest, I was able to survey both the receding quay and the vast, open sea ahead. Below me lay the splendid barque Peapod, with her freshly swabbed oaken deck, wheelhouse, and stunning figurehead of a brightly painted green peapod, arching forward over the bow. She served to remind everyone aboard of England's gentle gardens and the importance of eating fruit and vegetables to avoid scurvy.

Due to the cramped quarters on board, I was obliged to share my berth with a man I had not met, a salmon fisherman from western Canada. Having heard that all Canadians are cannibals, I was less than optimistic about the prospects of this arrangement. As night began to fall, I became less and less comfortable with the idea and started to search out alternate places where I might lay my head for the night.

I had at last secured for myself a comfortable enough corner of the cabin sole of the main sleeping quarters and had just entered into a deep sleep when a squall suddenly forced the entire hull into a violent yawing. I was flung to starboard and at once found myself covered by at least a dozen somewhat frantic creatures of the small and furry variety, who were further inspired into frenzied movement by my every effort to cast them off my person. It was then that I determined to take my chances with the Canadian.

I found the bunk we were to share, clambered in, foot to head, so that, by chance, the toe of one foot may have accidentally, and for the briefest of moments, lodged itself in one of his nostrils.

"Take off, eh!" Were the words he uttered to greet me. I was frightened by the implications of the term.

"Excuse me, sir, but you'll not be taking off my head," I warned him firmly. "We've been assigned to share this bed and that's all. Keep your tomahawk on your side of the bunk!"

"What're you talking aboot? I've no intention of taking off your head, but if you don't shut your trap I'll make sure that head of yours is in a different condition by morning!"

Overjoyed to discover that my bedmate was no cannibal, I introduced myself and ascertained his name to be Queezebag, an experienced fisherman from Canada's eastern provinces. We became fast friends.

 

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