Canto Fifteen – About the Reefer Mary Celeste
The meeting at the library hadn’t happened on the day originally planned because Alice Stewart sometimes had to close the library when things came up. Her daughter, Alicia, was a single mother raising a child alone, and some days the library simply had to be closed when the baby developed a mysterious cough and had to go see a doctor in Belle City. All of this was explained to Mary, Pidney, and Valerie, and apologized for, by Val’s Aunt Alice as they arrived at the finally open Norwall library on Main Street. The library was a thing of some pride to several Norwall families, the Clarkes and the Stewarts and the Duffys prominent among them because they had raised the money and remodeled the old butcher shop and bought all the books. The place was a literary miracle for the small town, as most towns of that size did not have anything equivalent to it.
“I swear to you, Valerie,” said Aunt Alice, “I will make it up to you for having to put you off for a couple of days. I will certainly help you three find whatever important research you are looking for.”
“I think we are looking for Tiki idols, Auntie,” said Valerie.
“Show her, Pid,” said Mary.
Pidney sat the backpack on the librarian’s desk and opened it. He pulled out Valerie’s ugly little wooden man and sat it down on the desk.
“I know a book that might help,” said Aunt Alice. She went directly to a shelf that contained the 200’s from the Dewey Decimal system and pulled down a large old book called Treasury of Maori Folklore by A.W. Reed. It had “Tiki” listed on a number of pages in the index. So Aunt Alice handed the book to Pidney who soon found a picture that somewhat resembled the ugly little wooden man.
“It says on this page that Tiki was the very first man,” read Pidney. “Apparently he found the first woman in a pond… somebody called Marikoriko… they became the first parents of all men.”
“So, he’s our bug-ugly great-great-great grandfather,” commented Mary.
“Doesn’t look so great to me,” said Valerie.
“Well, he’s found in most Polynesian cultures as a large piece of wood carved in the shape of a man. And, um…” Pidney’s voice trailed away.
“What, Pid?” asked Mary.
“Let me see,” said Valerie. She grabbed the book out of Pidney’s hands. The picture of a Tiki idol in the book seemed to wink at her as she tracked down the page to find where Pid was reading. “Oh, here it is…” Val began to giggle almost uncontrollably.
“What?” said Mary. “Read it aloud.”
“In New Zealand, some Maoris contend that Tiki represents the penis of Tane, the god of forests and birds. He is strongly associated with the procreative act.” She read that and then broke down into a laughing fit. One of those painfully embarrassing laughing fits that happen when something is entirely too personal to talk about with the boy you have a crush on and you can’t help but nervously laugh.
Pidney, red as the ripe tomatoes in Mrs. Clarke’s vegetable garden, wandered over towards the encyclopedias and began looking at the volumes of Collier’s.
“What else does it say?” asked Mary.
“It says that in the Cook Islands, at Rarotonga, Tiki is credited with being the guardian of Avaiki the Underworld. Magical idols of Tiki can be given offerings to smooth the way for those who fear they are dying. The idol maker is said to have magical powers and can in some cases bring the idol to life as a servant by chanting and touching the painted tattoos on the idol’s body in the correct order.”
“You’re kidding,” Mary said.
“No, really! It says it right here.” Valerie pointed to the disputed passage and Mary read it for herself.
“Well, it does say that. But it doesn’t have any mention of the proper chant to use or anything.”
“This ugly thing does appear to have painted tattoos,” said Aunt Alice, looking at the idol’s protruding buttocks and arched back. “Swirly patterns with little spots in the center like bull’s-eyes.”
“What was Captain Dettbarn’s ship called?” Pidney asked.
Mary looked over at the Polack who was thumbing through the “M” volume of Colliers’ Encyclopedia. “The Reefer Mary Celeste. Why, Pid?”
“This encyclopedia says it was a ghost ship.”
“A ghost ship?” gasped Valerie.
“Good heavens!” swore Aunt Alice.
“What does it say?” asked Mary in a skeptical voice.
“It says the Mary Celeste was an American merchant brigantine that was found sailing near the Azores on December 4th, 1872. No crew was aboard. A lifeboat was missing. And they never found any trace of the crew. Not the Captain, either. Captain Briggs, his wife, and their infant daughter, Sofia simply vanished at sea and were never heard from again.”
“Pidney, that was a sailing ship more than a hundred years ago. That was the Brigantine Mary Celeste. Not the Reefer Mary Celeste. Captain Dettbarn’s ship was a modern cargo ship with refrigerated cargo capacity. They are not the same ship.”
“Oh,” Pidney said softly. He closed the book.
The ladies all got a chuckle at Pidney’s expense. But Valerie noticed that Pidney was still uneasy about the spooky connection. She thought it was something that might later prove to be significant after all. At least to Pid.