He's going to call it off, I told myself comfortingly. Any moment good old Konrad Juliusson is going to come clattering down the companionway and tell us with polite regret that sea conditions are impossible. My groan of disappointment was already prepared. I reckoned we could be back in Reykjavik by early evening. A long hot bath with the water setting adjusted to 120�F., slip into the dark gray mohair and the Chelsea boots, a touch of Monsieur Rochas After-Shave and straight into the second-floor restaurant of the Saga Hotel where they still do the twist. Saturday night in the Saga. The most beautiful girls in the world, bored out of their minds with clodhopping Icelandic trawlermen....
"Shove up!" said my huge, discourteous friend Leslie Moncrieff, breaking into my reverie. Aboard the 60-ton scallop dredger Gisli Magnusson the belowdecks accommodations were very cramped and certainly not designed for Moncrieff, 270 pounds and 6'5" in the woolen sea-boot stockings, knitted for him with loving care by Mrs. Dora Moncrieff, that he now was aggressively thrusting between me and the galley stove.
I shoved up at the expense of Haldur Snorrason, Peter Collins, Tom Hutchinson and Johann Sigurdsson, the other members of the Anglo-Icelandic Giant Arctic Halibut Expedition, as the Gisli Magnusson, yawing like a drunken pig, butted its bow into a freezing southwesterly gale straight off the ice of the Snaefells Glacier. Not only was Moncrieff bigger than the rest of us, he was also our leader. You had to make allowances. "Excuse me," I said politely and he eased his great bulk out of the way long enough for me to get at the pot of tarry black coffee bubbling on the hot plate. I filled our mugs and then ritually, with great attention to handing out a fair ration, Collins added the hard stuff, the last of the Dufftown-Glenlivet malt whiskey, the last liquor we were likely to see for days. Inadequate research, characteristic of this expedition, had failed to reveal that Stikkisholmur, the little harbor town that was our port, was totally, remorselessly dry.
I took a deep suck of the black mixture. Unless Skipper Juliusson came soon on his errand of mercy, we were going to have to clamber up onto that wild, lurching deck again, into the soaking, freezing sleet. I closed my eyes and let the lush pastures of the Saga Hotel swim into my inner vision. I'd gotten as far as catching the eye of the tall dark one who sold me the sweater in the shop on Hafnarstraeti—she was bound to be there, wasn't she?—when I was cruelly thumped on the shoulder by Moncrieff. "Let's have you on deck!" he shouted.
I dragged myself into my soaking parka, realizing that the engine note of the Gisli Magnusson had changed. The absurdly intrepid Juliusson had swung her round broadside to the weather, setting us up for yet another drift over the lava gullies that lay 20 fathoms below. I clambered up on deck behind the other idiots and took the wind full in the teeth.
It was an impressive scene, though in my state of mind one better viewed on a color telly. Black crags to shoreward standing in mad, jagged silhouettes against the glacier. Rags of cloud scudding northward. The sea a patternless jumble of breaking crests with brown, eagle-beaked skuas screaming over them. The gale was off the land. We could not have stayed out in it otherwise, but it was enough to send the boat skidding along as if she were under power. Which, as I repeatedly tried to explain to Moncrieff, made the pursuit of the giant halibut impossible. They lie in the lava gullies, lunging up a fathom or so to take a bait. Our drift was so fast that even three pounds of lead streamed out near the surface as if we were trolling—or so it had proved all morning. "We can't fish in this!" I yelled at him over the wind.
"Yes we can," he shouted back. "I've brought my parachute." As if to prove how obstinate he could be, Moncrieff tried to light a cigar, wasted six matches and flung it over the rail. "Down below," he ordered, "and fetch it."
The expedition has gotten too much for him, I told myself, he's cracking up. I knew that Moncrieff wanted a big halibut even more than I did. Possibly those huge unattainable fish, so close to us yet so impossible to catch, had forced him over the edge. "The, er, parachute," I said, gaining time.
"In the big canvas pack," he elaborated, "stowed under the for'ard bunk." Obediently I went below. There was a brown pack there. I dragged it up behind me as the boat pitched and tossed.
"What do you want a parachute for, Leslie?" I asked him as lightly as I could. "You aren't going anywhere, are you?"