‘My dear Stephen, how happy I am to see you,’ cried Sir Joseph, clasping his hand most affectionately. ‘Tell me, have you eaten yet? Shall we hurry over to the club and call for broiled chops? But no...” he said, on consideration. ‘No. I have a little room here, and you may wish to speak without informing all the nation?’
‘A little small private room would suit admirably. But please, dear Joseph, may a messenger be sent round to the Grapes, in the Liberties of the Savoy, to tell them of my presence here? Not only shall I stay there, which Mrs. Broad and the little girls do not yet know, for I am come straight from the Pool, but there at least I have some respectable clothes - I keep a room there permanently, you know. I am not what would ordinarily be called a dressy man, as you are aware; but I should not have presented myself here in the utmost degree of squalor...’
‘. . . had it not been a matter of some urgency. Though,’ he murmured, looking at his cuff, ‘this was quite a good shirt, some years ago. Of some urgency,’ he resumed, and plucking the undeciphered message from his pocket he laid it on the desk, smoothing the paper flat.
‘I cannot make it out offhand,’ said Sir Joseph. ‘What were you using?’
‘Ajax with one shift,’ said Stephen. ‘It worked perfectly for the first page.’
‘I cannot make it out at all, though I know Ajax with a shift quite well.’ Blaine rang a bell and said, ‘Ask Mr. Hepworth to step this way.’
Mr. Hepworth glanced at Stephen with discreet curiosity and quickly looked down. Sir Joseph said to him, ‘Mr. Hepworth, be so good as to take this away and determine the system upon which it was based. Will it take you more than half an hour?’
‘I hope not, Sir Joseph; I think I see some familiar combinations.’
‘Then please to send the title and a transcript to my little room.’
The tension was too great for either of them to eat chops with any real appetite, and they abandoned their meal entirely when Mr. Hepworth came back, looking grave and carrying his transcript. ‘The gentleman who encoded this, sir,’ he said, ‘was using the new book: and both book and code being unfamiliar he turned over a whole gathering, taking it for the direct continuation of Ajax three. It looks very like: I have known this happen before, when the encoder was hurried, or uneasy in his mind.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Hepworth,’ said Blaine, and when the door had closed he went on, ‘shall we read together? I am afraid our forecast was all too accurate.’
They thrust their chops away - already congealed - and Blaine pulled his chair round to sit next to Stephen. They read intently, and from these short, nervous passages they learnt that an important and reasonably well-supplied body of Chileans had entered into contact with Sir David Lindsay, formerly of the Royal Navy, a most enterprising officer, who had undertaken to come out and command their naval forces. The informant gave particulars of his sources, and although Blaine murmured a few names aloud - known allies or conceivably agents - he was perfectly mute about Bernardo O’Higgins and Jose San Martin, with whom Stephen had been so intimately well acquainted during his attempt, his very nearly successful attempt, to induce the Peruvians to declare themselves independent of Spain. Some of the names Stephen saw with pleasure - the names of the sources rather than those of the committee - the latter with distaste, anger, and sometimes distrust and once again, once again he realised the fragility of these movements for liberation - so many who wished to be leaders, so few to follow.
When they had finished, Blaine said, ‘No wonder Dr. Jacob strayed into the wrong code. We had indeed some remote notion of this possibility, but none whatsoever of its imminence... come in.’
‘I beg pardon, Sir Joseph,’ said Hepworth. ‘I just thought you would like to know that the same signal is coming through by semaphore.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Hepwrorth. What is its source?’
‘Hebe, sir; in Plymouth.’
There was a silence, and then Stephen said, ‘The name of Sir David Lindsay has a familiar ring, a naval ring, but I cannot connect it with any particular event.’
‘He is certainly a very able sailor, and he gained his reputation on some fine single-ship actions: but constitutionally he was perhaps more willing to give orders than to receive them, and he did less well on reaching post-rank and being obliged to submit to the discipline of fleet manoeuvres. There was some story of an improper challenge in India, I believe — possibly even of assault — the charge being withdrawn on an undertaking to leave the service. But I make no assertions. I only know that he has not served in a King’s ship since, and that some people are a little shy of him.’
‘I think I remember now,’ said Stephen, perfectly aware that though his friend had told the truth, it was by no means the whole truth.
‘Returning to Dr. Jacob’s lapse - dear me, I wonder it does not happen more often - I believe I am right in saying that none of the names of his Chilean committee are those of the gentlemen who first approached us?’
‘That is so: and although I know too little of the country to assert it, there may well be a difference, as between north and south.”
‘Very true.’ Sir Joseph considered the proposition for some time; and then, having gazed at the long, thin extent of Chile on a revolving globe, he went on in quite a different voice. ‘Of course, I shall have to submit whatever I have to say to my superiors, but I think the general feeling will be that Captain Aubrey should carry on with the original plan, in spite of the unfortunately necessary delay in Seppings’ yard, making the best of his way to Valparaiso, where you will feel the ground - assess the possibilities - and proceed accordingly. In spite of everything we have a representative in Buenos Aires who is very well with the authorities, and who can ensure reasonably brisk communication - brisker, at all events, than messages that have to come back round the Horn. It is extremely unlikely that Sir David will already be there: but whether or no, some degree of cooperation would seem the wisest course; though he must be given no official countenance. He is unlikely to have any vessel equal to Surprise; but I must admit that until we have the naval attache’s report from Madrid we remain ignorant of the present Chilean government’s strength and of the number of armed merchantmen at their disposal. The attitude of the Peruvian viceroy is naturally of the first importance, but that you know as well as I, indeed probably far better. However, let me consult those who must be consulted and deliver the sum of our collective wisdom tomorrow. Will you drink tea with me in Shepherd’s Market - I have one or two trifles to show you - and then at Black’s?’ ‘I should be very happy. Joseph, would you have the goodness to lend me half a crown?’
Stephen was greeted with the utmost kindness at the Grapes. His little black god-daughters, Sarah and Emily, had so shot up, had grown so leggy, that he did not have to bend to kiss them, and both were in fine spirits, since they had spent the last half hour in the company of William Reade, Stephen’s supper guest, who had shown them the Royal Navy’s version of Puss in the Corner, a more complex and subtle game than was usual in the Liberties.
But Mrs. Broad, though as welcoming as could be, was very much shocked by Stephen’s appearance, which indeed would have done no credit to a hedge-creeper. ‘Well, as for that Killick and his capers,’ she said when all was explained, ‘don’t he wish he may have anything at all to eat or drink in this house, to serve the Doctor so. And I shall tell him, ho, ho, don’t you fear - I shall let him know.’
Her natural good humour returned, nevertheless, as she laid out his fine London clothes - black, elegant severity and gleaming Hessian boots - and it was in this splendour that he sat in the parlour while the little girls nervously showed him their copy-books, their sums, and their geographical exercises, with maps. In faltering voices, prompting one another, they recited mediocre verse in English and French, and with more confidence, showed their knitting, sewing and sampler-work. They were not very clever girls, but they were wonderfully neat - their copy-books would have pleased a fastidious engraver - and they were most affectionate to one another, to Mrs. Broad and to Stephen. There was one thing that did puzzle him, however: they were still capable of speaking both lower-deck English (now somewhat tinged with Billingsgate, where they did much of the Grape’s shopping) and the quarterdeck variety, slipping effortlessly from one to the other; yet neither could manage even tolerable French.
But it was at supper-time that they showed their real, and very considerable talent. Mrs. Broad was away with her cook, cook-maids, tapsters and waiters looking after the ordinary occupations of a fairly busy inn, and Stephen and Reade played backgammon, drinking brown sherry and discussing the pitiful state of their fellow-sailors in a dissolving Navy, when Sarah and Emily came in, wearing long aprons, and laid the table.
A pause. ‘Now, gentlemen, if you please,’ they cried, placing chairs. Stephen was draped in a remarkably broad napkin: Reade was allowed to look after himself.
The first dish was simply fresh, perfectly fresh green peas, to be eaten with a spoon: then, borne in with some anxiety, a great oval plate sizzling at the edges and containing filleted soles, lobster claws and tails, with here and there a great fat mussel, the whole bathing deep in cream.
Sarah filled the plates; Emily poured the wine, a pale golden hock.
‘Oh my dears,’ cried Stephen, having gazed, smelt and tasted, ‘what a sinful delight! What a glorious dish! My dears, how I do congratulate you both!”
‘I ask no better in all my days,’ said William Reade. ‘No, not even if I hoist the union at the main.’
‘I hope you had a hand in it?’ asked Stephen.
‘Sir,’ said Emily, ‘Sarah and I did every last thing, except that Henry in the snug broke the claws with the side of his cleaver.’
‘Well, I am heartily glad of it. You are dear good girls, and uncommon talented. Bless you both.’
Drinking tea with Sir Joseph in his very comfortable house in Shepherd’s Market could not conceivably be compared to supping at the Grapes: but there was a pleasure, though of a wholly different kind. Blaine, passing by Somerset House, had looked in to see the conscientious man who received and looked after specimens sent to the Royal Society to be kept for members - both Blaine and Stephen were Fellows - and he had brought Christine Wood’s parcel, addressed to Dr. Maturin, back with him. It was the skeleton, very delicately dissected and reassembled, of his potto, a rare and curious little West African creature, nominally one of the primates, though quiet, slow, harmless, and remarkably affectionate. Stephen had been much attached to his potto, and now he opened the case, gazing upon the anatomy with a mixture of friendship and scientific interest - the very singular formation of the index-finger and of the lower thorax were strangely moving all over again, but even more so the strong link of affection.
‘I believe you do not take sugar?’ asked Sir Joseph.
‘No sugar at all, I thank you,’ replied Stephen, closing the box and bracing himself for immediate close attention, persuaded by Blaine’s expression and attitude that he was coming to the important matter. Yet to his surprise Sir Joseph went on in a falsely casual tone, ‘I gather you are well acquainted with the Duke of Clarence, with Prince William?’ Stephen bowed: he had treated Prince William several times, but he was not a physician who discussed his patients. Somewhat embarrassed Blaine went on, ‘I happened to run into him at the Admiralty this morning. Some extraordinarily indiscreet person had told him that the hydrographical voyage was to go ahead, with Captain Aubrey in command -just that: no mention of anything remotely political. The Prince, as I dare say you know, has an almost reverential awe of Captain Aubrey - too great a respect to present himself unasked, though ordinarily he is not at all shy, not at all backward in such matters.’
‘A bounding, confident, foul-mouthed scrub,’ said Maturin: but very low.
‘. . . and he was intimate with Nelson, who liked him well. However, the point is this: he has a son.’
‘I have seen the little FitzClarences, and an ill-bred set of swabs they are: which is odd, when you consider what a dear, cheerful - and indeed beautiful - woman their mother is.
‘You know Mrs Jordan?’
‘Moderately well: and I have often seen her on the stage.’
‘But it is not one of those that I have in mind. It is a boy by another woman, a child he does not openly acknowledge, perhaps from fear of angering Mrs. Jordan, a son he calls Horatio Fitzroy Hanson. He is about fourteen or fifteen: he has decent manners, a tolerable education, and I think he is the only one of his children that Prince William really likes. Horatio, I ought to say, has no idea of this relationship: the acquaintance, or more than acquaintance, with Clarence - Uncle William - is perfectly acknowledged, but solely on the basis of his being a former shipmate of the boy’s putative father. The mother, I am sorry to say, was rather unstable, and she went off to Canada when Horatio was two or three: his grandfather, a severe rural dean, brought him up. Clarence is all you say and I am aware that neither you nor Captain Aubrey could esteem him: but he does nevertheless have some respectable qualities: he is affectionate, fairly generous, and good to former shipmates. Furthermore, he fairly worships the service; and he has the greatest respect for Captain Aubrey. In short he desires me to ask you to use your influence with Aubrey to have the boy admitted to his midshipmen’s berth for this coming voyage.’
‘Are you prepared to tell me any more about Horatio’s parentage?’
‘Mr. Hanson, his nominal father, was a sea-officer: he and Prince William served together in the West Indies. Horatio’s mother was staying in Kingston with relatives. She and Mr. Hanson became engaged: they nevertheless quarrelled furiously. But there is said to have been a more or less irregular marriage. In any case Hanson was lost in the Serapis and his wife went home, pregnant. I have this from three sources, none of them capable of providing a consistent or even a coherent account. The only thing I know is that Clarence provided consolation and that he is persuaded the child is his.’
‘I am sure Jack will at least look at the boy, if only for his Christian name. I shall speak of him when I write to tell about the voyage: perhaps it would be better not to mention the alleged connexion. But tell me, did the extraordinarily indiscreet person who told the duke that the hydrographical voyage was to go ahead have any grounds for his assertion?’
‘Oh, certainly... I am so sorry. I should have told you that at the very beginning: after all, it concerns you more than anyone else. I grow sadly muddled these days - as though you must know it by intuition - and then I will admit that the endless uninformed arguments for and against the project, topped by Clarence’s indecently prolonged and public harangue about this boy, quite upset me. Yes, yes: you shall go: but I must warn you, Stephen, that now the war is over, rigid economy is the order of the day, and you will not be furnished with anything like the means you carried to Peru.’
Stephen nodded and said, ‘Since we are to go, I think I must write to Captain Aubrey at once. His tender, Ringle, is an extraordinarily swift-sailing vessel, and will certainly outstrip any packet. I shall send her off tonight, with the falling tide, and desire Jack to put into Seppings’ yard for the repairs that are still needed without the loss of a minute. If you could induce your colleagues to cast these words into the form of an order properly signed and sealed, I might enclose it in my letter.’
‘Shall you not go yourself?’
‘I shall not: I am going down into the country to see my daughter Brigid, Sophie Aubrey and her children.’
‘Please give them all my love: but before going you will accompany me to the Foreign Office and Treasury for technical details?’
‘Certainly. And Mrs. Oakes will almost certainly be there: you remember her, I am sure?’
‘Indeed I do, and with much gratitude — the clearest, most valuable information imaginable; and an unusually handsome woman too, unusually handsome. So are some of my latest acquisitions, sent by an intelligent ship’s surgeon from the Seychelles.’
Some of the beetles were indeed truly remarkable; but for beauty it seemed to Maturin that his daughter, Sophie, and even her children surpassed them in everything but colour. His unpredictably time-eating interview with people in and about Whitehall had made it impossible for him to give notice of his arrival, and he found them wholly unprepared, playing cricket of a sort in a new-mown paddock by the house.
Brigid, who was at the wicket, being bowled to by George, was the best-placed to see the chaise stop in the lane and a figure step out. ‘It’s my Papa,’ she cried, flung down her bat and ran like a hare across the grass, leaping up to catch him round the neck — no shyness, no hesitation — it fairly touched his heart. ‘My dear, you have grown almost pretty,’ he said tenderly, putting her down to greet the others. ‘Dearest Stephen,’ said Sophie, ‘I do hope you will put up with an egg — there is almost nothing else in the larder: but tomorrow... Do you see Clarissa coming up with a gentleman? He is her husband, the rector of Wytherton, a great scholar. They were married from here last month. Clarissa, you remember Dr. Maturin, I am very sure?’
‘I give you all the joy in the world, my dear,’ said Stephen, kissing her. ‘Your servant, sir: and my very best congratulations,’ shaking the parson’s hand. ‘My dears,’ he went on, ‘it is delightful to see you sporting in the sun, and on so pure a green. Forgive me for a few moments while I fetch what few trappings may have survived the voyage.’
‘I will carry your bag, sir, if I may,’ said George, on leave from Lion, 74, commanded by Jack’s old friend Heneage Dundas.
What pleasant days they were - an English summer at its best, and English countryside at its best, enough night-rain in the hills to keep the trout-streams fine and brisk, and there were reports of a hoopoe seen three times at Chiddingfold parsonage. This year was happy in unusual numbers of birds (nesting-time had been particularly favourable) and Stephen and Brigid wandered about the smooth hay-meadows, by the standing corn, and along the banks, he telling her the names of countless insects, many, many birds - kingfishers, dippers, dabchicks, and the occasional teal: coots and moorhens, of course - as well as his particular favourites, henharrier, sparrowhawk and kestrel and once a single splendid peregrine, a falcon clipping her way not much above head-height with effortless speed. A hare in her form: two dormice: an infant weasel, unalarmed: and such quantities of butterflies. He found with lively pleasure that she was much more receptive now: but she was a very tender creature, and he was not at all sure how she would like his hunting, shooting and fishing. But that would not be for a great while yet: and there was the force of example - all the people she loved and respected were more or less passionately concerned with these pursuits.
Then again there was the mild, agreeable social life. Old friends to dinner once or twice; a few morning calls; and Mr. and Mrs. Andrews came over in their gig to spend a few hours in the library, a noble collection built up by some generations of Aubreys with good black ink in their veins.
Yet there was a certain sadness too: the end of the war had meant that almost all the soldiers and sailors and those multitudes who had kept them in activity were now obliged to find civilian work, and obviously wages dropped, when there were any wages to be had at all. And now with the cry of ‘Economy, economy!’ taxes soared to extraordinary heights — Jack’s agent on the Milport estate wrote in anguish that the one fair-sized farm - three hundred acres - which was just coming into good heart after all the draining, was required to pay £383 us 4d in rates and taxes. Fortunately neither Cousin Edward’s nor the Aubrey land had ever been enclosed, so the villagers and outlying cottagers, together with their returning sons and younger brothers, got along moderately well in the traditional way: it is true that Jack’s game dwindled strangely; but on a nearby estate, which had been subjected to rigorous enclosure — no common land with rights of grazing, cutting fern, taking turf - there was not so much as a single rabbit to be seen. Then again, although the Corn Laws endeavoured to keep the price of wheat at £4, taxing imports accordingly, a great deal of American and Continental food now came in, legally or illegally, and farming was no longer a very profitable business. The landowners suffered, of course; and most of the farmers suffered even more; but the people who were really ground right down into misery were the men, women and children who worked the land - those who had not so much as a decent garden left after enclosure.
Clearly this was not the case immediately around Wool-combe, but it was most emphatically the case quite near; and it diminished the joy of living there.
Then again, like most naval wives, Sophie had looked forward with the keenest delight to an almost indefinite time of perfect peace in her husband’s company, and she heard of this hydrographical voyage, this certain hydrographical voyage to the uttermost point of the inhabited globe, with the most intense disapproval and vexation of spirit. Stephen timidly put forward the proposition that it would greatly enhance Jack’s likelihood of a flag: but even repeated it seemed to have little good effect.
‘I think,” he said, after one of these useless and indeed rather irritating attempts at consolation - consolation, after all, does imply a superiority of experience or just plain intellect on the part of the consoler: a superiority which an intensely discontented mind is unlikely to accept - ‘I think I shall ride over to Shelmerston this afternoon.’
‘Do not forget that the Andrews are coming to spend the evening with us.’
‘Who are the Andrews?’
‘Clarissa and her husband.’
‘Dearest Papa,’ cried Brigid in her fearless way, but speaking English, Irish not being allowed in the house any more than Maltese aboard a man-of-war. ‘Dearest Papa, was you to take the dog-cart, we could both go.’
‘Four of us could go,’ said George. ‘The back dog-boards take up.’
‘Five,’ cried his twin sisters. ‘We are very thin, and will squeeze close.’
‘But what about Padeen?’ asked Sophie, who had almost never been in the fast, rakish, high-wheeled dog-cart.
‘Oh,’ they replied, but quite kindly - no scorn for her ignorance. ‘He runs by the dog-cart, you know.’
‘He always gets up behind the coach,’ said Fanny, ‘but he runs by the dog-cart.’
‘Is he not the finest runner in all Connaught?’ asked Brigid.
Stephen had long been on good terms with the slim, leggy, yellow gelding: a gelding not to be disturbed by mares or fillies, obviously, but not by voluble children either, and they bowled pleasantly down to the coast, then turned left-handed along the sandy roads to Saint Peter’s Pond, where men were already working on the canals that would drain it, but where at the far distant upper end innocent water-fowl swam, waded and dived. ‘There,’ said Stephen, clapping his glass to with infinite satisfaction, ‘the purple herons have brought off their brood again: the only pair in the three kingdoms.’
The gelding and the children, trained to motionless silence during these usually brief sessions, expanded, breathed again and laughed aloud at the lively expectation of tea at Shelmerston, now almost at hand.
A few gentle miles more and the gelding lifted his head to the wind, to the homely scent in the wind, and mended his pace: the sandy roads were left behind, the narrow way (taken cautiously, with Padeen at the horse’s head) led winding down to the awkward, rock-strewn bay on whose shore stood Shelmerston, an indifferent port inhabited by fishermen, deep-sea sailors and other seamen, any one of whom would turn smuggler, highly-skilled and enterprising smuggler, at the drop of a hat or a private signal from a French chasse-maree in the offing (flags by day, lanterns by night) - a port with tricks of the tide peculiar to itself, a damned awkward bar, and yet surprisingly well-liked by those who lived there. It was at Shelmerston that Jack Aubrey had fitted out and manned Surprise as a privateer during his naval eclipse before reinstatement, filling her not only with man-of-war’s men who had followed him in his heavy misfortune but also with Shelmerstonians, rare seamen and perfect for a private ship of war. He and Stephen knew the place and its people well - the ladies of the town had been particularly kind to the children, much smaller then, and apt to do themselves harm - and a journey there, even a stay of a week or so, was considered a finer treat than Bath or Lyme.
The memorious gelding paced into the stable, and while Padeen tried to extricate the rear-children from the dog-boxes, where in their squabbling they had contrived to entangle themselves in a half-bale of close-meshed netting, Stephen walked into the William’s Head. ‘Mrs. Hake,’ he said, ‘good day to you, ma’am. How do you do?’
‘Why, it is the Doctor!’ cried she. ‘Very well, sir, I thank you: and I trust you are the same?’
‘Tolerably so, ma’am: and I should be even more so if you would feed the children. They have been quarrelling and whining this last half hour, but tea and those round things with cream will mend their temper - they are not fundamentally vicious. I have just run down to see whether you have any news of Surprise and Captain Aubrey.’
‘Captain Aubrey, sir?’ she replied with a look if not of actual horror then of the very deepest pale stupidity mixed with alarm and as it were distress. ‘Surprise and Captain Aubrey?’ She sat down heavily, still gazing at him. ‘But they was here this morning - snapped up a score of old shipmates, oh ha, ha, ha! They was right happy to go, too, ha, ha, ha! And rode pretty over the bar at three-quarter ebb with the breeze as fair for Seppings’ yard as ever you could wish.
And you never knew. Oh, ha, ha, ha ha!’ She beat her knees and laughed and laughed. ‘God bless you, sir, and please forgive me. I’ll feed those vermin children right away. Come, children,’ she called from the door towards the stable-yard. ‘Tea will be ready this directly minute.’ And then to Stephen, ‘Which he sent a young gentleman on a pony to tell Mrs. Aubrey he was quite well and should be home tomorrow.’ She hurried into the kitchen, where she could be heard telling the maids, ‘And the Doctor says to me “I have just run down to see whether you have any news of Surprise and Captain Aubrey”, and I says to him...’
Stephen walked out on to the familiar strand: news of his arrival had spread, and several of his former shipmates, particularly those he had treated, came to shake his hand, give him good day, and say how well the barky looked, in spite of her wounded bows; but some, even most, were shy of doing so, which puzzled him. Presently he invited five or six men he knew particularly well to come and take a pot of ale with him; and when they had sat down in the parlour he said to the eldest, a former quartermaster, ‘What is amiss here in Shelmerston? Why do some of my old shipmates seem uneasy in their minds?’
‘Well, sir,’ said Proctor, ‘it is like this: with the end of the war - with the two ends of the war, the one when you was in Bellona and this one just now, with Waterloo - well, at the end of the war, for most of the people here it was the end of all peace. I mean the peace of being sure of your victuals, however rough, and a little money to send home. We were turned ashore; paid off. Ordinarily, for a sailorman, living in the usual sort of port, that means finding another ship - not very hard, when trade is brisk. But this ain’t the usual sort of port. With our damned bar and our damned rocks, there is hardly any coastwise trade. This was first a fishing-village: but the fishing fell off-would not keep above a score of boats. So presently we became a kind of privateering port; and we did pretty well, sir, as you know, so long as there were enemies to privateer upon - French, Spanish, Portuguese, Americans some of the time, the Dutch and the northern ports like Papenburg and so on. But where are they now? All at peace.’
‘Was there not a little running of uncustomed goods?’
‘Well, sir, I must admit that some people - I name no names, mark you - did not object to occasional smuggling. You had to be a damned good seaman with a right weatherly craft to prosper; yet as I think you know very well, sir, brandy was what you might call the life-blood of Shel-merston.’
‘Well, sir: just lean over and look out of the window, a little south of east.’
‘Yes, sir. The new sharp-built revenue cutters, very well-manned and very well built - just up the way, and how young Mr. Seppings found it in his heart to do so, I do not know. They can eat the wind out of any of ours. And right high on the cliff they have a look-out post. The wicked dogs get half the fine and half the goods. It is enough to make your heart bleed, to see their zeal.’
‘I can well believe it.’
‘So, do you see, when we saw Surprise come in this morning it was like - well, I must not be irreverent, but it was a wonderful sight. And when his honour took a dozen of us aboard to run her up to the yard, oh we were right glad that she was to make a voyage, after repairs.’
‘Did Captain Aubrey tell you about his intention?’
‘Oh yes, sir. He said it was just for surveying the Horn, the Straits and the Chile coast - little chance of any prize, unless we happened to run into a pirate. Hard-lying guaranteed, but nothing much in the way of hard-lying money. But those he picked, oh, was they glad to have a berth with him! They knew something about Captain Aubrey’s luck -we all know something about Captain Aubrey’s luck: and if you could put in a word for any of us, sir, we should be right grateful.’
Although the children were very urgent to push on to Seppings’ yard, Stephen would have none of it, and presently the dog-cart was creeping up the rocky hill-road out of Shelmerston. ‘There is the Sethians’ chapel,’ he said, nodding in the direction of a white building with enormous brilliant letters of brass on its face. ‘Seth,’ they read. ‘What is Seth? Who is Seth?’
‘He was one of Adam’s sons, brother to Cain and Abel.’
‘Oh look!’ cried Brigid. ‘Just over the horizon! There is Ringle fairly tearing in.’
‘We shall see them all tomorrow,’ said Stephen. ‘What joy!’
Yet they had first to pick up Surprise’s young gentleman, Mr. Wells, whose pony had tossed him into a deep ditch lined with stones and surrounded by brambles, and had then run away. Fortunately he was rather dwarvish even for a first-voyager, and they were able to cram him into the dogcart, although at the cost of blood-stains all round.
Home, and frocks had to be changed, Mr. Wells stripped, daubed with balm, hog’s lard and court-plaster - even a few stitches here and there - and then everyone, including Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, had to be fed. Stephen had known battles more wearing, and he retired to his own room quite early.
Dr. Maturin had certain practices that he would have condemned in others as unhealthy, self-indulgent and even immoral, such as the smoking of tobacco and Indian hemp (or bhang), the drinking of alcohol in all its forms from mild ale to brandy, the taking of opium and coca, and the frequent inhalation of nitrous oxide; but in his own case he had nothing to say against any of them. Indeed, he judged their effects wholly beneficial: and this was because he never (or very rarely) countenanced the least excess. Yet there was still another practice that he had often abandoned as improper, and had as often taken up again in spite of the pricks of conscience: this was the keeping of a diary — harmless enough in almost all cases and even benign; but not in that of an intelligence-agent. As he knew very well, it might be captured, explanations might be demanded, the code might even be broken, exposing his colleagues, his allies and informers. This was an extremely unlikely event, since he knew many languages and used them all; yet even so it was with a feeling of guilt that he now opened his bag and drew out a very small book - the volumes had grown smaller, more rapidly disposable, with the years, and the writing so minute that few ordinary eyes could read it at all, while Stephen himself had to wear powerful spectacles.
‘After long consideration,’ he wrote, ‘I think I must treat the whole of Blaine’s remarks about Horatio and his inferences as confidential.’ And having written this, together with an outline of what was permissible, with his crow-quill he leant back and reflected upon the manner in which he should keep the whole transaction on a purely naval basis. He reflected long upon Jack’s character, its curiously unworldly aspects, its frankness; and having walked up and down for some time, scratching himself, he said, ‘I think it can be done,’ and went to bed.
The next day - such a pretty day, with dew sparkling on the lawn - William Reade came over, with most encouraging news from the yard. Young Mr. Seppings was delighted that his father’s diagonal bracing had stood up so well; her bottom, inspected very closely in the slip at low tide, was as sound as a bell; and he would undertake to make her bows sounder than a whole chime of them in ten working days. But he must insist that no officer, no carpenter or carpenter’s mate, and no bosun or bosun’s mate should come aboard. He would undertake to find perfectly suitable food and lodging for all hands - in Pompey itself for the officers if need be - but he and his shipwrights must be left to work without advice, however kindly meant. And if Captain Aubrey agreed, he had but to send word by the fishmonger’s cart and they would start tomorrow.
There was no hunting or real shooting at this time of year, but there was cricket and there was fishing, and some very beautiful days they had at both, for Stephen, having at last grasped the principles of the complex game, turned his old skill at hurling to great account, striking the ball all round the field and running between the wickets like a man demented, shrieking to Padeen (his frequent partner) as he went.
Yet on an unlucky Friday a messenger came over from Portsmouth, where the semaphore had received a signal to the effect that Captain Aubrey’s presence was required in London forthwith. His officers, most of whom were now staying in the house, together with some of the midshipmen far from home and Jack’s half-brother Philip, sympathised with him very much indeed as he and Stephen left in a post-chaise, and assured him that they would do their very best to crush the village eleven in tomorrow’s match.
But this was not the war-time Admiralty: there were night-porters on duty, to be sure, and a junior officer was summoned to receive them: but he very much regretted that Sir Joseph was not expected until Monday, and most unfortunately he was gone into the country. The official could not absolutely assert it but he thought there was some question of very recent charts becoming available.
‘Well,’ said Jack, as they walked out, ‘in a world as unsteady on its feet as this, let us hope that Black’s will at least give us supper and a bed. Wilson,’ — this to the porter - ‘be a good fellow and hail us a coach, will you? And put our bags aboard.’
‘Where to, sir?’
‘Oh, Black’s, in St. James’s Street.’
Here indeed they were properly received: beds were promised, and they hurried upstairs to drink a glass of wine while their supper was preparing. Although the club was fairly empty, this being Friday, there were several people they knew, and it was some time before they were called away to their table.
‘Lord, that went down well,’ said Jack, gazing upon a rigorously empty plate: and to the waiter, ‘Charles, would you get me some toasted cheese? I know the Doctor will eat sherry-trifle, but I should like toasted cheese, done to the very point of perfection.’
‘Point of perfection it is, sir,’ said Charles.
Charles had not been gone three or four minutes and Jack was considering his decanter - were two full glasses there? - when he became aware of a tall, bulky form in the candlelight: a man who had stopped just short of their table. Glancing up, he saw the Garter ribbon, recognised the Hanoverian face, and stood up; Stephen with him.
‘Captain Aubrey, good evening to you, sir. Doctor, good evening.’ Turning to Jack, he went on, ‘My name is Clarence, sir. You may not remember me, but I had the honour of meeting you just after your magnificent cutting-out of the Diane.’
‘I remember it perfectly, Your Highness.’
Prince William laughed in a rather confused manner as Charles edged round him with the trifle and the toasted cheese. ‘The odd thing is that I was thinking of you just this very afternoon - and now here you are! Ha, ha! Some little while ago an Admiralty friend told Dr. Maturin that I took an interest in a deceased shipmate’s boy. I do not know whether the Doctor has mentioned him to you? His name is Horatio...”
‘He could not have a better, sir,’ said Jack, looking rather sternly at his toasted cheese, rapidly losing its perfect crust.
‘Horatio Hanson: Hanson was lost in Serapis...’ Prince William went on at some length about that particular storm and his service with Nelson in the West Indies. Then recollecting himself he said, ‘But I am keeping you from your dinner - keeping you standing - a shocking thing to do to an officer of your distinction - forgive me. Would you do me the honour of taking coffee with me when you have finished? There is no sort of hurry.’
They said they should be very happy, and when he had gone the necessary three or four yards they sat down again. When Jack had picked at his ruined cheese for a while he drank the rest of his wine and said, ‘There is something very amiable in taking care of a former shipmate’s son.’
‘Certainly there is.’
‘You did not tell me he formed part of the Admiralty?’
‘Did I not?’
‘Well, it don’t greatly signify: I shall tell him just what I told you between Haslemere and Guildford - that I cannot take sucklings on such a voyage. Come to think of it,’ said Jack after a pause, ‘I have heard that he is very good to his old ratings in Greenwich. Shall we go?’
The Duke had taken a discreet place in the far corner, and although his voice was naturally loud, as became a sailor, the room could have had many more people in it without inconvenience. He was clearly nervous; and since with fat men anxiety is often turned into sweat, his large face glistened. ‘Roger, you whoreson bugger, where is that fucking coffee?’ he called to a waiter as they approached: then ‘Gentlemen,’ making a half motion as if to rise, ‘let me beg you to take some brandy. Pray sit down. Roger, you swab, the best old Nantz.’
The coffee arrived, the brandy immediately after, and there was an awkward pause. Jack, having sipped his coffee, broke it by saying, ‘Your Highness, Dr. Maturin did speak to me about Horatio and your wish that he should go to sea in the midshipmen’s berth of Surprise.’
‘Yes. I should like to give him the very best start, under a captain for whom I have the greatest respect - a right seaman.’
‘You are altogether too kind, sir. But as far as seamanship is concerned, I do not believe I could tell you anything about ship-handling.’ The Duke looked extremely pleased, and took a great draught of brandy. Jack went on, ‘But, sir, I told the Doctor just what I shall tell you now, if I may -plain frankness is best between sailors-’
‘Hear him, hear him,’ said Clarence.
‘I told him that the contemplated voyage is long and of its nature perilous - fifty and even sixty degrees of south latitude, sir, apart from anything else - and that my midshipmen’s berth must necessarily be a hard berth. There are some youngsters aboard at present whom I shall send home, as too tender. A hard berth, with no favours. And of course I must have a good look at him first, to see whether we suit one another or not: there must be good feeling on both sides where a very long voyage is concerned. So since you, sir, who are a sailor, take so respectable an interest in this boy, and if what I have said does not disturb you, may I suggest that you should send him with a servant to the Grapes, an inn where Maturin and I often stay in the Liberties of the Savoy-’
‘Why not here?’
‘Because, sir,’ said Jack, looking him full in the face, ‘this is a place frequented by public men - I dare say we have at least half the Opposition, or more, and several ministers -and I do not wish it to be supposed that I am in any way currying favour with the Court. With the utmost respect, Your Highness, I am not, most emphatically not doing so. If Horatio and I like one another, and if I think him fit to make the voyage and fit to be a sea-officer eventually, I shall take him. Otherwise I shall not.’
‘Well, sir, that is frankness indeed,’ said Clarence, looking from one to the other, somewhat taken aback. He wiped his nose with the back of his forefinger - a gesture familiar to Stephen - then after a short silence, he said, ‘And I thank you for it. When should you like to see the boy?’
‘At half-past two o’clock on Monday, sir, if you please.’
* * *
At twenty-nine minutes past two on Monday, Lucy tapped at their sitting-room door and said, ‘If you please, sir, there is a man in black downstairs with a young gentleman. Shall I show them up? And Doctor, the apothecary asks if you could do with another bottled asp.’
Jack said, ‘Pray show them up.’ Stephen said, ‘By all means: let him send it round.’
The visitors walked in. Jack said, ‘Mr. Hanson, pray take a seat,’ and to the other, a discreet upper servant, ‘I shall probably be about an hour with Mr. Hanson: do you choose to wait in the snug, or shall I send him home in a chaise or a hackney?’
‘I had rather wait, sir, if you please.’
The boy, a slim, fair, rather good-looking youth of about fifteen, was pitifully nervous - he also seemed to have at least the beginning of a cold — and he watched the disappearance of his only ally with a barely-concealed anguish: but he gathered his courage and addressing Jack he said, ‘Sir, my Uncle William sends you his good-day: he told me that you had very, very kindly agreed to receive me, to judge...’ he faltered, but then began again, ‘. . . to judge whether I might be admitted to your midshipmen’s berth.’
‘So I did,’ said Jack, as kindly as he could. ‘And first I should like to ask you some questions to get an idea of how far you have advanced. Since you have not yet been to sea I shall not trouble you with sails and rigging, but I dare say you already know that the mathematics are of the first importance to a sea-officer?’
‘You know the elements of arithmetic, I am sure; but have you learnt any algebra and geometry?’
‘A little, sir. I can manage the quadratic equation fairly well, and I am tolerably forward in Euclid.’
‘Could you define a hypotenuse offhand?’
‘Oh yes, sir,’ said Horatio, smiling for the first time.
Jack drew the familiar figure and said, ‘Now tell me how it can be shown that the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides, will you?’
Horatio did so, his voice growing clearer and more confident; and Stephen’s attention wandered. Remotely he heard the boy tell the nature of a secant, a cosecant, a tangent and cotangent, a sine and its fellow; and when next he took notice they were talking with real animation about such astronomy as Horatio and his grandfather’s curate, Mr. Walker, had managed to accomplish with a home-made refracting instrument just powerful enough for the moons of Jupiter, the delightful moons of Jupiter, on a clear and moonless night. Stephen let his eyelids droop.
‘Sir,’ said Horatio gently in Stephen’s ear, laying a hand upon his arm. ‘I believe the Captain is speaking to you.’
Stephen was not much given to lying, but he was as reluctant as any other man to admit that he had been asleep: he now strongly affirmed ‘that he had been meditating on some of the Pythagoreans’ wilder statements.’
‘Doctor,’ said Jack, ‘may I beg you to address Mr. Hanson in French and Latin? Perhaps Greek would be coming it rather high, for a sea-officer. Do you know any Greek, Mr. Hanson?’
‘No, sir,’ said Mr. Hanson, with a particularly charming and happy smile. ‘Only the alphabet: but I was going to start next year with Mr. Walker. Greek, and even Hebrew.’
While Stephen and Hanson were prosing away in French and Latin according to the curious English pronunciation, Jack made a rough draft of his promised letter. He had almost finished it when he heard the sounds of a good-natured conclusion on the other side of the room. ‘There,’ he said, standing up, ‘I have almost reached the end, and I shall finish when the Doctor has told me what he thinks: so if you would like to walk about for half an hour - the river and its shipping is just down the way - I shall put my draft into proper shape for your Uncle William - what is that infernal row?’
It was Sarah and Emily, back from school and over-excited by their new boots: they burst in, kissed Stephen, kissed Jack, and then gazed at the wholly unexpected Horatio, who gazed back with at least equal surprise.
‘My dears,’ said Stephen, ‘this is Mr. Hanson, who may be going to sea: Mr. Hanson, these are my god-daughters, Sarah and Emily. And since you have half an hour to spare, I am sure they would show you the delights of the river, which they know intimately well.’
‘How they have shot up,’ said Jack, as the boots went clattering down. ‘Dear little souls: I remember them as poor puling little objects, fit only for bait. Now I must hurry with my fair copy - but first tell me what you think of the boy.’
‘He seems to me an agreeable, ingenuous, well-bred youth: his French is well above the English average, and his Latin is acceptable.’
‘I am very glad of that. I tell his uncle that he has a surprising grasp of mathematics, particularly those applied to navigation and astronomy. He already has the basis of a sea-officer. He takes a real pleasure - more than pleasure -in those studies, and I say that subject to the ordinary allowance of a hundred a year and a proper outfit, I should be happy to take him, all the more since you have said that his French is quite good and his Latin passable. But before binding myself fully I feel that a few words with His Highness are called for: so since I am cruelly pressed for time, I beg for an early interview tomorrow morning. Do you think that covers the ground?”
‘Admirably, my dear. While you write it fair I shall see what we are to have for dinner.’
It was a pair of fowls. But before they could be put down to the fine bright fire, Horatio and the little girls came back, obviously great friends. Horatio hurried upstairs. ‘I do hope, sir, that I am neither early nor late? My Uncle has always said that the Navy absolutely insisted upon punctuality.’
‘No,’ said Jack, ‘you are to the minute. Now here is a letter for your Uncle: in it I say that as far as I am concerned I should be happy to have you aboard.’ The boy flushed, and his chin trembled. ‘But of course, the final decision rests with him. If he agrees with my conditions, I have suggested an appointment for the Portsmouth coach on Saturday. Here is the letter: it also says that I should like to wait on him early tomorrow morning. Perhaps he would send a servant to appoint the time? Now cut along - you must not keep him from his dinner.’
Early the next morning at Fladong’s hotel Clarence was waiting at the top of the stairs, and he saw with some concern that Captain Aubrey’s face, usually brown from the wind and the sun, was now a disagreeable yellow, his eyes dark-rimmed, and his expression, though properly deferential, by no means as amiable as it had been yesterday: this was the result of a late leave-taking feast with old shipmates and measureless wine, but the cause did not occur to the Duke, for whom Jack Aubrey was not only one of the most successful fighting captains but also the very type of virtue. ‘Pray come in and take a seat,’ he said; and then, after a pause, ‘I cannot tell you how your letter pleased me: but may I ask whether you choose to take him?’
‘Well, sir, he seems to me a thoroughly good boy, and I should be happy to take him: but on condition that he is treated as an ordinary reefer. I should deplore the presence of any senior officer when he comes aboard.’ (Clarence had long since reached flag-rank.) ‘It might have an appearance of favouritism, which is very much disliked in a company of young men who usually have little influence and less money, and who are likely to lead the favoured youth -particularly a first-voyager — a miserable time of it. And although there are some eminent exceptions’ — with a bow - ‘I have very rarely known a privileged midshipman of that kind make a good officer. And in passing I may say that I shall warn him very strongly against the least hint of influential friends or connexions.’
‘I entirely agree with you, sir,’ said Clarence. ‘I myself felt the weight of influence very strongly, and many, many a time did I tell myself that I should never have been made post without I was King George’s son.’
‘Oh, sir, I am sure you should,’ said Jack, in answer to a singularly touching look. ‘At one time we were alongside Pegasus in the West Indies, and I never beheld a frigate in better order.’
‘Why, to be sure,’ said Clarence, positively bridling, ‘that is very kind of you to say so, upon my word it is. May I call for a pot of coffee?’
‘Not for me, sir, I thank you.’
Clarence raised his head, listening. ‘I think that is the boy on the landing,’ he said. ‘If that is your only condition, I accept it fully, with all my heart.’ He shook Jack’s hand and then opened the door. ‘Come in, Horatio,’ he called. ‘We are quite agreed, and in his great goodness Captain Aubrey will take you aboard Surprise.’
‘Oh thank you, sir: thank you very much indeed,’ cried the boy, intensely moved. ‘I am sure my dear Uncle must have been very happy to hear it.’
He certainly looked very happy, though strangely moved, when he brought Horatio to the White Horse, with a bowed porter carrying the new sea-chest. ‘I am so very glad to see you, Aubrey,’ he called. ‘So very glad to have read your letter over again - admirably well put - and of course I agree to all you have said: admirably well put. Your servant, Doctor. And I assure you, I am most uncommonly obliged... but forgive me, I beg, if I run away. There is Mornington waiting for me on the other side, and I absolutely cannot bear partings.’ With this, having wrung Jack’s hand yet again, he did in fact literally run, moving heavily and thrusting his way through the crowd.
Horatio looked a little nonplussed: but at this moment Jack called out, ‘Mr. Daniel! There you are: good morning to you. I have four insides, so heave your chest into the boot and get aboard. But first let me introduce Mr. Hanson, who is joining your berth.’ The young men shook hands. ‘He is only a first-voyager, but he already has a pretty sense of number, and I hope you will agree very well.’
People were getting in, crawling like spiders on to the roof; friends pressed closer, some calling out farewells; and a much louder voice cried ‘Get out of my fucking way, you bloody cuckolds,’ and Clarence heaved through the throng, mounted the steps, said ‘God bless you, Horatio,’ bent over him, pressed something into his hand and backed out, stammering something to Jack about ‘. . . present... forgotten... thank...” And painful it was to see that large pale glabrous face fairly aswim with tears.
‘Let go,’ called the coachman, and in a moment the whole massive affair was under way, contributing to the general roar of Saturday’s traffic - an exceptionally noisy and crowded Saturday, so that it was not until the coach was running over the newly-smoothed and comparatively silent road across Putney Heath that there was any real conversation - Horatio, much moved, had said nothing at all but ‘Yes, sir,’ or ‘No, sir.’ But now, during this quiet running, and during a lull in what little talk there was, a clear small bell struck eleven, and Horatio gazed with amazement at the packet Uncle William had thrust into his hand. In the listening silence Stephen’s own repeater uttered the faintest echo of the chime from his fob. ‘I believe, sir,’ he said, taking out the watch, ‘that you have much the same machine as I. May we compare them?’
They were both indeed Breguet repeating watches, wonderfully accurate, wonderfully resistant - Stephen’s had been with him (sometimes captured, sometimes restored) years without number and its minute voice had accompanied him through many a sleepless night. ‘When we sit down to our dinner,’ he said, ‘which, with the blessing, will be at Guildford, I will show you how mine can be adjusted for fast and slow, loud or soft for chime, repetition and alarm. They are truly wonderful little machines.”
‘Yes, indeed, sir,’ said Horatio, and he gazed at its elegant dial, its creeping hands, almost all the way to Guildford, only pausing now and then to ask Daniel, whose kindness he sensed at once, questions about naval life. ‘So I am not really a midshipman at all?’ he asked, when the others were busy talking.
‘No. Seeing you are joining a frigate, where there is not much room, you will be a member of the midshipmen’s berth, and seeing that you are quite old, you will not be treated as a youngster, although this is your first voyage: but on Surprise’s books you will be a first-class volunteer -a volunteer of the first class - and you will not be a full-blown mid until the Captain promotes you. Still, you wear a mid’s uniform, and you walk the quarterdeck: you are only the first term in a progression, to be sure, but you do belong to it; and that is the great thing.’
Progressions, arithmetic, geometric, or just plain physical tend to be very long; and as far as the emotionally worn-out Horatio Hanson was concerned, this first term in his particular sequence would have seemed almost eternal, but for the successive reassuring chimes in his bosom. Jack had asked the coachman to stop at the Hind, where they had a little more to eat and then piled into two local post-chaises with their sea-chests and night-bags for the last leg to Woolcombe.
It had indeed been a long and weary journey for Horatio, with much nervous strain before, during and after it, when he was presented to the Captain’s family and a large assortment of his future shipmates, some of them, like the master, almost unbelievably old, others belonging to the berth. The supper and the trial of long corridors unknown, a vast strange bedroom and uncertainty whether he might use the chamber-pot.
But what wonders a long night can work: and a huge breakfast in the company of primarily naval people, none of them at all forbidding, most of them benign. The ease and calm authority of the Captain’s daughters and the casual way in which young George wandered to and from the sideboard, helping himself to an improbable number of things, impressed him deeply, but not so much as Mr. Whewell’s play-by-play history of how the house team had indeed crushed the village, in spite of their parson, by eighteen runs.
But this satisfactory account was wholly set aside by Hard-ing’s arrival, with the words ‘Sir, we float!’ which were instantly understood by Captain Aubrey and all his officers to mean that Mr. Seppings had finished well before his promised time, that the frigate was moored in the fairway, with the sheer-hulks standing by to restore her masts and the bosun on hot coals to get back to rigging her.
They were words that released an extraordinary amount of energy among the sailors, a decently-restrained grief in Sophie, less decently in her children, and not at all in Brigid, who had to be led from the room. All this distressed the men: it did not interrupt their extremely rapid movement -co-ordinated movement, some going almost by instinct rather than order to their various stations with what speed horses, wheeled vehicles or plain feet could command; some, the best-mounted, to Portsmouth to prepare those ordinarily slow-moving local minds for the laying-in of stores: powder and shot, salt beef, salt pork, beer, biscuit, rum, the necessary water, some linear miles of ropes and cordage and square miles of sailcloth; carpenter’s stores, bosun’s stores — all those innumerable objects that even a modest man-of-war required for a voyage of enormous length: even the common rhubarb purgative amounted to seven casks.
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