At four bells in the morning watch, Captain Aubrey, in a tarpaulin jacket, his long fair hair, as yet unplaited, streaming over the frigate’s larboard quarter, came on deck, glanced at the grey, rainfilled sky, saw a tall curling wave break over the starboard bow, dodged at least some of the water that came racing aft along the gangway, and said, ‘Good morning, Mr. Somers: I think we may omit the ceremony of washing the decks today. The heavens seem to be looking after it for us.’
‘Good morning, sir,’ said the second lieutenant. ‘Yes, sir.’ And directing his powerful voice forward, ‘Stow swabs, there.’
Turning, Jack saw a slim, smiling, soaked figure saluting him. ‘Why, Mr. Hanson, how are you? Put your hat on again. And are you recovered?’
‘Yes, sir, I thank you: quite well again.’ ‘I am very glad of it. I think we are through the worst of the blow - you see the lightening sky two points on the starboard bow? And if you feel quite well before division we might make an attempt on the mizzen masthead.’ ‘Oh yes, sir, if you please.’
Jack, having towelled himself moderately dry, returned to his still-warm cot and lay there comfortably, rocked by the measured crash and sweep of the tons of water that broke on the starboard bow. Surprise was now heading south-by-west, almost close-hauled under reefed topsails, on a strong but irregular and probably dying west wind: they had cleared the Channel at last, after many days of wearisome beating - they no longer had Ushant and the dreadful reefs he had known so well during the Brest blockade under their lee; and apart from being struck by lightning or by some demented merchantman they had nothing much to fear until they were off Cape Ortegal, which had very nearly drowned him as a midshipman in Latona, 38. However, there were still some hundreds of miles to leeward, and with that comforting reflection and the beat and tremble of the waves he drifted off again until seven bells, when he woke entirely, to bright daylight, a diminished sea, and the disagreeable face of Killick, his steward, bringing hot water for shaving. For once Killick had no bad news of any kind to report, which probably accounted for his more than usually surly mutter in reply to Jack’s greeting; though on reflection he did recall that the Doctor had fallen out of his cot at some time in the middle watch and had been lashed in so tight by Mr. Wantage that he would certainly be late for breakfast.
Breakfast, whose delectable scents were wafting into the great cabin as Jack shaved in the quarter-gallery just at hand, was a good hearty meal to which he often invited one of the officers who had stood the morning watch: but today, in view of the very rough night they had had, and in view of Stephen’s cursed snappishness at having been so bitterly constrained — seven double turns and scarcely a breath a minute - he thought they should eat alone.
This they did; and the customary eggs and bacon, toast with Sophie’s marmalade, and above all pot after pot of coffee, had their civilising influence, and Dr. Maturin even said, ‘Before I make my rounds, I may well shave.’
Several witty replies occurred to Captain Aubrey, but in his friend’s precarious state of temper he risked none of them, only replying, ‘What do you think of young Hanson’s state at present? He stood his watch perfectly well last night.’
‘Hanson? Oh yes, Hanson: he made a very quick recovery, as the young so often do. I attribute it largely to my Vera Cruz jalap: most of the others in the sick-bay were on the various kinds of rhubarb, Aleppo and Smyrna Turkey roots, and the best Russian, with some from Banbury: and perhaps half a dozen of them are still in a sad state of flux.’
‘Surely you do not experiment on your patients, Stephen?’ cried Jack.
‘In course I do, just as you experiment with various sails or arrangements of sails, to see what suits a boat best. A boat does not have three mizzen topsails and a gaff written on its prow; and my patients do not have ipecacuanha tattooed on their foreheads. Of course I experiment. Experiment, forsooth.’
He had indeed experimented, different constitutions requiring different remedies, but always, in this violent outbreak of dysentery (some of the salt pork served on the first day had already crossed the Atlantic four times, with a long pause in Kingston, Jamaica) on the general basis of similia similibus, carefully noting the various results: and watching, with an anxious eye, the frightful diminution of his stores - at one time, before they were clear of soundings, three-quarters of the Surprises had been helpless, incapable of duty, but eager and willing to take enormous doses of rhubarb.
‘But as for young Hanson - for whom, I may say, I feel a certain responsibility, as well as an affection - he was fit for duty three days ago.’
‘I am glad to hear it,’ said Jack; and later that day, after a morning of paperwork with his clerk and the purser, and after dinner, he walked the quarterdeck with a coffee-cup in his hand. The day was brighter now by far, and warm: clouds were still scudding from the west, but the breeze had dropped, so that Surprise was now wearing her courses.
At five bells they heaved the log. ‘Eight knots and one fathom, sir, if you please,’ said Mr. Midshipman Shepherd to Whewell, the officer of the watch. Whewell turned to Jack, took off his hat, and said, ‘Eight knots and one fathom, sir, if you please.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Whewell,’ said Jack, gazing up at the masts’ pronounced leeward angle, ‘I believe we may come up a point and a half.’
‘A point and a half it is, sir,’ said Whewell, and he repeated the order to the quartermaster at the con.
Jack moved forward to the rail and looked down into the waist of the ship. There he saw what he expected to see, some of the younger midshipmen learning the fine points of their craft — long-splicing to leeward, a complex system of pointing to windward, and just beneath him Horatio Hanson was being shown some elementary skills such as sheet-bend, bowline, clove-hitch and rolling hitch by Joe Plaice, his recently-appointed sea-daddy, already horribly loquacious and didactic, though good-natured with it all.
‘Mr. Hanson,’ he called.
‘Sir?’ cried Horatio, dropping his fid and running up the ladder.
‘How do you feel at present?’ asked Jack, looking at him attentively.
‘Very well, sir, I thank you. Prime,’ he said, standing straight, his hands behind his back.
In a private tone Jack went on, ‘You do mind my words about a first-voyager being meek and mute in the berth, I trust?’
‘Oh yes, sir,’ said Horatio, blushing. ‘But, sir, you did say that I did not have to put up with everything, however gross.’
‘Perhaps I did.’
‘So when a - a shipmate - called me a pragmatical son of a bitch, I thought I had to resent it.’
‘Not a superior officer? Just a member of the berth?’
‘Then of course you had to resent it. Show me your hands. Turn them over.’ It must have been a heavy left-handed blow to split the skin to that extent. Jack shook his head. ‘No, no: it will not do. I doubt anyone else in the berth will speak to you like that again - a gentlemanly lot, upon the whole: but if it should happen you must say, “Blackguard me as much as ever you choose: the Captain has tied my hands.’”
‘Yes, sir,’ said the boy, with proper deference and a total want of conviction.
‘Well, now: since she is not what you would call lively’ -the mastheads swept out an arc of no more than forty degrees at present - ‘perhaps we might try the mizzen crosstrees. You remember what I said about both hands and never looking down?’
‘Oh yes, sir.’
‘Then away aloft, and I shall follow you.’
Hanson ran aft, nipped on to the rail, and leaning out he seized the third and fourth mizzen shrouds as they rose from the channel, writhed between them, setting himself on the outward side, grasped the ratlines that ran horizontally across the shrouds and climbed a step or two of the ladder they formed, and waited.
A moment later he felt the whole mass of rigging tighten as it took the captain’s weight: then the captain’s powerful hands on his ankles, shifting his feet in turn up and up and up. ‘Do not look down,’ said Jack presently, ‘but just about level, at the mast. Just forward of the gaff there is a block.’
‘I see it, sir.’
‘It leads the starboard main-topsail-brace straight down on deck: give it a gentle pull when it is in reach and you will see the brace respond.’
So it did: a most gratifying sweep. But now they were close to the lower side of the top, that broad platform at the head of the lower mast that bore the topmast and its matching array of shrouds, spread by the crosstrees and towering up to the topgallantmast and the upper crosstrees. From immediately under the top Jack threaded Hanson up through the lubber’s hole, himself taking the backward-leaning futtock-shrouds and dropping from the rail to join him. ‘You must always come up through the hole for the first seven times,’ he said. ‘To be sure, it looks lubberly, but seven times is the law. You will very soon get used to laying aloft, and after those holy seven times you will use the futtock-shrouds without thinking about it. Now let me show you the things in the top...’ This he did from the top-maul to the fid, fid-plate, bolster and chock.
Jack’s voyages were rarely of a kind in which a first-voyager would be either proposed or accepted; yet some did come aboard, propelled by very high authority or the plea of old shipmates, and it was Jack’s habit to take them aloft himself, at first. It established a particular contact, and it told him a great deal about the boy. Apart from anything else it made ordinary human conversation possible, a very rare thing between the extremes of rank.
They sat in the top for a while sitting on folded studdingsails while Jack explained various points in the running rigging and Horatio gazed out with open wonder and admiration at the immense, ordered intricacy of a man-of-war, its extraordinary beauty and the even greater beauty of its surroundings.
‘I am afraid your knuckles are bleeding on your trousers,’ Jack observed, after a pause.
‘Oh, I am so sorry, sir,’ cried the boy, in horror. ‘I am afraid they are. I beg pardon, sir. I shall wrap them in my handkerchief.’
‘The great thing for blood,’ said Jack, speaking with some authority, ‘is cold water. Just soak whatever it is in cold water overnight and in the morning it will be gone. But tell me about boxing, will you? Have you done much?’
‘Oh no sir. I hardly went to school: but the boys who came to be prepared for first communion by Mr. Walker or my grandfather and I used to mill in the barn afterwards.’
‘Did you use gloves?’
‘No, sir: just muffles. But then there was the coachman’s boy whose uncle, a real prize-fighter who kept the inn at Clumpton and who taught him a great deal - he had gloves, and he taught me.’
‘So much the better,’ said Jack. ‘When I was a reefer in a ship of the line with a lot of others in the berth, we used to have set matches, and we challenged other ships in the squadron. So did the ratings.’
‘That must have been capital fun.’
‘So it was, indeed. Perhaps we might do something... what do you weigh?’
‘Almost nine stone, sir.’
‘We must see what can be done. Are you puffed with your climb?’
‘Not in the least, sir.’
‘Then let us go up to the crosstrees. You do not mind the height?’
‘Oh no, sir, I do not mind it.’
Jack turned him round, set him in position, both hands firm, and once again he called, ‘Away aloft.’ They moved briskly up the narrowing ladder, the shrouds so close at the top that Jack swung round to the larboard set, swung up to the larboard crosstree and gave the boy a hand to heave him up to the other. There they sat, one each side of the mast, each with an arm around it. They seemed incomparably higher up here, the sea stretching almost to infinity, the sky unimaginably vast: Horatio had opened his mouth to exclaim at the ethereal beauty of the ship and her setting when he remembered the words ‘mute and meek’ and shut it again. Jack said, ‘If the breeze comes a trifle more aft, you may see stunsails set. Now cling to the crosstree with both hands once I am under you, dangle your legs and let me place your feet.’
Down and down again: and on deck Jack said, ‘You did pretty well. Next time you must lay aloft with one of your mates - Mr. Daniel, say - and in a week you will find it as easy as kiss-my-hand.’
‘Sir, thank you very much indeed for taking me: I have never seen anything so beautiful in my whole life. I wish it could go on for ever.’
He regretted these last words as being enthusiastic, out of place to a post-captain: but they had barely been uttered before they were drowned by a prodigious bellowing from the look-out on the foretopsail yard, a former (and most passionate) whaler. ‘There she blows! Oh there she blows! Three points on the starboard bow. Pardon me, sir,’ he added in a lower tone, for this was not a Royal Naval cry.
There she blew indeed - a great dark heave in the smooth sea and then the jet - and not only she but her six companions, one after another, heaving up enormous, blowing and smoothly diving each in turn, and each heartily cheered by the Surprises. ‘What kind, Reynolds?’ called Jack.
‘Oh right whales, sir, as right as right could be, ha, ha, ha!’
‘Why do they say right whales?’ asked William Salmon, a master’s mate, when the berth had settled down to dinner - a diminished berth, now that Jack had dispensed with some of the more indifferent midshipmen.
‘Why, because they are right in every respect,’ said Adams, Captain Aubrey’s clerk. ‘They are in the right place - off Greenland or in the Bay - they have the right whalebone, by far the best in the market - and the right amount of oil, six or seven tons of it. And the right temperament: they move slow, not dashing about like your finwhale, or turning spiteful and crushing your boat like a sperm. You cannot say fairer.’
‘No, to be sure,’ said the berth, looking eagerly at the pudding as it came through the door, a fine massive plum-duff. Officially, and actually in time of dearth, the midshipmen ate the same food as the other ratings, but since their captain insisted upon quite a considerable allowance those in Surprise did very much better, having laid in stores, livestock and even a moderate quantity of wine, some of which they drank at the end of the meal.
‘Here’s to a sweet and prosperous voyage,’ said Daniel, raising his glass.
‘A sweet and prosperous voyage,’ they echoed.
Sweet and prosperous it was, in a way, for although the breeze was now so faint the ship could hardly log more than a hundred miles from one noon to the next (a distance very accurately measured by Daniel and Hanson) it was wholly favourable, while the calmness of the sea, the almost unmoving deck, made gunnery a rare delight, and with his wealth of powder and shot (all to be renewed in Madeira) Jack exercised his crew with live ammunition, once they had loosened their muscles by running the guns in and out half a dozen times, and now each crew had the lively satisfaction of destroying a number of empty casks, towed out sometimes to a considerable distance. Then came the repeated broadsides: this was not the dumb-show of usual practice at divisions, but the shattering din of battle, the flashing stabs of fire, the shriek of each gun’s very dangerous recoil, the heady scent of powder-smoke along the decks; and there was the frigate, under her fighting topsails, in the midst of her own cloud as the breeze swept the smoke back across her -smoke lit from within, and an enormous, almost continuous roar as the firing started with the foremost starboard gun and ran right down the broadside. It was as though Surprise was fighting a dreadful battle of her own, the hands stripped to the waist, handkerchiefs round their heads, deadly serious, extremely active, checking the recoil, sponging, loading, ramming home the charge and running the ton of metal up against its port with a bang while the gun’s captain aimed it and the powder-boys ran at full speed with their cartridges from the magazine, while the deck trembled and the taut shrouds vibrated.
“Vast firing,’ called Jack as the aftermost gun shot inboard. ‘Swab and load and run them up. Now take breath while the target is towed out, and then let us have three brisk ones.’
Men straightened, grinned at one another, wiped their foreheads - their pale bodies gleamed with sweat - and most went to the scuttle-butt for a long and gasping drink.
When all was ready, guns loaded and run out, Jack said, in a voice suited to the battle-deafness of all hands, ‘Target’s away. From forward aft, as they bear.’ He spoke with a watch in his hand: most of the people knew what that meant, and the foremost gun was wonderfully prompt, followed by the rest of the broadside - a scene of extraordinary activity, since all his old shipmates were aware of the value he attached to very rapid accurate fire. ‘If a ship can manage three broadsides in five minutes, there is no enemy can stand against her,’ he had repeated many and many a time: and in the past he had proved it.
The target vanished in foam before the end of the first, but with undiminished zeal, toiling like devils, the other two broadsides pounded the wreckage until the last gun bawled out and a shocked silence fell over the sea.
‘Well, shipmates,’ said Jack, ‘it was pretty good: I do not think there are a great many afloat that could call us slow-bellies; but by the time we reach Freetown, I think we may do better.’
The Surprises looked a little disappointed, but none of the really expert gun-captains expected anything else; and even the heaviest of the few new hands had seen that guns three and five had checked the pure, even sequence of the broadsides.
‘It was pretty good, however, for a somewhat mixed ship’s company,’ said Jack as he walked into the great cabin. ‘But I tell you what, Stephen: the wind is about to change.’ He tapped the barometer. ‘Yes: and before nightfall, too. Come in.’
‘I beg pardon, sir,’ said Wells, the dwarfish midshipman, ‘but Mr. Harding says, with his duty, that Ringle is in sight, under a press of sail, bearing east-north-east.’
‘Thank you, Mr. Wells. Now, Mr. Adams, what have you there?’
‘Sir, the young gentlemen’s workings, if you please. The master begged me to carry them to you, as I was on my way aft. He has to go to the seat of ease again.’
Stephen shook his head: Mr. Woodbine was one of his most obstinate cases. Was there perhaps some hidden or at least contributory cause? Patients were either intolerably garrulous about their symptoms or obscure, taciturn, even secretive, as though they suspected the medical man of trying to entrap them - perhaps even to lead them to surgery. When he had finished with these reflections, his eye caught the score of a prelude and fugue in D minor for violin and ‘cello that he had composed some time ago and that he had now copied fair, profiting by the calm.
Jack, sorting through the young gentlemen’s workings -their reckoning of the ship’s position by noon observation of the sun and a variety of other calculations — caught Stephen’s glance and said, ‘I have been making attempts on the opening page of the prelude: but Lord, Stephen, I am grown so thumb-fisted! I have scarcely had my fiddle out of its case since we sank the land, and now most of my notes are false and my bowing all astray.’
‘No. We have not played at all, these many days and more.’
Jack agreed: then he said, ‘But here is something that will give you pleasure,’ and he passed two slips, both with figures neatly ranged and a resulting position that agreed within a few seconds. ‘The one is John Daniel’s, as you would expect from a capital hand at the mathematics; but the other is young Hanson’s, and I am sure there was no copying. What a pearl Mr. Walker must have been, the boy’s tutor, to have shown him how to take such a pretty altitude: though to be sure the Duke did treat him to as fine an instrument as I have seen. The two of them agree in setting us within a week’s sail of Madeira, and if this breeze holds, as I believe it will - or rather,’ he said, touching the wooden arm of his chair, ‘— as I hope it will, we shall be able to say that we have done the first leg in reasonably good time, in spite of a most unpromising start.’
The breeze did indeed hold fair, usually coming in over the starboard quarter as steadily as a trade-wind, which allowed the Surprise to spread a glorious array of royals and studding-sails that sent the water racing down her side, filling her people with such high spirits that when they were turned up in the last dog-watch they sang and danced on the forecastle to the sound of a fife and a drum and a small knee-harp with such spirit that it sounded like Bartholomew Fair, only more harmonious.
It was on just such an evening, when they were within a day or two of Madeira, that Jack Aubrey squared to his desk to continue his letter to Sophie and perhaps finish it so that all his papers of every kind might go with the next packet. ‘This is sailing indeed,’ he wrote, ‘sailing with the kindliest wind in a ship one loves and a crew most of whom one has known for years, and nearly all of them right seamen.’ Here he took a new sheet and continued, ‘It seems wickedly ungrateful to say so, but some of us miss that perpetual vigilance, that hawk-like scanning of the leeward horizon for a sail that may be an enemy or, praise be, a lawful prize. Yet of course this is peace-time, and peace-time in mild, favourable weather can, to a thankless mind, seem rather flat on occasion.’ But having paused to sharpen his pen - he had a razor-sharp little penknife that also split quills - he looked over these last words with a more critical eye, balled up the paper and took another sheet. ‘It is true that even some of our quite old shipmates can be a little difficult on occasion,’ he continued. ‘Your favourite Awkward Davies can be positively dogged, if crossed by a new hand: but in a boarding-party, or storming a shore-position, he is worth his weight in gold, heavy though he is. His huge bulk, his terrifying strength and activity, the awful pallor of his face and his way of foaming at the mouth when he is stirred, all make him a most dreadful opponent. What Stephen calls his berserker rage fairly clears the enemy’s decks before him. He also howls. But he has other sides: not only is he very useful when you must sway up the mast shorthanded, but in sudden emergencies too. Do you remember the pitifully shy boy Horatio Hanson you were so kind to at Woolcombe? He shows remarkable promise as a navigator, but he is not much of a topman yet - how could he be? - and he got himself sadly entangled coming down from some improbable height - the fore-royal truck or something like that. Davies saw him, and shoving Joe Plaice aside - Joe is the boy’s sea-daddy - he fairly swarmed aloft, seized the young fellow’s shin and absolutely carried him by brute-force upside-down to the top, where he was safe, and so left him with an angry mutter...” He broke off. ‘Now, Stephen,’ he said rather pettishly, ‘what are you pottering about for?’
‘Pottering, is it? Have I not been searching every nook and cranny in this vile tub and the Dear knows she has a thousand of both systematically searching for my rosin, my only piece of rosin since an ill-conditioned rat ate the others. May I ask you to look in your pocket?’
‘Oh, Stephen,’ cried Jack, his look of righteous indignation changing to a flush as he brought the rosin out with his handkerchief. ‘I am so sorry - so very sorry. I do beg your pardon.’
‘Was you playing?’ asked Stephen as he picked fluff and hairs off the ball.
‘I had thought of it - took my fiddle out of its case, indeed, but then reflecting on all the paper-work Adams and I must have ready in Funchal, it appeared that I should get Sophie’s letter sealed up first.’
‘Give her my love, if you please,’ said Stephen; and pausing in the doorway he added, ‘I dare say you know the Ringle is coming up hand over fist?’
‘She has been reported from the masthead every watch since the horizon cleared; and with the glass quite steady I hope to reduce sail in an hour or two so that we may enter Funchal together before the evening gun.’
At first sight poor ravaged Funchal still had a blackened, desolate appearance, but from the maintop a closer view, helped by a telescope, saw that a great deal of repair had in fact been carried out, that Coelho’s famous yard though not busy, was working again, with piles of fresh timber clearly apparent, and that the Royal Navy’s depot was reasonably trim, with a store-ship lying off the wharf and lighters plying to and fro, while a Spanish packet rode at single anchor a cable’s length astern. The Surprise saluted the castle and took up her familiar moorings, with the Ringle under her lee. The castle returned as briskly as could be expected; and Stephen said privately to Jack, ‘Pray, my dear, let me be put on the strand in a small boat once darkness has fallen, to be taken off just one hour later.’
Darkness fell, helped by a run of clouds from the southwest and a small rain. Stephen was handed down the side as though he were a basket of singularly fragile china by seamen and officers who were accustomed, long accustomed, to his wild capers when going ashore in the mildest of swells, and he found himself sitting in the stern-sheets next to Horatio Hanson, who had taken to seafaring so thoroughly and naturally that he could be entrusted with the captain’s valuable gig and even more valuable crew of right seamen. ‘I forget, Mr. Hanson,’ he said, ‘whether you were aboard on the way north from Gibraltar or not?’ ‘No, sir: I am afraid I was not so fortunate.’ ‘Ah, indeed? Yet you seem to fit in quite naturally.’ ‘Perhaps, sir, because my father was a sailor.’ And raising his voice, ‘Give way, there, give way,’ running the boat well up the pebbles, while bow-oar and his mate handed Stephen dry-foot clear of the next wave. ‘Thank you, Evans; thank you, Richardson,’ he said; and louder, ‘Mr. Hanson, in just an hour’s time, if you please: I know our watches are in agreement to the second. And if you choose to return to the ship, I shall wait here a good seven minutes.’
He walked up and into the town, pausing under a reed awning that shed the rain for a cup of really powerful coffee and then following the carefully remembered turnings to a modest establishment in an indifferent, mercantile part of the town; modest, but remarkably well-guarded by the local equivalent of English pugilists, since it was frequented by dealers in precious stones who could be seen passing their wares wrapped in tissue paper from hand to hand, whispering to one another. And as Stephen had noticed before, those to whom the little parcels were handed seemed to divine their contents by some supernatural power since as far as he could make out they never opened the wrapping: nor did their conversation ever vary from a low (but not evidently secretive) monotonous discretion. Another thing that he noticed, and noticed with a galvanic shock which he only just managed to control, was the presence of his friend, colleague and ally, Amos Jacob, for whom he had intended to leave a message, hoping that it might be collected in a month or so.
They exchanged a fleeting, meaningless glance, and when Stephen had drunk up his glass of wine and paid his reckoning he walked out into the wet, deserted street: the drizzle had stopped but the cloud still hung low and he was glad when Jacob caught up with him, carrying an umbrella. They at once embraced patting one another on the back in the Spanish manner and continuing in that language, perfectly familiar to both but so usual in Funchal to excite no comment. ‘Sir Blaine sends you his kindest greetings,’ said Jacob, ‘and I am to tell you that Sir Lindsay will probably sail on the twenty-seventh of this month, calling at Funchal (where his agents, a precious set of boobies, are buying war-surplus arms) and then at Rio. He has received no countenance from the Admiralty, nor of course from the Hydrographical Office, and he comes as a private person invited by a private committee, the Chilean declarations having been neither officially recognised nor even acknowledged. He has acquired a moderate ship-sloop, sold out of the service; and another, called the Asp, is being repaired for him in Rio: his function is to train the Chilean authorities - if such a name can be applied to a disparate, self-elected committee or collection of committees that is likely to split at any moment...”
‘Dear friend, you are in danger of losing yourself.’
‘I ask pardon... to train the infant Chilean navy, since Spain still holds the great Chiloe archipelago in the south; so that the smaller Spanish men-of-war and privateers haunt the Chilean coast; while in the north, just at hand, in the great Peruvian naval base at Callao, they have some quite important vessels.’
Stephen reflected, and then said, ‘It is some considerable time since we have been able to speak confidentially: tell me, have you any recent local information that I should know? Anything about the nature of the split?’
‘Indeed I have. I was talking to an intelligent Chilean business connection, a jewel-merchant specialising in emeralds, Muzo emeralds - I even bought a small parcel from him - and he told me that the split was imminent. The two main sides live at some distance from one another: Bernardo O’Higgins and his friend San Martin, who beat the Royalists at Chacabuco, as you will remember, and whose associates invited Captain Aubrey in the first place, lead the northern group; while it was those in the south who invited Captain Lindsay.’
‘Could you briefly outline their views?’
‘Not briefly: there are so many of them with such different aims, and they are all so very talkative. But I might hazard the rash generalisation that the southern gentlemen are more idealist, their feet well off the ground, whereas the northerners under O’Higgins and San Martin, with much more limited aims, are very much more efficient. And although they have some lamentable friends I think they are upon the whole very much less self-seeking.’
Stephen sighed. ‘Clearly, it is a deeply complicated situation,’ he said, ‘with infinite possibilities of making grave mistakes. How I wish you could be there well ahead of Lindsay and of us, so that, with no ostensible connection between you and me, the Surprise could sail into a wealth of intelligence. Let us search for some kind of timely packet or returning merchantman...”
‘My dear sir, I believe it can be done without packets or merchantmen. Did Sir Blaine never speak to you of our man in Buenos Aires?’
‘The invaluable Mr. Bridges, of the chancery? He did: but as I recall chiefly with regard to his encyclopaedic knowledge of early music... However, Sir Joseph sometimes speaks very low, for emphasis, and I do not always catch what he says: nor do I like to cry “Eh?”, or “What?”‘
‘Well, the gentleman is also a most eminent mountaineer - has climbed some astonishing Andean peaks - and with some chosen friends, Auracanians I believe, of the most ferocious kind, he has rapidly traversed the whole range by unknown or long-deserted passes; and with his help and his guides I could be in Chile long before you have threaded those tedious Straits or rounded a frozen Horn.’
‘Are you serious, Amos?’
‘I am. The mountain is my only mistress: I climb with infinite joy. There is not a peak in the Djebel Druse I do not know.’
‘Have you any luggage... my boat is on its way.’ Jacob nodded. ‘Then pray bring it to the naval depot as discreetly as possible in the morning: say that you belong to Surprise and desire them to roll out seven casks of rhubarb purgative, and I shall have the pleasure of seeing you there when I come with other demands for medical supplies. God bless, now.’
* * *
‘Jack,’ he cried, bursting into the cabin. ‘Oh, I beg your pardon.’
‘Not at all, brother,’ said Captain Aubrey: he closed his book. ‘I was only reading a most uncomfortable piece in Galatians: damned, whatever you do, almost. I am afraid you have torn your stockings.’
‘It was one of those upright things that caught me as I tried to come over the side in a seamanlike manner. Jack, I went ashore, as you know, in the hope of leaving a message for Amos Jacob, in the event of his joining us eventually as Sir Joseph wished. And there he was in the flesh, sitting not ten yards from me! So we met discreetly on the strand. He had already gathered a great deal of prime intelligence, and as my memory is by no means all I could wish I begged him to come aboard and give you all the main points. He will accompany us as far as Rio - and then with the blessing join us overland in Chile. But not to torment you, let me say at once that Sir David does not set out until the twenty-seventh: that he has a “moderate ship-sloop” sold out of the service, with another, called the Asp, being repaired for him in Rio, where he must call, before attempting - if my memory serves - to pass into the Pacific by the Strait. But Jacob will tell it more accurately, together with his detailed information about the various parties in Chile. Lindsay, by the way, already has agents here, buying used weapons against his arrival. To avoid any hint of collusion, I have begged Dr. Jacob to repair to the depot with his chest early in the morning, to present himself as one belonging to the Surprise and to ask the people there to have seven barrels of the rhubarb purgative ready to trundle down into the boat that will bring him out to the ship.’
‘God love us all,’ said Jack. ‘Stephen, you quite astonish me with all your tidings — astonish and delight me. I do not know about dear Jacob’s “moderate ship-sloop”, but I do remember the poor tottering old Asp, when I was a boy; and I doubt she could withstand a single one of our broadsides. In any event, we have plenty of time, plenty of time for making a long southern sweep and steering north and west when the Antarctic weather, the Antarctic ice, are a little less horrible at the beginning of their summer, keeping the Horn way, way to leeward and so to the height of Valparaiso. Unless we have uncommon bad luck in the doldrums, we have time and to spare - just touch at Freetown to refresh, touch and away...’
‘Touch and away, Jack?’ asked Stephen. ‘Touch and away? Do you not recall that I have important business there? Enquiries of the very first interest?’
‘To do with our enterprise? To do with this voyage?’
‘Perhaps not quite directly.’
‘I do remember that at one time you did make a particular point of Freetown. You had hoped that we should “slope away for the Guinea Coast” directly from Gibraltar; and at that time I represented to you that the patching we had received in the yard did not prepare the barky for the Chile voyage - that Madeira was essential. Then we found Madeira town and above all Coelho’s yard burnt to a cinder, so we had to go home, where she was thoroughly repaired and manned. But if you still feel strongly about the Guinea Coast and its potatoes, about Sierra Leone and Freetown, it could certainly be more than touch and away. What would you consider an adequate stay?’
After a hesitation Stephen said, ‘Jack, we are very old friends and I do not scruple to tell you, in confidence, that I mean to beg Christine Wood to marry me.’
Aubrey was perfectly taken aback, dumbfounded: he blushed. Yet quite soon his good nature and good breeding enabled him to say ‘that he wished dear Stephen every success - a most capital plan, he was sure - and that Surprise should lie there until she grounded on her beef-bones, if Stephen so desired.’
‘No, my dear,’ said Stephen. ‘In such a case, and with such a person, I think it would be a plain yes or no. In the event of the first, I believe I should like to stay a week, if a week can be allowed. Otherwise we may sail away that same day, as far as I am concerned.’
They parted for the night with expressions of the utmost good will on either side; and early in the morning Dr. Jacob’s rather frowzy appearance in the great cabin changed the atmosphere quite remarkably. He explained the situation in Chile with a wealth of details (many of which Stephen had forgotten, his mind being elsewhere) which Adams, the captain’s clerk, took down in a shorthand of his own.
The explanation was interrupted by the arrival of the casks of rhubarb: then by important quantities of round shot and a little chain; and then by the necessity of hauling off into the fairway, so that once the galley fires were doused and every living spark aboard extinguished, the powder-hoy could come alongside and deliver her deadly little copper-ringed barrels to the gunner and his mates.
With a fair wind and a flowing sheet the Surprise, stores and water all completed - no stragglers, no drunken hands taken up by the Funchal police - bore away a little east of south; and by the time stern-lanterns and top-lights were lit, those hands who were inclined to smoke their tobacco rather than chew it gathered in and about the galley, where in addition to the pleasure of their pipes they had the much-appreciated company of women, perfectly respectable women, Poll Skeeping, Stephen’s loblolly-girl, and her friend Maggie, the bosun’s wife’s sister.
‘So it seems the Doctor’s mate has come aboard again,’ said Dawson, the captain of the head, who knew it perfectly well but who liked to hear the fact confirmed.
‘Was he carrying another Hand of Glory? How I hope he was carrying another Hand of Glory, God bless him, ha, ha, ha!’
‘No, nor another unicorn’s horn; that will be for next time.’
All those who had shared in the Surprise’s most recent and most glorious prize laughed aloud; and a Shelmerstonian, who had not been there of course, said, ‘Tell us about it again.’
They told him about it again, about those splendid barrels brim-full of prize-money, with such vehemence and conviction, most of them speaking at once, that the blazing gold seemed almost to be there before them.
‘Ah,’ said one, in the ensuing silence, ‘we’ll never see days like that again.’ A pause, and a general sigh of agreement; though many spoke with very strong approval of the doctors and the luck they brought.
‘So we are bound for Freetown,’ observed Poll Skeeping.
‘Yes,’ said Joe Plaice, one of Killick’s friends and a fairly reliable source of information. ‘Which the Doctor - our doctor - is sweet on the Governor’s lady: or, as you might say, his widow. She lives there still, in a house.’
‘What, an ugly little bugger like him, and that lovely piece?’ cried Ebenezer Pierce, foretopman, starboard watch.
‘For shame, Ebenezer,’ said Poll. ‘Think of your arm he saved.’
‘Still,’ said Ebenezer, ‘you can be a very clever doctor and still no great beauty.’ And in the inimical silence he walked aft, affecting unconcern, and tripped over a bucket.
‘I wish the Doctor well, by God,’ said a carpenter’s mate. ‘He’s had it cruel hard.’
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