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Patrick o’brian blue at the Mizzen



НазваниеPatrick o’brian blue at the Mizzen
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1. /Blue at the Mizzen (V2).docPatrick o’brian blue at the Mizzen

CHAPTER SIX



‘We therefore commit his body to the deep,’ said Captain Aubrey, ‘to be turned into corruption, looking for the resurrection of the body (when the Sea shall give up her dead) and the life of the world to come, through Our Lord Jesus Christ; who at His coming shall change our vile body, that it may be like His glorious body, according to the mighty working, whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself...’ and Harding, the first lieutenant, gave the watching bosun a barely perceptible nod. As all hats whipped off, the hatch-cover tilted, shooting its burden into the advancing roller, which swallowed it with barely a sign; and Henry Wantage, master’s mate, sank instantly, sewn into his hammock with four round shot at his feet.


‘I went through those words not ten days out of Freetown,’ said Jack in the cabin, ‘and I have said them after many an action, God knows: yet they move me every time, so that I am like to stumble towards the end. Particularly for poor Wantage, who had such a wretched time of it in Funchal.’

Stephen poured him more coffee. ‘Sure,’ he said, ‘and I grieved for those two sad, wasted yellow-fever boys: to the end I thought Jacob and I might save them: but it was not to be.’

‘Apart from a really uncommon bloody action, I do not remember to have seen a midshipmen’s berth so mauled. We have only one master’s mate, and at present poor old Mr. Woodbine is scarcely fit to stand a watch.’ He pondered, drank more coffee, and rang the bell. ‘Pass the word for Mr. Hanson,’ he said.

‘Mr. Hanson it is, sir,’ replied Killick; and the name resounded through the ship

‘Sir?’ asked the boy, the very young man, who had obviously been weeping.

‘Sit down, Mr. Hanson,’ said Jack. ‘A little while ago Mr. Adams pointed out to me that you have an uncommon amount of sea-time against your name.’

‘Yes, sir. My Uncle was good enough to enter me on the books of Phoenix and some other ships before I was breeched.’

‘Just so. Many captains do the same: the result is that although you are still quite young you are legally senior to most of the people in the berth. And since your navigation is better than most of theirs I am going to take advantage of your nominal service to appoint you master’s mate. Mr. Daniel is older than you, and perhaps more able: but with your sea-time he cannot be promoted over your head, and I am sure he has enough experience of the service to accept the apparent injustice without bearing you any ill-will. You and he will be a great support to Mr. Woodbine. You will take poor Mr. Wantage’s place in the last dog watch today.’

‘Yes, sir.
Thank you very much, sir,’ said Horatio, looking confused, embarrassed, far from happy.

‘Cut along, then: and tell the berth that I have issued those words as a direct order. You may not like it, and they may not like it: but you will have to give them a feast on the last day of the month. If you choose to invite Ringle’s mates, I shall give them a bottle of wine apiece, for the honour of the ship: it is the custom, you know.’ When Horatio had gone, Jack said, ‘That is a good boy. He don’t like it; and they won’t like it. But I do not think they will tear him to pieces, now that he has shown what he is made of. In any case John Daniel would not allow it; he has real authority in the berth, although he has not been aboard very long.’

The appointment was indeed received with some murmuring in the berth: but it was greeted with general approval by the lower deck, which set an even higher value on physical courage than on the finer points of seamanship - not that Mr. Hanson was so deficient in them, either.


‘My dear Christine,’ wrote Stephen on page seventeen of the serial letter that would be sent to Dorset from Rio de Janeiro or by the good offices of the first homeward-bound ship they met, ‘I think it would please you to watch the formation of a community so close-packed and eventually so tight-knit as the crew of a ship, above all of a man-of-war, which has so many more people to serve the guns, and a far more rigid hierarchy. Remarkably strong and lasting friendships are formed, particularly on very long voyages; but even in a commission so recent as ours the process is evident. Young Hanson, whom I have mentioned before, is, I understand from Jack, really talented as far as the mathematics are concerned, and Mr. Daniel, a master’s mate, has helped him in their practical application to the guidance of the ship’s course - even to determining her exact position on the trackless ocean, for all love. They have become close companions, which could scarcely have been the case on land, their origins, nurture, and manner of speech being so very far apart. When we were in Freetown they were inseparable, wandering about together, taking the bearings of capes and headlands, the height of towers, minarets, fortifications and so on, together with depths and tides. And now, since Mr. Woodbine’s health failed him two or three weeks from the Guinea coast, the two have been devotedly attentive to the ship’s motions - longitude, latitude and the like - throughout the long course of unpredictable, varying winds that torment the mariner in the Gulf - until at last we reached the blessed north-east trade, before which we are now bounding at a rate of I think ten knots in the hour; and now they can draw breath at last.

‘There are few things more pleasing to see than that rise and growth of a natural, spontaneous liking, sometimes, indeed often, (as in this case), accompanied by similar tastes, abilities and studies: but by no means always, nor by an equality in age, and it would give me the liveliest pleasure to find you and Brigid friends. A very little notice on your part would overcome her timidity, and I know you would not find her wanting in affection, though it has been somewhat damped: the older girls do not show her much kindness, and although I do not advance this as anything more than a conjecture, I have the impression that they regard her as an intruder. And since infant emotions are rarely disguised with any skill I believe I may say that their mother’s attentions and her kindnesses to Brigid quite certainly excite their jealousy, that most corrosive of passions, and the most unhappy. There, my dear, I hear the imperious bell - our life is ruled by bells - that marks the beginning of my rounds, and if I do not go at once I shall have sour disapproving looks - not perhaps from Amos Jacob, but certainly from Poll Skeeping and her mate, from all the patients, straightened in their cots, their sheets smoothed tight, their modest comforts hidden, and their faces washed, and not improbably from the ship’s two cats, who came secretly aboard at Freetown, and who have grown wholly accustomed to the rigour of naval life, disliking the slightest variation — worthy, scrupulous cats, who regularly visit their little trays of ashes, set out in the galley by the equally severe and righteous cook. My dear, farewell for a moment...”

‘My dear, the moment is passed,’ he wrote, squaring up to his desk, braced against the frigate’s rhythmic heave and roll, ‘and I am happy to tell you of a real improvement in the master’s health: he has eaten, and retained, two copious meals, the first of fresh flying-fish, the second of a moderately rich lobscouse. This may be connected with the ship’s much more even pace, her greater speed, and the general air of satisfaction aboard - the brisk (though warm) and lively air. But I do not like to mention any of these factors, the master being a through-and-through mariner, choleric, and convinced of his own diagnosis: incipient leprosy, overcome by total abstinence from salt, alcohol, tobacco. I wish I could convey the delight of a well-found, well-handled man-of-war, sailing with all reasonable sail abroad, a steady, urgent wind coming in over her larboard quarter, her prow (or I think I should say cutwater) throwing a fine sheet of spray to leeward with each even measured pitch: there is a generally-diffused happiness aboard; and since this is a make-and-mend day, the front part of the vessel is littered with hands busy, some with shears, many more with needles, cutting out their lengths of duck and sewing the pieces together, making their hot-weather clothes with wonderful dexterity. And each time the log is heaved they pause, ears cocked for the midshipman’s report to the officer of the watch. “Nine knots and two fathoms, sir, if you please,” croaks little Mr. Wells, whose voice is breaking at last; and a discreet wave of mirth and satisfaction ripples over the forecastle, while ten knots is greeted with such thumping on the deck, such enthusiasm, that the officer of the watch desires the mate of the watch to attend to “that God-damned bellowing and trampling, like a herd of drunken heifers mad for the bull.’”

In the comparative silence that followed (comparative, for the beautifully steady wind, the working of the ship and the voice of the sea itself, did not give a damn for the mate of the watch) Stephen abandoned his desk and walked with a reasonably seamanlike pace to the taffrail, which he leaned upon, watching the interminable wake stretching away and away in a turbulent, right true line, and the ship’s steady companion, always there just this side of the turbulence, a blue shark, larger than most: all this with the top of his mind, while the rest of it was concerned with Christine, her West African birds, her grace, her frankness, her singularity; while another part of it took notice of a fiddle being tuned in the cabin immediately below him and then the tentative beginning of an adagio obviously adapted from one of his own ‘cello suites, but graver by far. Mixed feeling: pleasure that Jack was playing, and playing so well: sorrow that what he played was so unlike the Jack Aubrey he knew, bold, sanguine, enterprising, with a face made for laughter or at the very least for smiling.

A shadow behind him cut his reflection short, and turning he said, ‘Mr. Woodbine, I am happy to see you afoot. How do you do?’

‘Tolerable, sir, tolerable. Abstinence, if not carried to superstitious extremes, does it, believe you me. So you are contemplating on that old shark, I presume?’

‘Just so, Master: he is not alone, not by any manner of means: yet he keeps his station just under the counter - he has a scar just behind, or abaft, his dorsal fin, that is as clear as a visiting-card; and although I suspect that there are at least half a score of his brethren in the darkness of our hull, they do not presume to make their appearance: nor will they, unless we offer them blood.’

‘But tell me, Doctor, how do you suppose they know about blood? For they do, even fish’s blood, as I have seen time and again.’

‘Why, as you are aware, they have gills: more gills than most of their kind. Immense, immense quantities of water enter that vast mouth and shoot out by those gills, which are lined with a tissue not unlike that with which our noses are furnished. There, I believe, lies the explanation.’

‘Come, sir, what are you about?’ cried Killick. ‘Which the gunroom’s dinner is almost on table, and you in your ordinary everyday old slops. Captain has been ready and trimmed this last glass, before ever he touched his fiddle.’

With real concern Stephen observed that the master was wearing his best coat, distinguished from the others by the absence of grease. ‘So we entertain the Captain?’ he cried.

‘Which I told you so at breakfast. Sir,’ replied Killick, with a very exactly dosed insolence.

‘To think that I very nearly forgot,’ said Stephen, who, although he often, even usually, ate in the cabin, was ex-officio a member of the gunroom mess and therefore one of the hosts on this occasion. Killick sniffed. ‘Now then, what do you think you are about?’ he called out angrily, addressing one of the cook’s mates, who came staggering aft over the living deck, a bucket in either hand.

‘Make a lane there,’ cried the cook’s mate with equal wrath, ‘if you don’t want to see the deck all a’ shambles.’ And then, deferentially, to Dr. Maturin, proffering a bucket, ‘With the cook’s respects, sir.’

‘On the rise,’ called the master, seizing one bucket and emptying it straight over the taffrail: cook’s mate did the same, spilling never a drop; and in a split second the white foaming wake was scarlet, a most splendid scarlet for thirty yards astern and in the scarlet sharks raced to the surface, sometimes breaking water, lashing and snapping in a blind frenzy of greed and when it was found that the wounded bleeding prey did not exist they turned on the king shark, the big fellow, and a seething mass of long thin fishes not half his size tore and worried and wrenched him to pieces. It was over in barely a minute.

‘God love us,’ said the master. ‘I never seen the like.’

‘Come, sir,’ said Killick again, utterly unmoved, twitching Stephen by the sleeve: then sharply to the master, ‘Mr. Woodbine, sir, pray lead the way. I shall put the Doctor’s coat on in the cabin.’

The lieutenants were entertaining their guest with sherry when Stephen came in, his entrance successfully covered by Candish the purser and Jacob, and presently the dinner began with all due ceremony.

Although Stephen, as he was the first to admit, could boast no masculine beauty, and although he was capable of very wild extravagances of conduct, he had in fact been carefully brought up by his Catalan grandfather, to whom elegant manners, a mastery of both languages and of French, as well as horsemanship and a real ability with pistol and small-sword, were necessary qualifications. And when, as sometimes happened - this being an example - Stephen had committed a very gross blunder, he became sad, mute and oppressed, arousing himself only to make a decent number of harmless remarks to his neighbours.

The ritual bowl of dried-pea soup and a couple of glasses of wine re-established him, however, and when, as obviously the most practised carver in the company, he was called upon to dismember a pair of ducks, he became aware that Mr. Harding, the first lieutenant, was still talking about his blacking, a superb blacking of his own invention that would withstand wind, sun, spray and the noxious influences of the moon indefinitely, retaining its superb gleam until well after the day of doom: it contained dragon’s blood, together with some other secret ingredients, and its function was to preserve and above all to beautify the yards. Really well blackened shining yards, exactly squared by lifts and braces, added wonderfully to the air of a handsome ship - gave her an air that the others lacked. He had heard it said that Prince William owed his flag to the perfect order in which he maintained Pegasus: and he blacked his yards like Billy-Ho - no play on words was intended, ha, ha, ha. And if blacking yards could earn a man promotion, why, perfection in the blacking itself was likely to bring it even sooner... He went on about the qualities of his invention, and in his enthusiasm he even went so far as to say that he was impatient for the calm of the doldrums - there was no blacking even of the mainyard in this close-reefed topsail blow. It would fly all over the place, ruining the deck.

Jack’s face had assumed a grave, detached expression: and well before this Harding had lost the rest of his audience. Nervously passing the decanter he said, ‘I beg pardon, sir: I am afraid I have been talking shop far, far too long - a man’s hobby-horse can be a sad bore to others. A glass of wine with you, sir.’

This was the first time that Stephen had seen Harding so affected. It was painful in so able and highly-respected an officer; and he knew that this kind of talk - this freedom -was the kind of rambling that Jack disliked very much indeed. Yet from the casual, off-hand, semi-facetious reference to the Duke of Clarence it was evident that Horatio had taken real notice of the warning against any mention of an influential connection - the connection, let alone the relationship, was wholly unsuspected. This raised the boy high in Stephen’s estimation: as a fellow-bastard he was well acquainted with the temptation to prattle, and its remarkable strength.

In all their sea-time together, Jack had virtually never discussed his officers with Stephen, who was, after all, one of their number. But in the gunroom itself the case was altered and although one or two of the members were of a somewhat Whiggish turn of mind, Harding’s words about Clarence were openly condemned by the other members. ‘It is true,’ said Candish, ‘that not a very great deal can be said for the royals at present; but after all, they are our master’s sons; one of them is very likely to succeed him; and a certain reticence seems absolutely called for.’

But what really shocked and grieved the lower deck (to whom the unfortunate outburst was very soon conveyed by the mess servants - one behind each chair and all provided with a pair of ears) was Mr. Harding’s ‘longing for the doldrums’, an observation very ill-received.

‘Ain’t he ever been turned round and round in the barky - never no wind, week after week - nor no rain except for ten miles away, and water running cruel short, green and stinking; and that goddam sun beating down so mortal strong the tar drips off of the rigging and the seams open wide as a coach-house door?’

‘Which he was drunk: and I’ve seen you drunk, Abel Trim - pissed as a kippered herring, and speechless, many a time, in Pompey, Rotherhithe and Hackney Wick.’

‘Very well: and the same to you, Joe Plaice. But at least I did not go on in that unlucky way about longing for the doldrums. So parse that, you old bugger.’


‘My dear,’ wrote Stephen, ‘I love to think of you at Wool-combe, that kind old house which I know quite well - it forms a kind of tenuous link: and not necessarily so tenuous either, since the dawn may well show us a homeward-bound ship beating up against the trade-wind, willing and able to carry our letters to an English port. So let me beg you to go into the library, there to look into Johnson’s or Bailey’s dictionary for the etymology of doldrum. I cannot make it out at all. The thing, the concept, I know perfectly well, having suffered from it, above all when there was gaol-fever in the ship; but how it has come by such a name I cannot tell. The French call it le pot au noir, and pretty black it can be, on occasion, when the two converging trade-winds fill a vast space more or less over the equator with clouds, gloom, thunder and lightning from both hemispheres, north and south - a prodigious space, whose width and borders vary year by year: but a space that we have to traverse, a space that no sailor in his right mind will ever mock or put to scorn. When we shall enter this unhappy region I cannot tell - we must be fairly near its northern limit - but I shall ask Mr. Daniel.’

He found Mr. Daniel and Horatio Hanson in the master’s day-cabin, which the pair tended to usurp now that Mr. Woodbine spent so much longer below, abstaining. They were pricking the chart, a solemn undertaking, but they left off at once and leapt to their feet. ‘Mr. Daniel,’ he said, ‘pray be so good as to tell me when we may expect to enter the doldrums.’

‘Sir,’ said Mr. Daniel, ‘we have had reports of very strong and steady south-east trades, while ours has been moderate: furthermore, the glass has been behaving in a very whimsical fashion ever since the last dog yesterday’ - he pointed to a series of barometric readings, clear proof of the instrument’s wanton conduct - ‘and I should not be surprised if we crossed its northern border tomorrow.’

‘Dear Lord! So soon?’ cried Stephen. ‘I am so glad that I asked you. I have some delicate specimens of hydrozoa that must be protected - sometimes these seas are perfectly flat, as though oppressed by the weight of the air above them, and sometimes, with no wind or very little, they lose all rhythm, all reason, and toss you about in the most extraordinary fashion.’

‘Oh, sir,’ cried Hanson, ‘I long to see it!’

‘I must bestow my pans of hydrozoa. But you will let me know, I trust, when you are sure of our more near approach.’

Stephen was now so old a sea-dog that the grind of holystones and swabs on the deck immediately above did not disturb him: yet a little after this the gentle but persistent pushing of a hand and the repeated ‘Sir, oh sir, if you please’, eventually moved him to roll over on to the other side, with an ugly snarl. It did not answer. Rearing up in his cot, he saw young Hanson holding a lantern which showed his delighted face and shining eyes. ‘Sir, you did say you should be told when the doldrums began. And they have begun! About six bells all the stars went out, one after the other right over the sky, and there was the most prodigious thunder and lightning, better than any Guy Fawkes’ night; and the sea comes from every direction at once. There are three boobies on deck, perfectly amazed, just abaft the blue cutter. Do come and see, sir. It might all fade with the sunlight.’

It did not fade with the sunlight, which did little more than make a slightly greater extent of white-capped sea visible. The sun rose, to be sure, but it scarcely diminished the brilliance of the almost continuous lightning-flashes -the sheets, even, of lightning - that raced across the low dark base of cloud-cover, while the thunder scarcely left them a moment’s silence.

‘Do you see the sea, sir?’ called Hanson in his ear. ‘Ain’t it turbid?’

‘Lurid too, in a way. Pray lead me to the boobies.’

‘Let me give you a hand, sir,’ said Davies, dangerous in temper, not very clever nor much use except in an engagement, but much attached to Jack, Hanson, and even, in a somewhat condescending way, to Stephen.

Man-ropes had been rigged, fore and aft, and he was led, staggering, to the blue cutter. No boobies. A bosun’s mate, strengthening the clamps that held the boat to the deck, said, ‘Boobies, sir? Mr. Harding tossed them over the side.’

‘Did they fly?’

‘They flew perfectly well. They were just swinging the lead, the creatures.’

‘Do you know why he tossed them over the side?’

‘Why, they were brown boobies, sir. And you can’t have unlucky fowl of that kind aboard the barky.’

‘Ah? I did not know.’

The bosun’s mate sniffed, and in the sniff could be read, among other things, that the Doctor, though a worthy soul, could not really distinguish between larboard and starboard, right and wrong.


From that truly apocalyptic beginning, the doldrums necessarily diminished to a rather commonplace dull, calm, low-skied greyness — commonplace in everything apart from the truly exorbitant heat. The thin cloud, though low, seemed if anything to increase the power of the sun, which showed right through the day, a vast ball, tolerable to narrowed eyes yet so powerful that, as all hands had foreseen, it brought the tar dripping black on the holy deck, angering the cats beyond description. They had been silent, meek, aghast, hiding in corners, grateful for comfort when the ship was so horribly buffeted; but now they stalked about, sometimes howling, sometimes treading in the liquid tar and withdrawing their paws with cries of disgust, perpetually searching for something like coolness, which was nowhere to be found, even deep in the hold among the great water-casks.

They complained above all of the lack of air: in reasonably hot weather it was their custom to lie their full length at the lower end of the wind-sails that ventilated the sick-berth; but at present the berth was empty both of patients and of fresh air and they stretched in vain. The ship’s true sails hung limp from their yards; the log, when heaved, stayed just where it was, not even carrying out the stray-line, so that cast after cast was reported as ‘No knots, no fathoms, sir, if you please,’ and both smoke and smell from the galley hung about the ship until the next meal was due.

Yet she was not entirely motionless: the slight, obscure, often conflicting little currents that wafted fronds of seaweed along the ship’s side, forward or aft, also turned her, almost perceptibly, so that at four bells she would be heading south and at six bells due north. The dog-watches, ordinarily times of cheerfulness, dancing and music, in calm, reasonably temperate waters, were now given over to weary gasping, low-voiced nattering quarrel, and unseemly nakedness.

Yet the immutable sequence of bells, relief of the watch, meals and grog, divisions, and mustering of the watch, kept them in touch with a certain reality.

‘Mr. Harding,’ said Jack, as he watched the frigate’s top-light soar up, growing dimmer, almost vanishing in the murk as it passed the topgallant yard, ‘early in the morning, when the sea may be presumed to be at its coolest, let us rouse up some pretty sound spare topsails, boom them well out amidships with a really handsome span above the surface fore and aft on either side, and so fill them with water for the people to splash about in and be cool for a while.’

These orders were being carried out the next day, after a twilit breakfast; and while Harding, the bosun and the sail-maker were making doubly sure that the swimming-bath was impregnable, even to those jellyfish that could insinuate themselves through a hole and inflict a shockingly painful sting, Stephen said, ‘My dear, should you not like your usual swim? See how the people’ - pointing to the naked, frolicking starboard watch - ‘do enjoy it. I shall leap in too, if you will, and swim a couple of lengths.’

‘Not in this sea, I thank you. It ain’t quite to my taste. I was standing at the stern windows when his brethren dealt with our old blue companion. But do you go, by all means.’

‘Sail ho!’ called the foretop look-out. ‘Sail one point on the starboard bow.’

As he spoke three ghostly pyramids of sail drifted very slowly across what path Surprise possessed. Jack clapped the helm hard over, raced forward and hailed, ‘The ship ahoy! The ship ahoy! What ship is that?’

Five seconds of drifting cloud intervened: then came the answer, loud and clear. ‘Delaware. USS Delaware. What ship is that?’

‘His Britannic Majesty’s hydrographical vessel Surprise: and pray bear up with all you have. My people are bathing over the side.’

A breath of air not only parted the gloom a little but brought the American voices with their distinctive yet not unpleasing accent as clearly across as though they had been spoken ten yards away. ‘He says she’s Surprise.’ ‘Bear up, Plimpton: bear up, there.’ ‘He says his people are bathing over the side.’

The truth of this statement, which was uttered with a certain reserve, became apparent thirty seconds later, when the breath of air, encouraged by the rising sun, tore the veil so wide apart that the mother-naked starboard watch were exposed to the mirth of the Delawares, lining the side of their handsome frigate.

There was a real danger that the two windless ships should run (or drift) each other aboard, tangling bowsprits or otherwise wrecking the perfect order so apparent in both craft; but they had right seamen aboard and within moments booms were rigged out, tipped with swabs, to make any encounter harmless.

The captains’ conversation went on: ‘It is improbable that you should remember me, sir, but we dined together with Admiral Cabot, when you were visiting Boston. My name is Lodge.’

‘I remember you perfectly, Captain Lodge. You were there with your mother, my neighbour, and we talked about her parents’ house in Dorset, not far from mine. I hope she is very well?’

‘Very well indeed, sir, I thank you. We celebrated her eighty-fifth birthday just before sailing.’

‘Eighty-five: that is a great age,’ said Jack, and instantly regretting it, he said that he and his officers should be very happy if Captain Lodge and his wardroom would dine aboard Surprise tomorrow, wind and weather permitting.

Captain Lodge agreed, but only on condition that the Surprises should come aboard Delaware the following day: and then, lowering his voice, he asked whether he might send his master over this evening: they had a slight navigational problem.

The Delaware’s master, Mr. Wilkins, came across, sullen, dogged and willing to take offence: his function was to explain the problem, and he was most reluctant to do so, although he was carrying the ship’s two chronometers and their last few weeks’ workings. ‘Well, sir,’ he said, when Mr. Woodbine had settled him into his sad, damp day-cabin, with a deep glass of bosun’s grog apiece, ‘to cut a long story short - not to beat about the bush - we are all human.’

‘So we are indeed,’ said Mr. Woodbine, ‘and many a strange cocked-hat have I produced in my time. Once, when we were running for the Scillies with the wind - full topsails - at east-south-east, it was so strong that I wished I was a Roman so as to be able to pray to Saint Woodbine not to run full tilt on to that wicked reef, like Sir Cloudesley Shovel.’

‘Mark you,’ said the American, ‘I should get it right with a couple of lunars. But there ain’t no moon: and my captain is most uncommon particular.’

‘Position somewhat astray, maybe?’

‘Position? Frankly, taking the average of the two chronometers, there ain’t no position, not as who should say position. Of course with a couple of lunars I should get it right... but for fine work... for working through shoal-water...”

Woodbine knew only too well what his colleague meant, and he suggested that they should compare chronometers. This they did: Surprise’s two Earnshaws agreed within fifty seconds: Delaware’s pair showed a much greater and increasing difference, so it was not surprising that the cocked-hat, the triangle of uncertainty, should vary so. The question was, which, without a lunar, a good star observation or even better one of those lovely Jovian moons, should be trusted. Of course this meant most when the ship was approaching a coast: but even in mid-ocean you could run at ten or twelve knots right on to a wicked shoal. Saint Paul’s Rocks, Stephen’s particular delight, were no great way off.

‘I tell you what, Mr. Wilkins,’ said Woodbine, suffering cruelly in his uniform coat, best Bristol double-width broadcloth, ‘I have a most uncommon mate: he don’t need no tables of logarithms - has them all in his head - and he dearly loves a problem. What is more, he has a youngster as is brighter still. But we should be crowded in here; so let us call them up, show them the workings from your last fix – Rio?

‘Rio.’

‘And let them work the whole thing through, while we take off our coats and sit in the shade on the fo’c’sle: there is nothing better for a young and active mind.’

‘Well, if you insist, Mr. Woodbine, I am bound to yield.’


* * *


‘So you came round by the Horn, sir?’ asked Woodbine, easing himself down on a well-shaded heap of mats about knee high.

‘By the Horn, indeed: there’s nothing like Old Stiff. For ease, if you understand me? No farting about in doubt - are we there? Aren’t we there yet? With Old Stiff you either are there or you ain’t: no two ways about it. No more poring over charts till your eyes drop out — how many rotten little islands was that to larboard? No. You are there, or you are not there.’

‘Much ice about, Mr.?’

‘No. Thin sheets now and then, and an odd lump from the glacier behind; but we never shipped a bowgrace.’

They discussed the question of bowgraces, offenders, and of some very curious objects used by the Greenland whalers: and when they had exhausted the subject twice, the American, (a person from Poughkeepsie), said, ‘That smart young fellow, your mate’s aid de con, as you might say, is he a prize-fighter?’

‘Good heavens no. He is a gentleman.’

‘Oh? Well, I meant no harm, I’m sure. But he looks like as if he had played give and take pretty often. Cauliflower ear, and so on.”

‘Why, as for a little genteel sparring, our young gentlemen don’t despise it. This young cove here, he don’t weigh ten stone, but you should have seen him lambaste a big reefer out of Polyphemus when we were in the Gulf. Oh dearie me, such swipes in the eye, such bottom: they calls him the Lion of the Atlas in the berth. Aye, and on the lower deck too.’

They rambled along pleasantly, telling of rare old mills they had seen in their time, at fairgrounds, at Blackfriars, at Hockney-in-the-Hole, where there was a chimney-sweep would challenge all comers not above a stone heavier to fight for half a guinea - fair fighting: no gouging, no falling on a man or wrenching his privates. Neither listened much to the other, but at least there was no contestation, no breaking in with greater marvels: indeed, for an interview with one man who had lost his position and another who was certain of his to within ten miles it might be called unparalleled.

‘Now, shipmates,’ cried Woodbine, breaking off his account of the great mill between Sayers and Darkie Joe in Coldbath Fields, ‘what are you a-doing of?’

‘Which we are carrying the watches, sir: and the small Boston job is quite right - dead on - agrees with our Earnshaw to within five seconds.’

‘Then what are you a-moaning for?’ asked Woodbine, his mind (which did not move very fast) still in the Coldbath Fields of long ago.

‘You can’t rely on just one chronometer,’ cried Wilkins. ‘What, trust a ship and all her lading, to say nothing of the hands, to one chronometer?’

They all fell silent, aware of the breach of good sea-going manners, but unsure of how to improve the position. ‘Here is the Doctor,’ whispered the armourer’s mate, a highly-skilled metal-worker who often helped Stephen with his current instruments and sometimes made him new ones - few men could set a very fine-toothed bone-saw with the same smooth precision.

‘Well, shipmates,’ said Stephen, ‘I see you are busy about the time-keepers, those most ingenious of machines.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the armourer’s mate, ‘and ingenious they are, by - very ingenious indeed. But they can on occasion turn fractious; and then, oh my eye!’

‘But surely, Webberfore, an artist like you can open the fractious time-keeper, and very gently bring it back to its duty?’

There was a general confused sound of disapprobation and denial. ‘You must understand, sir,’ said Webberfore, ‘that if you go for to open a time-keeper’s case, by the Articles of War, you are flogged to death, your pay and allowances are forfeit, your widow has no pension, and you are buried with no words said over you.’

‘You mustn’t open a chronometer, no, not if it is ever so,’ said the master: and the company agreed. ‘Flesh on Friday ain’t in it.’

The talk ran on in this righteous way for some time, but Stephen felt that it was deviously approaching an outlet. ‘Of course,’ said Webberfore, ‘the outer case may always be opened, for the officer - usually the master himself,’ - bowing to Woodbine ‘- to wind the machine: and it is always possible for a part such as the ratchet-click to lose its tip, which, having tumbled about with the motion of the ship, interfering with the chronometer’s accuracy, works its way down to the winding-hole, from which a skilled hand may pluck it with superfine Swiss pincers. Pluck it out without ever opening the watch.’

‘Very true,’ said the master, looking earnestly at Stephen.

‘The ratchet is the piece that rises when you wind the watch, is it not?’ They all agreed. ‘Like a windlass,’ said one. ‘Or a capstan: but then you call it a pawl,’ said another.

‘But surely,’ said Stephen, ‘if the ratchet fails, the wheel runs backwards without control. It has happened to me. I was winding my watch, and as I took out the key, there was a dismal whirr, and the watch was dead.’

‘Certainly, sir,’ said Webberfore, ‘because the whole of the ratchet’s tip had gone and there was nothing to stop the wheel or the spindle as the case may be from turning. But if only a corner of the tip had gone, which sometimes happens with over-tempered metal, the rest would hold the spring wound tight - under tension - so the watch would go - while the odd corner would ramble about making sure it would not keep true time.’

‘Well, I am content, Webberfore,’ said Stephen, ‘and I congratulate you heartily.’

‘And so do I,’ cried Wilkins. ‘By God, navigating with a single chronometer is...’ He shook his head, unable to express the horror, the extreme anxiety; and then, the men having retired, he asked Woodbine whether they ever smoked or chewed tobacco. Woodbine answered that they did both, when they could, but the ship was on very short commons, and they longed for Rio and a fresh supply.

Wilkins nodded with great satisfaction, stowed his chronometers in a padded bag and, taking his leave, he said, ‘I believe I am to have the pleasure of dining aboard you tomorrow, sir?’

Tomorrow was another day, at least by the calendar, but the two could hardly be told apart: the heat, the faintly drifting cloud, the ship pitching heavily with no way on her, the flaccid sails, were all the same: to be sure, an outraged frigate-bird had replaced the boobies, and a slightly smaller blue shark now swam under the counter, but the tar still dripped, the hands still cursed and sweated.

‘I am sorry not to see Ringle yet,’ said Stephen, gazing into the general murk.

‘I am sorry too,’ said Jack. ‘But I do not think you need feel really anxious. William is a tolerable navigator and his master is even better - sailed with Cook. Then again a schooner as light as Ringle is more affected by these shifting currents than we are. In any case William knows very well that we victual and water at Rio. Stephen, forgive me for saying so, but there is tar on your breeches, and our guests will be aboard in ten minutes.’


Dining to and fro, under awnings that sheltered the deck from the misty yet strangely ardent sun, and from the now more liquid tar, they enjoyed themselves more than it might have been thought possible in such conditions. The Americans certainly had the better of it, they having victualled at Rio and still possessing stores of tropical fruit and vegetables: the Americans had also seen the Asp being refitted there, which gave rise to a number of long, highly technical descriptions during which Stephen’s attention wandered, though Jack and his officers assured him that they were of the very first interest.


* * *


‘How particularly agreeable that was,’ said Stephen as the Surprise’s barge pulled back through the varying mist, the coxswain steering by the sound of a small maroon, booming every thirty seconds. ‘It was indeed,’ said Jack, and the other officers in the boat mentioned a variety of delights, mostly in the tropical line but some, such as chess-pie, among the foundation stones of the American cuisine: while Candish and the master agreed that they had never drunk such quantities of wine before.

After a reminiscent pause, Jack said, ‘Captain Lodge told me that as soon as it was dark and a little cooler, he meant to send his boats out ahead and tow east-north-east for a watch or two, now that they knew their position for sure. He believed there was a fairly steady current - had experienced it before.’

When they were aboard and in the cabin, Stephen went on, ‘And I was so pleased with what Dr. Evans told me about young Herapath’s medical studies - highly gifted -and the success of his book.’

‘Young Herapath? Yes, decent creature indeed: but no mechanical power known to science could ever make a seaman out of him - Lord above,’ he cried over an enormous peal of thunder, the cabin lit through and through by lightning just overhead, and the literal crash of rain on the deck, ‘those poor souls are in for a ducking.’

The prodigious downpour was so monstrously thick that one could hardly breathe in the open; and after ten minutes naked figures could be seen flitting through the deluge, opening the inlets that would replenish the butts far below with a water as clean and pure as the heavens could provide. All this, however, angered and terrified the cats more than anything that had gone before: the more austere of the two, the long-legged animal with an apricot-coloured belly, flung herself into Stephen’s unwilling lap, and could not be comforted.

It was inconceivable that the deluge should last till dawn - the sky could not hold so much - but it did, leaving them stunned, deafened, amazed at the light of day to eastward and the familiar sails of Ringle making three or even four knots towards them, the tiny breeze right aft. Incomprehensibly the deck had become littered, even covered in places, with strange forms of deep-sea life, presumably sucked up by some remote series of waterspouts and liberated here.

But Jack Aubrey was having absolutely none of them: Surprise’s only care, and Ringle’s too, was to get out of this odious part of the sea without a moment’s pause - no breakfast, even, until they were well under way with clear decks, rigging free of seaweed, flying squids and various monsters - Stephen had to content himself with pocketing the less gelatinous creatures and hurrying them below before his stony-faced captain had him forcibly removed.

Still, breakfast there was, in time - at least for those not labouring at the pumps, shooting out thick jets of water on either side - when humanity returned to Captain Aubrey’s face and Stephen asked him timidly ‘did he think they were out of the doldrums yet?’

‘I hope so, I’m sure,’ said Jack. ‘When the belt - the convergence - is very narrow and concentrated as I think this one was, it sometimes ends in a furious tantrum like this, as who should say...’ Meeting the cats’ steady, attentive gaze, he changed his mind and finished ‘“Fare you well, ye Spanish ladies”. Killick, Killick there.’

‘Sir?’

‘Pass the word for Poll Skeeping. Forgive me, Stephen, I trespass upon your ground.’

‘Sir?’ said Poll Skeeping, tying on a new apron.

‘Be so good as to remove those cats. They know perfectly well that they are not allowed in the cabin.’

They did, indeed, and suffered themselves to be carried away, one in each hand, limp, meek, with lowered eyes.

‘How glad I was to see Ringle,’ said Stephen after a while.

‘So was I, by God: she is only a little thing; and at times the weather was close on as heavy as weather comes.’

‘Would it be improper, unlucky, to ask where we are? I mean, just a very vague approximation.’

‘After taking the sun’s height at noon, which I think we shall achieve, I hope to be able to tell you in rather finer limits than that: but even now I shall hazard the guess that by tomorrow morning we shall be in the steady south-east trades, not much above a week’s sailing from Rio, according to how strong they prove.’

‘Good, good: very good. You ease my mind: but tell me, Jack - for I see that in spite of a sleepless night you are eager to be up and about, inspecting booms, gunwales, lifts... Pray tell me when you are inclined to sit down quietly and talk about the less physical aspects of our affair.’

Jack looked at him thoughtfully, revolving the less physical aspects: then smiling he said, ‘Although I have a very good first lieutenant, there are many things aloft that I should not rest easy without seeing. And below too, of course. Let us say after dinner, over a private pot of coffee.’


Jack Aubrey pushed back his chair, loosened his waistcoat, and said, ‘I had no idea I was so hungry: I am afraid I must have eaten like an ogre.’

Killick could be seen to smile: Jack’s appetite always pleased him - his one deviation into amiability.

‘Oh come,’ said Maturin. ‘Six mutton chops is not at all excessive in a man of your weight: an abstemious ogre would call it moderation. Those dear Americans said that the animal came from some favoured state: indeed it was both succulent and tender.’

They toyed with an elderly Essex cheese, much helped by burgundy; and Jack, recalled to a sense of his duty, asked whether Stephen’s inspection had been as satisfactory as his own.

‘It was pretty well, I thank you: not quite as good, since three recent fractures will have to be reset. But upon the whole I cannot complain. They were tumbled about, to be sure; yet most - not that there are many in the sick-berth at present - withstood the tumbling and the uneasy motion of the ship very well. I have often noticed that a prolonged and violent blow tends to dispel the megrims; and it may well be that the visible approach of death, the immediate horror of the last, may restore a virtuous equilibrium.’

‘Killick,’ called Jack. ‘Light along the coffee, there.’

It took a little longer than usual and Killick - the door held by his mate Grimble - entered crabwise - the great pot and its cups flanked by a decanter. ‘With Delaware’s compliments, sir: Dutch schnapps.’

‘They have won again,’ said Jack, shaking his head. ‘How I hope that we gave them something, at least.’

‘I did have half a carboy of tincture of hogweed conveyed into their boat,’ said Stephen in a doubtful voice. ‘It was the best hogweed,’ he added, with even less certainty.

‘Well, may it prosper them,’ said Jack. ‘Though they are little better than republicans and democrats, may it prosper them.’

‘Amen,’ said Stephen, and they fell to drinking alternate sips.

‘You are in the moon, brother,’ said Jack after a while. ‘What are you thinking about?”

‘My transition to a C major passage in the adagio,’ said Stephen, and he whistled it.

‘I know the piece.’

‘It seemed to me, out of nothing, during the blast, that it was out of place, a little flashy.’

‘I should never, never say flashy: but out of place - well, perhaps.’

‘Thank you, Jack. I shall leave it out. Now may I pour you a cup of coffee and leap on to Rio?’

‘By all means.’

‘You have told me a certain amount about Sir David Lind-say, but not as I remember a considered opinion in a consecutive narrative. Do you feel inclined to do so now? He may possibly be of the first importance in our enterprise.”

‘That is scarcely my line of country, you know, Stephen. Even a pretty simple dispatch in which I know all the details comes out looking like an unravelled stocking, even when you and Adams have had a hand in it.’

‘Certainly: an impersonal account for official publication must be shockingly difficult to write, and the Dear knows that very few admirals or their secretaries manage it handsomely. But as between friends in a ship that seems to be sailing along in an exemplary fashion — these are the southeast trades, I gather? - could you not tell me roughly what to expect?’

‘Well,’ said Jack, ‘no one can say he is not a good seaman. He has fought two or three creditable sloop or frigate actions and he handles a ship well; yet he does not look at all like a sailor. If you were to see him in civilian clothes you might put him down for a soldier; and I think that is because, being rather on the small side, he holds himself up quite straight. He is a gentlemanlike fellow. I know nothing about his family, but they have had a baronetcy for a couple of generations and I believe they live in the north country or just in Scotland. He speaks - perhaps rather too much and too long... but Stephen, do not think I am taking the man to pieces: I am just speaking openly, as I would not speak at anyone else.’

‘I fully understand you, my dear.’

‘Well, since I have said so much, I will tell you that he is extremely touchy - cannot bear interruption, and the least aspersion on his understanding or his knowledge of the world, let alone his family, is very ill-received indeed. Oh, and I should have said before this that he was bred in one of the great English public schools, until an uncle took him aboard as a rather elderly mid. During his time there he did much more reading, came by more Latin and Greek than most people in the service, which is no doubt one of the reasons for his talking so. But to go back to his touchiness: if you go on prating to that extent, somebody is sure to interrupt or contradict, and that, as I said, he cannot bear.’

‘Yet he must have borne both at school?’

‘And in the midshipmen’s berth as well. But once he had the King’s commission and the implied licence that goes with it, he had a pretty free hand. He was in fact extremely quarrelsome, and I do not think anyone went out in the special sense of pistols for two and coffee for one, so often as Lindsay. I do not think it increased his reputation for courage: probably the reverse, it being forced and exaggerated. Yet courage was there, without a doubt: you do not board an enemy of equal strength and carry her unless you are tolerably brave.’

‘Certainly.’

‘But it was that touchiness, impatience of control, or possibly courage, which proved fatal to him. During fleet exercises, when his 28-gun frigate was being coppered, he was given a ship-sloop, and he let her fall very badly from her station, spoiling the line in a shocking manner. The admiral sent for him and, from what I have heard, uttered a long and particularly scathing reproach. Lindsay bore it; but in the morning he sent the admiral a challenge. How he induced anyone to carry it I do not know, because calling your superior officer out - above all a flag-officer - is just plain impossible in the service. Calling him out for having given you a punishment or an order or a reproach that you do not like, is just plain impossible, as any friend would have told him. He had few friends, I think. At all event, he was taken up, laid by the heels, court-martialled and dismissed the service.

‘For some time he ranged up and down, making speeches about injustice and spending a mint of money on lawyers -he had inherited - and then he vanished, coming into these parts, as I understand it, with the reputation of one who loved freedom and who had suffered for it. There are a good many English merchants in Chile and the Argentine: some of them liked having a genuine baronet about, and some of them and of their South American friends were all in favour of freedom, so long as it was freedom from Spain — freedom to shoot your admiral in Hyde Park was another matter, but it was swept along with the general cry of liberty.’

‘By the way, does the gentleman speak Spanish?’

‘Oh, remarkably well, I am told.’

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