Jack was comfortably installed in the quarter gallery with a
cup of grog and a letter from Dr Skinner, Professor of Mathematical
Husbandry at the University of West Doggerland, an ivy-covered
brownstone red-brick institution on (and, depending on the weather,
sometimes off) the shores of the North Sea. Jack had much admired
her presentation to the Royal Society titled Some Influences of
Nutations on Mutations. She in turn knew of Jack's astronomical
writings and Stephen's papers on natural philosophy, and they
maintained an amiable academic correspondence.
This letter though was something of a puzzle. It was
addressed to Captain Jno. Aubrey, Esq, but intended for Stephen:
"Please pass on to Maturin at the very first opportunity." (This
quarter gallery was really too gloomy for comfortable reading, and
the professor's handwriting... was that word 'Docking'? And
'eels'... no, 'all eels'.) The remaining sheets were covered in
some sort of code, from which only a few scattered words made any
sense to Jack:
TACT ... GAG AT ACT ... TAG A GAGA CAT
What on Earth could have a cat have to say to eels?
"I am sure that she will explain," replied Stephen, looking
gravely at his coffee. They were sitting in the White Horse, a
rambling inn located at the end of the High St.
Just then, a short, plump, pale woman of a certain age
approached their table and peered through her glasses at Stephen.
"Maturin!" she cried happily.
Time passed: quickly for Dr Skinner and Stephen,
interminably for Jack. His mind wandered as they bandied terms
that meant nothing to him or made no sense. Blending theory quite
exploded? Base pairs, incomplete penetrance and codominance?
These last did not sound quite respectable phrases for a lady to
use. His companions sounded impossibly advanced; they were really
ahead of their time.
"Jack, Jack!" called Stephen. "I am afraid that you do not quite attend. The professor was saying that we meet in Dorking because
Base pair... snips... Jack dimly felt the presence of
a prime jest that might be flashed out at a Gunroom dinner. Stephen
would be amazed, dished, taken aback.
Back at the White Horse, Stephen consulted his new
anachronometer, an advanced timepiece of surpassing beauty with an
unfortunate tendency to run far ahead of its time. 'Goodness. We
had best be gone.'
Dr Skinner urged them to take the Deepdene Road, wherein a
rare and prodigious fowl of interest to natural philosophy was to
be found, unique in its... size? Number of toes? Composition of its
feathers? Jack did not fully attend to his friends' detailed
explanation, but sensed that during his reverie they had come to
some agreement of a scientific or confidential nature.
'Friend Jack, I wonder if Surprise might have cause
to visit the North Sea in our near future...'
* * *
'Nice doggie,' said Wilson.
'Come, boy,' said Stephen. 'Be fearless, confident. Place
the swab inside the creature's cheek and swirl it firmly about,
just like that implement which the sailors so expertly belay about
the, err, ropework and like-minded contrivances. The wolf is a
beast of the pack, a follower of the strong and the sure. Has not
Captain Aubrey told me many a time of the boldness of the British
midshipman, unparalleled among all the seafaring nations?
Or did I mistake his meaning? Perhaps the bravest young
mariners are to be found on vessels under the flag of Spain, or the
Dutch, or (whispered) France? Sure, Baker would not be so
shy. Baker would risk all to advance natural philosophy...'
Stephen had been doing rather well but this last sally was
an unhappy one. Baker was a beautifully absurd young topwoman who
had consulted Stephen about her morbid fear of ducks. Diagnosing a
likely disease of the mind, Doctor Maturin's initial prescription
was for the wearing of duck trousers at all hours and in all
weathers. When this resulted in a livid rash from ankles to
waistband, Stephen next reasoned that repeated exposure to a
creature with the mildest possible resemblance to a duck might
sensibly diminish the bodily reaction from Baker's philosophical
humours, and she had thus been persuaded, with the utmost
reluctance, to cuddle Stephen's pet ornithorhynchus.
Wilson had been one of the rapt onlookers crowded into the
cockpit as Baker sat on a sea-chest with the animal perched on his
lap. He watched as they regarded the other with a sober reserve,
blinking occasionally, until after some minutes she slowly extended
a hand to stroke Billy McBillface. He witnessed Baker's agonized
shriek as a pair of venomous spurs sank into the partially healed
flesh above her right knee.
At first Baker had demonstrated mild platykurtic symptoms
before seeming to recover from the near-fatal sting, but the
syndrome had since developed into full-blown kurtosis. Wilson
reflected on this as he and the wolf regarded each other across the
Just then came the unmistakeable budda budda budda of
a Heligoland Wolf-Biter in flight. 'Heligopter lupodontus,
what joy!' Stephen cried, and ran toward the sound. The wolf
disappeared into the undergrowth. Wilson fled to the boat.