Th'impervious horrors of a Lear shore
bab dac js bat sdw
[dac] "T'is a truth universally acknowledged that a sea captain in possession of three noisy children is in want of a ship," said Stephen as he sat in Sir Joseph's office one morning happily pinning butterflies to a piece of card.
"Mmmm," said Sir Joseph noncommitally, thinking his friend had been reading too much.
"A beautiful pea-green one," Stephen added after a moment.
Sir Joseph chuckled. "Somehow I can't see Aubrey as the pussycat" he replied.
"Eh? Oh no this butterfly... a beautiful pea-green" said Stephen. "We're running out of pins by the way"
"I do recall however I may have heard of the very thing" mused Sir Joseph after a moment's pause. "HMS Jumblie, she belonged to Clonfert for a time".
Stephen winced. "Hands dressed in blue were they?"
Sir Joseph nodded sadly. "He painted the head green as well I'm told, but I hear she's Aubrey's if he wants her".
[bab] Ouch! I did it again! Oh how I dislike the sight of my own blood." Sir Joseph sucked at his thumb before pushing a secret button beneath his desk. A clerk glided civilly into the room bearing papers. "Your appointment with the Board, Sir Joseph, I was to remind you when it had struck three ..." A slight shake of his superior's head and the clerk was on his way out of the presence. The ruse must be unnecessary in the case of the foreigner who had arrived wearing an orange cummerbund and was now in an oddly crouched position, his shirtsleeved arms stuck full of pins. He may have intruded upon some Masonic ritual - there was so much that he found puzzling in his new post - it would be politic to feign shortsightedness and squint his way out . The doorhandle was almost within his grasp before Sir Joseph gave utterance " Critchley, stay and apply this court plaster to my right thumb if you please. Not too tight. You may find that it helps if you open your eyes. Thankyou. And, what was that, Stephen? Oh yes pins, purchase pins, as many as the haberdasher will sell you." The fresh faced clerk sighed, was it for this that he had entered the service of His Majesty's Government? He who was such a devil of a fellow and had always desired an active life of travel, adventure, tests of manly endurance on the Coast of Coromandel, all utterly sacrificed for the sake of his Aunt Jobiska - his rich, childless Aunt Jobiska - and sacrificed in vain since she
[js] had died of a shocking case of the marthambles, and left all of her money to her cat, Runcible, who enjoyed the splendid distinction of crimson whiskers.
As Stephen approached Ashgrove cottage at dusk that night, he was filled with a deep, abiding happiness; for he was uncommonly attached to his friend and so very glad to be able to oblige him in the matter of a ship. It was a quiet night: Stephen was surrounded by a profound silence and could hear nothing but his own heartbeat and the sound of his steps on the grass, dampened by the falling dew. A gentle wind breathed across his face, carrying the scent of a wood fire.
His pleasurable thoughts were interrupted by a reddish glow dancing in the gloom ahead. "Could that be a firefly I see?" wondered Stephen, "emitting light of a vermilion, rubescent quality? Indeed," he thought with mounting excitement, "it would be a variety previously unseen in the British Isles." Creeping forward for a better view, he collided with a slab-sided form which, after they had untangled themselves, introduced itself as "Matthew Dong, sir, Mr Killick's new assistant". "You would swear that light actually emanated from that man's nose," thought Stephen, in no little disappointment. "If only it had been my non-descript firefly; how I should have amazed the Royal Society."
Later, as Jack and Stephen ate toasted cheese together by the companionable light of Dong's face - "a prodigious saving in candles", remarked Jack - his friend's reaction to Stephen's news was not all that he had hoped for: "The Jumbly? Why, she renders like an old boot! Is the Board presuming to make game of me? It was the talk of the service that the Jumblies went to sea in a sieve!"
[sdw] "A literal sieve, brother? Or is this another piece of your arcane nautical jargon? Should I be more perturbed if you had told me that they had offered a snow, a bus, a xebec?"
"No, no, Stephen. The Jumbly has all the marks of a sieve: nearly as broad as long, leaky, and the most amazing construction." Here Jack produced a sieve which they had been using to sort peas. In its centre he placed a brown earthenware jar. "In the middle is a sort of deckhouse, and," he fixed a long clay pipe in the bottom of the sieve, supported by the jar, "she bears a single mast"; now he whipped the end of one of Sophie's napkins to the pipe, "and it carries a single sail without any benefit of yard or boom."
Dong blew his nose and studied his handkerchief. Stephen suppressed his curiosity and, gazing at the sieve, said to Jack
[bat] "There are political considerations, my dear," and he saw Jack's face take on that crafty look of bland intelligence which showed he understood there to be an Intelligence connection.
"Dong, take this silver urn to Killick for polishing," Jack said. "I mean to give it to my daughter, one of my daughters, in the morning." The captain's servant always found undiluted ecstatic joy in burnishing the silver service to unblemished brilliance.
Upon the young seaman's departure, Stephen leant forward to kindle a light which would burn all the night, and light the gloom of a very dark room. "Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo, the ruler of the hills of the Chankly Bore and of the Gromboolian plain, heir to the exhalted throne of the Akond of Swat, has recently formed a thoroughly discreditable attachment to the false glories of Buonaparte. But I have no doubt that we shall dish him aback, kedge him amidships, and thwart his hawse -- his cable-laid hawse, I should say." Dr Maturin took no less delight in a display of his command of nautical phrases than Killick did in polished Sterling.
While Jack studied his charts of the Western Sea, recalling reefs and lee- shores from his youthful days in those danerous waters, Stephen drifted into happy thoughts of the natural wonders he would see, might see, if the rigorous requirements of the service permitted: the glorious tureenia lablecum, the sophtsluggia glutinosa -- so often despised by the unthinking -- and the incomparable nasticreechia krorluppia. His reverie was broken by the entrance of Killick, bearing a splendidly gleaming stupendous spoon. The tyrannical, slab-sided steward was tonelessly singing a sea chantey in his usual nasal whine:
"There was a young lady who banked with a Fugger
[dac] "Gunner," mused Jack, "Good old HMS Gunner, I remember sailing near the Chankly Bore in her as a young Mid. 'Old Pobble had her then of course, before he had that nasty accident with his feet......Very much like the one you'll get Killick if you don't stop waving that Runcible spoon around man. Still even if we have to sail the Jumblie I still can't see why my written orders are insisting we set sail from Cambridge."
"Oh don't worry about that my dear, for to be sure it's a lovely place," replied Stephen. "All those dreaming spires, halls of Academe."
"And landlocked," said Jack "Luckily Jumblie's got a flat keel. Skinner, Wilson and Co are making a fortune at their trolley factory in the university dockyard."
"More importantly though Stephen, is there any chance of prize money?"
"Well, not money exactly," said Stephen rather awkwardly "but there'll be no end of Stilton cheese, the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo is smuggling acres of the stuff to Napoleon. Mature stuff too I'm told."
"It will be by the time we get there in the Jumblie," Jack muttered. "Still better pack some crackers and an extra case or two of port."
"Killick fetch me my....
[bab] pinky paper all folded neat and fastened down with a pin and, uhmm, my scarlet flannel wrapper as protection against the pestilential Cambridge fens... Thankyou, err, Dong. Do you not find that an inconvenient name? What do your messmates call you? Oh? Indeed? There, Stephen, ain't I elegant? Certainly I can lower my arms brother. It may a little tight perhaps around the shoulder but amazingly comfortable once you get used to it. Charlotte was a fortnight making it. May I recommend one to you ? I should like to entreat you brother to try a red flannel wrapper, nothing so effective against chills and the strong fives, why I have heard that the Surgeon of the Fleet himself..."
"Fastened down with a pin ...pin...pins!" screeched Stephen "I have been practised upon, Jack, for I recall now that Sir Joseph found himself embarrassed for want of coin and, in almost no time at all, indeed before it had struck four, I had roused out my last half crown from its hiding place in my orange cumberbund, my orange cumberbund I say, to give to that black thief of a clerk... and never a pin, never a pin at all have I had from him."
"Fish fiddle-de-dee! as Old Pobble used to say when I was just a squeaker. Fish fiddle-de-dee! for unless I have mistook my orders, we are to convey that very same clerk, there's something here about his disappointment over a cat but that don't seem quite the thing, in the Jumblie to Swat as Envoy to the Akhond, along with a valuable gift of honey and plenty of money wrapped up in a five pound note. So do you see, Stephen? You shall have your money back but if I could just prevail upon you to decipher ...", holding the paper up to the light of the luminous nose, " I cannot quite make out the part about a rendezvous in Cambridge at the dark of the moon with a milk white maid of, no...that part is quite clear,I hope I am not quite such a flat that I don't know what 'Batrinque' means but have you any notion of the significance of 'Dorking'?"
"Milk white maid of... Jesus, Mary,Joseph and Patrick! We must be on our way. There is not a moment to lose. Men call her
[js] sullen, bloody-minded and argumentative, but I say she is merely misunderstood."
"Mr Killick," said Dong, after Jack and Stephen had departed post haste for the fens, "I feels like playing a pipe with silvery squeaks and gathering the bark of the Twangum Tree."
"Perhaps you had better look into Buchan's Domestic Medicine,
Matthew Dong," replied Killick darkly, "for them ain't natural urges."
Cambridge and the lowering sky above; an icy wind seeming to come from every direction at once. Even Jack, in all his layers of wrapping, was chilled to the very bone. It had taken them some time to find the appointed meeting place on the edge of the Addenbrooke's Hospital site; Jack did not choose to dwell on the uncommonly tedious journey down, with a strange jingle about owls and pussycats running insistently through his head and Stephen prosing on interminably about pins.
They stood on the edge of a small copse, the trunks of the trees silver in the moon. A figure - possibly female, and certainly most shockingly pale - stepped out of the shadows and stood before them in the grey light. It waved its arms in a vague, disordered motion, opened its mouth and said, in accents redolent of the seamier parts of Dorking, "
[sdw] Which it's ready, your honours."
"Have we the honour of addressing Madam Skinner, the famous Cambridge shipwright?" asked Jack. "Domestique, my dear madam."
"Probably, good sir," Skinner simpered modestly, but Jack was distracted by Stephen's hand tight upon his arm.
"Take care, brother," whispered Stephen.
"Why?" said Jack, "What alarms you? Is it her wig? A pretty piggy wig upon my word - "
"No, no," said Stephen. "I must make myself plain I find. This Skinner is a shipwright, a sort of nautical carpenter, if I make no mistake."
"Just so," said Jack, "but what frightens you so, old Stephen?"
"I assert nothing, but I would never place my life in the hands of any man or woman," said Stephen, "who has so very many vises."
[bat] For a moment Jack's face was clouded with distressed immobility: he deeply, deeply disapproved of any of his officers, even so un-nautical officer as his surgeon, being chuff with civilians. This behavior fell far outside those boundaries of propriety he had learned long ago while stretched across the breech of many a gun and under the smart pedagogy of a rope-end. Then, a first glimmer of understanding in his blue eyes. Spreading merriment, full-bodied mirth, and tears suddenly upon his scarlet face. "Oh, oh," he gasped, struggling for breath. "Oh, Stephen, I was such a flat that I almost did not smoke it. Carpenter. Vises. Oh, oh," and the rest of his words were strangled in renewed, exhuberant delectation. "That is much the best thing I have heard since your clench upon dogs' tails. Carpenters and vises. That puts me in mind of a walk, a pleasant walk along a briny beach, I once did have, with a walrus and a carpenter. Oh, we talked of many things: of shoes and ships and sealing wax and ..." Jack hesitated as he noted a cold reptilian stare from his friend. "Ah, of cabbages, Kerguelen's cabbages perhaps, and of kings, too."
"You mistake yourself, brother," Stephen said. "Your wits are all ahoo, and you are on quite the wrong tack," he added with a significant leer.
[dac] Jack looked vaguely guilty. "T'is brillig out here none the less," he said half heartedly.
"Here Sir this will keep you warm Sir," said Skinner taking a large beaver hat from behind her back, "It belongs to Quangle Wangle Quee, but see he's up the Crumpetty Tree at the moment. So he won't be needing it, leastways not for the duration".
"Er much obliged" said Jack slightly uneasy, wondering what Skinner meant, and deciding it must be Dorking slang for something. "How's HMS Jumblie coming along? I hear she had shocking knees when she rolled into the Dockyard."
"Indeed she did Sir, most appalling knees but we've replaced them with fine new Bong wood and she will be ready on Tuesday Sir. I took the liberty of finding you rooms near the yard". "I also have a letter for you Dr Maturin" said Skinner. "It arrived from London this very morning".
Opening the letter Stephen read:
Dear Dr Maturin,
"Looks like someone else is up the Crumpetty Tree," said Jack when Stephen told him later in the tap room of the Bilious Ferret where Skinner had booked them rooms. "They won't fit in the Jumblie."
"Indeed," said Stephen.......
[bab] "but could they not be towed aft in some little small sort of vessel or raft adapted for the purpose ? Surely to God Madam Skinner and her mates can whip you up, and I say whip advisedly, something of that nature?"
"At your service, Admiral", a pigtailed figure appeared before them as if on springs, "Wilson, once Chips of the Gunner under Old Pobble and now master of Skinner's sail room. Also", apologetically, "supervisor of ship's paints and tars which we had already placed the order, you understand, and old Ma Skinner felt cruelly used when Captain Clonfert copped it, though I nearly wept when I saw my parts after I'd been to the head. Pea green, begging your your honours' pardons, and Mrs Wilson so superstitious about colours. But, anent your little small raft, can I interest you, Admiral, in our patent Bong wood trolley with advanced raft features. The young gentleman who ordered it having been sent foreign unexpectedly on government business?"
"Jack, I beseech you, do not refuse this trolley or raft for, to you alone", a swift glare at Wilson who retreated swiftly straight into the corsetted superstructure of the startled Bilious Ferret herself to the considerable detriment of the flagon of fermented crumpetty which she bore, "to you alone shall I divulge some private information that has come to me concerning a run on the Gromboolian pin market. My pins may well be worth their weight in Stilton though I know that you are not a slave to considerations of mere profit..." "Where, oh where, do you get these whimsical, Romantic notions?" thought Jack while his friend continued "...and we may use them to bolster the chances of the King's ally, the Akond against the upstart Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo".
[js] "The raft - very well," said Jack. "I thank you, sir, for putting me in mind of it." This last was addressed to Wilson, who was lying on the floor, still dazed by his impact with Mistress Baker's whaleboned embonpoint.
"Pro snoblem," said Wilson, struggling feebly to rise. "Ferrious billet - tapical cavern."
"'Ere!" shrieked the landlady. "None of that foreign lingo! This is a respectable establishment. Foreigners is all wicked, idle dogs - as Baker always says."
"Madam, I fear you grow thersitical," said Stephen gravely. La Baker
preened herself at such concern from a medical man. "I believe the poor
fellow intended only to be complimentary... Pronounced metathesis; bought
on by concussion, no doubt. However, a comfortable slime draught will
soon see him right ...Though some of your fermented crumpetty might make
an admirable succedaneum," he added quietly.
It was some days later - after the long, long haul from Cambridge - as they were preparing to depart, that Jack caught sight of a uniformed figure capering and making antic gestures on shore. He whipped out his telescope and saw a familiar face through the achromatic lens: "Why, it is young Lieutenant Trinque!" In an aside to Stephen: "We call him Nor-Any-Drop-To in the Service. A literary cove."
"What can he want? And what is that piece of paper he is waving about with such vigour?"
[sdw] Stephen waded over to the rail quite easily; the water came to just below his breeches. He peered at the mole where Trinque stood, Adrian Mole, a nasty, spotty mole.
"Is it not a map?"
"Mr Babbington," said Jack, "Take the Ferret and pick up Lt Trinque. And see if you can find that damned Critchley while you're at it. We are ready to set to sea in this seive."
The boat crew, Barbo Blue, Ian Blue, bat Blue, Stephen Blue, and David Blue, collectively known as the Blues Brothers, jumbled up through the open top of the deckhouse, fine in their blue gloves, waded aft to the Ferret and set off for shore.
But Critchley was not there. Nor were the pins. But Critchley was with the pins. 300 tons of pins. Each sharp. Each unique, in its own way. Each ready for examination, description, cataloging, and careful stowing away, lovingly labelled and wrapped in the finest Genevan watchmaker's tissue. It was a huge task, a monumental task. It would take the rest of his natural life. With infinite satisfaction, he tenderly picked up the first pin.
[bat] I am hipped, Stephen, infernally hipped," Jack said as he stroke back and forth across the section of sieve arbitrarily set aside as the quarterdeck.
"Tut, my dear. A blue pill, a dozen drops of Tincture of Senna, and a few hours upon the seat of ease will set you right."
"No, no, it is far deeper than a trifle of indisposition from indulging in a brace of soused hogs, a moderate drowned baby or two, and not above four and twenty blackbirds baked in a sea-pie. No, Stephen, it is this voyage ahead of us: A vessel which makes the sorry Polychrest seem a royal yacht, young Critchley who it has to be said is not quite exactly quite the thing, and at the end of it all this monstrous Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo who must be a whiggish sort of fellow. I only find comfort in the notion that there is naught left to yet go all a-tanto," Jack concluded as the sun slipped behind a dark cloud, a black cat walked under a ladder, and the loblolly boy dropped a mirror shattering it into a thousand splinters.
Babbington, back from shore, leapt up the Jumbly’s side, waving a paper in hand. "Captain, old Nary-A-Drop presents his compliments and wishes to say that Mrs Williams
[dac] "Get Trinque on board and cast off NOW Mr Babbington,
there's not a moment to loose", cried Jack, "and send Mr Trinque to my
cabin. Whatever his nickname he'll need a drink after having encountered
my mother in law."
(3 months later)
"Sir, sir," cried "Almost Nary a Drop" bursting into Jack's cabin. "I think you ought to see this!"
"Fetch me my glass," Jack gasped as he came on deck. The sight that met his eye was not a pleasant one. Two ships were gaining on the Jumblie, the first a huge transport of the RN class built purely on the off chance that someone would be daft enough to give a rhinoceros as a gift, the second......Jack caught his breath, she was beautiful, a massive super frigate, painted in a pea green Nelson checker, but ...flying the ensign of His Majesty's Inland Revenue.
"What is she sir?" asked Lieut. Trinque,
"She's a Revenue ship lad, the In Triplicate if I'm not mistaken. They were built to scour the seas looking for prize lucky captains and tax them before they got home and invested the money on sensible things like silver mines and canals. They're always state of the art sailors, heavily armed and painted pea green. We'd all be penniless because of them if they had any sort of a crew - why I hear they have to have a discussion every time they tack."
Stephen stared miserably at the fast approaching frigate "I tried to get you one of those Jack," he sighed. "But Sir Joseph gave me to understand in a most friendly but oblique manner that one was not in his gift."
"Never mind," said Jack cheerfully, "we ain't got a prize yet. Looks like their captain is signalling to come aboard."
"Good morning gentlemen," said Obadiah Critchley as he and two lieutenants climbed aboard, "I have some good news. Not only was the pin counting such a massive task that I successfully argued for a whole new department to be established (with me as its Permanent Undersecretary of State (PUSS)- (Oh by the way let me introduce Cat and Owl my lieutenants))- but I also persuaded old Ponsomby at the Revenue to lend me one of his smaller boats and a transport for the pins.. Indeed I'm delighted to tell you gentlemen that I also have a relative of yours aboard In Triplicate."
"S'cuse me sir," said Owl. "But the Wearing and Tacking Management Committee is about to sit."
"Oh quite so Mr Owl. We'd better be going Captain, this could take hours."
Jack watched them depart, the words "I hope you booked coffee and biscuits for the meeting Mr Cat" coming to him over the water. As indeed was another jolly boat, carrying Mrs Williams.
"Coooeeee Captain," he heard her call.
"I wonder what she wants?" he muttered.
[bab] and then, to the officer of the watch, "Please inform the bosun that the visitor is to be piped aboard with due ceremony - gloved sidesmen, full rhythm and blues combo, the usual. Quick as you can, Sir! There is not a moment to lose". He fixed Mrs Williams in his perspective glass and shuddered. Even upside down she still looked like his mother-in-law. "And I may suggest, Captain, a bosun's chair with a whip to the mainyard?"
Sometimes Jack regretted the failure of the Jumblies' increasingly desperate nightly attempts to overboard The Boston Bean, "Surely, Mr Trinque, after all these months it cannot have escaped your notice that we sail without benefit of boom or yard? You will find that a hook to my red flannel wrapper will serve instead, will inhibit any untoward motion of the arms."
The piping aboard went splendidly, seldom had the Brothers been in such good voice, the whole ship rocked to their beat, their tantalisingly toe-tapping beat; Babbington in a crumpetty induced ecstasy of song and dance was gyrating most flagrantly with the tobacco pipe mast. It was a long time since he had laid eyes on a woman. The flick of a fan on his shoulder momentarily felled him but he regained his senses in time for them to be inflamed again:
"You elegant fowl! How charmingly sweet you sing!"
[3 minutes later]
[js] To carry the prostrate Babbington below, Killick and Dong strapped on flippers and some uncommonly ingenious artificial lungs. These lungs had been devised - and hand-crafted in finest Bong wood - by the young French sailor known universally as Custard.
"He will live, I presume?" Mrs Williams asked Stephen.
"He will, ma'am. But he should avoid horse riding, tight breeches and uncomfortable chairs for some considerable period to come.
Mrs Williams' mouth twisted into something not far removed from a smile. "Unfortunate young man," she said contentedly. "I quite feel for him, I protest. I am almost sorry I... but, no; he should have had a care where he put his"
"If you please sir," interrupted "Now-rather-keen-on-a", in urgent tones. "A giant turtle has just swum up to the ship! From a lar... from a star..." Pointing dramatically: "From that direction!"
"And he is carrying," he added triumphantly, "no less a person than the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo!"
Mrs Williams was unaccustomed these many years to any kind of interruption to her incessant flow of conversation. Trinque darted behind Jack, using his bulk as protection from her prodigiously indignant glare.
A voice called up from the turtle:
[sdw] "Oh, let us be married!" Mrs Williams threw her fan over her head and rushed to the rail, creating a wake that nearly caused Stephen to stagger, and fairly shrieked: "Too long we have tarried!" and the entire portion of the nearly circular Jumbly that served as the quarterdeck stood in awe as the two embraced and then exclaimed "But what shall we do for a ring?".
Jack had been raised in a service that valued initiative and efficiency above all else, and he had encouraged his officers and youngsters to follow suit, so it took only a meaningful glance for Jack's thought to be relayed from him to the Lt Trinque, officer of the watch, to the quartermaster, to the purser, to the butcher who turned to where the pig, "Ghe-wig", stood, with a ring in the end of his nose. "His nose, his nose", said the butcher, instantly removing the ring with his knife, covetously watched by Critchley, wiping it in his hankie, and passing the ring to the purser, and so to the quartermaster, the officer of the watch, to Jack, who made a leg and proffered it to the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo with his most deferential "Your servant, sir".
They sailed away and were married next day by the Turkey who lives on the Hill, as some of the sea lawyers referred to their captain standing on his quarterdeck. That old Yongy, as Killick referred to him, and Mrs Williams left for the realm of Chankly Bore and that evening, to the sound of a sweet, soft fiddle, all hands danced in the light of the moon. "The moon... the moon, Jack," said Stephen, "has a ring around it."