A Tale of Revenge
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[bat] "Call me Ishmael," Stephen said.
Jack Aubrey looked up from the Admiralty letter in his hand. His friend looked grim about the mouth, a mirthless appearance deepened by the grey Dorset light on a damp drizzly November day. "Is this ..." Jack hesitated with a delicacy born of his intimate knowledge of Stephen's hidden activities, his sub-rosa activities in many ports and on many foreign shores. "I mean to say, am I to call you Ishmael in the company of ..."
"No, no, my dear. I am just in a mood fit to go about and methodically knock people's hats off. I am exiled, temporarily exiled, from Half Moon Street as being a social outcast scarcely fit for one of the lowest denizens of Bombay. All because of a trifling error of misunderstanding. I had a fine new gallows corpse laid out on the dining room table when Diana entered with Lady Bildad and Lord Peleg. Such an obstreperous, ungenteel uproar, Jack. Upon my word, there was nothing that a quick swipe of the silver would not have cleaned, admirably cleaned."
Jack thought back to the unfortunate Mediterranean August afternoon when Stephen had autopsied a terminally dyspeptic bullock in the gunroom of HMS Lively and hastened to brighten his friend's spirits. "Look here, Stephen," he said, lifting his letter. "This is a chance to escape the domestic perils of Half Moon Street and Ashcroft alike." His eyes darted nervously to see if Mother Williams had perhaps crept in unheralded. "The Admiralty has offered me a cruise in search of the great white
[bab] , but I forget myself, that can wait. You have come by the Portsmouth Flyer I expect, and have not eaten since Woking so what do you say to some toasted soft tack with gooseberry jam and some little tartlets and cold ham and a Cheshire cheese or two? Cook has run off with a resurrection man and the roast will not be ready this age though Sophie and her mother managed to disembowel the turkey in the end, the bird having raised objections at first."
"Brother, I raven. Diana banished me from her table until I had superstitiously washed my hands, which my dignity could not allow, and so I set off for Ashgrove without so much as a heel of cheese in my belly. But this is sad news, sad news indeed. Could not the resurrection man be persuaded to return?"
"I am afraid not for there was a question of a missing orphan which turned out to be no genuine orphan at all but Farmer Baker's great niece's little maid who was merely passing herself off as one and, though revived just in time, has been expressing resentment. However, nothing better to set you up after such a disappointment than muffins and jam and the news that I have to tell you, oh! such news from the Admiralty! It will restore your spirits completely. I shall just ring for ... Ah there you are Killick, one could swear you had been, that is to say, thank you, thank you, this is a feast indeed".
"Preserved Killick, I hope I see you well? How did your parts respond to the treatment, did you apply the purple tincture as directed? Did it set them right again?"
"Right as peas, Doctor, and Skinner had no complaints that is till that fu, that fool Wilson turned her head with his flash talk of silk gowns, lace mittens and all the gin she could drink".
Silence for some considerable time as the friends earnestly devoured half of poor Sophie's pantry and a good deal of her dairy. Jack was affecting not to notice the last pat of butter when his friend, with an air of solemn renunciation, handed him the dish: "It is a far, far butter thing I do than I have ever done".
[sdw] "Why thankee, Stephen. Butter: very good. Ha! Upon my word." Jack quicky devoured it before he could think much and then asked:
"So you have not washed your hands at all, I collect?"
Stephen considered his wine, a rather good one: Jack was as generous in this respect as in all others. "No, it was not possible. Apart from the moral question, the apparently necessary and interminable question of, shall we say, moral advantage, in marriage, there was another little question which did nothing to endear me. I had left the hands on the sideboard, quite unwashed."
Jack cried: "Why a voyage will quite set you up. Distance makes the dart go longer, you know."
"By dart you mean harpoon, Jack?"
A look of infinite cunning came into Jack's eye, a look, that on shore, usually presaged a set-back in his political career or finances, or both.
"Bless you, Stephen: what I mean is
[dac] "These new darts of Congreve's, the Surprise has been fitted out with them as a precaution by the Admiralty. We'll need them if we're going to hunt the penguin".
"Penguin my dear, what penguin?" said Stephen as he wiped his greasy hands on his wig.
"Why, the Great White Penguin mentioned in my orders ain't you listening Stephen?" replied Jack. "I have the strictest orders to come back with the Penguin or not at all by Lord Howe".
Stephen sat there in shock and delight. For years since Joseph Banks had come back from New Holland he had heard rumours of the Great White Penguin. How it had terrorised frigates, wrecked 74's and given Admiral Lord Howe a rather stiff-legged gait (or perhaps, chair-legged gait). And now he had a chance to search for one, catch one, chop up and study one. He could barely contain himself.
"When do we sail Jack?" he whispered.
"Why, tomorrow dear chap. Just as soon as Congreve's chap a Kaptain Vilson in the King's German Legion turns up with these dart things".
"But Jack, there is no time, I must pack my........
[js] dissecting equipment, preserving fluid and the sharpest of knifes - for the beast will not prove scissile, I fear. And surely we must obtain some of Covent Garden's finest Giant Haddock?
"No, Stephen, there is not a moment to be lost. We leave for Portsmouth - that is where the Pequoderatdemonstrandum lies - tomorrow. I am sorry to top it the slave driver, but there it is. The early bird... the early bird... has a silver lining, you know."
"Just so, brother."
The next morning, as light streamed through the dining room window, Jack gazed earnestly at the faces of his family, wondering when he would next look upon this much-loved sight. "Papa! Papa!" A piping voice broke into his reverie.
"If you please, sir, why is that horrible old bird you're going to dish called 'Mostly Dick'?"
"Well ..." said Jack, uncomfortably, his eyes flicking from side to side.
"It's a funny name!"
"Hush, my dear," said Sophie.
A stamping, clinking sound, approaching the cottage with some rapidity, made the children lose all thoughts of names and rush to the window.
"It's a man in a silly uniform!" cried Fanny.
"Wearing an uncommonly large pair of spurs," added Charlotte.
"And marching with his legs all funny, the swab," finished her brother.
"George!" cried Sophie.
Jack said: "It can only be..."
The door crashed open and the house reverberated to its very foundations with the sound of clicking heels.
"Kapitan Schkott von Vilson, mein Herr!"
[bat] The officer's squash-orange and asparagus-green plaid hussar jacket perfectly matched his eyes, while the tight plum-coloured trousers complemented his nose, his very bulbous nose, in a wonderfully striking manner, although Jack had never before seen braid of quite that vibrant a blue. "Ah, kapitan," he said, grasping the man's left hand for the right hand had been replaced by a gleaming gold hook how happy I am to see you. There's not a moment to be lost. We set off for the Peekaboo this hour!"
"Der Peekaboo?" von Vilson inquired, an air redolent of certain Munich bierhallen of dubious merit permeated his words. "Vas is der Peekaboo?"
"Oh, that's how the barky is affectionately known in the service."
"Barky? Der Peekaboo ist ein hund?" Confusion swam in the artillery officer's green eye; the orange one remained stalwartly fixed on Jack's face.
A few words from Stephen in a Swabian dialect he learned while lecturing at a small German university on the parallels, the very strong parallels to be drawn between senior sea officers and inbred domesticated cattle, quickly cleared up the matter. "Now, could you be so kind, Kapitan von Vilson, to explain the principles behind these remarkable Congreve darts?"
"You haff a need to know?" the Prussian asked in a marked Bavarian accent. "You haff, how you zay, der clearancesecuritaten?"
While Jack, Stephen and von Vilson closeted themselves to discuss the new weapons a disused broom closet just off the entrance hallway served marvelously, if a trifle crowded considering the length and sharpness of the kapitan's spurs Killick and Bonden hastened to complete preparations for departure. Killick momentarily left off his habitual whining about Jack's habitual abuse of his uniforms so carefully pressed and mended and sealed in triple layers of oiled sealskin so some awkward lubber wouldn't get cat hairs upon them and asked the captain's coxswain, "What about this here silver- ballasted bird the captain was a-talking of? Is it a prize to be served up according to the use and custom of the sea, the way it's always been?" Any question of dividing up bullion, doubloons, pieces-of-eight, dollars, farthings, shillings, and tokens for underground systems to be built in the future was always a matter of the greatest interest to the noble oak-hearted sons of Britannia who manned her men-of-war.
Bonden looked thoughtful and pulled a small leather-bound volume from a jacket pocket and commenced to rock back and forth with a roll of about twenty-five degrees. Since Stephen had taught him to read in the maintops of a succession of ships, the coxswain found the gentle motion to aid his studies. "It says here in 'Skinner's Guide to the Compleat Seaman and Squeaker' that fowl are"
[dac] Bonden at this point was disturbed by the loud thumping of the massed ranks of the Aubrey family's chamber maids swooning in unison. "Morning Captain Jagiello" he said without turning around. "You'll find them all in the 'study' sir, with the German Officer."
[bab] [The next morning]
"Now, my dear, let Killick bring in the turkey at last which you have been up all the night preparing. Thankyou, Killick, but I prefer it cooked in just that manner. Meanwhile, may I present to you a recently arrived colleague? No, Sophie, how can you be so simple? Jagiello you know already, but, my dear? Sophie? if you could just turn this way my love? may I present Kapitan von Vilson of the Royal Prussian, Swabian and Bavarian Armies and the King's German Legion and now seconded to the Royal Navy".
"Servus", Von Wilson said simply, thus demonstrating a formidable command of Latin and of Austrian and Hungarian forms of address, "Gnaedige Frau" he added quite some time later.
"Delighted. But there was no need for such punctiliousness. Did you hurt yourself with your lovely spurs? Should you like Killick to take them away and polish them for you? He can put them with your darts. Thankyou, dear Killick".
"O Kapitan, mein Kapitan" Stephen wiped the turkey on his wig "I gather, from your gait that you are own nephew to the unhappy Admiral Lord Howe, who was so cruelly savaged by the Great White Penguin. Please to tell us anything you may recollect having heard of its appearance and habits."
[sdw] "Ah," said the Kapitan, shaking his head and picking up a pea with his hook, "Der Penguin. He is, as they say, so... hugiferous. Too, too hugiferous by haf. You know, I will tell you about my fren, Reichsadmiral Graf von Critchley, who alltso haz hunted zis bird; he tells me, Schottie, he tells me, zis bird is zooo big. Bigger zan a Budgie! Bigger zan a Shparrow!! Truly, a bird of ze Gods. Zis is vhy zey call him Mostly..." here von Wilson was caught by Sophie's mild and inquiring blue eye; he caught himself and said "...Richard." Stephen hummed a waltz soto voce.
"So!" continued the Prussian, using a dab of squash to cover a gravy stain on his sleeve, "Because he is so big, we must use ze long darts. And use zem we will! Himmel! what joy to stand in ze boe of ze boot mit der dart in handen, ready to fling it into ze feathery flank of ze fiercesome fagelfish. Ze Hunt! Ach ze Hunt!! Glorious, my dear Ladies and sirs I do you azzure. And so much trouble afterwards, dealing with it on ze ship; too big you know." He gazed round the table, brightened a little, and said: "In such cases, a bird in the hunt is worth two in ze boots."
Stephen's inner eye turned to the cold dark, plankton-rich waters where Mostly Richard the Great White Penguin, known as Dick to sailors, closed his ragged, gory bill over a morsel of fluffy white seal pup, whose enormous brown eyes were the last thing seen as it disappeared tail-first into the stone-filled crop of its nemesis. He collected himself and turned to the Prussian, who was drinking his wine in as close an imitation of Jagiello as he could manage, and said: "This von Critchley is also a Congreve dart aficionado, I collect?"
[dac] Vilson nodded "He studied with a meister at Heidelburg in his youth, a great friend but obsessed by ze Penguin. It vas he zat accompanied your Admiral Howe vhen zey vent to ze new vorld to catch ze monster. Ze rockets of Herr Congreve had not been tried and ze darts ver launched by means of ein rubber catapult in ze prow of ze ship Grendel, zis vas not good. Ve do not know vhat happened exactly but ze monster dragged zem overboard. Ze Admiral Howe svam free but was cruelly mauled. Ze Admiral Von Critchley vas not zeen again. All zat ze zupport ships ze Donner and Kebab and ze Great ...how you zay Flamen Ballzen?"
"Balls of fire" Stephen provided looking very serious.
"Goodness gracious" Sophie said blushing.
"Indeed madam", the Kapitain continued "All zey found was ze monocle and ze full dress false teeth."
Killick shuddered at the thought of Jack's finely polished No. 1 set with gold bridgework being lost.
"For ze Admiral Howe ant I ze voyage ist vun of discovery but also of ze revenge ya?" said Vilson.
"But we must study it" cried Stephen "Its habits, its patterns of behaviour, its environment, its effects on the local ecology, the food chain....."
"But after ve chop it up ya?"
Stephen looked offended, "I am a man of science sir, naturally we dissect it first else we have no basis for scientific conjecture."
"Vundabar mein Doktor, I zee ve are in agreement."
"Herr Kapitain Aubrey........
[js] ve - mit alle schpeed -ust zum Meer at once depart!"
Tristan de Cunha; a circular scrap of volcanic rock in the South Atlantic. The Pequoderatdemonstrandum its walls pitted with strange puncture marks and its decks covered in scratches, which increased in frequency near von Vilson's cabin had been unable to land. A treacherous combination of wind and tide had left Stephen standing at the rail, gazing at the prodigious variety of bird life ashore. Mutters of "vexatious obstruction", "a few, a very few rupicolous seabirds is not so much to request" and "overweight tyrant" were discreetly ignored by the crew.
"Which they say the Doctor's in a horrid passion!"
"Damn you, Preserved Killick," returned Bonden mildly. "I almost had it then. If a third class boy's share is six feathers, five and a half ounces of blubber and a gizzard stone then I reckon we should get... But no, that's only if that von Vilson counts equal with a Lieutenant of six years' seniority for the purposes of distribution." Bonden sighed and crossed out his calculations.
Back on deck, the sight of a dead killer whale floating past, its entire body covered in peck marks, had struck awe into the heart of almost every man who saw it. (Apart from Jagiello that is, who was busy fighting off the gentle but persistently amorous attentions of the ship's milch cow.) This uncommonly gory corpse told them that as they headed further south, they would soon enter the cruising grounds of the Great White Penguin himself.
[bat] "Everybody aft!" shouted Jack Aubrey. "Lookouts and squeakers too!" When the Pequoderer ... When the Peqoderaroroerrr ... When the Pequodada ..., the Pequoquo ... When the barky's crew had gathered near the holy quarterdeck an event which outside of Sunday divisions was hitherto unknown in the service and very nearly unimaginable, Jack with one hand reaching high up a shroud and tightly, almost convulsively grasping it, addressed the assembled men and officers: "All ye have before now heard me give orders about a white penguin. Look ye! D'ye see this Spanish ounce of gold?" holding up a broad bright coin to the sun "it is a fourteen-and-two-thirds dollar piece men."
"Fourteen-and-two-thirds dollars?" murmured Killick.
Bonden nodded decisively, "Which it used to be sixteen dollars, but the present exchange rate is a result of a recent currency devaluation in anticipation of budgetary strictures to be imposed by International Monetary Fund regulations, coupled with an insufficient liquidity of funds to support continued expansion in the foreign marketplace. Um, shiver me timbers."
Jagiello leaned close to Stephen and whispered into his ear, "Why ever is everyone talking so strangely, doctor? Yumping Yiminy, I mean." But Stephen was too distracted to answer his friend's question, for he had observed something which had escaped the eyes of the Pequodadadad ... the ship's lookouts Tristan de Cunha had drawn closer, very very much closer. So close that he could clearly make out a mote in a rupiculous seabird's eye, perched as that seabird was on a towering rock which even now threatened to scrape some of the paint from the, um, vessel's side.
"Captain, captain," Stephen called out.
"Whoever of ye raises me a white-headed penguin with a prodigious wrinkled principle appendage, whoever of ye raises me that white-headed penguin, with three holes punctured in his starboard flipper look ye, whosoever of ye raises that same white penguin, he ..."
"For Mary, Patrick and St Elmo's sake, Jack," Stephen shouted, "come to the point before ..."
Just then an unusually large wave lifted up the ship with an uncomfortably long name and
[bab] bore it safe away from that mortal iron bound coast and into the West Wind Drift.
The West Wind Drift where a fabled bird had just made its giant dive from a luminescent blue iceberg into deeps where no light shone, there to be borne on currents far, far undersea along with delicious squid, giant rays and long, pale, tasty, eyeless fish and had been at first confused and disgusted by the inclusion in the day's menu of the indigestible hoop of a barrel. Dim memories of The Great Surface Thing, the enemy its mother had always warned it about, revived and so The Great White Penguin rose at last from out the vasty deep.
Its little eyes narrowed as its left ear copped a bucket of slops from the Great Surface Thing and its tiny brain sent just one signal to its huge member and it wasn't a nice one...
"and, sweetheart, you don't want to know about what happened next but I find that I have quite neglected to tell you about Skinner our cook, who you will remember had been imposed upon by von Vilson in his guise of a resurrection man while acting as a Weimar undercover agent near Ashgrove and followed him, von Vilson that is to say, to sea on account of his, von Vilson I mean, being such a lovely dancer. What with her three days growth of beard, she would never have been discovered had not Stephen observed her practising her steps with the Sick Berth broom during the middle watch and the broom it was that was leading . It appears that Von Vilson had learnt the dance from 'babberl' a landlord's black haired daughter while in the service of the Duke of Saxony or of the Archbishops of either Kurland or Salzburg or was it in the Palatinate? In any case, my love, he is famous throughout the German principalities for his devotion to ballroom dancing and, with the help of Skinner, has been instructing us in this new German dance, the valtz.
Oh how Fanny and Charlotte would enjoy it! It is, he says, all the rage in Vienna and it has caught on so with the Pequoderatdemonstrandums that we are to have a ball! I am to open it with Awkward Davies who made me an offer I could not refuse and Stephen has engaged Killick for the first two dances. Jagiello will dance with no one but babski Day, the gunner's daughter, and Von Vilson and Skinner will be giving an exhibition of the tango during supper. It is a blessing that Lieut Trinque brought along his harp as the poor man is likely to be without a partner having maimed a good many of the Pequoderatdemonstrandum's people while attempting to master the valtz. I should not like to say this to anyone else my dear and I know that you are too delicate to repeat it, but that officer has no gift for dancing.
The only thing wanting to make the ball perfect is you, dearest heart, but I shall make it up to you by inviting all Portsmouth to a ball at Ashgrove Cottage just as soon as my projected improvements have been carried out. I have prevailed upon a largish Danish merchant to convey the plans to you along with this letter and the finest of penguin feathers to wear in your sweet hair. I meant to have sent you home more of the animal but it was obliged to be shot all of a sudden with a Congreve dart and made fast to the Pequouderatdemonstrandum's side and I regret to say that during the night the largest part of it was ate.
I remain, my dear, dear Sophie,
Yr loving husband,