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The Good, the Bad
and the Pretty Ugly


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[bab] "Barret Bonden, have you been brought by the lee, scuppered, dismissed from the field? Pray, recover from your exertions by joining me here under this commodious shady cycad for you are to observe that it is not one of your common palms though you could be excused were you to mistake it for one. It is perhaps a little spiky beneath. I would advise you to seat yourself on my collecting bag."

"It moved!"

"Do not be concerned, I dare say you have upset my serpent by sitting down in that hasty, inconsiderate way. As you see I am whittling myself as elegant as weapon as has ever been seen, even in the County Fermanagh. Yet you appear strangely distracted, friend, what is it that so engrosses you?"

"Oh Doctor, I was just looking over my shoulder at the match. Oh! that, that, fellow of an umpire! He has declared Critchley clean bowled yet I saw Wesley slyly slip the bails off from here, with my own eyes. I hope you would take it kindly from me, Doctor, if I was to warn you against Wilson. Why, though I say it myself, I had clearly re-gained my crease and poor Lieutenant Skinner, leg before wicket, and him an opener for the Gentlemen of Surrey and Mr Babbington... begging your pardon, Doctor, but your, er, stick... we are to use willow you know, fashioned just so, it will give you a better purchase on the ball you will find. Please allow me to lend you mine", bitterly, "not that it did me much good against that blind mole" and Bonden glared with an uncharacteristic hatred at the American gentleman wearing all the hats who was avidly botanising in the grass beneath his feet just as the appallingly fast Zimmermann reached the end of his 75 yard run up.

"Cuchulain himself could not boast so powerful a weapon and I am shocked, shocked, Bonden by your want of discrimination. Shame on you, and you a sportsman too. What is it that you were telling me of Babbington?"

"Caught at mid-on but I saw the ball bounce . When he wouldn't walk, the Boston Beans picked him up and carried him off feet first. I blame Lieutenant Trinque for it is common knowledge that he

[bat] has no more understanding of the fine points of this game than you ... you ...," Bonden's cheeks turned a surprising shade of scarlet beneath the weathered tan, "than you, er, pinch between two fingers," he concluded lamely.

"That astounds me," the Doctor said, turning his freshly carved bat in his hands, "for I remember the lieutenant one time reciting a poem of his own composition about a cricket match: a most uncommonly elegant poem it was, too."

"I'm no judge of poems, sir, elegant or otherwise, but the lieutenant never saw a cricket pitch until he was master's mate aboard the old Insoluble, I overheard him say once. He was raised amongst those Boston Beans, you know, and they play some other kind of game there which involved running around in circles with no wickets at all, if you can believe that."

Stephen could well believe that, as he himself had never set foot on a cricket pitch until an age beyond even that of the hapless lieutenant and there were subtle aspects of the sport which yet eluded him. "Have I mentioned, Bonden, that Diana has assembled an all-female cricket team, the Dorset Diamonds?" He could tell that he had prodigiously shocked the coxswain. "She writes that their blue-and-black team uniforms are wonderfully striking. And if I might speak to you in a medical manner for a moment, I should like to enquire whether you have any particularized over-sensitivity to snake bites?"

[js] "Even if you have not," he continued, "I would advise against resting your hand on that unfortunate reptile and squeezing its throat every time poor Mr Wilson raises his index finger. I cannot imagine what you have against the gentleman; he is uncommonly expert on North American flora."

"She is a lady worth knowing I am sure," replied Bonden. But then in a sudden burst of indignation: "But, sir, how can that good lady, your wife, call her team the..." he stumbled on the words... 'the Dorset Diamonds'? Why, 'XII Ladies of Dorset' or 'Mrs Maturin's Invitation XV' – depending on how many she could muster, you see sir – would be much more the thing. And as for abandoning whites..."

His voice trailed off as a lanky figure strode confidently towards the wicket.

"It's Baker — our last hope!" cried Bonden excitedly. "The man we took on at Botany Bay. The Captain was suspicious of the manacle marks on his wrists and ankles, but he proved such a fine hand with a bat that we kept him aboard... Strange fellow. He will keep trying to burn his food on deck – a Bee Baa or something he calls it – and remarking that he can't believe it's August, it being so hot. And everything he says sounds like a question. But, still, he cuts a prodigious figure at the crease."

While Zimmermann was making his long, long run up, the umpire had pressed a lovely actinomorphic flower into his collection book. As the ball was about to leave the American's hand, Don Baker's bat – held wonderfully square – seemed ready to knock it for six.

But then a twangy, nasal, bean-fed voice called out: "Hey, batsman – your mother was intimate with wombats!"

As Baker straightened up instantly and glared round in indignation, he was clean bowled.

After a long pause Baker walked glumly away, accompanied by derisive quacking noises from the fielders. Bonden turned to Stephen and said:

"He was tenth man. You're on sir."

[dac] "Well it looks like Aubrey's lads are in serious trouble, 188 for 10. They desperately need these 8 runs and ...and here comes their eleventh man. Everything to play for here – and I mean everything. A totally unknown quantity this Maturin. An ill looking fellow indeed and something of a dark horse. Have you heard of him before Mike?"

"Well I now Dicky, some lads went down to the nets to have a shufty a few days ago, but he's a sly cove if ever there was one, eyes like a hawk, and a precision batsman. Knew they were there of course, missed every ball consistently for over an hour. What are the odds on that! I'm telling you those lads are very concerned about this one."

"Well he's taking up his stance, unconventional to be sure. It's obviously unnerving the bowler, why he's got that nasty twitch back, haven't seen that since Aboukir Bay. See the limp in his run,....But what's this, a pitch invasion? Quick get that orangutang off the pitch it's heading straight for Maturin! Maturin hasn't seen him. This is a disaster for Aubrey's team! It's going to ...What play! What a hit!! Look at that ball go !!!!!"

"I told you he was a cool one Dicky. You ever seen anyone hit a six while being knocked flat by an orangutang?....Looks like he's paid the price though, a twisted knee by appearances. Aubrey's walking over to the umpire, seems like he's asking for something, I can't hear, but it looks like he's saying".........

[srz] "Gentlemen, it's time we repaired to the shade of the pavil...er, cocoa-nut palm for our dinner. I understand Wilson has procured a prodigious fine wombat for the meat course..." Here, he risked a quick glance at Stephen, who made not the least acknowledgement of this provocative statement, being entirely absorbed in the minute study of a winged, oddly iridescent insect whose antennae were wound in an anti-clockwise spiral, confounding all he knew about the other members of its genus he knew from his studies elsewhere. "...and I know for certain he's labored since before dawn over a floating island for pudding, a confection made with the last of the cocoa-nuts and Aspasia's meagre offerings in the milk line: as fine a meal as we're likely to enjoy for some months."

At this unwelcome reminder of their precarious domestic economy, the seamen reluctantly gathered their makeshift gear; the party began straggling down through the sparse grass in the direction of the shore, the distant crash of mighty swells breaking out on the reef all too audible over their muted, desultory conversation. "Chips, give me an idea of the state of our repairs, if you will."

Zimmermann, his transitory glory as a bowler of the first rank fading, assumed his familiar shipboard role and started down the list: "Well, I won't vouch for her hanging knees, Captain; she was fair knocked up in the blow, but me mates have t'other major repairs well in hand, and there's naught but two feet of water in the well. I believe she'll ..."

[sdw] Here Stephen felt a discrete pressure on his arm and turned to find the orangutang looking up at him with great solicitude.

"Why Muong, my dear," he said, walking away with her to the shade of a convenient shrub, a shrub more covered with flaming red blossoms than leaves, a fair vegetable eruption of colour that put Stephen in mind of a piece of silk Jack had bought Sophie and which now lay, carefully folded between clean white cotton inside oilskins, inside the lead-lined chest in the tent, "you are never to worry about the game. I believe, though I do not assert, that one of the sides was quite please with our efforts. But, dear Muong, what ever are you at?"

The swarthy, matted bulk of the great ape was on her hands and knees, her feet wringing together with a sound like Zimmermann's sandpaper, her fists up at her head with the little, the very little, finger of each hand projecting forwards, wiggling. Jack Aubrey was the kindest soul on earth but nothing Stephen could do or say would stop his friend from afflicting Stephen's animals with human vices in misguided attempts at improvement and elevation. With the sloth it had been rum; with Muong, puns. Stephen sighed.

"Yes, yes: cricket. Very good. But surely a creature of your shining parts has not brought me here away from a very interesting discussion of shipwrightery merely to play the fool. What is it, now?"

Muong drew herself up and squatted so that they were face to face. Her close-set brown eyes fixed Stephen with an unusually serious glare and one of her uncommonly long arms reached out and gently but firmly grasped his head. The other hand she raised. Carefully closing her thumb and forefinger, she peered at him trough the gap.

"Something in the medical line? Your eye perhaps?" A single shake. Stephen was long practised in cryptography and deception. Puzzling out an intended message was altogether simpler. Muong squeezed her fingers more closely together, shook them in front of Stephen's nose, and then resumed peering at him from behind the gap.

"Small? Miniscule? Lilliputian?"

A low moan of tentative approval came from the orangutang.

"Diminished? Reduced? Meagre? Trifling? Infinitesimal? Minute? Triturated?"

Another moan, less approving, more impatient.

"Oh very well. Fine? Slight? Tiny? Wee?"

"Ha!" barked Muong, presenting to Stephen her dirty canines, a livid tongue, and a deep, deep foundation of the reek of digesting durians. When he had collected himself, Stephen said:

"Wee, my dear?"

Muong's eyes dilated slightly with exasperation, a dilation he was very familar with from Mrs Broad, Mrs Fielding, and especally from Mrs Maturin. She now took his head in both her hands, squatted over his lead-soled shoe and carefully deposited a few drops on the toe.

"Wee wees," he said. Muong clasped him to her leathery bosom, then pushed him away to beam at him wih fondness and affection, mixed with just a little pity, a look he had last seen given by Diana to a singularly stupid Arabian. Muong pointed to the top of a Durian tree and then stood with the other arm pointed out to sea.

"Bless you Muong," cried Stephen, snatching up his wig and running back towards the camp as fast as he could, calling out "Jack, Jack: Muong has seen the French."

[bab] High in the mizzen shrouds of the Jolie Laide, Linois was puzzled. During the whole morning session he had been providing a ball by ball commentary to be relayed to his fleet over the horizon by a furious hoist of signals, a relay uncommonly busy even amongst the talkative French. He adjusted his glass, rien. He called to the lookout in the cross trees mais non, the field remained deserted though stumps had not been drawn and the lunch interval had dragged on now for over an hour. Either the idle b*ggers must fairly worship their bellies, he wondered what was for pudding, or... another possibility occurred to him. He slid down the backstay.

"Pierrot" he said to the exhausted but keen signal midshipman, his nephew, "Signal: Les Haricots are intimidated. They refuse to bat. Repeat to all ships".

"Mon oncle, say it is not true! Batrinque le Basque and the legendary Casey were to open! Oh, it is inexcusable! It is unjust! After The Don was dismissed for a duck too. Sacrebleu! I miss all the amusements."

But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote, "Courage, mon petit, you may yet be able to tell your grandchildren that you have seen Trinque at the bat. We shall disguise ourselves as an American whaler and go close inshore to barrack for him. Trinque never yet has been able to resist his admirers." He grasped the speaking trumpet, "All hands on deck. Rouse out the crow's nest and the trick whale. Make yourselves squalid. Quick as you can. There is not a moment to lose."

The Jolies Laides knew what o'clock it was, it was un quart d'heure past the scheduled time for the commencement of the afternoon session, and they swarmed over the ship

 

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