[bat] The transformation from an elegant and stately ship-of-the-line to a nasty Yankee whaler was carried out with typical Gallic thoroughness: Narrow strips of gaily coloured silk hung upon the braces and halyards the notorious pendants du Catalonia, indicative of a crew overly fond of long afternoon naps. Topsails furled in baggy drooping shapes reminiscent of the pantaloons of mademoiselles of the generously statuesque variety. Garlands of baguettes fresh from the oven draped over the stern chasers to cool. Empty wine bottle scattered promiscuously over the deck. Dollops of sauce Bearnaise dribbled down the sides of the hull. "Sacre bleu," moaned the admiral's chef and he hurried below, trembling and teary.
"Sacre blanc," murmured Linois, "C'est un sty des cochons certainment. But still needs there that American touch to make ze whaler of conviction, n'est pas? Capitaine, send to the forecastle ten of your crew of the most noble aspect to display themselves in the mode of simply happy red savages du wilderness American."
Ten simple happy crewmen of noble mein, stripped to loincloths and displaying themselves on the forecastle, the admiral frowned again. "Sacre noir, there is missing something still from their bearing which might lead Jean-Jacques himself to doubt if perhaps they were the savages noble vraiment, despite the static poses of wilderness simplicity they assume. They wear no feathers about the head, oui non?"
"Mon oncle," cried Pierrot, "sacre vert, the solution I have in the hand!" The midshipman dashed below and a moment later ran back with a box du cardboard. "Here, mon amiral, is several dozens of the fine quill pens sent to me by Madame Amiral." With Linois's permission, the young sea officer sped forward. In a few minutes, Pierrot reported back. "C'est fini, mon oncle," he said, gesturing towards the feather-bedecked sailors frozen into Red Indian-like postures. "I have put les plumes de ma tante sur le tableau."
Preparations complete, the ponderous three-decker now glided landwards, carried by the gentle breeze.
Jack Aubrey lowered his telescope and handed it to Stephen. "A ponderous three-decker whaler, although this gentle breeze carries a scent more redolent of a Parisian restaurant than of a New Bedford vessel. But certainly those are authentic American Indians on the forecastle."
Squinting through the glass, Stephen scrutinized the noble savages. "I think not, brother. The head ornaments of those purported simple red children of the forest are clearly made from the tail feathers of the Anatidae Gasconia Blanca, the famed White Goose of Gascony. They're Frenchmen, Jack. Muong was correct."
"Two can play at that game, Stephen. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the bird in hand. To the cricket pitch!"
The Surprises affect nonchalant poses, outwardly intent upon the resumed match and unmindful of the approaching ship. Lieutenant Trinque took a resolute stance, bat clenched firmly in hand. A glare of fierce determination molded his brow. "Sir, sir," Bonden called in a low voice calculated not to carry more than seven or eight hundred yards in a moderate gale. "Generally speaking, sir, we find that facing the bowler works best."
The lieutenant gazed around perplexed. "The bowler? Are we playing at ninepins, then, such as I saw amongst the Dutch colonials in the Hudson River Valley of New York? Ohhhhhh, you mean the gentleman with the ball!" Lieutenant Trinque turned about and resumed his stance. The ball whizzed towards him. The lieutenant lunged forward and swung his bat in a mighty arc. The ball
[js] , following a perfect line, bounced and crashed into the middle stump, sending the bails flying. Trinque's main error had been letting go of the bat. As it left his hand, it continued in its mighty arc, glinting in the tropical sun. His other little mistake concerned the position at which he held the willow blade; high above his head. Trinque had put his heart and soul into the stroke and the bat rotating about its short axis flew a prodigious distance. It finally buried itself into the ground at deep backward square leg. Stephen, who was nominally fielding there, looked up from his examination of a stercoricolous beetle in considerable surprise.
The Jolies Laides worked themselves into a fever of excitement over these events. Pierrot and his particular friend Boulanger danced round the foremast chanting "La Basque, 'im 'e is out!" Every telescope on board was trained on Stephen as, legs braced, he tried to pull the bat out of the earth. "Eet is like zeir King Arzer and ze surd in ze sturn," commented the officer of the watch, Lieutenant L'homme-de-la-salle, allowing himself a rare smile. He had a considerable quantity of Pomerol resting on the outcome of the game, and things were going his way.
The distracted French crew had failed to notice that Reade, and some of the other smaller, slighter players were missing from the field. They also neglected to observe that their trick whale was now floating towards the ship, its painted jaws grinning wide and distinctly uncetacean mutters of "handsomely there" and "careful where you put your elbow, you infernal lubber" emanating from beneath its wooden fins.
[dac] Jack's carpenter and his mate had surreptitiously worked long and hard, quietly making adjustments to the whale Carefully Reade turned his scraper sideways and poked his telescope out of the hole in the whale's head. It was, he mused singularly fortunate that the doctor had sat on it several days before bending it savagely in the process
"Steady as we go" he whispered to the seamen working the fins.
"Ouch!" Plaice muttered "Das boot's in my back" !
"Quietly I say" Reade hissed, "ready the aft tube". Bonden clambered forward with several men carrying a very infuriated swordfish sliding it into a pipe at the front of the whale.
"A little closer" Reade muttered, then....... "fire !" Bonden opened the hatch at the end of the tube and out rushed the insensed swordfish heading straight for the French ship
[srz] ,bound for immortality as the first torpedo, had it had a better sense of direction, instead of barely impaling, without eclat, the starboard main chains.
On shore, the faux cricketers had had dropped all pretense of playing and were standing along the strand, waving their bats and doffing their hats, and sailing their spats; they cheered lustily as, with Reade's diminutive form in the lead, Bonden, Plaice and the others were disgorged from the whale's less than commodious belly into the waist of the Jolie Laide, like so many seeds bursting from the ruptured skin of an over-ripe cherry tomato under the ill-considered pressure of a blunt dinner knife wielded by an inebriated gourmand in a bouchon in the Vieux Lyon.
Two of the boarding party clapped on to the swordfish's great tail, and sweeping the writhing animal before them drove the greater part of the routed Jolies for'ard in a pan'c onto the foc'sle.
Linois retreated back up the ladder to his quarterdeck before Reade's furious onslaught, laughing so hard he had not even been able to draw his sword. "M'seur, I beg of you: stop, cease, l'arret, quittez, cessent; I shall die laughing wizzout you should perforez me wiz your sharp instruments. Pierrot, strike the colors, zat we may avoid any furzzair shedding of ze blood."
At the sight of the sole swordfish victim, Pierrot, gallantly ignoring his flesh wound and hobbling aft to carry out his orders, one hand for the ship and one for himself, the French admiral dissolved in renewed paroxysms of mirth. "Oh, oh, sir: tell to your stout Capitaine zat we have much to discuss, eef he weel be zo good as to receive us on shore, once we have recovaired zomewhat." Reade, puzzled by the unorthodox fighting style of the French, look toward the Surprises on shore.
There Stephen, who had hastily sutured flannels to a pair of cricket bats, was wig-wagging Jack's orders to avast fighting to the Surprises on the Jolie Laide. It was a skill he had learnt as a young man in Ireland, to what purpose even the narrator, a former Boy Scout himself, cannot fathom.
The French colors dipped, the men on shore raised an even lustier 'Huzzah!',
and Jack said, "Well, well. I cannot begin to think how I shall properly
cast my report to the Admiralty, eh Stephen?"
My Dearest Sophie,
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