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Blue at the Mizzen

South China Sea

Friday, 13 February. Latitude estimated 16 (degree symbol), Longitude estimated 112 (degree symbol); Margin of error estimated no more than 45 (degree symbol). Here we are, my sweetieboops, all at sea as usual. The men are gainfully employed, earning their one square per day, as well they should. We are not going short rations as yet: we still have three horses, numerous rats, several tons of your dear mother's fruitcakes, and a very, very abundant supply of sushi. Water (if I may be permitted to call it that) is holding out well, and I do not anticipate any shortage, as long as we have rum. It is very hot here, and Stephen, ever solicitous to my health, has just bled and purged me, as he does several times each day, and I may need to abandon this letter rather abruptly. Speaking of Stephen, you'll be pleased to know that his bunny rabbits are thriving, thriving, thriving, although I fear they may meet an unexpected end in a stewpot; young Babski has been eying them wickedly.

I regret that I left in haste before concluding my contracts. Please ask Mr. Critchley to see to the bronze mines, as they should surely be in full production by now. Also, please give my dear love to Fanny and Charlotte (or is it Charlotte and Fanny?), and beseech them on my account to have a very happy birthday. I do wish I could remember what number this one is, but it must be a very high number indeed, since they've been hanging around the cottage for a very long time, as well you must be aware. Also, please give George a manly clap on his shoulder for me, and remind him to his lessons.

I may not return to your love as swiftly as I should like; there is rumored trouble afoot with

[bab] ...with...how much should he tell Sophie? He would consult Stephen. As he wiped his quill it occurred to him that something was not quite right. Dear God. 'Sweetieboops'! Had he really been so distracted by tiredness and the continual need not to cause dear Sophie conern? Yes, for, the emergency over at last, his fibres had relaxed prodigiously and his mind craved sleep. Indeed it had been in a waking dream that he had walked straight into a beam while inspecting for damage below decks. He had imagined himself young again and in Petersburg - oh, Anya and her sweet, sweet boops - hell and damnation! He shook himself awake. Scratching out would not do it, alas - Sophie's mother sure to smoke it at once. With almost indescribable weariness, he took out a fresh sheet of copper pressed paper . Copper - bronze, how he hoped that Sophie would give the enterprising Mr Critchley free rein - background in the Birmingham steel industry invaluable - must mention it, mention it without _undue _ emphasis.

But even this thought could not soothe his navigator's troubled breast. That he and the Master, Mr Trinque, should be possibly 45 degrees, no, no, _minutes_, out in their calculations was worrying. And today it had been once again too overcast to take the noon sighting. He began re-reading the log of the preceding week as if the exercise would transform the familiar words swimming before him on the paper:

'Sat, 7th February . Choppy cross seas and a 30 foot swell. Great noise of thunder from the SSE at 2 bells in the morning watch. Lightning and heavy cloud. Many sea birds observed dropping from the skies. Yeoman of the sheets reported similar conditions prevailing during eruption of Mt Pinitubo . Foresail topsail holed and mizzen shrouds severed by falling rocks. All hands on deck and at 5 bells in the afternoon watch, wind suddenly backing due West at 40 knots, changed course for the Luzon Strait, making 7 knots under reefed mainsail topsail...'

The bald prose could not attempt to convey the terror in Skinner's eyes as he had asked permission to advance to the windward side of the quarterdeck. Nor could this or the succeeding entries give any real notion of the dread in running before the wind in inpenetrable murk for days on end and under a rain of sharp pumicestone with never a sight of sun, stars or land. Jack yawned and remembered the air that had choked a man with his every breath and the horrifying overabundance of strange, dead things floating belly up in the sea.

There had, in truth, been no need for bleeding. The blood had flowed copiously enough as the pumice attacked their flesh. Now Jack's head drooped again and Killick, watchful at the cabin door, saw it fall at last to the table. Good. He would put the Captain, already half naked, into his nice clean cot and get to work on this nasty ash. He called the Marine to give him a hand there and hissed a rebuke at Stephen who had walked in, a slice of fruitcake in hand, from his rabbits to announce that surely to God he would now be told when to expect his rendezvous, his _long-delayed_ rendezvous with

[shw] the Recreation Vessel Rose, which was to take him for his long-overdue holiday to Babuyan and Dalupiri Islands, where he had highest hopes of seeing the noble Palawan peacock pheasant, and possibly even the Mindoro imperial pigeon, what joy! Was it possible, did he dare dream of a glimpse of the Cebu black shama? But no, he mustn't think on it, it would never do to allow himself disappointment. Rev. Martin had told him there was a possibility of seeing a Faulted anticline in that area, as well, but Stephen was not familiar with the species, and thought there must be some error. The Mindoro imperial pigeon! His heart gladdened within him.

Stephen turned his attention to Jack Aubrey. Between cavernous snores, Jack was murmuring disjointedly in his sleep, "Ocean, who is the source of all;" and "not if I had a voice unwearying and a heart of bronze were in me." Stephen knew well that Jack was pre-occupied with his bronze mines, but stoically refrained from mentioning to Jack that the poet he quoted so frequently, yet even in his dreams, was the same that Jack denounced as "not much of a seaman."

He checked Jack's temperature, blood pressure, cholesterol level, palpated his belly, and drew blood for some additional tests, and silently slipped out so as not to disturb the sleeping, snoring Captain. "Mr. Bonden, can you tell me where we are?" he asked mildly. "Why, we're at sea, your honor," Barrett Bonden replied happily. "We've been sailing for several weeks now. Ha'nt you noticed that there aren't any tall buildings within sight?" Bonden knew well that there was not much use in giving the doctor any further locational specificity; it would only encourage him to ask geographical questions entirely out of his ken. He drew a book from his back pocket, and read to the doctor as he carried him aloft: "Facts which at first seem improbable will, even on scant explanation, drop the cloak which has hidden them and stand forth in naked and simple beauty."

"Sail ho!" cried the lookout, and Jack Aubrey was instantly on deck, fully awake, completely dressed, his heavy double-gilt epaulettes gleaming under the fresh coat of shellac Killick had applied while he slept, his boots gleaming, the red ribbon of the Bath dangling precisely across his brawny chest. Only the chartreuse sleeping cap adorned with Superman action figures, which he had neglected to remove, betrayed that he had not been on-deck for over an hour.

"Three masts!" cried Stephen in his excitement at seeing a boat. "It must be what you call 'a four-master!'"

"'Tis Rose, sir," reported Babski from the tops.

"Ask if she's carrying any wine to spare," hollered Aubrey without benefit of his speaking trumpet. Privately he muttered to Stephen, "We're down to 54 doz Old Red Port, 60 doz Vidonia, 10 doz Claret, 2 pipes of Madeira, and 4 hogshead Red Port; and I'd hoped to invite Zimmermann to dine with us today."

"Captain!" hailed Babski - "she's flying three dozen pillowcases and fourteen orange polo shirts with shamrocks on the pockets, and

[shw redux] a lovely blue dress, and . . ."

Stephen was on his way to the tops instantly he heard that last, Bonden hastening to belay him, hoist him, place his feet, re-place his feet.

"A signal," reported Babski. "It says, 'R U T-H-E B-R-E-A-D questionmark.'" He read it again, spelling it once again. 'R U T-H-E B-R-E-A-D questionmark.'"

Stephen's heart sang within him. He couldn't see the deck of the Rose without his glass, which he had broken, without Jack's glass, which Stephen had also broken, but he sensed without looking. Joy rose in his heart. The men swore he was grinning like an ape.

The ships closed with each other. No bosun's chair was needed - Diana sprang nimbly up the ladder, timing the roll perfectly.

"Diana, my love, have you come to this place?" he beamed.

"Oh, Stephen my love, is it you?" she replied.

They talked into the night, non-stop chatter, oft-times meaningless, but fraught with meaning to each other. "It is time for your vacation," she murmured. "You must come with me to Babuyan and Dalupiri, for a well-deserved rest. We've been promised until at least March 3, perhaps a fortnight longer! You must come to my bed: and you are not to leave it except for to see the Palawan peacock pheasant, the Faulted anticline (is that a bird, Stephen? You must tell me, you know I am not expert in the birds): the Mindoro imperial pigeon, the Cebu black shama, which I'm told sits on a nest of eggs. Oh, Stephen, I am SO pleased to see you at last."


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