[sdw] Jack Aubrey gazed along the uneven, rolling horizon. Orion and his blazing dog stood boldly before him; Jupiter was setting; a thin, green aurora played high behind him. The steady breeze made him grateful for his canvas overcoat and the broad collar turned up against the wind. He walked in to where Stephen sat near the little stove.
"There you are Stephen", he said, opening his writing desk and removing a thick bundle. "I think this will interest you. Now that we are at 50* we are to open our orders."
Stephen looked up from his notebook where he was recording the particulars of a bird new to him, possibly to science, a black and white crow-sized animal with an long, iridescent tail. He and the magpie watched Jack untie the tape on the oiled sailcloth cover, the ribbon around the oiled silk inner cover, and, casting a ritual eye at the black admiralty seal, open the paper wrapping within. He unfolded the contents and turned them to his lamp. He spoke as he read, his eager eyes running on ahead of his words.
"1 May, 1805. Lord, where has the time gone?" They both knew very well where the ten months had gone: the crossing, followed by interminable river travel, all upstream, and then riding, riding south to 50*, with no landmark but the sun and stars to guide them, quite like the sea; but Jack carried straight on: "...consult Dr Maturin on all questions of a political nature...yes, yes, in course...Mr Jefferson's party of western discovery...we will acquaint them with the crown's claim south to the 49th parallel...quite right...old Spanish claims be damned...parley with their leader, no, no it says leaders...two captains! D'ye hear there, Stephen? Their party has two captains! Well, well... Lewis and Clark. Pragmatical democratic Jacobins, no doubt."
"Tell me Jack, do your instructions tell us how we are to find this party, this somewhat hypothetical party, in such a vast, snowy waste?"
"Why, we simply keep our course due south to the Missouri River, and Bob's your uncle. A week's riding, no more. The great thing is to arrive there before they pass upstream. I have no notion of chasing them across America."
[srz] "Have you any clear idea that this Missouri River, as you call it, indeed lies south of the 49th parallel, now, rather than north, Jack? Any one of the streams we have crossed since leaving those stout fellows, the voyageurs, and turning south toward the sun, feeble though he may be at this season and in these latitudes, might well have been the object of our search, and we all unknowing. What do your instructions have to say on this point?"
Stephen found himself wondering why a bird with such gaudy black-and-white markings was to be found prancing about on the open prairie. Did it really have so little to fear that it made no attempt at camouflage? And such a foul disposition for one of God's innocent creatures; argumentative, scolding, meretricious, thieving, unlovely -- and persistent. Why, just this morning they had had to beat twenty or more of the miserable beasts away from their breakfast, of fresh-caught stream trout and the eggs of a curious, ground-loving, nondescript bird which reminded Stephen of nothing so much as a wild chicken of the prairie. Stephen had collected two or three of the nesting hens, and the eggs, while small, had been a welcome addition to their customary fare.
He caught himself out of his reverie and took up an earlier point. "Sure it is the belief of many that two heads are better than one, Jack my dear. Have you no notion of the possibility of a shared command, a covalent, cooperative partnership of equals?"
"Never in life, Stephen. For your 'two heads' I offer the equally apposite 'too many cooks spill the milk'. No, no; let me think on't, that's not quite right...at all events there have been precious few examples of a successful shared military command in my experience. None, in fact."
Stephen mused, "And not much better odds to be found in the institution of marriage, that awkward, unnatural state of man and woman said to..." Here Stephen noticed Jack's polite, too polite expression and changed course abruptly, "...but I need to speak to you of the political situation, Jack. Hear me, now, brother. We are not merely agents of the Admiralty in this matter; the King himself has taken an interest. I have this from the most reliable of sources.
"We are to put ourselves forward as a small outfit of natural philosophers, exploring of this rich new land, and should ostensibly chance upon the expedition led by the estimable Americans, Clark and Lewis, and join forces in the pursuit of knowledge. For Captain Lewis, Meriwether by given name, is a sound young man with a gift both for adventure and the acquisition of scientific knowledge. His early paper on the botanical aspects of the tobacco plant -- widely cultivated in his native Virginia -- and written at the precocious age of twelve, is a marvel. I have it from my colleagues in Philadelphia, Doctors Rush and Barton, with whom Lewis studied for a time, that his is a most remarkably keen scientific mind.
"In fact, I intend to engage Lewis in much useful and stimulating discussion of the specimens we have collected so far," Stephen continued; Jack was at some pains to hold his tongue regarding the entirely excessive burden placed already on Stephen's single pack animal, in the name of science. "However, our true political mission is, as you say, to steer the good Captains south should they seem anxious to press into the territory above the 49th parallel, that land having been ceded to the King by treaty in 1783. Mr. Jefferson has been heard to boast that his purchase of the Upper Louisiana from Buonaparte includes all the land draining to the Missouri, including even the most insignificant, northernmost tributary."
Bonden, ever watchful, coughed significantly and answered Jack's raised eyebrow by saying, quite low, "Not to alarm you, sir, but me and Mr. Trinque 'as 'ad our eye on summat odd, away off beneath that low grassy ridge to the south. I'll not warrant it yet, sir, but it looks for aught to be a band of savages dragging a 'ole tree behind a brace of mules."
Thirty long minutes later the odd band pulled into camp with their prize, the perfectly straight, fifty-foot trunk of a tree some twelve or fourteen inches in diameter at the butt, and lashed to the crude sledge to which two exhausted, undernourished mules were hitched. Leading a handsome piebald mount which he had been seen to ride barebacked, the apparent leader strode confidently to the place where Jack and Stephen stood; the others in the Admiralty party ranged about in defensive postures, on their guards with weapons at the ready.
The stranger spoke first, while his followers -- now observed to be no more than a filthily clad, black haired woman, clearly of native descent, carrying on her back a placid, fat-cheeked baby of indeterminate age, sex or race, and a scrawny youth of about eight years -- hung back; out of deference or timidity it was not possible to say.
"May I inquire as to your avowed purpose in passing this way, so rarely trod by your countrymen as to make your presence as much a curiosity as a five-legged goat? For I see you are Englishmen, and with a naval air about you, at that." He spoke with an indefinable, flat-voweled accent, perfectly strange to their ears, though perfectly intelligible. He stunned his audience into temporary speechlessness with his careful words and his aristocratic bearing, so at odds with his appearance. "I am called Wilson, come into the country some ten years ago to trap the beaver and hunt the buffalo..."
Stephen broke in with some little excitement plain in his voice, "The buffalo, good sir, do I hear you aright? You have seen the buffalo, bison bison, the marvelous great beast of these plains? Do you speak of one individual animal, I collect? No? Just so; for I have heard tales naming great herds of the beasts, so many as to constitute a vast living river of creation..."
Jack gave voice to the question hanging in the air since Wilson and his band had hove into sight. "What the Devil are you about, dragging that great tree from one side of this godforsaken landscape to the other? And where on earth did you come by it? We've seen nary a sapling large enough to make a decent flagpole since we arrived in this monotonous, endless ocean of grass and snow."
Wilson looked puzzled; then his brow cleared and he replied, "Well, sir, I am building a log edifice to house my family..." Here he gestured over his shoulder at the odd trio behind him. "...the first such edifice, may I say, to be found anywhere in these parts. We are hauling our materials, d'ye see, from the lower slopes of the great mountains to the south and west. Not much over a hundred mile from here," he added, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to travel such a distance and expend so much time and energy to acquire the trunk of a single tree. Jack's dubious look was all this astonishing statement earned him, and he hastened to offer by way of explanation, "There are, as you say, no trees of any size to be found nearby."
[pgb-w] "Basins? Basins? What's 'ee on about now?" Killick muttered to Bonden. "Which 'es got a basin, ain't he? An' 'e washes 'is 'ands every night, dirty or not, and 'oo's the poor bleeder what 'as to fill it for him? More bleeding basins 'round 'ere we dun't need".
"Killick, there!" Jack bellowed. "Coffee for Mr Wilson and the Doctor, and look lively now".
"Which is I to serve it in a bucket or a basin?"
"Stow that nonsense----what is he talking about Stephen?---and move it along" Jack retorted.
Presently coffee appeared, to Wilson's infinite delight. Gathering around the main fire outside the officers tent, the company warmed itself against the chill of the March winds, and listened to Wilson's story: of his Loyalist family's flight to Upper Canada after the American Revolution; their farming attempts in the mud of York town, that sullen settlement some way below the great cataracts of Niagara; the eldest son's unfortunate involvement in rebellion against the British Governor, Simcoe; the younger son's decision to seek fortune (and refuge) in the great northern wilderness. Tales were swapped by Jack and Stephen in return: their fine crossing of the Atlantic; the slow clawing up the St Lawrence to that same York; canoes into the north, where they were transported by the voyageurs of the NorthWest Company to the great Fort William; and thence the long, portage-filled, fly- and then frost-bitten journey through hundreds of miles of unforgiving scrubby pines and lakes to the edge of the plains. Wintering at Fort Rouge, they had ridden out to the west not four weeks earlier, and here they were, eager to move south to find Mr Jefferson's scientific (and deeply political) expedition.
"As to those people, they passed into the great mountains early last year", Wilson told them. "Now, they engaged a Frenchie to guide them---a fellow named Toussaint Charbonneau (I drank with him three years ago when I went---quietly, mind, for the name of Wilson still rouses Republican suspicion---into the Ohio country for a while). He thinks more of the bottle and the warm embrace of a woman than of his duties, by all accounts. Why, he bought two native women on the strength of his pay advance from Lewis, and they accompanied the expedition into the wilderness."
Damn slavery!" Jack sputtered.
"Less that, Captain" Wilson countered, "more an arrangement, don't you see? Benefits all round, really". Jack glanced at the native woman and her children, now stirring something in a pot on a subsidiary fire, and decided that pursuing the line might not be the wisest course.
"Well, this Charbonneau's elder woman is a Shoshone, speaks fair Mandan, Walla Walla, and Minnetaree, and some Lakota, and she's said to be a far better guide than her man. Sacagawea, her name"
"So many languages!" Stephen broke in. "Oh, how I yearn to explore the veritable Babel of the Native tongues. New philologies, untouched by European traits. And you, sir, what of them have you mastered?"
"Just the woodland Cree, which I got from a servant on my father's York farm; and a smattering of what you might call "love-Lakota" from her", he replied, chin jerking toward the native family.
The talk turned on and on, and finally to directions; to the probable course of the headwaters of the Missouri; to where Lewis and Clark might now be; to the Admiralty party's chances of catching up to them this summer. It was Wilson's opinion that straight on south for two weeks would find them in the Marias River country where he believed Lewis would be gathering yet more samples (Maturin's eyes glittered) for Mr Jefferson before leading the expedition south and east to the St Louis crossing of the Missouri.
"But it's a big country, Captain, and precious few way signs I can give you. You must trust to your navigation and Providence".
In the mist-laden air of morning, the travelers took their leave of each other. Wilson and his native companion and the pole continued east. Jack, Stephen, the Admiralty party and their packhorses striking south into the endless sea of grass, rising and falling in its great frozen waves, the company a line of ants beneath a vast sky.
[bab] After a chilly night of star gazing, Jefferson had slept in. Such dreams he had had: woolly mamoths, erupting volcanos, mountains of salt, giant ground sloths... ah, and the Great West Oregan River wide and green and smooth, pouring the commerce of a continent into the Pacific. He was quite the Ferdinand and Isabella! As the Irishman had said: Westward lies the etc... quite good really, for a Bishop.
He propelled himself from bed to armchair and from armchair to desk. Under the starcharts lay, as they often did, the old Spanish and French maps with all their thrilling white spaces and the rather more disturbing publication of Alexander Mackenzie. What that man could have accomplished in the cartographic line had he possessed an Arnold chronometer!
Coffee and the morning post. Was Wogan's information sound? Had she got the code wrong again? He smiled at the memory of her. A Captain Jack Aubrey, no, he could not recall the name. Goddammit! Maturin! The man was everywhere! And he possessed a pocket watch!
[gdf] Stephen Maturin also possessed an uncommonly fine and accurate Manton rifle together with a new fangled pistol which his London gunsmith had assured him would match anything that the colonials could design. Stephen had already potted several of the numerous black and white birds that plagued them so much. He and Bonden carried this much disliked dinner supplement back to Killick at the camp. It had been over a week since they had said goodbye to Trapper Wilson. The well spoken Trapper had given Stephen a beaver pelt which Bonden had sown up to make a passible warm hat. This gift was welcome as the cold snowy gusts had not let up, and the ground remained frozen. The camp was situated near a small stream, and was protected from worst of the sharp west winds by a small hill. It was for this hill that Captain Aubrey had stopped the day's march in order to have some daylight time to be able to set up his portable telescope upon a specially constructed tripod. Stephen was surprised to see Jack in the camp and not overseeing the mounting of his precious telescope.
'Well, what a haul you have there Stephen,' said Jack smiling, 'We will have a guest arriving shortly before dinner!'
'Have you discovered the whereabouts of Mr Lewis and Mr Clark's party?' asked Stephen.
'Alas no. I had just set up my telescope when I saw three un-escorted ponies heading east some way off, being pursued at a distance by a much bedraggled man. Mr Trinque is bringing the beasts in and I hope that their owner will follow in good time.'
It was much later than dinner when the unfortunate half-frozen man covered with cuts and bruises staggered into the camp. Stephen instantly saw that he was in no state to speak, and administered some medicinal brandy. Jack had already eaten and excused himself by saying it was imperative since there was a clear sky in order to better attempt an observation of the moons of Jupiter, so that the position of the party could be established. Stephen poked the fire back into life and struck up a conversation with the man. Stephen was curious to know about the contents of the ponies packs which consisted of many hammers and large chisels suitable for a mining venture. After the man had finished wolfing down his stew and given a cup of tea, (now that coffee was rationed to mornings only), Stephen gently posed his questions.
'Would it be true to say that you are a prospecter? asked Stephen.
'No, I am not. I am an artist. My name is Patrick Bramwell-Wesley. And may I thank you for such a welcome dinner. I haven't eaten for three days and nights since my native guide deserted me and the ponies bolted. I am no horseman.'
'Forgive my curiosity, but would you be heading south for the Missouri?' asked Stephen.
'No, I landed at Nootka Sound, crossed many mountains, and am bound for the Black Hills of Dakota where I have heard the great famous artist 'Black Dutch' Zimmermann resides, with that noble tribe the Chock-eyes. They have the most remarkable totem poles in the form of the great white horse god of the plains. May I have some more of that drink please?' asked the shivering man.
'I am originally from London, I had several exhibitions of my watercolours at the Royal Academy...' said the rapidly reviving Patrick. He coughed violently, and shuffled closer to the fire. Stephen threw some small sticks of wood upon the fire and poked it a bit more.
'No I am sorry not to have seen your works, perhaps when I am next in London...(terrible coughing)...Well rest easy. We have tethered your ponies and fed them,' said Stephen, 'Take this slime draught and sleep. Captain Aubrey will no doubt wish to speak to you in the morning, as he is presently occupied in some complex mathematical and astronomical manner.'
It was a clear moonlit night upon the frozen hill. It was a magnificent night for observing the celestial bodies. Jack noticed Stephen patiently waiting with a flask of hot tea. Jack left his calculations and walked about a little with Stephen, partly to keep warm and also to speak privately about the new arrival. Jack had some mis-givings.
'First this English tree dragger, and now an artist wandering around in this godforsaken frozen wilderness!' he mused quietly to Stephen, 'Something ain't right here, or I'm a Dutchman!'
[sdw] "I am entirely of your mind. How many nights did the Company men chill our bones with tales of the vast, empty desolation? And here we are, our supply of Naples biscuits nearly exhausted by visitors."
The continuous, deeply-pitched thunder contrasted strangely with the July sun blazing from a perfectly clear sky, a deep blue bowl. It shone full in the faces of Captain Aubrey, Lt Trinque and Mr Babbington as they stood abreast, facing south, with long-accustomed ease. The sun slowly climbed, climbed and then climbed no more. Its reflection in the quicksilver of the artificial horizon danced and shook like a thing possessed, but, while this might have disturbed an engineer, and certainly an astronomer, it posed no concern at all to sailors. "Noon if you please, sir," shouted Babbington to Trinque, as they all frantically whipped their sextants into silk pouches and then into their wooden cases; "Noon, sir," called Trinque to Jack. "Very good, Mr Trinque," said Jack, in a moderate topsail voice, but no one heard him above a particularly noisy crescendo in the screaming and bellowing. "I believe we may delay dinner until the dust settles. I shall just ask the Doctor how long we may be."
He climbed high up into the box of the wagon where Stephen stood, wearing a look of sheer idiot delight, his head turning this way and that in an effort to take in the enormity of the scene, an entirely useless effort.
"Wish me joy, Jack," he cried through the neckerchief pulled up over his mouth and nose, against the dust, and looking like a merrily intoxicated renegado. "I have longed to see this since our voyage was first planned. How gratifying. How very, very gratifying. Surely a mathematician such as yourself has some way of counting... a number would be of the utmost..." But here his voice was entirely eclipsed by the roar and thunder.
Jack's eye slowly traveled over the seething black mass of buffalo which had engulfed the party, stretching from horizon to horizon in the direction in their migration, and spreading for perhaps a half a league on either hand. They stepped slowly and deliberately, the enormous bulls snorting and stamping, screaming and roaring, apparently all in rut. The cows coyly busied themselves with grazing or tending the weanlings. Even up here on the sprung wagon, balanced on bundles of tents and clothes, Jack felt the earth steadily tremble under the assault of hundreds of thousands of the massive animals.
The crew were holding up well to the dust, the noise and the crowd. Mr Baker, an old Company hand engaged for his local knowledge, had the horses calmed and, being country horses, they were not much moved by the herd, anyway. Jack turned over the problem of estimation in his mind, but presently he fell to considering the news Baker has passed on from a band of Gros Ventres met earlier that morning. Another party of whites, fleeing a skirmish to the northwest, were less than a day's ride away. Surely this tumultuous river of beef, this hot black flood of buffalo, must end soon. With luck they could be meet them tomorrow.
[srz] One of the young Gros Ventre hunters had agreed to guide them to the confluence of the two great rivers, said to be so close by. As near as Jack could tell, the man's name was Great-Beast-of-the-Endless-Water; they had taken to calling him Behemoth for short. There was little enough to be done while they waited for the endless stream of buffalo to pass, the sun nearly done with his long day's trek through the perfect sky, but Behemoth had made it known through sign language that he intended to engage in a hunt among the stragglers. Jack was eager to join him, though his shortcomings as a horseman had been the cause of much mirth among the natives they had encountered.
"I wonder at their temerity in mocking us, Stephen. Surely they realize that our rifles make the issue of horsemanship moot when hunting the buffalo?"
"No doubt, Jack; but you are to consider what a...what an unusual figure you cut on horseback. To their eyes you must seem little more than a giant simpleton astride a horse, crashing about and bawling at your mount in that way."
Jack looked somewhat wounded and retired into silence. Stephen made an effort to learn what he could by observing Behemoth's preparations for the hunt, in what little shelter the lee of the wagon afforded from the river of buffalo which closed around it. "I do believe his ablutions are directed at appeasing the spirits of the great beasts he intends to slaughter," he mused. Briefly, he marveled at the man's hubris in preparing to bring down a buffalo from astride a galloping horse with no more than a primitive, hand-hewn bow and the puny arrows carried in an elk-skin quiver slung over his back; then the Indian grasped his horse's mane, swung up barebacked and was away in a flash, skirting the flank of the receding herd at a full gallop in a marvelous display of control and daring.
Jack, not one to dwell on a perceived slight, had recovered his generally cheerful disposition and stood beside Stephen and Baker as they watched Behemoth choose his prey -- a young cow, not quite full grown and somewhat hampered by a pronounced gaminess of her left rear leg. He maneuvered to cut her deftly from the herd and, hugging his mount with his knees, quickly put two arrows into her ribcage, the feathered shafts protruding, the points deep in the beast's heaving chest. He swung the excited horse clear of her thrashing head and watched as she labored, slowed and finally sank to her knees amidst the clouds of dust blowing back from the main herd as it receded to the west.
Behemoth wheeled his mount in close, deftly slit the beast's throat and waited for her to be still. Then he opened her mouth, cut out the tongue, and held it aloft for all to see, keening a tribute to his fallen adversary. Racing back to the wagon at top speed, he wheeled to a halt and held out the bloody mass to Jack, who accepted it gravely from the bed of the wagon and invited Behemoth to dine with them as his guest, "as soon as this damnable dust settles and we can gather enough wood to built a decent fire."
. . .
The next morning, July 28, they marveled at how thoroughly the great herd, which the day before had seemed so vast as to be endless, had disappeared. There was not a buffalo in sight, where the previous day they had covered the earth. Only a torn and denuded swath of prairie remained to show that they had been there at all, a seeming river leading westward until it, too, disappeared over the next, imperceptible rise.
Jack, the goal of their taxing, year-long journey so close at hand, was eager to be off, and for breakfast they each made do with a slab of porridge, eaten out of hand as they rode at a trot to the south. Stephen made them stop for a few minutes while he observed and wrote up his field notes on a bird new to science, a cheerful, mottled brown bird, robin-sized, with a yellow sweater and a black 'V' neck, and snowy white outer tail feathers. He had been enchanted on hearing the meadowlark's remarkable song, so distinctive and engaging. "Look, now, Jack, at the clever way his showy aspect can be turned to perfect camouflage when avoiding a predator. First, he plummets to the ground amidst the tall grass, turning his mottled back to the attacker and hiding his white tail-feathers; he scuttles away at ground level and, blending perfectly with his surroundings, seems to disappear. Is it not remarkable?"
"Quite so, Doctor, I am sure. But you are to observe that the sun is now quite high in the southeastern sky, and our quarry, if I may so characterize the estimable Captain Lewis and his party, are said to be making haste for the river, there to take to the water in canoes and that curious craft, the 'pi rogue'. If we don't get to the Missouri before they pass, I am afraid we haven't the slightest hope of catching them as they move down-river, with the current. There is not a moment to be lost."
They followed their guide down off the abrupt edge of the plain, itself bowling-green smooth and lushly carpeted with tall grass, down through the denuded ravines and fantastic sand-rock spires of broken ground in all possible shades of brown, toward the river. Or rivers, as it soon became clear. For before them was indeed the confluence of two sizeable rivers, the right-hand turbid and carrying a great deal of whitish-brown silt, the left swift and perfectly transparent and, at Jack's estimate nearly four hundred yards across, nearly half again as wide. To his intense satisfaction, they soon spied a group of some fifteen or sixteen men, working in great haste, scurrying between what appeared to be a recently opened cache of goods and supplies, and a group of canoes and a white pirogue ranged along the northern shore of the great river just below the point of its joining.
Presently, as they continued to move down the slope toward what they could only assume was a meeting with the expeditionary force of Captains Lewis and Clark, the alarm went up from one of the men below, and work halted. Jack motioned the others to wait, dismounted, and set out on foot with Stephen to meet a tall man dressed entirely in skins, who had detached himself from the others on shore and was striding purposefully toward them. He halted a few paces away, the pale white skin of his arms below his turned-up sleeves belying the leathery, sun-bronzed face and hands.
Jack spoke first. "Captain Lewis, I presume?"
[pb-w]"Mebbe, mebbe not," the tall man replied. He turned his head to one side to spit a stream of brown juice onto the grass. "Depends who's asking, don't it?"
"Sir," countered Jack, drawing himself up to look the skin-clad man straight in the eye, "I am Captain Aubrey of His Majesty's Royal Navy, and this, Sir, is Doctor Stephen Maturin, my ship's physician. Do we indeed have the honour of addressing Captain Meriwether Lewis?".
"Cap'n of a King's ship, eh? Hear that, boys?" Other members of the river party had moved closer to back up their apparent leader. "Georgie's Navy's come a-sailing in for to visit us."
Laughter, and some muttering about damned press-men being everywhere, greeted this sally.
Jack felt his temper rising. Had he paddled and tramped and ridden and shivered all this way to be treated in such a casual fashion. The Americans were not known to stand on ceremony, but this was not the welcome he had expected. Stephen watched the scarlet flush creep up the back of Jack's neck, and, judging his moment to a nicety, stepped smoothly forward.
"My dear Lewis, I am not only honoured, but humbled to meet the author of what all consider the finest extant treatise on the tobacco plant of Virginia. Why, sir, a simple student of natural philosophy such as I can only marvel at what treasures you may have garnered for the world of science on your expedition. Pray, sir, I have observed a curious bird----"
Stephen broke off, for, to his surprise, the tall man had abruptly turned and moved off back down to the river. His followers drew around him, and an urgent conference was clearly under way.
"Stephen----what in the devil's name is going on? I'd have thought that despite the political differences there may be, two parties of white men meeting in the wilderness might observe at least the elementary courtesies"
"Indeed you may have expected such, and I am deeply puzzled. The Lewis we seek may be an American, but he is of an old family and well-educated. This parody of coarseness is most troubling. Something is not right, Jack, not right at all"
The tall man was striding back up the hill toward them, his consultation seemingly concluded. Jack surreptitiously moved his hand toward the butt of the loaded pistol tucked in his belt.
When "Lewis" spoke again, it was in a very different voice, the manner was no longer radical and untutored, but aristocratic and educated.
"Captain Aubrey, forgive me, my companions and I have deceived you, but only, I hasten to add, for the best of motives and in self-defense. I am, good sir, the Count Josef Velkronsky, of His Imperial Majesty Paul's Distant Exploration Service." In so far as he could in hide boots, the tall man clicked his heels and gave a short bow.
Jack was rigid with surprise: a Russian? A Russian Expedition, not Lewis? Not Jefferson's Men?
Maturin's supple mind was already digesting the ramifications of this incredible introduction: the Russians were in the Louisiana Purchase---must have moved south from Alaska--journey of more than a year----were the Russians looking to expand into the undefended great plains they had traveled?---the Americans couldn't hold them----an alliance between Buonaparte and the Tsar's successor (for Velkronsky must naturally be ignorant of Tsar Paul's dreadful end last year) to take back the Purchase?---an unholy alliance of Lower Canada and the Russians to squeeze the British from Upper Canada, or at least contain their westward pressure?----would the Americans co-operate with the English to forestall any such Franco-Russian ambition? The terrible possibilities hummed in Stephen's mind. Here on the banks of the great river, here beneath a virgin sky, far, far from the close and corrupt capitals of Europe, was perhaps the most delicate problem he had been presented with in his many years of covert political work. A great game, indeed, with the very future of the Americas, and indeed the world at stake.
"We have many things to speak of, Count Velkronsky, many things", Stephen said. "Captain Aubrey and I would welcome you and your officers at dinner in an hour or so, shall we say? Yes? So kind, good, good. Come Captain, we must prepare for our guests."
With that, he hustled the sputtering, but fortunately yet still speechless, Jack away and back up the slope toward the Admiralty party. There was much to be done. Where was Lewis? If the guides had been truthful, his party could not be more than a mile or so away, either up or down the river. A meeting between the Russians and Lewis must be avoided at all costs.
[bab] There was only one man who possessed that rare combination of local knowledge, towering intellect and physical presence so vital if Lewis was to be intercepted and then induced to accept the notion of a second, nay, even a third exploratory expedition within a biscuit's toss of him - but where was Baker?
The Great Plainsman could have been found in a convenient dip in the ground, out of the wind's way, for he had graciously acceded to the pleas of the Indian hunter, Behemoth, to prepare a vast delicious range of dishes - ragout de buffalo, buffalo en croute, buffalo farci de porridge - a spread fit for a prince.
Fit, in fact, for the recently arrived Alexander Philipp Maximilian, Prinz zu Wied-Neuwied, the Prussian naturalist and ethnologist who had immediately engaged in the most intense wrangling with the artist Bramwell-Wesley whose fee for recording the landscapes and peoples of the Great Plains had been a reckless estimate of the amount required to keep him and 'Black Dutch' Zimmermann in whisky for the rest of their lives.
Maximilian and his party had descended on the Admiralty party from a North Westerly direction just as his old University comrade, the Prussian naturalist and polymath Friedrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt, had appeared with ten men and two bullock teams from the South West. One thought now obsessed them both: was Baker being too sparing with the salt?
[gdf] In retrospect Jack Aubrey was glad of delay caused by Stephen's dinner invitation to the other foreign parties. Killick was at turns delighted to be able to show off the Captain's silver plates, and at turns irritated at having to carry this valuable cargo silver, carefully preserved wines and freshly slaughtered buffalo steaks across to the west bank of the river, as it had been decided that the dinner was to be held there so as to honour the foreign parties. All this was to be overseen by Mr Babbington, because Jack wanted to speak with his native allies about discreeting putting out scouts in order to intercept the Americans before the Russians, Prussians or anybody else. As it was midday the Indians were out chasing buffalo and hunting and nobody knew where they were. So Jack returned to the camp and decided to amuse himself with an observation to take his mind off the dangers involved in the diplomatic discussions to come later in the evening.
Stephen had taken advantage of the warm summer's day and gone botanising along the river bank in order to find some peace and quiet, in which to plan how to outwit the new arrivals. After a short time Stephen, having abandoned himself totally to the natural philosophical pleasures of botanising, noticed an uncommon fine large Wenger toad. Stephen couldn't quite get near this marvel of the Missouri valley. He launched the little round Irish coracle that Padeen and Bonden had built from the mighty buffalo skins slain by the great hunter Behemoth. Stephen used all the quite stealth he could in attempting to close in upon the Wenger toad, but alas the toad burped and dived into a pool of water. Stephen softly cursed his luck, and tried to propel himself back to the river bank. Some underwater object had snagged the coracle and it had sprung a small leak. 'No matter,' thought Stephen, as he tried to reverse out of the underwater obstacle by paddling furiously. The obstacle gave up the struggle, but Stephen and the leaking coracle shot out into mainstream of the river channel. The current quickly established a grip upon the coracle and started to push it remorselessly and effortlessly downstream. Realising his predicament, Stephen stood up and tried to hail the shore without success, but this only agitated the coracle and nearly capsized it. Stephen quickly sat down to try and counter balence the awkward vessel, but in doing so he managed to loose his only paddle. To his horror, Stephen noticed that the coracle was taking in more water. He tried in vain to plug the leak with his beaver's pelt hat to liitle avail. As the coracle was swept downstream and far away from the camp, it started to rotate in a most shocking and disconcerting fashion. Stephen found himself becoming dizzy with the peculiar motions of the coracle. Even worse, he watched the slow trickle of water into the coracle with an ever increasing sense of despair. Stephen recognised that he must attempt to do something before the river drowned him and the coracle. He leant over the side and tried with both arms to make a rudder with which to try to steer the clumsy coracle closer to the shore. This action didn't have much effect because of the river's strength. Stephen sat contemplating his doom when another disaster struck! Some half submerged tree branch hit the coracle and capsized it, throwing Stephen into the river. In a desperate effort made from fear of drowning, Stephen lashed out and managed to hold onto the upturned coracle which had been rammed by the tree branch. Stephen had had near drowning experiences before now, and he well understood the fear that gripped his mind as he struggled to retain a hold on life and the wreck of the coracle. Fortunately the branch remained stuck into the coracle and gave Stephen an improvised floating, but half submerged raft. After some time the river dis-gorged itself of the remains of the raft and Stephen, by throwing them into a reed bank alongside the river bank proper. Upon seeing dry land so close, Stephen let go his raft and almost lost it as the mud clutched at his legs, threatening to drag him down into its cool and clammy embrace. Stephen managed to haul himself back on to his raft, but this effort robbed him of all his energy and he lay there waiting for whatever fate would bring.
It was late afternoon when Stephen awoke to the sound of something foraging on the river bank. Not caring whether it was man or animal, peaceful or hostile, Stephen croaked out a harsh sounding cry for help. He had almost given up all hope of rescue when something huge and hairy plunged into the reed bed and surfaced next to him and licked his face! To Stephen's great surprise it was a Newfoundland dog. 'What on earth was such a beast doing here?' thought Stephen to himself. The dog seemed happy enough and started to bark. Soon Stephen noticed some people on the river bank. Upon recognising a white man in distress, they told the dog to remain alongside Stephen until a rope could be thrown to him. Thus it was that Stephen with a distinct lack of ceremony was dragged to safety through a muddy reedbed to the bank. To his rescuers he looked like a half-drowned and mudcovered watervole. Somehow Stephen tried to make himself presentable. The rescuers were American without a doubt!
Sometime later in front of the American camp fire, Captain Jack Aubrey, Behemoth, the Gros Ventre Indian, (who had both arrived later in search of the missing Doctor,) were being entertained in an excellent manner by their host Captain Lewis. Lewis expressed a desire to compare notes with Dr Maturin, and said, most kindly, that Mr Clark would no doubt wish the same were he present. Jack was particularly glad of some coffee and Captain Lewis's generous promise to trade some when the two American groups eventually found each other. Stephen was stroking the wet nosed 'Seaman,' who was Captain Lewis's Newfoundland dog and Stephen's saviour. Jack now presented the beaverskin hat which had shown them the way to Stephen's whereabouts and led to the fortunate meeting with a part of the American expedition commanded by Captain Lewis, himself.
'Well Stephen, here is your beaverskin hat. It was our sole clue of where you came ashore. You should keep it safe as Mr Behemoth thinks it a very lucky charm!' said Jack, 'Mr Behemoth had to do a fair bit of sniffing trails and the like you know.'
'And so it is. I shall be glad to have it back...my lucky beaver skin hat' replied Stephen, before he was cruelly interupted by the sight of a bloody Barret Bonden being forced marched into the small camp. One of the Americans came up to Captain Lewis to inform him of their discovery.
'Captain Lewis' said Jack respectfully, 'That man is my coxswain and I'd trouble you to treat him kindly.'
'I'm sorry Captain Aubrey, but you are much mistaken,' said Captain Lewis,'His injuries are nothing do with us! You had better hear him out yourself!' The American signaled for Bonden to be brought to the fireside.
'Great Scot!' cried Jack, 'What has happened to you?'
'Barret Bonden, how come you here with such wounds?' asked Stephen.
'Mr Trinque's compliments, Sir!' said Bonden as he saluted Jack, 'Some Indians attacked the foreign parties camps, sir. All dead or captured, sir. Mr Trinque says Mr Babbington and Killick have also been taken captive, sir. Them Black Teeth Indians have got 'em, sir. Mr Behemoth's friends said something about a religious site known as Rattlesnake cliffs, sir,' Bonden lowered his voice confidentially and added that, 'Mr Killick managed to save the silver plates by throwing them in the river, sir.'
Jack Aubrey thanked Bonden and told Stephen to dress Bonden's wounds. Captain Lewis sat quietly by the fire and carefully watched the Royal Navy Captain's mental deliberations. Jack spoke to Behemoth whose eyes lit up and started patting his tomahawk and smiling at the thought of bloodshed to come. Finally Jack turned to Captain Lewis.
'Captain Lewis, I believe that you have had much experience of these Indians and their warlike practices. If you should so choose to honour us with some advice in this matter, I would be uncommonly grateful to you.' said Jack in a respectful tone of voice.
The American Captain slowly and deeply puffed on his pipe and then watched the smoke curl upwards into the night air. He looked thoughtfully at Jack, Stephen, Bonden and Behemoth, and stood up as if ready to give his opinion...
[sdw] Stephen and Jack sat companionably in the tent, hot grog to hand, candles glowing, and their pens scratching. Outside the coyotes yipped and barked, perhaps encouraged by Baker's fiddle. He and he seamen were exchanging country tunes and navy songs. Stephen pressed the wax still deeper into his ears and continued writing:
...strange indeed that the natives were so willing to give up Killick, once they had made his aquaintance. Strange, too, Clark's whispered reference to Louisa  --  perhaps an American army endearment. Stranger still, the convergence in this theoretically empty vastness of travellers from every nation: Russians, Pussians, Americans, English; no Dyaks, however. And no danger of American hegemony; Mr Jefferson will clearly have his hands full with so many competing claims. And so no point in us staying any longer. And strangest of all, as we turned north, the apparition of the horsewoman, straight and dark on the far golden rolling hills, almost as if Diana herself had appeared. Her laughter was not Diana's, however; floating clear across the distance, amused, so amused that both Bonden and I chuckled aloud; and it had a fine triumphant ring.
|about us | current game | archive | home|