Jack was comfortably installed in the quarter gallery with a
cup of grog and a letter from Dr Skinner, Professor of Mathematical
Husbandry at the University of West Doggerland, an ivy-covered
brownstone red-brick institution on (and, depending on the weather,
sometimes off) the shores of the North Sea. Jack had much admired
her presentation to the Royal Society titled Some Influences of
Nutations on Mutations. She in turn knew of Jack's astronomical
writings and Stephen's papers on natural philosophy, and they
maintained an amiable academic correspondence.
This letter though was something of a puzzle. It was
addressed to Captain Jno. Aubrey, Esq, but intended for Stephen:
"Please pass on to Maturin at the very first opportunity." (This
quarter gallery was really too gloomy for comfortable reading, and
the professor's handwriting... was that word 'Docking'? And
'eels'... no, 'all eels'.) The remaining sheets were covered in
some sort of code, from which only a few scattered words made any
sense to Jack:
TACT ... GAG AT ACT ... TAG A GAGA CAT
What on Earth could have a cat have to say to eels?
"I am sure that she will explain," replied Stephen, looking
gravely at his coffee. They were sitting in the White Horse, a
rambling inn located at the end of the High St.
Just then, a short, plump, pale woman of a certain age
approached their table and peered through her glasses at Stephen.
"Maturin!" she cried happily.
Time passed: quickly for Dr Skinner and Stephen,
interminably for Jack. His mind wandered as they bandied terms
that meant nothing to him or made no sense. Blending theory quite
exploded? Base pairs, incomplete penetrance and codominance?
These last did not sound quite respectable phrases for a lady to
use. His companions sounded impossibly advanced; they were really
ahead of their time.
"Jack, Jack!" called Stephen. "I am afraid that you do not quite attend. The professor was saying that we meet in Dorking because
Base pair... snips... Jack dimly felt the presence of
a prime jest that might be flashed out at a Gunroom dinner. Stephen
would be amazed, dished, taken aback.
Back at the White Horse, Stephen consulted his new
anachronometer, an advanced timepiece of surpassing beauty with an
unfortunate tendency to run far ahead of its time. 'Goodness. We
had best be gone.'
Dr Skinner urged them to take the Deepdene Road, wherein a
rare and prodigious fowl of interest to natural philosophy was to
be found, unique in its... size? Number of toes? Composition of its
feathers? Jack did not fully attend to his friends' detailed
explanation, but sensed that during his reverie they had come to
some agreement of a scientific or confidential nature.
'Friend Jack, I wonder if Surprise might have cause
to visit the North Sea in our near future...'
* * *
'Nice doggie,' said Wilson.
'Come, boy,' said Stephen. 'Be fearless, confident. Place
the swab inside the creature's cheek and swirl it firmly about,
just like that implement which the sailors so expertly belay about
the, err, ropework and like-minded contrivances. The wolf is a
beast of the pack, a follower of the strong and the sure. Has not
Captain Aubrey told me many a time of the boldness of the British
midshipman, unparalleled among all the seafaring nations?
Or did I mistake his meaning? Perhaps the bravest young
mariners are to be found on vessels under the flag of Spain, or the
Dutch, or (whispered) France? Sure, Baker would not be so
shy. Baker would risk all to advance natural philosophy...'
Stephen had been doing rather well but this last sally was
an unhappy one. Baker was a beautifully absurd young topwoman who
had consulted Stephen about her morbid fear of ducks. Diagnosing a
likely disease of the mind, Doctor Maturin's initial prescription
was for the wearing of duck trousers at all hours and in all
weathers. When this resulted in a livid rash from ankles to
waistband, Stephen next reasoned that repeated exposure to a
creature with the mildest possible resemblance to a duck might
sensibly diminish the bodily reaction from Baker's philosophical
humours, and she had thus been persuaded, with the utmost
reluctance, to cuddle Stephen's pet ornithorhynchus.
Wilson had been one of the rapt onlookers crowded into the
cockpit as Baker sat on a sea-chest with the animal perched on his
lap. He watched as they regarded the other with a sober reserve,
blinking occasionally, until after some minutes she slowly extended
a hand to stroke Billy McBillface. He witnessed Baker's agonized
shriek as a pair of venomous spurs sank into the partially healed
flesh above her right knee.
At first Baker had demonstrated mild platykurtic symptoms
before seeming to recover from the near-fatal sting, but the
syndrome had since developed into full-blown kurtosis. Wilson
reflected on this as he and the wolf regarded each other across the
Just then came the unmistakeable budda budda budda of a Heligoland Wolf-Biter in flight. 'Heligopter lupodontus, what joy!' Stephen cried, and ran toward the sound. The wolf disappeared into the undergrowth. Wilson fled to the boat.
"No, nor I from the Heligoland Wolf-Biter."
"Have you thought about asking Joe Acheulean to collect them
"A strange name. Is he French?"
"Not at all; I think he is from Dorking. Strongest man
aboard. His long arms are monstrous useful about the rigging.
Though he puts the barber to a bit of extra trouble, what with
keeping his back and shoulders trim."
Joe was duly called and shown into the cabin. He knuckled
that sloping suface which took the place of a forehead and then let
his hands hang limply by his side, disconcertingly near the deck.
"My goodness!" cried Stephen, with amazement and delight. "He is
Thank you, Captain. Professor Skinner, take firm hold of a
backstay (never mind the black looks from the mariners) for I must
tell you that which will make your hair stand like quills upon the
fretful porpentine. My anachronometer agrees with the captain's
chronometer as to our longitude but .... it is just as I
suspected.This is a new sort of timepiece that can run far back in
time as well as far forward. My calculations currently place us by
the Rhine as,swollen with flood waters from the valley of the
Neander, it irrigates the Doggerland of fable, of the long-armed
hairy giants who were on the Earth in those, errr these, days, of
the prodigious flying lizard of Heligoland with its feathers(!) and
improbable number of toes...
The shore party lined up in fairly seamanlike order, swaying
slightly: eleven hands chosen for their cool head under fire or
wrestling ability, each holding up a cotton bud, an imitation in
miniature of a Marine company presenting arms; the twelfth, Joe
Acheulean, frowning at a spar-sized mop clenched in his enormous
'You have your orders, men. Strictly as the Professor
The inspection being complete, Captain Aubrey watched as the
party were rowed to the beach and dispersed through the tree line.
Noises were heard: guttural hooting; a high-pitched scream;
a frequent thud as of a holystone being dropped to the deck from
The setting of the sun brought the return of the expedition
and Bonden's report.
'Beggin' parm, captain, wish to report ten samples
collected, one compromised due to transmission of exogenous distal
metacarpal material.' (Here Faster Doudle sadly held up a bandaged
hand.) 'Further research is needed. Thank'ee sir.'
'Very well,' said Jack. 'Tom, lay in a course for our own
time. We must return these samples with Prof S back to West Dogg U.
There is not a moment to be lost.'
"That would explain their liking for undercooked steak,"
said Jack, prodding at his mournfully with his fork.
"And the local predilection for subterranean caverns or
delves," added Stephen. "The town is perfectly riddled with caves,
all inhabited. Often having rudimentary paintings on their walls."
"Don't you see?" asked the professor. "With a phenotype of
extended brachia, prodigious strength and a tendency to
unthinkingly obey orders, they are ideally suited to a life at
"Why," said Jack,
Jack and Stephen bowed and she took her leave, pausing only
to pay a call on the ship's Cornish armorer. Polduck was a former
miner and smuggler, and a much admired Yokel in amateur theatrical
productions, but it was his reputation as a master metallurgist and
electroplater that led Dr Skinner to him.
Polduck completed a delicate repair on the barky's number
two pasty crimper and then paused while he considered her unusual
request. "Ooh err, aye, it could be done." She thanked the
Cornishman and arranged to meet him in Dorking at the new moon at
The New Moon, which, confusingly, was the name of an inn on the
Much later, as Bonden rowed her to shore, she turned to the Caves and Delves section of the Dorking Tourist Guide and gravely thumbed through the listings.
The new patroness and number one ticket holder of the
Dorking Roosters Rugby Football Club gently placed teacup on saucer
and leaned back with a satisfied smile.
"All in all a satisfactory conclusion, I believe WHAT THE
DEVIL ARE YOU THINKING, REF! ... err, with housing congenial to
their tastes and OFFSIDE! ARE YOU BLIND?! ... and the game
of course as a healthy outlet for their, umm, high spirits."
She gazed down happily as an opposition player tried not
very successfully to hide underneath a torn section of the club
banner displaying the name and slogan of their major sponsor:
DOGGER BANK LLC
"You sir! Have you been fowled? I say, have you been
The witticism was met with raucous approval in the packed
members' stand below. Dr Skinner was a great favourite of the fans,
having authored the club's progress from laughingstock of the
competition to unstoppable force. Her masterstroke was the
recruitment of a forward pack whose combined weight exceeded that
of one of the smaller cathedrals. A melee at the far end of the
pitch turned out to this very pack, anchored by Joe Acheulean, as
they furrowed the other team over the line for yet another try.
Tiring of the one-sided contest, Captain Aubrey returned to
an earlier theme.
"... prodigious curious sight, as I say. Some of your local poultry, excess of toes but nothing wrong with that, scratching around the crossroads, perfectly normal for chickens, and in amongst them a giant silver specimen, wings, feathers and all, shining as if Killick had been at it watch on watch with powdered chalk and shammy leather. It was as if their heathen idol had come down from heaven and set up court among 'em..."
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