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The Frigate of the Apes

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An epistolary round. The rules stated that each episode should be in the form of a letter to another character, making clear from the salutation and the signature from and to whom the letter was sent. Each player could write one letter only from each character during the game, either introducing a new character or taking over one from another player's earlier move.

, at sea

Sophie, dearest

We have just come through a most prodigious blow. It would have made your heart race to see the ship riding the great waves, our canvas reduced to a mere scrap scarcely larger than your handkerchief, the spray dashing high as our bowsprit speared the green waters. But I must confess to you, my sweetheart, that the storm did not do what I might wish — to bring the men and their officers together into again being a true ship's crew. None, I should think, would ever say that I am not a perceptive man, but I cannot fathom what lies at the heart of this strange humor which has reigned ever since we sailed. I have hinted artfully to Stephen about the matter — he can be ever so close-mouthed and thin-skinned if he feels he is being asked to play the informer against anyone — but he is a perfect sphinx on the subject. Perhaps the women aboard lie at the heart of it. You know that I cannot abide a female at sea — yourself always excepted, my dear — what with their flirtatious ways of inflaming a man and using fresh water, but I cannot see how THIS collection of women could possibly excite even a —

But I must close now, my darling, for there is a sail in sight, an Indiaman almost certainly, and I shall send this letter to you by her.

Your ever affectionate Jack

...Martin and I are becoming sorely vexed as to how to get our apes to attend to their alphabet at all now. Some untoward behaviour of the ink pot during our recent bad weather may have rendered my earlier experimental observations indecipherable to you but do not distress yourself, acushla, for I have kept most careful records which are lowered down to the hold nightly in a damp-proof leaden box and you shall have the opportunity of reading them all when there are no more of these salt, salt leagues between us.

This was not the same tempest during which the creatures escaped the orlop, which is what we call the lowest deck of the ship, and endeared themselves to many of the crew by what means my colleague and I are puzzled to apprehend as they are as froward a set of apes as I have ever known and cheat most blatantly at the nightly games of chance with the poor mariners who

My dear, Jack has just asked me to send you his kindest wishes and hopes the damp coursing may have been finished before the winter. It appears that we are within hailing distance of a vast, commodious Indiaman – a vessel peculiarly adapted to transporting seven female apes directly to East India Dock in the most perfect comfort. You will excuse my abruptness, I know, for I am to arrange for their consignment and provisioning – Jack is being most pressing, almost officious on the subject. He assures me that, should you have difficulties in accommodating the full complement of apes, Sophie would be only too happy to put some of them up in the small parlour.

And so, dear heart , I find I must stop a clapper over this journal but only for the little while till I have the leisure once again to withdraw into that part of my mind which is always yours.

The Admiralty

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[Unencrypted version]
I am sending this note by the most urgent method available namely Captain Dundas' Frigate HMS Trollop. He has been given to understand from Melville that he must deliver it with the utmost expediency, to be in all ways a mail packet shunning other vessels entirely.
A crisis has arisen my friend that may put you in extreme danger. Sources close to Wray and Leward have smuggled on board Surprise a French secret weapon of great potency. Mr Poe of the Foreign Office has heard it referred to only by the dreadful name "La Rue Morgue". We have no idea what shape this threat takes Stephen but you are in mortal danger and must be wary. Additionally I am aggrieved to tell you but the Admiralty Board has decided that in no manner must this weapon be allowed to reach England. Captain Aubrey must be informed that until the weapon has been identified Admiral Harte's Channel Squadron has been ordered to sink and destroy Surprise if she enters British waters. You are also authorised to brief Captain Dundas since successful delivery of this note means HMS Trollop will now act exclusively as our only method of communication with you and Aubrey.


The following letter (which smelt terribly of vinegar and half eaten by rats) was retrieved from an East Indiaman re-captured by HMS Trollop.

It was a great relief to those who remain that Mr Mowett has informed us that in view of the situation the Captain has decided to change course for Port Batrinque in Batavia. With God's grace we will be able to land our sick there, and replenish our empty medicine chest. I have spent the night preparing placebos, for that is all we have left.

I had always thought the Captain was making game of me when he commented upon the uncanny resemblance between our midshipmen and baboons. Maturin remains steadfast that it was not our noble experiments with the apes and baboons that caused this unholy outbreak. The orlop deck has been abandoned and the crew have heard strange unearthly noises coming from the cable tiers. Some say there be a Jonah aboard, others giant Sumatran rats, and even ghosts. By way of recompense, I requested Maturin to remind Captain Aubrey that my sacred services including that of exorcism were at his disposal. Maturin said that he would put my kind offer to the Captain later in the evening.

God willing we should reach Port Batrinque in two days or so, and I pray that I shall be spared. The Captain and Maturin remain towers of strength. "Nil desperandum!" says the Captain, but in this unhealthy and fractious atmosphere who knows what will happen. Maturin is utterly confident that we shall overcome, and we shall with the Lord's help. Forgive me, my sight fails and I am so very weary that I must rest.

God Bless,

Your affectionate husband,

Nathaniel Martin.

[bat] My dearest sweetheart

I write this in no sure knowledge of when it may be delivered to your hand. You have, I am certain, by now heard from Henage of our unfortunate situation. And until we can resolve that mystery, we shall be exiles from all that we love — exiles except in our dreams. I must tell you, sweetheart, that I had the most amazingly intense dream about you last night. Stephen tells me that he rarely dreams in colour, something I do not readily understand, because I cannot fathom dreaming in black-and-white as he professes he regularly does — it must be rather like thumbing through the engraved illustrations in The Naval Chronicle. My dream of you last night was in colour with full sound and inordinately thrilled senses — all of my senses: smell, touch, and taste. Oh, my darling, I hesitate to tell you the intimate details of that dream (except, remember our fortnight at Bath which led to our dear Georgie ...) but it was so, so prodigiously real that I awoke this morning with welts across my back just as if raised by the scrape of your fingernails as we ... well, you remember Bath. And, scarcely to be believed, I swear that the dream had actually left hairs upon my pillow — the fair red-blonde hair of my darling. And, strange to say, it seemed that you smelled and tasted of bananas. I remember how you enjoyed those bananas I brought back from our last voyage. You said they reminded you of ... but I blush to recall your words. Oh, that I may so dream again tonight!

Your devoted Jack


Here is the damndest thing. I should not like it to be generally spoken of in the service and I must trust to your discretion.

The Rev Mr Martin has performed an exorcism that went very well and all hands were deeply affected, for a member of the crew given up as lost in 5 degrees S was smoked out of the cable tiers during the ceremony. The unfortunate man has been, these many weeks, the captive of a parcel of flea-ridden apes including the six you so regret having encountered when retaking the Indiaman.

At first, he was happy to be the plaything of the ape leader, an uncommonly attractive example of its species and not unlike some of the hairier variety midshipmen if that is the sort of thing you like which I must say I never have quite understood. It appears that the creature took Awkward Davies for a male of its own kind and that a real attachment grew up between them and I am taking this into consideration while considering my verdict on him.

But I have to tell you, Hen, that it was not an honest ape, was rapacious in its appetites, and it led its companions and the crew into error and skin rashes which have been very resistant to treatment. I truly regret that you are required by me, as your senior officer, to convey it back to England with all speed, stopping for no one and avoiding the Channel Fleet. It is to be delivered with the attached note to Sir Joseph Blaine of Half Moon Street and I wish him joy of it.


Jno Aubrey, Captain, RN

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Joseph. We may confound Ledward, Wray and their masters sooner than we sought. The creature I am consigning to you is the veritable Rue Morgue. I awoke one night to find its head on my bosom and its fingers searching for the secret killing points in the throat known only to a few highly trained agents of Buonaparte. Fortunately, I was in time to reason with it in French and turn it into a double agent.

To obtain its full compliance, it may be necessary for you to accept into your household the seaman Davies.


PS Pray do not be induced to play Piquet with it.

An excerpt from one of the collected letters of Admiral Harte.
Compiled by Augustus Harte-Babbington 1863
Now held in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich

HMS Misanthrope The English Channel

My Dear Molly.

I hope you will excuse this unusual occurrence of a piece of correspondence between us, but I have to inform you that we will now no longer receive the promised bounty I mentioned during my last leave. A sore trial for me as the reward for saving Britain from this threat, (that I was given to believe was most monstrous), would most certainly have given me rewards beyond the money we both looked forward to.

I was also with much anticipation looking forward to the earning of these honours, but as usual it seems "Lucky" Jack Aubrey has lived up to his name and I will no longer have the pleasure of scuppering his career once and for all. Indeed it appears so worried was he about the affair that he contrived to turn Surprise into a veritable plague ship rife with Yellow Jack – a most suitable illness if you ask me. A situation that would have made my orders seem unsporting and taken some of the shine of what undoubtedly would have been a great achievement.....

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