[bab] Several cable lengths outside the wicked, circumambient reef, the Surprise was heaved up by the scend of the sea. Jack, in the main crosstrees, now had the entire leeward or Western shore of the great limestone rock in view but there was no encouraging break in the coral, no friendly cloud hanging over the menacing cliffs that marched in step with the coast. Cook had merely recorded the existence of this apparently unihabited atoll without attempting to land. Yet it was essential that all the Surprise's boats investigate the reef for openings while he himself scan for a sandy cove or landing place.
[js] The cove lay stretched before them at last, the sand a pure and dazzling white, dotted with coconut palms, those indefatigable travellers of the oceans. The reef ringing the bay had formed a natural breakwater, the single gap in its perimeter passable by only the smallest of vessels. The water inside was amazingly still and clear; beneath the sunlight sparkling on the water's surface, Stephen could see a strange black shape. With a jolt, he realised it was their shadow, making its own voyage along the sea bed.
After some time, Stephen glanced at Lieutenant Otte's shining face with discreet curiosity. Since the young man had been exchanged into the Surprise, he had proved himself a valuable addition. "A decent creature indeed," thought Stephen, "but I would not have him bring on a calenture in this heat."
"I wish you may not be fatigued by so much exercise, my dear sir."
"Nonsense! We have almost gained the shore," cried Otte, redoubling his efforts at rowing. Soon, he was wading through warm, shallow water as he pulled the boat ashore.
As Stephen prepared to begin their search, Otte gripped his arm. "Did you ever look into Robinson Crusoe, Dr Maturin?" Stephen's remark on facetious literary queries died in his throat as he saw the object of the lieutenant's attention. "Though that was made by no Man Friday," continued Otte. "A Hessian boot, and unless I am very much mistaken..."
The rest of his remark was cut off by the sound of a
[pgb-w] nine-pounder, one of the Surprise's elegant quarterdeck guns.
"Oh, Sir, we must hurry!" Lieutenant Otte exclaimed. "Captain wants us back aboard".
"For all love! Haven't I just put my foot on the strand? What of our task? What of the nondescripts, the flora, the bats --- the bats, Lieutenant!"
Stephen saw he no longer had Otte's attention. Surprise was slipping its hawser --- unheard of so far from home --- making all sail, decks alive with hurrying men, the sound of a Marine drum beating to quarters rising even above the surf. Looming round the curve of the reef, some mile or more away, perhaps less, was a heavy American frigate, also crowding on sail, indisputably also cleared for action, gunport lids open, 28-pounders run out. Stephen waved and halloed at the Surprise, but whether he was seen, or if seen, attended to in any way he could not divine. In a moment Otte was pulling him urgently up the strand, into the fringe of palms, further into the vegetation, to crouch and watch with dismay and foreboding as Surprise caught the steady westerly out beyond the island's wind-shadow, leaning to larboard, spray arching over the cat heads and fore-chains, picking up speed even as the American tried a ranging shot from his bow-chasers.
Night came before they could organise a foray up from the cove. At least a shelter had been made, some kindling gathered for a small fire screened from the sea by a large boulder, and coconuts and paw-paws stacked to hand. Surprise would return, a day, two at the most, having outwitted, or outsailed, or even out-gunned and defeated the American, Stephen had no doubt. Otte volunteered the first watch. Soon the Doctor's regular breathing signaled his comfort, his faith that Jack would appear tomorrow to take them off the island.
Otte, though young and only newly made as lieutenant a month before this voyage, had already imbibed a fair draught of the collective experience of the Navy. He was infinitely less sure than Stephen about the imminence of the ship's return. Poking at the fire, he began to recall as many of the survival habits of Crusoe as he could. They would surely find water in the morning, and with the Doctor's amazing knowledge of plants and animals, they could not go hungry. Under the myriad stars of the Southern Ocean, with the cooling night breeze, the surf's rhythm steady and soft, Otte felt his anxieties lessen, his mind settle and still.
He awoke with the fiery blaze of a crude torch in his eyes, caught a fleeting glimpse of the Doctor struggling on the ground with something or someone, and looked straight into a face, a strange, even unearthly face, staring fixedly down at him.
[jpo] The tropical sun had vanished in its abrupt way hours before, and behind him, through the bars of his cage, Stephen could see the bare rock of the island's cliff intensely silvered by the tropical moon. Everything in front of him, however, was golden: the firelight hollowed out a clearing in the black, knotted mass of jungle.
Only one of his jailers remained; the other two had disappeared without a word shortly after building the fire. He was a small man, of a people unknown to Maturin, nearly naked in the remains of an unidentifiable garment. For some minutes now he had been squatting by the fire eating from a hollowed gourd, his back to his prisoners.
"If you could spare us even a little food," said Stephen in English, having exhausted French, Catalan, Latin, Malay, even his meager store of Turkish, on the march inland. But he had been met with silence. Silence: while vines and stakes were cut, while a hasty but extremely efficient cage was lashed together, while he and Lieutenant Otte were thrust inside. The young man had finally fallen asleep, weak with anger and blood loss from the shoulder wound he had received during their capture. He stirred uncomfortably now, slumped against the tree that anchored their tiny prison. There was movement outside, too, and Stephen's heart lifted for the first time that day as the man came forward and placed a bowl of fish and fruit outside the bars.
"My profound thanks." He ate greedily at first, then, composing himself, more slowly, watching the man who sat impassively watching him. For a few minutes after the doctor had finished, they simply stared at one another. "Perhaps a more basic approach," thought Stephen, and he bowed politely. Then, reaching between the bars, he sketched the figure of a ship in the damp earth: a simple crescent for the hull, three vertical lines, the hint of sails. He pointed at himself and his companion, then questioningly at the other.
For minutes more there was the same mute staring, and Maturin despaired of any communication whatsoever. But finally an unknown balance tipped in his captor's mind, and quick fingers traced another ship, smaller than Stephen's, with oars and a strange sail.
The doctor sat back and smiled. "Thus is civilization born."
And for hours, while the shadows moved across the glittering scree behind them, they drew.
The lieutenant awoke near dawn. "Let me examine your shoulder, now," said Stephen. "Stiff, certainly, but the limb is flexible and the bleeding has stopped."
Otte had turned his face away, and refused to reply even when Stephen offered him the half of the food left in the bowl.
"Is it the pain of the wound, lieutenant? You have my word as a physician that your arm will heal to fight another day."
"Oh, Lord, it's not that!" the young man blurted out. "I don't know how I will face Captain Aubrey, after letting us be taken so shamefully."
"There is no shame there, my boy. The Captain himself has been brought by the lee, by the lee, I say, in stranger circumstances. We were once nearly eunuched by a band of murderous, sea-going women."
"I beg your pardon, sir?"
Stephen cleared his throat. "The important thing - you as a military man will surely agree - is to devise some sort of plan for surviving our captors until the ship has returned."
"Tactics are of little use when you're clapped in a cage with no knowledge of your enemy. We do not even know his numbers."
"There are upwards of twenty," said Stephen, "here and in a compound on the other side of the island. They have an American there, taken, I believe, from a watering party that landed yesterday."
The lieutenant stared at him blankly. "But how could... How do you come to know all this, Doctor?"
Stephen gestured at the ground before the cage.
"You've been talking to him, sir!" cried Otte, twisting his face between the bars to get a better look at the mass of figures. "Or communicating, rather."
"Sure we've been scratching away at one another in pictures like a pair of Ptolemies. His hand is somewhat better than mine."
"But who are they, sir? Where do they come from?"
"Can you see that drawing there, the string of islands with a representation of the sun? They are from the Japans, lieutenant, the mythical Japans. And they seem to believe we are at war."
[srz] Their jailer startled and turned away from his uncomprehending contemplation of their conversation, holding up a hand for silence. Time passed as they strained to hear something out of the ordinary in the litany of night sounds all around: the monotonous booming of breakers on the outer reef; the susurrus of the steady offshore breeze through the leafy canopy overhead, the creaking of palm trunks as they bent to the force; a myriad of small scuttling sounds from the understory behind the clearing.
Stephen became aware of it first, the absence of an expected note rather than the existence of an anomalous one: where were the birds? They existed on the island in a profusion of colors, shapes and sizes, some few quite unknown to him, and Stephen had never before known them to be silent for a moment at any hour of the day or night. He turned to Otte and muttered, sotto voce, "Have you noticed? The birds have fallen silent. I wonder what it might mean?"
The young lieutenant spoke without turning his head, a look of confusion and dread forming as he stared fixedly toward the stretch of shore and reef visible from the clearing. "And the surf is quite diminished of a sudden, as well. Doctor, have a look down there, and tell me what you see. I've never beheld the like..." His voice trailed off and he seemed not to hear Stephen's reply.
"How curious--the tide seems to have run out to a most astounding degree. I don't believe I've seen quite so much of the reef before, and the pond, the estuary, might I even say _lagoon_ is nearly vanished. What do you make of it? Surely a mariner of your experience..." There was a sudden flaw in the wind, and Otte shivered convulsively; an odd thing, Stephen thought, on a night as balmy as this one.
"Doctor, please attempt to convey the urgency of my request to our host: I don't believe we are safe remaining here, for unless I am very much mistaken that dark bar on the horizon is a prodigious wave advancing on us faster than the fleetest mounts at Ascot. The water receding to meet it has emptied the lagoon and I very much fear that our little cage will be overrun when it breaks over the island. We must move to higher ground; there is not a moment to be lost."
[gdf] "Would it be so wrong and a tad ungrateful as to wish for some marmalade to make this breakfast edible, Doctor?" asked the pale faced and extremely hungry Lieutenant Otte, as he gingerly sat down alongside Stephen upon what passed for the forecastle of the strange and ungainly Japanese built vessel as it gently ploughed through the light tropical Pacific ocean swell
"Why Lieutenant! I had not looked to see you up and about for another day at least! And our present diet is at least wholesome and plenty enough-although some coffee wouldn't go amiss, and a little marmalade would doubtless lighten up the palate as far as the dried raw fish and dried seaweed are concerned." replied Stephen with a wry smile, thankful that his companion in adversity had recovered from their all too recent immersion in the immense tidal deluge. "Pray mind your wound and its dressings- as there is precious little aboard in the way of medical supplies, this being a Spartan run ship."
"That would seem to apply equally to the food, but beggars can't be choosers!" said the Lieutenant, looking somewhat askance at his meal, and he distinctly seemed to lose his appetite for their humble and frugal breakfast upon hearing Stephen's description of it. "They are hardy folk indeed to sail so far in such a frail tub as this and with such supplies! Such leeway and such sluggardlyness I have never seen afloat in the service."
"I have been conversing with one fellow by means of some slate and chalk. It appears that they are returning to Japan with us as prisoners of war. Some unfortunate misinterpretation of us being Americans apparently. What fate awaits us there, I cannot surmise; but we must try to cultivate their acquaintance and friendship, otherwise we are in danger of being knocked on the head directly!" said Stephen in a quiet respectful low voice. Lieutenant Otte nodded sagely in agreement and asked whether Stephen had made any great advances in his diplomacy.
"A little, see that squat young fellow there! Yes, that's the one! Be-dub, I think they call him, although I cannot claim any great veracity in the Japanese language for accuracy," Stephen discreetly pointed out what passed for a young Japanese officer. "A promising officer indeed! Shows a keen intelligence and an interest in natural history! If we make landfall in Japan, he has promised to show me a living Siberian behemoth of Kamchatska! The like of which has never been seen in London, nor all the capitals of Europe!"
"Ah! So we are northward bound for sure. I beg pardon Doctor. We of the Navy are shamefully ignorant of the finer points of Natural History; but what nature of a beast is this Siberian Behemoth?" asked the curious Otte.
"A fierce and irritable hairy pachyderm of the Arctic wastes by all accounts. But do not fret so, I have every confidence in Captain Aubrey's abilities to effect a rescue of us. I took the precaution of inadvertantly leaving what scattered clues I could around camp before our enforced transportation." said Stephen confidently.
"Indeed." replied a sad Lieutenant Otte, "But after so many days and taking into account the sailing qualities of this vessel, I fear that even the best mariner afloat would have his navigation reckoning put to the test! The margins of error are huge and our chances of liberty are very much reduced as each hour passes, haystacks and needles, I am sorry to say!"
[bat] Not hours but days, lengthy undifferentiated days marked only by the slow passage of the sun overhead in a cloudless sky, passed without any break in the distant perfect horizon, not a bright notch of sail, nor the green of an island, nor the white of ocean breaking over a reef, and the Japans receded before them, as illusory as the Blessed Isles of the West.
Towards the end of the third week of their voyage, a barrel of water was wrested to the main deck and opened to reveal a rank, fetid liquid within, dark and wholly noxious. The look of sharp disapproval upon the captain's face deepened into anger and then alarm as barrel after barrel revealed the same undrinkable contents. Stephen and Otte withdrew to stand as inconspicuously as possible by the lee rail as a disputatious clamor arose from the crew, a mutinous, thoroughly discreditable uproar such as would never have been countenanced upon a ship of the Royal Navy. "They'll be rolling shot tonight," Lieutenant Otte murmured, "that is, if they had any shot to roll."
The captain, a broad-chested man with his sword slung on one hip, gesticulated energetically to larboard, his tone growing in vehemence as the vocal resistance from many of his crew, most of his crew, continued, grew upon itself, ended in astonished silence when the captain in one elegant motion drew his sword and removed the head of the foremost of his adversaries. Mutely the crew went to the lines and the bow of the vessel swung to the west, not without a pang in Stephen's heart for the Siberian Behemoth and the Economical Rat of Kamchatska.
Be-dub, hesitant, nearly incoherent, responded to Stephen's questions, marking out in signs an island, three, four days' sail.
It was the dawn of the fourth morning, a day promising yet more mortifying expediencies than sucking the juice from fresh slain fish, when the bleached sky showed the conical bulge of an island ahead, certainly volcanic, solitary, covered with vegetation. Yet, no trace of anticipated salvation tinted the faces of the sullen crew, their fearful glances swinging between the captain and the island.
"There's water for certain, what with all those trees," Lieutenant Otte rasped. "Do you think it is inhabited, Doctor?"
"No. Be-dub was clear that no persons live there. But he was kind enough to draw out the figure of a lizard for me. Perhaps an iguana not unlike those found on the happy Galapagos, but surely nondescript."
"And what is the island named?"
"Kotsillah. Or perhaps that is how the lizards are called. Be-dub seemed remarkably agitated and it may be that I did not quite catch his entire meaning. And yet possibly that is not quite it either, given the particular sounds of the Japan consonants. No, maybe it is better rendered 'Godzilla'."
[sdw] The little moonlit village stood silent in the jungle clearing; Stephen could easily make out the hastily erected walls, the grass roofs, and, above all, the barren watercourse that lay empty, quite empty, at the foot of the slope.
The rendering scream caused Otte to clutch Stephen's arm, but the doctor, an old hand at night-stalking, remained unmoved at the noise, at the enormous thrashing in the jungle, and at the final emergence of the terrible lizard, towering high above the village on its hind legs. With horrible, deliberate decision, each of the houses was carefully crushed under the monster's feet. The stockade was kicked into the dry stream bed, and the lizard threw shook its ragged crest, ululating wildly.
Presently it pulled off its head and Be-Dub scratched his ears. The rest of the crew gathered around him in the wreckage of the tiny village, toeing the little stream bed, glancing up at the clear sky, and talking in low, discouraged tones.
"It appears that the propitiation has failed," said Stephen. "Let us walk up the hill."
The sandy stream bed wound slowly uphill, a dark tunnel under the overhanging vegetation. The forest was strangely quiet: no frogs, no night birds. When they reached the foot of a small escarpment, Stephen directed Otte to dig with him, pushing handfuls of sand away, reaching down, down, until the sand became stained and a wetness cooled their gritty fingers. Stephen pulled off his shirt, his profoundly dirty shirt, and stuffed it into the silty pool in the bottom of the hole. After a moment he pulled it out, sucked the water from it, and motioned for Otte to do the same.
The full moon was high overhead by the time they felt somewhat restored.
"Shall we tell the others about this?" asked Otte.
"Perhaps we shall, there might be enough to share" said Stephen, "But not before we examine that curious rock upon which you are reclining, by God Otte!"
Otte sprang up, deeply confused by the look of manic joy upon the doctor's face. The distant susurration of the breakers had been growing steadily louder. So loud, in fact, that he could distinctly feel them through this feet. Stranger yet, they seemed to be growing closer. The trees in the branches above their heads began to click together in sympathy with the steady, regular, prodigious crashing, a crashing far too close to be the sea.
"Otte! Otte! Give me joy! It is no rock, no rock at all...", gazing at the smooth luminescent surface, "...it is a great...". A tree was heard to snap and crash to the ground in the still night, not far away, distracting him. "It is the very egg of the world, my dear. Oh, how I hope the Captain will let me keep it."
[pgb-w] With Otte's seamanlike help, the egg was lashed with creepers, a pole through them, and slung on shoulders. Only then did Stephen and Otte start down the dry stream bed, spurred by the crunching tumult above them. Lurching and straining in the dark, they managed to bring the egg to the wrecked and deserted village. Primitive fear had led BeDub and the crew to quit the clearing and return to the beach, and, after a brief respite, Stephen and Otte followed in their tracks.
The beach was deserted save for a crude skiff-like boat. The Japanese vessel was clearly visible, and BeDub could be seen, waving furiously, his gestures unmistakably meant to urge them into the little boat with all speed.
"The cursed infection of haste: it infects even the heathen Japanese sailor!" Stephen sniffed.
"With good cause, Doctor: Look!"
A head, a head unlike anything in Stephen or Otte's experience, peered over the tops of the palms behind the beach, large nostrils flared, red eyes wide and angry, noxious breath gusting out to make the tips of the palm branches flail.
"It cannot be so large. It cannot grow thus. It cannot ---- but it has, palpably it has. Let us embark at once, Lieutenant, at once, I say!"
An oar apiece, and heavy rowing, as fast as they could in the wobbling native skiff, water lapping at the gunwales of the frail craft, laden with two desperate men and a giant egg. A mad dash for the channel through the reef, just to be away, away from that thing, a thing now wading into the sea, kicking spray before scaly legs, craning a great greeny-black head to one side and the other as if searching for something, harsh and braying sounds filling its mighty throat. Otte's eyes were fixed in plain terror on the main-mast tall monster. Stephen, blinking sweat from his eyes and rowing with all the energy he could muster, stared too, but with the still avid eyes of the naturalist seeing an impossibility, a non-descript of all non-descripts, a beast of fable come to shocking life.
In their desperate effort they did not see the ships bearing up toward the channel, were unaware that the heavy American frigate was heading in to the island, followed by the blessed Surprise. Their joy had they seen the sight would have been tempered by the American flag flying at the Surprise's main, the captured Surprise's main.
On the quarterdeck of the USS Madison, Captain Jephthah Skinner snapped his telescope closed and turned to his guest and fellow-Captain. "What do you make of that, Aubrey? I've never seen the like --- and those fellows in that skiff may row like Billy-Oh but they ain't going to get away from it lessen I do something."
"And may I beg you do so quickly, Captain, for that is, I am certain, my surgeon and my second lieutenant there."
The Madison was cleared for action in commendable time, and, brought onto the starboard tack, it closed with the reef. The skiff made its way through the channel, and now had to battle the increased waves of the open sea. Jack begged and received permission to go back aboard the Surprise to try a rescue of the little craft. Madison stood in to the reef onto which the creature now climbed. Tough and hardened as they were, with many being former whalers used to great animals of the deep, the American sailors were more than uneasy. Even the officers glanced at their Captain with trepidation. A beast so enormous could seize even their frigate as did, if tales could be believed, the horrible giant squid seize whalers; and uppermost in their thoughts was: could this nightmare swim?
Ranging shots chipped the coral at the monster's feet. A full broadside rippled from the Madison, bringing bellows of rage and pain as balls glanced off scaly hind legs. Again the Madison's guns fired as they bore, provoking the monster further, until, with a roar, it launched into the sea. The question was answered: it could swim, and very fast indeed.
Jack Aubrey, now aboard Surprise, and with his crew and the Americans sent to guard them working as one, had her cleared and tacked in minutes. He saw the massive head surging toward the Madison, watched Skinner urgently tacking again, saw the beast find its footing on the bottom and rise until it was waist deep. Dripping, glistening arms reached for the frigate, one claw grasping at the bowsprit, the other sweeping the quarterdeck, grappling at the mizzen, rocking the ship to and fro whilst roars of fury rent the air.
"Fire as you bear: the back of the head --- make 'em count, lads!" Jack roared to his gunners. Led by Bonden, Surprise's famous guns battered the creature's back and head. It wheeled round, dragging the Madison by main force, sending swamping cascades across its decks. Jack felt his hair stand on end, his knees almost buckle as a gaze from Hell fixed him. Pure malevolence, black evil seemed to flash across the water between his ship and the creature. Cries of panic rose as the creature actually lifted the Madison clear of the water and swung it up, guns and men and spars flying out and away, and hurled the disintegrating frigate toward the Surprise. As the sheets of spray cleared Jack saw the remnants of his recent captor swirling in the turbulent sea, and saw the monster wading straight for him.
[bab] "Stephen, old soul, have you ever known a voyage with so many natural phenomena and monsters in it?"
"Putting to one side for the moment the illiberal fling at my egg, my valuable luminescent egg, I may say that I have seldom encountered so many coral atolls, Japanese and giant lizards nor been quite so drenched by a wave. My Breguet has not responded at all to being dipped in sweet oil and Killick wore the sun down the sky attempting to chip the rust off it. Will the Admiralty be at all disappointed, do you think, that you failed to take what Lieutenant Otte conceives to have been a heavily armed American vessel and would you be so good as to tell Killick to break open another bag of coffee beans?"
"Red hell and bloody death! I had quite forgot to put the egg in! I must adjust my despatch before writing it in fair. But indeed, now that you mention it, even the Admiralty can hardly blame me for neglecting to bring in the Madison - oh, to see it standing in for the reef! I honour it. Pray, how would you spell 'Jephthah' ? For I will tell you frankly, Stephen, I should not like to have answered for us had we been in the same case. And I should not have liked to have answered for you and Lieutenant Otte, that brave officer, had the Madison and we not been unexpectedly driven many leagues to the North by a quirk of the wind - in all my years at sea, no, not even here on the Indian station, have I ever known the like - four days' sail even with the wind on our best point of sailing would not have achieved so much. I was up till the graveyard watch labouring over my description. Surely to God you do not intend to drink a fourth pot of coffee?"
"I do." Indeed, both Stephen and Lieutenant Otte had passed a long, weary time without the consolations of an English breakfast and the Lieutenant had startled the Gunroom the very same morning by devouring 17 rashers of bacon, several at one gulp. And sometime before that, Be-Dub and his companions had used a starboard gun port to privily feed their breakfast to a grateful shark.
"Well then, shall I read my notes to you? You could put in some Latin for the reptile so that it might be attempted to be believed in."
[jpo] Stephen tried a D, adjusted the peg, tried again, and finally tapped his bow on Diana's desk in exasperation.
"We are deep into our second bottle of yellow seal, Jack, and you are still writing. Honestly, I marvel that the Navy has leisure to fight the battles it describes; it would try the patience of a stylite."
"And this is nothing to the Mauritius. We could have floated home on the paper I produced." Jack put down his pen and squared the stack under the guttering lantern. "But come, we are at an end. I'd be at it still without your corrections, Stephen, although... Do you think that 'black evil' might be topping it the tragical somewhat in an official dispatch?"
"It was horrible enough to me." Stephen refilled their glasses. "And frankly, my dear, if their Lordships can swallow a narrative like this one whole, they'll be unlikely to choke on a small garnish of purple prose."
"You have always been more trusting than I. At any rate: 'With the Madison destroyed the monster turned its full attention on Surprise, and the ship would surely have been lost if not for the actions of Dr. Maturin. Drawing on his years of experience as a naturalist, he reasoned that maternal instinct might override the creature's desire for revenge. At great personal danger to themselves, he and Lieutenant Otte backed their skiff onto the reef, handled the egg onto the dry surface, and swam from the gutted craft for the ship.'"
"You might more accurately say that I was hauled through the water by the good lieutenant."
"Nonsense. It was a brave thing to do, Stephen, and selfless, too, giving up your egg. You swam like a hero."
"Leander, if you will forgive me. But pray continue."
" 'The monster did in fact turn, took the egg with surprising gentleness between its jaws, and waded back to shore. After retrieving our shipmates and the few survivors of the Madison, we stood away to the southwest under plain sail and sank the island some two hours later.'"
"A fitting end." Stephen rose and stretched. "What do you say to a turn on deck to unknot our limbs before bed? I am woefully cramped." The brilliant day had turned to an impenetrable murk, and the hitherto indifferent north wind gave every promise of a blow before morning. They stood by Jack's worn ringbolt and leaned across the rail.
"How amazingly events do chain together," said Stephen. "If the Americans had not so foolishly run afoul of that craft, we would never have met those marvelous people. What a wealth of knowledge must lie in the Japans, all unknown to us! Save for the records of the Portuguese, they are a race as fantastical as their monsters. If only we could -- " He broke off when a figure stepped out of the darkness.
"Excuse me, sir," said Davidge. "The American lieutenant wished to have a word with you."
"I trust your men are well-cared for?" asked Jack when the aged officer had crossed to windward.
"They are, Captain Aubrey. And they begged me to give most particular thanks to the doctor for his attentions. We had all but despaired of Hopkins, but I am told he may be well enough for duty within a fortnight."
"It was my pleasure," said Stephen, returning his bow. "And in that regard, sir... There are only eleven of us left from the Madison, and four of those injured. I am the only remaining officer, and if you will accept my pledge that the men will attempt no mischief, I would be glad to offer you our services in helping man the ship until we reach port. She is sorely in need of repair, and we have no wish to idle below decks for weeks on end."
"I take that most kindly, lieutenant. Subject to the rules of war, of course."
"I would expect no less, sir."
The three of them stood silently, staring into the gloom, suppressing discreet yawns.
"It has been an extraordinary time," the lieutenant said. "I can probably dine out on the story of this week for the rest of my days, though I hardly hope to be believed. My young grandnephew was due to post to the United States before I left, and I dearly look forward to raising his hackles when I return. Of course, he may never want to sail again when he hears my tale, much less come to these waters."
"Stranger things have happened, Mr. Perry," Jack said, and bade them both good night.
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