Stephen, abashed, sat meekly and did not feel able to offer
an observation till the arrival of the pie, an unfamiliar dish that
was announced as Beef Skinner. 'I find that this is named in the
naval, or should we say nautical, manner, like the spotted dog
which contains no dog, or boiled baby which contains no infant.'
Jack allowed that Beef Skinner was a common recourse of
vessels far from port whose stores needed to be supplemented
to be beefed up Jack's eyes crinkled as he repeated the
point beefed up with nontraditional livestock. 'In short, it
is made with rats.Though pigeons have also been known to provide
satisfactory results for Beef Skinner.'
Stephen asked how many creatures were used and how were they
prepared. Jack, mollified by the fine meal and the success of his
jest, replied. 'In the traditional receipt the magic number of
millers is 7 plus or minus 2, but I cannot recall more than that.'
The image of a trapped rodent raised a question in Jack's mind. 'Killick, Killick there! Wasn't your cousin in the business?' Killick conceded that his aunt's lad Critchley had been employed at the Royal Opera as rat-catcher and providore to the gentry. Indeed, the technique of Opera Rat Conditioning was renowned as a source of game subjects for Beef Skinner.
Jack, who could never hold more than four things in his
mind at the one time and didn't wish to reinforce such behaviour,
absented himself from the conversation to pursue the teasing memory
of a well-fed rat in a ruff singing " Vesti la giubba" to an
appreciative circle of its fellows on the orlop. He shook his head
and turned his attention to Stephen who was conversing with Martin
on the application to Opera Rat Conditioning of the inheritance
theories of M. de Lamarck. "The proper study" he suggested "of
mankind is rats."
Meanwhile, down among the cables
The squeakers, being naturals for the vermin, had needed no
auditioning for the projected HMS Surprise production of "The Pied
Piper of Hamelin, a Grand Opera in Five Acts". Jack had taken on
the bass role of Hunebold Snegwurf, Mayor of Hamelin and Conroy, an
absurdly beautiful young topman, had already been cast as
Blondehilde, the mayor's lovely daughter. Speculation ran rife
about the casting of the remaining parts, including Heribert von
Gruwelf (tenor), in love with Blondehilde, and the Pied Piper
(baritone). Killick had swiped a German flute from the Wardroom
and been practising his fingers to the bone.
The more musical among the actual rats
Mowett gazed off into the poetic firmament, which appeared
to be located above the quarter gallery and at this moment was the
domain of a surprised-looking rat. With a 'who, me?' expression the
rat fled to join its mates in the relative quiet of the orlop, and
Mowett began to recite.
The Devil went down to Pompey
The Devil came upon a young cove playing on a viol and
playing it true
"Now you play an elegant fiddle, young sir, but give the
Devil his due
The mid said "My name's Aubrey, and mayhap it is a sin
Mowett carried on in this vein at some length, at times
narrowly clawing off lee shores theological, professional and
literary. The poem ended with the young Aubrey carrying off the
prize, an outcome only to be expected if, as seemed likely, the
Devil were a Frenchman.
Stephen said that it was a remarkably rounded piece, encompassing the nautical, the musical, the poetical, and, at times, the diabolical. Mowett generously deflected all praise, saying that he got the idea from Daniels, second of the Nashville.
All round the table, his fellow officers, to encourage
Mowett, joined him in ferocious concentration all
travelling back in time to the late thirteenth century....
Preserved Killick disgruntled his way out of the wardroom to tell sails to belay the stripey daks. "Re-interpret my .... while I toil and moil away at my recitatives dee-dum..."
As he passed by, humming angrily, an interested snout turned to follow the redolent packet already beginning to stain Killick's lederhosen. The rat sniffed, twitched, took a step or two into the light, and then set off in Killick's wake, followed a moment later by another of his fellows.
Ich bin der wohlbekannte Sänger,
I am the well-known singer,
He rounded the aria up in fine seaman-like style with a
flourish on the German flute, whipped the cheese out of the pocket
of his lederhosen and consigned it resentfully to the deep.
The echoes of the tootling died away... and eerie little
scurrying noises could be heard, then tiny plonks succeeded by
gurgles as scores of enchanted rats followed the cheese over the
side and sank forever beneath the waves. Or so they say.
Have you had enough? The End?
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