" and What a Brilliant Prospect do We hold out to every Lad of Spirit, when every Thing that swims the Seas must be a PRIZE! Thousands are at this moment endeavouring to get on Board His Majesty's Ships; so certain does their Chance appear of enriching themselves by PRIZE MONEY! Having the benefit of liberal pay and plenty of the best Provisions with a well appointed Ship under him; surely every Youth of Courage must blush to remain at home in Inactivity and Indolence, when his Country needs his Assistance. Lose no Time then, my Fine Fellows, in embracing the opportunity that awaits you!
For further Particulars, and a more Full account of the many Advantages of a Tar's life, apply to LIEUT. READE, at the EIGHT BELLS, where the Bringer of a Recruit shall receive Three Guineas."
Dwelling with particular tenderness on the title that preceded his name, William Reade considered his new Captain's prose once more. He reflected that spirit and dash could cover many sins of omissiondishonesty even.
As he gazed round the snug of the Eight Bells, he became sensible that the Marine Corporal, Will Scotson, was striving for attention at the door. Reade was disconcerted to see an awkward, hangdog expression on his face. In a low, almost furtive voice the Marine said: "Sir: you will never guess who has volunteered "
"I am coming tooain't that prime!" A cheery and horribly familiar voice interrupted him. It was
"Oh", said Reade in a small voice. "But didn't you run, Skinner?" he added hopefully.
"Lord bless you sir, no. Me run? Never. I had a bit of trouble with them wicked women on the Radcliffe Highway and had to lie low for a while but here I am again, as good as gold, and here's me brothers". He gestured at three ferociously grinning brutes who were nodding in confirmation behind him.
Scotson involuntarily reached for his weapon. They were scarcely human!
"We come down from Wapping special like", said the largest of them. "We're recruits", he simpered.
"I believe I heard Mr. Reade mention the name Skinner, Sir."
"That would explain much, Mr. Critchley. Now, if you don't mind, let's put aside these accounts; I've a guest arriving at four bells, and I must see to his comfort. Killick! Killick, there: lay along for'ard and ask Jemmy Ducks about that nice pair of
"Beg parm, ma'am. The girls are with the doctor, up at the hospital to help with the operation on poor Mr Z, if it please your honour. Which I'll run along there directly, ma'am."
He began to creep out backwards, followed by Critchley's stare. Unbowed by commodores, admirals and even Mrs Williams, Killick was an entirely different creature in the presence of Captain Baker.
"No, no," said Baker, "Send a boy; tell the doctor I am sorry, but I am sure he will be able to manage Zimmermann very well on his own. It is only a "
Here discretion overcame her and she coughed. Killick twitched. Critchley eyed the boarding axes. Over the din of the Skinners, the bosun, his mates, and the master-at-arms, the sentry outside the cabin could be heard coming to attention.
"At any rate the Sweetings must be here to meet my guest. You will excuse me, Mr Critchley." The fine, open welcome on her face fell only a little as the door swung open to show not her expected guest, but
Captain Baker was a woman of decision. She decided to keep the candlesticks (solid silver on inspection) and, briefly regretting that there was no early prospect of goat's milk, directed Killick to see to the accommodation of the animal.
"My pleasure, ma'am", said the captain's steward with a courtly bow and he and the goat retreated leaving the captain and her purser to make enquiries about poor Lieutenant Zimmermann such an unusual case was the patient likely to survive at all?
"With the blessing. There is no material damage of any other sort and he will accustom himself to his new condition in time. Now, will you tell me Captain dear, who is this guest that Sarah and Emily are to meet?"
Unseen behind the mainmast stood Desdemona. Her hoofs were polished, her coat combed and pink ribbons plaited fetchingly around her hornsKillick had done the captain proud. The goat's yellow eyes were fixed malevolently on the youngest Skinner's trousersdiscreditable legwear last seen on a sailmaker's mate sleeping off his arrears of pay in the Vauxhall Gardens.
Her aesthetic sensibilities outraged, Desdemona
"But where is Zimmermann?", cried the admiral, looking expectantly about the deck. "Ain't he your premier now? I especially wished to discuss his...that is to say, I knew another case...surely Dr Maturin but perhaps I speak out of turn "
Her fine, carrying voice died away as the gravity of the assembled company, and even some of the Skinners, impressed itself upon her.
"If you'll step this way, ma'am", said Captain Baker, " I believe we can discuss this, and the Sweetings, in the cabin."
They had just sat down in front of a tempting array of dainties, procured from the town, when another hullabaloo broke out above their heads. There was the usual Skinnerish din, but this was now underlain with the clomping of marine boots, and punctuated by a delicate, malevolent patter that seemed to be circling the skylight, over and over.
"Red hell and death," cried Baker, thrusting open the window over the table. But she said no more.
The sight that met Captain Baker's eyes was not only illuminating but also painfully embarrassing. At one end, huddled like three black crows, were Stephen Maturin and the surgeons of two other frigates. At the other was a crowd of seamen, one of them holding a belaying pin that had obviously but lately been the instrument of percussion that had helped release her from that grasp. A grasp, the origin of which was now only too apparent, for between these two groups, capering about, hooting at intervals and scratching his armpits in a most pestilent manner was Baker's First Lieutenant!
As she approached Stephen Maturin, Captain Baker heard his quiet voice as he spoke to his colleagues.
"It is without doubt gentlemen the most serious attack of Para Gibbensium that I have ever witnessed. How the PGs can have taken such hold on his mind is a most fascinating conundrum."
At this precise moment, however, and in variance to her usual nature, Captain Baker had no inclination to be fascinated
"Mr Zimmermann, remember that you are a British officer. I said: remember who and where you are sir. Oh, never mind. Somebody throw a bucket of water over him. Skinners, avast foaming and drop that belaying pin. Killick, see to the goat's ribbons, they've got all wrinkled".
As the marine officer directed his men, bearing buckets, to approach Zimmermann in close formation, the medical men tentatively drew closer to
Zimmermann peered down from the fighting top, his lips drawn back in a simian grimace. Ever since he had drunk that strange teaPeeWee Tips, was it?he had felt uncommon strange. His arms felt damnably shorthis legs too longand he had a prodigious urge to hoot. He gazed earnestly at Killick's second-best chafing dish, lying beneath the mainmast, filled with the choicest fruit. He suppressed the small, rational part of his mind that warned of danger, and made his way down to the irresistible lure.
"Why, he's brachiating!" exclaimed the surgeon of the Irredeemable. "And was he so hirsute before this unfortunate "
"Hush, brother," hissed Stephen.
As Zimmermann's hand reached for a succulent apple
Indeed, he mused, the most prehensile activity evidenced by Mr Zimmermann all afternoon had shown how similar apish characteristics were to the skills of an experienced topman.
The silence at this closing remark was followed by an explosion of voices explaining (in the most polite manner) that whilst to a layman the two might appear similar they were in fact totally different, it was a matter of learned skill, a matter of the intellectuals, and not of bestial lolloping about. They were, the officers assured him, as different as chalk and cheese.
This kindly advice went on for quite some time, interrupted only occasionally by a strangulated snort from one or other of the two marine officers who were slowly asphyxiating themselves with suppressed mirth.
Stephen, startled by the reaction to his musings, recanted and agreed that indeed intellectuals were indisputable proof of his error, and with great restraint refrained from pointing out that usually after a few months at sea the difference between chalk and cheese was mostly hypothetical.
"Still" he continued after a few moments "I feel a case as serious as this has need to be referred to an expert in the field. I will write to Earl Grey concerning the case and ask his opinion".
A fine topgallant breeze two points free had carried Surprise nearly 200 miles closer to the line in the past 24 hours. This was the rendezvous Captain Baker had been praying for; a way to put the awful, embarrassing doings in port behind them, a means of ensuring her crew had something else to occupy their minds aside from thoughts of priddied, gravid goats and the simian proclivities of her usually reliable first lieutenant.
"Very well; all hands to wear ship. We shall be in with them by sundown if I don't mistake: the Folderol is an awful slug."
Stephen's head appeared at the cabin skylight. He coughed discreetly and said, "My dear, is it your
"Tea? Why Stephen, what a fellow you are! I shall get Killick to send you up some coffee."
"Whisha, it is not for its refreshing properties that I desire tea but for medicinal purposes. For I must tell you, Captain dear, that my colleagues and I are concerned that the PGs might have spread several steady, bald, old foc'sle hands have sprouted full heads of hair and Awkward Skinner is grooming Lieutenant Zimmermann out on the cathead..."
"Ceylon or China will do", piped up the surgeon of the Irredemable. "Gunpowder, Orange Pekoe, Lapsang Souchong... but not PeeWee Tips...infusion of camomile, Russian Caravan, English Breakfast...
"MR CRITCHLEY, HAIL THE AGAMEMNON!", Baker roared with a note of panic in her voice, seeing in her mind's eye the last three cases of red being appropriated by the medicos.
"Of course," mused Stephen, later in the galley as he watched a huge tureen of tea slowly brewing, "we must add at least three quarts of rum to the enema after it has come to the boil Earl Grey in his letter was very clear on this point and lastly a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go well the direction is of no relevance, but we must dose the whole crew as a precaution, and the afflicted doubly so. Padeen, go inform the Captain that
He walked aft, clyster in hand, followed by a skein of Skinners ready for the fun. Zimmermann glided down to the aft cross-trees and peered into the skylight. "Now then, my dear," said Stephen as he entered the great cabin; Killick scurried out; the Captain was backed against a beam. "Will you not be the first, and so set an example, a fundamental example? Come and lean upon this ample cushion."
"I am very sorry to disappoint you Doctor, but we are both of us officers, and must not give comfort to our enemas."
"I am obliged to you, dear Captain, for your amiable instructions," replied the eldest Skinner, with a bow. "I should like it of all things to obey," added the next. "Come, Mr Reade sir," he continued gently, as the lieutenant made to bite, "it doesn't hurt."
"Just so," replied Captain Baker. "They wish to open a tearoom in Dorking after this voyage, you know."
"You mentioned that Sir Joseph had identified the originator of this dreadful disease," she continued.
"Indeed. A wicked French veterinarian, a M. Creechley. An ardent Jacobin, he is said to have been driven mad by the failure of the revolution."
"But why this dreadful beverage? Why PeeWee Tips?"
"Well... you see, my dear... he believed that all proper tea is theft."
|about us | current game | archive | home|