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Tea and Sociopathy
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"…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 omission—dishonesty 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 too—ain't that prime!" A cheery and horribly familiar voice interrupted him. It was

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Awkward Skinner! The huge, cross-eyed creature disengaged a whore from his arm and knuckled what there was of his forehead.

"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.

 
Later, in the captain's cabin,

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a weary Captain Baker looked up from the sheaf of provisioner's bills of lading she had been struggling to reconcile, and called across the table to where the purser stood, shuffling his feet and looking guilty, "My God, Mr. Critchley, I shall be happy to put to sea again. The crew are bloated with soft tack and dissipated by soft living; and what's that awful row up on deck?"

"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…

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Sweetings."

"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

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…an especially fine young goat, female, and undeniably gravid. This astonishing apparition—a pregnant goat, in the Captain's great cabin!—was soon explained, in a roundabout sort of way, by the appearance at the doorway—accompanied by the strangled, uncontrollable guffaws of the astonished Marine sentry—of Stephen Maturin, holding rather a large number of highly polished

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silver candlesticks which, before the eyes of the ravished Killick, he handed to the Captain expressing esteem, devotion, obedient servant etc, had picked them up for a song, a mere trifle ... and should be obliged if the goat could be found a comfortable berth – below decks, but airy and commodious.

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?"

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"Why, my cousin 'Able' Baker, of course. The girls are coming up hand over fist and I should like to see them do well. Gertie has berths for a couple of middies on her flagship."

 
As the Admiral was piped aboard, the officers removed their hats in a glorious flash of gold lace. Emily and Sarah stood by the side ropes, each with her arms held rigidly by her side, her eyes staring ahead in nervous apprehension.

Unseen behind the mainmast stood Desdemona. Her hoofs were polished, her coat combed and pink ribbons plaited fetchingly around her horns—Killick had done the captain proud. The goat's yellow eyes were fixed malevolently on the youngest Skinner's trousers—discreditable legwear last seen on a sailmaker's mate sleeping off his arrears of pay in the Vauxhall Gardens.

Her aesthetic sensibilities outraged, Desdemona

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stamped a gilded hoof; her ribbons trembled. Bill Grimble whispered "Watch out for storms, mate".

"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.

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A large hairy hand appeared, grabbed her stock and attempted to lift her bodily through the window. The shouting above increased in both pitch and volume and was accompanied by several soft thumps, so that eventually the captain was released allowing her to (after a moment) storm up on deck coughing and swearing like a wounded pirate.

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…

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for the Admiral was observing her intently and she must display all her powers of command.

"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

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consult, their mumbled Latin quite drowned out by the stamp and splash of the marines, the cries of the marine sergeant, the noise of the lieutenant, the cheerful, good-natured encouragement to all parties supplied by the Skinners, and Mr Reade's shrill "Pipe down there, oh you —— Skinners". But before the water could have any restorative effect, Zimmermann had swarmed up the starboard mainshrouds, completely out of reach of the deckbound marines. All eyes turned to Baker in silent horror. She stepped forward: "Mr Reade, kindly have the banana peels cast overboard. Mr Critchley, I believe we may

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recapture our Premier with stealth and guile."

Zimmermann peered down from the fighting top, his lips drawn back in a simian grimace. Ever since he had drunk that strange tea—PeeWee Tips, was it?—he had felt uncommon strange. His arms felt damnably short—his legs too long—and 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…

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It was, Stephen told a rapt audience in the wardroom later that evening, a strange and debilitating condition, but one purely of the mind. The rumour (rife on the ship) that the Premier's condition was the result of simian congress was not only contrary to the Articles of War but also exceedingly unlikely.

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".

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Captain Baker finished her hundred turns at the weather railing just as a hail came from the topman standing lookout at the foremast crosstrees. "On deck, there: four sail of ships broad on the larboard bow. I make it to be Agamemnon and her squadron: Folderol, Irresistable, and Recondite."

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

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opinion that the Agamemnon or other ships of the squadron could spare us some tea? Quantities of the finest Darjeeling? Killick tells me that there is not a drop to be had on board."

"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...

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"Any will do for the mixture as long as it's a strong brew" he continued, "the tannin's the thing you know. Of course a good heavy claret would suffice in an emerge…"

"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…

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all is in order. But stay. It is better I do it myself."

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."

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"Skinners to escort Mr Reade to the sickbay!" called out Captain Baker. "Why, I do believe he is the last left untreated," she thought to herself.

"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."

 
"With a charming irony," said Stephen to the Captain that evening, "the Skinners were so naturally simian that they were quite immune to the disease. The treatment therefore had the most surprising effect on them."

"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."

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