[bat] Jack Aubrey paced firmly but contentedly along the quarterdeck. The sun had a surprising warmth for a North Atlantic April afternoon, robbing the fresh breeze of its normal bite. A deep blue sky over a deeper blue sea, the brilliant white of new canvas sails, the blaze of freshly scoured wood decking as yet unscarred by years of hard service. Although this was only a temporary command, taking the ship across to Halifax and back on her first voyage, Jack felt a prodigious fondness for the vessel, so different from his beloved Surprise, yet akin to her in the manner of her near perfection. Lieutenant Zimmermann darted back and forth, spurring on the crew in their unceasing efforts to bring that near perfection to completion. Jack wondered about Zimmermann's skill as a sea officer -- as yet they had been untested by even a moderate gale -- but certainly he had few equals in his dedication to shining brass and pristine rigging.
"Good day to you, Doctor," Jack said at the approach of Stephen Maturin. "Does the barky meet your expectations?"
"Sure it is the great ship of the world, brother. My cabin surpasses even that in the Bellona, and the sick bay boasts every improvement and convenience I have ever imagined since I first set foot aboard the dear old Sophie." Stephen fell silent and turned to see where Jack's gaze fell, his earlier look of uncomplicated joy suddenly clouded over by irritation. A group of finely dressed men and women had emerged from the forward hatchway and were taking their ease in the pleasant fresh air -- their passengers. "What troubles you, dear?" he asked solicitously.
"Birds of different feathers should each beat his own drummer," Jack replied. "I appreciate a well-turned lass as well as the next fellow, but young Critchley is stepping above his station, always hanging about Miss Skinner as he does. He is, after all, only a master's mate," he said with an uncomfortable pomposity, "while she is a lady and the fiancee of Lord Bramwell-Wesley. He'll be on a lee shore if he doesn't mind his wind."
"Tut, tut. What harm if the boy dreams of something beyond his own poor prospects?" Stephen knew the power of such dreams, and their unadmitted tortures. His own Diana had been above any rational expectation of attainment.
Jack returned to his pacing, his benevolence not restored by his surgeon's words. As captain of HMS Titania, the newest and largest ship in his majesty's navy, he carried within the grave responsibility of ensuring that nothing, absolutely nothing marred its maiden voyage.
[srz] "Mr. Zimmermann: my compliments and ask Sparks if he has yet received an answer to my queries," Jack spoke in a low voice to his watch officer. Sparks Wilson had been quick to endear himself to his captain; entirely discreet, he had been keeping Jack informed of the state of play of his quite unorthodox siege of the Admiralty. For Jack had caused to be sent several wireless messages a day, to various of his friends and former shipmates in and around the First Lord's office, orchestrating a pervasive campaign of public relations and calling in every favor owed him by a small, but influential group of flag officers beholden to him for one reason or another. And all this with but one end in mind: a ship, any ship, for his son.
George Aubrey had been unlucky, if the blessings of peace could be so rudely dismissed. A lovely little war, with a small fleet of new frigates sliding down the ways -- and the slender but necessary possibility of glory and prize money -- was what he and his father longed for. George had languished on the list as a senior Lieutenant, ashore and on half-pay for more than a year with no ship in sight, while Jack had drawn the plum of Titania's first cruise. But Jack was as bored afloat as he had been ashore; he found the service lacked a certain tang now that no sea-going enemy existed on which to focus his legendary talents and prodigious energy. There floated on the entire North Atlantic not so much as a solitary, slab-sided, Dutch built herring-buss to take, burn, sink or destroy; not within his orders, at any rate.
It was enervating: he, pacing this sparkling new bridge on this marvelous great ship, entirely superfluous, watching his officers perform their duties quietly, competently, and without so much as a word from him. And the passengers! They were all quite uniformly dull and predictably self-important, and he feared he might do something entirely unbecoming of his lofty rank and status should Lady Baker ask him, yet again, about the ship's current position and whether it might not be possible to speed up so as to arrive on Tuesday, "That evening being the occasion of the opening of dear Bruce's new play, A Night to Remember, and should just be destroyed if we cannot be there for the occasion." Could she possibly think that a captain in the Royal Navy would jeopardize the safety of his ship for the convenience of a passenger? Alas, it was all too probable.
"Sir, if you please: this just came in from London." It was the Canadian wireless operator, young Sparks Wilson. Fresh-faced and handsome, with the unconventional, bluff, but immensely likeable manner of a man comfortable in his skin: perfectly at home, be it on the bridge of a Royal Navy ship or astride a horse on the wide open spaces of the short-grass prairie of his boyhood. He handed his captain a printed form with a terse, hand-lettered message -- no more than twenty-five words, but their import galvanized Jack, who...
[js] cried out: "Heneage -- I should say Admiral Dundas -- has been appointed to the Admiralty Board! Don't that amaze you, Stephen?"
Jack's face grew ever redder than was usual, and his voice shook with emotion -- gloriously pleasurable emotion -- as he continued: "And George is made Commander into the Grampus!"
"I give you joy, brother, give you joy with all my heart. I am amazed; delighted."
"Poor George has been fairly eating his heart out ashore. What a stroke this is! Old Hen has behaved most uncommonly well... When I think of the time we were mids on the old 'Formidable' and he got into such trouble for hiding in the bumboat and bringing aboard no fewer than four -- four, Stephen! -- four of the most... Beg pardon, ma'am, I did not see you there. Some prodigious good news has quite deprived me of my wits. If you will forgive me, I will just cut along to tell my steward." And in the joy of his heart, though it was far from the truth, he continued: "May I add, Lady Baker, in what glorious health I find you this morning?"
Her ladyship bridled and said she was sure she couldn't say... As soon as Jack had turned away, she stopped simpering and her demeanour became instantly businesslike.
Stephen prepared to listen, his face a study in concentration. Barbara de Queensland, as he always thought of her -- and as she had once been, before her entirely unexpected marriage to the eccentric Lord Baker -- was the most valuable of agents. She was able to move in the highest circles, and the most surprising people confided in her. Few realised that beneath the exterior of a frivolous socialite lay one of the finest analytical minds in England. She would surely be able to penetrate the conspiracy he was convinced existed aboard the ship. The conspiracy he sensed, could almost touch, but which stubbornly remained just out of his reach. Doors closing as he entered rooms; half-heard phrases -- whose source he could never trace -- emerging out of the crowds at shipboard parties; the strange messages, addressed to nobody, which young Wilson had been receiving every night.
"Listen now," said Barbara, "the situation is this: Lord Bramwell Wesley has
[sdw] told me of Duptreyen."
Stephen's mind cast far, far back: the meeting in the park, the Blue Peter, the rest. Lady Barbara's lively eye saw not a trace of reaction to the name, save for a slight pause.
"Yes," said Stephen, "His son is now a merchant in Quebec. I hear the best reports of him. Pray let us take some air."
On deck they walked slowly forward. The door from the lounge was open and from inside emanated the voice of Mlle Dion, singing in the latest style, summed up by the hands as "belting it out." It recalled to Stephen his boyhood, sacks of Pyrenees cats bought for dissection, a pesata a bag. They stood at the bows, considering the prodigious wave parting far below their feet, the white foam hurled over for most of the length of the massive ship.
"Was I foolish," said de Queensland, "I would be tempted to walk right out on that ... spar?"
"Boomkin, perhaps?" said Stephen. "I cannot recommend it, however; the seamen have a dread of it. There are tales of mysterious figures. Mr Critchley assures me that the hands in his watch often see a figure walk right out onto it. A young woman, fresh and winsome. They call her Kate. Each night, several times, she is seen there, leaning out, arms uplifted, as if she were the figurehead, or perhaps a symbol of youth and strength, energy and immortality."
"And do they never see her walk back?" asked Lady Barbara.
"No," said Stephen. "Each night they see her fall off."
They turned and looked back across the empty deck.
"You spoke of Duptreyen," said Stephen.
"Yes, but this concerns you, as well, dear Doctor. It is Pierre."
"The natural son of the Duke of Habachtsthal?"
Pierre Habachtsthal was well-known to them both as a remarkably efficient agent of French intelligence. He was in no way hampered by his monocle, was fluent in Russian, and inordinately wealthy.
"Even after so many years are passed, he means to right all wrongs. He is travelling to Quebec on this ship. We fear for young Duptreyen. And we are not quite easy in our minds about you, either, Dr Maturin."
A silent breath of damp, icy air searched inside Stephen's collar. The lookout called: "On deck there! Ice mountain fine on the larboard bow."
[bat] On the quarterdeck Jack Aubrey raced to the larboard rail to peer ahead at the great rugged block of blue-white ice which lay in their path. "Hard-a-larboard!" he shouted, a command which brought instant puzzlement to the non-nautically-gifted within range of his voice, Stephen Maturin being chief among them. Why someone would issue a command to go hard to larboard when you actually wanted to turn starboard never penetrated the lubbers' understanding, no matter how many helpful diagrams of wheels and tillers and rudders were drawn for them or paragraph after paragraph of closely detailed maritime terminology were lovingly crafted by authors intent on historical accuracy, but faced with this obstinate, stupid, mule-headed wanton, deliberate ignorance on the part of people who should know better and wouldn't exert themselves even to TRY to comprehend the simplest little thing ...
"Hard-a-starboard, it is!" shouted back the helmsman who, although he was NOT one of those uncooperative lubbers who didn't understand the fine points of the workings of a ship's wheel and rudder, had been hired aboard under the provisions of the Parliamentary Act of 1817 for the Fair Employment of the Physically Afflicted, his own disability being the loss of 99 percent of his hearing, dating back to his service aboard HMS Victory at Trafalgar when he had won a shilling bet by placing his ear next to the muzzle of a 42-pounder carronade when it was fired and then doubled his winnings by placing the OTHER ear next to the muzzle for the next shot. It might be as well to mention at this point also that the Titania's lookout was another beneficiary of the Act of 1817, his profound myopia being held to be no bar against his future employment in his chosen profession, a circumstance which perhaps explained why a mountain of ice weighing approximately 348,000 tons had not been spotted until it was about 50 yards from the tip of the bowsprit.
"Hard-a-larboard, hard-a-larboard!" Jack screamed. "Back all sails!"
Slowly, slowly, the bow of the Titania swung to starboard, the bowsprit missing by mere inches the jutting mass of ice. The towering blue-white wall glided soundlessly along the larboard side of the ship. For a brief moment there was an odd slight trembling motion to be felt, then the mountain of ice was left behind. Jack let out the breath he had unconsciously been holding. That had been a narrow escape, but all's well that ends well, a miss is as good as a mile, and close only counts in hand-grenades and hors-d'oeuvres, he reminded himself.
Killick burst up from the after hatchway, the captain's solid-silver-plated punchbowl clutched in his hands, its glittering surface decorated by an elaborate engraving of both Houses of Parliament playing lawn croquet. "Which there's salt water getting all over the silver service," Killick whined in his practiced nasal tone. "What awkward sod has bashed a hole in the barky's hull?"
"Oh, oh," said Jack.
[srz] Stephen found them at the navigation table, huddled over drawings of the Titania's newfangled, untested iron hanging knees and watertight bulkheads. Jack, his forehead knotted in concern for his injured ship; Zimmermann, cool and wholly professional, as Jack noted with some little satisfaction in a part of his mind not occupied by the looming disaster; and finally, young Isambard Kingdom Trinque, the Titania's designer.
Trinque, short, argumentative, and never seen without a foul-smelling Trincomalee stogie wedged in his teeth, had not much endeared himself to the other passengers, or to his Royal Navy hosts. Sent aboard by the Admiralty's contractor -- 'wholly incompetent nincompoops' was Jack's uncharitable assessment of their capabilities -- to watch over his new creation, Trinque had worn out his welcome during dinners at the Captain's table, with his insufferably self-important tales of physical courage and engineering heroics in the building of the Thames tunnel.
In Killick, however, he had found a kindred spirit. The unlikely pair developed a friendship based on a shared love of obsessive detail and in some measure on Killick's fascination with Trinque's tall beaver hat, which he cared for with an almost unnatural devotion during the two or three hours every night while 'I. K.' (as Killick took to calling him) slept.
Now, at the moment of crisis, with Killick hovering nearby in case a sudden need for hat fur maintenance should arise, Stephen noted a profound change in the young engineer's demeanor, altogether more serious and totally focused on the danger at hand. "Jack, my dear; the passengers are beginning to low like a herd of Connemara cattle. A most unseemly display, I might add. Shall I give them something soothing? A comfortable great bolus, sufficient to make them sit back down on their ample backsides and cease maundering about, like a pack of rabid woondogs? For you are clearly most uncommon busy just at the moment, or I should ask you to speak to them yourself; to remind them to their duty."
Jack ignored Stephen as he concentrated every fiber of his being on Trinque's harsh assessment: "Captain, I'm afraid your private stores are in for a soaking. Everything between this bulkhead here..." he gestured at a point on the drawing near the bows of the ship, "...and here..." another bulkhead just abaft the foremast chainplates, "...is going to spend the rest of our voyage immersed in sea-water. She'll float, however: she'll most certainly float. I'd stake my life on't."
Jack allowed himself the bitter observation that Trinque's life did indeed rest on the assertion, and fought down a sudden swelling in his throat. All his stores! The slabs of bacon, the smoked pheasant -- the carefully preserved pig's trotters, imaginatively swaddled in their individual cocoons of good, honest lard -- all of it, ruined. He'd be reduced to eating the overblown, pretentious fare of his passengers, travelling as they were in high style with their private Burundian chef; that is, he reminded himself, if he managed to save Titania from a prolonged, tortuous, watery death. "Trinque, you assert she'll float: on what grounds do you base this...conjecture? For I have seen black water rising higher in the well, minute by minute, since we were holed by that infamous ice mountain. Our pumps cannot begin to hold back the flood."
"Captain, we've water-tight doors at every bulkhead, shut by your magnificently trained crew within seconds of the incident. More importantly, the bulkheads themselves are constructed full-height, with yet other water-tight doors at the hatches. You've evacuated everyone from the affected compartments, and our task now is nothing more daunting than navigating a ship that's somewhat down by the head. No more than a strake or two, at that," he added, somewhat defensive.
'Uncomfortably down by the head,' Stephen noted to himself, as the master's dividers suddenly slid forward off the edge of the chart table, spearing Killick's shoe and pinning his left foot to the deck.
[js] "Killick, for shame!" cried Jack. "Belay that capering -- and careful of that table. You are behaving like a goddam Chinaman... a Chinaman in a bull shop." He paused briefly, sensing something slightly amiss with that last phrase. Unable to quite put his finger on it, he carried on: "Fetch us some coffee -- some of your strongest, and blackest. We shall be debating the re-stowing of the holds for some considerable time... To best counteract the effects of the flooded compartments," he added, for Stephen's benefit.
Killick, who had been momentarily unable to speak, overcome by sheer indignation, burst out in his shrillest tones that he could do nothing without his foot was freed from this bleedin' instrument. It was a black shame how careless some people could be with sharp objects -- sharp, wicious objects -- leaving them on the edge of tables. This last was addressed to the master, who quailed under the moral force of Killick's glare, and pretended a sudden interest in the state of his fingernails.
The evening air was still as Stephen and Lady Barbara walked on deck. The passengers, many of whom had earlier packed their clothes together and refused to leave the vicinity of the ship's boats, had long since returned meekly to their cabins. The amazing crowds striving for entrance to the Purser's office, clamouring for the return of their valuables, had long since dispersed. Even the most pessimistic of passengers had become convinced of their safety as hour after hour passed in which the ship stubbornly refused to sink. Jack had told Stephen privately that they had left the zone in which there was a danger of encountering another iceberg. The "Titania" was safe, but he was sure that the mountains of ice would do for another ship, another day.
As they passed I.K. Trinque, who was standing in front of some large chains, soliciting passers-by to take a Daguerrotype of him looking masterful and wise in his tallest hat and wearing his finest waistcoat and watch chain, Barbara said "You have made no progress in your search for young Habachtsthal, I collect?"
"Indeed, I have not. I have heard that his English is perfect. I begin to suspect almost every young man aboard. Mr Critchley, Lord Wesley, in spite of the help he has given us. Even that friendly young chap, Wilson."
At that point, Killick approached, limping at a surprisingly fast pace. He was obviously bursting to tell them something. He caught up with them and said
[sdw] "Beg parm, Sir. Ma'am. Teleographical message for the doctor. Spark's compliments, and it requests a reply quick-like."
Stephen opened the paper and read: colepterus obscurus stop jb stop.
"Lady Barbara, may I beg your company?"
They walked uphill towards the radio shack. Knocking on the door they found within not Wilson, but a white-haired gentleman, deep, deep inside the Odyssey, quite oblivious to the commotion and the tipping of the deck. Mr Wilson had stepped out. He would just call him. He went out, and they heard the sound of the lock being turned.
"How extraordinary," cried Lady Baker.
Stephen examined the lock and then produced from his pockets a clean handkerchief, a dirty handkerchief, a sausage, a mummified microchiropteran, a piece of string, two small phials containing blue and gold powders, a third handerkerchief that he immediately secreted in his sleeve, and a lancet. He applied the lancet to the lock and soon heard the mechanism respond to his solicitations. He allowed himself a small smile of triumph directed at Lady Baker, and pushed open the door. It had been blocked from the outside by a large crate. Their eyes met, and a deep groan ran through the very fibers of the great ship. The room tilted perceptibly.
[bat] "What happened?" asked Lady Barbara. "Why is the pointy end of the ship lower in the water now?"
"Oh, I should not imagine there is any need for concern," Stephen replied. "Probably it is just Captain Aubrey adjusting the trim, as I have heard him call it, shifting about the bilges and keels and heavy thingies so as to bring the ship to some particular attitude upon the water in order to perfect the sailing qualities of the vessel. With sea officers it amounts almost to a mania, this incessant quest for speed."
"Stephen, that elderly student of Homer -- do you suppose he was Pierre Habachtsthal? I would taken the man to be an octagenarian of English and German ancestry, displaying more than a passing familiarity with Ireland and the lands of the western Mediterranean, perhaps Catalonia, but they do say that young Pierre has a great flair for disguise, undoubtedly learned during his days at Drury Lane. I saw him there once in a performance of ''Twelfth Night', and he played an admirable Viola and Sebastian."
"You may be correct, my dear. I saw ink-stains upon the index fingers of both hands, indicating an ambidextrous facility with the pen, and Sir Joseph has told me that young Hambachtsthal can execute a fine copperplate English with his right while simultaneously proving a dab hand at French script with his left. And note well that he was reading the Odyssey, that tale of the duplicitous Greek, rather than the sublime Iliad."
"Then we have unmasked him!" Lady Barbara cried with exhuberance.
Stephen's natural caution, intensified by decades of disappointment in love and Irish politics, provoked him to reluctantly quell her exhiliaration. "By now he has certainly discarded his white wig and Homer and assumed a new face."
Lieutenant Zimmermann approached along the slanting deck. "Belay that brass polishing," he told a young seaman nearby, an order which Stephen found prodigiously unsettling in light of the lieutenant's often-repeated dictum that 'Trafalgar was won with a can of brass polish.' Zimmermann bent his head close to Stephen's ear. "I wouldn't want to alarm you or Lady Barbara, but have you considered the longterm health benefits to be gained by regular exercise such as, say, vigorously rowing a lifeboat? Not that there's any danger. Oh, my word, no. None whatsoever. No, no, no."
The rest of the lieutenant's assurances were drowned out by a sudden shrill outpouring from Isambard Trinque. "It isn't a design flaw at all, Captain Aubrey. The passengers had a genuine need for those large port windows in their cabins. You couldn't expect ladies and gentlemen of quality to spend their nights in quarters not properly ventilated. Now, to someone such as yourself, ignorant of the fine points of marine engineering, it might possibly seem a little inconvenient that these windows permit the introduction of a few tons of sea water whenever the bow dips down a strake or two. And true, that sea water then does depress the bow a tiny bit more, introducing an additional quantity of sea water which brings the bow down more, taking in more sea water and ... Well, it wouldn't be a problem at all if certain people didn't go running into mountains of ice, and you must in all justice admit that the passengers had a lovely view of the iceberg through their port windows while they were still above water. Now, according to my revised calculations, with the assistance of the pumps the ship should easily stay afloat for another two or three
Jack drew himself up, his mounting indignation apparent as Trinque's pitiful performance ground along. Finally, he could bear it no longer. "Belay that talk, sir. I care not a fig for your estimation, whether it be two or three days, years, hours or minutes. You are to consider that your service in this enterprise is at an end: good day to you, sir. And keep clear of the officers and hands in their labors to save the ship, or I shall have you clapped in irons, with your arms made fast to a water-pipe."
Stephen drew him aside and asked in a low voice, "Jack, pray, are you at all concerned for our ultimate safety, the ability of this stout vessel to remain afloat, supra-surface, not entirely submerged? I have noted with concern some signs that the seamen are not quite easy in their minds on this point."
"Stephen, I tell you what it is," said Jack, his open countenance betraying the concern he felt, a deep, abiding concern that transcended mere dismay at the fate of his personal stores: spoilt, ruined, aswim in the forward hold. "That awkward, pragmatical bastard has built us a stout ship with a fatal flaw; we are going down by the head unless I am able to devise some way of sealing those damn, newfangled port-holes, which now admit prodigious great quantities of sea water, more every second, into what Trinque so blithely calls his 'water-tight compartments'."
Zimmermann came racing up the companionway and addressed his captain, somewhat short of breath. "Sir, I've just had a look at the port-holes in compartment five, those that are as yet above water, and I believe I know a way we can save her." He paused, considering how best to put what he was about to say, then plunged on. "I have never breathed a word of this to anyone, Captain, but I was Chips in the old Coleptera, before I made a life-choice to re-cast myself as an officer and a gentleman..." The others hid their amazement at this contravention of all they held dear, their world turned topsy-turvy by the news. What next, they wondered: servants raised to the nobility by mail-order? "...and old habits die hard, so they do. So I laid in a store of shot plugs before we sailed...no, no: not plugs for mere 24-pound shot, nor even the great 36-pound balls," he hurried to explain, trying not to lose his clearly skeptical audience.
"I'm speaking of large shot plugs, made for the prodigious great balls said to be thrown by the newest armament of our once and future enemies, the diabolical Spaniards, guns of a type only just now being deployed on their heaviest ships of the line: the great gun known to our intelligence services only as La Colossa..."
A sudden commotion just aft diverted Zimmermann from his hurried exposition. "Here, now; don't you be making no sudden moves, or I might just trip-like, and you'll be over the side before you can say Preserved Sanity Killick." It was Jack's servant, spitting mad, hauling a bedraggled Trinque by the coat-tail, the prostrate engineer's curiously stained hands clutching at whatever offered -- stanchions, cleats, ankles -- in a vain attempt to impede Killick's dogged advance into Jack's presence.
"Which I found him trying to launch the jolly-boat, Sir," said Killick, depositing the man in a heap at Jack's feet. "Said 'e was going to pull round the ship to survey her. But 'is pockets was full o' the passengers' waluables, and he had this." Killick held out a large sack full of provisions and what appeared to be a chart of some kind, along with a sheaf of documents wrapped in an oiled cloth. "Habachtsthal!" cried Baker and Stephen, simultaneously.
"Well done, Killick," said Jack. "Quartermaster, clap this man in the brig and set a constant guard. Zimmermann, quick as you like, now: there's not a moment to be lost..."
. . .
'...and so, my dearest Sophie, I cannot say which was the more amazing sight: Killick standing careful guard over the prisoner, Habachtsthal, wearing H.'s tall, his very tall, black beaver hat (Killick was most amazingly put out to discover his new-found friend was no more than a vile French intelligence agent), or to see the passengers in all their finery, taking their turn at the pumps alongside the hands, the water pouring over the sides in a solid stream: hour after long hour, never a letup. The pumping continues still, for it will be three days at the current rate of sailing before we reach our anchorage in Halifax.'
Jack paused to consider, his pen hovering in the air, then continued.
'She floats! The noble ship Titania, saved by Lieutenant Zimmermann's fine great shot-plugs bunged into the port-holes, along with the fothering that the older hands -- those who could still remember how ply a sailmaker's needle, that is -- the fothering they fashioned from every scrap of linen in the first-class dining room; for we could not plug all the submerged port-holes in the first four forward compartments, so far under the water's surface were they.'
Jack looked across the great cabin to where Stephen sat, scratching away at his own correspondence, and asked
[js] "Are you finished, brother?"
"I am," replied Stephen, with some satisfaction. He then folded, sealed and addressed his letter with rapidity -- uncharacteristically gleeful rapidity. Jack thought he could distinguish a large "B" in the direction.
It had cost Stephen and Barbara no little effort to decipher the documents in Habachtsthal's possession. Stephen had despaired of completing the task, but his companion -- "the most cunning female mind in the Creation," thought Stephen gratefully -- had eventually broken the triple-layered code, using her knowledge of Church Latin, cryptic crosswords, and some of the obscurer canons of the elder Bach... How this dispatch would make them stare in London! Habachtsthal, trusting in the impenetrability of his ciphers, had been most wonderfully indiscreet.
Even better than the delight Stephen and Barbara hoped to produce in
London was the utter mayhem they were planning to cause in Paris and Berlin.
According to young Wilson, the kindly, white-haired old gentleman -- the
one who was so fond of the classics -- had offered to mind the telegraph
equipment whenever he had felt like a break. Barbara had found in Habachtsthal's
notes a careful record of all the messages he had sent, and all his identifying
codes. Stephen had felt almost dizzy with power as he had composed his
poisoned darts, exquisitely designed to be utterly devastating and yet
comfortingly plausible to his enemies' trusting ears.
As Stephen walked to the wireless office, he saw Miss Skinner's yellow head shaking with laughter as she talked to young Critchley. She was clearly glad to be returning home to Halifax. He drew closer and saw that all of her large form was heaving with laughter, her red face suffused with merriment and her bright blue eyes gleaming as she gasped out "Cur-tailed, for all love!" Stephen was reminded that Habachtsthal had been uncommonly fond of discovering the most intimate details of the lives of his fellow passengers; a mindless, magpie's delight in collecting secrets for their own sake being a common failing in their profession. Habachtsthal had recorded the marriage of the girl's mother, Miss Smith, to a Colonel Skinner just before she gave birth in 1813. He had dryly accompanied this with the observation that it was widely known that the Colonel had been in India for all of the year twelve. Stephen smiled at the girl as he passed by, and reflected that it was best that some signals would never be decoded.
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