Жанр: Разное » Patrick O'Brian » The far side of the world (страница 46)

'When the American cleared the channel did she stand due west?' asked Jack.

'Well, sir,' said the specktioneer, 'maybe a point south of west. Moses Thomas and me, we went up to the shelter again and we watched her to the horizon, straight as a die, just a trifle south of west, topgallantsails on the fore and main.'

'For the Marquesas, specktioneer?'

'That's right, mate. There are half a dozen of us out there, and some Yankees too, now that the Sandwiches are not what they was, and New Zealand a disappointment, with the people eating you up if you so much as set foot on shore.'

'Good; very good. Mr Mowett, these men will be entered on the ship's books: capital hands, I am sure, to be rated able. Mr Adams will issue hammocks, beds, slops; and they will be excused duty for a couple of days, to recover. Mr Allen, we will clear the strait with the changing tide and lay a course for the Marquesas.'

'No tortoises, sir?' asked Mowett.

'No tortoises. We have been very economical with the ship's provisions and we can do without tortoise as a relish. No, no, she is eighteen days before us and there is not a moment to lose over tortoises or caviar or cream in our tea.'

With this he went below, looking thoroughly pleased. A few minutes later Stephen hurried into the cabin. 'When are we to stop?' he cried. 'You promised we should stop.'

'The promise was subject to the requirements of the service: listen, Stephen, here I have my tide, my current and my wind all combined - my enemy with a fine head-start so that there is not a moment to be lost - could I conscientiously delay for the sake of an iguano or a beetle - interesting, no doubt, but of no immediate application in warfare? Candidly, now?'

'Banks was taken to Otaheite to observe the transit of Venus, which had no immediate practical application.'

'You forget that Banks paid for the Endeavour, and that we did not happen to be engaged in a war at the time: the Endeavour was not in pursuit of anything but knowledge.'

Stephen had not known this: it made him if anything angrier still, but he governed himself and said, 'As I understand it, you mean to go round the end of this long island on the left and start your voyage - take your departure - from the other side.' Jack gave a noncommittal nod. 'Well, now, were Martin and I to walk across it, we should be on the other side long before the ship. The proportions are as one to ten, so they are; and a little small boat could land us without any trouble at all, and take us off. We should walk briskly, pausing only for a few important measurements and almost certainly making valuable discoveries about springs of fresh water, mineral ores, antiscorbutic vegetables and the like.'

'Stephen,' said Jack, 'if the wind and the tide had been against us, I should have said yes: they are not. I am obliged to say no.' Landing them through the surf would be difficult; getting them off again on the west side might be quite impossible; and then the 'brisk walking' of two besotted natural philosophers across a remote oceanic island filled With plants and creatures unknown to science might last until the frigate sank at her moorings or grounded on her beef bones - he had seen Maturin on shore before this with nothing more than a Madeiran woodlouse to make him lose all sense of time. But he was sorry for his friend's disappointment, so much keener than he had expected from the desperately sterile look of the islands; he was even sorrier to see a tide of anger rise in Stephen's usually impassive face, and to hear the harsh tone in which he said, 'Very well, sir; I must submit to superior force, I find. I must be content to form part of a merely belligerent expedition, hurrying past inestimable pearls, bent solely on destruction, neglecting all discovery - incapable of spending five minutes on discovery. I shall say nothing about the corruption of power or its abuse; I shall only observe that for my part I look upon a promise as binding and that until the present I must confess it had never occurred to me that you might not be of the same opinion - that you might have two words.'

'My promise was necessarily conditional,' said Jack. 'I command a King's ship, not a private yacht. You are forgetting yourself.' Then, much more kindly, and with a smile, 'But I tell you what it is, Stephen, I shall keep in as close with the shore as can be, and you shall look at the creatures with my best achromatic glass,' - reaching for a splendid five-lens Dollond, an instrument that Stephen was never allowed to use, because of his tendency to drop telescopes into the sea.

'You may take your achromatic glass and...' began Stephen, but he checked himself and after the slightest pause went on, 'You are very good, but I have one of my own. I shall trouble you no longer.'

He was exceedingly angry: his solution - one short side of a triangle as opposed to two of immense length - seemed to him unanswerably sound; and it made him angrier still when practically everybody aboard, and not only old friends like Bonden and Killick and the privileged Joe Plaice (who practically owned the man who had opened his skull and who lived in a state of permanent hostility with Rogers, who had only had an arm off) but Padeen, recent Defenders and the mere children of the midshipmen's berth, surrounded him with exceptional kindness and particular attention. He had always prided himself on maintaining the volto sciolto,

pensieri stretti rather better than most men, and here were illiterate tarpaulins comforting him for a distress that he could have sworn was perfectly undetectable.

With a surly satisfaction he observed that in spite of the changing tide the Surprise did in fact make but a slow passage of her two legs, for the breeze came foul upon her twice: they slowly passed two excellent strands where a boat could have landed them and taken them off, the first in a cove beyond the reef where the blackened carcass of the whaler lay; and it was clear to him that he and Martin might have crept across the island on all fours and still have been in time. 'In half the time,' he muttered, beating the rail in an extremity of frustration.

He watched the dim, cloud-covered Galapagos vanish astern and turned in early, ending his usual prayers with one for a less rancorous mind and lying there in his cot with Boethius' De Consolatione Philosophiae and two measured ounces of laudanum.

Yet in spite of these he was still unusually ill-tempered at two o'clock in the morning, when Padeen roused him and very slowly and with great difficulty told him in Irish and English that Mr Blakeney had swallowed a four-pound grapeshot.

'The thing is materially impossible,' said Stephen. 'The wicked little brute-beast is lying - showing away - topping it the phoenix - making himself interesting. Such a dose I shall give him - the sorrows of Munster will be nothing to his.'

But when he found the poor brute-beast, pale, frightened, apologetic and put to sit by a lantern on the half-deck, and when he learnt that the grape in question was only one of the nine that made up the charge of the launch's fourpounder, he at once had him seized up by the heels, ran for the stomach-pump and forced a large quantity of tepid salt water tinged with rum into his body, reflecting with pleasure, as among the agonized retching he heard the clang of the ball in the basin, that he had cured his patient not only of probably mortal occlusion but of any taste for spirituous liquors for some time to come.

Even so, even with this physical and moral triumph, the next day found him still thoroughly out of humour, and when Adams observed that the Captain was to be the gunroom's guest at dinner - that the dinner was to be an uncommon fine one too, quite a Lord Mayor's feast - he said, 'Oh, indeed,' in a tone that showed no kind of pleasure. 'I have known that fellow hang about in port,' he said to himself, glancing at Jack from the lee gangway as the Surprise ran smoothly over the vast South Sea, pure blue now from rim to unimaginably distant rim, 'I have known him hang about most shamefully when it was a question of a wench - Nelson too and many a post-captain, many an admiral when adultery was concerned - no fine-spun scruples about the King's ship then. No, no: scruples are kept for natural philosophy alone, or any useful discovery. His soul to the Devil, false, hypocritical dog; but he is probably unaware of his falsity - pravum est cor omnium, the heart is perverse above all things and unsearchable. Who shall know it?'

Yet although Stephen was of a saturnine and revengeful temperament he had been brought up to a high notion of hospitality. The Captain was the gunroom's guest, and the ship's surgeon was not to sit there in silent dogged resentment. Putting a considerable force on himself Stephen uttered four civil remarks, and after a proper interval he said, 'A glass of wine with you, sir,' bowing low.

'I must congratulate you most heartily, Doctor, on your preservation of young Blakeney,' said Jack, returning his bow. 'How I could have told our old shipmate that we had let his son perish of grapeshot I do not know. A grapeshot in these circumstances, I mean, not a French or American one.'

'How could he possibly have come to swallow such a thing?' asked Martin.

'When I was a reefer and any of the youngsters talked too much, we used to make him hold one in his mouth,' said Jack. 'We called 'em gob-stoppers. I dare say that is how it came about.'

'May I send you a piece of bonito, sir?' called Howard from the middle of the table.

'If you please. A capital fish, bonito, capital: I could eat it for ever.'

'I caught seven this morning, sir, sitting in the mizen chains and casting along the edge of the wake. I sent one to the sick-bay, one to the midshipmen's berth, three to my Marines, and kept the best for us.'

'Capital, capital,' said Jack again; and indeed it was a capital dinner altogether: best green turtle, delicate flying squid come aboard in the night, a variety of fishes, dolphin pie, and to crown all a great dish of teal, Galapagos teal, indistinguishable in taste from Christian teal, that had been netted by Howard's sergeant, a former poacher. And Stephen noticed, not without irritation, that as he ate and drank his civility was growing less artificial, his deliberately urbane expression more nearly a spontaneous smile, and that he was in danger of enjoying himself. behold the threaden sails