You are here

The Admiral's Challenge

'I'll tell you what it is Stephen,' said Jack as he half-sat in an unaccustomed position above the starboard sternlocker, stretched halfway out of the only open window, then slipping back in to a more natural attitude next to Stephen's dressing-case -- now fitted with a basin and holding Stephen's shaving kit though it was past three bells in the forenoon watch -- 'I never thought I'd say this, or even think it, but this admiralcy is not quite what I had imagined.' He looked tired, older than his years, and, as Stephen had noticed the previous morning, thoroughly unhappy.

'I must not further vex the poor fellow,' Stephen said to himself, and aloud, 'Will you tell me more?'

'I don't like to complain, and Lord knows I'm happy Buonaparte has been placed at his leisure, but it almost seems the gods have contrived to place me in misery, after all of these years at sea, I'm blued as you said so long ago but with no war, no prizes, no enemy whatsoever.'

Stephen heard the distinctive double chime of four bells as he tried in vain to frame a response, then his original thought, 'Consider you are in a far better position than you would be as a lieutenant, as you were in peacetime not so many years ago, or even as a captain,' escaped his lips -- causing a wry smile to appear on Jack's. Stephen smiled in return, 'We are not so very bad off as we have been, you know.'

'You're right brother, what's more, whining don't help,' he said, casting the large majority of his care aside, 'come, Stephen, I must go on deck, I cannot make out that approaching cutter, perhaps it's news from home.'

As they left the great cabin, dim in the shadow of three days of a light unceasing rain -- a warm rain that had refilled their water-casks but had had no other discernable benefit -- for the dimmer, or at least drearier grey of the quarterdeck, Jack was approached by his newest lieutenant, an aide de camp inflicted on him in the River Plate; all of a tall eighteen years old, who pulled of his hat in the drizzle, stood as straight as an ensign-staff and contrived to appear the required nineteen as he announced the approach of the aforementioned cutter, 'We think it's the Jaleo, sir.'

'The Jaleo?' said Jack to himself as he dismissed the lieutenant with thanks and faced her, 'what sort of a name is that for -- oh, a Spanish ship,' he realized as he focussed Stephen's glass, his having been smashed by a drunken Killick, once again celebrating Jack's promotion.

'What news from Spain?' he said to himself, then, as he stood taller, smiling, hailing, 'What news from Spain?' Molly Harte, the widow Molly Harte, was onboard, discreetly waving from the bows.


© 2003 John Kaluta