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A Conversation in the Foretop

Magellan's Strait was a full days sailing behind the Surprise. Jack & Stephen sat on a folded studdingsail in the empty foretop & watched the sun dip its last blood red edge below the western horizon.

"Tell me now Jack do you think it was all worth it?" Said Stephen.

"What do you mean old Stephen? This recent Chilean business?"

"No, no the late war with France. Our titanic struggle with the forces of Bonaparte. The countless painful deaths, the ruination of health & happiness, the despoiling, the destruction. Our parts in the business, our lives...

Jack thought for a moment. "Oh as to that. Well death & destruction are certainly not good things & we have seen our share & more, but I think we were on the right side. Bonaparte had little enough good in him for the world at large."

"To be sure his consuming ambition for power was a very, very, great evil. But I still sometimes wonder if we lesser mortals need our Bonapartes, perhaps always shall," said Stephen, looking older than Jack had ever seen him in the twilight.

"Well you might be in the right of it Stephen, but I will tell you something to bring you about."

"Please do brother, I grow melancholy I find."

"Well I think it might be the west coast of Africa for us when I hoist my flag in Implacable. There is talk of putting a stopper on the slave trade, a permanent anti-slavery patrol. Saving poor souls, head money for the ships people & all the strange birds & beast a natural philosopher could delight in. Implacable is a sweet sailor too, Strachan took her from the French in the year five."

Jack turned his beaming face on his friend.

Stephen's face lightened. "You delight me Jack dear, a total moral good. I should be delighted to see that part of Africa again & for such a purpose.

"What say you to some toasted cheese with our coffee & perhaps some music? Unless the wind changes we will not need to touch a sheet until morning," said Jack heaving his bulk from the sail.

"With all my heart," said Stephen, also rising. "But you would do well to refrain from too much cheese, you heavy men lay yourself open to all manner of bodily complaints, as I have told you time & time past, for all love."

Jack's mind was on the point of something very funny involving twenty odd years of war & death by cheese, but it eluded him & he merely replied "Now Stephen clap on & do not look down." & he descended placing Stephen's feet carefully.

Surprise sailed on over a calm sea, under a blue-black velvet sky, studded with a million stars. Presently the Officer of the watch & the Midshipman & the helmsman at the wheel, heard music from the great cabin...


© 2000 Ted Browne