The ship beat slowly up the coast into a fresh nor'-easter, until at last it revealed itself to the watchers at the South Head station as the Leopard, the horrible old Leopard. She'd been expected for some days now, since the packet Hesperus brought a report of a meeting in 37° South near Cape Howe.
But that had not prepared them for the sight of a 50-gun ship so cruelly used by the sea. Even to a landsman, the sails were not what they should be — a wild set of patched canvas, stained and torn and not hanging from the yards quite as you'd expect. And surely there was something wrong with the rudder: some fault perhaps in the way it was hung.
It seemed the ship would never weather the Head, but in time she did, and the crew — what there remained of them — could relax a little as they wafted up the harbour. On the poop deck, two figures stood apart from the little group of sailors around the wheel below.
"I confess to you I'm relieved to be here, Stephen," said Jack Aubrey. "It has been touch and go," he added, reaching out even then to rest his hand on the mizzen mast.
Doctor Maturin paused from scanning the shores with the Captain's best telescope. Such a wealth of botanical marvels, and birds, and was that indeed a kangaroo staring back at him?
"Why Jack, what a thing to say! Was there ever any doubt that we'd reach this haven, this new Eden?" He spoke distractedly, eager to be back with the alien sights of New Holland.
"Oh, not much doubt," replied Jack, "if you don't count the pitifully small crew, the ragged sails, the single carronade that was all that stood between us and any cruising Frenchman, and the weather." He paused and considered the weeks of storms between Desolation Island and Van Diemen's Land. "The weather," he repeated, glancing up at the sails gently filling.
"But you told us we'd make it," cried his friend. "You did, as we left that blessed island. And why should we not believe you?"
A surge of happiness glowed in Jack's breast, and he turned to smile at Stephen. But the Doctor's attention had already been captured by a screeching cloud of cockatoos.
© 2004 Kerry Webb