Ding-ding, Ding. From forward of the main mast the ship's bell indicated an hour and a half past midnight. The work was done, and if the doctor returned from his grocery shopping in time, they would make their tide and depart for Rio de Janeiro by mid-morning.
As he climbed into the box-bed that might someday become his coffin, the Captain of the Surprise reflected that he had never felt so utterly exhausted as he was this night. Certainly the victualling and refitting necessary after the Atlantic crossing and storm had required effort. Even with a good first-- and Hervey was not one of the best-- a captain had to supervise, make decisions and even throw his physical weight into the tasks. And this time had been no worse than any other, although he also had had to entertain Mr. Stanhope; but for some reason he was totally fagged out. He did not feel ill: no fever, no chills, no nausea-- just tired. Maybe after a full night's sleep he would feel better...
Soon the cabin filled with the stentorian snores of a man dead to the world. The slightest change in the condition of his ship would bring him awake in an instant, but the little fluttering shape as it flew in through an open port did not disturb him. As it had each of the three preceding nights, the little bat settled down on an exposed ankle and licked with its anaesthetic saliva, so when the sharp incisors penetrated the skin, the victim didn't feel it. After a short time, the sated mammal leapt into the air and flew back to its cave. The blood flowed from the small wounds for a few minutes, soaking into the bedding where it would not be noticed, and then slowed to an ooze as the anticoagulant from the saliva was washed away.
"Boat, ahoy!" came the challenge from the quarterdeck.
"Surgeon!" was the reply.
The Captain came on deck as the boat hooked on. "There you are, Dr. Maturin," he said, "I am happy to see that you were so successful," looking down into the launch and the canoes, loaded with glowing heaps of oranges and shaddocks, red meat, iguanas, bananas, green stuff. Getting a closer look at his friend, he frowned, seeing what appeared to be a green fur stole draped over one shoulder. A stole that turned a lethargic head, looked into Jack's eyes, wailed in dispair, and looked away again. "But I am afraid no vampires can be allowed on board!"
"Faith, Jack, and it's just a sloth, a three-toed sloth, a most affectionate, discriminating sloth, and no vampire at all," said Stephen as he climbed the ship's side. Espying the twin red dots on the Captain's white stocking he smiled to himself, thinking, "and at any road, you've been entertaining vampires your self."
© 2000 Bill Nyden