Violin and cello laid aside after the vigorous conclusion of Corelli's D-Major, Jack and Stephen sat in the stillness of the Surprise's after cabin, the waves of the vast South Atlantic hidden beyond the stern windows in black night. "Stephen, I have long wished to ask, with your pardon ..." Jack hesitated, mindful of his friend's often prickly sensitivity.
"Is this an inquiry so lofty as can be posed only by an admiral, that exalted creature with his flag of blue, too elevated for a mere post-captain?"
"Oh, no, Stephen. It is just that sometimes you do not care to have your nautical skill questioned."
"Nonsense, brother. I unreservedly avow that I am no son of Neptune. What is your query?"
"Back in the dear old Sophie, that day when we took the Cacafuego, you handled the helm most ably, steering us right properly against the xebec's hull so we could board. Very well done, indeed. And yet in those days, it has since occurred to me, you had not yet fully grasped even the essential difference between larboard and starboard." Nor have you yet, Jack said to himself.
"It is true that I was not yet fully educated in these matters, and there was some confusion in my mind. I was given to understand that I was to bring the ship - the brig, I mean - hard to larboard and, the difference between that and starboard not yet being wholly established within me, I had falsely conceived that your intent was for me to steer the Sophie rightwards. And so I turned the wheel to the right and never in life was so surprised as when the brig swung leftwards, for all love. And I still do not understand how that transpired, for I am certain I turned the wheel in the other direction. A benevolent current of the sea, perhaps?"
"Stephen, did you not know ... do you not know even now ... that to turn a vessel to larboard - to the left - that you must turn the wheel to the right?"
"Joseph and Mary, no. I have never heard of anything so unphilosophical, so specious in principle. Another of your obtuse immemorial customs of the sea, no doubt."
"A good custom, too, elsewise you would have turned our stern to the Cacafuego and perfect flats we would have been while they raked us and sank the barky with one broadside. And had they done that, small chance of me ever flying my flag, I do assure you. But all ends well that is stitched in time. Shall we attempt the Locatelli now, Stephen?"
© 2003 Bruce Trinque