Stephen Maturin entered the great cabin of HMS Surprise with the crease of concentration upon his pale forehead. "Tell me, my dear," he addressed his captain, "did the sun rise in the east this morning?"
Jack Aubrey looked up from the score of the Boccherini D Major spread loosely across his lap. "I collect that it generally does in these latitudes, Doctor, and I'd think it passing strange if the officer of the watch would not remark had it done otherwise."
"And having risen in the east, the sun now should be setting in the west?"
"Yes, in the service we hold that as an invariable rule. Much of our navigation floats upon the idea." Jack wondered for a moment if there might be a witticism to be worked free.
"I observed this morning that the sun came up on the starboard side- no, no, the larboard side..." Stephen stared down at his hands. "On the left side of the ship. I was facing forward at the time, too," he added triumphantly to evidence his nautical discernment. "Yet, not two minutes ago I found the sun setting on that selfsame left side of the vessel, facing forward as I was again. How can this be?"
"This morning we were on a starboard tack with the wind full from the west, where it has held steady all this day. In the forenoon watch we came about to the larboard tack. Perhaps you noted the activity, the sound of the men on deck, the gentle urgings from the first lieutenant and the boatswain? No mind. The sun has kept to its course, I do assure you; it is the ship which has turned beneath it."
Stephen's perplexity had not wholly dissipated when Killick, the captain's steward since the first days of his first command, carried in a silver platter dotted with meager, amorphous mounds shading from a insalubrious ocher to near black. "Which it’s the last of the cheese to toast; naught but rind that the rats has left."
Callow, the smallest of the squeakers, pushed in behind Killick. "Mr. Pullings presents his compliments and there's a sail on the larboard beam."
A rush to the deck, a hurried word with Pullings, and Jack sprang into the foremast ratlines with an agility belying his sixteen stone. From Stephen, susurrus: Entirely too much flesh consumed and carried. A lack of regular exercise. Apoplexy among the corpulent. Benefits to be conferred by barley water. And Jack's yellow hair streamed out into the strong breeze, while the brass of his telescope caught the last gleam of sunlight as he sought out the distant horizon.
© 1998 Bruce Trinque