n the fading light Tom Pullings and Jack Aubrey studied the desolate coast. "I hate when Stephen misses a rendezvous. I'll feel better with our doctor aboard. Someone may fall from the rigging in this haze and I don't trust that quack Harriss even if he is a ship's surgeon."
Pullings nodded. "About this south wind, sir." Pullings' eyes followed Jack's troubled gaze upwards, feeling more than hearing the slightly higher tone singing in the shrouds. "It's picking up, and carrying a fine red dust."
"Yes, it worries me. If it blows for more than two days it gets so thick the sand can eat into the masts. You remember old Jebbings in the Spritely? Ran a'ground here in '02, got caught in this soup for six days, snapped two masts on her run home. We've stuck to this infernal African beach for too long and I have no wish to follow Jebbings' wake. Get us under way immediately the doctor is back aboard." A second later he added "May it be soon. And send me Chips."
Pullings disappeared forward into the deeping haze. In a few moments the Carpenter's Mate appeared, knuckle to his forehead. "Yes, sir?"
"Prepare some planks for shielding we can nail to the windward side of the masts if this wind stays up. It'll look a sorry sight but it'll protect them."
"Yes, sir. Two foot wide, sir, so we'll crossbrace 'em. Be some trouble in the wind. Might take an hour to nail it all up."
"Just get it ready now. We won't send the men up unless we have to."
Back in the cabin, Jack and Pullings fretted over the charts. Jack said "This dust, you know, it gets into the chronometers. The Admiralty won't like it but we'll have to open them up and clean them, every gear, every tooth, washed clean with spirits of pine. Otherwise they'll gum up and lose time. Minutes ain't in it."
Pullings nodded. "Waiting is hard, isn't it sir?"
"Perhaps some port will steady your head?"
Killick's shrill objection piped up "You'll be spoilin' yer appetite!"
Jack muttered "I wish he'd clam up about dinner. He's giving me a haddock."
Pullings, thinking of the empty seat at the gunroom table, replied "Since the doctor ain't here, perhaps you'd like a round with our sturgeon."
"Thank you, Pullings. That's a most un-shellfish offer, but..."
His words were cut off as Bonden's imposing form appeared in the doorway. "Beg pardon, but the doctor is here and not too wet, sir." A moment later Stephen Maturin himself emerged, dripping from knees downward.
"Ah, Stephen, I am delighted to see you well and whole."
"Delighted to be both," replied Stephen. "And yourself too. But tell me Jack, what is all that feverish activity on deck?"
"We were preparing for the worst. Indeed, it was looking to become quite hellish, after which there would have been much nailing and washing of teeth. But now we can get under way. Pullings, see to it." Pullings was aready on deck issuing the orders.
© 2005 Jim Muller