Jack had been ill in South Africa, and it had been a blessing in disguise when the Admiralty decided to reduce the establishment there, and had ordered Jack home to healthier climes. Although much improved after resting at Woolhampton, under the full penitence of Stephen's professional care, he was not yet back to his full self; so Stephen had welcomed the invitation from their old shipmate of the Polychrest, Lieutenant of Marines James MacDonald, to visit him on his native heath, to hunt, to view the wildlife, and to enjoy his hospitality in the magnificent old castle on a promontory that had been his family's seat since the ancient days.
Using Surprise as transport, they had looked into the sadly empty glens and sea-lochs, where no roads crossed the heather nor houses lightened the nights. It had been magnificent from the naturalist's point of view; Stephen had spent hour after hour watching the otters at play; he had stood open-mouthed with awe when the great sea-eagle took a 9-lb salmon direct from the loch and flew off as easy as kiss-my-hand; and he had even confronted an Imperial, a huge red deer stag with 16 points on his antlers, who definitely resented the intrusion into his landscape and had asserted firmly to Stephen that it would be wisest to withdraw.
The hunting too had gone well. James explained that he had not been seriously inconvenienced by Stephen's amputation of his arm after the cutting-out of the Bellone, once he had engaged the MacLeod twins as ghillies: "Murdo is loader, as his are the deft fingers; and Alec is now deaf in his right ear".
They had eaten the full range of the finest Scottish delicacies - salmon, fresh and fresh - venison, well hung - spring lamb at its prime - grouse, the red, and capercaillie, the black. One theme had recurred, in which Jack had discovered a new delight. The Scottish national cereal had appeared as porridge, salty – little crunchy griddle cake biscuits with whisky - Atholl brose – cranachan or crowdie cream – and bread, of course.
Just as owners grow to resemble their pets, old friends of decades' standing grow to share speech and thought patterns. Stephen's resolve that he would never allow low wit to pass his lips had become weaker, and his ability to detect within himself the first stirrings of such like had gone. So when Jack at breakfast again devoured his porridge, and wondered aloud why the Frenchies had thought they could conquer the world on a breakfast consisting only of coffee and croissants, a dam burst within Stephen, a delicious, delirious feeling of wild rebellion fired his body, and he cried, "Why Jack – you have the right of it – the French have absolutely no notion of oat cuisine!"
© 2005 Tim Elliot