Sunrise wouldn't be for another nine or ten hours; and though he had to stay here until then, it would certainly be impossible to sleep. The prospect of the long wait sickened him.
He remembered the bocor's statement: "I hope it was worth it."
He looked up at the stars and sneered a challenge at them. Try to stop me now, he thought, though it may take me years. I know it's true now. It can be done. Yes - even if I'd had to have a dozen Indians killed to learn it, a dozen white men, a dozen friends ... it would still have been worth it.
The seas and the weathers are what is; your vessels adapt to them or sink.
- Jack Shandy
Gripping one of the taut vertical ropes and leaning far out over the rail, John Chandagnac waited a moment until the swell lifted the huge, creaking structure of the stern and the poop deck on which he stood, and then he flung the biscuit as hard as he could. It looked like quite a long throw at first, but as it dropped by quick degrees toward the water, and kept on falling instead of splashing in, he saw that he hadn't really flung it very far out; but the gull had seen it, and came skimming in above the green water, and at the last moment, as if showing off, snatched it out of the air. The biscuit broke as the gull flapped back up to a comfortable altitude, but he seemed to have got a good beakful.
Chandagnac had another biscuit in his coat pocket, but for a while he just watched the bird glide, absently admiring the way it seemed to need only the slightest hitch and flap now and then to maintain its position just above the Vociferous Carmichael's starboard stern lamp, and he sniffed the elusive land smell that had been in the breeze since dawn. Captain Chaworth had said that they'd see Jamaica's purple and green mountains by early afternoon, then round Morant Point before supper and dock in Kingston before dark; but while the unloading of the Carmichael's cargo would mean the end of the worrying that had visibly slimmed the captain during this last week of the voyage, disembarking would be the beginning of Chandagnac's task.
And do remember too, he told himself coldly as he pulled the biscuit out of his pocket, that both Chaworth and yourself are each at least half to blame for your own problems. He flung the thing harder this time, and the sea gull caught it without having to dip more than a couple of yards.
When he turned back toward the little breakfast table that the captain let the passengers eat at when the morning's shiphandling jobs were routine, he was surprised to see the young woman standing up, her brown eyes alight with interest.
"Did he catch them?" she asked.
"Certainly did," said Chandagnac as he walked back toward the table. He wished now that he had shaved. "Shall I throw him yours too?"
She pushed her chair away and surprised Chandagnac still further by saying, "I'll throw it to him myself ... if you're sure he doesn't object to maggots?"
Chandagnac glanced at the gliding bird. "He hasn't fled, at least."
With only the slightest tremor of hesitation she picked up the inhabited biscuit and strode to the rail. Chandagnac noticed that even her balance was better this morning. She drew back a little when she got to the rail and looked down, for the poop deck was a good dozen feet above the rushing sea. With her left hand she took hold of the rail and pulled at it, as if testing to see if it was loose. "Hate to fall in," she said, a little nervously.
Chandagnac stepped up next to her and gripped her left forearm. "Don't worry," he said. His heart was suddenly beating more strongly, and he was annoyed with himself for the response.
She cocked her arm back and pitched the biscuit, and the white-and-gray bird obligingly dived for it, once again catching it before it hit the water. Her laugh, which Chandagnac heard now for the first time, was bright and cheerful. "I'll wager he follows every Jamaica-bound ship in, knowing the people aboard will be ready to throw the old provisions overboard."
Chandagnac nodded as they returned to the little table. "I'm not on a lavish budget, but I keep thinking about dinner tonight in Kingston. Rare beef, and fresh vegetables, and beer that doesn't smell like hot pitch."
The young woman frowned. "I wish I was permitted meat."
Chandagnac shifted his stool a foot or two to the left so that the tall, taut arch of the spanker sail shaded his face from the morning sun. He wanted to be able to see the expressions on the face of this suddenly interesting person. "I've noticed that you only seem to eat vegetables," he said, idly picking up his napkin.
She nodded. "Nutriments and medicaments - that's what my physician calls them. He says I have an incipient brain fever as a result of the bad airs at a sort of convent I was going to school at in Scotland. He's the expert, so I suppose he's right - though as a matter of fact I felt better, more energetic, before I started following his diet regimen."
Chandagnac had snagged up a loop of thread from his napkin and began working on another. "Your physician?" he asked casually, not wanting to say anything to break her cheery mood and change her back into the clumsy, taciturn fellow passenger she'd been during the past month. "Is he the ... portly fellow?"
She laughed. "Poor Leo. Say fat. Say corpulent. Yes, that's him. Dr. Leo Friend. An awkward man personally, but my father swears there's no better medical man in the world."
Chandagnac looked up from his napkin work. "Have you been avoiding your ... medicaments? You seem cheerier today." Her napkin lay on the table, and he picked it up and began picking at it too.
"Well, yes. Last night I just threw the whole plateful out of my cabin window. I hope that poor sea gull didn't sample any - it's nothing but a nasty lot of herbs and weeds Leo grows in a box in his cabin. Then I sneaked across to the galley and had the cook give me some sharp cheese and pickled onions and rum." She smiled sheepishly. "I was desperate for something with some taste to it."
Chandagnac shrugged. "Doesn't sound bad to me." He'd drawn three loops of thread out of each of the napkins, puckering the squares of cloth into bell shapes, and now he slipped three fingers of either hand into the loops and made the napkins stand upright and approach each other with a realistic simulation of walking. Then he had one of them bow while the other curtsied, and the two little cloth figures - one of which he'd somehow made to look subtly feminine - danced around the tabletop in complicated whirls and leaps and pirouettes.
The young woman clapped her hands delightedly, and Chandagnac had the napkins approach her and perform another curtsy and a sweeping Gascon bow before he let them fall from his fingertips.
"Thank you, Miss Hurwood," he said in a master-of-ceremonies voice.
"Thank you, Mr. Chandagnac," she said, "and your energetic napkins, too. But don't be formal - call me Beth."
"Very well," said Chandagnac, "and I'm John." Already he was regretting the impulse that had prompted him to draw her out - he had no time, nor any real wish, to get involved with a woman again. He thought of dogs he'd seen in city streets, and called to, just to see if they'd wag their tails and come over, and then too often they had been eager to follow him for hours.
He stood up and gave her a polite smile. "Well," he said, "I'd better be wandering off now. There are a couple of things I've got to be discussing with Captain Chaworth."
Actually, now that he thought of it, he might go look for the captain. The Carmichael was toiling along smoothly before the wind right now and couldn't be needing too much supervision, and it would be nice to sit down and have one last beery chat with the captain before disembarking. Chandagnac wanted to congratulate Chaworth on the apparent success of his insurance-evasion gambit - though unless they were absolutely alone he would have to deliver the congratulations in very veiled terms - and then to warn the man sternly against ever trying such a foolhardy trick again. Chandagnac was, after all, or had been, a successful businessman, and knew the difference between taking carefully calculated risks and letting one's whole career and reputation depend on the toss of a coin. Of course Chandagnac would be careful to deliver the reproof in a bantering tone, so as not to make the old man regret the drunken confidence.
"Oh," said Beth, clearly disappointed that he couldn't stay and talk. "Well, maybe I'll move my chair over by the railing and watch the ocean."
"Here, I'll carry it for you." She stood up, and Chandagnac picked up her chair and walked to the starboard rail, where he set it down on the deck a few yards from one of the post-mounted miniature cannons that he'd heard the sailors call swivel guns. "The shade's only intermittent here," he said doubtfully, "and you'd be catching the full breeze. Are you sure you wouldn't be better off below?"
"Leo would certainly think so," she said, sitting down with a smile of thanks, "but I'd like to continue my experiment of last night, and see what sort of malady it is that one gets from normal food and sunlight and fresh air. Besides, my father's busy with his researches, and he always winds up covering the whole cabin floor with papers and pendulums and tuning forks and I don't know what all. Once he's got it all arranged, there's no way in or out."
Chandagnac hesitated, curious in spite of himself. "Researches? What's he researching?"
"Well ... I'm not sure. He was involved pretty deeply in mathematics and natural philosophy at one time, but since he retired from his chair at Oxford six years ago ... "
Chandagnac had seen her father only a few times during the month's voyage - the dignified, one-armed old man had not seemed to desire shipboard sociability, and Chandagnac had not paid much attention to him, but now he snapped his fingers excitedly. "Oxford? Benjamin Hurwood?"
"Your father is the - "
"A sail!" came a shout from high among the complicated spider webs of the mainmast shrouds. "Fine ahead port!"
Beth stood up and the two of them hurried across the deck to the port rail and leaned out and craned their necks to see past the three clusters of standing rigging, which they were viewing end on. Chandagnac thought, it's worse than trying to see the stage from above during a crowded scene in a marionette show. The thought reminded him too clearly of his father, though, and he forced it away and concentrated on squinting ahead.
At last he made out the white fleck on the slowly bobbing horizon, and he pointed it out to Beth Hurwood. They watched it for several minutes, but it didn't seem to be getting any closer, and the sea wind was chillier on this side in spite of the unobstructed sun, so they went back to her chair by the starboard rail.
"Your father's the author of ... I forget the title. That refutation of Hobbes."
"The Vindication of Free Will." She leaned against the rail and faced astern to let the breeze sweep back her long dark hair. "That's right. Though Hobbes and my father were friends, I understand. Have you read it?"
Again Chandagnac was wishing he'd kept his mouth shut, for the Hurwood book had been a part of the vast reading program his father had led him through. All that poetry, history, philosophy, art! But a cloddish Roman soldier had shoved a sword through Archimedes, and a bird had dropped a fatal turtle onto the bald head of Aeschylus, mistaking it for a stone useful for breaking turtles open upon.
"Yes. I did think he effectively dismissed Hobbes' idea of a machine-cosmos." Before she could agree or argue, he went on, "But how do pendulums and tuning forks apply?"
Beth frowned. "I don't know. I don't even know what ... field ... he's working in now. He's withdrawn terribly during the years since my mother died. I sometimes think he died then too, at least the part of him that ... I don't know, laughed. He's been more active this last year, though ... since his disastrous first visi to the West Indies." She shook her head with a puzzled frow: "Odd that losing an arm should vitalize him so."
Chandagnac raised his eyebrows. "What happened?"
"I'm sorry, I thought you'd have heard. The ship he was on was taken by the pirate Blackbeard, and a pistol ball shattered his arm. I'm a little surprised he chose to come back here - though he does have a dozen loaded pistols with him this time, and always carries at least a couple."
Chandagnac grinned inwardly at the idea of the old Oxford don fingering his pistols and waiting to come across a pirate to shoot at.
From out across the blue water rolled a loud, hollow knock, like a large stone dropped onto pavement. Curious, Chandagnac started to cross the poop deck to look again at the approaching vessel, but before he'd taken two steps he was distracted by the abrupt white plume of a splash on the face of the sea, a hundred yards ahead to starboard.
His first thought was that the other vessel was a fishing boat, and that the splash marked the jump of some big fish; then he heard the man at the mast-top shout, more shrilly this time, "Pirates! A single sloop, the mad fools!"
Beth was on her feet now. "God in heaven," she said quietly. "Is it true?"
Chandagnac felt light-headed rather than scared, though his heart was pounding. "I don't know," he said, hurrying with her across the deck to the port rail, "but if it is, he's right, they're mad - a sloop's hardly more than a sailboat, and on the Carmichael we've got three masts and eighteen heavy guns."
He had to raise his voice to be heard, for the morning, which had been quiet except for the eternal creak-and-splash-and-slurry, had instantly become clamorous with shouted orders and the slap of bare feet on the lower decks and the buzz of line racing through the block spools; and there was another sound too, distant but far more disquieting - a frenzied metallic clatter and banging underscored by the harsh discord of brass trumpets blown for noise instead of music.