Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Sons of Orpheus--Chapter 4.

SONS OF ORPHEUS Chapter 4. 4 Northern Tasman Sea The Orpheus was almost becalmed, about five hundred miles north-east of New Zealand. Progress was minimal, as the ship sat as if anchored, its sails flapping occasionally against the masts. On deck, Alex stared up at the crow’s nest where a young sailor was searching for any signs of a breeze on the flat waters. To make matters worse, the air felt heavy, making breathing a real effort. ‘Damn----this has been for three days now. When are those engines back on?’ Alex said mournfully. ‘It’s a bit like in the Atlantic, eh Sir,’ a young midshipman sighed. ‘Makes for a boring time, don’t it. I’m sure I heard the chief say that we’ll have power again by tonight.’ ‘About time-----I would have thought we should have had all this done back in Canada. There’s been a few times when I’ve seen a crew get a bit restless, I can tell you,’ Alex replied. He was thinking of a time in the Atlantic, when the captain of the frigate he had been assigned to, had needed to take extreme measures when some of the crew had raided the rum barrel, while waiting for a breeze. That was on a ship without steam. Their actions earned them a week in the brig. ‘Well, I’m looking forward to the gunnery practise. Maybe we’ll get to use it on those natives in New Zealand when we get there.’ The young midshipman had earlier chatted excitedly about how he wanted to punish the natives around the Auckland area. Alex did not share the midshipman’s zeal. ‘What would you know about that then? I wouldn’t believe everything you hear from the likes of those guys,’ Alex said, indicating some of the crew who had been talking to the midshipmen before Alex came on duty. ‘One of the boys there told me his brother is in Onehunga and that they’re pretty stirred up about those buggers raiding the farms near the town.’ ‘Mmmm---I still say we should wait to we hear that from more official sources.’ Alex turned and left the midshipmen to organize the men, while he headed to the Captain’s quarters for the morning briefing. Later that morning, a skiff headed out from the Orpheus, towing a target mounted on a small floating platform. Barley a yard high, it represented a particularly difficult target to hit, making the competition all the more serious amongst the gunnery crews. Alex remained aboard the Orpheus, overseeing the practice alongside the captain, who chose merely to observe. His comments would come later. At first, the shots were either high or way off the mark, but within minutes the target had been destroyed, bring a satisfied smile to Alex’s face. The captain too, seemed happy with the exercise. ‘There’s no sense in continuing this---no point in wasting ammunition. We may well need it all later.’ ‘Yes Captain. I shall call off the exercise and reward the men from the winning team,’ Alex replied. He looked forward to an early lunch, to be followed by an easy afternoon. A tot of rum was issued and the men made their way to the lower decks only to be recalled a few minutes later by an order from the First Mate. The wind had finally picked up and the sails began to fill as the breeze turned into a continuous flow from the north-east Northern Queensland Coast, December 1, 1862 Adi struggled with many of the words and meanings in the book that Doctor Rankin had lent him. It was remarkable in itself that he even attempted such a task. He had before him a worn copy of Charles Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Tale,’ even though he had to stop often to ask the Doctor the meaning of a new word; once told he remembered, increasing his vocabulary at a tremendous rate. He enjoyed the tale and the characters. Doctor Rankin looked forward to the times in the evenings when he and Adi sat together in the quieter areas of the ship, discussing the latest book in Adi’s growing repertoire as the Plymouth continued to make its way at a leisurely pace down the North Queensland Coast. Captain Smith was perusing an Admiralty map of the area they were about to enter. Many ships had been cruelly ripped apart on the jagged coral reefs that lay just below the surface of the Great Barrier Reef. Captain Cook had encountered danger and only narrowly survived. With this in mind the Captain carefully plotted his course and made the necessary arrangements to make sure that his crew were on full alert. He was interrupted by a hesitant knock on his door. ‘Enter!’ barked the Captain, and when Adi entered, his mood lightened. He noted how Adi looked a good deal healthier than when he had first come aboard the Plymouth, nicely filled out and not so scrawny. The Captain’s attention was drawn to the bottle Adi had in one hand and a small wrapped item in the other. ‘Mmmm----what’s that you have there boy?’ He watched as Adi placed the two items on the small table and carefully began to unwrap the parcel. ‘Doctor Thomas s- sends it with regard Sir,’ Adi stammered. The Captain smiled. Adi was becoming increasingly confident in his attempts at English. His nose caught the unmistakeable odour of a strong cheese. He wondered how the Doctor had managed to keep the cheese this long without devouring it. His own store of ‘extras’ had long since been consumed, along with most of his wine store. ‘Sit yourself down boy,’ he commanded, ‘and let’s have that there bottle. Where did he manage to get this one?’ he inquired. ‘French, if I’m not mistaken, and a damned good one too, judging by its nose. Let’s have it then.’ There was another knock on the door and before the Captain could respond, it burst open. The Doctor entered the cabin. ‘Thought I might join you,’ he laughed. ‘Can’t let you have it all to yourself, and it is my last. Cut the cheese Adi, and let’s be at it.’ Adi quickly sliced the cheese with a knife he had retrieved from the Captain’s desk. He then moved towards the door and left the two to their feast. ‘Sit boy, and let us introduce you to another world, ‘cause buggered if I know when we will see the likes of this again,’ the Captain commanded. ‘Well Tobias, not too far to Sydney, as long as we stay off those bloody reefs.’ ‘Let’s just hope and pray that these winds keep up so that we don’t have to tack too much,’ the Doctor replied. ‘We nearly went aground last voyage.’ ‘True,’ replied the Captain. ‘This time, we’ve run out of booze for the crew, so we better keep this lot from them eh.’ Adi found three cups on the desk and quickly wiped them out before pouring a generous portion in the first two glasses, while barley covering the bottom of his glass. The Captain noticed. ‘Easy go. We want to make it last, but what about you. It’s not every day that a young fellow like you gets to drink with the captain.’ Despite his increasing confidence around the captain and the Doctor, Adi still felt a little uncomfortable. He preferred to fill the role of serving the two gentlemen, rather than be an active participant. However he managed to sip a little of the drink, while making himself busy around the cabin. The afternoon passed pleasantly for all three. It was obvious to Adi that the two were old friends and had many tales to share from past shared voyages. It pleased him to see the two friends enjoying their treat. If anything, the stories became even more fantastic, especially after the Captain raided the final bottle from his collection, one that he had temporarily forgotten he had stored. Adi was particularly interested in the stories the two told of their experiences from ‘Maori Land’ or New Zealand as it was named. They told him that the natives looked like bigger versions of him and were known to eat their enemies. The tales sent a shiver down his spine but also awoke a curiosity in him about this new land at the end of the world The Tasman Sea, South of Sydney, early December, 1862 The Emerald was tacking into a North Easterly breeze, making good progress. Jack had overheard Captain Pickering say to his first mate that they were only about a hundred miles southeast of Sydney. There was a growing level of curiosity amongst the passengers and the first-timers, including Jack, that Sydney was just over the horizon, yet still far off. It seemed almost unreal that they were nearing the end of the long voyage. ‘Hey, why so glum Jack? You look like the worlds on your shoulders. Hell, you should be looking forward to visiting the ladies at the Rocks, hehehhe. I’m sure they will sort you out lad; especially a good looking boy like you,’ the Dick teased. Jack was sure his face was beetroot red. His experience with girls, never mind ladies, was nil. His main concern so far was just to survive. He put up with Dick’s teasing barbs and carried on with helping him prepare the usual boring mid-day meal. One thing was sure. In the future, he didn’t want to live day after day eating such a bland and limited diet. The time he had spent in the galley had re-awakened his taste buds, bringing back memories of the spicy food he had eaten in his village. The sound of running feet and excited voices interrupted the pair’s work. ‘The Heads are just ahead!’ shouted a crew member. The deck began to fill with the sounds of the noisy passengers, along with those in the crew who were not needed for the immediate task of bringing the ship to port. Dick let Jack join those on deck, remembering his own first sight of Sydney Harbour. Jack clung excitedly to the Emerald’s railings as she slipped majestically through the Heads and entered Sydney Harbour, passing a lumbering whaler that had lost one of its masts. The call went out to reduce sails, and the Emerald slowed to a gentler pace. A few hours later Jack was still squashed between excited passengers as the Emerald approached the quay. The Tasman Sea, North of Sydney, the same day. The Captain and the Doctor stood together, just close enough for Adi to overhear their conversation. ‘Let’s get this business behind us, and then with a couple of good size catches in the barrels we’ll still turn a good profit. We’ve been away too damn long and I miss the wife’s cooking,’ he added, with a quick glance to make sure the ship’s cook wasn’t nearby. ‘I’ll enjoy a bit of a stretch on dry land and the chance to look up a lady friend I haven’t seen for years,’ responded the Doctor. Adi had mixed emotions. The memories of the village and its demise still tormented him. The sounds of the rocks and debris smashing into the village, and the screams of his terrified people often intruded into his thoughts as he went about his tasks on the ship. He would throw himself into a task if the sounds and voices attempted to take over. The tragedy of losing everything he had caused him to question his relationship with his faith, bringing about a gradual loosening of his ties to the teachings of his past. Yet he retained the superstitions and beliefs of something much older. His crew mates sensed the darker side of his nature and left him alone to deal with his ‘demons’, knowing full well that they had a few of their own. In these times, the crew tended to leave him alone, as he gazed out over the ocean, looking towards some non-existent distant land. Adi also had a feeling of repressed anticipation about this new phase in his life. He had no idea of what the future held. The genial Captain had made it quite clear that he was welcome to stay as part of the crew and continue in his role as ‘helper’ to the doctor. Adi was unsure about this; especially in relation to his growing discomfort around the slaughtering of the whales. He felt a connection to them and could almost imagine their pain and suffering when the barbs of the harpoons entered their massive bodies. He decided to keep his feelings to himself in the short term. The tide was favourable for the Plymouth, with a gentle swell and a moderate breeze adding in its progress. Adi was impressed by the beauty of the huge harbour and his sprits lifted as a pod of dolphins played alongside the ship, reminding him of their bigger relations. His attention was diverted by the sight of a three-masted sleek ship that appeared from nowhere and passed the slower-moving Plymouth; the smoke from her engines billowing out behind her and as she moved towards the distant quay. Adi could hear the greetings of the crew as they shouted out and waved. Adi’s thoughts turned again, this time to his appearance. He had come aboard the Plymouth in the Sunda Straits in nothing but rags and only partly improved on this through the generosity of the crew and Captain. His smaller stature meant that he wore rather oversized garments that gave him the look of a badly attired scarecrow. The Doctor had let Adi know that the Captain intended to give the crew a portion of their pay and now that he was considered to be a crew member, then he too would receive payment. This further lifted Adi’s mood. By the time the Plymouth had reached the quay, Adi could see that there was a good deal of activity, including locals curious to see what was being unloaded and to greet friends on the ships. Adi had never seen so many white people in one place before. The occasional colonial official he had seen in his village was the extent of his contact. Adi noticed a few members of the constabulary keeping an eye on proceedings on the dock. The relationship between them and the public was not unnecessarily strained; indeed there was quite a lot of ribbing from members of Adi’s crew and the constables. The noise and smell of the dock area was a huge change from the clean air of the open ocean. A nearby tavern added to the mélange of odours and was attracting a regular column of hungry customers. The smell of roasting meat was enough to make Adi realise that he had not eaten fresh meat for quite some time.