We anchored off Cape Anticipation, and waited. Air and sea were calm, but I sensed uneasiness among the crew. Cascarino and Delamere were on the poop deck, as usual, but they were silent. They seemed watchful, hesitant. They were hauling lines, looking sometimes at each other, and sometimes, as one man, towards the shore. Then I realised the whole crew was behaving in the very same way, like mumchance concelebrants at the burial of the dead. To a man (and two dogs) the crew was looking towards Cape Demise, which lay abaft our starboard by five hundred metres.
As their Captain, I felt it my duty to try to break the spell (if spell it was) that
had been cast upon the whole of HMS Clueless. You’ll see in my Report that
I first asked Flyleaf to help me, but he, like everyone else on board, was mute,
motionless, marmoreal, immutable. So on my own account, I dragged Old Dunsinane up from my cabin and fired off a salvo — three loud halloos in rapid succession that shook the air and echoed off the cliffs at Bounceback Point.
But outcome came there none, out. I might as well have fired Old Dunsy under water, at forty fathoms, for all the issue it produced on the spellbound surface of the frozen earth.
As the salvo’s echo died away, and dissolved in the gathering gloom, I noticed that Partington, the cabin boy, was shivering and slavering like a rabid dog, at the foot of the mainmast. I rushed to the lad — for lad he was — and my heart bled to see him in the throes of some supernal paroxysm that wracked his slender frame. He was babbling incoherently, incessantly. It sounded like “Reefs in the Andaman Sea”, or “Keep some bananas for me”. I just couldn’t be sure. Whatever the case, my old heart misgave me to see him in such a state, and to be unable to help him. Ordinarily, I would have prepared a poultice of hot mustard and fiery twemlows, but the lad was just fourteen! What right had I to intervene? By this time, all certainty had fled the ship, and was languishing on the sand at Benighted Beach, and I was loath to follow.
I studied the coastline with heightened scruple, but to no avail. It was a bleak, desolate void, from Faraway Point to Other End Cove. A feeling of — what? — came over me. I’d felt it only once before, at Cape Slightly Alarmed, but not as keenly as now.
What happened next lies deeply engraved in the heart of — what? I’ll never understand it, as long as I live. It’s all in my Report.
But one thing is certain: words are beautiful, and we are infinitely blessed by their fathomless treasures.
© Gerald Nelson, 24 April 2017