Tuesday, 3 July 2012
Life on the Rising Limb
The year was 1878, in that awkward in-between phase between the invention of the car and the invention of the petrol engine. Everyone owned one, but kept it in their stables and couldn’t really see the point.
I was aboard ‘The Rising Limb’, a scientific research vessel twice as high as it was wide, half as wide as it was deep, and built by someone who had got the plans the wrong way around. Said ship-maker had tried to conceal his error by floating the vessel the “right” way up. This wasn’t an ideal fix; it had the unfortunate side effect of turning all of the corridors into chutes, the chandeliers into wall hangings, and the kitchens into death-traps, with open hearths forming the floor. Besides, since the boat was constructed, and the sails installed, vertically, she now had to be tugged by an upright boat. Unfortunately, the Captain had not been informed of the ship’s rather unique architecture and so, when he came aboard to survey the vessel he fell down – or should that be through? – the corridor, coming to an abrupt stop on the wall of his office. His leg was broken, and replaced with a rather fetching wooden model.
The Captain, in pain and concussed, stumbled out of the medical bay and onto the deck. “Hoist the cannons! Polish the rigging! Prime the mainbrace!” Although he was concussed he was still our captain, so we obliged. We were just hoisting the cannons when the – freshly polished – rope snapped. The cannons crashed to the deck, raining down like large, predominantly brass raindrops. The captain, unable to run for cover on account of his new wooden leg, found his hand pinned to the deck. He passed out instantly, and was carried to the medical bay, where the ship’s doctor fitted him with a metal hook.
The Captain lost his eye the next morning; he awoke and rubbed the sleep from his eyes – unaware of the hook.
It was two days before we were due to set sail. We were still waiting upon the arrival of Doctor Cross, and Doctor Wick. As I mentioned in passing, we were a scientific vessel, set to collect specimens from the island of Santa Rosalia. Doctor Cross’ reputation preceded him. He had sent a telegraph. He was known for his unusual choice of headwear, expertise on the reptiles of the equator, and vile (and violent) temper.
Smith, the ship’s geologist, and I were arguing over who should greet him. We couldn’t decide who would expose themselves to this volatile man; I argued that the ship wouldn’t get very far without an engineer, so I should be saved. Smith contested that he had a wife and kids at home. I countered that they weren’t his, and he really should return them at some point. Having hostages doesn’t automatically mean that you are safe. In the end I flipped a coin and, while Smith was distracted, punched him on the nose. He agreed to greet Cross.
When we went up on deck there was an enormous man, almost as wide as he was tall, with a thick, bushy beard, and darting eyes. He looked like his mother had been a bear, and his father had also been a bear. He looked like a bear. He stepped aside and Doctor Cross introduced himself; “Good morning, fellows” he said. “Mood fawning, gellows”.
He had just learnt of epigrams, and was trying (with limited success) to create his own. Had he explained this to the rest of the crew, they might have sympathised. But as it was, they considered him mad.