Dec. 28th, 2011

I admire this Captain Aubrey. He cuts a gallant figure at the rail, this great bluff officer with the ruddy face and a naval uniform from the battles with Napoleon, when my father was a boy. He sees me down on the gun deck, but he does not smile. I am an unwanted passenger aboard his ship, and a woman besides. Superstitious seamen believe it is unlucky for a woman to be aboard.

I wish the Captain would see me, that I might apologize. I did not ask to come aboard _Surprise_; indeed, I have no idea how I came to be on this vessel at all, in a quadrant of the world I have never visited, and in a time long before I was born. But the Captain is too busy to see anybody; there is a crisis at hand. _Surprise_ flees from another ship, a Spanish frigate. The Spaniard carries twenty more guns than our vessel. _Surprise_ ought to be more seaworthy, or so I have gathered from the mutterings of the crew, but for the curious and unexpected burden of passengers and cargo that she carries.

His Majesty joins me on the deck and stands with hands folded behind his back, chin held high, watching the wake of our passage disappear behind us. "A puzzlement," he declares. "Where is steam engines? Western watercraft is modern and technological, we are informed!" The canvas of the sails flap overhead to punctuate his point.

"Your Majesty is correct," I state, bowing my head and curtseying. "Modern warcraft are indeed steam-powered. I am not certain why this ship should be so primitive. However, proper grammar should be to say 'Where are the steam engines?'"

His Majesty bristles. "Grammatical constructs! Rules and regulations, bah! A King decides what is proper!"

A team of seamen brush past us, further arousing His Majesty's ire, but they pay him no attention. "Oi!" shouts one of the crewmen. "We've canvas to raise 'ere! Move yer blasted elephant!"

A man with a queer hat and cigar frowns. "This ain't no ordinary elephant," he declares, jerking a thumb at the enormous beast. "This is Jumbo, the World's Largest. Ain't that right, Barnum?"

"S'right, Bailey," hiccups a man with a string cravat and a striped jacket. "A genuine biological curiosity."

An old man wearing an overcoat bursts out of the throng milling on the gun deck. He attempts to chase down a lean cat that dodges between the legs of the crewmen. "Tonto!" he shouts. "Get back here!"

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September 2012

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