Chapter 9: The Return Voyage
It was three more days before Dobbin was roused from his sick-bed. Some of the lads were sent to the apothecary to help carry the Captain back to the ship; he was still very weak from the fever, and required now a cane to stand upright. He was rightly ashamed of his Illness, which indicated a compromised constitution that in truth rendered him unfit for command.
I explained to him that I had secured the tea at the proper price, and he was encouraged by my efforts enough to say that I had done “Well.” When I pressed him on the scope of this compliment, and inquired the Degree to which my efforts were pleasing to him, and profitable to the mission, he feigned dis-interest. Owing to the sick man’s cowardice in having succumbed to so base an illness as sea-fever, I condescended not to push the matter further.
The next morning, we cast off from the docks and pushed out into the pacific waters of the Atlantic. Though the lads continued to look upon me with suspicion, I knew that I had succeeded where all others should have failed, and I believed it was but a talisman of the great things that lay in store for me.
One morning after breakfast had finished, O’Grady suffered a terrible Injury during his nightly watch. He had been climbing down the mizzenmast in a ferocious storm, lost his footing, fell four or five fathoms down onto the deck, and shattered his leg so much that the bone ripped clean through his flesh. This was likely the Divine Punishment for his unprovoked assault on me. And yet, as a man of God, I could not help but weep over his injury, and his terror, as he beheld his likely demise. The lads too were moved to pity at the sight of so terrible an injury, and we managed as best we could to remove the chap below deck, so that the Carpenter might find a way to Repair him.
“Mister Sperryhawke!” cried O’Grady, as he saw the blood and tissue twisted into a disgusting ulcer, “help me dear man! Oh please help me God!”
I consoled the lad, before placing my hand over his mouth to stop his Howling. I ordered another of the boys to fetch me a bottle of Rum from the cook. I could see well enough that there was no sense in keeping the boy awake during whatever work was to follow. And without asking permission from the Surgeon, I quickly administered a half a bottle of the Spirits to put the Beast to sleep forthwith.
I thence inquired with the Chiruregon whether he should be able to repair the leg. But the Carpenter made it known to us that such a task was impossible, and that if we wished to prevent the boy from dying of infection, it would be necessary to operate.
I gave my consent. The Carpenter thence took out a saw, which only the day before had been used to remove a piece of rotted timber from the hull, and had O’Grady’s leg off below the knee in under three minutes. Of course this caused O’Grady great Distress, for not even a half a bottle could keep him asleep during such an Ordeal. The Surgeon deposited the stub in the rubbish bin, and quickly applied boiling tar to the open Wound, and wrapped the stub in as clean a strip of linen as one may find aboard the ship.
I inquired with the Suregon whether he should live, but the doctor had no knowledge. I stayed with him that evening, saying prayers over his deteriorating frame, and assuring God that I forgive him his assault. O’Grady was in and out of consciousness most of the night, and I tried as best I could to keep him cool with a damp rag. He mumbled a good deal, and his speech was mostly gibberish until just before the Dawn, he asked me in all earnestness:
“Mister Sperryhawke, what shall it cost to buy me Life from Jesus?”
I smiled softly, and felt not a little ashamed to have failed in explaining the theological distinction between an indulgence, and a proposed commercial transaction with the Almighty. “Aye, do not trouble yourself with that my Child. The Lord shall watch over you and protect you.”
But even my Intercessions could not save the poor Chap. The wound soon began to fester with infection, and within a day, the whole of the upper portion of the leg had turned green. O’Grady died that evening, as much from terror & shame as any fever. I buried him at sea, and performed a rather elaborate ceremony, all in Latin. The crew was much dismayed by the demise of their Chairman, and I felt their hostility towards me increased mightily.
But this problem was soon surpassed by the priggishness of this miserly & cowardly Captain. For it was not so much as three days after the burial of O’Grady that Dobbin approached me on the foredeck where I was reading a book of Dutch words.
“George, why hasn’t the Tea been stamped?”
“Stamped?” I feigned ignorance of the meaning of this inquiry.
“Stamped George, the Tea must be stamped with the Duty. Why is there no Stamp on the tea!”
I likely should have invented a suitable explanation, but this Captain’s tone put my hackles on end, and I decided that I should not spare his conscience with a suitable half-Truth.
“Because you did not give me enough money to buy English tea, Sir.”
“Where did this tea come from?” asked the Captain. “Where did you buy this tea?”
“Don’t look fierce,” said I, “the market for tea was not as you might have wished, and thus it was impossible to procure the necessary tonnage with the money you provided. I was forced to improvise. It is Dutch tea.”
“Improvise? George, who the bloody hell gave you permission to improvise anything? Where did you get this tea from?”
There is a certain kind of man who is not happy with how a thing is accomplished lest it be accomplished in the precise manner as he would have done it. And this is simple pride. I had procured for the Captain very fine tea, at one half the cost and thereby doubled his profit. And for this achievement, I was accosted with all manner of accusations.
“Look here Dobbin -- let us even forget that you staked me coin wholly wanting in quantity. Let us even imagine that you had given me enough. I say Sir, that you are engaged in a very unprofitable pursuit. You purchase tea at a 1/3 mark, with most of the money going to the Crown in the form of Duty. I have procured for you the same quantity, the same quality, at a Great discount. And for this, you hurl these accusations?”
But this common sense was lost on the great Moralist. He stuttered to produce the words sufficient to rebuke my ingenuity, and so fell back on the last, desperate reasoning of a foolish old woman.
“Tis a great crime George! The crown shall have me ship, and put me into prison for smuggling. How’s it that you cannot see that?”
I have been fortunate in that all of my prejudices are firmly rooted in the black soil of Truth. Thus when a thing is disagreeable to me, I may be sure that it is I who have made the proper assessment, and it is incumbent upon the object, or the idea, or the person, to reform itself to my understanding of the situation. Thus am I spared the more philosophical considerations that must accompany other men who spend hours and days in anxiety wondering over the proper course of action.
“The duty on Tea is a violation of our natural Rights as Englishmen,” said I. “No tyrant shall compel me to submit to degradation.”
“Degradation? What? George, tis the necessary Tax! The duty Sir!”
“I see nothing but greater profit, and we shall just have to be more careful with the delivery.”
The captain sunk his shaggy head, and called for the mates to seize me.
“Put him in the brig.”
The Crew was most pleased at this turn of events, and descended upon me like a band of Iroquois attacking a grain silo. These fellows took real pleasure in shackling me with Irons, and sending me head first into the brig whence I received a large wound upon my forehead. And there was then a great question then of whether I should be thrown overboard for what they called fraudulent conduct. I objected Most Strongly to this characterization. For whatever a gentleman does, he does not commit fraud. He may manipulate his adversaries, he may take liberties with the truth, and he may even deceive others into an unscrupulous business arrangement for profit, but he does not commit fraud. It is most contrary to his Character.
* * *
“I fear we’ve come to grief, my boy,” I said to Timothy, who brought me some gruel from the mess that evening. “This fool for a Captain says I have committed some unspeakable crime.”
“Yes sir,” replied Timothy. “I heard it put about by then men.”
“Oh yes? And what pray tell did the men have to say on the matter?”
“Well sir, they are saying that you tricked the Captain, and perhaps that you purchased Dutch tea rather than English, and pocketed the money you saved.”
“I don’t expect them to understand -— for they are simple and miserable souls. But you my boy, if you are to remain in my service, you must understand that what I did was proper. And indeed quite clever.”
“Oh I have no doubt of that, my lord.”
“But the thing of it is, the men say that you made us all accomplices to smuggling. They say you disobeyed the Captain. And they say that if we are caught, that we should all hang?”
“Nonsense. I disobeyed the Captain because he was in Plain error. And you tell those Fools if they continue to prattle, they shall Hang upon my orders, and not a moment sooner.”
“The Captain was in Error, you say?”
“Yes, he commanded me to purchase English tea, but the Dutch tea was of finer quality, and lower price, and thus of greater Benefit not only to the Captain, but to the Crew.”
“I see,” said Timothy, who raised his eyebrows to indicate he intended to talk all manner of rot. “Well it’s very fortunate that you are permitted to disobey the Captain’s orders. I only wonder -- is each man to decide for himself which Orders he will follow, and which he will oppose?”
“Don’t be clever, Timothy. Please don’t try to be clever. You know how I hate that. The vast majority of men shall do as they are commanded, and be cheerful of it. But sometimes —- the issue is, that some laws are rendered in Error, and it is incumbent upon men of Rank, such as myself, to remedy those Errors.”
“I see,” said Timothy. “So men of Rank may disobey an Order?”
“That’s right. Men of Rank, who possess sufficient boldness of Spirit.”
“Men of Rank, who are also Bold,” repeated Timothy.
“That’s right. And of Firm character.”
“Quite so,” said Timothy.
“Look here Timothy,” I began. “Life is not so easy as it may seem to you low fellows. Men of Rank have an obligation to obey the Higher Laws, and the Higher truths. And at times this brings us into conflict with the petty opinions of those pretenders to Authority, such as Guild-masters, and Customs Officials, and yes even at times shipping Captains.”
“Indeed Sir,” replied Timothy.
“And so when it happens that two purported Authorities come into Conflict, it is incumbent upon Men such as I to disentangle the True, from the False.”
“And how do you know which is which, Sir?”
“Because –- well dammit, Timothy, because all Orders rendered in Error conflict with some Higher truth. In this instance, by ordering me to purchase English Tea, the Captain commanded me to submit to an unlawful tax. But an unlawful Tax is an instrument of Tyranny. And I cannot submit to Tyranny. Thus it should not be said that I disobeyed the Captain, so much as I refused to submit to Tyranny.”
“Well that makes perfect sense, thank you Sir,” spake Timothy. “But I only wonder –- that is, as I have neither Boldness, Rank nor a firm Character, I am compelled to Obey the King, the Law and my superiors. But let us imagine that the King says one thing, but my Superior says another. How am I to know whether my superior is acting in accordance with the higher Truth?”
“Well of course I would have to know what the Law was, and what your Superiors said of that law.”
“Well sir, the particulars do not really matter. It would be better to speak in generalities, I think, so that I might know how to apply the Rule to all sources of dispute.”
“Well of course it would be better for you,” I scoffed. “But how can I know whether the Law is in error without knowing the Law in the first instance?”
“Alright, alright. And then let us suppose that the King says Molasses must be taxed at two shilling per gallon. And then let us suppose that you have a worthy Earl who thinks this tax is an abomination, and forbids his subjects to pay the Tax -— why, what I am to do in that situation?”
“That’s a terrible example, Timothy. In that instance, the duty on Molasses is Correct. Molasses is a Good, but it is a good worthy of taxing.”
“Yes of course, but how was I to know that?” asked Timothy. “I have no Rank, or Boldness, or Character?”
“Because the King’s law compels the Tax! You just said as much yourself. And because no man of Rank, and Quality, has said otherwise.”
“But the Earl, Sir? He has said the Tax is in error?”
“You poor, stupid fool. Don’t you see? If this Earl opposes the lawful Duty on Molasses, then he is not a man of Rank, or sufficient boldness.”
“But he is a Earl, and sits in the house of Lords?”
“Timothy, if this Earl protests the King’s lawful duty, then clearly he cannot be a man of genuine Rank.”
“Genuine rank, Sir?”
“Yes Timothy, obviously if the man is only a pretender to Rank, than he has no right to disobey the King. And I assure you that if you examined the issue more carefully, you would discover that this ridiculous Earl was most likely the bastard-son of a Scullery maid, and has no doubt achieved the Earldom by deceit and flattery. Thus this Earl has no more Pedigree than a chimney-Sweep, and is no position to protest the King’s lawful duty!”
Timothy looked askance, as he digested my logic. “Yes sir, I see it all now most clearly now.”
“Good. Now let us talk of more important matters,” I said, and prepared to interrogate Timothy on the Dutchman’s theories of commerce. “When I was in London, a certain merchant persuaded me to purchase a contract from him, which entitled me to then purchase tea from another party for a certain agreed up sum.”
“Yes, Sir. That’s called an option’s contract.”
“I dammed well know its an options contract!” I shouted. “But I wish to know exactly how this works. And you must explain this all so that I understand it and not talk any manner of nonsense, do you hear me?”
“Well, Sir,” Timothy said, and considered my question earnestly before responding. “An options contract is fundamentally a promise to sell you something that does not yet exist.”
“But how can you sell something that does not exist?” I responded, reminding Timothy that this was called fraud. “I warned you not to talk Rot!”
“No my lord, fraud is, at least in one sense, a promise to sell you something that will never exist. It is perfectly lawful to sell something that will exist at some point in the future.”
“Well yes obviously I see that.”
“Think of it this way, my Lord. So let’s suppose that today, a Tea farmer has a thousand pounds of Tea in his warehouse. So the farmer is said to be worth a thousand pounds, plus whatever else he owns, but to make it simple, let’s just say the farmer is worth a thousand pounds. But the farmer also knows that next year he will grow some new amount of Tea. Now to the farmer, it seems awfully unfair & uncharitable that he cannot Count that tea that he’s sure he will have next year as part of his total wealth. So what he does is he finds a Merchant who wishes to buy that Tea and prepares this Options contract agreeing to sell the Merchant that Tea for some amount of money. But the farmer gets his money today, and the merchant gets the Tea next year. And because there is some risk to the merchant that the Tea farmer might die before he grows the Tea, and some value to the farmer for getting his gold today, the farmer agrees to sell it for less than he would if he waited till next year.”
“So it is permissible to assign value to things that do not exist yet?”
“Indeed. So long as you anticipate the thing will exist, and you find a man to agree with you that a thing will exist, you can most assuredly reduce that value into hard coin today.”
“Coin? Or a Note?”
“Well my lord, it really does not matter. Coins are in point of fact nothing more than Notes issued by the King. Well there is a little more to it than that, but . . .”
“Don’t confuse me now,” I said sharply, for I sensed at that moment a great Revolution occurring within my Mind. It was like a sudden flash of light bursting throughout my Brain, and the whole of the Enterprize emerged fully formed in all its splendorous intricacies, and I understood the Issue exactly as I wished to understand it. “So it might be said in all Truth that my wealth is the sum of everything I have today plus some estimate of everything I will have over the next ten or twenty years?”
“Yes that’s right, minus everything you will consume.”
“And since I intend to earn several hundred thousand pounds over the course of my life -- and indeed, no gentleman would dispute that this is a most conservative estimate –- then in all Truth, I am a millionairy today, even sitting here in this cage?”
“Well, I suppose in some sense,” said Timothy, giving another of his highly skeptical looks. “But first you’d need to find someone who agreed to either lend you money against this future Income, or buy an option in that future revenue.”
“Yes yes, we will get to all of that. But fundamentally –- I mean to speak in higher Truths now -- in Truth, and Law, I am a worth not less than one Million pounds sterling, right now, where I sit today?”
“Yes my Lord. That is correct.”
“Well’s that bloody marvelous!” I cried, and rubbed together the palms of my hands in joy, for it had been so much easier than I expected. “Look here Timothy. We shall call this enterprize the George Sperryhawke Shipping Company. No. The G. Sperryhawke Shipping Company. No that’s not right either. The G.S. Shipping Company. Yes, that’s just the thing!”
“It’s most impressive, Sir,” said Timothy.
“Prepare the accounting books! Prepare the seal! Prepare all that is Necessary and Proper! My boy you are now the Accountant – and Secretary -- of the G.S Shipping Company, a commercial enterprize valued at more than One-million pounds!”
“Thank you Sir!” cried Timothy.
“Oh you have done good work today, Timothy. Very good work indeed,” I said, and fell back into that cage as content as any Prince would ever laid his head on a pillow in St. James’ Palace. “Now be off now so that I may rest.”
“Mister Sperryhawke,” said Timothy, his face peevish, and his tone hushed. “If it does not trouble you too much, I should like to stay here with you for the night. I can place a straw pallet just here and not bother you at all, but I can be of service to you should you require it.”
“Very well Timothy,” I said. “Very well indeed.”
* * *
On the third morning of my captivity, Timothy and I awoke to a small commotion on the foredeck. It began casually enough, and at first I considered it no more than a dispute betwixt the captain and the crew, which was entirely commonplace owing to the lack of discipline on board. But my instincts soon conceived of a greater Disturbance on board than a mere labor dispute. I had a small window through which I perceived a large galleon flying the Union Jack, and worried that, for a moment, Captain Dobbin had been correct in his assessment and that we had been trailed by his Majesty’s navy for smuggling. When all of a sudden, they shot out a cannon ball that landed not ten feet from our brave Isabella.
“Christ Gods!” I exclaimed, and leapt back from the window. “We are being attacked by our own kinsmen! Go at once to the Captain and get him to turn over the keys so that I may assist in defending the ship.”
Timothy, the detestable coward, gave me a rather desperate look as if to say he did not like the idea. But he could tell I was in no mood for one of his rhetorical absurdities, and hobbled off to do as commanded. And Soon the sound of muskets confirmed my belief, and the thrashing of swords made my spirit sing, and I shook the gates of my captivity lest I loose out on the action. I pulled at the bars on the cell, and demanded release that I may assist in repulsing this attack. I called and I called and yelled and shouted, though t’was all in vain.
It is a peculiar sensation to hear the sounds of battle but be in no position to engage; I of course raged and cried to be released from the cage, so that I might have been of service to the crew. That I had been condemned and deprived of my Liberty was no cause for disagreement at a moment such as this. Dobbin was of course entirely mistaken and treacherous, but his erratum was small compared to the kindness he had done me.
But after a few hours, the noises died down, and all was silent. I saw the English sloop sail away from the Isabella under the cover of darkness. My mind was entirely disturbed and confused by what had occurred. Were they pirates? Had they come to murder the whole of the crew? For what purpose? And why had they left the ship?
I also realized that Timothy had never returned, and I worried that I sent him to his death. And yet this reverie was soon displaced by a less philosophical consideration: I was now alone locked in a cage, drifting along the ocean by myself in a 200-tonne frigate. And this really is an extraordinary problem when you think of it. At any moment, the ship might run into a squall, and be shattered to pieces; and though the ship might disintegrate into timbers, yet the cage in which I was locked should remain in tact and I should be drowned all the while being forced to bear witness to my own demise. A most grim and horrific Trajedie, you will Agree.
But I will not frighten the reader any longer, and I will say now that I did manage to escape and reach dry land. And this is how it happened.
Around midnight on the day of the battle, I heard footsteps coming down the cellar, and readied myself for what I believed was my end. But t‘was not an English dragoon, or a bloodthirsty pirate. But only Timothy. Poor old Timothy whose pantaloons demonstrated that he had received a Terrible freight from the commotion.
“Timothy!” I called, “What’s happened? What’s going on up there? Where have you been?”
“Mister Sperryhawke, t’was the English!” cried Timothy “They have impressed the crew, and the captain. And made off in a frigate!”
“And left us here? Alone? But how did you manage to escape?”
“I hid in Captain’s quarters.”
“Coward! I should box you about the ears if you let me out of this cage,” I chastised the weakling. “Did they find the tea? Have they taken the cargo?”
“I don’t know,” Timothy shook his head.
I sent Timothy off to retrieve a musket, and when he returned, we shot through the lock and so I was freed from the cage. I thanked Timothy, and blessed him for his service; but not before chastising him yet again for desertion in the battle. He accepted my boxing as a good servant, and I blessed him and absolved him, for after all I was still the ship’s chaplain.
We then repaired straight off to the hull, and found the tea unmolested. And see now Dear Reader how quickly my position has changed from one of near Death, certain defeat, into a grand opportunity. I found myself alone Captain and Owner of a two-hundred ton ship, stored with a market value of six thousand pounds in Dutch tea.