Sounds, ship and sea-formed, rigging’s creaks and groans, the rush of bow-split water a hiss of displeasure, they pursue fate, jettisoned provisions a sore loss. After Tenerife, starless but dry, no rainfall since approaching the equator when the cursed pumpkins began to spoil, a threat lurks, something in the air other than ozone. Churchill, always seeking eminence, nurses a scalded hand, the cook, broken ribs. James Morrison’s arm is infected.
A Scot, an educated man good at judging heights and distances at sea, Morrison runs his mind over how these tars have been spoiling in the wake of the aforesaid pumpkins amid the galley’s enveloping smoke because of Bligh’s schemes. Surely their vituperative profiteering captain won’t be taken for a god à la Cook? Constant gales prevent their navigation of Cape Horn.
On midnight watch, Morrison discerns the sails’ dim outlines. Cocooned by night’s cloak he can’t stop thinking about the bird, eight-foot span wingtips stretched, killed and eaten earlier that day. Sailing the panic of wind off Patagonia’s coast riding tunnels of air like a heavenly messenger, its grace, soaring freedom, aroused optimism. He knows they rest at Tristan da Cunha, endure long arduous journeys.
Young James Ballantyne misses historical drama’s denouement, no crowd scene role treading the boards of that deck in the future’s final act. His corpse sinks, slowly rotating, free-falling in a chance choreography through the ever-darkening ocean, fish twitching away from his shroud, ropes holding firm so far. Solemn shipmates wrench their thoughts from this, the first death, strain towards their sweet theatre of dreams, the idea of Otaheite’s sun-blazed volcanic mountains illustrating an otherwise monotony of horizon.
Bligh’s frustration washes over pustular Surgeon Huggan. Still abed, obese, pickled, his foetid days now acutely numbered, Bounty’s doctor, cabin a congeries of spillage, wine and sweat, drools vomit to his rattling chest. Several ships have been sighted but they have spoken to none. The boy sailor’s remains borne by gravity away from shillings of light dappling the sea’s surface, grief hovering in abeyance for his people in Blighty, the wind has freshened since Van Diemen’s Land, its airy questing urging them each to his particular end.
Ian C Smith’s work has been published in BBC Radio 4 Sounds,The Dalhousie Review, Gargoyle, Ginosko Literary Journal, Griffith Review, Southword, The Stony Thursday Book, & Two Thirds North. His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide). He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island.
You can find more of Ian’s work here on Ink Pantry.