Satan’s Navy – not by Patrick O’Brian

Jack and Stephen tackle the thorny issue of religious tolerance on the high seas.

It seems the Royal Navy has officially recognised its first Satanist. You can read the full story courtesy of the BBC. At the urging of a friend and because clearly I had nothing better to do, I have taken the liberty of addressing the story in the style of Patrick O’Brian, author of the peerless Master & Commander series.

A gaggle of old Sophies pulled a sodden Stephen Maturin out from the gap betwixt dockside and the barkey. The shrewish man spitting green water as he was raised in a bosun’s chair, his fine new blue uniform all ahoo.

“Well Stephen,” Jack said as the physician was dumped unceremoniously onto the quarterdeck. “You seem to have come aboard in your usual indomitable style.”

Maturin rose onto his unsteady feet, dripping onto the recently cleaned deck. Awkward Davis, holystone in hand, scowled at the doctor. “For all love Jack,” said Stephen. “I was just running up the steps there when out of the corner of my eye I caught Bondon and Old Joe Plaice painting the back of the barky.”

“The stern Stephen…”

“The back of the stern then, my apologies Jack. And I noticed they had painted out all words other than a final S, which they were just coming to.” Stephen lowered his voice, “It wasn’t those Shelmerston men again? Fine sailors all, I am sure, but of a want to paint the word Seth on anything not nailed down.”

Jack sighed. “Not this time Stephen, let us get you something dry to wear and I shall tell all. Killick there, I say Killick!”

“Which I is right next to you, no need to shout.”

“Killick rouse out some dry clothes for the doctor and fashion us a dish of toasted cheese.”

“Which I have already got the doctor’s clothes here aint I?” He scowled at the captain, who, often feeling the worse for such encounters, took the doctor’s arm and led him aft.

The captain and the doctor retired to the great cabin, where the carpenter’s mate was taking the surface from part of the floor with a wood plane. Stephen guessed The Surprise must have seen some small action while he was meeting the Peruvian conspirators. But said nothing, Jack would tell all at his own pace once he’d had his fill of soused hog’s face and a good Christian brandy. The carpenter touched his forelock and left the two men alone.

A fine repast was duly demolished by a famished Jack and somewhat picky Stephen – his Coca leaves taking some of his appetite but leaving his mind pin sharp. Jack refrained from drinking the king, the custom not being entirely with his republican friend’s sympathies. Instead, once the cloth was drawn, a capital Madera was passed around and the talk turned from matters nautical to the matter of The Surprise’s newest and strangest crewmember.

“I feel like a weevil caught in a dish of burgoo Stephen, stuck fast. Alas it is this new Masters Mate, Chris Cranmer. I have taken on board in memory of his late father. You knew the man Stephen, Captain Cranmer of the Mary Jane.”

“I don’t think I do Jack, did we meet?”

“You cured him of the terrible pox given to him by that slattern on St Helena in the year seven. He’d buggered a goat and Lord St. Vincent had him flogged around the fleet.”

“Good Lord so I did, so my dear what is wrong with the man’s son?”

“He has something of an unusual religious predilection. Don’t get me wrong Stephen I can put up with all manner of heresy and Catholics, no offence Stephen.”

“None taken my dear.”

“The Sethians and Catholics aboard cause me few problems, and my young black son is the apple of my eye.”

“Surely so.”

“But I am at a loss this time Stephen I truly am, Admiral Keith has foisted the man on me and even Queenie spoke up for him but some of the men are uneasy.”

“Well we can all learn from new faiths Jack, you of all men know that, oft-times you have given us leave to practice aboard in our own way.”

“He sacrificed one of the powder boys within a salt pentagram laid on this very deck here in my great cabin…”

“Good Lord.”

“Exactly Stephen, at first I thought he may be a Hebrew, but your Mr Jacob said none of his people behaved like that. He positively assured me of it. It seems young Mr Cranmer is a Satanist.”

“Surely not Jack, is it really allowed on one of his Majesty’s boats? The bottle is before you Jack.”

Jack passed the brandy over. “Ship Stephen, a ship. There’s nothing quite in the Articles of War on this matter Stephen. I thought a learned man such as yourself would have some thoughts on the legal issues. Yet I am at a loss.”

“Can he be hung, at least a lashing, you know my feelings on the matter of such punishment but I’m sure slaughtering one of the boats boys on the Sabbath is liable to be bad for moral, you know how superstitious about such matters…”

“Ship Stephen. The man is clearly mad. He painted ‘Here’s to my sweet Satan’ on the back of the barky.”

“The aft Jack surely?”

“Quite so. He’d painted it on the aft quarterlight shutters. Then he slaughters the poor powder boy, getting his wretched entrails all over my best coat – Killick was positively apoplectic when he saw how much cleaning there was to do – and one or two of the crew now believe the ship is under something of a curse…”

“Shocking my dear, quite shocking.”

“Indeed,” Jack was working himself into something of a passion now. His red faced positively crimson. “I’m a fair man Stephen, but I do not think you can have all your chickens in one basket and eat it.”

“Jack you are looking most unwell, perhaps I need to let out 10 oz of your blood. You really must stop eating like a hog your liver is corpulent in extremis.

“I’m sure it is Stephen but that doesn’t solve the matter at hand. Killick there, Killick, God damn you man where is that blasted toasted cheese?”

The voice of the Captain’s Steward could be heard clearly through the door. “Which it is coming along aint it? The bloody cook has been busy making Mr Cranmer’s supper, a pate of the powder boy’s heart.”

“Did you hear that Stephen? Did your hear that?”

“I did Jack; the man is incorrigible, commandeering your cook like that. For all love, he may be a Satanist but he could have the Christian decency to wait until you’d had your toasted cheese before having his sacrifice’s heart for supper.”