9 August, 2016 by katelaity
‘It was ’33 when I sailed off. Having just completed my studies I took the opportunity to sign on as the doctor for a ship bound for a trading post in James Bay. That didn’t mean I was idling along the way. There was plenty to keep us all busy along the journey on The Prince of Wales. When you’re on a ship—as you may know—when there’s work to be done, everyone joins in.’
‘On a long journey,’ Tansy added, ‘it helps to pass the time to have something useful to do.’
Having never been on a boat journey longer than a punt down the Isis, I had little to offer in the way of experience, so I asked a lot of questions throughout Rae’s story. ‘Did anything unusual happen on the journey?’
The man laughed. ‘What do you call unusual? There is little usual in sea travel. We were nearly capsized by a pod of mischievous humpbacks. The captain’s cat disappeared suddenly. We were joined by an albatross—’
‘Wait, wait,’ I protested. ‘I know little of the ocean’s ways. You have to explain more.’
Tansy laughed. ‘It’s true. My friend is amazed by events that more seasoned travelers take in stride.’
I took umbrage at Tansy’s teasing. ‘Everyone has to start somewhere. I didn’t expect ever to be on adventures. I am a sensible sort.’
Both the adventurers chortled at that and I was conscious of my ears turning red with irritation (or perhaps embarrassment) but Rae patted me on the arm and called me a good sport. ‘Yet here you are on an adventure after all. And you’ve still not told me your quest.’
‘Perhaps this would be a good moment to do so,’ Tansy said without even trying to conceal eagerness. ‘Before you get into your story too deeply.’
‘Shall you tell him?’ Tansy said, turning to me.
I felt abashed. ‘I shan’t tell it as well as you.’
‘But you should get the chance.’
Rae laughed. ‘One of ye should tell me before I am driven to distraction.’
‘Sorry,’ I said hastily. ‘Bad habit. Well, the truth of the matter is that our task is a somewhat…odd one. When we tell people about it they either don’t believe us—which is understandable—or they think we’re mad. Which I suppose is also a rather reasonable assumption after all.’
‘I’ve spent far too many years in the wilds of the Hudson Bay and the Arctic: people thought me mad there and mad here when I returned. Never fear. “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t” I suppose.’ A wide grin stretched across his weather-beaten face and gave it a strange kind of beauty.
‘It’s all about method,’ Tansy agreed.
‘Indeed it is for we have been sent to carry out a wager from our club,’ I said, fearing that Tansy was about to tell the tale despite inviting me. ‘We are set to measure the very height of absurdity!’
One never knows how a person will react to such a declaration. Most will give you a baleful look and simply go about their business. We had more than a few people laugh right in our faces. I was certain an explorer would be more sympathetic.
Rae narrowed his eyes at first, then leaned back. ‘And just how will you measure it?’
Tansy fished into his pocket and pulled out his treasured heirloom. ‘With this.’ He handed the tape measure over to the good doctor who examined it with fascination.
‘Incredible!’ His fingers traced the exquisite silver. ‘What a beautiful instrument.’
‘Is it not? And so accurate too.’
There was nothing for it but Rae had to jump up and go about the room measuring everything that struck his fancy, popping here and there with great animation and delight as he took the tape to this thing or that—a bowl, a rifle, a stately old clock and of course he himself with our help. ‘This is a wondrous object. I could have used one in the Hudson Bay for there were many things that no one believed my measure of but surely with such accurate calibration they would not have doubted me.’