The Height of Absurdity: Hudson Bay 5.5

13 September, 2016 by katelaity

cat dishes crop

‘It all came to a head as we passed the midpoint of our journey. The cold snapped bitterly at our fingers whenever we had call to be on deck. I was lucky enough to miss the worst of the cold because I had been busy with seeing to a mate who’d broken his arm falling from the mains’l. Whilst normally able to climb with the ease of long practice, a moment’s distraction—which of course proved to be horseplay with others—down he went and lucky only to have an arm broken.

‘I rather enjoyed the challenge of bandaging the arm but I was less sympathetic with his moaning in pain. I’m afraid I never had much in the way of a bedside manner and working with sailors didn’t help much in that regard. Unwilling to spare too much of our precious morphine in his service, I allowed portions of rum.

‘This had the unfortunate effect of greater belligerence than a wounded man ought to have, which required me spending as much time chivvying him into quiet as I did in my normal duties. I found it rather tedious but necessary, but it kept me in my little corner a bit too much.

‘So only gradually did the word begin to filter down to my sick bay about the war between Mathers and Vinegar. For war it had become as far as the second mate was concerned. What Vinegar thought of the hostilities it was difficult to determine. She had that way that so many cats do, a habit of looking very much as if she understood what people said, yet cared not a pin for their opinions.

‘It infuriated Mathers. I suppose no one guessed the madness that lay within him. It came out in the most peculiar way: through his religious mania. Now a man’s faith is what it is and many a sailor who professed a faith in his own two hands on land might give way to prayer upon the wild seas. When you fear a watery grave you’ll appeal to anyone’s god.

‘Mathers had his own god, one of brimstone and fury. No one paid much attention to his pronouncements, however, until the war with Vinegar took off. Then his mutterings of devils and damnation took on a different cast. At first it just brought derision from the other sailors but after a time they began to fear that he might cause some mischief as he took to calling for an extermination of the demon.

‘A man from Salem in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mathers had a special terrors of witchcraft, though the good citizens of that land had long ago repented of their madness, it ran deep yet in him. He was determined that the cat had been seized by a demon and was determined to doom us all by magical means.

‘Derision did not dissuade him, arguments neither. It finally grew to threats and the captain himself had to step in and demand a cessation to hostilities. Mathers’ face looked like a brewing storm as he nodded assent to the peace pact. No one much believed it.

‘Sure enough the very next night our worst fears about the man were confirmed…

[Thanks to the British Library images cache!]

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