- Vol. 01
- Chapter 12
THE LESSER EVIL"It'll make a tolerable wicket with a little ironing out."
The First Mate radiated that distracted ease in adversity borne of the public school. His disdain for idleness was a product of the same institution. Mariners are less sure-footed on land both literally and figuratively, so he quickly scouted a spot above the stricken vessel and articulated his peculiar fancy to the dispossessed tars scuffing along the shoreline.
They set to it soon enough, dragging ashore anything bearable to flatten a few square playable yards of the earmarked plateau. Carried along by camaraderie, the task became a quest to recreate the village green on flint and pressed snow. Benches, chairs, even a boundary rope made their way up from the ship and the cook put aside his usual gruff austerity in rationing to cater for the event.
With a ball in his hand and a strong field set, the beaming First Mate looked every part the gentleman amateur. Only now did he call towards the solitary figure sat apart, staring down the placid channel to the mountains beyond.
"A square to rival the Oval's, eh Captain?"
Every man on the plateau had absolute faith that the Captain's long and thoughtful solitude was the key to their recovery. But the Captain, wrapped in the ensign he'd struck from his crippled charge, was adrift in a sea of homely remembrances and the ship and her complement had until now deferred to visions of a distant home and a treasured wife and daughter.
THE LESSER EVIL
He knew the cloying depth of the icy, placid channel. He had watched the mountains ease by in towering profile, joining in a shared and tangible anxiety across countless tours. He recalled the old hands who glared fearfully at the great mass and who palled at the inconceivable horrors of the passage within. He thought of the traders and crews long past their hours, watched for then struck quietly from the company ledgers.
He'd seen enough of the damage to know the ship would never make the run. The First Mate was an impressive and irrepressible young man on his first pass out there. He would accept his Captain's word on the state of the ship and strike for the great mass. Sensing hope in the enterprise, the rest would follow. They would leave in high spirits and slowly dissipate across the murderous interior in helpless desperation and fury.
He had nothing to give but the ship to prevent such an end, so he would declare her worthy. He would approve the repairs, be generous with the stores and they would meet their ends swiftly as men - as a crew - in the icy deep of the placid channel.
He wanted three more days.
"The Oval no less? Best put me in to see then boys."
The old ensign fell away from his shoulders into the water below and he turned and walked up towards the cheering, hopeful players who would never leave this place nor ever be found.