"We'll have them by nightfall, I'd say!" rumbled a deceptively calm Peter Miles Calamy.
"I think we've got 'im, sir!" joined Blakeney.
Oliver sidestepped to let the Captain train his telescope on the distant blotch of Acheron's topgallants and mouthed the next line along with the captain:
"Don't count your eggs before they're in the pudding, Mr. Calamy."
While Oliver tried not to screech with glee and have an aneurism over hearing a real live Aubreyism, the rest of the mids peered out at Acheron listing to port in the quickening breeze.
Oliver had, for the most part, been absorbed into the rowdy ranks of Surprise's midshipmen. Sure, the frowzy young officer was known for having a cracking voice, shoddy knowledge of the proper use of a sextant, and was extremely private in his personal habits. Sure, he blushed red as Mars rising whenever Lieutenant Pullings so much as bid him good day. And sure, he never really tucked in to any given meal, something quite strange to the rest of the midshipmen who didn't seem to mind a few weevils or stringy gristle-bits. But he was fairly competent at mathematics, did not fear running aloft, and was somehow precognizant of most of the events that had yet occurred in pursuit of Acheron. His singular turn for prediction had made him popular with both the wardroom and waisters alike, and most seemed to forget that just a short time ago nobody had known just how Paul Oliver had appeared on the deck of their ship.
"Scratch the stay! Turn three times!" Ordered Aubrey, and Oliver bounded to the nearest tarred block with the rest of the herd to shout out "May the Lord God safe preserve us!"
Oliver flinched as the first spray of icy rain hit them in the same moment. Before the night was through, she was tasked with the weighty job of plucking one handsome tow-headed sailor from between the devil and the deep blue sea, all as they walloped 'round Cap Horn in a gale the size of France, all while making sure that both of her other marks didn't end up in the briny deep. Fuckin' piece of cake.
It was time to watch over William Warley.
May the Lord God safe preserve us indeed.
Peter Miles Calamy was just throwing the lead when he was violently assaulted from out of nowhere by a drenched Paul Oliver. The lumpy midshipman had him trussed in a (surprisingly skilful) series of bowlines before he could protest.
"It's a lifeline!" bellowed Oliver over the howling wind and lashing rain.
"Wear it or I'll gouge your eyes out and steal your stockings, but only the right ones on both counts," retorted Oliver before retreating into the spray.
As all hands were piped to starboard rail and Jack Aubrey struck a superfluously dramatic and downright dangerous action pose off the foremast shrouds, Midshipman Hollom was likewise surprised with a lasso of bowlines thrown by Oliver. "Lifeline," roared Oliver. "And whatever you do, DO NOT lay aloft! If you're ordered to do so, I'll take your spot up there."
Hollom tried to protest, he really did; but deep down, he was euphoric that he wouldn't have to shin up the mast during this horrid, horrid storm. He tried not to make his sigh of relief too audible, but thankfully the storm snatched it right from his lips.
They were cracking on at twelve knots under a ridiculous spread of canvas when lifelines were ordered fore and aft. Nobody noticed that Calamy and Hollom were both tethered by a few of said lines, and in the pandemonium on deck a few stray ropes made little difference.
Oliver stuck close to Warley, skulking behind a gun as he took his grog; listening in as he muttered to Awkward Davies about having "every stitch of canvas flyin';" following him topside and loitering about the base of the mizzenmast as he went up to take in the t'gallant.
Oliver was, despite the near-Antarctic chill, sweating bullets.
They were headed South-Southwest, for the Horn, on beam-ends.
"Hollom! Help young Warley in the mizzen t'gallant!"
That was her cue; Oliver bodychecked Hollom from under Mr. Allen's gesticulating arm and made a run for the shrouds before she could hear any orders to the contrary. Up and over the pinrail; laying on and up, up into a bedevilment of screaming fog.
"Mr. Oliver, sir! Help me!"
Warley was grasping for the sail's skin, flapping just beyond his reach.
No pantywaist behavior now; this was serious business. Oliver swung wildly up through the futtock shrouds and bombed blindly up to the t'gallant crosstrees, praying all the while for the mast to hold just a moment longer. She knew that below more men were being ordered up; she knew that just above her head, Warley was crying "Help!"
Only a split second left to do or die.
Oliver leapt onto the footropes, seized Warley by the shoulders, and hauled him back with all her might. His hands seized on the sail, then slipped and released just as the mast cracked and fell, down a hundred feet to the swirling sea.
Oliver and Warley were falling, too.
An interminable distance later, the lifeline pulled taught, and there they were, swinging above the deck as somewhere at the bow Captain Aubrey and company hacked at the ropes tethering the broken wreck of the t'gallant mast to the vessel. Oliver clenched her jaw and screwed her eyes shut, willing her arms to hold onto the solid hunk of sailor that called himself William Warley, bracing for the moment when the wreckage was finally cleared and the Surprise righted herself.
There would be no mournful 'cello music, no tears running down Nagle's face as he sent his best friend to his doom. There would be no hard choice for Jack Aubrey, no "lost at sea" to be recorded in the logbook; no lesser of two evils (WEEVILS, snickered Oliver internally) to make Jack question his judgment. As her shoulders threatened to give out, Oliver reflected on this. There would be repercussions and the devil to pay-
The lifeline was freed and Oliver and Warley dropped to the deck. Oliver saw the rush of seawater on deck hastening towards her just before being swallowed by the blackness.