Tongues of Serpents

Chapter 2

"I AM NOT SURPRISED in the least," Bligh said later that evening, when they had left Riley's table and gone to the quarterdeck for coffee and cigars, "not in the least; you see exactly how it is now, Captain Laurence, with these whoreson dogs and Merinos."

His language was not much better than that of the aforementioned dogs, and neither could Laurence much prefer his company. He did not like to think so of the King's governor and a Navy officer, and particularly not one so much a notable seaman: his feat of navigating three thousand miles of open ocean in only a ship's launch, when left adrift by the Bounty, was still a prodigy.

Laurence had looked at least to respect, if not to like; but the Allegiance had stopped to take on water in Van Diemen's Land, and there found the governor they had confidently expected to meet in Sydney, deposed by the Rum Corps and living in a resentful exile. He had a thin, soured mouth, perhaps the consequence of his difficulties; a broad forehead exposed by his receding hair; and delicate, anxious features beneath it, which did not very well correspond with the intemperate language he was given to unleash on those not uncommon occasions when he felt himself thwarted.

He had no recourse but to harangue passing Navy officers with demands to restore him to his post, but all of those prudent gentlemen, to date, had chosen to stay well out of the affair while the news took the long sea-road back to England for an official response. This, Laurence supposed, had been neglected in the upheaval of Napoleon's invasion and its aftermath; nothing else could account for so great a delay. But no fresh orders had come, nor a replacement governor, and meanwhile in Sydney the New South Wales Corps, and those men of property who had promoted their coup, grew all the more entrenched.

The very night the Allegiance put into the harbor, Bligh had himself rowed out to consult with Captain Riley; he had very nearly asked himself to dinner, and directed the conversation with perfect disregard for Riley's privilege; though as a Navy man himself he could not be ignorant of the custom.

"A year now, and no answer," Bligh had said in a cloud of spittle and fury, waving his hand to Riley's steward to send the bottle round to him again. "A full year gone, Captain, and meanwhile in Sydney these scurrilous worms yet inculcate all the populace with licentiousness and sedition: it is nothing to them, nothing, if every child born to woman on these shores should be a bastard and a bugger and a drunken leech, so long as they do a little work upon their farms, and lie quiet under the yoke: Let the rum flow is their only maxim, the liquor their only coin and god." He did not, however, stint himself of the wine, near-vinegared though it was, nor the last dregs of Riley's port; ate well, also, as might a man living mostly on hardtack and a little occasional game.

Laurence, silent, rolling the stem of his glass between his fingers, had been unable to feel some sympathy: a little less self-restraint, and he might have railed with as much fervor against the cowardice and stupidity which had united to send Temeraire into exile. He, too, wished to be restored, if not to rank or to society at least to a place where they might be useful; and not to merely sit here on the far side of the world upon a barren rock, and complain unto Heaven.

But now Bligh's downfall might as easily be his own: his one hope of return had been a pardon from the colony's governor, for himself and Temeraire; or at least enough of a good report to reassure those in England whose fears and narrow interest had seen them sent away.

It had always been a scant hope, threadbare; but Jane Roland certainly wished for the return of Britain's one Celestial, when she had Lien to contend with on the enemy's side. Laurence might have some hope that the nearly superstitious fear of the breed which had sprung up, after the dreadful carnage of Lien's attack upon the Navy at the battle of Shoeburyness, was beginning to subside, and cooler minds to regret the impulse which had sent away so valuable a weapon.

At least, so she had written, encouragingly; and had advised him, I may have a prayer of sending the Viceroy to fetch you home, when she has been refit; only for God's sake be obliging to the Governor, if you please; and I will thank you not to make any more great noise of yourself: it would be just as well if there is not a word to be said of you in the next reports from the colony, good or evil, but that you have been meek as milk.

Of that, however, there was certainly no hope, from the moment when Bligh had blotted his lips and thrown down his napkin and said, "I will not mince words, Captain Riley: I hope you see your duty clear under the present circumstances, and you as well, Captain Granby," he added.

This was, of course, to carry Bligh back to Sydney, there to threaten the colony with bombardment or pillage, at which the ringleaders MacArthur and Johnston would be handed over for judgment. "And to be summarily hanged like the mutinous scoundrels they are, I trust," Bligh said. "It is the only possible repair for the harm which they have done: by God, I should like to see their worm-eaten corpses on display a year and more, for the edification of their fellows; then we may have a little discipline again."

"Well, I shan't," Granby had answered, incautiously blunt after the free-flowing wine, "and," he added to Laurence and Riley privately, afterwards, "I don't see as we have any business telling the colony they shall have him back: it seems to me after a fellow has been mutinied against three or four times, there is something to it besides bad luck."

"Then you shall take me aboard," Bligh said, scowling, when Riley had also made his - more polite - refusal. "I will return with you to England, and there present the case directly; so far, I trust, you cannot deny me," he asserted, with some truth: such a refusal would have been most dangerous politically to Riley, whose position was less assured than Granby's, and unprotected by any significant interest. But Bligh's real intention, certainly, was to return not to England but to the colony, in their company and under Riley's protection, with the power meanwhile of continuing his attempts at persuasion however long they should remain there in port.

It was not to be supposed that Laurence could put himself at Bligh's service, in that gentleman's present mood, without at once being ordered to restore him to his office and to turn Temeraire upon the rebels. If such a course might have served Laurence's self-interest, it was wholly inimical to his every feeling. He had allowed himself and Temeraire to be so used once, in the war - by Wellington, against the French invaders, in Britain's greatest extremity; it had still left the blackest taste in his mouth, and he would never again so submit.

Yet equally, if Laurence put himself at the service of the New South Wales Corps, he became nearly an assistant to mutiny. It required no great political gifts to know this was of all accusations the one which he could least afford to sustain, and the one which would be most readily believed and seized upon by his enemies and Temeraire's, to deny them any hope of return.

"I do not see the difficulty; there is no reason why you should surrender to anyone," Temeraire said obstinately, when Laurence had in some anxiety raised the subject with him aboard ship as they made the trip from Van Diemen's Land to Sydney: the last leg of their long voyage, which Laurence formerly would have advanced with pleasure, and now with far more pleasure would have delayed. "We have done perfectly well all this time at sea, and we will do perfectly well now, even if a few tiresome people have been rude."

"Legally, I have been in Captain Riley's charge, and may remain so a little longer," Laurence answered. "But that cannot answer for very long: ordinarily he ought to discharge me to the authorities with the rest of the prisoners."

"Whyever must he? Riley is a sensible person," Temeraire said, "and if you must surrender to someone, he is certainly better than Bligh. I cannot like anyone who will insist on interrupting us at our reading, four times, only because he wishes to tell you yet again how wicked the colonists are and how much rum they drink: why that should be of any interest to anyone I am sure I do not know."

"My dear, Riley will not long remain with us," Laurence said. "A dragon transport cannot simply sit in harbor; this is the first time one has been spared to this part of the world, and that only to deliver us. When she has been scraped, and the mizzen topmast replaced, from that blow we had near the Cape, they will go; I am sure Riley expects fresh orders very nearly from the next ship into harbor behind us."

"Oh," Temeraire said, a little downcast, "and we will stay, I suppose."

"Yes," Laurence said, quietly. " - I am sorry."

And without transport, Temeraire would be quite truly a prisoner of their new situation: there were few ships, and none of merchant class, which could carry a dragon of Temeraire's size, and no flying route which could safely see him to any other part of the world. A light courier, built for endurance, perhaps might manage it in extremis with a well-informed navigator, clear weather, and luck, setting down on some deserted and rocky atolls for a rest; but the Aerial Corps did not risk even them on any regular mission to the colony, and Temeraire could never follow such a course without the utmost danger.

And Granby and Iskierka would go as well, when Riley did, to avoid a similar entrapment; leaving Temeraire quite isolated from his own kind, save for the three prospective hatchlings who were as yet an unknown quantity.

"Well, that is nothing to be sorry for," Temeraire said, rather darkly eyeing Iskierka, who at present was asleep and exhaling quantities of steam from her spikes upon his flank, which gathered into fat droplets and rolled off to soak the deck beneath him. "Not," he added, "that I would object to company; it would be pleasant to see Maximus again, and Lily, and I would like to know how Perscitia is getting on with her pavilion; but I am sure they will write to me when we are settled, and as for her, she may go away anytime she likes."

Laurence felt Temeraire might find it a heavier penalty than he yet knew. Yet the prospect of these miseries, which had heretofore on their journey greatly occupied his concerns, seemed petty in comparison to the disaster of the situation that now awaited them: trapped in the roles of convict and kingmaker both, and without any means of escape, save if they chose to sacrifice all intercourse with society and take themselves off into the wilderness.

"Pray do not worry, Laurence," Temeraire said stoutly. "I am sure we will find it a very interesting place, and anyway," he added, "at least there will be something nicer to eat."

Their reception, however, had if anything only given more credence to Bligh's representations, and Laurence's anxiety. The Allegiance could not be said to have crept up on the colony: she had entered the mouth of the harbor at eleven in the morning on a brilliantly clear day, with only the barest breath of wind to bring her along. After eight months at sea, all of them might have been pardoned for impatience, but no one could be immune to the almost shocking loveliness of the immense harbor: one bay after another curving off the main channel, and the thickly forested slopes running down to the water, interspersed with stretches of golden sand.

So Riley did not order out the boats for rowing, or even try to spread a little more sail; he let the men mostly hang along the rail, looking at the new country before them while the Allegiance stately glided among the smaller shipping like a great finwhale among clouds of bait-fish. Nearly three hours of slow, clear sailing before they lowered the anchor, then, but still there was no welcome come to meet them.

"I will fire a salute, I suppose," Riley said, doubtfully; and the guns roared out. Many of the colonists in their dusty streets turned to look, but still no answer came, until after another two hours at last Riley put a boat over the side, and sent Lord Purbeck, his first lieutenant, ashore.

Purbeck returned shortly to report he had spoken with Major Johnston, the present chief of the New South Wales Corps, but that gentleman refused to come aboard so long as Bligh was present: the intelligence of Bligh's return had evidently reached Sydney in advance, likely by some smaller, quicker ship making the same passage from Van Diemen's Land.

"We had better go see him ourselves, then," Granby said, quite unconscious of the appalled looks Laurence and Riley directed at him, at the proposal that Riley, a Navy captain, should lower himself to call upon an Army major, who had behaved so outrageously and ungentle-manlike. Granby did not notice, but added, "It don't excuse him, but I would not have put it past that fellow Bligh to send word ahead himself that we were here to put him back in his place," sadly plausible; and to make matters worse, there was little alternative. Their stores were running low, and that was no small matter with the hold crammed full of convicts, and the deck weighted down with dragons.

Riley went stiffly, with a full complement of Marines, and invited Laurence and Granby both to accompany him. "It may not be regular, but neither is anything else about this damned mess," he said to Laurence, "and I am afraid you will need to get the measure of the fellow, more than any of us."

It was not long in coming: "If you mean to try and put that cowering snake over us again, I hope you are ready to stay, and swallow his brass with us," Johnston said, "for an you go away, we'll have him out again in a trice; for my part, I will answer for what I have done to anyone who has a right to ask, which isn't any of you."

These were the first words uttered, preceding even introduction, as soon as they had been shown into his presence: not into an office, but only the antechamber in the single long building which served for barracks and headquarters both.

"What that has to do with hailing a King's ship properly when it comes into harbor, I would like to know," Granby said heatedly, responding in kind, "and I don't care twopence for Bligh or you, either, until I have provision for my dragon; which you had better care about, too, unless you like her to help herself."

This exchange had not made the welcome grow particularly warmer: even apart from the suspicion of their assisting Bligh, Johnston was evidently uneasy for all his bluster, as well might he and his fellows be with their present arrangements, at once illegal and unsettled, with so long a silence from England. Laurence might have felt some sympathy for that unease, under other circumstances: the Allegiance and her dragon passengers came into the colony as an unknown factor, and with the power of disrupting all the established order.

But the first sight of the colony had already shocked him very much: in this beautiful and lush country, to find such a general sense of malaise and disorder, women and men staggering-drunk in the streets even before the sun had set, and for most of the inhabitants thin ramshackle huts and tents the only shelters. Even these were occupied irregularly: as they walked towards their unsatisfactory meeting, and passed one such establishment with no door whatsoever, Laurence glanced and was very shocked to see within a man and a woman copulating energetically, he still half in military uniform, while another man snored sodden upon the floor and a child sat dirty and snuffling in the corner.

More distressing still was the bloody human wreckage on display at the military headquarters, where an enthusiastic flogger seemed to scarcely pause between his customers, a line of men shackled and sullen, waiting for fifty lashes or a hundred - evidently their idea here of light punishment.

"If I would not soon have a mutiny of my own," Riley said, half under his breath, as they returned to the Allegiance, "I would not let my men come ashore here for anything; Sodom and Gomorrah are nothing to it."

Three subsequent weeks in the colony had done very little to improve Laurence's opinion of its present or its former management. There was nothing in Bligh himself which could be found sympathetic: in language and manner he was abrupt and abrasive, and where his attempts to assert authority were balked, he turned instead to a campaign of ill-managed cajolery, equal parts insincere flattery and irritated outbursts, which did little to conceal his private conviction of his absolute righteousness.

But this was worse than any ordinary mutiny: he had been the royal governor, and the very soldiers responsible for carrying out his orders had betrayed him. Riley and Granby continuing obdurate, and likely soon to be gone, Bligh had fixed upon Laurence as his most promising avenue of appeal, and refused to be deterred; daily now he would harangue Laurence on the ill-management of the colony, the certain evils flowing from permitting such an illegitimate arrangement to continue.

"Have Temeraire throw him overboard," Tharkay had suggested laconically, when Laurence had escaped to his quarters for a little relief and piquet, despite the nearly stifling heat belowdecks: the open window let in only a still-hotter breeze. "He can fish him out again after," he added, as an afterthought.

"I very much doubt if anything so mild as ocean water would prove effective at dousing that gentleman's ardor for any prolonged time," Laurence said, indulging from temper in a little sarcasm: Bligh had gone so far today as to overtly speak of his right, if restored, to grant full pardon, and Laurence had been forced to quit him mid-sentence to avoid taking insult at this species of attempted bribery. "It might nearly be easier," he added more tiredly, the moment of heat past, "if I did not find some justice in his accusations."

For the evils of the colony's arrangements were very great, even witnessed at the remove of their shipboard life. Laurence had understood that the convicts were generally given sentences of labor, which being accomplished without further instance of disorder yielded their emancipation and the right to a grant of land: a thoughtful design envisioned by the first governor, intended to render them and the country both settled. But over the course of the subsequent two decades, this had remained little more than a design, and in practice nearly all the men of property were the officers of the New South Wales Corps or their former fellows.

The convicts at best they used as cheap labor; at worst, as chattel. Without prospects or connections to make them either interested in their future or ashamed of their behavior, and trapped in a country that was a prison which needed no walls, the convicts were easily bribed to both labor and their own pacification with cheap rum, brought in at a handsome profit by the soldiers, and in such a way those who ought to have enforced order instead contributed to its decay, with no care for the disorder and self-destruction they thus engendered.

"Or at least, so Bligh has argued, incessantly, and everything which I have seen bears him out," Laurence said. "But Tenzing, I cannot trust myself; I fear that I wish the complaints to be just, rather than know they are so. I am sorry to say it would be convenient to have an excuse to restore him."

"There is capot, I am afraid," Tharkay said, putting down his last card. "If you insist on achieving justice and not only convenience, you would learn more from speaking with some local citizen, a settled man, with nothing to complain of in his treatment on either side."

"If such a man is to be found, I can see no reason he would willingly confide his opinion, in so delicate a matter," Laurence said, throwing in, and gathering the cards up to sort out afresh.

"I have letters of introduction to some few of the local factors," Tharkay said, a piece of news to Laurence, who wondered; so far as he knew, Tharkay had come to New South Wales merely to indulge an inveterate wanderlust; but of course he could not intrude upon Tharkay's privacy with a direct question.

"If you like," Tharkay had continued, "I can make inquiries; and as for reason, if there is discontent enough to form the grounds for your decision, I would imagine that same discontent sufficient motive to speak."

The attempt to pursue this excellent advice now having ended in public ignominy, however, Bligh was only too eager to take advantage and press Laurence further for action. "Dogs, Captain Laurence, dogs and cowardly sheep, all of them," Bligh said, ignoring yet again Laurence's attempt to correct his address to Mr. Laurence; it would suit Bligh better, Laurence in exasperation supposed, to be restored by a military officer, and not a private citizen.

Bligh continued, "I imagine you can hardly disagree with me now. It is impossible you should disagree with me. It is the direct consequence of their outrageous usurpation of the King's authority. What respect, what discipline, can possibly be maintained under a leadership so wholly devoid of just and legal foundation, so utterly lost to loyalty and - "

Here Bligh paused, perhaps reconsidering an appeal to the virtues of obedience, in the light of Laurence's reputation; throwing his tiller over, however, Bligh without losing much time said instead, " - and to decency; allow me to assure you this infamous kind of behavior is general throughout the military ranks of the colony, indulged and indeed encouraged by their leaders."

Fatigue and a soreness at once physical and of the spirit had by now cut Laurence's temper short: he had endured dinner in increasing discomfort, his ribs grown swollen and very tender beneath the makeshift bandage; his hands ached a great deal, and what was worse, to no purpose: nothing gained but a sense of disgust. He was very willing to think ill of the colony's leadership, of Johnston and MacArthur, but Bligh had not recommended himself, and his nearly gleeful satisfaction was too crassly, too visibly opportunistic.

Laurence put down his coffee-cup with some force on the steward's tray. "I must wonder, sir," he said, "how you would expect to govern, when you should be forced to rely upon those same soldiers whom you presently so disdain; having removed their ringleaders, who have preferred them to an extreme and given them so much license, how would you conciliate their loyalty, having been restored at the hands of one whom they already see as an outlaw?"

"Oh! You give too much credit," Bligh said, dismissively, "to their loyalty, and too little to their sense; they must know, of course, that MacArthur and Johnston are doomed. The length of the sea-voyage, the troubles in England, these alone have preserved them; but the hangman's noose waits for them both, and as the time draws near, the advantages of their preferment lose their luster. Some reassurances - some concessions - of course they may keep their land grants, and those appointments not made too ill may remain - "

He made a few more general remarks of this sort, with no better course of action envisioned on Bligh's part, so far as Laurence could see, than to levy a series of new but only cosmetic restrictions, which should certainly only inflame men irritated by the overthrow, by an outsider and an enemy, of their tolerated if not necessarily chosen leadership.

"Then I hardly see," Laurence said, not very politely, "precisely how you would repair these evils you condemn, which I cannot see were amended during your first administration; nor is Temeraire, as you seem to imagine, some sort of magical cannon which may be turned on anyone you like."

"If with this collection of mealy-mouthed objections you will excuse yourself from obliging me, Mr. Laurence," Bligh answered, deep color spotting in the hollows of his cheeks, "I must count it another disappointment, and mark it against your character, such as that is," this with an acrid and unpleasant edge; and he left the quarterdeck with his lips pressed tight and angry.

If Bligh followed in his usual mode, however, he would soon repent of his hasty words and seek another interview; Laurence knew it very well, and his feelings were sufficiently lacerated already that he did not care to be forced to endure the pretense of an apology, undoubtedly to be followed by a fresh renewal of those same arguments he had already heard and rejected.

He had meant to sleep aboard the ship, whose atmosphere had been greatly improved: the convicts having been delivered to the dubious embrace of the colony, Riley had set every one of his men to pumping the lower decks clean, sluicing out the filth and miasm left by several hundred men and women who had been afforded only the barest minimum of exercise and liberty essential to health. Smudges of smoke had been arranged throughout, and then a fresh round of pumping undertaken.

With the physical contamination and the hovering and perpetual aura of misery thus erased, Laurence's small quarters now made a comfortable if not luxurious residence by his standards, formed in his youth by the dimensions of a midshipman's cot. Meanwhile the small shelter on the dragons' promontory remained unroofed and as yet lacked its final wall, but Laurence felt bruised more in spirit than in body, and the weather held dry; he went below only to collect a few articles, and quitted the ship to seek refuge in Temeraire's company.

In this mood, he was by no means prepared to be accosted on the track back up to the promontory by a gentleman on horseback, of aquiline face and by the standards of the colony elegantly dressed, who leaned from his horse and demanded, "Am I speaking with Mr. Laurence?"

"You have the advantage of me," Laurence said, a little rudely in his own turn; but he was not inclined to regret his curtness when the man said, "I am John MacArthur; I should like a word."

There was little question he was the architect of the entire rebellion; and though he had arranged to be appointed Colonial Secretary, he had so far not even given Riley the courtesy of a call. "You choose odd circumstances for your request, sir," Laurence said, "and I do not propose to stand speaking in the dust of the street. You are welcome to accompany me to the covert, if you like; although I would advise you to leave your horse."

He was a little surprised to find MacArthur willing to hand his reins to the groom, and dismount to walk with him. "I hear you had a little difficulty in the town to-day," MacArthur said. " - I am very sorry it should have happened.

"You must know, Mr. Laurence, we have had a light hand on the rein here; a light hand, and it has answered beautifully, beyond all reasonable hopes. Our colony does not show to advantage, you may perhaps think, coming from London; but I wonder what you would think if you had been here in our first few years. I came in the year 'ninety; will you credit it, that there were not a thousand acres under cultivation, and no supply? We nearly starved, one and all, three times."

He stopped and held out a hand, which trembled a little. "They have been so, since that first winter," he said, and resumed walking.

"Your perseverance is to be admired," Laurence said, "and that of your fellows."

"If nothing else, that for certain sure," MacArthur said. "But it has not been by chance, or any easy road, that we have found success; only through the foresight of wise leadership and the strength of determined men. This is a country for a determined man, Mr. Laurence. I came here a lieutenant, with not a lick of property to my name; now I have ten thousand acres. I do not brag," he added. "Any man can do here what I have done. This is a fine country."

There was an emphasis on any man, which Laurence found distasteful in the extreme; he read the slinking bribery in MacArthur's pretty speech as easily as he had in Bligh's whispers of pardon, and he pressed his lips together and stretched his pace.

MacArthur perceived his mistake, perhaps; he increased his own to match and said, to shift the subject, "But what does Government send us? You have been a Navy officer yourself, Mr. Laurence; you have had the dregs of the prison-hulks pressed into service; you know what I am speaking of. Such men are not formed for respectability. They can only be used, and managed, and to do it requires rum and the lash - it is the very understanding of the service. I am afraid it has made us all a little coarse here, however; we are ill-served by the proportion of our numbers. I wonder how you would have liked a crew of a hundred, five and ninety of them gaol-birds, and not five able seamen to your name."

"Sir, you are correct in this much: I have had a little difficulty, earlier in the day," Laurence said, pausing in the road; his ribs ached sharply in his side, "so I will be frank; you might have had conversation of myself, or of Captain Riley or Captain Granby, as it pleased you, these last three weeks, for the courtesy of a request. May I ask you to be a little more brief?"

"Your reproach is a just one," MacArthur said, "and I will not tire you further to-night; if you will do me the kindness of returning my visit in the morning at the barracks?"

"Forgive me," Laurence said dryly, "but I find I am not presently inclined to pay calls in this society; as yet I find the courtesies beyond my grasp."

"Then perhaps I may pay you another call," MacArthur suggested, if with slightly pressed lips, and to this Laurence could only incline his head.

"I cannot look forward to the visit with any pleasure," Laurence said, "but if he comes, we ought to receive him."

"So long as he is not insulting, and does not try to put you in a quarry, he may come, if he likes," Temeraire said, making a concession, while privately determining he would keep a very close eye upon this MacArthur person; for his own part, he saw no reason to offer any courtesy at all to someone who was master of a place so wretchedly organized, and acquainted with so many ill-mannered people. Governor Bligh was not a very pleasant person, perhaps, but at least he did not seem to think it in the ordinary course of things for gentlemen to be knocked down in the street in mysterious accidents.

MacArthur did come, shortly after they had breakfasted. He drew up rather abruptly, reaching the top of the hill; Laurence had not yet seen him, but Temeraire had been looking over at the town - sixteen sheep were being driven into a pen, very handsome sheep - and he saw MacArthur pause, and halt, and look as though he might go away again.

Temeraire might have let him do so, and had a quiet morning of reading, but he had not enjoyed his meal and in a peevish humor said, "In my opinion it is quite rude to come into someone's residence only to stare at them, and turn pale, and go, as if there were something peculiar in them, and not in such absurd behavior. I do not know why you bothered to climb the hill at all, if you are such a great coward; it is not as though you did not know that I was here."

"Why, in my opinion, you are a great rascal," MacArthur said, purpling up his neck. "What do you mean by calling me a coward, because I need to catch my breath."

"Stuff," Temeraire said roundly, "you were frightened."

"I do not say that a man hasn't a right to be taken aback a moment, when he sees a beast the size of a frigate waiting to eat him," MacArthur said, "but I am damned if I will swallow this; you do not see me running away, do you?"

"I would not eat a person," Temeraire said, revolted, "and you needn't be disgusting, even if you do have no manners," to which Laurence coming around said, "So spake the pot," rather dryly.

He added, "Will you come and sit down, Mr. MacArthur? I regret I cannot offer you anything better than coffee or chocolate, and I must advise against the coffee," and Temeraire rather regretfully saw he had missed the opportunity to be rid of this unpleasant visitor.

MacArthur kept turning his head, to look at Temeraire, and remarked, "They don't look so big, from below," as he stirred his chocolate so many times it must have grown quite cold. Temeraire was quite fond of chocolate, but he could not have that, either; not properly, without enough milk, and the expense so dear; it was not worth only having the tiniest taste, which only made one want more. He sighed.

"Quite prodigious," MacArthur repeated, looking at Temeraire again. "He must take a great deal of feeding."

"We are managing," Laurence said politely. "The game is conveniently plentiful, and they do not seem to be used to being hunted from aloft."

Temeraire considered that if MacArthur was here, he might at least be of some use. "Is there anything else to hunt, nearby?" he inquired. "Not of course," he added untruthfully, "that anyone could complain of kangaroo."

"I am surprised if you have found any of those in twenty miles as the crow goes," MacArthur said. "We pretty near et up the lot, in the first few years."

"Well, we have been getting them around the Nepean River, and in the mountains," Temeraire said, and MacArthur's head jerked up from his cup so abruptly that the spoon he had left inside it tipped over and spattered his white breeches with chocolate.

He did not seem to notice that he had made a sad mull of his clothing, but said thoughtfully, "The Blue Mountains? Why, I suppose you can fly all over them, can't you?"

"We have flown all over them," Temeraire said, rather despondently, "and there is nothing but kangaroo, and those rabbits that have no ears, which are too small to be worth eating."

"I would have been glad of a wombat or a dozen often enough, myself," MacArthur said, "but it is true we do not have proper game in this country, I am sorry to say I know from experience: too lean by half; you cannot keep up to fighting-weight on it, and there is not enough grazing yet for cattle. We have not found a way through the mountains, you know," he added. "We are quite hemmed in."

"It is a pity no-one has tried keeping elephants," Temeraire said.

"Ha ha, keeping elephants, very good," MacArthur said, as if this were some sort of a joke. "Do elephants make good eating?"

"Excellently good," Temeraire said. "I have not had an elephant since we were in Africa: I do not think I have tasted anything quite so good as a properly cooked elephant; outside of China, that is," he added loyally, "where I do not think they can raise them. But it seems as though this would be perfectly good country for them: it is certainly as hot as ever it was in Africa, where they raised them. Anyway we will need more food for the hatchlings, soon."

"Well, I have brought sheep, but I did not much think of bringing over elephants," MacArthur said, looking at the three eggs with an altered expression. "How much would a dragon eat, do you suppose, in the way of cattle?"

"Maximus will eat two cows when he can get them, in a day," Temeraire said, "but I do not think that is very healthy; I would not eat more than one, unless of course I have been fighting, or flying far; or if I were very particularly hungry."

"Two cows a day, and soon to be five of you?" MacArthur said. "The Lord safe preserve us."

"If this has brought you to a better understanding of the necessity of addressing the situation, sir," Laurence said, rather pointedly Temeraire thought, "I must be grateful for your visit; we have had very little cooperation heretofore in making our arrangements from Major Johnston."

MacArthur put down his chocolate-cup. "I was speaking last night, I think," he said, "of what a man can make of himself, in this country; it is a subject dear to my heart, and I hope I did not ramble on it too long. It is a hard thing, you will understand, Mr. Laurence, to see a country like this: begging for hands, for the plowshare and the till, and no-one to work it but an army of the worst slackabouts born of woman lying about, complaining if they are given less than their day's half-gallon of rum, and they would take it at ten in the morning, if they could get it.

"In the Corps, we may not be very pretty, but we know how to work; I believe the Aerial Corps, too, might be given such a character by some," MacArthur went on. "And we know how to make men work. Whatever has been built in this country, we ha'e built it, and to have a - perhaps I had better hold my tongue; I think you have been shipmates with Governor Bligh?"

"I would not say we were shipmates," Temeraire put in; he did not care to be saddled with such a relationship. "He came aboard our ship, but no-one much wanted him; only one must be polite."

Laurence looked a bit rueful, and MacArthur, smiling, said, "Well, I won't say anything against the gentleman, only perhaps he was no too fond of our ways. The which," he added, "certainly can be improved upon, Mr. Laurence, I do not deny it; but no man likes to be corrected by come-lately."

"When come-lately is sent by the King," Laurence said, "one may dislike, and yet endure."

"Very good sense; but good sense has limits, sir, limits," MacArthur said, "where it comes up hard against honor: some things a man of courage cannot bear, and damn the consequences."

Laurence did not say anything; Laurence was quite silent. After a moment, MacArthur added, "I do not mean to make you excuses: I have sent my eldest on to England, though I could spare him ill, and he must make my case to their Lordships. But I will tell you, I do not tremble, sir, for fear of the answer; I sleep the night through."

Temeraire became conscious gradually, while he spoke, of being poked; Emily was at his side, tugging energetically on his wing-tip. "Temeraire!" she hissed up to him. "I oughtn't go right up with that fellow there, he is sure to see I am a girl; but we must tell the captain, there is a ship come from England - "

"I see her!" Temeraire answered, looking over into the harbor: a trim, handsome little frigate of perhaps twenty-four guns: she was drawn up not far from the Allegiance, riding easily at anchor. "Laurence," he said, leaning over, "there is a ship come from England, Roland says: it is the Beatrice, I think."

MacArthur stopped speaking, abruptly.

Emily tugged again. "That is not the news," she said, impatient. "Captain Rankin is on it."

"Oh! whyever should he have come?" Temeraire said, his ruff pricking up. "Is he a convict?" Without waiting for an answer, he turned his head to the other side. "And Roland says that Rankin is here, on the ship: that dreadful fellow from Loch Laggan. You may certainly put him in a quarry," he added to MacArthur. "I cannot think of anyone who deserves it more, the way he treated poor Levitas."

"Oh, why won't you listen," Roland cried. "He ain't a convict at all; he has come for one of the eggs."

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