Voyage to Far N'Jurd
The next day the captain appeared at mess.
The third mate said, “I want to thank you for what you done for me, Captain.”
“Don’t mention it,” the captain said, bisecting a pilchard with his fork.
“It’s nice Wanda gets to be in the Festival,” Jane said. “It pleases my husband so.”
“I’m very excited about it all,” the steward said.
The first mate turned his egg over with his fork and peered suspiciously at the underside of it. “Hit’s all right fur you uns ta feel excited. Martha an’ me are still purty bitter.”
“Yes,” Martha said, “I don’t see why the children couldn’t take care of themselves.”
“Who’d get the new crew out of ice?” John, the second mate, said.
“That,” the first mate admitted, “is th’ problem. Can’tcha even cook an aig?” he asked the steward.
“What’s the matter with the egg?” the third mate asked.
“Hit hain’t cooked right,” the first mate insisted.
“Helen,” the captain said, “may I see you after the meal?”
Helen looked demurely into her plate. “Certainly, captain. But if it’s about the Changing of the Wives, I’ve already been asked for.”
“And,” John said proudly, “I’ll bet she was one of the first ones asked.”
“Nestir asked my wife almost a month ago,” said Harry. “She was the very first.”
“Well,” the captain said, “that’s what I had in mind.” He turned to survey the table. His eyes lit upon Mary, the steward’s wife.
She looked at him and shook her head. “John already asked me.”
“Well,” the captain said, “I must say, this is a very fine breakfast, steward. I dearly love pilchards for breakfast. Convey my compliments to the cook.”
“Captain,” said Nestir, “I was telling the men ... just before you came ... in about the great pageant of Koltah in the year of ‘93. At the time, in a special celebration--annum mirabelei--we decided to observe the ancient customs of Meizque. The customs are of some interest, and I thought we might apply several of them to our own Festival.”
“Whatever you wish,” said the captain tiredly, stirring his coffee.
Before Nestir could resume his account, John interrupted. “I want to mention this again. I have a very special treatment for you, Captain. You should be encouraged by that. No one will ever have a better Casting Off than you.”
“Thank you,” said the captain. “I shall look forward to it.” He laid down his spoon. “Oh, Anne. May I see you?”
“I’m sorry,” said the wife of Barney, the engineer. “Really and truly I am, but I’ve already been asked, too.”
“Oh,” said the captain.
He looked over at the last officer’s wife, Leota. But he quickly looked away.
“Well,” he said, “this is a fine breakfast we have this morning steward.”
“Thank you, sir. I’ll tell the cook.”
Jane said, in order to stave off the encroaching silence, “Nestir, how old are you?”
“Going on forty--Jane.”
“The prime of life,” the steward said.
“Ah,” the captain said thoughtfully. “Leota...”
She looked up and soundlessly her mouth formed the words, “Too late.”
The captain dropped the spoon to his plate.