Set in Jamaica in 1691, there are pirates, sober pirates, unspeakable deckhands, mermaids, the voyage to Terra Incognita, and Jamaica’s last Monkey.
Sir Benjamin Saintsbury, the Governor of Jamaica, walked his estate and not from God received his great inspiration.
His estate two miles down the track from Port Royal, a haven, separated from the bustle and mess of pirates, the explosions of dragon pistols, men going at each other with the cutlash, regularly and inefficiently. A place of repose, which allowed the Mind to unmoor and forge out towards undiscovered lands.
The Governor had ceased his walk at the bottom of a hill beside a spring, and stood looking there, struck by the phenomenon. A clear spring of good fresh water it was, which flowed down from a cleft and pooled into a shallow reef. As if the prophet Moses had there struck the rock, but the Governor’s inspiration was not connected to drinking that water, or to travelling in a wilderness of trees.
By the Mango, the Breadfruit, the Banana and the Plantain,
The white Bougainvillea, the Periwinkle.
He wondered whether it were truly possible.
And scarcely noticed aught else on his path back to his house, call’d his Residence, for this occupation tripping more than once on the roots and creepers there. If it were possible, this great scheme, he would need assistance and he knew that Mr Pulpitt should prove the highest assistance he could have on the whole island; the tutor was skilled in arithmetic and could make up all the necessary drawings. Also Sir Benjamin would need to expend on drivers, wrights, hauliers, carpenters, ropemakers, diggers, workmen of all specie; and then, only, they would need to beg a favourable progress from the gods of Fortune and Chance.
By the Cedar, the Logwood, the Cocoanut Palm and Palmetto,
By the Ginger Plant and the Cabbage Tree.
Mr Pulpitt, of that white-livered-appearing type who has hidden strengths, spent the first days surveying the area, looking at the spring as it bubbled from the cliff and the pebbled strand it made; how then the water soaked to the ground, and so his mind went to hydraulic damming.
He did the experiment in his head, how it would work, how it might be caused not to work by adversity, until — still in worry they had yet to have it right — excavations were begun.
The pebbles soon gave up to the red earth characteristic of Jamaica, and left a muddy bog. Further experiments done with puddling the walls did not bring success, the earth mixed with pitch and bitumen crumbling as soon as it was placed and slithering back to its grounds.
“This island does not have a good clay for our purpose, not as in London. We are creating a morass,” said Pulpitt.
The need was to impose themselves on the world, to defeat it. And Pulpitt took more days, all the time while the Governor was pointing with his cane and offering up futilities.
Until Mr Pulpitt looked out at the Main, which was swells and danger, and he looked back at the terrace on which the estate was so firmly founded, yards, only, a matter of… from the Sea… And he realised fully the meaning of Ships and Oceans and reversed the Consuetude. He had received the second Inspiration connected with the scheme and how it could be made real, perhaps.
He explained his idea to his Governor, and if Sir Benjamin had any jealousy at not being the vessel of this second Inspiration, he did not speak that passion.
“Now we are playing a great Hand,” he replied to Mr Pulpitt.