Title: Camel and Tiger
Word Count 950
Rating G (with a few rude words
Camel and Tiger
Lesson for the day: Matthews thought, Tigers are heavy.
They are heavy and hot, and dangerous. They lurch unexpected, and do not smell very good. Tigers are a lot like cannon.
And there was young Randall, doing nothing much. Randall's father had been an ostler. The boy was as handy with horses as he was miserable at sea. It was that thinking that had got him camel-watch. This left the others to heft the tiger. Matthews understood the thinking. He usually could follow Mr Hornblower's thinking. But he was hot and tired, sweating in the sun. Damn Randall, some people had all the luck.
The camel stood slip hipped, chewing its cud in the sun of the deck. Flies buzzed around it in an ecstasy of delight. Matthews had not known what a camel would be like. None of them had. He had heard of them, of course, but really he had expected something more like a lumpy sheep. No one had been prepared for the creatures size, or its haughty expression.
Randall gestured at the camel
“Excuse me Sir. The— I mean, look at it's feet. Do you think it has founder?
Archie Kennedy lifted his fair brows in astonishment. Young Randall had never spoken in his hearing before. Archie had not been sure that this least member of Horatio's division even possessed a voice. Some officers would have snapped at the question. But he was a kind one, Mr Kennedy. He crouched down to get a good look.
“No, Randall. I think they are supposed to be that way. I've seen a book.”
Randall's relief was evident. Of course Mr Kennedy had a book. Officers knew these things. Mr Kennedy's authority was not at all diminished by the monkey on his shoulder. The monkey had at first seemed inclined to panic, but it was calm enough now. It held tight to Mr Kennedy's ear. He had clapped onto its tail. He was keeping it well away from the tiger.
“Easy there, Oldroyd-- watch that line-- Oh, Christ-- watch it!”
Matthews could feel the irritation rising inside of him. That was the only reason he said it. He felt, rather than saw, Mr Hornblower's dark head turn his way. Matthews did not lift his eyes. Blasphemy was punishable. Some officers were real pious bastards too. But Mr Hornblower just shook his head and smiled a little. He was not a churchgoer.
The tiger had been dosed with laudanum. Mr Hornblower had probably looked up the dose in one of his books. But perhaps he had given it too much, Matthews thought. For the longest time it had lain on the floor of its cage, looking like a shabby rug. But it was awake now.
It seemed docile enough. But it was cat-quiet, watchful, and somehow simmering, like a pot just on the boil. Every now and then it put its huge paw out between the bars of the crate, waving foolishly. It made a man want to smile. It brought back memories of kittens and string, and the sunlight on warm stone. But, Matthews had a feeling, in some cold pit of himself, that given reason, that tiger could move very fast indeed.
It took longer than it should have to work the parbuckle. The jolly was low in the water, and the tiger was rather damp by the time they gained the dockside.
Mr Kennedy and the money had stayed behind with the camel. Mathews could see him now, small in the distance, stroking the creature's long nose. Mr Kennedy, looked like a man from a child's fairy tale. He was blue and gold, and shining. The camel, Matthews realized, looked just a little like Mr Hornblower.
They brought it over the side in slings like a horse. It did not struggle, but folded its great strange legs, and lay in the jolly boat, moaning. Forward of the rump there was not much room to pull oars. And poor Mr Kennedy had to crouch between the creature's side and the gunwale. Also, the monkey had sought higher ground on the top of Mr Kennedy's head. He had had to remove his hat.
Matthews had the tiller, and he could see the dock. Mr Hornblower was waiting for them, with a cart ready for the tiger cage and the dunnage. The day was warming, the sun almost to noon. Getting this far seemed to have taken hours. He was sore and wet. Nothing new there. Sore and wet was what you got. It was the Navy way. But today he was sore and wet with camels and tigers. Well now, that was something to remember.
They wallowed for the shore, heavy in the water, sluggish. The camel was weeping. It had great dark eyes, fringed with lashes like a girl. It had strange dust colored fur, it looked soft. Matthews had a hand free.
“There now,” he stroked it on the face. It was soft. It looked at him sorrowfully. “There now, you poor beast,” he said. “It will all come out all right.” The camel stretched out its great long neck. It rested its head in Matthew's lap.
“I think you have made a friend there, Matthews.” Mr Kennedy said. He was smiling now, still with a steady hand on the monkey's tail. Never too fine to laugh at himself, that was Mr Kennedy. Matthews caught the smile and returned it. He kept one hand steady on the tiller. With the other he scratched the camels ears.
“A friend Sir? Aye. Maybe I have.”