By Charles Matthews

Friday, August 20, 2010

2. Mason & Dixon, by Thomas Pynchon, pp. 30-57

Mason & Dixon: A NovelOne: Latitudes and Departures;4-6
We have a glimpse of Cherrycoke's audience before he returns to the story. It includes a Cousin Ethelmer, recently "return'd from College in the Jerseys." And we learn of Mr. LeSpark that he "made his Fortune years before the War, selling weapons to French and British, Settlers and Indians alike."

Mason and Dixon have had a little disagreement with Capt. Smith of the Seahorse, who wants them to chip in a hundred guineas each for the privilege of dining at his table, with the result that they end up dining in the Lieutenant's Mess. Moreover, there has been a communication that their destination in Sumatra, Bencoolen (now Bengkulu), has fallen into the hands of the French.

On board the ship, Mason and Dixon make their acquaintance with Cherrycoke, who tells them that Capt. Smith "wishes to be taken as a man of Science," and that he "does not consider his best game to be war." Which is unfortunate because they are soon under attack from the French ship l'Grand. Mason, Dixon and Cherrycoke are sent below where they do what they can with the casualties of the battle, which ends when the French captain learns that the mission of the Seahorse is to ferry a scientific expedition to its destination. "France is not at war with the sciences," proclaims the French captain, adding, "You are leetluh meenow, -- I throw you back. Perhaps someday we meet when you are biggair Feesh, like me. Meanwhile, I sail away, Poohpooh! Adieu!" Capt. Smith feels compelled to give chase when the French sail away, but he has to give it up because of the damage to the ship, which returns to Plymouth for repairs.

Mason and Dixon have a drunken conversation in which Dixon explains that he's been expelled from the Quakers, so he has no compunctions against war. Mason writes to the Royal Society explaining about Bencoolen's fall to the French and asking if another station would do as well, but the Society "wrote back in the most overbearing way, on about loss of honor, strongly threatening legal action if Mason and Dixon were to break their contract."

Another member of Cherrycoke's audience reveals himself. Uncle Lomax is a manufacturer of soap, but "'Philadelphia Soap' is a Byword, throughout the American Provinces, of low Quality. At the touch of water, nay, damp Air, it becomes a vile Mucus that refuses to be held in any sort of grip, gentle or firm, and often leaves things dirtier than they were before its application, -- making it, more properly, an Anti-Soap."

Cherrycoke tells them that they set sail again in a convoy with a larger frigate, the Brilliant. Cherrycoke is quarter'd with Lieutenant Unchleigh, a rattle-head," who protested when he found Cherrycoke reading a book. Cherrycoke explained that it was the Bible, but Unchleigh replies, "No matter, 'tis Print, -- Print causes Civil Unrest." Capt. Smith has been replaced by Capt. Grant, who has been ordered to follow the Brilliant until further orders, which he has been given and told to open at Tenerife. Grant protests that Smith had been ordered to sail to Bencoolen even though the Admiralty knew it was in the hands of the French, so "what if my orders are to some equally impossible Destination?"

We learn a bit about the crew. The ship's band consists of Slowcombe, "a single Fifer, to whom it fell, the noontide the Frenchman appear'd, to inspire the Lads ito battle with his one silver Pipe." There is Jack "Fingers" Soames, "a viperish Lad whose eponymous Gesture, made in answer to all Overtures, however ritual or ev'ryday, strangely lacks any hostile Intent, being exressive rather of a deep-held wish, so far as may be possible within the Perimeter of a Sixth-Rate, to be left alone." And there is Veevle, "legendary thro'out the Royal N. for being impossible to wake to stand Watch," but who if he is caught while awake and tricked into taking the watch for someone else, "becomes the smartest and most estimable of Seamen."

Boredom (and horniness) aboard ship makes the anticipation of crossing the Equator more intense. The "Pollywogs" crossing the line for the first time -- Mason, Dixon and Cherrycoke -- will undergo a hazing ceremony by the crew.

No comments:

Post a Comment