Bear Island - Alistair MacLean Page 0,1

the serried ranks of waves beyond the damask drapes were slowly but ominously beginning to break down into confused seas which violently accentuated the Morning Rose's typical fishing-boat propensity for rolling continuously in anything short of millpond conditions. The two different motions, lateral and transverse, were now combining to produce an extremely unpleasant corkscrewing effect indeed.

Because I'd spent most of the past eight years at sea, I wasn't experiencing any distressing symptoms myself, but I didn't have to be a doctor -which my paper qualifications declared me to be-to diagnose the symptoms of mal de mer. The wan smile, the gaze studiously averted from anything that resembled food, the air of rapt communication with the inner self, all the signs were there in plenty. A very mirth-provoking subject, seasickness, until one suffers from it one's self: then it ceases to be funny any more. I'd dispensed enough Dramamine to turn them all buttercup yellow but Dramamine is about as effective against an Arctic gale as aspirin is against cholera.

I looked round and wondered who would be the first to go. Antonio, I thought, that tall, willowy, exquisite, rather precious but oddly likeable Roman with the shock of ludicrously blond and curling hair. It is a fact that when a person reaches that nadir of nausea which is the inevitable prelude to violent sickness the complexion does assume a hue which can only be described as greenish: in Antonio's case it was more a tinge of apple-green chartreuse, an odd coloration that I'd never seen before, but I put it down to his naturally sallow complexion. Anyway, no question but that it was the genuine symptom of the genuine illness: another particularly wild lurch and Antonio was on his feet and out of the saloon at a dead run-or as near a dead run as his land-lubber legs could achieve on that swaying deck-without either farewell or apology.

Such is the power of suggestion that within a very few seconds and on the very next lurch three other passengers, two men and a girl, hurriedly rose and left. And such is the power of suggestion compounded that within two minutes more there were, apart from Captain Imrie, Mr. Stokes, and myself, only two others left: Mr. Gerran and Mr. Heissman.

Captain Imrie and Mr. Stokes, seated at the heads of their respective and now virtually deserted tables, observed the hurried departure of the last of the sufferers, looked at each other in mild astonishment, shook their heads and got on with the business of replenishing their fuel reserves. Captain Imrie, a large and splendidly patriarchal figure with piercing blue eyes that weren't much good for seeing with, had a mane of thick white hair that was brushed straight back to his shoulders, and, totally obscuring the dinner tie he affected for dinner wear, an even more impressively flowing beard that would have been the envy of many a biblical prophet: as always, he wore a gold-buttoned, double-breasted jacket with the thick white ring of a commodore of the Royal Navy, to which he wasn't entitled, and, partly concealed by the grandeur of his beard, four rows of medal ribbons, to which he was. Now, still shaking his head, he lifted his bottle of malt Scotch from its container-not until that evening had I understood the purpose of that two-foot-high wrought-iron contraption bolted to the saloon deck by the side of his chair-filled his glass almost to the top and added the negligible amount of water required to make it brimming full. It was at this precise moment that the Morning Rose reared unusually high on the crest of a wave, hovered for what appeared to be an unconscionably long time, then fell both forwards and sideways to plunge with a resounding, shuddering crash into the shoulder of the next sea. Captain Imrie didn't spill a drop: for any indication he gave to the contrary he might have been in the taproom of the Mainbrace in Hull, which was where I'd first met him. He quaffed half the contents of his glass in one puff and reached for his pipe. Captain Imrie had long mastered the art of dining gracefully at sea.

Mr. Gerran, clearly, hadn't. He gazed down at his lamb chops, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, and glass of hock which weren't where they ought to have been-they were on his napkin and his napkin was on his lap-with a vexed frown on his face. This was, in its small way, a crisis, and Otto