‘Well,’ said Simmons, vexed by their devotion, that deeply irritating quality, ‘he’s lost his boots now, for all his learning.’
This was true. Stephen retraced his footsteps towards the stump of a mast protruding from the sand where he had left his boots and stockings, and to his concern he found that these prints emerged fresh and clear directly from the sea. No boots: only spreading water, and one stocking afloat in a little scum a hundred yards away. He reflected for a while upon the phenomenon of the tide, gradually bringing his mind to the surface, and then he deliberately took off his wig, his coat, his neckcloth, and his waistcoat.
‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ cried Plaice. ‘He’s a-taking off his coat. We should never have let him off alone on those fucking sands. Mr Babbington said “Do not let him go a-wandering on them fucking sands, Plaice, or I’ll have your hide off your fucking back”. Ahoy! The Doctor ahoy, sir! Come on, mates, stretch out, now. Ahoy, there!’
Stephen took off his shirt, his drawers, his catskin comforter, and walked straight into the sea, clenching his mouth and looking fixedly at what he took to be the stump of the mast under the pellucid surface. They were valuable boots, soled with lead, and he was attached to them. In the back of his mind he heard the roaring desperate hails, but he paid no attention: arrived at a given depth, he seized his nose with one hand, and plunged.
A boathook caught his ankle, an oar struck the nape of his neck, partly stunning him and driving his face deep into the sand at the bottom: his foot emerged, and he was seized and hauled into the boat, still grasping his boots. They were furious. ‘Did he not know he might catch cold? ― Why did he not answer their hail? It was no good his telling them he had not heard; they knew better; he had not got flannel ears ― Why had he not waited for them? ― What was a boat for? ― Was this a proper time to go a-swimming? ― Did he think this was midsummer? Or Lammas? ― He was to see how cold he was, blue and trembling like a fucking jelly. ― Would a new-joined ship’s boy have done such a wicked thing? No, sir, he would not. ― What would the skipper, what would Mr Pullings and Mr Babbington say, when they heard of his capers? ― As God loved them, they had never seen anything so foolish: He might strike them blind, else. ― Where had he left his intellectuals? Aboard the sloop?’ They dried him with handkerchiefs, dressed him by force, and rowed him quickly back to the Polychrest. He was to go below directly, turn in between blankets ― no sheets, mind ― with a pint of grog and have a good sweat. He was to go up the side now, like a Christian, and nobody would notice. Plaice and Lakey were perhaps the strongest men in the ship, with arms like gorillas; they thrust him aboard and hurried him to his cabin without so much as by your leave, and left him there in the charge of his servant, with recommendations for his present care.
Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian