‘Listen, Jack,’ he said, smiling. ‘Put your ear firmly to the top and listen while I tap.’ The parcel gave a sudden momentary hum. ‘Did you hear? That shows they are queen-right – that no harm has come to their queen. But we must open it at once; they must have air. There! A glass hive. Is it not ingenious, charming? I have always wanted to keep bees.’
‘But how in God’s name do you expect to keep bees in a man-of-war?’ cried Jack. ‘Where in God’s name do you expect them to find flowers, at sea? How will they eat?’
‘You can see their every motion,’ said Stephen, close against the glass, entranced. ‘Oh, as for their feeding, never fret your anxious mind; they will feed with us upon a saucer of sugar, at stated intervals. If the ingenious Monsieur Huber can keep bees, and he blind, the poor man, surely we can manage in a great spacious xebec?’
‘This is a frigate.’
‘Let us never split hairs, for all love. There is the queen! Come, look at the queen!’
‘How many of these reptiles might there be?’ asked Jack, holding pretty much aloof.
‘Oh, sixty thousand or so, I dare say,’ said Stephen carelessly. ‘And when it comes on to blow, we will ship gimbals for the hive. This will preserve them from undue lateral motion.’
‘You think of almost everything,’ said Jack. ‘Well, I will wear the bees, like Damon and Pythagoras – ho, a mere sixty thousand bees in the cabin don’t signify, much. But I tell you what it is, Stephen: you don’t always think of quite everything.’
‘You refer to the queen’s being a virgin?’ said Stephen.
‘Not really. No. What I really meant was, that this is a crack frigate.’
‘I am delighted to hear it. There she goes – she lays an egg! You need not fear for her virginity, Jack.’
Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian