He went below, noticed the smell of midshipment in the fore-cabin, walked through into the after-cabin, and found himself in total darkness.
‘Close the door,’ cried Stephen, swarming past him and clapping it to.
‘What’s amiss?’ asked Jack, whose mind had moved so deep into naval life that he had forgotten the bees, as he might have forgotten even a vivid nightmare.
‘They are remarkably adaptable — perhaps the most adaptable of all social insects,’ said Stephen, from another part of the cabin. ‘We find them from Norway to the burning wastes of the Sahara; but they have not grown quite used to their surroundings yet.’
‘Oh God,’ said Jack, scrabbling for the handle. ‘Are they all out?’
‘Not at all,’ said Stephen. ‘And learning from Killick that you expected guests, I conceived you might prefer them away. There is so much ignorant prejudice against bees in a dining-room.’ Something was crawling on Jack’s neck; the door had completely vanished; he began to sweat heavily. ‘So I though to create an artificial night, when, in the course of nature, they return to their hive. I also made three fires for the sake of the smoke: these did not have the desired effect, however. It may be that the darkness is too complete. Let us compromise with a twilight — dark, but not too dark.’ He raised a corner of sailcloth, and a beam of sun showed an incalculable number of bees on every vertical surface and on most of those that were flat; bees flying in a jerky, meaningless fashion from point to point; fifty or so sitting on his coat and breeches. ‘There,’ said Stephen, ‘that is far, far better is it not? Urge them to mount on your finger, Jack, and carry them back to their hive. Gently, gently, and on no account exhibit, or even feel, the least uneasiness: fear is wholly fatal, as I dare say you know.’
Jack had the door-handle; he opened it a crack and glided swiftly through. ‘Killick!’ he shouted, beating at his clothes.
‘Go and help the Doctor. Bear a hand, now.’
‘I dursn’t,’ said Killick.
‘You don’t mean to tell me you are afraid, a man-of-war’s man?’
‘Yes I am, sir,’ said Killick.
‘Well, clear the fore-cabin and lay the cloth there. And uncork a dozen of claret.’ He plunged into his sleeping-cabin and tore off his stock — there was something creeping beneath it.
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