The Discovery Of Slowness

The Discovery Of Slowness by Sten Nadolny

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Authors: Sten Nadolny
constant comparisons. Clocks were creatures. The greatest miracle about them was that the driving-power of the spring was perfectly balanced by the mysterious braking-power of the anchor. If a time guardian was slow by only one minute, the error in calculating one’s position amounted to fifteen sea miles. The compass, Walker No. 1, was also a respectable figure. It was so sensitive that it tended to overreact, especially in the proximity of cannons.
    John loved to look at land and sea charts. He gazed at them until he believed he understood each line as well as the causes of the earth’s shape in this region. He calculated the length of the coastlines by dividing them by the distance between Ingoldmells and Skegness – a very useful measure. ‘When you get down to it, a map is something impossible,’ said Matthew, ‘because it transforms something elevated into something flat.’
    John liked best watching them measure speed. When for the first time he was allowed to take the measurement himself, and lovingly played out the logline, he was completely happy at last. After letting it run for eighty feet, the log was set correctly; the beginning knot zoomed forward and Sherard turned the glass. Sand and measuring-line ran for twenty-eight seconds; then John stopped it and took the reading. ‘Three and a half knots. It isn’t great.’ He measured again.
    John would have even taken logline and hourglass into his bunk with him at night if he had been able to measure how quickly a man fell asleep or how far he could travel in his dreams.
    Â Â Â Â 
    Matthew had his quirks. Day after day he had the hammocks aired, the bulkheads washed with vinegar, and the decks holystoned. The thundering noise of those scrubbing-blocks woke any late sleepers in the morning.
    They were given pickled cabbage and beer; large quantities of lemon juice were also available. In that way, Matthew wanted to prevent scurvy. ‘No one will die on my ship,’ he said in a menacing tone. ‘Except at worst Nathaniel Bell, of homesickness.’
    â€˜Or we’ll all die, but not of any disease,’ murmured Colpits in a circle of petty officers. He was again convinced that the prophesied beaching still lay in the future. There was a third possibility: the ship took in two inches of water per hour. The carpenter crawled about in the bilges for hours on end, emerging again on deck with a white face and asking to see Matthew privately. Rumours started at once.
    â€˜I bet one of the planks is made of mountain ash,’ one of them surmised. ‘That’ll send us to the fish for certain.’ ‘Don’t talk nonsense,’ shouted Mockridge. ‘Look at the deck planks of juniper wood. They’ll compensate for any weakness.’
    There was much talk while they were pumping, and no reason will help against an old story, above all when it seems to be confirmed. After three days their faces became even longer. ‘Now she takes in four inches per hour,’ the First Lieutenant said. ‘Soon we’ll need no cats. The rats will drown on their own.’
    * * *
    Madeira! John was on land again. The ground was so firm that he tottered incredulously. The war was coming closer and closer. The soldiers of the 85th Regiment had just been landed, and they were chasing away all the rabbits and lizards in the city of Funchal with their incessant trench-digging. Funchal was to be defended against a French attack. However, this attack threatened only because of their fortifying. England had occupied Portuguese Madeira in all friendship. As always when John had his own ideas about something that were perhaps not shared by others, he felt a rising concern. But, he thought, I’m not well enough informed.
    In Funchal, the Investigator ’s seams were caulked. They spent nights ashore – the officers and petty officers in a hotel. John learned how many fleas and bedbugs can gather in one

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