The company of the H.M.S. Zealous, back in the Esquimalt bay after full repair of its damages at the docks in Bermuda, 'Little Expectations' reports and receives transforming news.

One morning, Sydney Dickens and Duckie sat in a canoe with the natives fishing for salmon. They were pleased that the Indians taught them how to make hooks out of shells from the beach. On their way back through the virgin forest, Sydney thought he could see a man in a dark jacket, sitting on a branch, looking through a spyglass at the shore.

“Look,” Sydney whispered. “Do you see that?”

Duckie nodded. “What do you fancy he's doing?”

Sydney motioned for Duckie to quietly follow him. Sydney removed the knife from his coat that he had used to scrape the fish. Suddenly, there was a building noise coming toward them: a raw yell like a man being scalped. A midshipman from another warship, the screamer, was flying ferociously toward them and would have trampled them if they did not jump out of the way. Following him were three or four others also scrambling and shouting fearfully as they did. Sydney and Duckie, not knowing what else to do, joined their stampede until they had come to a clear path in the forest and the party stopped to catch their breath.

“What happened?” Sydney asked.

One of the midshipman grabbed Sydney by the collar. “Do you have a gun on you, mate? What's the use of you, then!”

At length it was explained that their group had been playing cricket when a bear came at them. They had taken shelter in a cabin, but realizing they were trapped in there with no weapons, they hurried back into the woods.

“Were one of you sitting on a branch, with a spyglass?” Duckie asked.

“Who's this pretty one?” a midshipman replied, inexplicably insulted by Duckie's question. “What good would a spyglass do when a bear's trying to eat you for breakfast?”

Sydney and Duckie retraced their original path but found no sign of the man in the dark coat. Back on the Zealous, Sydney looked for the lieutenant-at-arms. It was the officer who, prior to Christmas, had asked Sydney for a letter of introduction to his father. After the ship had been damaged during its chase to Barbados, it was towed back to Bermuda where it had been repaired. By the time the Zealous returned to port at Esquimalt, the lieutenant-at-arms had come back, too.

He had passed Sydney then without saying a word for several days. Sydney was afraid of the silence and afraid what the officer might say. Finally, he stopped Sydney.

“Oh, Mr. Dickens,” the lieutenant-at-arms said after a brief technical exchange. “I just remembered! Would you believe it, I didn't get an audience with your dear old father after all?”

“No?” Sydney asked.

“My steamer was delayed by a storm at San Francisco, and then the ship floundered and we were stranded in Panama for three more days. Well, needless to say, by the time I was in Philadelphia and Washington, he had finished his readings there.”

“That's a shame!” Sydney would never have confessed, even to Horatio the ship's squirrel, his relief at the lieutenant's misfortune of missing Charles Dickens.

“I know it. Yet I'm grateful for your letter. In fact, I'd like to keep it for myself, as a consolation. It is pretty. After all, it is written by the hand of Charles Dickens's son.”

Now, coming back from their adventure in the woods, Sydney reported what he had seen with Duckie.

“Of course, I thought of the reports of the Fenian. As the man seemed to be looking over the docks, it aroused my suspicion,” Sydney said.

“Yes,” the lieutenant-at-arms nodded. “I see why it would alarm you. Let me consult the captain, Dickens. He may wish to organize a search party of marines with you as the headman.”

“Thank you, sir,” Sydney said, saluting crisply and with an edge of gallant excitement.

That evening, however, a party was organized of marine troops with the lieutenant-at-arms himself as its leader. Sydney didn't even know about it until he overheard a cadet who had seen the marines putting on their night glasses and fighting harnesses with their Colt revolvers and ammunition. In the morning, there was a great excitement at the news that the lieutenant-at-arms had captured two suspected Fenian spies and gave them over to the police at Vancouver.

They had located the two men in a cave on a remote part of the coast late at night. Having to wade through a rough surf to reach the shore, the marines found their pouches and cartridges too wet to fire. The marines all wore night glasses, specially designed opera glasses that concentrated light with magnifiers allowing clearer vision in the dark. Waiting until the spies were believed asleep, two marines rushed into the caves with swords and ferreted out their adversaries into the hands of the marines waiting on the other side.

“Can you believe that?” Duckie exclaimed to Sydney as they ate salt pork and pea soup at mess. “Do you fancy it was the same man they took as the knave we saw in the woods! Oh, I'm so famished, and no more plum pudding! Do you know what the next mess has?”

“Have the rest of my soup,” Sydney offered, his appetite dwindling.

The next morning, Sydney was at the mizzen topsail, trying to retrieve Horatio, who had gotten into the sail and was gnawing at it, when the crew was piped to “lay aft for punishment.” The marines, naval troops specially trained for fighting duty, formed a square. All the rest of the crew took positions where they could best see the proceedings. Sydney, coming over from the mainsail, nearly pushed headlong into the marines when he saw.

“Umph,” Duckie cried out. He was being flogged with a cat-o-nine tails—nine pieces of hard wire lashed to a handle—by a round-faced boatswain's mate. The doctor stood by in case treatment was needed.

“Say, my dear Ugly Duckling,” one of the marines chaffed him, “touch your ear with that tongue, won't you!”

“Certainly,” Duckie said chokingly, and obliged with the trick.

“Don't get caught stealing in Benin, Ugly!” cried a blue-jacket.

“Why not?” Duckie asked with an air of genuine wonder.

“They nail their prisoners to trees by the ears and, well, Ugly, those ears of yours!”

While the punishment went on interminably, the sailors chatted with each other and traded yarns about a time they had been given four dozen of the cat. Sydney asked the cooper what had happened.

“Stole some of the officers' biscuits, that boy did!”

When it was over, Sydney dried the blood from Duckie's back with some flannel. He put the thick pilot jacket over him in Duckie's hammock and told him to rest. But Duckie was already falling asleep.

“Oh, it's all right, Little,” he said dreamily. “I was simply famished, and the vision of all those biscuits in the wardroom...”

“Just lay quietly, dear Duckie.”

Sydney stuck a fork into the beam over the birth. The signal was usually used so that none of the “lambies,” the young Jacks, would disturb superior officers drinking, but Sydney didn't want anyone to bother Duckie while he rested.

Days passed. All junior officers could go to a fancy ball that was being held at the governor's mansion on the island but no prodding by Duckie or Goodlake could make Sydney go. Another batch of letters had been delivered to the ship and Sydney had received one from his father that depressed his spirits even without opening it. Sydney ran his finger across the envelope, with its proud monogram of C. D., for hours. He imagined Charles Dickens himself staring at the monogram, only with a wide grin, a hungry smile knowing how much that C. D. stood for and accomplished that other men could not.

The letter was worse than Sydney expected. His father sharply bemoaned Sydney's betrayal of trust in lying about how much debt he carried. Even after the last round of bills had been paid by Dickens, and Sydney had promised never to do it again, more bills came in to Gadshill. Sydney had besmirched the family name that he had never been good enough to wear. All of this was a crushing blow in Sydney's breast. Then there was something new, something that his father had never written before: next time Sydney was in England, Sydney would not be welcome at Gadshill.

Not welcome.

Sydney could not put the letter down; he could not stop reading it, though it was quite brief; he could not throw it away or tear it up. He could only hold it at arm's length helplessly as he lay awake in his hammock. Late that night, after the other men had returned, Sydney felt himself on the verge of tears when he heard sobbing sounds. It was Duckie.

“Why, Duckie, what's wrong?”

“Oh, she's lovely, Sydney! She's dreadful lovely, and I am ugly!”

Duckie told his messmate how he had been at the ball and, as he was too afraid to dance with any of the women, Duckie wandered outside at the edge of the woods. There he met a young Indian girl, who took pity on his lonely appearance and taught him some Indian games that he only half-understood, and held hands, before some of the sailors came out and she ran away.

“If I had a face—a handsome face, I mean, that a girl could look at without wincing like they beheld a monster—well, what I would do with that, Little!”

“Now, hold for a moment, dear Duckie,” Sydney said softly. “You are the most genial and gallant man on board this ship, if you are not the most handsome, you are a vision of God still. Now, look at this piece of string—you held hands with her?”

“I shall never forget it!”

“Good. Show me with this piece of string the size of her finger. Yes, is it this? Stay here.” Sydney returned with his jewel box and, after several comparisons, drew out a beautifully sparkling ring. “This should fit just fine, Duckie, without taking any pains. You give her this, and she will never forget you. Whatever else, she won't forget holding hands.”

Duckie took the ring gingerly in his hands and started to speak but gasped instead.

“Hush, don't even consider trying to thank me, or I'll make you eat the weevils in my hard biscuit, you understand, Duckie? Good, now next time we have shore leave, we'll go into the woods and find her together.”

The next day, Sydney and Goodlake found themselves unexpectedly called to the captain's quarter-deck, taken past an armed sentry that had been placed there since the Fenian attacks at Niagara the previous year. Both junior officers removed their caps; Goodlake spit his quid of tobacco into his cap out of respect. The captain told them to sit.

He informed them that they had both earned a few months leave in England, and that one of the ships in port was leaving in a few days. Goodlake beamed.

“Thank you, sir!” he said.

“I'd like to stay here, sir,” said Sydney.

“What? Wouldn't you like to go home for a while, sub-lieutenant?” asked Commander Liddell, crossing his hands on top of each other inside his sleeves.

“I'd prefer to mess here, sir. And keep an eye on Duckie.”

“Very well, though I have seldom heard such an application to remain here, when one could be in England! And you, Goodlake?”

“Please, I'd like to go home very much, sir,” Goodlake responded.

After Goodlake exited, putting the tobacco back in his mouth and his cap back to his head, Sydney asked permission to address the captain. “Sir, I would like it to be known that myself and one of my messmates were the ones to observe the suspected Fenians in the woods. Respectfully, I believe the lieutenant-at-arms reported the discovery as his own so that he could lead a mission.”

“You have good reason to believe it, for he is a shifty sort,” said the captain. “But he did in fact attribute the findings to you.”

Sydney paused. “Is it the article, then?”


“The article I wrote for the Colonist. I did not see it in the paper. Was Admiral Hastings displeased with it?”

The captain stopped and looked over the young officer sympathetically. “The admiral decided to write one himself, my boy. Between you and me, he fancies that there is a spark of the poet in him.”

“I see. Then why was I not assigned to lead the party of marines, sir, when I reported the sighting?”

Liddell rose from his chair, trembling a little with age but otherwise projecting a powerful air. “Mr. Dickens, to advance in a career in the navy, one has to be entirely his own man. Do you understand?”

Sydney was ready to agree but stopped himself. “I am not sure I do.”

“You don't have to be the bear if you don't want to be the bear, Mr. Dickens,” said the captain. Sydney thought of the horrid game, of being lashed with rope by all the laughing bullies.

Sydney nodded.

“Say, do you act?” the captain asked suddenly. “The admiral is inviting the colony to his house for another ball in a few weeks, and has demanded each vessel to perform a play. As though we haven't anything else to do! Ours is called 'The Steeple Chase, or In the Pigskin.' A farce with a character called Dr. Clipper who needs to make a fortune by winning a steeple chase in order to marry the niece of a wealthy politician. Do you know it? Sit down, I have it.”

Sydney examined the pages of the play and began to laugh.

“Why, you understand the humor more than I do, my boy,” the captain said.

“My family put on amateur theatricals at home every Christmas season when I was a boy,” said Sydney brightly. “Every Twelfth Night, we'd come together—mind you, we are a big family, at least we were then, enough for almost any cast for Shakespeare. I often played the ladies, sir, because I was small, you see. Once we performed a play in a private gallery for Her Majesty the Queen and the Prince Consort.”

“Well then, you are a famous actor! Come, come, give me your arm and let me show you the list we've done so far. If you insist on your strange application to remain on the ship, you will be of great help. I am certain of it.”