Work Header

Past Times

Work Text:

Turned sad he has, in the Morse code (6)

"The letters you use most have the shortest codes, to make them easier to remember," Dick said to his sister. "And the letters that don't get used so much have longer codes. So I suppose we'd better practice those ones more. What's a good word that starts with a 'J'?"

Dick turned a page in his notebook, already filling up with pages of dots and dashes, and began trying to work out how to turn "jackdaw" into Morse code. The painted symbols they'd used for signalling to Martians - to the Swallows and the Amazons, as they had turned out to be - had worked well enough during the winter holidays. But by summer they would be sailors, not Arctic explorers, and the others all agreed that a sailor really ought to know Morse.

They'd both been surprised when they found out how short a time the others had really known each other. Only two summer holidays' worth of adventures together had already given them so much shared history, and while they'd been quick to welcome Dick and his sister into the group, there were times when their relative lack of experience as explorers had been obvious. >He remembered their first meeting, and how taken aback Peggy and Susan had been when Dot suggested using newspaper to start a fire. Rowing, signalling and sailing... Dot was always having to remind him that other people didn’t necessarily know as much about certain things as he did, but this was the first time he’d really been aware of it from the other side. They were both determined to have caught up by the next time they met.

The last dash of the W went down on the page, and checking the table John had drawn for him showed he'd got it right. He turned to the back of the notebook, where the others had put some messages for them to practice reading, and set to work on deciphering them.

Fellow in RAF wrote about what he took part in? (3,6)

Dick started at the sound of his sister tearing open an envelope, realised he'd been daydreaming and turned back to his crossword. He took off and cleaned his spectacles as he considered the next clue, half-listening as Dot read out parts of Titty's letter. The two of them had been writing to each other more frequently since Susan and Peggy had gone to study nursing. Mrs. Walker had insisted that Titty was still too young to join them, and with John having left for naval training last month they were both growing more and more anxious to find some way to contribute to the war effort.

"It's not that either of us really want to be nurses, particularly. But she says her mother won't hear of her joining the Wrens like Nancy, even if it's only to be a clerk."

He turned his attention back to his sister. "You're going to be a nurse, too, then?"

"Well, I... I don't know. I haven't talked to Mother yet. I wondered about the Wrens myself, but I think it'd be nicer being with someone I know. At least for training."

Dick, himself a few years too young to be called up, frowned thoughtfully. His old school friends were mostly planning to go into the army, but he thought perhaps he could be more useful doing ... something else, something he'd be better at than fighting. The trouble is, he thought, I don't know what that something else is.

Make officer a blockhead (4)

The Scarab cut cleanly through the water, sail filling just the right amount as the D's tried to remember everything they had learned on the Broads and from Dick's sailing book. The crews of the Swallow and the Amazon, well-practiced sailors all, were watching from the shore to see what they had learned. Dick, taking his turn at steering, glanced up at the little green and white flag flying at the top of the mast and tried to remember what the book had said about sailing by the feel of the wind on your cheek.

To distinguish wind direction by feel alone, beginning sailors may find it easier to close their eyes in order to minimise distraction. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to do so, closing one's eyes for a few seconds should be enough to accurately identify the wind's direction.

His eyes closed of their own accord as he called those words to mind, turning his head this way and that until he felt that he was facing straight into the breeze. He looked up to check himself against the flag, then quickly back as he felt Dot catch hold of his arm.

"Dick! Watch out!"

With a sickening lurch in his stomach, he realised he was on the point of running the little Scarab straight into a rock. He grasped at the tiller with both hands, turning them away as quickly as he could without tipping them over and passing it by with barely an inch to spare (or so Dorothea had told him, afterwards). White-faced and feeling foolish, he headed back to shore and to their somewhat shaken spectators, already clamouring to know what had happened before they'd even reached the landing stage.

"What on earth were you two doing out there?" That was Nancy. "It looked as if you were steering for that rock on purpose!"

"It was my fault," said Dick, embarrassed. "I was thinking of something else."

"Thinking of something else! Well, you managed it this time, Professor, but you'd better not start thinking of something else the next time there are rocks about you!"

"Of course he won't," said Dot, and Dick nodded, hoping she was right.

Since everyone was back on land, it was decided that they had better stop and have lunch before there was any more sailing. As the others hurried ahead to where the food had been left, John put a hand on Dick's shoulder.

"Don't worry. The second year we had Swallow, I ran her straight into a rock and we were grounded for almost the whole summer."

"I won't do it again," said Dick, still a little unsettled.

"You're doing very well," John assured him. "Just beat the Amazon when we race after lunch, and Nancy will forget all about it." They both laughed, and hurried after their friends.

Claret’s served in enemy living quarters (10)

Once Captain Flint, the McGinty and the other (not so savage) Gaels had finished the grown-up business of deciding what should be done with the egg-collector and his crew, it had almost been time for the Sea Bear and her crew to part ways and go back to their respective homes. Before they returned the old pilot cutter to its home port, there had still been one last night to be spent in harbour, and a celebratory feast to be held in honour of one Dick Callum, Ship's Naturalist and hero of the day.

Dick had been embarrassed but pleased by the three cheers his shipmates had given him, and listened with interest to their accounts of adventure and imprisonment. But as the younger members of the crew began yawning and the mates decided that it must be nearly time for bed, he found that he was not himself yet in the mood to sleep. He was one of the last to bring his plate and mug into the fo’c’sle to wash them up, and took so long over them that when he was finally finished, everyone but Captain Flint had already gone on deck to brush their teeth.

“Everything quite all right?” asked the Captain.

“I... yes. The eggs are safe, and I’ve the photos to prove it... everything ended up just as I hoped.”

“But something’s still bothering you.”

Dick frowned. Despite the euphoria he’d felt that afternoon, knowing that the Great Northern Diver continued to nest on one rocky Scottish island, there was still a part of him that wished he’d never gone back there at all.

“It’s nothing, really. It’s just... before we knew it was an egg-collector living on the Pterodactyl, I thought it was just the sort of boat I’d like to live on myself. That when we were grown up, Dot and I would have a ship of our own, and we could travel the world and look for birds. But... now I don’t know. Now I feel like maybe we couldn’t do it after all.”

“Couldn’t do it! And why not? I may not be a bird-watcher, but since I left Oxford I’ve spent most of my life at sea or living on the houseboat. And if a blockhead like me can do it, I’m sure the two of you could manage. I’m sure you could do anything you set your mind to.”

Translator of "The German Eating Fish" (7)

The last clue finally came clear. Dick filled it in, then noted at the time on his wristwatch. Seventeen minutes; far from his best, although he was sure he would have been faster if he hadn't spent so long woolgathering.

He was about to close the Telegraph when a notice at the bottom of the page caught his eye -- an against-the-clock crossword competition, to be held early next month. He read through the notice again, noted the address for applications and went to look for an envelope.