"Pretty low, sir," said Callow, withdrawing his hand from the bread-barge. "We ate him in seventy north, and now we are down to the hen. But we give her all our bargemen, sir, and she may lay an egg."
"You ain't down to millers, then?" said Pullings.
"Oh yes we are, sir," cried the midshipman. "Threepence, they have reached, which is a God-damned - crying shame."
"What are millers?" asked Stephen.
"Rats, saving your presence," said Jack. "Only we call 'em millers to make 'em eat better; and perhaps because they are dusty, too, from getting into the flours and peas."
"My rats will not touch anything but the best biscuit, slightly moistened with melted butter. They are obese; their proud bellies drag the ground."
"Rats, Doctor?" cried Pullings. "Why do you keep rats?"
"I wish to see how they come along - to watch their motions," said Stephen. He was in fact conducting an experiment, feeding them with madder to see how long it took to penetrate their bones, but he did not mention this. His was a secretive mind; the area of reticence had grown and grown and now it covered the globular, kitten-sized creatures that dozed through the hot nights and blazing days in his storeroom.
"Millers," said Jack, his mind roaming back to his famished youth. "In the aftermost carline-culver of the larboard berth there is a hole where we used to put a piece of cheese and catch them in a nose as they poked their heads out on their way along the channel to the breadroom. Three or four a night in the middle watch we used to catch, on the Leeward Islands station"...
- pp. 113-114
Yet in the midst of his joy, [Babbington's] heart smote him, and pausing at the door after his usual acknowledgements he turned and said in a faltering voice, "You are so very kind to me, sir - always have been - that it seems a blackguardly thing. You might not have done it, if... but I did not exactly lie, however."
"Eh?" cried Jack, astonished. In time it appeared that Babbington had eaten of the Doctor's rats, and that he was sorry now. "Why no, Babbington," said Jack. "No. That was an infernal shabby thing to do, mean and very like a scrub. The Doctor has been a good friend to you - none better. Who patched up your arm, when they all swore it must come off? Who put you into his cot and sat by you all night, holding the wound? Who -" Babbington could not bear it; he burst into tears. Though an acting-lieutenant he wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and through his sobs he gave Jack to understand that unknown hands had wafted these prime millers into the larboard midshipman's berth; that although he had had no hand in their cutting-out... yet, the rats being already dead, and dressed with onion-sauce, and he so hungry after rattling down the shrouds, he had thought it a pity to let the others scoff the lot. He had lived with a troubled conscience ever since; had in fact expected a summons to the cabin.
"You would have been living with a troubled stomach if you had known what was in 'em; the Doctor had -"
"I tell you what it is, Jack," said Stephen, walking quickly in. "Oh, I beg your pardon."
"No, stay, Doctor. Stay, if you please," cried Jack.
Babbington looked wretchedly from one to the other, licked his lips and said, "I ate your rat, sir. I am very sorry, and I ask your pardon."
"Did you so?" said Stephen mildly. "Well, I hope you enjoyed it. Listen, Jack, will you look at my list, now?"
"He only ate it when it was dead," said Jack.
"It would have been a strangely hasty, agitated meal, had he ate it before," said Stephen, looking attentively at his list. "Tell me, sir, did you happen to keep any of the bones?"
"No, sir. I am very sorry, but we usually crunch 'em up, like larks. Some of the chaps said they looked uncommon dark, however."
"Poor fellows, poor fellows," said Stephen in a low, inward voice.
- pp. 151-153