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An Amazing Modern Age (2)

Hampshire, England, 2004. A hedgerow separates two gardens. Lieutenant Jack Aubrey, RN wields a hedge clipper. He spies his neighbor and friend, Dr. Stephen Maturin.

"Oh, why hello there Stephen! Lurking behind my hedgerow again? Bats roosting in there?"

"Nothing so exciting I'm afraid, Jack. I'm inspecting my fuchsia blooms for whiteflies. Jack, I must say that the top edge of your hedgerow has a remarkable oceanic quality. Sea swell as a topiary form. Impressive."

"Sea swell? Topiary? You are pulling my leg again Stephen. I had thought of hiring a gardener, you know, but Sophie says we can't afford it. Anyway, this sort of work keeps me young and fit. That's very important in my line, you know. That's why I work my own vegetable garden. Have you noticed my cabbages?"

"Those wilted anemic blobs on the end there?"

"Wilted? Wilted Stephen? Why these are the finest cabbages in all of England. They are as upright and trim as . . . by the way, Stephen, where is Diana this weekend?"

"I'm afraid she's gone up to London again, one of her power shopping trips with her friend Louisa, the one she met at her investment club. I am still amazed that she hit it so big with those diamond shares, Jack, because I was downright suspicious of their advisor, that Johnson fellow. Something seedy about him. I'm very skeptical of these sorts of schemes, you know."

"I know you are, Stephen old fellow, but that's why you're richer than I am. Slow and steady watching is the way to make the pot boil. But poor Stephen, here you are left alone for the weekend. What do you have planned?"

"Just puttering about. I have some research to do for my paper on extinct island avifauna. I will be surfing the net, I believe."

"Surfing the net, ha ha! You must admit, Stephen, it's an amazing modern world we live in. Mobile phones, computers, the internet."

"And yet, life remains nasty brutish and short, so I can hardly begrudge Diana her fun. Aha! Jack! You're a dear! Look what your hedge clippers have frightened over to my side! If it isn't a praying mantis! They are rarer than Hoopoes in England! In fact, this may be a first record!"

"He looks like an escapee from another age, Stephen. Well, I suppose one in the hedgerow is worth counting before it's hatched. Praying, is he? Not a papist I hope."

"Well, if he loses his head, Jack, it will not be from excessive prayer."

"Eh? Not to change the subject away from religion, Stephen, but I believe Sophie is just whipping up a pitcher of lemonade, and I hope you'll join us for supper too since you're batching it this weekend. The model shipbuilding society meets at my house tonight, you know."

"I would be happy to join you, Jack, though I must admit I fail to comprehend the concept of grown men making things out of popsicle sticks."

"Bah, Stephen, it is serious historical study! History is important business. You've heard the saying Stephen, doomed to walk the night for a certain number of repetitions if you don't study it. It's from the Bible I think."

"I believe I have heard it. And I must admit an odd feeling of kinship with a club full of throwbacks. Say, Jack, before we retreat to the lemonade, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about. It's important Jack. Step into my garage for a moment, will you?"

"Certainly, Stephen, perhaps you need advice on power tools? Home improvements? I'm quite the handyman, you know. Sophie always says so, anyway."

"Not that, Jack. I have to tell you something. It's a project I've been working on in my spare hours."

"I've noticed you in here, tinkering away."

"Yes, tinkering. In fact, I've invented something. I've been meaning to share it with you, and now the time has come."

"Ah hah! You've souped up Diana's old DeLorean! But I don't think we have time for a spin just now Stephen. Maybe after dinner? Before the old geezers show up?"

"It's much more serious than that, Jack. Please sit down. In the car, if you will."

"If you insist, Stephen."

"Jack, I have converted this old DeLorean into a functional time machine. I've tested it."

"Are you mad, Stephen?"

"I don't think so."

"Writing your own prescriptions again?"


"You're dead serious?"

"I am."

"My God, Stephen. You know my greatest fantasy. Nelson's Navy."

"I know it, Jack. And you know mine: a tour of the world's flora and fauna before the industrial revolution. I've given the matter a lot of thought, and I've made some plans. If you will just step inside, we can be back before the ice melts in the lemonade pitcher."

"Lower the door, Stephen, there's not a moment to lose."

© 2004 Robin Welch