A soft breeze wafted from the sea and carried with it, all the way to Ashgrove Cottage, the faint tinge of salt air. Jack could smell it now and then and Stephen less often, but to anyone who had walked a quarterdeck as long as Jack, it was, in some way, always there. Jack's mind had wandered off moments ago whilst Stephen was describing a delicate dissection he had performed the day before on a small finch that continually whirled above the cottage. It was unlike any Stephen had seen with regard to its femur. Or some other bone - Jack could not recall.
The breeze was warm, but every few moments it contained the last dying breath of winter. A cool, comparatively frigid, air that instantly took Jack's thoughts to the southern latitudes where warm, even hot, breezes mingled with Antarctic blasts. An involuntary smile spread across his face and Stephen instantly caught its meaning and himself was taken back to days aboard the horrible old Leopard where he sat by the rail staring into the deep brown eye of an albatross as it glided along with them, mile after mile.
Their walking continued in silence for some time and their thoughts were broken only by the small turns in the garden path, or by the shrieks of their grandchildren coming from the far side of the house. In true naval fashion, the household was under strict orders to never venture onto Jack's part of the earthbound quarterdeck, his garden.
Without thinking, the pair found themselves at the door to Jack's study, one of the oldest parts of the house, and a part that had become the sole room where Jack could find the solitude he had often bemoaned as Captain of His Majesty's ships. The room was dark and crammed with odds and ends Jack had brought back from around the world. The smell that met them as he unlocked and opened the door was a mixture of leather, damp wood, coffee, and Stephen's cheap cigars. Jack paused for a moment to take this in and as he did, a stronger ocean scent reached his nostrils. Closing his eyes, he could see himself sitting in his cabin onboard Surprise writing letters to Sophie, while Stephen struggled to find the proper lancet for whatever little job was at hand.
Jack turned and smiled at Stephen and realised at once that Stephen was thinking of Diana. Stephen pushed past Jack and lit a lantern that sat on a side table, illuminating the room. The door closed with a creak and Jack and Stephen took up their customary positions; Jack in an overstuffed chair by the fire and Stephen behind the little desk in the center of the room.
"I believe I shall go and watch the cricket today Stephen," said Jack with an inviting tone.
"Ah... Hmm," was all that Stephen could muster, his mind still preoccupied with thoughts of Diana.
"You can stay here if you wish, but it will be devilishly loud with the children stamping about."
Stephen's mind cleared and he said, "You know brother, I think I will go. Perhaps with a runner I could have a go."
Jack turned his face to the fireplace and it grew redder as he thought of Stephen trying to face Anderson's bowling at his age.
"If you are going to laugh, do so out loud for all love," said Stephen testily.
With this Jack chortled heartily, his deep bass reverberating against the wood panels, and soon Stephen emitted his odd croaking as well. The laughing died away after a moment and Jack stood slowly and moved toward the bookshelf next to the mantle.
"I was thinking on this yesterday," he said, pulling a book from the shelf and opening it.
"What is that? A treatise on lunar observation?," replied Stephen.
"Oh no," laughed Jack, "it is not a book at all - you see?" Jack held open the book and its center was hollow. In his hand he held a small jewelry box. Knowing his past in intelligence, Jack was quite proud to have deceived Stephen.
"I have been keeping this to myself, but I thought you of all people might enjoy seeing it again."
Jack opened the jewelry box to reveal the Chelengk. It had been recently polished and its diamonds lit up the room, as its sight lit up Jack's face.
"Killick believes it to be lost, or stolen, does he not?" inquired Stephen.
"I had to make him think as such. He would never let me take it out otherwise. He is ancient and nearly blind to be sure, but he is still hellfire peevish. The last time I wore it he gave Johnson instructions to stand no more than three feet from me at all times, which can be damned uncomfortable when attending a dinner party. The damn fool stood by my chair all evening and once accosted a server thinking the man was set to try and steal it. No, no," he continued, "It is much better this way. I can enjoy the thing while I still have eyes to do so and Killick is kept busy looking for it."
"I see your way of thinking entirely brother. It is yours after all," said Stephen with a thoughtful look at the Chelengk.
Five or more minutes passed before either of them spoke or moved, and each thought the other had fallen asleep. "It still works, you know," said Jack.
"Give you joy, brother, give you joy," said Stephen.
"I would absolutely kill for a spot of music right now," said Jack suddenly, but both of them knew it was out of the question. Stephen's fingers were old and crooked and though he had tried to play left handed it wouldn't answer. Arthritis was Jack's undoing in the musical line, but both of them still loved to hear a good duet or quartet as often as they could.
Jack wondered if Stephen thought of that first encounter in Mahon, and Stephen wondered the same about Jack. After so many years together their relationship was one that rarely needed words and they both settled back listening to the music in their memories. Jack's knee involuntarily pumped up and down and Stephen smiled.
"I think I shall give it a whirl, so to speak," said Jack after a moment.
"Oh, please do. It has been a very long time, and I find time often increases ones desire for beautiful things," replied Stephen.
Jack took the Chelengk from its box and slowly turned its clockwork center. The noise of the springs being wound filled the silent room and both Stephen and Jack feared the Chelengk might break. Jack released the center and the Chelengk began to whir, throwing beams of refracted light over the entire room. Stephen looked up and marveled at the display on the ceiling. It reminded him of nights in the main top with Jack gazing at astral showers. Just as the eye began to track one streak of light, it was instantly drawn to another. Jack sat with his head bowed gazing deeply into the center of the Chelengk, transfixed by its movement and beauty.
Slowly, the movement came to an end leaving both men speechless. Stephen looked at Jack for a moment, who continued to stare at the Chelengk as if he expected it to come to life on its own. The Doctor stood, crossed the room, and placed his twisted finger on Jack's neck. Like the Chelengk, Jack too was silent. Stephen closed Jack's eyes, kissed his brother on the forehead and sat silently behind the desk.
Stephen dipped the pen in the well and on the lone sheet of paper, in a code he thought he had long forgotten, he wrote, "Mort."
© 2004 Dmitri A. Reavis