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'Killick, Killick there, light along that coffee,' Jack called, only to see the villain himself coming through the cabin door grumbling under his breath 'Which I got it right here now, ain't I?' He put the tray on the table, still muttering as he disappeared through the door, 'Which I already had it coming, not to mention them uniform coats a-wanting a hand to 'em. A body could work their fingers to the bone, not that some would care.'

Jack smiled as he poured coffee in the waiting cup and picked up his pen...

Sweetheart, I have had such news I can hardly write. It is our dearest wish. The Implacable waits for me at the River Plate, and there I raise my flag, blue at the mizzen! I have the South African squadron! I would have been so happy to receive orders to join; I never expected my flag! But I tell you, Sophie, I had expected this day to seal my fate, either to remain in these waters, having received our due from the Chileans, or to return home with an unhappy and unpaid crew. And for your ears alone, I did not expect it to end half so well, as I have no faith in the Chilean government. As it was, their bad news could never put a damper on my good news and those excellent young men are now sailing homeward, as we are sailing toward the Straits on the sweetest westerly winds I have ever seen. My love, I am filled with joy, and am much afraid everyone must see it on my face, though I have tried hard to conceal it.

In this he was correct, for his face was alight and his eyes shone the brightest blue, his whole great person swelled to three times its size. The news had reached the forecastle about the same time he was shaking Stephen's hand, there being no secrets on a ship the size of the Surprise, with Killick at his self-appointed post listening at the door, willing to spread good news as quickly as bad.

My happiness is diminished in that I must sail from the Plate to the Cape without returning home, and by the fact that Stephen has remained behind. I hope he will be able to rejoin us at the Plate, having completed his business and crossed to Buenos Aires. Sophie, dearest, your letters bring our little family and acres so alive to me that I am almost unmanned when I think on the time we must be apart, but I know you rejoice with me in this wonderful news. For now, I am the most fortunate of men, and may die happy with the words on my tombstone  'Here lies Admiral John Aubrey, RN, husband to Sophia, and a Happy Man.'

Your affectionate and loving husband

Jno Aubrey

'Well met, my dear Stephen,' cried Jack, advancing across the great cabin with his hand outstretched. 'I am so happy you have joined for we sail on the tide.' This had been no small concern to him, since Stephen, after all these years, was no mariner and could not tell the time of any tide. 'I see you are none the worse for your travels, and we have space and more for your collections.'

'Ah, Jack, it is true I am glad to see you and that blue rag flying from the large pole at the back of the ship, but part of my collections were lost in a flood, and the rest hardly fill a small boat,' he said. 'Is that coffee still hot and have you left me a drop?' he asked, picking up the pot and testing its weight. 'No, sure, it is empty, alas. Jack, I tell you what it is, I must sail with the Surprise to England. There are matters of concern that I must relate in person; however, I may join you later at the Cape. For now, brother, let me tell you of the marvelous Coleoptera plusiotis I have found and preserved from the raging flood.'

© 2004 Ginger Scheer-White