“Stephen,” whispered Jack Aubrey through the cabin door. “Are you sleeping?”
“Deeply,” Stephen answered. “And I prefer it to being wet.”
"It's just now dawn." The door creaked slowly open. "Water's clear and warm as milk...."
"Milk is not clear," muttered Stephen, within his blanket.
"Didn't say it was."
"You did, you said-- never mind. Jack, I am profoundly asleep."
"Resting in the arms of Icarus, eh? Well, I'll leave you to it," said Jack as he entered. "Say, do you still have my second-best cutlass? I want it with me. There's a report from above of a fin in the water, though Finkral's a fool and I don't believe him. He'd cry sharks in a mill pond. Still, forewarned is four armed, and what could be better than four arms when dealing with a shark, am I right?"
Stephen grunted something indistinct and hunched his shoulders higher, for Jack's voice had lost its hush as he searched the diminutive cabin. “Not under the desk,” said Jack. “You don’t by any chance sleep with it, do you? Ha ha. What the hell is that?”
“To what do you refer?”
“To that hairy thing on your neck.”
Stephen groped inquiringly. “It is a marmoset,” he concluded. “A pygmy marmoset.”
“Because he is very small.”
"I mean why is it here, why's it clasped to your neck like a foul growth?"
"His reasons are his own, the creature, but I presume he likes the warmth. He is a frequent visitor."
“Ain’t he Thompson’s beast?”
“Thompson seems to think so. Now, Jack, good morning to you. Enjoy your swim.” Stephen rolled to his other side, the marmoset adjusting itself with sleepy patience.
A bell chimed above, followed by other early-morning sounds. Jack ran a hand through his loose hair, tossed his towel to the other shoulder, and gazed about in the darkness, possibly for a hovering cutlass.
"Will you swim now? Or sit?" murmured Stephen. "Or will you continue to loom above me in that inquisitive and toweringly naked fashion? I do not have your blessed knife. I returned it to you last week."
"Did you? Perhaps so." Jack wrapped the towel round his waist. "Or perhaps your rodent made off with it.”
“Do not be ludicrous, please,” said Stephen. The tiny marmoset opened its almond eyes, gazed reproachfully at Jack, and sprang, grasping Jack’s long hair and dangling there, swinging with vigor.
“Good God!” cried Jack, flailing, and Stephen sighed and pushed himself upright. He extended an arm, and the marmoset leapt to his hand, coiling its long tail round his wrist and gazing into his face.
Stephen crooned to the animal, then said, “Calm yourself, Jack, you distress him. Leoncito is not a rodent, he is a primate, aren't you, honey love? Observe his dexterous, prehensile hands, his intelligent eyes so large in his face, his reduced snout, his rounded cranium."
"The brute’s a primate, eh?,” said Jack, panting. “Well, what's in a name. Call him a rodent and he'd smell as sweet. Though, dear me, the little chap ain't rose-scented, is he. I don't know how you can stand him."
"Is he fragrant? I hadn't noticed. Now tell me, Jack, now that I am dragged wide awake and could conceivably swim: tell me, what species, what variety or sort of shark does Finkral claim to have seen?"
"Oh, the sort with teeth, no doubt," said Jack. "But it's all stuff. You'll join me, then? Heroic! Bring my cutlass like a good fellow, won't you?"
"Sir, I do not have your cutlass. I have told you: I returned it last week."
"Ah. I must have forgotten. And why I stuck it behind your sea-chest I can't recall either, but there it stands, you know." Jack grasped the hilt on his way out the door, calling back with a private smile, "See you in the water, Doctor."
© 2005 Diane Coffin