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Object of Wonder

From the moment he boarded rather nimbly with his baggage, word had spread among the Surprises that the good doctor had returned with yet a further object of wonder. Perhaps not another narwhal's tusk, nor a severed hand, like the Hand of Glory that had brought them riches in a previous voyage; but something similar, a thing that would, so the Surprises agreed among themselves, bring them immense pleasure, perhaps before the day had come to its inevitable end.

Jack Aubrey, in his continuing unhappiness, listened dispiritedly to the quiet bantering among his men as they went about their duties and saw with disinterest the winks and surreptitious backslapping they exchanged when it seemed the admiral was not attending; but the muted excitement they displayed he could not overlook, considering his frame of mind, and Jack Aubrey was not pleased.

'Oh, Stephen,' cried he as he eased his bulk into a chair. 'There you scribble, scribble, scribble when you ought to be uttering, "Well, Jack. How rotund you have become."'

Stephen Maturin looked at his friend, and Jack found himself reddening.

'My dear Jack: If it is for want of attention that vexes you,' said he, 'then pray sit with me and I shall put aside my pen and annoy you as only a medical man can.'

In silence the two friends regarded each other; then Stephen said, sighing: 'Less wine, less meat, more fruit, more vegetables. And exercise, Jack, exercise. That is all I shall venture to utter on the matter of your-- corpulence.'

Jack sniffed, then blew his nose.

'Forgive me, Stephen' said he. 'Since Fanny's wedding, and all the other parties, functions and fol-de-rols Sophie and I have had to attend in keeping with my exalted rank-- which I freely admit agrees with me perfectly-- I've indulged over much. Indeed,' he continued, patting his ample belly, 'I am now twice the man I once was; and feeling foolish, fat, old and vexed ain't in it. What is it, Killick?'

'The doctor asked for ink, didn't he? This here little bottle is all the ship carries,' said Killick, triumphantly displaying his find.

'Splendid, Killick,' said Stephen, clapping his hands. 'My bottle of ink has almost run dry. This fresh supply will allow me to complete my composition, and perhaps more.'

'Composition?' said Jack, squinting his eyes and trying to read upside down. 'Se-gwee-'

'Seguidilla. It is a Catalan dance that fellow Catalan Fernando Sor has rendered into musical verse. I am transposing it for violin and cello.'

'Segeedilla,' said Jack, repeating the foreign word as only an Englishman could; and a joke sprouted wings in his mind. 'Not-- not a dance perchance for a- crocadilla? Oh! Aha-hah-hah!'

His mirth ran its course until he caught sight of Stephen's narrowed, set eyes, that reptilian look he knew well.

'Señor Sor wrote it for this,' said Stephen. He opened the black case beside him and brought forth from it his treasure. 'Behold: An exquisite example of Spanish artistry and craftsmanship.'

'This is not a cello-- it is small; and where is the bow?' asked Jack.

'Not necessary,' said Stephen. 'This is una guitarra, as we say in Spanish; a guitar, as we say in English. Señor Sor has been popularizing it before London audiences. This instrument I induced Señor Sor to part from in lieu of payment for previous services rendered. As you can see, it is shaped in the form of the fair sex and is played with both hands. Allow me to demonstrate.'

Stephen sat down, placed his left foot upon the guitar case, and cradled the guitar in his arms.

'You certainly hold it as a if it were a woman,' said Jack.

Stephen ran his fingers across the six strings, and a two-octave arpeggio in G resounded.

'It gives a pleasing sound,' said Jack.

Then Stephen began to play the Seguidilla, and Jack found himself entranced. When Stephen ended with a flourish of notes, a brief burst of applause could be heard outside the cabin.

Stephen grinned and said: 'One day, Jack, this instrument, this guitar, will rule the musical world.'

© 2000 Yvonne Soy