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Over Coffee

This isn't quite in compliance with the stated rules of the contest, but I thought I'd contribute it just the same. Instead of filling gaps in the canon, this is more of a vignette placed sometime within Master & Commander. It has a couple ideas I wanted to try out. I think its a bit less labored than my other submission.

"Port Mahon, May 1801", wrote Stephen in his journal. "I received some sad news today ...."

"There you are Stephen; ", said Jack Aubrey, striding up to his friend's the table over which laid the remnants of his habitualy parsimonious luncheon and several piles of paper covered in scribbled notes and one letter which Stephen, a deeply sad look on his face, was contemplating. "Why, you look as if you've lost your last friend on earth."

"Ahh, Jack", replied Stephen, looking up, "its nothing serious, only some unfortunate news- not unexpected, yet very sad all the same. I have a letter here from the wife of a dear friend of mine telling me of his recent passing. With the delays of the letter reaching me, the funeral is long past. I wish I could have been there. Jack, I apologize, please sit and share the last of my coffee. Will I tell you about him?"

"By all means." said Jack, sitting and searching the table for a somewhat empty cup. Stephen did not often discuss his past, which often lent an untoward signficance to those occasions where he did. Jack sometimes caught glimpses of past, vividly painful events, but being in some ways a circumspect soul, he never pried.

Stephen continued, "His name was Isaac Biddlecomb, formerly a Captain in the American Navy and after the war..." Jack gave a start and interrupted sharply, "You don't mean Captain Isaac Biddlecomb of Boston? Why, don't you know what trouble that wicked fellow caused us? Ships sunk- privateering- pillage of British settlements.."

Jack paused, seeing a rather cold look appear in Stephen's eyes. "Jack, I am suprised at you. Not only were you barely breeched during the American War, but Isaac was doing his duty and serving his country. Have I not seen you running aboard ships, sowing death and destruction on the largest possible scale in the name of the King? Yet you call Captain Biddlecomb a wicked privateer for doing the same thing for his own country."

"But Stephen, it's different, he was a privateer and cost us dearly even before he joined their little Navy. He flaunted the King at every turn, made a mockery of us by land and sea. There wasn't a ship I sailed in that didn't long to clap onto him. Why he even took that Franklin fellow to France and back, right under our noses, just to stir up trouble."

"Bah." retorted Stephen with some asperity, "It is not different at all. I think you misjudge him, Jack. If you actually met the man, I think your opinions might be different. He had a family you know, his son must now be close to your age."

Jack paused with a heated retort on the tip of his tongue, recollected himself and began apologetically- "I'm sorry Stephen, you did mention he was a close friend. Please forgive me, these things you pick up young & never have occasion to re-examine sometimes trip you up in the most unfortunate way."

"Not at all, brother," said Stephen, smiling, "After the war, Isaac resumed a mercantile life and became involved in considerable trade with my familiy. In fact, he and his family often spent winters with us in Catalonia, escaping from the dreadful-sounding weather the Americans suffer from. As a boy, I found him to be a wonderfully exotic creature. His son and I spent endless days chasing one another about the house. Yet, things change, I went off to Ireland and they to their own affairs, and I have not seen them for over ten years. Tempus edax rerum, Jack, what a world it is."

"I tell you Stephen, it is a strange world sometimes. As a squeaker, I doubt there was a day I didn't fantasize about nabbing Biddlecomb after a brilliant chase and battle; yet here you are knowing the very same man for years- having him as a houseguest no less...."

Meanwhile on the Widow's Walk of her stately, far too silent house, a tired old woman gently shifted too and fro on a rocking chair, the warm sea breeze streaming her white hair towards the open door of her bedroom. She sat there every night now, watching the sea and the stars, waiting for Isaac to come for her. She knew he would be there soon, and then they would be together. Virginia smiled, closed her eyes and listened to the surf.

© 2001 Greg Menke