The situation was near ideal. Traveling to Minorca to provide what comfort he could to a dying patron, Stephen enjoyed the familiar climate. Mr. Browne had in fact died in transit, freeing Stephen to seize missed opportunities of his youth. One was his precious Mona, with her auburn hair, round face, Rubenesque physique, lively countenance, and who was much loved by the visitors of the inn at which she served. She was Stephen's first and he could not comprehend having such feelings for any another woman. After stating his intentions, she had suppressed a titter, composed herself and gently sent him on his way. But now he had every expectation that the settling Mr. Browne's estate would enhance his attractiveness in her eyes.
The ideal was spoilt by the sailors that appeared at every turn. Upon arrival, he had been willing to please and be pleased, but being in constant community, a deep antipathy toward all things nautical had swelled within him. Spoilt also by an appetite formed of a three-day involuntary fast broken only by dining in the great cabin of a man-of-war with naval blue in every other seat interspersed with some of the more homely officers' wives fawning over some one-eyed admiral at the far end. Conversation with his immediate neighbors consisted tedious descriptions of fleet actions, simple-minded sea shanties, and requests for condiments from guests near and far. During the inevitable lulls, he overheard great mirth from far end, mostly emanating from a flushed faced, golden haired lieutenant who had had his glass refilled too often. At another point, Stephen overheard him relating an apparently personal anecdote to one blushing coquette across the table, while observing him stroking the thigh of another seated beside him. Stephen realized that he had just been asked if he was much traveled. "I fear I am no great mariner and I find that all - what? salt? not here - all that interests me is usually within a day's walk." This met with silence by his neighbors who turned their attention to the table's universal search for what spices may have been set out. Universal except for the licentious lieutenant's attention drawn toward a more amorous line. The cabin nearly shook as the admiral bawled out, "Damn yer eyes Aubrey, haven't I been calling for the salt this last age and you with your mitt fairly strangling it?"
© 2000 Michael R. Ward