Stephen Maturin, masking the youthful spryness he no longer felt, swept up the ladder to the Belona's quarterdeck. With Warrington and Plaice pressing from behind, he arrived dry-foot and stood blinking in the bright sunshine, awaiting the acknowledgments of his deed. "This way, sir", smiled Reade in his now deeper voice, "I am sure the Admiral will see you now". Together they proceeded down the after hatchway to the Admiral's day-cabin, and together they quietly entered His Holiness' lair.
Jonathan Aubrey, Vice Admiral of the White, Royal Navy, MP, Member of the Royal Society, instantly withdrew from the mountain of paperwork he faced and turned to his long absent friend. "My dear Stephen, how I have missed you, and look, you have arrived just in time for dinner. If only you had also brought the post from home could my pleasure be extended. How do you do, my dear friend?"
"Well, quite well", responded Stephen, assuming his accustomed seat in the hanging chair that swung athwart the chasers. His heart had lifted as he first saw his old and trusted friend but now he remembered the details of his current mission and withdrew into his more accustomed coldness. "The ship, and its people, I believe are also?"
"Killick, hot coffee for the doctor, on the double" echoed the Admiral and instantly the old man entered with the tray, smiling to himself sardonically at how he had once again guessed right. But never a word did he utter as he saw the look upon Maturin's face. "We ain't wanted here" he whispered to Dryden, his assistant, and both withdrew.
"They are well also" responded Jack, the smile leaving his face as he remembered the thirteen burials from the yellow jack of the past month. "Quite well, but I know they will be happy of your return. Nothing seems to lift a crew's spirits as much as having a surgeon on board". He drank deeply from his coffee and waited for Stephen to proceed.
"Brigid and George, you have heard from them?" asked Stephen, not wanting to enter that which he must. "Oh yes, only a fortnight ago, both children now growing old quickly" smiled Jack. The Aubrey-Maturin grandchildren had reached their 9th and 10th birthdays only recently. "I will be with them in only 4 to 5 months, I believe. At least that is how the plans lie now".
"Jack, we must speak seriously, if you please" whispered Maturin, an unaccustomed look of fear sweeping over him. "It is important to me".
"Of course" answered Jack, "now, here?"
"Since Diana and Sophie were killed, we have suffered together I feel". Jack's shoulders and back grew rigid. "And then we met Virginia and both have fallen for her graces". The smile left Jack's face immediately. "I can find no other way but to ask you, as my true friend, to step aside and allow me to proceed with her, to ask her to join with me and to be my wife". Jack Aubrey wilted and retook his seat. This could not happen, was not going to happen, but he knew not how to reach that conclusion. Virginia had become, to him, his one positive reason for continuing to live vigorously. The soft smell of her hair alone was enough to instantly drive him forward against the wills of nature itself. To know and sit with her, to hear her quiet comments, to feel her presence, each of these small things had gradually become too much to part with.
And so Jack quickly phased through the choices he had considered this many a year. His face took on a blank, imperious stare as he visited all of the possible options available to him. Then, slowly, the one true answer came to him. "Perhaps there is a way. You and I are really one person, although some of our readers don't know it. We are Jack, the warrior-violinist, and we are Stephen, the botanist-assassin. So, I propose that we rejoin ourselves into one, that we reach out to the one true person that we both love, that we promise her our undying, steadfast, and devoted adoration, and that we ask her to join with us also. Perhaps our Virginia will say yes."
"Sounds like a winner", smiled Stephen.
© 1998 Buck Brinson