Summary: Of her time in Faerie Arabella Strange said little even to her dearest friends: but not because there was little to say. A Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell/Master & Commander crossover.
Disclaimer: Most of the characters and places herein belong to either Susanna Clarke or Patrick O'Brian. I borrow with love and respect.
Notes: Written for marginalia for Yuletide 2005.
The Blest Surprize
It is difficult to fix upon a time for the events that are recounted here, except that they occurred during Arabella Strange's imprisonment in Faerie. Arabella herself could never satisfy herself on the point, for in that place even time was not quite like the familiar obedient quantity we are accustomed to; it turned on itself in bewildering ways, and every night Arabella passed there spanned a dreary grey age as endless as the next. In later years she had but an uncertain recollection of what had happened, though she held the memory always in tenderness; it had been a bright spot in a time otherwise altogether dark and miserable, but a bright spot placed where? Early or late in her imprisonment? She could not tell.
It had begun with her in spirits lower than was usual even in that dreadful place, for she had fallen out with Lady Pole. This was so unusual an occurrence as to be accounted extraordinary, for though Lady Pole's natural energy and enthusiasm were stirred to a perpetual state of fury by their predicament, nobody could be quicker to acknowledge Arabella's virtues and to love her for them. In return for such affection and trust Arabella strove to endure their situation with fortitude; she attempted to preserve an appearance of tolerable spirits to keep her fellow captives' from flagging, and spoke words of encouragement and comfort to her companions in sorrow when she could.
Lady Pole appreciated her friend's exertions, as indeed the most ungrateful nature could not fail to, and the only matter on which they were divided was that of Arabella's husband. Arabella submitted to Lady Pole's insistence that no man could be trusted, for "had she not waited years upon men, hoping vainly for rescue? Did she not know the bitterness of seeing hope wither time and again? No, Mrs. Strange must expect no help from any quarter. What could they do but support each other's spirits as best they could and hope for Death to make an end of their suffering?
"If indeed Death himself has the consideration to pluck us from our gaol," said Lady Pole, "which I am inclined to doubt, for he is for ever being described to me as a man upon a pale horse, and if those are his most interesting qualities I do not see how he could be at all helpful in our situation."
On Death Arabella did not feel she had the authority to speak, for Lady Pole must be presumed to know better of the subject, having died once herself. But she could not hear such a thoroughgoing dismissal of the trustworthiness of men without speaking up for her husband.
"No one could doubt your suffering and experience -- but I do not think, you know, Jonathan can quite have forgotten me so soon," she said. "If he knew of our miserable state I am sure he should strive to rescue us. Of course I cannot speak but from my own partiality -- yet I do not believe any one knows him so well in any world, and he could not hear of our suffering without wishing to end it. He could never endure any cruelty of any sort."
"Oh! If you are set on defending him, then I shall say nothing," said Lady Pole with an air of decision, but she went back on her words almost immediately, saying in a tone of great bitterness, "It is clear you are determined not to heed me in the slightest, tho' I know what it is to be a prisoner of this dark place, what it is to depend upon others and find them worse than useless -- none better! Mr. Strange has not shewn the least cognizance of our situation and you would do better to forget him entirely. I will not say any thing of his wilful neglect of you, his selfishness -- "
"I beg you will not," said Arabella quietly. "You speak out of your kind affection for me, I know, but he is my husband."
"What good has a husband ever done a woman lost?" cried Lady Pole.
"Not much, perhaps," said Arabella. "But he is -- he was my dearest friend in all the world. That is all the good I have ever asked."
She made her leave and walked away with a desponding heart, for though their few differences were always soon made up she could not enjoy quarrelling with Lady Pole. She walked through the shifting crowd of dancers; and though they were dressed in richer attire than could be found outside Faerie, and were far more beautiful and gay than any gathered company in England or elsewhere in the world, Arabella's eyes might as well have been blind for all the colours she saw and all the joy the sight gave her.
Presently she found she was walking alone, down a high narrow corridor. She could still hear the fairy music of the pipe and the viol, but it was growing faint behind her. She seemed to have made her way across the ballroom without, for once, being swept up in the dance and was now in one of the many long passages that seamed Lost-hope, like burrows in a warren.
At first she was inclined to be dismayed, for the walls of the corridor were made of stern grey stone and its end vanished in a sinister darkness. It was cold and lonely. She drew her shawl (a pretty sparkling thing wrought of rain and forgetfulness) closer around her shoulders and considered walking back, but it struck her that solitude was no greater evil than the company of the dancers in this place: and at any rate she was always cold here. She found it in herself to be glad of her escape, however brief, and decided she should walk a little further, to see what she should discover.
Arabella had taken part in many a dreary procession through the endless dark halls of Lost-hope, but she could not recall if she had been in this one before, for there was not a pin to chuse between any of them for appearance. This one, like the others, had small windows set high in the walls, and the moon flung long white shafts through the windows onto the stone floor. Yet the corridor, though lit, looked no more welcoming than if it had been left completely in shadow. The light was an eerie one. Arabella felt any thing seen in that light would not appear as it truly was; an honest laughing face would be twisted into a leering mask; a little child would seem a horrible withered gnome. She was glad there were no mirrors to shew her her own face in such a light.
After she had walked a while she saw that the corridor ended in a hall. It was a curious chamber, no more than an empty space bounded by several walls -- certainly more than four -- each set at an angle to its neighbours, so that looked at from above it must appear like a schoolboy's geometry lesson. In every wall there was a door, and these doors were most peculiar. For some of them were ancient, made of wood so old it was near as obdurate as stone, with a dark threatening aspect as if its many years had brought nothing pleasant to it, and these were in keeping with the rest of the house. Yet others were doors in the modern style: flimsy, elegant things such as may be found in any fashionable house in town; and these looked so out of place that Arabella could not suppress her curiosity at what lay behind them. She tried the one nearest to hand.
It opened upon a bright airy room. There was something odd about this room, but the chief of its peculiarities that struck Arabella was that it did not seem to be a part of the rest of the house at all. Its floor was of wood instead of stone and it shone with the honest lustre that comes from a great deal of industry and a fair quantity of beeswax. Sunlight came in through a great curving window at one end of the room and it was such light as Lost-hope had never seen even in the day. The very sight of it warmed Arabella's heart.
The room was pleasantly appointed but oddly bare. Arabella looked around it, lost in wonder. Only then did she see that it was not empty. A small pale middle-aged man in a disreputable black coat sat at a table with a book. He was looking at Arabella with every sign of astonishment.
"Oh!" Arabella was covered in confusion. "I am very sorry, sir. I did not know any one was here. I did not mean to intrude." Yet though she stepped back, she was reluctant to close the door entirely and cut herself off from such a scene of comfort and light.
"Not at all, my dear madam," said the pale gentleman, putting down his book. "Pray come in." He pulled out a chair for her, and kindly asked that she should sit down, for he should be glad of the company if she could spare the time.
"You are very kind," said Arabella. "Forgive me, may I ask -- where is this?"
"This is Surprize," said the pale gentleman.
Now, you and I might have been surprized ourselves to be given such an answer, but to Arabella, after her experiences, there could be nothing more natural in the world than a place called Surprize. After all she was trapt in the kingdom of Lost-hope, and she had often heard from the gentleman with the thistledown hair of other strange demesnes with such improbable names as Untold-Blessings, the Blue Castles, the City of Iron Angels and the like. They were as ordinary to her now as the names of Windsor Castle and Carlton House are to you and me.
"Indeed, sir?" she said. "A pleasant surprize, I hope?"
"I hope it will be, sure," said the pale gentleman. Although he was dark-haired the chief impression imparted to the observer was not of darkness but of pallor, which impression was strengthened by his eyes. They were of an uncommonly light hue and had a fixed, cold stare rather like that of a reptile expelled from its favourite rock under the sun. The rest of his person was scarcely more appealing: he was not at all handsome, had indeed rather a pinched miserable look to him, and Arabella's wifely eye could not help but be pained by the sight of his linen, for it looked as if it had not been attended to since before the last war. Yet despite all this she could not but feel at her ease with him; he answered her questions in such a grave, unworldly manner, and his look when he had lifted his eyes from his book had been like Jonathan's.
"My name is Maturin," he said now. "I am a surgeon of this Surprize: the Captain should be along shortly, but I believe he is much occupied with high matters beyond our understanding. Will you tell me who you are and how you come to be here, now? In the ordinary way I should never trouble you with the impertinence of this questioning -- I abhorred nothing more in life -- but the circumstances demand the setting aside of the common rules of intercourse, I fear."
"I should be glad to explain what I know, but I am afraid you will not find it very illuminating," said Arabella. She told him her name, and explained how she had wandered from the hall of dancers and found his door by a mere chance: "I had not thought there were such rooms in this place," with a look of wonder.
Maturin had Arabella repeat her description of the fairy dancers several times over. He shewed no sign of surprize, as though to be kidnapped by fairies and forced to dance away all happiness, innocence and hope were a perfectly ordinary thing to happen, but only grew more thoughtful with each retelling.
"Now what is the significance of this, I wonder?" he said, half to himself; then observing Arabella's countenance he roused himself and cried, "But you look pale, my dear madam. You have been forced to an unhealthy exertion; you require restoration to yourself. I have been wicked thoughtless inconsiderate, I hope you will forgive me. Will you not take some brandy? May I press upon you this toasted cheese? Himself will not protest, if the object is the succour of a lady."
"Oh, I beg you will not put yourself out on my account, sir," cried Arabella. "I am well. I am perfectly well. I want only to sit quietly in this pleasant light. Indeed I have not had such happiness in a great while." For the pleasant human air of the room and the kindly human voice of her companion were an unexpected blessing after the cold otherlandish air of her prison; and the relief of the change so worked upon Arabella's spirits that she burst into tears.
This did not seem to disconcert Maturin in the least. He whipped out a very dirty handkerchief, looked at it as though he wondered at its shiftlessness in being so very unclean, attempted to wipe off the dirt onto his front -- this only succeeded in imparting the dirt from his front to the handkerchief -- and finally profferred it to Arabella. When she had taken it (for she was a very courteous lady) he patted her hand and said, "There, there" and many other comforting things of the sort.
"Morbid excitement -- hysteria. A mere temporary derangement: never let it concern you, my dear," he said. "Sure there is no better cure than tears, unless it were a little, a very little small dose of laudanum. I cannot recommend regular usage, but in moderation, there is no better restorative, I assure you. I regret I have none to hand at the moment, but I could not contrive to bring it with me."
"Really, sir?" said Arabella, drying her tears. "Have you had a long journey to arrive here?"
"No, not very long," he said. "Only a lifetime. Nothing more."
When she had left the pale gentleman in Surprize Arabella could scarcely believe the encounter had really happened. It seemed so unlikely, and so unlike any thing that she had experienced since her removal from all she had known and loved, for the peculiar things that were wont to happen in Lost-hope were usually of a much more eerie and unpleasant nature. The long nights of dancing and empty ceremony settled upon the incident like an obliterating snow, and the misery and hopelessness of her ensorcelled state wrapt about Arabella. She did not look to meet Maturin again, and remembered the encounter distantly, as 'twere a story of something that had happened to someone else.
On one unremarkable night she attended one of the banquets often held by the gentleman with the thistledown hair. These were always sumptuous occasions, accompanied by the music of the pipe and the viol to which they danced every night, and the table was laid grandly with all the sins and sorrows that ever were, smoked or broiled or baked or roasted as the gentleman preferred. It made no difference to his human guests, for every dish tasted as bitter as regret however it was prepared; and the captives made only the appearance of eating at these feasts.
Arabella was placed next to a very pretty lady with golden petals in the place of hair on her head, who despite having a dress made of the summer spoke unceasingly in a loud dissatisfied voice of the wickednesses of her husband. The lady complained that existence was an intolerable burden to her and that she should much prefer nodding on a hillside and flirting with the butterflies as it had been her custom to do before her marriage.
"It is exceedingly inconvenient to be forced to eat and drink in this manner when once all one had to do to quench one's thirst was stretch one's roots in the earth -- and as for eating, one never needed to do any thing so disgusting at all!" she said to Arabella. And when the company stood to leave the table she continued in this strain: "I think it vastly unkind in him to have altered my natural state! You cannot conceive how delightful handsome entertaining the butterflies are, whereas my husband is old and dull and has scarcely any conversation to speak of."
"Perhaps he felt you would be happier if you could speak and tell the world your opinions," said Arabella, who was indeed wondering how the lady could have ever got along without the faculty of speech, she seemed so fond of it now.
"Nonsense! I could do that very well without the nuisance of a mouth!" said the lady. "On the hill I spoke to the grass and it made space for me so that I might grow. I spoke to the clouds and they bent their heads to me so that I might drink. I spoke to the hill itself and it made doors in the earth for me so that my children might have homes of their own to put down their roots."
"It must certainly be a great affliction to have lost such wonderful powers," said Arabella sympathetically, but the lady seemed even more offended at this.
"I have not lost my powers at all! I can speak to stone as easily as the sky and the earth," she said. "Look! I have made a door beneath your very feet!"
Maturin looked quite astonished to see Arabella again.
"My dear Mrs. Strange, you are not injured?" he cried, rushing to help her to her feet. "You have not twisted your ancle? Sprained your knee? Concussed your head? I cannot recommend such a precipitous style of entrance as a habit. A brisk walk on a level surface will do as well for physical exercise, I assure you."
"I am not hurt," said Arabella. "I only need to catch my breath." She looked around the room. It was the same in every particular as it had been on her last visit. Again sunlight poured in from the stern-window, in amounts that seemed to Arabella's starved eye absurdly generous; again the air smelled of sea-water and paint; again her melancholy was lifted, for however brief a time: here was a safe haven, here was peace.
"I am well," she said. "I am quite well."
Every time she returned to Lost-hope from Surprize Arabella dared not hope she would see the bright room again. The moment she left its refuge its brightness grew dim in her memory, and she felt that she could not have ever known light or hope or affection, for the grim dances and the long dark halls were all there were and all there would ever be. Yet again and again she found ways to the room, or rather ways were opened to her: on a whim a lady lent her a scarf she said was a path to the antechambers of Heaven and Hell, and Surprize was at the end; a gentleman with a long hooked beak claimed to be asleep and dreaming all that was happening, and he gave her a dream that was Surprize; an odd little man who said he crafted things from smells drew the scent of sea-water from her nose and fashioned of it a door. It opened on Surprize.
Arabella suspected these persons did not know themselves what they did, or the gentleman with the thistledown hair would surely have learnt of it, and she could not imagine that he would allow her visits to continue if he knew. She should gladly have remained in Surprize if she thought him powerless to pursue her there, but she was persuaded that it was not. She felt, with a certainty free of any doubt, that Surprize, though a place apart, was not a place beyond the gentleman. She would not deprive herself of the blessing of the brief reprieve of her visits, but nor would she put Dr. Maturin in any danger from the gentleman with the thistledown hair by too long a stay.
Maturin did not ask her about her imprisonment again, for which Arabella was grateful. She avoided thinking of the gentleman there, for fear that he should somehow divine her thoughts and come as in answer to a call. As for Maturin himself, Arabella did not discover much more about him in her visits. He was always kind and courteous, and he seemed glad of her company, but they spoke on indifferent topics, and she learnt nothing of his purpose, or if indeed there were any one else in Surprize, though she supposed there were. She always seemed to come upon him while he was waiting.
"I should like to introduce you to the Captain," he said. "Tho' he suffers an entrenched prejudice against having women on board, the soul; never a more liberal nature, but a mind hedged with all the assumptions of years of authority, of a singularly English education. Yet I think you would like him, my dear. He is one of the few men I know who are greater than the sum of their parts -- and loveable, none more loveable."
"I am sure I should like him," said Arabella: yet whenever Maturin seemed to hear the sound of his footsteps, she made her excuses and fled. For waiting had become an intolerable dread to her. There were too many horrors a footfall could portend.
On occasion Maturin was giving to prosing somewhat on subjects esoteric and very dull to any body who had not given his life to their study, but to this Arabella, who was married to a magician and was constantly surrounded by other clever important men besides, was accustomed.
"Bird feathers are said to provide tolerable protection from various defects of nature, if used properly," he remarked once. "Sparrows' feathers guard from cynicism; boobies' feathers, we are told, protect us from foolish neglect; pelicans' feathers from sorrow, though to be sure it is a strange system that lumps indiscriminately human grief with human folly."
"I suppose magic is not always rational," said Arabella. "I did not know you had made a study of it, sir."
"Nor did I," said Maturin, with a faint air of wonder. "And yet I appear to have the great store of magical knowledge. Listen now. The gallbladder of a hoopoe, worn upon the nose as the Hindus wear silver studs, protects against nausea. Did you know that, joy? It comes as the greatest surprize to me. I was accounted a fair enough physician in my day, yet it would have never occurred to me to advise the wearing of the innards of a bird as jewellery, for a ward against any ill. -- Seagull feathers for the sea, we are told. I cannot find that I know what it is the seagull feathers do for, or concerning, the sea, however."
"Perhaps they represent the sea? As an emblem, as it were?" suggested Arabella. "Or if it is a spell, it may be that seagull feathers call the sea to the one who casts the spell. It does not seem very likely that seagull feathers would be a ward against the sea; after all seagulls are mad for the sea and cannot get enough of it."
"That will be it, I make no doubt," agreed Maturin. "Goose feathers provide success if you wish to cast a spell for homecoming. I confess I could not have foreseen that."
Arabella did not reply. The thought of home had come vividly before her: her house in London, where they had seen so many successes and had passed so many happy times, and Ashfair, where she had last seen Jonathan, were so clear before her that for a moment she could not speak, or even look up.
When she did she saw that Maturin was regarding her gravely. She tried to smile.
"I am sorry, joy," he said gently. "Indeed I cannot think of any one who so ill deserves such severity at the hands of Fate."
"Oh! but I have been very fortunate," said Arabella. "There are my visits with you, which afford me such relief. A relief I believe -- no, I am certain neither of my fellow sufferers can know, though they may leave to see their homes and friends. For the sight gives them no pleasure, nor does any thing else; whereas I have the good fortune to be fully aware of the relief of even such a brief liberty as this. And then I have had such years of happiness with my husband, you know -- with Mr. Strange. There is no bliss like that of a union between two independent, compatible persons who chuse to tie their lives together, knowing they can depend upon each other's affection and respect. And I had that bliss for many years. I assure you I do not repine -- I try not to, knowing what good reasons there are to support my spirits."
"Any praise of your courage, madam, were presumption on my part," said Maturin. After a silence he said, "Will you tell me about Mr. Strange, now?"
Arabella began to smile in truth.
"He is not so very different from what he is made out to be in character," she said, "though he has not done half what is told of him, and he does a great deal that is not told."
"I am ashamed to confess I have not heard tell of him at all," said Maturin. "I am very secluded here, you know. I hear very little news."
Arabella was astonished, but she made a civil shift to disguise it.
"Oh! It is no great loss not to have heard news of my husband, I assure you," she said. "Particularly through the newspapers -- I do not think they print lies deliberately, whatever Mr. Norrell may say, but I suppose nothing else is to be expected but that many things should be confused and represented as other than they are, when it concerns a matter so interesting to the Nation and so unsusceptible to rational explanation as magic. But I wish you could meet Mr. Strange. I feel certain you would take to each other. He is fond of study, and books, and learning, as you are, though as to that perhaps you will find his tastes limited -- he likes to read of nothing so much as magic. That is really the only thing in the world he is interested in."
Maturin imagined there must be a vast joyous expanse of knowledge to be acquired within the bounds of such a philosophy, however.
"A friend of mine passed years in the study of coleoptera, out of all the beasts in the world," he said, "and he could have restricted his study to only those creatures for another century with profit."
From coleoptera he passed on to the subject of insects in general -- no such wanton profusion of any kind of creature as that of the insect species, nothing even approaching their glad fulsome extravagance -- often confused with arachnids by the ignorant, but nothing more different in the world -- the Wicked Witch of the Nor'nor'west well-known to sleep with a squashed spider beneath her pillow in order to conjure terrible nightmares that she later inflicted upon her enemies using spells of great power and intricacy -- the Wicked Witch herself a most intemperate woman -- her enemies numbered a small china tea-cup and the southern part of Wales, among others.
"She sounds a very dreadful woman," said Arabella. "But -- forgive me, sir -- are you not speaking of magic again?"
Maturin looked thunderstruck.
"So I am!" he cried.
On Arabella's next visit to Surprize -- which, though she did not know it, was to be her last -- Maturin recounted to her the sad story of a youth named Unwin Paleheart, who had owned a world but lost it to his grasping uncle, and who was imprisoned by the wicked old man in a goblet made of the memory of forests now gone, which material looked like an exquisite green glass. When the story was done he was lost for a while in reflexion; Arabella remained silent until he spoke.
"Doubtless you have already observed this," he said, "but it strikes me that I grow more and more tiresomely prolix -- I prate, I lecture -- and upon subjects I cannot conceivably know any thing about. I should blame it upon the disorder of the faculties wrought by creeping old age, but I do not see how even that evil could provide me with a fund of trivia and anecdote concerning magic. I have been many things in my time, but I do not recall ever having devoted any serious study to that particular subject."
"So you have mentioned before, sir," said Arabella. "I had supposed your unnatural learning, if so I may call it without meaning incivility, to be part of your -- your enchantment." She had hesitated, for she did not like to use the word for fear of summoning painful associations, but Maturin merely looked thoughtful.
"I should certainly agree, my dear, but for the fact that my enchantment is of quite a different nature from yours," he said. "Indeed the spell that binds me here is not so much a spell as -- hark! Do you hear that?"
Arabella heard nothing, but Maturin clearly did, for he sat quite erect in his chair with a listening look about him. As always when this happened, she caught up her shawl, overtaken by an unreasonable terror. Maturin held up his hand, halting her movements.
"It is not your enemy. I promise you it is not," he said in an intense whisper, shocking in its deadly seriousness and tension. "I would stake my immortal soul upon it. I know that step as well as my own heartbeat. Mrs. Strange, if I could beg a favour of you, of your very great kindness -- we mariners are full of superstitions, you know, and you have been my charm. He is never so close as when you are here. Stay a moment, I beg you. I will ask no more than a moment."
Arabella mastered herself. "I will be glad to, if that is your wish," she said, as steadily as she could. A very great fear was upon her, no less real for being irrational. For rationality had not protected her from her present misery. It would not rescue her from her enchantment.
It was in an act of supreme courage that she sat herself upon the chair again and prepared to wait for the shadowy step with an appearance of composure, the more so since her nerves were sadly jangled by the ceaseless unhappy apprehension of her imprisonment. She saw in her fancy the arrival of the gentleman with the thistledown hair, or of horrors even worse; she saw the wreck of her refuge and the destroyal of her friend; she saw the blotting out of this small human kindness by the eerie storms and powers of Faerie. With these terrors crowded in her chest she turned her face to Maturin's nervous countenance and smiled to reassure him. No magician has done any thing greater.
Arabella could hear the step now, a heavy tread that set the planks creaking. She had only a moment to recall that the corridors in Lost-hope were all paved with stone, then the door swung open and a voice wholly human and blessed said,
"Are you there, Stephen? Do you not know we are hellfire late -- will be court-martialled sure as Sunday -- oh I beg your pardon, ma'am, I did not see you."
"Mind your tongue, Jack Aubrey, there is a lady present," said Maturin. "I have fed her our toasted cheese. You have no objection, I hope?" He was speaking somewhat at random, and the newcomer, a tall bluff red-faced Englishman who looked as if a uniform would suit him far better than the trailing robes and golden halo of the blessed, replied in much the same tone. The lady was very welcome to it, he said, and to any other refreshment he could prevail upon her to accept: only they must be going very soon.
"I am sorry to intrude, sir," said Arabella to the red-faced angel. "This is your Surprize, I see."
"Not at all, not at all -- that is to say, yes," said the red-faced angel. He seemed nonplussed by the appearance of an unfamiliar lady in his tale. "But it is Stephen's as well, you know, and he is allowed his guests -- very glad, I'm sure. Yes, it is Stephen's Surprize as much as mine. And a pleasant Surprize it has turned out to be, has it not, old Stephen? Ha ha ha!"
"Sure, soul, it is not such a vile clench, that you should weep so," said Maturin to Arabella.
"No, no!" she said. "I am only happy. I am only so very, very happy that -- that it was a pleasant surprize after all. Thank you, sir." The handkerchief Maturin offered her now was even dirtier than the first.
"The debt is all on my side, my dear. The Dear knows how long I should have been allowed to continue in such a place without your magic. Even as a boy I had a very negligible sense of direction, you know -- could not have grasped the basics of navigation, should any one have thought of teaching me such a thing -- I could have as easily gone downwards as up."
Arabella said she was very glad he should be saved.
"But indeed I am no magician," she said.
"You know best, sure. Yet there is nothing in that to say that you have no magic," said Maturin. "God keep you, my dear, until you may see your own sunlight again. God protect you. Oh goodbye, goodbye."
Arabella saw Maturin yet one last time. She had taken, or been given, the usual circuitous unexpected route, and had found herself at the end of it in the chamber of many doors. She had not been there since the first time, but she knew the door she had tried then at once. She tried it now, not knowing what she thought to see.
The result was less than she had hoped, but more than she had feared.
It was a different room, neither bright nor airy, nor curved with the noble sweep of the great cabin of a frigate. If there was a window in the room the tottering piles of books hid it from view. With all the books there was hardly any room for furniture and the room was sparsely furnished indeed, as if its occupant had not had much use for any thing except books. There was a desk with a dead opossum upon it, and besides that only a bed.
A man lay in the bed as if he were asleep, but he was no more sleeping than was the opossum. He was rather older than he had appeared when she had last seen him, but his face was not so much changed that she could not recognize it. Upon his still breast was a pelican feather.
On that day she happened to be wearing a marvellous gown trimmed with the feathers of all the birds of the world and several from other worlds the gentleman with the thistledown hair might or might not have invented. She removed the feather from Maturin's breast and replaced it with two others she tore from her gown. One was a seagull's feather, white shading to grey. The other had once belonged to the Canada Goose.
She observed his countenance for a few moments, rejoicing in its expression of peace, before leaving the room. The pelican feather she tucked next to her own breast.
Mrs. Strange attempted to discover more of her friend upon her release from Faerie, but all that her efforts could uncover of a Stephen Maturin was that a child of that name had been born to a Catalonian woman some years ago and had died of the pox at the age of eight. It was easier to find news of Jack Aubrey, who had enjoyed a promising career in the Navy which had been cut off prematurely with his death in an action engaged shortly after he had attained the rank of post-captain. Mrs. Strange could only conclude that whoever she had met, they had been different persons from their namesakes who had lived and died in her world.
I can only hope that we share the same Heaven, and may meet there once again, she wrote to a friend upon declaring her researches laid to rest.