DISCLAIMER: ALL OF THE CHARACTERS AND SCENARIOS BELONG TO PATRICK O'BRIAN AND/OR MIRAMAX
Captain Jack Aubrey, of the HMS Surprise turned over the crumpled sheets of paper that he had rescued from the Acheron before its departure back to Portsmouth. The paper was Persian backed and clearly expensive – nothing it would seem was too expensive for the French Naval fleet.
And sadly, for the French anyway, it was this love of expense and grandeur that had finally allowed the Acheron, a fast French frigate, probably the fastest on the high seas, to be taken by the Surprise, under Aubrey, and soundly beaten. Now, five months since it was sailed away, under the command of his first lieutenant, Tom Pullings, it had probably been anchored in the English port, been refitted and repainted in the King's colours before being piloted out into the Channel joining the rest of the English Navy.
Jack Aubrey put down the papers once again; clearly they were important enough that the former captain of the Acheron had the foresight to try to dispose of them before being killed by Aubrey himself however Jack's mastery of the tongue was somewhat shaky which is why he had asked his surgeon, sitting before him on Aubrey's expensive Queen Anne chair, to translate and decipher what was written.
"Wonderful news, I am delighted, Stephen," he said, smiling and pausing thoughtfully.
"…and you didn't suspect?"
With a certain degree of modesty, Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon, commissioned naturalist and counter-intelligence spy lowered his gaze for a moment before looking back at his friend.
"My experience usually lies with the hatchlings of birds, Jack, not women. And. It will not do for her to remain with me now. My intent is for her to return to England." He folded his arms before continuing. "I have money enough for her to live comfortably however it is a worry to be sure where it is she will stay; her father believes her to be dead and as you know I have no escutcheon."
"Whereas I, however, do," replied Jack, getting to his feet, "and I will only be too happy to inform Sophie she is to welcome her." He took up the crumpled sheets again before handing them to Stephen.
"That is very gracious of you and I cannot deny that I hoped you would offer this." He looked away from Jack and back at the neat French words written as if they were almost printed onto the sheet of paper and began to translate them silently.
"Indeed. However from what I know of Mrs Maturin she won't like to be a lubber." Stephen looked up and stared into Jack's knowing eyes.
"No," he conceded, returning to the third sentence along on the paper, "but she'll do it if I ask it of her. I think maternity has given her a different outlook."
"Well, I have to say Cicely had a good influence on the crew however I trust that you keep her sufficiently busy that she does not excurse to the crew decks a-nights?" Stephen shook his head.
"She is mindful of my wishes, Jack," he confirmed. "She'll make a good mother, of that I've no doubt."
"How long will you be on Albemarle?"
"Five days. The albatross for which I am searching is to be found on the island's most north-westerly peninsula which and would appear to be nesting about now. I understand that I'll have to take the rowing boat a mile?" Aubrey nodded.
"The water is too shallow to risk the Surprise." Jack turned and began to pace towards the window, folding his arms and considering the horizon. At the lack of conversation Stephen Maturin looked up and frowned slightly.
"Do you wish me to be sooner?" Jack looked back and shook his head.
"You have earned the time, my friend, take it. I trust from the information you have confided to me that your wife will not be accompanying you?" Stephen shook his head.
"I do not wish her to come with me….can you…I do not wish this to be an imposition, Jack…"
"You wish me to occupy her here, make her feel required?" Stephen nodded, his face uncreasing as visible signs of relief flooded across it. Jack shook his head knowingly as Stephen continued to read the second page of notes before placing them back on the Captain's large oak desk. Jack took a quill and a few sheets of paper from his top drawer and handed it to his friend for the translation.
"Well, I do believe, my good doctor, that were you to put your efforts into untangling the mysteries of the fairer gender you may make yourself a tidy fortune."
Cicely sat on the quarterdeck with her back to the thick wooden planks as she listened to Daniel Harris reading from the Bible. As she listened, her eye was drawn to Captain Aubrey's cabin door where she knew her husband would be imparting the knowledge that she had shared with him the night before last. From her vantage point she could just see the very edge of it and, as the wind tossed strands of her newly-growing hair around as the sun beat down, she wondered what the captain's reaction would be.
Well, Cicely speculated as she looked back at Harris, correcting his pronunciation of "reverential" and pointing to the next chapter and verse whence he should begin reading, it couldn't be worse than when he found out that Edward Hollum was her brother, nor when he discovered her true gender. Nor even when he reluctantly agreed to marry her to the doctor in order for her to fight in her brother's place to redeem his soul.
Cicely knew that he would probably be making arrangements for her to stay in England. In his home, perhaps, or with a friend despite her desperate desire to remain with Stephen. But whatever the outcome, whatever the two men agreed would be her fate she had promised herself that she would abide her husband's wishes.
Indeed, it would give Cicely a fine opportunity to investigate and work for her husband: naturalism interested her and she had taken the opportunity to read his books. In a few years his commission with the Royal Society would be worth a great deal not only financially but in prestige and honour. Academia which Stephen Maturin held dear and which Cicely held equally dear on his behalf.
"'ow was that?" asked Harris, a middle-aged seaman who had once been the cause, with other deckhands, of her misery when the whole of the ship's company believed her to be a boy. Cicely smiled at him and took the large leather-bound Bible from him and nodded.
"Excellent," she replied. "Good diction and punctuation, Daniel. Have you been practicing?"
Harris nodded, getting to his feet.
"Ar, lass. Mrs Maturin I mean," he added.
"Well, it shows," she added, smiling encouragingly. "Perhaps next time we'll tackle a psalm?" Cicely looked past the small-built man and at the next of the crew waiting for reading tuition.
"Right, ma'am," replied Harris, before saluting her and to the midshipman behind him as he strode off towards the steps that led to the gin decks. Cicely frowned as the middie sat down next to her and took the eagerly bible from her hands.
"I don't think you need any help with your diction and punctuation, Will Blakeney," she scolded softly. "Do you really wish me to hear you read?"
"No," he replied, shaking his head and frowning. "But it's the only way I can get to speak to you on your own these days, Sissy," he complained, gripping the book resolutely as Cicely tried to take it from her. "Why do you have to spend all your time with the doctor? You hardly ever come to visit us in the evenings! I can't remember the last time you danced a jig with us!"
Cicely tried not to laugh at Midshipman Blakeney, his face screwed up in annoyance at her absence when, not ten minutes ago he was striding around the ship berating men three times his age for not undertaking the tasks they were supposed to be doing.
"We are married, Will, the doctor and I," she explained kindly, stroking his hair comfortingly. "Married people spend time with one another. And Dr. Maturin has asked me not to spend as much time with the crew."
"But – " Cicely stopped stroking his hair and held his small hand softly.
"I think the captain believes me to be too much of a distraction. And, if you are sitting beside me rather than carrying out your duties then I'm inclined to agree with him."
"But – " The boy's big blue eyes stared beseechingly into hers, "will you come tonight? We'll be anchoring off Albermarle. He can't possibly object if we are not to be underway tomorrow. A jig, Cicely?" he pleaded.
Cicely sighed. She would happily have joined her ex-comrades every evening if she could. With the exception of one or two, generally the older crew who had one or two silent reservations, she was treated as one of them, as she had been when she had been disguised as a boy, her alter ego, Robert Young. To them, nothing had changed.
But it was the wishes of Stephen Maturin and Jack Aubrey that Cicely listened to now she was no longer a mizzenlad: even though both he and the captain had turned a blind eye to her sitting with the crew and joining in dances and songs she suspected that following her news there would come a time her husband would gently suggest other evening pursuits were more suitable.
"A jig," she repeated, smiling at Blakeney. "Well, I don't think I will be up to doing a dance of any kind in the months to come," she continued, noting the departure of her husband from the captain's cabin as he strode towards the lower decks.
"Why?" he pressed insistently, staring at her intently. "You're not…ill, Cicely…are you?" Cicely couldn't help but laugh lightly at his genuine concern and shook her head.
"No, Will," she replied as a thought crossed her mind. Should I tell him? she wondered.
"…but. Can I let you in on a big secret? One that you must promise not to share with anyone just yet?" William Blakeney nodded eagerly.
"Well." She stopped, wondering how she should broach this and smiled at Blakeney. "The doctor is about to become a father," she began, wondering whether this would be enough. Will looked at her blankly.
"And I'm to become a mother," she finished, wondering why this was harder than everything she had been through up till then. Will continued to stare at her impassively. Instinctively Cicely put her hand on her stomach and felt her face flush.
"I am expected to return to England for when the child is born…if it is a boy, Will, I would wish him to be a strapping lad like you; eventually a middie, then a lieutenant…" The boy beamed at her happily.
"I am soon to be a lieutenant, Cicely," he replied brightly, returning to the conversation at a point he recognised. "When we return the captain will accompany me to Somerset House and I will pass before the board." Cicely nodded and smiled.
"So yer expectin' the doctor's babby, lass?"
Cicely looked up and realised to her dismay that she had drawn a crowd. Indeed, many of her former colleagues, a dozen or more, were standing round her and Blakeney, looking at her intently as she surveyed them as whispers rippled amongst them with more, including her friend James Fillings and her former arch-enemy Joseph Nagel, at the back.
"Yes," she conceded, smiling at them happily. "I am."
"Then we salute you, ma'am," replied Harris, raising his arm, "the wife of the doctor…" He looked around the throng, nodding at the men.
"Huzzah!" came the cry from the gathered throng, throwing their hands to their brows before cries of "back to work!" were heard from the larboard causing them to turn, urgently.
"What? Salute Robert Young?" she replied, shaking her head, "One of your own?"
"Aye, Cicely," replied Phillips, an outspoken Scottish deckhand. "You're our mizzenlad, still; you're one of us…"
"Though not for much longer, lass," added Harris, scratching his rough, stubbly chin and grinning widely.
In a modern town house in London the post arrived. It was placed on a small plate by the house's butler, who wafted any stray filaments of dust from its impeccable surface before holding it at arm's length.
Proceeding through the staff fore-room the butler hastened up the wooden staircase, bearing left and, glancing at the name of the recipient looked back to the drawing room door before raising a hand and knocking firmly.
The butler gripped the door handle and bore down on it, so the modern Georgian panelled door yielded his passage he looked up at the occupant, drawn from their otherwise single-minded task.
"Oh. Thank you Gordon. If you would be so good as to put in here." Gordon nodded, placing the small bone-china plate onto the occasional table before taking a few steps back folding one arm behind the other, watching as the occupant picked up the letter, looking at the heavily postmarked envelope. Although it was not his place to speculate or judge, nevertheless the butler pondered the distance the letter must have travelled before arriving on the secretary's desk.
"Will there be anything else?" The question caused the occupant to look up absently from the letter, frowning uncomprehendingly at first.
"Not at present. Tea, at four. Thank you Gordon. " The butler bowed his head silently before making his way back towards the door. As he closed it behind him he saw the occupant proceed to their writing bureau, picking up a quill pen and proceeding to write on the next sheet of paper on the desk.
"Why is Sissy so sad, Joe?"
The young trainee mizzenlad looked up from the deck and looked in the direction of where Cicely would normally be, on the step near the main mast, pointing at a page in the bible for her pupil to read. Only today, the step was vacant, occupied only with wood splinters from the repair-work being undertaken for their journey back to Portsmouth.
The older salt followed the child's gaze and leaned heavily on his rough-haired broom, pondering her absence momentarily.
"She were expecting a babby, but it were born dead, Pizzy." The boy looked round at Joe Nagel, and the older sailor steadied the boy on his wooden leg as he gazed back, his rounded eyes growing bigger still.
"You know as, she were getting bigger in the belly. That was her babby. But then it died afore it were ready. An' she nearly went an' all…" He trailed off, handing Pizzy the broom as he scraped together the dust between two thin wooden beams.
"'er babby, Joe?" echoed Pizzy, looking round in wonder.
"'twas ill luck, that brung that about, and no mistek," commented Old Joe, from behind Nagel. Both sailors turned to look at him, as did the small group adjacent, ceasing their task of clearing the decks of wood. It had been a question of luck that had caused Joe to blame Cicely's brother Edward for their doldum-like listing in the Pacific almost six months ago and now their decrying of the old man's declaration caused him to hold up his hand in rebuttal.
"…no, not 'er…" he protested, clambering awkwardly to his feet. "Ill luck, I say. Fer the worst place to bring a babby inter this world is aboard a ship..." he swung round to the salts, insisting, "I'm tellin' ye…"
"Poor Cicely," declared another, who approached them, addressing the slacking workers far more informally than his rank bade him. Acting-lieutenant William Blakeney folded his hands together and glanced at the salts.
"Aye sir, we'll get back on it," began Nagel, Bonden nudging him in the ribs. Pizzy however had other ideas and scuttled up to their commanding officer, tugging at his breeches.
"Have you seen 'er, sir? 'ow is 'er?" His blue eyes twinkled in concern at Blakeney and the senior officer stooped to the boy's level and ruffled his dirty blonde curls.
"She is with the doctor now," he whispered to Pizzy, unpeeling a grubby hand from the fabric of his breeches gently. "She is well I believe." Will's eye caught the rest of the group, who were craning to hear the news and he stood to his full height.
"And when she is, I expect she will not appreciate her pupils being absent from her classes because of – slack – workmanship!" He surveyed the seamen, trying to sound authoritative and scrutinised the half-finished work that lay about them.
"Aye aye, sir!" chorused the men, saluting Blakeney firmly as the soon-to-be lieutenant folded his arms.
"And Mrs Maturin," he added, sighing towards the quarterdeck, "she is well…"
The sailors watched as William Blakeney made his way back across the mizzendeck, idly stepping over a patch of unscrubbed deck, before turning and rebuking the lad whose job it was to clean it…
…it had been he who had found her, almost two days before…
…Cicely had been coming up from the doctor's cabin to see the Captain and she had stopped to speak to Will.
"I have been searching for the last few days and if I didn't know better I would say the doctor does not have any books at all on the grey-headed albatross," she commented, shaking her head and smiling at the lad.
"No Cicely, he does not," replied Blakeney, unable to conceal his grin. A look passed across her face before she patted Will on the arm and wondered aloud why it was that her husband had made her search through all of his reference books for one that didn't exist, and now he wasn't here to make use of it in any case, when realisation hit her.
"What a man I married to that would wish to divert me on a wild goose chase such as this…" she continued, before breaking off suddenly and reaching for the wooden timber wall outside the cabin.
Then the captain had come and had invited her inside whereupon (from what Blakeney could hear through the door) they had discussed the new discoveries which would earn her husband fame before a heavy thud had caused Captain Aubrey to throw open the door…
…pain…like nothing Cicely Maturin had ever felt…coursed through her body now…not even flesh wounds that she had suffered in the battle, nor those from endurance as work of the lowliest of the crew in the preceding months…
The doctor was still on Albemarle Island when she collapsed before Jack Aubrey inside his cabin and though men had been sent to find Stephen, he had beckoned Blakeney in to talk to Cicely as she slipped into unconsciousness on the worn oak planks by his desk.
His mind numb and empty of all but the task that was assigned to him Midshipman Blakeney stroked Cicely's hand as he watched the captain of the Surprise kneeling in a pool of blood on the cabin floor, a tiny lifeless infant in his hands…
…by the time the doctor had arrived too late…
"So what will she do now, do you reckon?" said Bonden as he stooped to catch the next lot of wood shavings from the repairs that were going on above their heads.
"Not for us to say;" replied Phillips, "there's many a babby been born on a ship, and many lost; none so more 'as we all love as dear as 'er, though."
"Nothing the doctor can't sort out though," replied Barrett Bonden, catching the next wood pile by his feet before striding towards the ocean and throwing the wood fibres into the deep blue sea. "No doctor better than he…"
"Get on with it!" shouted Blakeney, down the full length of the mizzendeck, "or else!" Without another word Pizzy bent his good knee and began to sweep the fresh snow of wood shavings into a pile, the shine of his recent appointment as mizzenlad dulling momentarily.
Cicely had not been the same since her pregnancy. From finding out she was expecting a child to its loss and each day since she had willed the wind to sail on her side so they could get to Europe quickly. Presently they were in the Indian Ocean, only a fortnight from Jeddah. She looked across at her husband, who continued to write in his journal, picking out details from his text book and pulling out strands of field notes and wished she could feel as she once had done about their marriage; joyful and happy, not miserable and melancholy as now.
Turning her head, she looked from her vantage point in Stephen's once-redundant hammock strung by the window close to the desk and pondered the formation of the foreign sea fleet who they were now approaching and wondered whether she should mention again to him her contentment with the arrangement, or whether he would mistake her intent.
Sighing softly, she recalled when Captain Aubrey had sat in the chair whence her husband was busying himself now, and had informed her that he had written to his wife Sophie, informing her she was to expect Cicely from the last month of her pregnancy. Cicely had not doubted his reasons for visiting her then and she conceded more for his satisfaction than anything that a man-o'-war was no place to raise an infant. However she'd also suspected that it meant a great deal off Aubrey's shoulders for her to be out of his direct jurisdiction, especially considering, Cicely mused, casting her gaze at the foreign ships afloat outside the window again, their reason for rejoining the Royal Navy in the Atlantic.
Dr. Maturin watched his wife gaze out of the window as he looked up from his "Micrographia" and considered her care-worn face. The loss of the child had almost been too much to bear himself and he often wondered how she had been able to handle the loss, so calm and placid on the surface that she was, and he pondered the cause of her apparent peace.
Would she have wanted to raise a child anyway; was she suitable? Was she homely enough? Cicely analysed her feelings as she watched the crew of the nearest vessel set their main sail.
But it would have been their child. The ship's child. And the terror she had experienced was like nothing she had ever felt before…even on the coldest night away from home, all those months ago when she began her search for her brother Edward…when she wondered whether she should turn to Aubrey and stop the wedding…or falling from the deck of the Acheron mid-battle…
"I still wish to return to England, Stephen," Cicely said eventually as she turned from the naval manoeuvres being played out on the water and smiling at her husband. "I will be able to carry out the research for you into the albatross…"
"You will still mourn our child," he replied, returning the smile and leaning over and patting her hand. "Jack feels terrible for not being able to do more. I did point out that where marriages were part of the Captain's remit pregnancy was not."
Jack had insisted on tending her in his own cabin after her miscarriage, refusing access to even Higgins until the doctor had arrived. As she lay in a semi-conscious state, soaked in blood and sweat the manner in which he had spoken to her, tenderly and calmly, was such that Cicely had not imagined possible. But it had been too late, for their infant son could not be revived, and according to Stephen she had lost so much blood she was lucky to have survived herself.
"Had he not been there as it was, I would not be here. There will be other children, Stephen. And this is your work on natural science. That is also our child, which must be raised and nurtured." Cicely smiled as her husband kissed her on the forehead.
"Then a wise decision it is, my love," he replied, taking his hand from hers and picking up his quill, scrutinising the entries he had written without taking in a single word. One that I hope I can bear, he thought, with such an uncertain future ahead.
Around them, four bells tolled out, signalling one of several events in the ship's day and he glanced at his wife who had returned her gaze to the view from the cabin window and was again lost in thought.
Returning his quill to the large oak desk, Dr. Stephen Maturin got to his feet, glancing at Cicely once more before leaving through the cabin door and heading towards the quarterdeck.
Sophie Aubrey was nothing like Cicely had imagined. Far from being prim, haughty and society-hungry, the woman was well built but daintily refined and fiercely intelligent. On first appearances she could not see what the rugged, masculine captain of HMS Surprise would have in common with her.
In addition, she was an accomplished musician and artist, which explained most of the paintings in the Aubrey household, including one of Jack with the Surprise in the background. She was sure Aubrey would be proud of it and Cicely found herself nodding in agreement as the transcendence of affection echoed in every facet of Sophie's life.
It seemed that Jack had kept his wife informed of the mere briefest details of her guest and it surprised Cicely that while the woman seemed tolerant the confines of society, one that she had herself shunned almost two years ago, appeared to remain.
"You do not look eight months," commented Mrs Aubrey, as they settled in the modern dining room set with the latest cutlery and fine china and Cicely had smiled back, politely explaining to her the situation which had led to a stunned silence while Cicely recounted everything in the stunned silence that followed, from her decision to find her brother to her loss of her son to her hostess…
...standing on the wharf awaiting approval as a mizzenlad…arrested by the marines…climbing the mainsail to rescue James Fillings…Edward's suicide…being married to the doctor…fighting for in her brother's name…John Fotherington…
…and Jack's kindness when she miscarried…
"Please do not get the wrong idea, Mistress Aubrey," Cicely protested, when Sophie Aubrey dabbed her lips wit her serviette and gave her a long look. "He came to my assistance, nothing more." Cicely felt her anxiety wane as Mrs Aubrey laughed, like a tinkling bell.
"Of course; my husband has many talents, even ones that he would not admit to himself," she laughed. "I expect you worried him greatly Cicely, both as yourself and as you alter ego…Robert Young…?"
And with that, for the first time in her life, Cicely was at ease in societal company.