Stephen turned the bullet over and over in his fingers as he contemplated the mollusc before him. Its reproductive system appeared to be fused to its digestive system, something which he had never seen before and he wondered whether he just had a variation of from the brightly-coloured nudibranchae he has seen before or another species of gastropoda altogether. He looked at the door, then back to the bullet, which he stopped turning before slipping down into the palm of his mind.
Though he preferred to think of the world without such weaponry (it harmed too many of the species he wished to study; practically decimated colonies, species even if it were to continue) this bullet he kept as a reminder to himself, a reminder that it was vital to know what one could about the enemy. He would bear that in mind in the future, when next he encountered the treacherous ex-spymaster William Wickham.
Of the bullet's origin he had said nothing to Cicely. Whether he would in the future, once things were firmly in the past, he was not sure either. What he did know was that though James intended to shoot Nelson, and Cicely as a result of her own action, he hadn't actually done so. The type of bullet he was holding, that he had painstakingly removed from her body attested to that.
Just outside their quarters, halfway towards the main deck in a sheltered lee of the hull-rail Cicely was examining a letter she had received from Sophie Aubrey. Sinking down and sitting cross-legged in her wide-legged trousers she pulled her overjacket around her shoulders and held the paper parallel with her face, trying to read the neat copperplate hand as the November winds tousled its edges. She had been injured certainly; a horseshoe-shaped scar level with her hip on her lower abdomen would be a permanent reminder of her bravery (or, from another point of view, her blazing stupidity. She would heal in time, Cicely knew, and little exertion on her part for several weeks would hasten it.
The contents of Mrs Aubrey's letter fell into her lap, namely one folded piece of paper which contained another letter, addressed to her at Litten Hall. The latter was a hand she also recognised but Cicely drew her eyes back to the one from Sophie and read the dear lady's words.
She reassured Cicely that she had every faith in her, in her character and reputation; that she understood entirely why Cicely had felt compelled to take the course of action that she had and hoped that, God willing, they would be reunited again. Cicely read the letter again and held it to her chest. Warm pleasure, like caramel, dripped into her as Sophie Aubrey's kind words filled her up. It was a relief to know that her hostess felt no animosity towards her and further, that she wished them to meet again.
It took a few moments for Cicely to realise that Sophie had written further words on the back of the letter. Once she had read those Cicely bent her head onto her knees, the letter sandwiched between her forehead and thighs and wept tears which hadn't been formed yet, her diaphragm contracting uncontrollably. At length she swallowed and thought back to the package that Midshipman Barrington had delivered to Stephen, another piece of post which appeared to have waited a long time for its recipient.
For what was inside was something Cicely never believed in her wildest imaginations could be in there. Dr. Robert Darwin had sent to Stephen Maturin a transcribed copy of his father's original copy of "Zoonomia". Not in its entirety of course (that would have taken years) but the chapters that Dr. Darwin had been aware that he would be interested in reading, from his lengthy conversation with Cicely in his library.
Sophie Aubrey also reassured her that none of her past actions with respect to the Darwins had been held against her by them, Sophie's friends, and that she was welcome, either in the company of her husband, or alone, to visit the Mount again and view the whole book.
Oh Mrs Aubrey! Cicely cried out silently to the air. How good you are! How good your friends are! Cicely felt a wrench in her chest as the euphoria of acceptance, kindness and thoughtfulness washed over her.
Then she took up her other letter, and was stabbed in the chest by further human consideration: her uncle had managed to get a letter to her, addressed as it was to her at Litten Hall. He conveyed his deepest condolences and sorrows for Edward's death and reiterated his invitation for her, and her husband so she wished, to join him on Sarawak, where he had been proclaimed King! Of all things!
It was moments like these, Cicely considered, that far outweighed those dreadful dark days that she had experienced in the past. Picking up Sophie's letter again she re-read it, lest the pleasure of happiness left her just yet.
"Does it matter that you haven't gained your commission yet?" Cicely's eyes wandered from her cot-hammock at the unopened parcel still residing on the large oak table that Stephen was still working on later that evening. "We will be returning to the South Pacific eventually, will we not?"
"Eventually, my dearest, eventually." Cicely looked back to her letter from her uncle. She was used to Stephen talking to her as he worked – he had the knack of being able to give her his undivided attention, fully taking in her meaning and phrasing, processing them and giving a coherent answer.
"Anywhere near the Galapagos Islands?" Cicely knew that in order to advance his hypothesis Stephen needed to study the varied habitats thereupon at length.
"Perhaps. Jack has his orders to follow – I believe we will reside in the Atlantic for a time, though I am sure we will be in the Pacific soon enough. Probably about as soon as Whitsun – the Pacific! What an absurdly irregular name for such a tempestuous sea!" Stephen looked away from his study and with a "ha-ha" smiled slowly at Cicely.
"You gave Blakeney your book back."
"Despite the condition it was returned to me," Stephen nodded, jesting with her over its condition. Cicely had gradually revealed to him the terrifying adventure she had undertaken to return to him and has left few details out (Blunt was one of them).
"It is a pity," she added as she glanced at Dr. Darwin's untouched parcel, "for I am certain that there is a clue in your own work."
"Indeed? For I need information on birds, primarily, that and – "Stephen stopped suddenly, removing is interlinked hands which had been propping up his head and, thrusting them out into the air, he added, " – my dear, I think you may be right!" He got to his feet and made for the door before noticing Cicely was holding out a handful of papers.
"I made a copy once I realised Will had it," she continued in answer to his silent question. "When I didn't have it after waking here, I realised it was important but thought it lost." Stephen sighed with relief and a measure of wonder.
"Did I ever tell you how singular you are, Mrs Maturin?" he made his way slowly over to Cicely, embracing her warmly before relieving her of the potentially vital text.
"I can't promise the diagrams are as accurate as yours," Cicely added, sitting back down on the simple oak chair which had been her companion that long night in Jack's cabin.
"No," replied Stephen, looking up from his shuffling through of them before grinning broadly. "They are better!"
"And you are happy to resume your position here?" Cicely knew she was testing him a little – she had to be certain that they would eventually get to Sarawak, to her uncle. She knew beyond all doubt that she should be there not only to unburden Jack Aubrey but to allow Stephen his professional freedom. Should they wish a family, Cicely added, the most important reason of the three to her, this would offer their child the most stability, well away from the grasp of England and its law.
"I must finish this work," Stephen concluded, turning his dark head back to his mollusc. "Jack will still want me as a surgeon, no doubt and I have a spy to capture of course so to be under sail will allow me that liberty."
Cicely felt a little pinprick of sadness in her chest at this apparent inconsideration of her position. Another woman might have thought – what will become of me? Instead, Cicely thought, what can I do?
She thought back to the conversation that she and Jack had had once she had returned to the Surprise. Stephen was auditing his drug supply following Dr. Hardy's return to the flagship (and very grateful he had seemed to be at that prospect, Cicely had observed) and she had had an opportunity to speak at length to him.
"May I say, my dear, for the injuries you have suffered you are looking remarkably well." Jack's face had been ruddy and at ease, full of the orders that he was soon to fulfil and he addressed her warmly and jovially. "Your hair is beginning to lengthen – your appearance is more comely in the fashion, if you do not mind me saying so."
Cicely had sat, and conversed civilly with Jack in her wide-legged trousers and high-collared shirt, the compromise that they had agreed upon for propriety and also for comfort (Cicely would suffer from her battle wounds for some time, she knew, though her shoulder from the marine's bullet when she had deserted the Victory, and the burn to her hand from her fight with Sergeant Major Blunt of the 105th Rifles were almost healed).
She had reiterated her desire to eventually meet with and reside in the company of her uncle in Sarawak, that he had been given the honorary title of King; that Jack would be relieved and that relief had relaxed itself into his visage as she detailed the first two reasons why it was advantageous to pursue the course so. Cicely had also offered her services in the interim.
"You see, it is in all of our interests," Cicely had concluded as Jack paced behind his desk considering her notion.
"My concern is two-fold," Jack had replied. "Sarawak is not exactly compatible with my orders, although it could be reached without too much effort, and it may take several months for I have business in the Atlantic." Cicely had nodded. She had suspected as much and had structured her cause around it.
"I am prepared for that," she had added.
"Well my dear, I wonder whether Dr. Maturin is prepared. He has been without your bounteous and refined company for a great deal of time."
"He is occupied with his work," Cicely had replied, "he is eager for his commission from the Royal Society. It would mean so much to him both financially and for his reputation." Jack had nodded at length, in agreement.
"Do you wish me to broach the subject with Stephen?" Cicely had got to her feet but said nothing, her look had affirmed it: this was exactly what she wished.
"Sarawak is not an English colony, to be sure," Jack had concluded, "and I am positively convinced that there would be diverse enough species to keep his interest, though he does have his heart set on the Solomon Islands or Samoa."
"I will be more at ease, to be sure, when we are in that tempestuous Pacific again." Stephen had turned to talk to Cicely, interrupting her recollection. Trying to not look half-witted, Cicely turned her face to him and smiled at the animation in his eyes. Upon returning to the Surprise and recommencing his work the look had not been far from him.
"There was nowhere I was more aware of my own ignorance than when I was ashore on Heard Island. Birds. Volcanic stratiforms. Reptilia. But the mid-Pacific islands, well – were I to spend three or four years around these shores I should have enough evidence, enough material to construct my argument. You don't mind, do you my love? For if you do, I will gladly throw it all in."
Cicely realised that she must have been staring at him vacantly and Stephen had interpreted it as indifference. Throw it all in! As if you could, whether you wanted to!
"How does Sarawak appeal to your work? Would it be agreeable?"
"Sarawak?" Stephen glanced away for a moment, processing the thought.
"That's in the Pacific," Cicely added unnecessarily.
"Indeed it is; I am certain it contains at least seven types of beetle which would be of a great deal of interest. But – "
He stopped and moved over to Cicely, putting down his spectacles and pushing away his specimen.
"I do think that I we haven't spoken about the relative merits of…" Stephen stood up and moved across to Cicely, the evening sunlight glancing through the window on its way to another part of the world, "…the triple-shift system…?" He encircled his arms around her waist and Cicely put her head against his warm, comfortable chest.
"Or…the dog watch…?" He kissed the top of her head and Cicely held him tighter. She loved these moments, just her and Stephen.
"What about…the admission of women into the Service?" Cicely looked up and frowned momentarily as the jest infiltrated her mind. She whacked his upper arm before snuggling back towards him, her face directed towards the failing light. There were so many wonders around her, natural wonders which she wished to pursue in conversation with Stephen when she had the time: Cicely always suspected that nature was his first true love, but she didn't mind.
Stephen scraped the bow across the strings of his violoncello, vigorously replicating the lower chords that bound with Jack's minuet main from Mozart's 41st, "Jupiter".
"I do wonder that Cicely would be musical," Stephen said at length, during a quieter section. "After all, her brother's singing replicated the composer's intent most accurately."
"Indeed," replied Jack. It was a pity she did not appreciate music, or at least said not at least. Stephen might have been as amazed at Jack to have seen Cicely plucking the 'cello as his friend was doing now, slinging wistfully to the tune.
"When do you suppose we will be in the South Pacific?" Stephen pushed the taut horsehair over the strings, vibrating them loudly, the friction tense in the wood.
"Several months," replied Jack. "Europe will be our land-cousin for a while yet."
"I should hear of Wickham's whereabouts before long, I am in no doubt; this will assist my pursuit of him, though that my identity is, in part, revealed, makes my work to that end more difficult."
"I shouldn't think Cicely would like to hear you speak so," replied Jack, pushing his fingers down onto the fretboard quickly for the "tutti" section. "She would pine."
"I think her resilience will win through," Stephen opined, "she went through so much besides, I have explained that my work will take at least four years. Lamarck must be made to bear and his notion is painstaking, to say the least."
"In Sarawak." Stephen turned to Jack, his eyes wide as he lowered his bow mid-piece.
"That is the second time this evening I have heard that Dutch country's name mentioned. Should I be aware of something? For you can be sure I cannot figure it." He took up his bow again and began at the top of the non-existent score.
"Not at all; it is just a country I know you have spoken of in the past. It is convenient to my business in the South China Seas."
"Is it?" replied Stephen, not thoroughly convinced by his friend's explanation, but letting it pass nonetheless.
"And I am sure there will be plenty to occupy your wife were she to be by your side."
"Not a day goes by when I consider I have the understanding of my wife, Jack, before she amazes me in some other way." He bounced his bow off the strings as required in the second stanza, complementing Jack's melody. "Sarawak, indeed. Yes, we may go there, Mrs Maturin!"
Jack smiled to himself as he thought of Cicely too, to her hardiness as she took the news of Stephen's apparent death; how she had pushed it inside of herself; how she had vented her feelings towards Jack at his audacity to send mending to her, in her supposition by embroidering intricate decorations inside his tunic.
"You know, she made an impression so great on your wife's friend's husband – "
" – Dr. Darwin?"
"That's the fellow," nodded Stephen, gliding his bow now on the softer section. "He took the trouble to transcribe sections of a book, a book I hold dear in its detail and reputation, that belonged to his father, those sections which were omitted from the published volume! It will help me a great deal, though she does not know I have this yet.
"A good choice you made in your wife," commented Jack, "I commend you. Oh – " Jack put down his bow and violin suddenly and reached inside his shirt. "I almost forgot. This arrived for you a fortnight after you left the ship in Genoa."
He handed Stephen the letter from Diana, well-worn and open. Stephen took it, analysing its condition and noting its sending address, somewhere he knew well, in Paris. He wrinkled his nose slightly.
"I opened it to ascertain Diana's address to tell her about your untimely death," Jack qualified. "I trust you forgive my intrusion." Stephen nodded distractedly as he read the letter through. At length he looked up.
"So, dear Diana thinks me dead," he chuckled, half to himself.
"Shall you correct her?"
"Not yet, Diana, she – " he looked between Jack and Diana, embodied epistolarily, slapping his hand across the top of the letter lightly. " – still believes we can – as the letter implies…" he tailed off, not willing, or daring not finish.
"It disturbed Mrs Maturin, certainly."
"Cicely has seen this?" Stephen's tone was matter-of-fact rather than concerned.
"Yes," replied Jack shortly, looking to his violin as if more concerned with the aria they was about to embark upon. "I had just broken it to her myself of your death. I am sure it means little to her now," he added even though he did not believe that. As she would think on it in time, a woman may well call this threat to her mind, and though Cicely's mind ranged wildly at the time, it was still likely that she harboured the memory.
It didn't appear to bother Stephen however, he merely pushed it inside his coat. You are risking your wife chancing upon it, discovering that you have kept it rather than discarding it to the four winds, Jack was about to say, but then he actually said, "I think you should better study women, as I have said before, with the intricacy and attention to detail you do birds and beasts, my friend," before swooping his arm into the note that was the first in Mozart's "39th".