Stars and Seashells

Jack lifted his head from the eyepiece of his telescope and scratched a notation down in his journal with a happy sigh. Next to a brisk chase at seas this was his favourite past-time.

Jack smiled to himself a little. Well, his favourite past-time whilst standing up anyway.

Behind him the tent rustled and Jack looked over his shoulder to see Bridget Maturin, ghostly pale in her little cambric nightgown, without even a shawl over her shoulders. Jack shook his head in exasperation and snatched up his lap blanket.

"What are you doing up?" he rumbled, as quietly as he could manage. He wrapped the blanket around her and bid her clutch it tight.

"It's not cold," she grumbled in a very Maturin-like fashion, but in another Stephen-like move she gratefully clutched the blanket and crept over to look with interest at his telescope. "What are you looking at tonight?"

Jack shook his head. "That same as I was looking at last night," he chided. "And you didn't answer me. Why aren't you tucked up warm in your bed?"

"The ground is too still," Bridget explained, clasping at her blanket and turning her pretty eyes up at him. "It makes me sea-sick. Mayn't I stay up with you, Adm'ral Jack?"

"Your father will scold us both if you're too sleepy to go naturalising with him in the morning," he said, but he lifted onto his canvas chair and tucked her blanket more securely around her.

"We're to see boobies," Bridget confided, happy and smiling now that she had her way. "Father said I may collect beetles too, but not more than one of each kind. And I already have prodigious piles of shells, d'you want to see them?"

"I should like it above all things," Jack said, making another notation in his journal. "In the morning, ey?"

"Adm'ral Jack?" Bridget asked after a small contented silence.

"Yes, my lamb?"

"Would you mind awfully if I wasn't to be a sailor?"

"I suppose I should bear up under the disappointment," Jack said. "But what's changed your mind? I thought you were set on sailing the high seas?"

"I will still go asailing," Bridget said, then yawned wide, showing off her pearly white teeth and pink curling tongue. She rested her head on her arm. "But I have decided to become a naturalist, like Papa," she said sleepily. "I shall find wondrous things and write clever books and speak at the Royal Society..." She trailed off, eyes closing, asleep within moments and snoring softly.

"I wouldn't be at all surprised, my lamb," Jack said, drawing the blanket closer around her and going back to his observations.

Half a glass later Stephen wandered out of the tent in his nightshirt and shawl, sparse hair sticking up all over his head and his face sleep wrinkled.

"Ah, and there she is, the creature," he whispered. "I got such a fright when I awoke to find she'd crept away."

"I was going to carry her back in," Jack apologised with a smile. "But I just can't leave my observations for the moment."

"I quite understand," Stephen forgave, with the forbearance of one man of science to another. Down on the shore a sentry's light could be clearly seen, so Stephen contented himself with a surreptitious pat to Jack's ample behind as he slipped past him to gather up his girl.

Jack jumped and snorted a chuckle. "Finding life in a tent restricting, my dear?" he said slyly.

Stephen smirked, patting Bridget's swaddled back as he rested her against his shoulder. She snored on, regardless, the way young children do. "I thought we had no privacy aboard a ship!" he said. "But I'll be glad to get underway again, with stout wooden bulkheads between us and the world."

"So will I," Jack said fervently as Stephen administered another secret grope on his way past. Jack watched him push though the canvas flap of the tent, sighed to himself, and went back to his stars.