The Requirements of the Service
Bang! I whirled around and met with a sickening sight- Stephen Maturin, slumped against the side of the ship, gasping in pain. For a moment, the world stopped. My heart throbbed somewhere around my ears as I came to terms with the disaster. After that moment I sprang to his side, resisting the urge to grab his hand in front of the men. I ordered for Mr. Higgins, praying that it was not already too late.
Stephen was gently laid on the operating table and I hovered close by, nervous. When Higgins said that he would have to "read up on the doctor's books", my nerves shot sky-high. I looked at him in disbelief, forgetting that not everyone cared for the doctor as deeply as I did and therefore would not be so insistent that he receive the best care. Higgins was only a nurse, after all, and was not yet used to these kinds of things. A nurse from London, where he was not used to the rocking of the ship that had become so natural to me.
The next time I visited, Stephen looked considerably worse. His face was ashen, and his breathing shallow. As I watched him sleeping, I began to realize that things were much more serious than I had dared to believe. I sat in my cabin, debating over the best course of action. If I did what Stephen wanted, the men might complain and think me indulgent. But he was dying, for God's sake! I had known this for a few days, but had not let myself believe it. If we did not find some help soon, Stephen would die. All that would be left of him was the empty chair and cello that was staring me in the face. Tears came to my eyes as I began to ponder life without my constant companion. I quickly blinked them back and called for Mr. Bonden to sail back to the islands.
Padeen and I transferred Stephen ever so gently onto a stretcher and began the journey across the island to a makeshift hospital tent that had been set up. As we walked, Stephen opened his eyes. He looked at me and said, "Tell me this wasn't on my account." I looked down at him and I knew he knew the truth. He knew that it was, and that I had finally kept my promise to him. Nevertheless, "Not at all. I just needed to stretch my legs." I looked at him again, hoping to convey all my emotions into that one look. He returned the gaze, and I smiled knowing that we understood each other.
As Higgins made ready to operate, Stephen surprised me yet again. He looked at me, hoping I wouldn't protest. "I do this with my own hand," he said. My heart wildly rejected this idea, knowing that it should not have to be this way. But my brain knew that he was a far better surgeon than Higgins. And as occurred so many times in the past, my head won out over my heart. But that did not stop me from worrying so much my hands shook. I knew that I would not be able to handle it, so I tried to leave. But Stephen wanted my steady hands. So I tried to steady them and stayed, as I always would when he asked it of me. "That is, if you have the constitution for this kind of thing." Despite what I replied, I knew that this wound was unlike anything I had ever experienced in battles. True, I had seen blood and gore. But it was different when the blood was Stephen's, when the heart that was beating so feebly belonged to the one I loved.
As he performed the operation, I covertly touched his hand multiple times. I wanted to reassure him that I was here, and that all would be well. When he raised his own rib, my forehead broke out in a sweat. I looked away, not able to bear watching him cause himself harm. When Higgins announced "she'll patch up nicely" I rejoiced. All of my fear melted away and I grinned openly. Higgins and Padeen cleaned up and left us alone, and I smiled again. "You did wonderfully, Stephen." "Thank you, Jack." "I knew you would, of course. You are quite skilled in all manner of operations." "No. Thank you for staying with me, Jack. I needed you, and you understood that. It means the world to me." "Of course, my dear Stephen. I am just glad that I have the chance to reconcile after our argument." I paused, gathering strength. "I feared…I would never be able to talk to you again." I swallowed hard, trying to hold back the tears that were coming once more. "Dearest Jack. Never fear, for I will always readily forgive. And nothing can keep us apart. Least of all a little iguana." I laughed heartily and took his hand in mine. I knew that no matter the circumstance, I would always have Stephen by my side, no matter what the service required.