Higgs strode carefully down the pebbly beach to the redheaded young man hunched on the shore, his pea-coat flapping in the chilly wind.
"Ah, Mister Tarvek. Readin', are you? Bit cold, ain't it?"
"Yes, I suppose," Tarvek muttered, turning his head away.
"What's this?" Higgs said, picking up the smallish volume bound in red board. "The Triumph of Time? Oh, lad... If you must be a fool romantic and read English poetry...Swinburne's an idiot, you know. He's got a way with words, but twenty years from now they'll all blush at his soppy glop."
"What?" Tarvek Sturvarous clearly wasn't ready to have his misery interrupted with literary criticism. Let alone by Third Mate Axel Higgs.
"I know hyu feel desperate, boy. You're in love- likely for the first time with a girl up to your weight- and you can't have her; you lost everything you did have before, and your world is turning over like a mounted hourglass in a storm. You're tryin' to be brave, and gracious, and old Algy sure has the ticket:
'I will say no word that a man might say
Whose whole life's love goes down in a day;
For this could never have been; and never,
Though the gods and the years relent, shall be.'
"But lad, you're a bit young to be thinking you'll never love again. Now that your Da and his friends aren't killin' off girl sparks tryin' to revive Lucy, a lot of the survivors'll come out of the woodwork; and a man on the run has a certain attraction to the ladies, dontcha know. Look at Jamie of Scotland- couldn't fight the girls off with a stick."
Tarvek started to stutter then, but Higgs silenced him by holding up one hand.
"You'll always remember her, a'course. And you have had more of her than poor Algy had of his love- 'tears and kisses,' not to mention... well, 'once made one for a single hour'- the Castle sez maybe more than that. And now she needs you to do for her and for Europa what no other man would be able to do, y'know: 'clung To my life if you bade me, played my part As it pleased you'- Boy, you've played enough parts in your life, as much as it hurts you now, you know the act taken long enough will grow comfortable- Trust me, you know I know."
"Even Swinburne sez it: 'And grief shall endure not for ever, I know./ As things that are not shall these things be; We shall live through seasons of sun and of snow,/ And none be grievous as this to me.' You don't need to jump in the ocean for that, though. Time does it, and if it don't, well... there's always the construct way. And there are compensations to being a Spark...
'The pulse of war and passion of wonder,
The heavens that murmur, the sounds that shine,
The stars that sing and the loves that thunder,
The music burning at heart like wine,
An armed archangel whose hands raise up
All senses mixed in the spirit's cup
Till flesh and spirit are molten in sunder —
These things are over, and no more mine.'
You'd think Algy'd been a spark himself." Higgs declaimed the rolling words. "Or drunk from the Dyne, like Miz Agatha."
"For you, everythin's gray and flat now- even the Spark-, and nothin' to look forward to, 'dust and laurels and gold and sand...'"
"Which gifts are goodly, but I will none..." whispered Tarvek.
"Feels that way, don't it? But Algy, he *liked* being beaten, more ways than one. He rolled around in it. You're not that sort, or you'd never have got this far, and never been able to save the girl..."
"I've heard the stories, my lord, and you saved her more than once, from herself as well as the others. Playin' your own game? Mebbe. But Europa is a lot better off with her alive than dead, and that's the plain truth."
"You don't need a keeper, like that fool Swinburne does, to get you back on your feet and find somethin to live for- you've been doing it yourself for nigh on what- twenty-three years? And surviving for them you love. You've got work to do, lad. Work- hard work- and sleepin' the sleep of the exhausted. It won't cure heartbreak, but it will keep you busy until you can breathe without cryin' and sleep without dreamin'. Even dulls the worst pain in time, I found. There's a bunch of battles to be had here- some of 'em you've got a personal interest in our side winning. Put your mind on that."
"So, if you don't like my choice of poet, what would you suggest?" Torn between anger and astonishment- as Higgs had calculated he would be-, Tarvek failed to hide his curiousity in scorn.
"Wayll... You could use a dose of Ruskin, but NOT the poetry. If you gotta read English schlock, Henley'll do. Worked for me:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul."
"All nonsense, a'course- but somethin' to mull in the dark watch. HMS Pinafore's more like real life, from what I've seen. Ready to face 'your sisters and your cousins and your aunts,' lad?"
Tarvek laughed. And allowed Higgs to pull him to his feet, wiping the tears away with one hand.