Jack Aubrey sipped his morning coffee and contemplated the scene before him. His particular friend, Stephen Maturin, was across the table from him in the comfortable dining room at Ashgrove Cottage. They had finished their breakfast, and the table was strewn with the remains: a sadly reduced ham, bone protruding, a salver with only the merest trace of shirred eggs remaining in the corners, a silver tray (engraved with a lengthy text from a grateful ship's company Aubrey had rescued from certain death) spangled with grease from the now-absent black sausages and pigs fry, a scattering of crumbs from the toasted soft tack. Jack ran his finger along the lip of the marmalade jar and licked it – something he would never do when Sophie was in residence, but she had taken the children to Bath, so Jack and Stephen were enjoying a month of bachelor's existence.
Such old friends were he and Stephen, entirely comfortable in each other's company, that they felt no need for formal conversation at breakfast –- indeed, they spread the letters, Naval Gazettes, and newspapers out on the table, and read in a leisurely fashion.
“Here's a fine amusement, Jack,” said Stephen, looking up from the local newspaper. “At the Portsmouth Fair, they shall be exhibiting a dancing bear.” He looked slyly at Jack. “You could perhaps teach it a hornpipe.”
Jack winced, remembering the time they had escaped from a French prison, Jack disguised in a bear's skin.
Stephen continued looking at the paper. “This says that if the bear is fed different varieties of strong drink, it will perform various dances from it's repertoire. Wine will produce a creditable waltz, gin will prompt it to do a quadrille, and if fed with beer, why, Jack, a beer bear'll polka!”
© 2005 Astrid Bear