An ocean of stars swept the night sky, Stephen followed their curvature from east to west, wondering at the ancient fascination that gripped seafarers from time immortal. He felt a glimmer of recognition for the constellations often described to him by his companions aboard the floating worlds he had lived on and a pang of regret at not having followed their carefully explained lessons with more than a polite attention.
He lowered his gaze to focus on the distant Thames, where past the dome of St. Paul's, he could just make out the barges and ferries backlit by the dim gas lights of Southwark and Bankside. Ferries and barges carrying supplies and men back and forth to the distant downriver merchantmen and men of war. No longer the floating cities of wood and canvas of his lifetime but now dark, serpentine, iron clad menaces belching steam and fire. The year before last, off Brest, he had seen the Warrior cutting through wind and sea, against nature or so came the stifled bosun's cry. It's dark bulk dwarfing the accompanying escorts and silencing the quarter deck. At the time he had imagined how Jack's face would have hardened against the passing of his craft, but also how there would have been a predatory gleam in his faded blue eyes, weighing up the potential of such a ship.
Stephen was brought back to the present by the ache of his old bones, lord-- he was past his ninetieth year for the dear's sake and far too old to be perched on Primrose Hill during the dog watch. In a few hours he would be manhandled down the river to the Naval College to visit his friend's memorial and meet with that old pirate Babbington, now onto his sixth wife at Stephen's last count.
"Faith we had some adventures Jack, but you never could hum in time", murmured the old man in the ancient wig.
On the quartering wind came a sighing of the Lions from the Zoological gardens. The ground swelled and broke beneath Stephen's steps as he once again walked the wooden decks and visited the distant shores of memory.
© 2000 Chris Alderson