You are here


“…And that,” continued Jack, slapping his thigh, “is when it came to me, smooth as a sow’s ear: Joe, I said, old Joe, be careful what you fish for! Ha ha! D’ye smoke it, Stephen?”

Maturin observed Jack Aubrey, who was brick-colored in his mirth, blue eyes glinting, his massive form shaking in full-bodied glee. “Sure, my dear,” he said, “you have a wit to rival Shakespeare.”

"It's kind in you to say so!" cried Jack. "I've always fancied myself a bit of a Fester."

"A what?"


"A jester?"

"No, no, Stephen, you miss my drift. My allusion is too keen for you, God love me. Fester. The witty cove in Twelfth Night."

"Aha. Fester, yes. I believe they called him 'Feste' for short. His sobriquet, as it were."

"Did they? I don't recall. Might amaze you to know I haven't read the play in a while."

"You astonish me, joy."

"It's true, though. Yes, Fester, or maybe that Fool in King Lear... He had an uncommon good line about foul weather, I quote it when I can: 'Tis a naughty night to swim in,' ha ha! Lear's Fool. What was that blasted Fool called, Stephen?"

"'The Fool,' I believe."

"'The Fool'? You don't say so. Well, that ain't overly creative, is it. Shakespeare was probably tired that day."

"Probably," said Stephen, smiling.

"But even tired, he could turn a phrase. And I can offer up a tolerably rare line now and again, if I strain myself."

"'Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.'"

"Stephen! Well said. Is it yours?"

"Nay, nay, not mine. Fester's."

"'Walks about the orb like the sun.' Well said." Jack squinted at the murky horizon. "But the sun don't shine everywhere right now, does it? We're in for a squall unless I miss my guess. Join me in the top?"

"No, thank you, Jack; my afternoon is devoted to my deformed foot."

"And a lovely afternoon it will be, no doubt. You'll join me for supper, then?"

"With bells on."

Jack began to climb, and then he laughed as he climbed. "Bells! Jesters! Good one, Stephen!" He started to sing, and his cheerful, tuneful voice reached Stephen on deck:

"He that has and a little tiny wit--
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,--
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day."

Stephen watched him for a while before going below. He pondered upon Shakespeare as he dissected his foot, and later that night, after supper and music, while writing in his diary, Stephen remembered the wise fool Polonius's best advice. He indulged himself by writing, not in code, "The friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel."

© 2005 Diane Coffin