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Stephen Maturin Meets William Goldman

From "The Commodore," page 72:

"Like many other sailors Jack Aubrey had long dreamed of lying in his warm bed all night long; yet although he could now do so with a clear conscience he often rose at unChristian hours, particularly if he were moved by strong emotion, and crept from his bedroom in a watch-coat, to walk about the house or into the stables or to pace the bowling-green. Sometimes he took his fiddle with him. He was in fact a better player than Stephen, and now that he was using his precious Guarnieri rather than a robust sea-going fiddle the difference was still more evident: but the Guarnieri did not account for the whole of it, nor anything like. Jack certainly concealed his excellence when they were playing together, keeping to Stephen's mediocre level: this had become perfectly clear when Stephen's hands were at last recovered from the thumbscrews and other implements applied by French counter-intelligence officers in Minorca; but on reflexion Stephen thought it had been the case much earlier, since quite apart from his delicacy at that period, Jack hated showing away. Now, in the warm night, there was no one to be comforted, kept in countenance, no one who could scorn him for virtuosity, and he could let himself go entirely; and as the grave and subtle music wound on and on, Stephen once more contemplated on the apparent contradiction between the big, cheerful, florid sea-officer whom most people liked on sight but who would never have been described as subtle or capable of subtlety by any one of them (except perhaps his surviving opponents in battle) and the intricate, reflective music he was now creating. So utterly unlike his limited vocabulary in words, at times verging upon the inarticulate.

'My hands have now regained the moderate ability they possessed before I was captured,' observed Maturin, 'But his have gone on to a point I never thought he could reach: his hands and his mind. I am amazed. In his own way he is the secret man of the world; but I wish his music were happier.'"

And yet. . . .

"My hands HAVE now regained their former ability, and have in fact grown back stronger. Sure, and I've seen prodigious more sadness and pain sith that meeting-day in Mahon. I wonder. . . . "

Stephen considered taking just a few drachmas of his beloved tincture, sleep being far from easy. 'Vade retro,' he murmured, more to himself than to any demon. He returned to the drawing room where his 'cello had been carefully wrapped in double-oiled sealskin and tied with the usual cumbersome nautical knottage. He thumbed through his doctors' bag, muttering 'Ouch! ouch! ouch!!!' as he tossed fleams, lancets, trephines aside, settling at last on a gleaming yataghan. With a practiced swipe, he severed the bindings, tourniqueted his thumb, and retrieved his 'cello, walking with it to where its whisperings might not be overheard.

As he walked, struggling with the weight of his instrument, voices played in his head, scents and colours filled the air, vanishing as he approached - it was Jack's voice speaking to him, but coming from the mouth of a rooster: he heard words as clearly as if they'd actually been spoken aloud - the mist swirled, swirled. There was a creak, was someone there? A trilling outside - the song of a Turdus turdus floated in through the window. A waft. He knew what it was just before he actually smelled the fried Pongo satyrus sandwich with an inch-thick Marmite-and-mashed-banana layer. Stephen ran his fingers over the instrument lightly, and the ghostly sound swirled, imaging the swirling in his mind. Naseby scuffled in, nibbled two rosin bags and a kidney, and slunk out, wagging his tail furiously:

"Your bowing Stephen! You are wonderful!" He WAS there, but Stephen was too far involved with the music to pause.

"Thank you, a cuishla bubbeleh. I've worked hard to become so."

"I admit it, brother, you are better than I am."

"Then why are you smiling?"

"Because, dear Stephen, I know something you don't know." Eyes dissolving to slits in his mirth.

"And what is that?"

"I . . . am not left-handed!"

The weight of five and ten years of deception rolled off Stephen's shoulders, Mozart darted just below his consciousness, and he croaked with undisguised glee as he shifted his 'cello around.

"Neither am I, Jack. Neither am I."

© 2001 Susan Wenger