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Note: Starts near the end of H.M.S. Surprise, when Jack and Stephen are in the last leg of their trip back to England after a journey to India; Diana has broken her engagement to Stephen, and Jack has not heard from Sophie, who he expected to meet in Madeira and who was not there. Another ship has just been sighted; in the book, it's actually Sophie's transportation, bringing her to marry Jack.
Five Things That Never Happened To Aubrey & Maturin
If one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere.
-- Jane Austen
The vessel they had sighted off the coast of Madeira proved to be the Hirondelle, a trim-sailing heavy frigate of 40 guns, heading for La Rochelle, well-handled but with indifferent lookouts. The Surprise ran up on her quarter, raked her twice, boarded in the smoke, and took her with few casualties. But her captain was one of them, and when the Surprise at last put in at Portsmouth, he was obliged to be handed over the side upon a stretcher.
Rest and quiet in a small cottage in Hampshire, for the wounds that healed more slowly than Stephen would have liked and a fever that lingered. It was a hushed and grey household: a handful of letters from Sophie had been waiting at the harbor, tear-stained and full of apology. Her mother's bank had failed bare days after her last letter; her dowry entirely gone and that of her sisters as well; she had been married to Mr. Charles Hinksey two months before the courier had arrived.
Jack bore the disappointment calmly, wrote once to wish her very happy, and made no great effort to leave his sickbed, despite the increasingly noxious draughts of physic with which Stephen dosed him. Letters of congratulation lay unopened on his writing desk and the fiddle stayed in its case, though his arm had come out of its sling.
"This will not do, brother," Stephen said, sitting beside him on the bed with a hand on Jack's pulse; it was strong enough and regular, but there was no color in the once-ruddy face, and very little spark in the blue eyes. Diana's desertion still weighed heavily upon Stephen, but he had a powerful concern for his patient to occupy his mind, while Jack was wholly adrift on shore. There was cause for hope: the Hirondelle was certainly to be bought into the service, and Jack, covered with laurels as he was, would surely be appointed her captain; but neither could be brought into action again until set to rights, and in the meantime he read indifferently among the Royal Society's journals and slept a great deal.
"No," Stephen said, continuing, "this apathy, this disdain for the world, this weak melancholy: it is an indulgence that you cannot afford. Come, we have fine weather, and in a well-heated greatcoat, with a stick, you will do very well with a walk."
Jack opened his mouth to say no, thank you, he did not care to step outside, but a certain steel in his physician's eye warned him this would not answer. The cold fresh air reddened his cheeks, the wind carrying enough of the salt sea from the harbor to speak to him of life and work again, and when they came back to the cottage he did not return to his bed, but joined Stephen in the sitting room to read his newspaper, and when Stephen brought out his cello, he sent Killick to fetch the violin.
They played together for some time, took their dinner at the unfashionable hour of two, indulged in a game of chess lying on pillows before the fire; then back to bed after supper, Jack drowsing while Stephen read to him from the astronomy journals in his quiet, steady voice.
He had never known a very pleasant home: his father's character and legal tangles had oppressed his childhood, and from the age of twelve he had known no home at all but a succession of ships and low boarding houses, shadowed still further by debt. Now a warm, settled feeling of peace, wholly unfamiliar, crept upon him by almost insensible degrees; it was formed of the soft crackling of the fire, the fresh linen smelling of sunshine and sea air, the satisfied feeling in his belly and the absence of pain. All of these and the one other, dimly recognized as essential: the consciousness of Stephen's presence: of love.