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At a Time of Dearth Aboard the HMS Surprise

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At a Time of Dearth Aboard the HMS Surprise

Jack lay in an unaccustomed fit of dull spirits, at the very nadir of a trough into which he had sunk some time after dinner. It had been a dinner during which Killick had announced the end of the port and the imminent demise of the pickled fish, barrels of which had been spoiled by an influx of saltwater during the storm off Cartagena.

“We shall all soon be surviving on biscuit, by God,” the Captain muttered to Maturin as they entered his cabin to indulge in their usual postprandial conversation.

“For all love, Jack, to hear you shudder at it one might think the crew had not survived on biscuit and watered grog for the better part of this fortnight.”

Jack looked chastened and rubbed his belly ruefully. “I suppose it will do no harm to forego luxury until we reach Halifax.”

“None at all,” Stephen agreed, and drew the cello towards him to begin tuning it, running swift, pizzicato arpeggios the length of the instrument’s neck.

Aubrey took his seat and lifted the violin from its rest, affecting an air of melancholy so exaggerated as to make Stephen smile fondly into his kerchief. “Nothing too lively this evening, soul, for I fear the news of the porto will lay heavily on me for some time.”

“I have the thing exactly,” Stephen replied, and began the first notes of the Larghetto e Spiritoso of Vivaldi’s A Minor from the L’Estro Armonico at an octave lower than was usual.

Jack smiled in recognition of it and readied his bow to take up the second violin. Stephen’s transposition lent the piece a stately air, the minor key a melancholia to suit Jack’s mood, and before they realised it they made their way also through the both the Allegros, though in quite the wrong order.

Killick entered soon after, grumbling on the subject of the captain and surgeon’s scratchings and squeakings at the tortured ears of their poor steward, and placed a silver pot and mugs on the table: “Which it is coffee should the Captain want it, though he had best drink it afore there be none left of that, either.”

Stephen thanked him, laid down his bow, and took it upon himself to pour.

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