Since Twelfth Night shows up repeatedly in my books, and that is tonight, and since I’m still behind on putting together posts of import, I thought I’d give you an odd little piece of fanfiction I wrote back between Time Goes By and Not Time’s Fool, crossing my universe with that of Patrick O’Brian’s Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, which is relevant because of the references to T.S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi,” and also because “Mr. Solomon” and his complications figure significantly in Not Time’s Fool.
You might enjoy this story more if you’ve read some O’Brian, but it spoils only minor plot points, so don’t be afraid if you haven’t. It’s set during The Far Side of the World, not that that matters greatly unless you are a stickler for continuity, and in that case you should look again at the introduction to that book and the reference to “hypothetical years” such as “an 1812a as it were or even an 1812b.” Solomon/Friedman/etc. appears to have taken that flexibility to heart.
Dona Nobis Pacem
Do-o-na, no-o-bis, pa-a-cem, pacem…
The old melody rose and fell under Stephen’s bow like the Atlantic waves. Jack, having played his part in the round twice through, left Stephen to boom away and began to improvise on the theme, tentatively at first and then, having hit on a variation he liked, with increasing enthusiasm. He had initially been reluctant to satisfy their companion’s request, though certainly not because he was unable to play the simple tune—perhaps due instead to the professional warrior’s instinctual avoidance of prayers for peace.
In any case he was enjoying himself now, forgetting at least for a short while the troubles of uniting the Surprise‘s new crew and bringing them up to his standards of gunnery, as well as plotting their journey’s course. It was the first time since Gibraltar that their passenger had joined them for music—he did not play himself, he would only be in the way—though he had been convivial enough at the captain’s table and that of the gunroom, and had made several witty contributions at today’s dinner for the captains of the Indiamen. But tonight he had… no, Stephen thought, insinuated himself was not too strong an expression. And he had not waited to be asked what he wanted to hear.
Jack drew his acrobatics to a close—such as they were; somersaults and prancing on the toes, but quite enough spectacle for the cabin—and returned from the lofty heights to join Stephen in a final unison verse. Violin and cello sang sweetly together to the last bowstroke, and their guest burst into applause.
“I cannot think when I have heard it played so well; and without even a score in front of you. My profound thanks.”
“Not at all, Mr. Solomon,” said Jack, returning his instrument to its case. “Another glass of sillery? And might I call for toasted cheese? Killick!” He raised his voice. “Killick, there!”
“Which it’s coming,” sounded faintly from beyond the cabin door, and then silence settled over the musicians and their audience, and even as Jack tilted the bottle toward Solomon’s glass, Stephen could see his face change as cares descended once more. Something Muffit had said about the tradewinds: Stephen could not recall, but Jack in all certainty could not forget.
“Toasted cheese, for all love?” he said, to be saying something. “As if the pudding at dinner had not been enough to line our bellies.”
Jack’s expression grew abstracted. “Splendid, wasn’t it?” he said.
“Indeed,” said Solomon. “And a happy Christmas to both you gentlemen.”
“But it ain’t—” began Jack, his brows drawing together.
“It was a Christmas pudding,” said Stephen. “And so I suppose in some sense the feast of the Nativity is proclaimed, at least in our innards and those of the captains of the Indiamen. But, sir, I had not thought—” He stopped. Their guest had been introduced to them, by no less than Sir Francis Ives himself, with Stephen’s contact Mr. Pocock hovering in the background, as Emmanuel Solomon, an unlikely name to Stephen’s mind, but not one that cried “spy” with the vigor of your common and garden Smith. As an alias, however, it was Hebraic enough. Not perhaps politic to point that out; but he had gone too far already.
“I am one-quarter a Jew, but on my father’s side, and my child self was immersed in the teachings of Martin Luther, insofar as they permeated a skeptical exterior. But Christmas pudding presents to me no theological dilemma. In fact,” said Solomon, raising his glass, “I will drink to the happy event; shall we be shepherds or kings?”
“No following stars with the sky as it is tonight,” said Jack, concern seeping back into his voice. “Pray we get some rain out of it… but yes. The happy event.” He drank.
“Children are such a blessing,” said Solomon. “Do you know, I believe I have met your heir.” The statement, not aimed at Jack in particular, was obviously addressed to him, and met with his usual broad smile.
“You’ve seen young George, have you? And when, pray, and how?”
“Oh…” Solomon waved a hand vaguely. “Some little while back. Yes. George.” His mouth curled: a private expression of humor. But he said nothing else. Jack looked torn, politeness finally winning out over curiosity about the doings of Sophie and the children. Stephen was not indifferent to such news, though he would better have liked to know when Solomon had last been in England, and what he had been doing there. But the whole manner of his coming aboard and his journey with them precluded questions.
“Christmas pudding any day of the year,” Solomon mused. “It would never do on land, but the sea has its own chronology, a perpetual sailing toward, as though it were always Twelfth Night and never Epiphany, and we always had pudding left over. Yes, that explains a great deal. Do you count the days, Captain?”
Jack frowned. “I keep the ship’s log,” he said.
“I suppose that is the best thing to do. So you will know precisely how many days between Gibraltar and Mindelo, if not how many days it takes to go around the sun, nor how long it takes to reach Bethlehem at just the worst time of the year. Which it always seems to be.”
The frown deepened, and perplexity resolved into confession. “Mr. Solomon, in regard to our stopping at the Cape Verdes—”
“The wind is not favorable for such an enterprise. I am not a sailor, but I did comprehend that much. Let us bow to the wind’s tyranny, then.”
“But you hardly wish to travel on to Brazil,” said Stephen. “It would put you somewhat out of your way, to say the least.”
“My way is… an expansive sort of object, rather like this year. I will try not to drink more than my share of the precious water. There are better liquids.” He held out his glass invitingly, and Jack filled it.
“No one awaits you in Mindelo, then?” asked Stephen, persisting.
“Awaits me, no; I should not think so,” Solomon said. “I do have a purpose in traveling there; I can’t afford not to. One only lives so long. Though I seem to have discovered a temporary amelioration of the effects of time.” He raised his glass. “To eighteen thirteen,” he said. “And to epiphanies, and the perpetual strivings for peace never answered. Dona nobis pacem, but please God, not yet.”
“I will drink to that, indeed,” responded Jack, “and to your health, Mr. Solomon.” After some hesitation, Stephen followed his example. “And we shall deliver you to Mindelo if the wind allows us.”
“Do not trouble yourself unnecessarily,” said Solomon. “A different path may occur to me. I thank you for your company, and now I believe I will take a turn on deck, and leave you gentlemen to your music and toasted cheese. A lovely night, the waves shallow and the weather mild.” He rose carefully and make them a little bow, then went out the door.
After a moment, Jack cleared his throat. “Haydn in G?”
But it did not answer; Jack’s distraction returned upon him, and their harmonies suddenly dissolved into discord, Stephen crying out in indignation immediately regretted at Jack’s apology. “No, it will not do,” he said. “I have made up my mind; either Solomon shall miss his rendezvous, or we shall miss ours, and the latter seems a good deal worse. Will you come on deck, then, while I give the order?”
Stephen stood out of the way while the sails were adjusted and the Surprise shifted to her new heading; only then did it occur to him to look about for Solomon. Nowhere to be seen, not by peering through the black night, and not, reported the midshipman Jack sent to find him, in his cabin either, nor in the head. And no one seemed to have taken much notice of his comings and goings, the sailors’ eyes shifting uneasily when asked.
“Not that there are not a dozen other places he might be,” said Jack, “and we might wait until morning to give him the bad news, if he is found, but… Mr. Mowett!” he called.
“Sir?” said the lieutenant.
“Something is amiss about Mr. Solomon. I do not ask you, as your superior officer, to report to me anything but the facts of the matter, which I gather are as scanty as needles in camel’s eyes”—Jack paused minutely, and then continued—”but if it is a matter of poor eyesight, then the doctor is the one to hear your symptoms.”
He removed himself to the windward rail. Mowett glanced at Stephen and then away, pale-faced in the dark. “Not poor eyesight exactly, doctor,” he said. “I saw him plain enough when he spoke to me.”
“What did he tell you?”
“Poetry. Or so he said; I couldn’t find the rhymes in it, nor the meter. ‘Traveling all night, sleeping in snatches, with the voices singing in our ears, saying this was all folly.’ Maybe it was a translation. Something about birth and death, and how you couldn’t rightly tell one from the other, and he might be glad of another death. Tell you honestly, sir, it frightened me.” This from a man who had faced down gales and broadsides, and told their stories with glee afterwards. “And then he said…”
“What, Mr. Mowett?”
“He asked me how often we saw other ships, and I said, well, the Indiamen sir, but not for days before that. Did the Navy’s ships travel the same passages often, he asked, and I explained about the trades as best I could. And then… it was odd… he said, so if this were another year, another ship might be in this same space, riding this same swell so to speak. And I said I thought that might be so. It would make a good poem, sir.”
“It would at that.”
“Our fathers’ ships, and our sons’. Something like that.” Despite the darkness, Stephen could tell Mowett had blushed. “He didn’t say much of anything more, sir. ‘A hard journey,’ I think I heard—not that it is tonight, splendid to be moving again—but I thought he meant Brazil, and then the captain called out with the new orders, and I repeated them for the crew, and when I turned back Mr. Solomon was gone.”
“Well, not on deck any longer, sir. I thought he’d gone below.”
Stephen hesitated, then asked, “Did you hear a splash?”
Mowett looked suddenly terrified. “I don’t think I would have, sir.” No, the rushing of feet and the creaking of the rigging would have covered it. But Stephen thought there had been one.
“Thank you,” he said to Mowett, and turned toward Jack. He was only a silhouette in the dark, but his head was bowed, gazing down at the sea.
“Will you give the order to send out the boats?” said Stephen very quietly, joining him.
“Of course,” said Jack. “I could hardly do otherwise.” But he did not stir.
After a moment, Stephen said, “There ought to have been three parts for our round. Perhaps Mr. Martin—”
“I shouldn’t care to play it again,” said Jack.
“No.” Stephen breathed in the dark wind, already dropping to breeze, and said, “Shall I see you below, then?”
Without waiting for formal dismissal, he returned to a cabin redolent of toasted cheese and of the journey’s long days ahead, and of peace asked for and not given. But it was always worth asking once more.