Title Comfort and Joy
Word Count 686
This is a Christmas offering for Perfect Duet. It is still early afternoon of the 8th for me. I am in time, barely. This is a kind of AU where Mr Hollum does not die. I like Mr Hollum. None of us are the men or women we hope to be all the time. I think last year I wrote about him too. This is the same world as last year's 'Mr Hollum's Christmas.'
The bells of morning had come with sleet from the North, and a wordless teeth bared struggle with sail and wind.
Dr Maturin had awakened this morning, noted the date in his case book, and waited. Since then he had sutured one split brow, and splinted one broken wrist. (The skin not being broken, therefore more a matter of pushing the mush and bone into something like the correct alignment and hoping for the best.) Neither man had displayed anything more than a gasp, and a reflexive gappy toothed grin. Stephen reflected again on the stoic nature of sailors.
“Doctor?” This was another Naval habit, this diffident pause at his door, as if he would deny entry. He lifted his gaze and smiled.
“Mr Blakeney, have you come to see my nudebrach?”
“Oh, no Sir. That is-- I would like to see it but--” Blakeney held out his hand, his remaining hand. It was actually quite clean. He showed Stephen the blackened nail.
“A small matter. I bruised the nail. I need to do the hot pin trick, and I--”
“And you need another hand to do it with.”
“Aye Sir, I do.”
Stephen got busy with the flame and the pin. He used his body to block his motions from Blakeney's sight. Best they didn't see more than they had to. In this case, of course it mattered not. They routinely did this for themselves.
Blakeney's hand was warm and steady in his own. They watched the pin burn down and the first bead of blood appear. Stephen felt him sigh.
“Thank you, Sir. That feels much better.”
“Try to keep it clean.”
Stephen took the opportunity to squeeze the healthy thumbnail and watch the blanch come back to pink. Good and brisk. Six weeks post amputation, Mr Blakeny had grown an inch, his smile had come back. He was eating everything in sight. His health flourished.
“Christmas tomorrow.” Blakeny said.
“Indeed it is.”
“There might be ham. Hollum says maybe will be boiled pudding with brandy sauce too. Do you think so?”
“I think it likely.”
“Oh-- I can't wait!”
There was time then to admire the nudebranch. Blakeny departed, wreathed in clouds of imagined ham.
There would be time later to write up notes. God be praised, it had been a quiet day. Surprise was moving with a regular rocking horse motion. Nose down, tail up, tail down, nose up. He found this more easy to take than the one that Jack called 'roll.' Roll led to falls and breaks and bruises.
Stephen paused at the top of the ladder. The deck was clear and quiet. Now was the hour before dinner. In warmer times this would be the hour for skylarking, for sitting on the sunny deck. But on a cold day like this, the sailors showed a catlike ability to seek warm spots. They were wedged in, he knew, below decks, with old tales to tell, with books, with rope-yarn and mending, with old letters saved for moments alone. On deck the wind was cold. Only Mr Hollum stood in the bow, telescope under his arm. The wind had reduced to little puffs of dampness. The sun was setting, pale over Stephen's left shoulder.
“God rest ye merry gentlemen,
let nothing you dismay...”
And why not? Nobody said you could not sing on watch. The sound was low. He sang for himself alone. There was nothing ahead but more gray sea, waves tipped with white, regular now, away into the cold distance. A man was a small thing, wrapped in blue wool, beneath the sea and sky. A small defiant thing, like a steady flame, in all that cold. Hollum, thinking of brandy pudding.
“...When we had gone astray
Tidings of comfort and joy...
His voice was true and pure. No reason at all for the hair to rise on Stephen's arms and neck. But after all, he would not go out onto the deck now. He turned away, and went below again.