For Derek. This takes place two days after the bees in The Importance of Bees.
The less said about the grave temptation to call this The Importance of Sausages, the better.
* * *
Where There Was Discord
* * *
"You're off your rocker, that's what it is," said Dundas. Despite his obvious annoyance, he spoke with a certain measure of satisfaction: the quiet satisfaction of an intellectual task shown what for, like that experienced by a man who has worked out a particularly tricky clue in the Times crossword.
"And I'll tell you why," he continued. "It's the poison in those bee stings. It's made you absolutely barmy. Bats in the belfry. They'd roll out the red carpet and set out the good china if you showed up at Colney Hatch."
Jack prodded the fire, ignoring these imprecations. His responsibility it was to make the toast, and it was a task for which he, being a boy with particular tastes when it came to tea, liked the utmost concentration. Maturin had been entrusted with the task of providing the sausages -- he had, in fact, insisted on it before taking his leave of Jack at the door of his study two days ago. While Jack suspected Maturin's anxiety to do his bit had more to do with the malevolent glare Dundas had directed him upon Jack's repeating his invitation to tea than Jack would have liked, he was not a boy to look a gift horse in the mouth when it offered him sausages.
"Don't stop talking rot if it'll hurt you," he said with an absent-minded kindness, for his thoughts were elsewhere, lingering with some regret upon the violin he had left at home. He had that morning found shoved under his study door a score of a concerto by Corelli. Though familiar with the piece he had yet to play it, fancying it beyond his ability, but the pages were covered with a crabbed scrawl Jack did not need to have seen before to recognise. It simplified the score to an extent that Jack thought it might be worth trying, if he could find an instrument. There were imperfections, of course, inconsistencies which he would have to draw to Maturin's attention, but Jack had no serious disagreement with his alterations, and he thought they might do very well together. Consequently he was in a buoyant mood, and looked smilingly upon Dundas's rambling irritation, as a contentedly pipe-smoking Jove who had wandered out after a hearty meal of nectar and ambrosia at the club might have looked down from Olympus on the discontented mortals below.
"You can't give this sort of chap an inch, you know," said Dundas. "He'll take a mile, and sneak a couple more into his pocket to keep for dinner."
"Maturin," said Jack, "is sound. You should have seen the chap when we were running from those bees. You never saw the like."
"Shouldn't think the chap can run," said Dundas.
"Well, no, not to speak of," Jack admitted. "But he's no funk. You might have thought we were jogging cross-country for our health. He was still burbling about the habits of the European honeybee when we got to the shed, like a jolly -- like a jolly etymologist. I should think he knows a frightful lot about that sort of thing."
"And that's something to be proud of, is it?" said Dundas.
"It's a sight more than you know, I expect," said Jack, but he spoke without malice. In the margins of one of the ink-stained pages had been written, in small script, I am absurdly sleepy, the 'y' trailing off with a feeling drowsiness. It had touched Jack, though he could not have said why.
"I say," he said now, "if you bar him so awfully, you needn't stick around. You can have tea with some of the other fellows and I'll make your excuses. I shouldn't have invited him if I'd thought it'd make you so sick, honestly."
"It's not that I bar him exactly," said Dundas quickly. It was beginning to sink in that objecting to Stephen Maturin might not be the best course of conduct for a man who wished to retain Jack's good opinion. "But you must admit he's no notion of manners."
"It ain't cheek," Jack explained. "I can't explain it really. Maturin's like one of those things you find in the woods."
Dundas looked doubtful.
"What, deer and toadstools and that sort of thing?"
"Those things that robins have a lot to do with," Jack tried.
Jack's brow creased with intellectual effort, but before he could get it a knock sounded on the door. Dundas leapt to open it, with all the readiness of a man who, despite not having the fullest understanding of the new world order into which he has been flung, is determined nonetheless to be first in on any celebratory parades. His jaw dropped.
"Hullo!" said Jack, looking around. "Dundas has just put the kettle on, so -- I say!"
"Would you hold this, please?" said Maturin. He shoved something at Dundas without looking at him; with both his hands free it was easier for him to handle the sausage.
"I've only got the one," he added apologetically once he and sausage were safely inside.
Jack found his voice.
"That's all right," he managed. "I say, Maturin, where on earth did you get that?"
"My godfather sent it from Catalonia, along with some other tuck," said Maturin, with modest pride. "It's a whopper, isn't it?"
"I should think it'd do for three teas," said Dundas. His heart was won.
"It's a bit grubby, though, isn't it?" said Jack, eyeing the sausage critically. As little as he wished to offend his guest, Jack preferred as a rule to ingest as little mud as possible, and the sausage was in such a state that he felt it was fair comment.
Maturin seemed to agree.
"It's been shuffled around a bit," he allowed. He brought out a handkerchief, apparently with some idea of effecting clean-up. Jack took a look at the handkerchief and decided to intervene. He had no intention of spending the rest of his term brought low by food poisoning in the San.
"Well, bung it over, then," he said hastily. "You'd best get on with making the tea, Dundas."
"What's this you've given me?" said Dundas, peering at the object in his hands. Maturin relieved him of it. He had gone a dull red.
"It's nothing," he said. "Only the woman I told you about, Aubrey, said I could have her pater's old violin if I thought I'd have any use for it. It's not my instrument for choice, so I thought I'd bring it over."
He held the violin out to Jack, not looking at him. Jack took it. The instrument had seen better days, but its strings shone with newness. Jack plucked one, unsure of his own reaction. It was perfectly tuned.
"Oh, heaven save us," said Dundas. "You're not going in for that squeaking and sawing again, Aubrey? That'll make Harte jump."
"I put in new strings," said Maturin awkwardly. Jack's invitation had originally been for tea the day before, but Maturin had begged off, citing an engagement. Jack had been inclined to feel hurt -- he could not very well see how a boy with no friends could have any sort of previous engagement -- but the score under his door had more or less laid to rest any affront. This did the rest of the job.
"You can have it, or not," Maturin went on, his scowl of embarrassment growing fiercer. It did not add much to the beauty of his countenance. "It's no great odds."
"Thanks," said Jack, clearing his throat. "It would have been a frightful bother to have mine sent from home."
Maturin studied his feet with an intense interest.
"That's all right," he said.
The kettle was whistling. Dundas was surreptitiously engaged in removing as much of the dirt from the sausage as he could. Happiness filled Jack, as a gust of wind billows a sail: there was something of the same flowing, easy joy in both things, the brave white curve of sail against sky and sea, the smell of toast and the line of Maturin's bowed head.
"I say," said Jack. "That Corelli piece -- it's awfully good. You wouldn't mind us having a go at it some time?"
Maturin looked up, startled. After a moment he smiled.
"I've no objection," he said.
If you look in The Unfinished Voyage, there is, in the margins of one of the pages of Patrick O'Brian's original written manuscript, a note to much the same effect as that ascribed to Stephen Maturin in this story.
The handwriting, of course, is different.