The Transit of Venus, an Aubreyad drabble
“Stephen, dear, what could possibly be so important that you insist on missing our last dinner at sea? Killick has made a capital pudding with the last of my stores, or, more probably, with what he has bargained from the crew and the devil, ho ho.”
“The transactions of the Royal Society regarding Cook’s observation of the transit of Venus in Tahiti, if you must know. I am to meet with poor Green’s widow and son when we alight tomorrow in England, and I feel so badly for the poor fellow that I must have the facts right when my colleagues revisit the question as they have promised to.”
“Could it truly not be delayed for one night?”
“Really, Jack, as a sailor, you should of all people appreciate the importance of one of the rarest astronomical events in our history, and one that Green apparently so cruelly botched. Your insensitivity is perfectly monstrous.” Stephen made no move from his desk, instead staring insolently at the guttering lamp.
“Surely you see ‘Venus in transit’ every time your wife goes from the bath to the dressing room, ha ha ha!” Jack, astonished at his own wit, shook with mirth while the lamp wobbled dangerously on the edge of the table.
Then, realizing his misstep like a sudden squall, he panicked.
“Damme—I’m terribly sorry—I didn’t mean to—have made a perfect bollocks of it—one of my ghastly attempts at—”
“My dear, kindly do not fret yourself overboard. I know very well that my wife is a creature of exquisite beauty. And I am not so foolish as to forget the time when you, too, were hull-down in her sights.” Stephen, in his turn, was immensely proud of his nautical allusion. Jack was too ashamed and flustered to correct him.
But, Jack noticed, when Stephen returned his gaze to the page, was there not a trifle more crease to his forehead? Were his lips not pursed more rigidly than before? Jack, like a wounded dog, repaired to his hallowed quarterdeck to pace and worry.
He felt quite ridiculous. A captain, on his own ship, wallowing in such humiliation! His mind wandered for an instant to the dressing room of Diana Villiers, and he tore himself from it in horror, redoubling his guilt. Transit of Venus indeed.
…this turned out a lot more depressing than I had intended it to.