WHEN TIME COLLIDED
By Atonia Walpole
Chapter 13...PART 1: JACK
Captain Jack Aubrey stood in front of the Old Admiralty building staring up at its imposing edifice. Maren stood beside him. They’d taken a stroll around the park, stopping to watch the pelicans for awhile before ending up here.
“This building is one you know, Captain?”
“I know it very well. Many is the time I have stood in its hallways waiting for an interview that would give me a commission…a ship. Waiting for old Jarvie.” He made a sound with his lips. “Ah, well.”
“No more waiting for ships. I am sorry for what I said to you at the bank.”
“No, no, what you said is true. It is a reality that I must face. I am a relic from a bygone era. Where I go from here…I do not know. However, if the auction goes as hoped, I will have a purpose for awhile.”
“Restoring your home.”
“Aye.” Jack turned and smiled. “My home. Yours as well.”
“Never, although I accept your generous offer, it will never be home to me.”
“It would seem to me that if I must let go of my past and look to the future, then so must you. We are not so unlike, you and I. I was also a warrior.”
“You fought Napoleon.”
“I fought his navy, not the man himself. Who is it you fight, Maren?”
“Thieves. I guard the world’s bank.”
“And have there been attempts to rob the bank?”
“Many tries. It holds the world's money so of course they try.”
“The world’s money…a fascinating idea. At least you were relevant.”
“Was, Captain. I am no longer relevant. I have no purpose here.” She shifted her weight. The too-small shoes hurt her feet. She found the clothing restrictive. “I think I would do better to be barefoot.”
“We must do something about your attire.”
“You mean, you will do something. I cannot do anything about anything.”
“Is it so terrible for you to lean on me when you have needs as I shall surely return the dependence when I have doubts and fears and need your help? We are both lost here, are we not?”
“I am sorry, Captain. I tend to lash out when I find myself at a disadvantage. Shoes would be a welcome gift. Thank you.”
Maren settled into a chair in the tea room, aware of her borrowed clothing as she looked around at the other women. She glanced at Jack, who she noticed was also uneasy in these surroundings.
Jack was unaware of the attention he was receiving from women and a few scattered men who’d lowered their glasses to have a better look at him. His hair had come loose from his borrowed coat and hung down his back in a long ponytail. He ordered tea from the young lady who handed him a handwritten menu.
“Is this a good idea, Captain?”
“Are you not thirsty?” A quick look around caused heads to turn back to their business but still a few pointed and talked across their tables. “Ignore them,” he said softly.
They made quick work of their teapot and the small sandwiches that accompanied the order. Jack put it down to the confined space and strangers but he felt the pressure ease once they were on the street again. He took her back to her hotel and had a word with the desk clerk about the lady needing proper clothing for this climate. There was nothing wrong with the climate but it was a good reason to send for a woman who would take Maren in hand to shop in the unfamiliar city.
Jack did not attend the auction. His grandson brought the news.
“An incredible amount, I daresay, the highest bid ever for Sotheby’s. You don’t looked pleased. I thought you’d be rolling.”
“Sorry, of course I’m pleased.” The Blue Peter stone was lost to him now and he reminded himself that Stephen would never know of the sale. “What comes next?”
“The money will be deposited in your bank account where you may draw on it as it pleases you.”
“I shall repay you for your kind help. You and your family shall want for nothing.”
“That is not necessary, Captain.”
“I think it is most certainly necessary. Now then, I believe I shall order a steak tonight, a large juicy steak and the finest bottle of wine to be had from the cellar. You will join me in this celebratory feast?”
The restoration of Ashgrove was in full sail. It had grown, in Jack’s lifetime, from a mean two story cottage to a rather nice mansion, however incomplete as his fortunes rose and sank with prize money. Two wings had sprung out from the original house and later expanded to a second story so that it presented a rather formidable face. When Jack had last set eyes on Ashgrove the two upper stories above the wings were incomplete, as in lacking completed interior walls, little more than a shell of rooms.
He was dealing with plumbers and electricians, two such trades completely unfamiliar to him. His grandson sent a project manager out to oversee the restoration, giving Jack a much needed reprieve. Maren, not satisfied to remain idle, threw herself into helping strip layers of wallpaper. It was something physical to do and she needed the outlet for her frustrations.
Two bedrooms were more or less complete, only needing proper lighting. They were sparsely furnished but serviceable. Some original furnishings were donated by family members and sat huddled beneath dust clothes in the main reception room waiting for the plasterers to finish their jobs. A new kitchen had been built after Jack’s time and it was now modernized with a gas stove and a ice box, hot and cold water and a cook, who was the mother of one of the workers. After a short time she was joined by her husband and they set up house in two rooms off the kitchen hall.
Jack’s dream of Ashgrove was coming together and with it the dawning realization that his purpose was also ending. He was still a young man in his late thirties with years of seaman’s experience behind him, experience that was not needed anymore.
“I know nothing else,” he said, casting his eyes seaward where the hazy sky met the sea so that they became indistinguishable one from the other. He and Maren had climbed the hill behind his house and were resting in the grass. “Once the house is complete then what am I to do?”
“Racehorses? Didn’t you once have a stable full?”
Jack chuckled. “I have never been lucky on land. I did boast of a racer but what an unlucky fellow. He was mean, the meanest horse I’ve ever laid eyes upon. I was hard put to find a jockey for him. Whatever prize money he won for me was lost in paying for fines and medical bills for the rider or other handlers who tried to stable him. I’ve never been lucky on land, Maren. When I was in the money I was happy, but somehow I always managed to make bad investments.”
“Are you sure you are not doing the same thing again? I see you write out checks for work done without looking to see if it was actually completed. You pay for materials and do not check the see if they are what was ordered. You are too trusting, Captain. You believe no one will cheat you because you are an amiable fellow. It is true, you are not a businessman and should not attempt to be one.”
Jack looked affronted for a moment but then realized what she said was true. “I bow to your perception of me.”
“I am surprised that you devote all your time to this house, this board and plaster, when your true love is out there on the sea. Why do you not build a boat? Why not buy a boat? You cannot captain a man of war but you can sail. You are in a different time but the sea does not know that, does it?”
She was not dressed in workman’s coveralls today. She still wore pants but they were topped by a sweater molded to her feminine shape. Her hair had grown out and she had it tied back with a silk scarf. The wind on the hilltop teased tendrils out from the scarf and they blew around her face. The face could be hard and without feeling but today the mask was off. She had a genuine affection for Jack. Friendship grew between them. Though neither of them had crossed the line that sometimes waivered and broke and then reformed, that line that separated friendship from something else, something sexual. It was there for both of them, separate on either side of the line, waiting for something.
“Would you sail with me?” he asked quietly after a minute or two.
She narrowed her eyes. His seemed bluer today; maybe it was the light. “I have never sailed on water.”
“I could teach you.”
“Is there much to learn?”
“For you I think…yes. Shall I buy a boat?”
She moistened her lips. “Yes, and…I will sail with you.”
He reached out and touched her face slightly with the backs of his fingers. She didn’t pull away. She clasped her hand over his and turned her face so that her lips touched his palm. Neither of them moved after that. She held onto his hand, unable to meet his eyes.
“I wish to learn, Captain. I wish to learn your ways.”
“My name is Jack.”
He let his hand slide to the back of her neck and leaned over and kissed her, pressing her lips with his and touching them with the tip of his tongue. It occurred to him that she’d never been kissed before. She didn’t appear to know how it was properly done. He kissed her again, pulling her against him, shifting his body closer. She was limp in his arms. “Have you never loved anyone?”
“Put your arms around me.”
She did and he slowly lay her down on the grass. He let a hand wander over her soft sweater, finding her breasts to knead. He looked down into her eyes and felt a sudden rush of guilt. Who was he to…
“Why do you stop?” He’d pulled away and turned his head towards the sea.
“I’m not sure. It didn’t seem right. You are an innocent and I feel like an old lecher groping for your, um, womanly, er…”
“I did not ask you to stop. You are not old, Jack.”
In any case he was past the heated passion he’d felt a few moments ago. “I’m sorry.”
“I am not so innocent. I do know what happens between a man and a woman. It has never happened to me because I did not wish it to happen. There was never anyone that I felt close to as I do you.”
“Perhaps it is not the right time. This land, this place…it carries so many memories for me. It was where I brought my bride, where my children were born.”
She sat up, adjusted the scarf on her hair, and taking a deep breath, stood up. “You fear that you will be unfaithful to your dead wife. Well, I pity you, Jack Aubrey. It is a long and lonely life you will lead here at Ashgrove surrounded by ghosts of a past life that you can never recover.”
He turned but she’d already started running down the hillside. He stayed on the hill until the sun sank beneath the sea.
The next morning Jack got a ride into the town with his cook’s husband, who owned a motorcar. He was a mechanic, he said, and had built the car from odd parts. Jack held onto the seat as they bounced along the country roads.
He paid a call on his grandson, John Aubrey’s, place of business.
John shook his hand and patted his back. “Good to see you, Sir. Good to see you. Is everything all right out at Ashgrove? Coming along, is it?”
“Yes, it’s coming along splendidly. Of course with the noise it does make for difficulties, and the dust, you know.”
John looked concerned. “I’m sorry to hear that but you know I’m living with the same thing at our house. Thanks to you, Sir, we are expanding our home.”
Jack smiled. “A sympathetic ear. Well, what I have in mind is a sailboat. I see them out in the harbor all the time. I am envious of the sailors and I want my own boat.”
“Hmm, I’m not that familiar with boats but I’m sure you know exactly what you want. Uh, let me contact a fellow I know and we’ll see if he has any suggestions.”
After lunch shared with his grandson, Jack was put in contact with a boat builder and he went to see him about a boat. At the boatyard, Jack was more at home. Though the boats under construction and the ones in the water were different from what he knew, the names were basically the same.
“I once had a cutter. It was painted blue. The blue cutter it was.”
“Make you a good price on it,” the man said, housing his hands in the pockets of his coverall.
“Not exactly what I was looking for. What’s this?” He climbed over the side of a boat under construction.
“It’s called a cat, not sure why. It’s on the order of an American boat. You thinking about racing her?”
“No, I was thinking about living aboard for awhile.”
“Takes a crew of 4-5 men, good strong ones and an agile monkey.”
“I’d like to see the quarters.”
“Down the ladder then.”
It was a dream of a boat to Jack but more than he was looking to buy. He wanted something he could sail alone without having to hire a crew. He talked to the man for awhile then was shown a ketch in the water with 49 feet of teak decking. It had a good roomy cabin with everything he would need, good storage spaces and a nice bunk. He was a big man and he’d have plenty of room. It wanted a thorough scrubbing and a paint job. Jack wished to see it out of the water before he parted with any money. It was arranged that he’d come back the next day and they’d have it out for his inspection. It was with a sense of regret that he finally parted with the shipyard. The smell of lumber and tar, hemp and varnish, the sheer number of watercraft, boosted him up and he needed a boost.
Though he’d preferred to spend the night in a hotel, he stayed with his grandson. John’s house was in more turmoil than his own. He was early at the shipyard and watched the sailboat being hoisted from the water. Seaweed hung from the bottom of the boat. His keen eye went over it, pointing out repairs that would be needed. “Clean her up, give her a paint job and she’s mine.”
All the particulars were worked out and in the meantime while he waited for his boat to be ready, he bought the little cutter and took her out into the channel far enough to forget he wasn’t the captain of a man of war. He sailed about most of the day only coming in because he had forgotten to supply himself with drink and food. He relied on his grandson to take him back to Ashgrove.
“You’ve got the sun in your face,” Maren noticed.
“I took your advice. I’ve bought a sailboat and a small cutter, which I would like for you to come out with me and see how you go on the water.”
She looked shocked. “You want me to sail?”
“You did say you would. Have you changed your mind?”
“No, I said I would go with you and so I will.”
“The sailboat is being serviced and while it undergoes its paint and polish, I’ll take you out in the cutter. We shall paint it blue…cutters should be blue.”
She had no idea what he was talking about.
“So, you should pack some clothes. We can pick up food and water in the town. I expect it will take no more than three days for my sailboat to be ready. In the meantime, I will teach you to sail.”
She met his eyes over the dust covered furniture. “I wish to learn your ways. When do we leave?”
ON TO PART 13B: BEN
BACK TO PARTS 7 THROUGH 12
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