Character: Jack Aubrey “Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World”
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The fly was circling a plate of buttered biscuits. Round and round he flew. Just as he was about to land on an open jam jar, someone’s little hand swished it away.
Jack Aubrey relaxed. Why this little insect should drive him crazy…. He sat his large, muscular body back in the close-fitting white chair and tried to concentrate on the conversation at hand.
He hated being at these gatherings. Tea parties, picnics, dances–anything involving people on land was a prescription for disaster. “Land lummox”–that’s what they called him behind his back. At sea he was “a master”, “brilliant”, “genius”. On land he was the proverbial “bull in a china shop”.
In appearance Jack Aubrey was impressive. At 6’3”, he turned the heads of most women. His long blonde hair fell in layers framing his handsome face. He had deep blue eyes fringed with outrageously long lashes. Jack had a beautiful smile. He liked women; but he always felt insecure with ladies of culture and good breeding. He appreciated their beauty and delicate ways. When he was in their presence, he always tried too hard to impress them with his often ill-timed sense of humor. It always made him look oafish. He knew it, but couldn’t seem to stop himself.
Being a member of the Royal Navy automatically made him attractive to women of class–there was nothing like a man in uniform. And having the distinction of being a “hero” gave him instant invitations as they usually came from the wife, daughter, or some other relative of a naval officer.
At this moment, Jack was listening to Miss Catherine Parker talking about a poem she had read. Jack thought she was the loveliest woman he had ever seen. The way she spoke with her soft, gentle voice made his heart happy. He wished he could just sit and listen to her forever. She was very smart and could converse on a variety of topics. It was one of the things Jack admired about her. If he only had the ability to converse with her; but he was clumsy in speech and usually ended up inserting one or both feet in his mouth. So his attempts were few.
There were about twenty women of various sizes, shapes, and ages at this particular tea party. Interspersed among them were men of equally varied structures, most wearing some type of uniform. Jack’s friend, Stephen Maturin, was also present. He sympathized with Jack; knowing he’d rather be on the open sea. Stephen hoped this tea party would be without incident; things just seemed to “happen” when Jack was around.
That pesky fly was back; and he began buzzing around Jack. He tried to ignore it at first, as Catherine was speaking. She looked over at him and smiled warmly. Unknown to Jack, she had feelings for him. At first, Catherine thought they were brought on by physical attraction. He was, indeed, a handsome man.
Then she suspected his “hero” status had a bit to do with it. After all, how many 26-year olds held command of a ship and could already claim several victories? Lieutenant John Leslie Aubrey was the only one. A fact which should have made his General father proud of him.
Then she met Jack and had a few conversations with him. Despite the fact that his only education was received at sea, there were some non-nautical subjects he was quite knowledgeable about. Even though he stumbled over phrases and made bad jokes, there was a charm about him. She admired him because no matter how silly he sounded, he never gave up trying. He had an innocent enthusiasm she loved. Jack was a most respectful companion. Catherine found herself attending gatherings she really wasn’t interested in if she knew Jack would be there.
Finally the fly moved on to someone’s flowered hat.
Stephen Maturin watched his friend observing Catherine. He knew Jack liked her. Jack knew he was outclassed and felt as though he were suffering her with his presence. Stephen smiled at his friend’s humility. It was unexpected in a naval officer. He almost chuckled aloud at the even more absurd thought that two such opposite men as he and Jack Aubrey were friends. But that was another story.
Mrs. Parker called her daughter over to another table. As Catherine got up, Jack rose, almost taking the chair with him. Stephen knew Jack soon would be looking for an excuse to leave the party.
To his dismay, the fly made a comeback appearance right around Jack’s head. Stephen tensed up. He tried to wave and get his friend’s eye, but to no avail. Maybe he could engage him in conversation.
“Jack,” he called out. But the devil fly was not going to be robbed of Jack’s undivided attention. Please, Stephen thought, leave the fly alone. Jack didn’t catch Stephen’s thought, but the fly apparently did, as it flew on to the melon balls and out of Jack’s view.
Stephen breathed a sigh of relief. He looked to see who was sitting at his left. It was Miss Candice Appleby. Stephen smiled as she rambled on about six subjects in one sentence, babbling and gesturing to no one in particular.
Out of the corner of one eye, he saw Jack’s mammoth hand swing at the air, just missing contact with one of the hanging garden ornaments.
Stephen could see the frustration building on Jack’s countenance. Jack Aubrey had the patience to stand on the deck of a ship in the paralyzing cold for hours watching for pirates. He could remain in the same spot almost non-blinking for all those hours. Yet this insignificant winged menace was going to force his blood pressure to dangerous levels.
Catherine observed Stephen’s nervous concern and realized what was going on. Poor Lieutenant Aubrey, she thought. She proceeded to engage him in conversation–a daunting task in itself. One never knew what he would say.
“Lieutenant Aubrey, do you miss the sea?” she asked brightly.
“Yes!” he growled as the fly buzzed by his face again. A giggle escaped from Catherine’s lips. She couldn’t help it; Jack was such a wonderfully delicious combination of masculine energy, boyish curiosity, and innocent charm.
When Jack looked up and realized it was Catherine addressing him, he blushed.
“Pardon me, Miss Parker. This flying nuisance seems to be getting the best of me right now.” He smiled slightly, but shyly. She has such enormous green eyes, he thought.
“I’m sure you’ll gain the upper hand soon enough.”
“I’d like to shoot it,” he admitted.
The sight of such a large man aiming a loaded pistol at a fly sent Catherine into more giggles.
The sound of her merriment filled his heart with a feeling–he couldn’t identify it, but it was a good feeling, a satisfying feeling. Jack smiled again.
Catherine noticed Jack’s boot encased legs were arranged in an awkward position under the table. Obviously there wasn’t enough room for his long limbs to fit comfortably. She was about to suggest going for a walk and stretching, when someone interrupted.
“Catherine, dear.” It was her aunt. She proceeded to inquire about some cousin’s whereabouts.
Stephen looked up and saw Jack staring at the table top with fierce concentration. A wicked grin slowly came over his face and Stephen knew what was going to happen. Stephen stood up and opened his mouth to say something, but one of Jack’s massive hands was already on its way to the table palm down. The smack was deafening. Jack’s maniacal smile was soon replaced with a look of horror as the ten-foot table split down the middle and slowly both sides folded inward. It looked like the sides of the Red Sea falling back on the ancient Egyptians. Only instead of war chariots and errant soldiers being engulfed, the victims were tea cups and biscuits. Jack saw the whole episode in slow motion. It was actually quite graceful the way the cups and saucers slid together, mingling with the plates of buttered biscuits and melon balls, to be finally, joined by the collapsing tea pots and jam jars. All of it fell nicely into the large white tablecloth as it progressed into a clashing crescendo onto the newly cut lawn.
Before the mess hit the ground, a purple-faced Jack was standing, trying to pry the chair off him and desperately looking for a way out before the others recovered from the shock.
Maturin laughed to himself; it was up to him once more to get poor Jack out of trouble. He stood up and, circling the disaster area, took Jack by the arm.
“Uh, Lieutenant Aubrey, it’s 1:15. We’re supposed to be on the ship. The, ah, Admiral wants to see us.” Before the first sentence was out of his mouth, Jack had high-tailed it down the stone path leading to escape. Stephen stood there with an open mouth.
Amid the chaos, Catherine Parker looked up in time to see the retreating Lieutenant. She laughed aloud. It was the second time that she realized she had special feelings for Jack Aubrey.