For a couple of 19th Century gentlemen, Commander William Marshall and Lt. David Archer have been surprisingly ready to accept the notion that people in the 21st Century might be interested in their lives. I say as much. Lt. Archer, leans back in his chair and shrugs.
Davy: And why not? I would leap at the chance to speak to Shakespeare, if he would explain the truth of the gentleman to whom he wrote his sonnets. The war in which we have been engaged must be important in your own history, and therefore interesting. Since you are addressing me in English, I venture to guess that England triumphed in her disagreement with Bonaparte?
LR: Yes, though it will be a long, bitter struggle. You were both right-the Peace of Amiens was only a break in the battle.
They are a study in contrasts-Will tall and slender, with dark eyes and what might be called a poet’s face, his gypsy-black hair still gathered in the old-fashioned sailor’s queue, David a little shorter but strongly built, thick blond hair cut in a neat cap that has the length of Regency fashion but not the affected classical style. But they both lean forward, the question written on their faces.
Will asks it: But England will win?
LR: Yes, decisively.
The gentlemen relax, exchange a smile, and Commander Marshall asks me to commence.
The first question is for him. One of the readers is curious to know what he would dream of spending his prize money on.
Will: (After a moment’s hesitation) I have no idea, really. The prize money sits in the bank. I am not one of those fools who risk all on a throw of the dice. You may think it strange, but my needs are very simple, and my pay is sufficient to cover them. A few pounds now and then, for a comfortable room and good food when we’re ashore, a Christmas treat for my crew… Someday, I suppose, when I leave the Service, I shall want a home, but that day seems a long way off. And-forgive me, ma’am, but most sailors do not make old bones. Ask me that question again, in twenty years’ time, and I may have an answer.
Davy: He’ll have a tidy fortune. Our prize agent is an honest man, and a clever one. We might find a quiet little place somewhere….
LR: : Would that be your choice-a home together, ashore?
Davy: Oh, yes, but I fear it’s a forlorn hope. I’ve grown a bit cynical on the subject of honor and glory-public honor, at least, as opposed to the personal sort-but I do not think I could coax Commander Marshall away from the Navy.
LR: Commander Marshall?
Will: Why hope for something we can never attain? You say that in your time, in England, we might live together openly. (He reaches out, unconsciously, and Davy takes his hand.) In our lifetime, that would be impossible.
LR: I’m afraid you’re right-and even two hundred years later, such freedom is not universal. But if we can move to a happier subject, a reader would like to know how you feel about one another. What do you think of Lt. Archer, sir?
Will: I … pardon me, but that seems a very bold question!
Davy: (grinning) The Commander is very shy, ma’am. Let me just step out of the room for a few moments, so my presence will not inhibit him! (leaves)
Will: (looks after him as though he’s about to leap up and leave, then settles back) What do I think of him? I have no words for that, he is the one whose head is full of poetry.
LR: Is it fair to say you hold him in high regard?
Will: Regard? Really, madam, regard? He is like my breath. Until we became … intimate, I do not think I was truly alive, and for all the joy he has given me, there is an equal measure of fear. (He is silent for a little while, then shakes his head.) As you apparently know, he has insisted upon staying in the Service with me, despite-what befell him last year. Mr. Archer has much more courage than I do. I tell you, I do not know what I should do if he were to be wounded again, or worse. I truly do not know if I will be able to command him in battle, when the Peace is broken.
LR: I thought you settled that question between yourselves, aboard the Mermaid.
Will: You could more accurately say he settled it. In my more sensible moments, I hope that I might be killed first, so that he would go ashore, out of harm’s way. If I had more sense and more self-discipline, I should send him away for his own safety and my peace of mind. I cannot. (He rises abruptly, glancing off to the next room.) I can say no more. Shall I send him in to spill all our secrets?
He nods, and walks out. After a moment, Davy enters and reclaims his chair. I almost feel I should warn him of his lover’s misgivings, but that seems unfair. I find I need not have worried.
Davy: Poor Will. He’s still fretting over that target painted on my back, is he not?
LR: Well, you did nearly die, after all. He’s much more worried about you than about himself.
Davy: Yes. Silly, isn’t it? I don’t suppose you could reassure him-no, of course not. Even if you said we’ll both survive, he’d never believe you! But please, do go on with your questions.
LR: It’s the same question I asked him-what do you think of Will?
Davy: How many hours do we have? (He grins, and I suddenly see why Will is so conflicted-this man has a smile that shuts down rational thought and turns the pheromones up to Warp 6. If I weren’t happily married … and his boyfriend didn’t have a cutlass and pistol…)
LR: As long as you need, but the sooner we’re finished, the more time you’ll have to yourselves-I reserved this room for you for the whole weekend.
Davy: Ah! Well, then-excellent Captain, good manners, lovely in bed-will that be all? (laughs) He is the most attractive man I’ve ever known, and he does not realize how handsome he is, which I find endearing. He is truly honorable-and believe me, I’ve seen far too many despicable gentlemen to know how rare that honor is. Will wants to make the world right. He thinks himself a cynic, but underneath it all he has a very tender heart.
LR: And what about yourself?
Davy: Oh, I am a cynic; I expect the worst, so when life gives me a surprise, it’s generally a pleasant one. Will himself has been the grandest surprise of my life-he deserves to be knighted for his prowess in the bedchamber, as you have reported at great length.
He raises an eyebrow, as if inviting me to comment on the double entendre, but I just nod.
LR: Anything else?
Davy: I would like to grow old with him. Passion is glorious, but I think as time goes on, the physical expression diminishes and, if one is fortunate, the affection remains. It seems so with my parents, at least. I envy them their long life together, because I doubt I will ever be so lucky. Will is utterly fearless in battle. He seems able to step outside himself, takes risks he would never require of another. I fear that he may one day take one chance too many. As he said himself, that is the most likely ‘future’ for us both. I know that such anxiety is considered unworthy of a true man, but as my father has often observed, I have many such ‘unmanly’ faults.
LR: Will has said he’d like to see you leave the Navy.
Davy: I know. But, really, leave? And go… where? With whom? If I were to leave him, we might never meet again, or if we did, we might not even know one another. A ship is a world apart… I would not miss the Navy, but I do not want to live without Will.
LR: Do you think he could adjust to life ashore?
Davy: I wish I knew.
At this point, Commander Marshall tapped discreetly at the open door. I told him to come on in, thanked them both for their time, and asked if there was anything more either of them would like to say.
Will: Only this-whatever may befall us in the future, if I had the chance to take this path again, I should do so without hesitation. Come what may.
Davy: Indeed. But for my part, I would not object to a long, happy life together. So, madam writer-what are you going to do about it?
David Archer has a knack for getting the last word.