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Fishing

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"Stephen!" Jack cried as another stack of well-ordered papers slid to the cabin floor. "I do wish you would stop ferreting around like that!"

"I am sorry, Jack," said Stephen, though not making any show of remorse as he moved onto another pile. "I shall not be much longer."

"That is what you said more than half a glass back," said Jack testily, sticking his quill in the inkstand. "What the devil are you searching for, anyway?"

At this the doctor’s eyes darted swiftly towards his friend, then back to the pile of manuscripts he was now leafing through.

"Oh, it is nothing," he said, waving a dismissive hand. "Pray, do not let me disturb your work."

"I do not believe you would turn half the cabin upside-down for ‘nothing’," said Jack, closing the ledger in front of him with a thump. "And besides, I cannot concentrate with you making that infernal din. What is it you are looking for? I might be able to assist."

"Oh no, do not trouble yourself, Jack, I beg you."

"Why won’t you tell me what it is?"

"It is nothing important."

"Stephen..."

"Nothing at all."

"Stephen."

"I assure you I will find it directly..."

"Stephen! What – is – it – you – are – looking – for?"

There was an awkward pause as the doctor shifted somewhat guiltily.

"My infant Lophius."

Jack frowned.

"Your what?"

"My monkfish, Jack; my infant Lophius piscatorius!" said Stephen in despair, shuffling through the various papers and nautical objects he had spread across the deck. "I was eager to explore Linnaeus’ observations on the pectoral and pelvic fins; but alas, I was called away to treat Davis’ splinter, and to my shame I have misplaced it."

"It wasn’t one of your bottled things was it?"

"No, I’m afraid I had not got round to preserving it; it is quite unbottled, quite unpreserved. Indeed, in this heat I would have thought I could have discovered its location by smell alone; but it is gone, vanished!"

"A smell you say?" said Jack, his eyes widening in sudden enlightenment. "Bless me, I thought it was Killick!"

He gave the air an experimental sniff, then leant back, opened the desk drawer and pulled out a grotesque, muddy brown specimen about a foot in length by the tail. "Is this what you’re looking for?"

"Oh, Jack!" exclaimed Stephen, taking the reeking fish and cradling it in his arms with a look of purest joy. "Oh, what an imbecile I have been! I must have shut him in the drawer in my haste to attend to Davis. I cannot thank you enough!"

"My pleasure, soul," said Jack. Seeing his friend so happy he could not help but smile. "But, Stephen, in the future... you will use you own desk to cut things up, won’t you?"