Stephen Maturin awoke, stretched out upon his bed in his rooms at the Grapes. He thought back to yesterday evening's disagreeable interview with Sir Joseph in which Stephen had poured out his revulsion and weariness with the grey world of intelligence, the falsehoods and fabrications and betrayals of trust. Even Sir Joseph's avowals of the gods of necessity had not stilled Stephen's tongue and in the end he had left with wholly inadequate grace. He had traced his way back to his sanctuary at the Grapes returning in such a thoroughly ill humour to Diana would never do and ... But Stephen's memory did not pass beyond his entry into his rooms. Perhaps he had been incautious with his nightly draught of laudanum? He really remembered nothing until wakening this morning, and morning it surely was, given the slanted rays of sunlight slipping past the curtains.
For a moment Stephen lay staring at the ceiling, vainly trying to recollect anything further. Then the peculiar silence pressed itself upon him. If morning, where were the accustomed sounds of Mrs. Broad in the kitchen? And what of the clatter of hooves and carriage wheels on the London cobblestones? Nothing.
Maturin slid from the bed and crossed the room to a window and thrust the curtain aside. And there was ... not London. The view smote him as a fist into the chest. The familiar shabby, grey neighbour buildings of the Grapes were not there. Instead, in his view was a heterogeneous assortment of colourful cottages and odd edifices wholly foreign to the English capital.
Stephen retreated from the window, then strode resolutely to the chamber door. He flung it open not upon the dim upper hallway of the Grapes but to a staggeringly bright sun. The unambiguous tang of fresh salt air wafted into his nostrils, as alien to the streets of London as the clear blue sky overhead. He descended carefully down the few steps to the empty street and peered left and right, seeing no one.
Suddenly, from behind him came a cheerfully robust voice. "Good morning!" Stephen turned to see a stout, balding man dressed in black except for a curiously bold horizontally striped shirt. On his chest was a round badge emblazoned with the numeral "2". His rotund face belonged to an aging and perhaps perilous cherub. "Welcome to the Village, Number ...
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