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Excerpt from The Hundred Days by Patrick O'Brian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Hundred Days by Patrick O'Brian

The Hundred Days

by Patrick O'Brian
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  • First Published:
  • Oct 1, 1998
  • Paperback:
  • Oct 1999
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'He would sooner not dine aboard Royal Sovereign, I gather.'

'I believe not, sir. But he will discuss the international situation and the means of bringing Napoleon down with the utmost vigour. That is what keeps him alive, it seems to me.'

'I am glad he has so great a resource at such a dreadful time, poor dear man. I have a great regard for him: as you will remember, I proposed he should be Physician of the Fleet at one time. Aye, aye, so I did. Well, I shall not pain him with an invitation he might find difficult to refuse. But if, in the course of duty, you could require him to report aboard just after the evening gun, when I hope for an overland packet by courier, he may learn still more about the international situation. A damned complex situation, upon my word. As I said, when first I sent for you I thought your squadron would be enough, at a pinch, to guard the passage of the Straits -- at a pinch, for you see how pitifully little we have here. But now, now, you will have to cut yourself in three to do half the things I want you to do. Heugh, heugh, a damned complex situation as the Doctor will learn when he comes here: he will be finely amazed. I will give you the broadest view just for the now ...'

Lady Keith gathered up her belongings and said, 'My dear, I will leave you to it. But do not tire yourself: you have a meeting with Gonzalez this evening. I will send Geordie with a dish of tea directly.'

The broadest view, stripped of the Admiral's great authority and of his distinctive northern accent, generally pleasing to an English ear though sometimes impenetrably obscure, was very roughly this: Wellington, with ninety-three thousand British and Dutch troops, and Blucher, with a hundred and sixteen thousand Prussians, were in the Low Countries, waiting until Schwarzenberg, with two hundred and ten thousand Austrians, and Barclay de Tolly, slowly advancing with a hundred and fifty thousand Russians, should reach the Rhine, when in principle the Allies were to invade France. For his part Napoleon had about three hundred and sixty thousand men: they were made up of five corps along the northern frontier, the Imperial Guard in Paris, and some thirty thousand more stationed on the southeast frontier and in the Vendee.

Both men made their additions: both made their allowances for unity of command, the great value of a common language, and the stimulus of fighting on one's own soil under the orders of a man who had battered Prussians, Austrians and Russians again and again, fighting with extraordinary tactical skill against odds far greater than these.

Jack could not with propriety ask about the zeal or even the good faith of the Austrians and Prussians at this juncture, still less about the efficiency of their mobilization and equipment; but the Admiral's worn, anxious face told him a great deal. 'Still,' said Lord Keith, 'this is all the soldiers' business: we have our own concern to deal with. How I wish Geordie would come along with that tea -- why, Geordie, put the tray down here, ye thrawn, ill-feckit gaberlunzie.' A pause. 'How I value a cup of tea,' he said. 'May I pour you another?'

'Thank you, sir,' said Jack, shaking his head. 'I have done admirably well already.'

The Admiral reflected, carefully put more hot water to the teapot, and went on, 'In the first place there is the difficulty about the French Navy, their attitude varies from port to port, ship to ship. They are of course extremely susceptible and any untoward incident -- so easily brought about -- might have disastrous results. But far worse is this building of French men-of-war in the obscure Adriatic ports: obscure, but filled with prime timber and capital shipwrights -- country you know very well. This continued building, more or less disguised, is a great evil; and all the greater as Bonapartist officers and men are said to be standing by to take them over.'

Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc. Copyright © 1998 by Patrick O'Brian. Published by WW Norton and Co. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from Georges Borchardt, Inc at 136 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022. All rights reserved.

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