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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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'Aye-aye, sir,' said Jack, and then, 'My Lord, I believe you spoke of a courier. If he is not already gone, may I beg for my tender Ringle to be sent out immediately? William Reade, master's mate, handles her very well indeed -- an uncommon fast and weatherly Chesapeake clipper -- and I shall have the utmost need for such a craft.'

'William Reade, the young gentleman that lost an arm with you in the East Indies?' asked the Admiral, scribbling a note. 'Certainly. Should you like to send him a message -- things to be brought out? Or Maturin? Well, I think that is the essential: you will of course receive detailed orders and some estimate of what you can expect from Malta when you are in Mahon.' The Admiral stood up. 'I hope you will dine with us tomorrow?' Jack bowed, said, 'Very happy,' and Keith went on, 'I do not wish to be importunate, but if you feel you could convey some sense of our feeling -- our concern -- our sympathy -- to Maturin, pray do so. In any case, I look forward to learning his views on the situation this evening, when he will have been closeted with Campbell and the two gentlemen who came down from Whitehall. Do not ask him to come aboard the flag: they will go to see him in Pomone.'

A little before the evening gun Preserved Killick, Captain Aubrey's steward, an ill-faced, ill-tempered, meagre, atrabilious, shrewish man who kept his officer's uniform, equipment and silver in a state of exact, old-maidish order come wind or high water, and who did the same for Aubrey's close friend and companion, Dr Stephen Maturin, or even more so, since in the Doctor's case Killick added a fretful nursemaid quality to his service, as though Maturin were "not quite exactly" a fully intelligent being, approached Stephen's cabin. It is true that in the community of mariners the "not quite exactly" opinion was widely held; for although Stephen could now tell the difference between starboard and larboard, it still called for some reflection: and it marked the limit of his powers. This general view, however, in no way affected their deep respect for him as a medical man: his work with a trephine or a saw, sometimes carried out on open deck for the sake of the light, excited universal admiration, and it was said that if he chose, and if the tide were still making, he could save you although you were already three parts dead and mouldy. Furthermore, a small half of one of his boluses would blow the backside off a bullock. The placebo effect of this reputation had indeed preserved many a sadly shattered sailor, and he was much caressed aboard. A little before the evening gun, therefore, Preserved Killick walked into Stephen's cabin and found him sitting there in his drawers, a jug of now cold water and an unused razor in front of him, together with a clean shirt, neck-cloth, new-brushed black coat, new-curled wig, clean breeches, silk stockings and a respectable handkerchief, reading the close-written coded message from Sir Joseph Blaine, the chief of naval intelligence that had just arrived by courier.

'Oh sir,' cried Killick: but even as he exclaimed he choked the inborn shrew, lowering the 'sir' to the gentlest tones of remonstrance.

'One moment, Killick,' said Stephen, resolving a particularly intractable group: he wrote it in the margin, covered it close, and said, 'I am yours.'

Apart from the words 'Which the gentlemen have been waiting ten minutes -- called twice for wine, and was you quite well?' Killick dressed him silently, efficiently, and led him to the captain's cabin, where the Admiral's secretary and the two gentlemen from Whitehall rose to greet him. One of them, Mr William Kent, was a familiar figure, his high office sometimes required him to resolve difficulties between the various departments of government and the services so that confidential work might be carried on in official silence: the other, Mr Dee, he knew only from having seen him at a few restricted conferences at which he spoke rarely or not at all, though he was treated with deference as an authority on eastern matters, particularly those concerned with finance -- he was connected with some of the great banking-houses in the City. Sir Joseph's coded message had only said 'You will of course remember his book on Persian literature'.

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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