Excerpt from Blue At The Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Blue At The Mizzen

by Patrick O'Brian

Blue At The Mizzen by Patrick O'Brian
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  • First Published:
    Oct 1999, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2000, 272 pages

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'So do I indeed: but, you know, as a privately-owned tender to what is in fact a hydrographical vessel I do not think they would stand in line for more than fourpence. In any case I could not refuse Lord Keith—he had no other suitable craft at hand—he asked it as a personal favour. And I owe him a great deal: I owe both of them a great deal.'

'Of course, of course: it was only that I should have liked some of the younger ones to accept a gold piece, by way of memento,' said Stephen. 'How the waves increase! The darkness thickens.'

'They will rejoin at Madeira,' said Jack. 'And then you can give them their gold pieces.' They talked on quietly until Jack realized that Willis and Younghusband had been dealt with, and that once Moses Zachary, one of Surprise's very old Sethian hands, had stopped chuckling over the coins that he obscurely insisted upon stuffing or trying to stuff into a variety of little inadequate triangular pockets it would be time for him as captain to wind up proceedings.

But the proceedings would not be wound up: in spite of the gathering darkness and the now quite vicious driving rain some hand, probably Giles, captain of the foretop, called out 'It's all along of the unicorn's horn—it's all along of the glorious hand. Huzzay, three times huzzay for the Doctor.'

Lord, how they cheered their surgeon! It was he who had brought the narwhal's tusk aboard: and the severed hand, the Hand of Glory, was his property: both symbolized (and practically guaranteed) immense good fortune, virility, safety from poison or any disease you chose to name: and both had proved their worth.

Jack Aubrey was a taut captain: he had been brought up by commanders who looked upon exact discipline and exact gunfire as of equal importance in a man-of-war, but on this occasion he know that he had nothing whatsoever to say; and speaking privately to his first lieutenant he observed, 'Mr. Harding, when things are a little calmer, let us weigh and proceed south-west by west with all the sail she can bear. If any King's ship hails or signals you will reply carrying dispatches and pursue your course, touching neither sheet nor brace.'

'South-west by west it is, sir: and carrying dispatches,' said Harding, and Jack, steadying Stephen by the elbow—the frigate was pitching quite violently by now—guided him to the great cabin, where they sat at their ease on the cushioned stern-lockers that ran across the ship under the elegant, remarkably elegant sash-lights that gave on to the sea.

'I am afraid it is going to turn out a truly dirty night,' said Jack. He stood up and in his sure-footed seaman's way walked over to his barometer. 'Yes,' he said. 'Dirtier than I had thought.' He came back and gazed out at the darkness, full of rain and flying water from the ship's bow-wave, more and more as she increased her way. 'But, however,' he went on, 'I am most heartily glad to be at sea. At one time I thought it could never be done . . . indeed, without Queenie and Lord Keith it never would have been done.' The sternlanterns were now lighting up the frigate's wake—exceptionally broad, white and agitate for a ship with such fine lines—but in spite of the brilliance just aft he could still clearly make out the distant red glow above Gibraltar, where they were still keeping it up in spite of the wind and the rain.

For his own part he had had quite enough of the junketing, especially that part of it which consisted of patriotic songs, self-praise and mocking the French, who had after all gone down fighting, outnumbered, with the utmost gallantry—gives that very often came form those who had had nothing whatsoever to do with the war. Even Maturin, though he loathed the whole Napoleonic system root and branch, could not bear the obscene, gloating caricatures of Bonaparte that were everywhere to be seen, a penny plain and up to as much as fourpence coloured.

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