They both reflected, gazing out over the brilliant sea with half-closed eyes as the squadron drew inshore and the watching crowd increased; and Edwards said, 'When you come to think of it, on looking about our shipmates and relations, can you think of any marriage that could be called a happy one, after the first flush? There is something to be said for a bachelor's existence, you know: turn in whenever you like, read in bed ...'
'Offhand I cannot think of many -- poor Wood in Sierra Leone for example: they entertained without a pause, so as not to have to sit down at table alone. It is said that Wood -- but he is dead. No, I cannot think of many without some discord or contention; but unless it is very obvious, who can tell just where the balance lies? After all, as a philosopher said, "Though matrimony has its pains, celibacy can have no pleasure".'
'I know nothing about philosophy, but I have met some philosophers -- we often used to go to Cambridge to see my brother the don -- and a miserable set of ...' He checked the word at the sight of his friend's daughters -- the elder charming, though rather shabby -- pushing through the crowd towards them, and went on in a disapproving tone, '... though you always were a bookish fellow, even in Britannia's cockpit.'
'Oh Papa,' cried the elder girl, 'which is the Surprise?'
'The second in the line, my dear.'
The leading ships were now close enough for people to be seen -- blue coats and red on the quarterdeck, white-trousered seamen taking in topsails and courses together with jib and staysails -- but scarcely to be distinguished. The young lady gently took her father's telescope and trained it on the Surprise. 'Is that the famous Captain Aubrey?' she asked. 'Why, he is short, fat and red-faced. I am disappointed.'
'No, booby,' said her father. 'The Commodore is where a Commodore ought to be, aboard the pennant-ship, of course: Pomone. Come, child, don't you see the broad pennant, hey?'
'Oh yes, sir, I see it,' she replied, training her glass on Pomone's quarterdeck. 'Pray who is the very tall fair-haired man wearing a rear-admiral's uniform and holding his hat under his arm?'
'Why, Lizzie, that is your famous Jack Aubrey. Commodores dress like rear-admirals, you know: and they receive a flag-officer's return to their salute, as you will hear in about ten seconds.'
'Oh, isn't he beautiful? Molly Butler had a coloured engraving of him in action with the Turks -- of his boarding the Torgud sword in hand, and all the great girls at school ...'
What all the great girls said or thought was lost in the Pomone's exactly-spaced seventeen-gun salute to the Commander-in-Chief; and the echo of the last report and the drift of powder-smoke had not disappeared before the towering flagship began her fifteen-gun reply. When that too was done, Mr Arrowsmith said, 'Now in another ten seconds you will see the signal break out Commodore repair aboard flag. His barge is already lowering down.'
'Who is that little man beside him, in a black coat and drab breeches?'
'Oh, that will be his surgeon, Dr Maturin: they always sail together. He can whip off an arm or a leg quicker than any man in the service; and it is a joy to see him carve a saddle of mutton.'
'Oh fie, Papa!' cried the girl: her younger sister gave a coarse great laugh.
Aboard Pomone the proper ceremony for the occasion was well under way, and as Jack walked out of the great cabin, stuffing a fresh handkerchief into his pocket and pursued by Killick with a clothes-brush, flicking specks of dust from the back of his gold-laced coat, he found his officers present on the quarterdeck, together with most of the midshipmen, all either wearing gloves or concealing their hands behind their backs.
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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