The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Notes on 'Treason's Harbour'

Sequel to this post about my favorite moments from The Ionian Mission:


12: "'Some of my best friends are Englishmen,' continued Maturin. 'Yet even the most valuable have this same vicious inclination to make a confused bellowing when they are happy. It is harmless enough in their own country, where the diet deadens the sensibilities, but it travels badly: it is perceived as a superabundancy of arrogance, and is resented more than many worse crimes. The Spaniard is a vile colonist, murderous, rapacious, cruel; but he is not heard to laugh. His arrogance is of a common, universal kind, and his presence is not resented in the same way as the Englishman's...there is a great and growing discontent, and I believe the laughter has much to do with it.'"

28: Laura Fielding asks Stephen if he likes dogs, to make conversation as she has been ordered by French intelligence, which he suspects. "'Why now, if you were an ordinary commonplace everyday civilly-prating gentlewoman I should smirk and say 'Lord, ma'am, I dote upon 'em,' with as graceful a writhe of my person as I could manage. But since it is you I shall only observe that I understand your words as a request that I should say something: you might equally have asked did I like men, or women, or even cats, serpents, bats.' 'Not bats,' cried Mrs. Fielding. 'Certainly bats,' said Dr Maturin. 'There is as much variety in them as in other creatures: I have known some very high-spirited, cheerful bats, others sullen, froward, dogged, morose. And of course the same applies to dogs -- there is the whole gamut from false fawning yellow curs to the heroic Ponto...there is a quality in dogs, I must confess, rarely to be seen elsewhere and that is affection: I do not mean the violent possessive protective love for their owner but rather that mild, steady attachment to their friends that we see quite often in the best sort of dog. And when you consider the rarity of plain disintersted affection among our own kind, once we are adult, alas -- when you consider how immensely it enhances daily life and how it enriches a man's past and future, so that he can look back and forward with complacency -- why it is a pleasure to find it in brute creation.'" Affection, adds O'Brian, is also to be found in commanders like the newly-commissioned Pullings.

52: The female tortoise "felt that she had shown all the reluctance that was called for...the male covered her, and maintaining himself precariously on her domed back with his ancient folded leathery legs he raised his face to the sun, stretched up his neck, opened his mouth wide and uttered the strangest dying cry. 'Bless me,' said Jack. 'I had no I wish Stephen were here.'"

63-4: Jack is getting his Italian lesson. "Very early in their recapitulation of the imperfect subjunctive of the irregular verb state, Mrs Fielding saw with alarm that her pupil's conduct was likely to grow even more irregular than her verb. She was aware of his motions rather before they were quite clear in his own mind, for she had been brought up in the free and easy atmosphere of the Neapolitan court, and she had been accustomed to gallantry from a very early age; ancient counsellors, beardless pages, and a large variety of gentlemen in between had attacked her virtue, and although she had repulsed the great majority it was a subject that interested her -- she could detect the earliest symptoms of an amorous inclination, and upon the whole she found they did not differ very much, from man to man. But none of her former suitors had been so massive as this, none had had so bright and formidable an eye, and although some had sighed none had ever chuckled in this disturbing way."

66: Stephen has come, drenched, to see Jack and Laura. "'Why, you are all wet,' they both cried; and indeed a little pool was fast gathering at his feet as he stood there before them. Jack was on the point of asking 'Did you fall in?', but he did not like to expose his friend, since the answer must necessarily be yes."

87: Stephen knows Laura is trying to seduce him and is perfectly aware her motives have to do with intelligence, not attraction. "He gave her a kiss, a genuinely abstracted peck, for his mind was elsewhere: he knew very well that although he had fortified himself by regarding her as a patient he was near his limit; and what brought him nearer to unchastity was his hatred of behaving like a scrub, for the insult of his apparent indifference was growing more blatant every minute. Nevertheless he reached across and took the piece of chalk, saying 'Will I tell you about my bell, so?' 'Oh yes!' she cried. 'I am longing to hear about your bell.' 'This, you must understand, is the bell seen sideways,' he said, drawing on the lamplit floor. 'Its height is eight feet; the window at the top is a yard across, as near as no matter; the width here, where the bench runs across, is a little better than four feet six; and the whole contains fifty-nine cubic feet of air!' 'Fifty-nine cubic feet?' said Laura Fielding: she had had a very long, very hard day, and a more attentive ear might have caught a note of despair under the bright, intelligent interest." Stephen draws the bell and describes how the air vents work: "'To let out the vitiated air, so that it was always fresh, there was a little cock at the top. Will I draw you my little cock?'"

98: Jack thinks about the need for brisk decisions: "'If you stand considering which leg to put into your breeches first, you are likely to lose your tide; and in the meanwhile your breech is bare.'"

119-20: Stephen is awoken by someone yelling, "'Don't you know how to seize a cuckold's neck, you God-damned lubber?'" and muses upon "cuckoldry, cuckoldom, and the almost universal mirth excited by that state." Then Jack arrives. "'I was just thinking about you. Pray what is a cuckold's neck, by sea?' 'Why, if you wish to make a rope fast to a spar, you cross its two parts the one over t'other and clap a seizing on 'em, and that is your cuckold's neck...what the devil did you mean by saying, I was thinking about you -- what is a cuckold's neck?' 'Someone hallooed the words outside my window: I wanted to know what they meant, so I asked you, as a nautical authority. I desire you will not top it the Othello, brother, for shame: stuff on you. If any man so far forgot himself as to make a licentious suggestion to Sophie, she would not understand him for a week, and then she would instantly lay him dead with your double-barrelled fowling-piece.' 'It is kind to call me a nautical authority,' said Jack, smiling at the idea of Sophie slowly coming to understand the hypothetical rake, and her polite attention changing to icy rage."

138: "'I have a joyful surprise for you, Stephen. Mr Allen tells me there are countless waterfowl over the silted-up Pelusian mouth.' 'My dear,' said Stephen, 'I am perfectly aware of it. This extremity of the delta is famous throughout the Christian world as the haunt of the purple gallinule, to say nothing of a thousand other wonders of creation: and I am perfectly aware that you will hurry me away from it at once, without the least remorse, as you have so often done before. Indeed, I wonder at your being so unfeeling as to mention the place at all.' 'Not really without remorse,' said Jack, filling Stephen's glass again. 'But the fact of the matter is, there is not a moment to lose, if you understand me.'"

149: "'You are going a very disagreeable colour,' said Stephen. 'Should you not throw off that thick coat, and loosen your neckcloth? Heavy, corpulent subjects are liable to be carried off in a twinkling, if not by a frank, straightforward apoplexy, then at least by a cerebral congestion.' 'I shall be all right as soon as I am in the saddle, moving briskly,' said Jack, who was very unwilling to disturb the perfect set of his cravat.'"

173: Jack is writing to Sophie about the travel across Suez. "'The only contented men are Stephen and Mr Martin. They spend hours bubbling away down there in their bell, sending up worms and little bright-coloured fishes and pieces of coral, and even eating their meals in it; or else they wander all day on the reefs, peering at the creatures in the shallow water and the birds -- they tell me they have seen ospreys by the score. Stephen never has minded the heat, however excessive; but how Mr Martin supports it, even with his green umbrella, I cannot say. He is grown as thin as a crane, if you can imagine a crane that perpetually smiles.'"

189: After Hairabedian is eaten by sharks while swimming, and Jack stops the men from catching and eating the sharks "'with the poor man still in their bellies, for God's sake": "'God help us, Stephen,' he said, throwing a towel over his nakedness as Stephen came in, 'we might be in a hammam, a bagnio, a Turkish flaming bath. I must have lost a couple of stone.' 'You could spare as much again,' said Stephen. 'And since you are of a very full habit, you would certainly benefit from a blood-letting. I will draw off sixteen or twenty ounces directly: you will feel more comfortable, and there will be a little less danger of siriasis or apoplexy,' he said, putting down the box he was carrying and drawing a lancet from his pocket. 'This is rather blunt,' -- trying it on the locker -- 'but I dare say we shall get it into the vein in time. I must sharpen the whole set tomorrow; for if this calm continue, I think of bleeding the whole ship's company.' 'No,' said Jack. 'It may sound girlish, but I really do not want to see blood again today, my own or anyone else's.'

203: After the galley supposedly carrying a fortune sinks, Jack is dining with Stephen and Martin: "After a short silence Stephen said 'I am an urinator.' 'Really, Stephen,' exclaimed Jack, who had a great respect for the cloth. 'Recollect yourself.' 'It is well known that I am an urinator,' said Stephen, looking at him firmly, 'and in recent hours I have felt a great moral pressure on me to dive.'" Then Martin says he too is an urinator, and will be glad to go down in the bell with Stephen to try to haul the treasure up.

230: Jack learns that the Surprise is to be decommissioned. "When he was being rowed back across the harbour sorrow for his ship welled up and nearly choked him. He had served in her as a midshipman and he had commanded her in the Indian Ocean, a difficult and temperamental little frigate, but wonderfully responsive, fast and mettlesome for those who knew her ways: she had never failed him in an emergency, and he would never know a more sea-kindly ship, by or large, in light airs or in a strong gale. The idea of her rotting away in some foul creek and then being broken up or sold out of the service to be cut down into a creeping merchantman was more than he could bear...nor was it likely that he should ever command such a crew again, a crew of hand-picked seamen, every one of whom could hand, reef and steer, and practically every one of whom he knew and liked as a man."

236: Stephen with Laura: "'There she is,' he said, nodding at his 'cello, which stood against the wall on the far side of Laura's piano. 'I fairly longed for her on this last voyage.' 'You think of the 'cello as a woman?' she said. 'It has always seemed to me so masculine. Deep-voiced, perhaps unshaved.' 'Man or woman,' he said, 'let you make us some coffee and eat up your supper...and then we might play the piece we crucified last time.' 'Man or woman,' he said as he took the instrument out of its brutish wrapping, or sack, 'what a coil there is between them.'"

237: Stephen tells Jack that he slept at a friend's, which Jack assumes to mean he slept with Laura. "He was pleased, in that Stephen's frailty gave countenance and justification to his own, but at the same time he was disappointed, more disappointed than pleased, since a frail Stephen necessarily fell short of the very highest standard of virtue. Jack regarded him not so much as a saint as being removed from this commonplace fall, negligible in another man or in Jack Aubrey himself, took on a heinous aspect. Not without malice Captain Aubrey said, as the boat crossed the misty, steaming harbour, 'Have you seen your letters? We have had a whole sack of mail at last,' meaning 'Diana has written to you: I saw her hand on the covers: I hope it will make you feel guilty.'"

240: 'Brother, I am afraid the post brought you sad, sad news; I have rarely seen you look so down.' 'No,' said Jack. 'It was not the post: they are all well at home, and send their dear love. It is something else. I will tell you: you will not repeat it to anyone...Surprise is to be laid up or sold out of the service, and we are to take her home.' Stephen saw the tear well in his eye."

245: "A man speaking with disinterested love on a subject he knew well -- and Wray had a surprising knowledge of music, ancient and modern -- could hardly fail to be an agreeable companion to one with the same tastes. Not all their tastes were the same, however...Stephen watched Wray when the young man of the house, a beautiful youth with caressing ways, brought them their drinks, their cigars, their lights, and then unnecessary lights again, and it occurred to him that the Second Secretary was probably a paederast, or at least one who, like Horace, might burn for either sex. This aroused no virtuous indignation in Stephen; no indignation of any kind. He loved Horace, and, having the usual tolerant Mediterranean attitude, he had loved many another man with the same eclectic inclinations."

256: "By now [Jack] had grown quite used to the notion that Laura and Stephen were lovers; he did not mind it, though he admired them a little less, but he did think it more than usually unfair that Valletta should still suppose that he, Jack Aubrey, was the happy also had to be admitted that Stephen and Laura were extraordinarily discreet. Nobody seeing Stephen at one of her evening parties would ever suppose that he spent the rest of the night there."

261-2: Stephen desperately wants to see Ithaca but Jack can't spare the time. "Certainly he had heard of Homer, and had indeed looked into Mr Pope's version of his tale but for aught he could make out, the fellow was no seaman. Admittedly Ulysses had no chronometer, and probably no sextant neither; but with no more than a log, lead and lookout an officer-like commander would have found a way home from Troy a d____d sight quicker than that. Hanging about in port and philandering, that was what it amounted to, the vice of navies from the time of Noah to that of Nelson. And as for that tale of all his foremast hands being turned into swine, so that he could not win his anchor or make sail, why, he might tell that to the Marines. Besides, he behaved like a very mere scrub to Queen Dido -- though on second thought perhaps that was the other cove, the pios Anchises. But it was all one: they were six of one and half a dozen of the other, neither seamen nor gentlemen, and both of 'em God d____d bores into the bargain. For his part he far preferred what Mowett and Rowan wrote; that was poetry a man could get his teeth into, and it was sound seamanship too."

273: "'Where is the Pullings?' asked Father Andros in Italian, looking about. For a moment Jack could not recall the Italian for being made a commander so he made a dart at the Greek. 'Promotides,' he said, pointing upwards. But seeing that they looked shocked and grieved and that the priest crossed himself in the Orthodox manner, he tapped his epaulettes, crying, 'No, no. Him capitano -- pas morto -- elevato in grado,' and raising his voice 'Dr Maturin. Pass the word for the Doctor.'"

276: Jack writes to Sophie about going bear-hunting with the Bey, where it was suggested that he and the Bey make the kill themselves and he had to creep in the bushes, "expecting the brute to charge at any second" and the dogs wouldn't protect him: "'I have never been so frightened in all my life. Then there was Stephen screeching out 'Gone away' and hallooing and waving his hat, and there was the bear a quarter of a mile off, going straight up the mountainside like a vast great hare."

277: Stephen has just performed an operation: "You may untie him now; you may cast him off."

290: "Few creatures in the sea gave Stephen Maturin more delight than dolphins, and here in the Strait of Otranto he had them by the score."

292: Calamy fetches Stephen for dinner. "'Why sir, what's all this? Surely you have not forgot you are entertaining the Captain?' 'And how am I supposed to entertain the Captain, for all love?' asked Stephen. 'Am I to grin at him through a horse-collar, propose riddles and conundrums, cut capers?' 'Come, sir,' said Calamy, 'the gunroom is entertaining the Captain to dinner, and you have only ten minutes to change. There is not a moment to be lost.'"

297: Jack's crew takes a ship in the night and Stephen sleeps through it. "He was utterly amazed to find the frigate lying-to with another ship under the lee and boats plying between them...and after a while he cried 'That is not the Dryad. It has three masts.' 'There is no concealing anything from the Doctor,' said Jack, and turning directly to him he went on, 'Give you joy of our prize: we took her in the night.' 'Breakfast is disgracefully late,' said Stephen. 'Come and drink a cup with me,' said Jack, 'and I will tell you about the chase.'"

313-14: Laura has borrowed Jack's telescope and is looking at the sky. "'A star in daylight! Did you know she was like a crescent moon only small, oh so small?' 'Little do I know about Venus,' said Stephen, 'except that she is an inferior planet.' 'Oh fie,' cried she, and the purser, the Marine and Jack made a number of gallant and sometimes quite witty remarks." With Laura Fielding aboard there is remarkably little cursing and everyone dresses very well even though it is assumed that she is Stephen's lover.

318: Jack thinks on the dreamlike character of the past few days. "An exquisite gentle dream in spite of its strong sense of 'last time' and even of doom, he reflected...but he could find no way of expressing its nature in words. Music would come nearer: he could more nearly define it with a fiddle under his chin, define it at least to his own satisfaction. With the lovely but menacing slow movement of a partita that he sometimes played running through his head he gazed at the Surprise. She was as familiar to him as a ship could well be, but because of this train of reflection, or because of some trick of the light, or because it was really so, her nature too had changed: she was a ship in a dream, a ship he hardly knew, and she was sailing along a course long since traced out, as straight and narrow as a razor's edge."


The quotes in which Stephen reflects Jack's opinion of Homer had me in hysterics. "Admittedly Ulysses had no chronometer, and probably no sextant neither; but with no more than a log, lead and lookout an officer-like commander would have found a way home from Troy a d____d sight quicker than that. Hanging about in port and philandering, that was what it amounted to...and as for that tale of all his foremast hands being turned into swine, so that he could not win his anchor or make sail, why, he might tell that to the Marines."

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