The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review
littlereview

Notes on 'Blue at the Mizzen'

Sequel to this post about my favorite moments from The Hundred Days, with the rest to be found filed under "O'Brian":


BLUE AT THE MIZZEN

10: Wells is being sent to present a letter on Jack's behalf. "'And perhaps Mr Harding would send...would send some reliable man to see him there and back.' Bonden's name had been in his throat and the checking of it caused an oddly searing pain: so many shipmates gone, but never one to touch him for true worth.'"

32-3: Jack tells Stephen how strangely the people surrounding Lord Keith treat him. "I was so amazed by this strange sudden turn. Yet in a flash, it occurred to me that this might be your doing, with - what shall I say? - your connexions.' 'Never in life, my dear,' said Stephen, gazing upon him with real affection - and silently, within his own bosom, 'Did it never come into your mind that the freedoms you have taken with the gentleman's wife - these twilight rambles, this sea-bathing under the moon - however innocent, could scarcely pass unnoticed in this idle peacetime population of lechers, and that the glad news would have been conveyed to the ear most intimately concerned?' Aloud he went on, 'Though I must confess that now the peregrines have hatched, I too should be more than happy to be on the wing. Shall we steer directly for Sierra Leone?'" Jack says no, they will not be sailing to Sierra Leone where Christine Wood is -- she whose nearly androgynous body Stephen admires as well as her scientific mind -- and adds, "'I fear I have disappointed you?' 'To tell the truth, I had hoped that we should slope away for the Guinea Coast, for Sierra Leone, as soon as these admittedly dreadful leaks were staunched and the foremast replaced: that we should slope away directly.' 'Dear Stephen, I did tell you about this necessary pause in Madeira before; and many and many a time have I warned you that in the service nothing, nothing whatsoever, takes place directly.' A pause. 'Pray tell me: where did you learn that term 'slope away'?' 'Is it not a nautical expression?' 'I am sure it is; but I do not remember to have heard it.' 'I take the words to refer to that slanting progress, with the breeze not from behind, nor even sideways, but from ahead or partially ahead, so that the vessel slopes towards its goal. Yet no doubt I mistake: and no doubt I have used the wrong term.' 'No, no: I follow you exactly - a very good expression. Pray do not be so discouraged, Stephen.' 'Never in life, my dear.'" But he writes to Christine, "'I am most unwillingly obliged to confess that it amounts to but another dismal postponement. Perhaps I had not attended with sufficient care or understanding to Captain Aubrey's remarks - often when he speaks of sea-going matters in the sailor's jargon my mind tends to wander, to miss some vital point - but whereas I had been convinced (or had convinced myself) that on leaving this port we should steer for Freetown, and that presently I should have the happiness of seeing you, of hearing your account of the new-hatched chanting-goshawks, I now find that I was mistaken - it is no such thing.'"

50-1: "The Captain and the Doctor were engaged to eat a young wild boar, roasted according to the Madeiran fashion, in the hills. 'Please tell the Senhor that I have never eaten better porco in my life,' said Jack, holding up a bare white bone. Jack had a variety of little imbecilities, but none irritated Stephen more than his way of tossing in the odd word or two of a foreign language. 'Oh mind your breeches, sir,' cried Killick, interposing a napkin, a napkin too late. 'There: now you've gone and done it.' 'Never mind,' said Jack, and he tossed the bone into the glowing embers."

105: Jack announces that they will just touch at Freetown to refresh, touch and away. "'Touch and away, Jack?' asked Stephen. 'Touch and away? Do you not recall that I have important business there? Enquiries of the very first interest?' 'To do with our enterprise? To do with this voyage?' 'Perhaps not quite directly.' 'I do remember that at one time you did make a particular point of Freetown. You had hoped that we should "slope away for the Guinea Coast" directly from Gibraltar...but if you still feel strongly about the Guinea Coast and its pottoes, about Sierra Leone and Freetown, it could certainly be more than touch and away. What would you consider an adequate stay?' After a hesitation Stephen said, 'Jack, we are very old friends and I do not scruple to tell you, in confidence, that I mean to beg Christine Wood to marry me.' Aubrey was perfectly taken aback, dumbfounded: he blushed. Yet quite soon his good nature and good breeding enabled him to say 'that he wished dear Stephen every success - a most capital plan, he was sure - and that Surprise should lie there until she grounded on her beef-bones, if Stephen so desired.' 'No, my dear,' said Stephen. 'In such a case, and with such a person, I think it would be a plain yes or no. In the event of the first, I believe I should like to stay a week, if a week can be allowed. Otherwise we may sail away that same day, as far as I am concerned.' They parted for the night with expressions of the utmost good will on either side."

121-6: Stephen asks Christine to marry him, apologizing for his looks, citing his fortune and his daughter. "After a while, during which at least three separate nightjars churred and one owl called, she said, 'Stephen, you do me infinite honour, and it grieves me more than I can say to desire you to dismiss the subject from your mind. I have been married, as of course you know, and very unhappily married. I too am pretty sound from the physician's point of view: I too am reasonably wealthy. But - I am speaking of course to an honourable man - my husband was incapable of the physical aspects of marriage and his vain attempts to overcome this defect gave me what I have believed to be an ineradicable disgust for everything to do with that aspect - the whole seemed to me a violent and of course inept desire for possession and physical dominance. And this impression was no doubt reinforced by own fear and reluctance.' And speaking in an entirely different tone after a period of silence she said, 'In your experience as a physician, would you say that this was a usual state of mind in a young married woman?' He reflected and said, 'I have very rarely encountered a case in which the circumstances were so extreme as yours: but I do know how often the sorrow and woe that is in marriage arise from want of elementary physical understanding, to say nothing of ineptitude, selfishness, gross ignorance...' 'And a kind of hostility, resentment...' 'Agreed, agreed. Please wipe my foolish, self-seeking words from your memory as far as ever you can. But do let us go on exchanging notes on Adanson. There are the lanterns coming down through the trees.' 'Oh dear,' she said, taking his hand. 'I am afraid I have wounded you, a man I esteem more than any who have ever addressed me. Stephen, I am so sorry...' " He realizes that she has been crying, thanks her for a lovely day, she asks about his plans. "'Then again you are engaged with your friend on a distant and I presume important voyage?' 'To be sure,' said Stephen, looking wretchedly from side to side. 'Yet I was not entirely thoughtless. Believe me," he said earnestly, 'I was not entirely selfish. I had a very pretty solution: my idea was that you should go to England, there to stay with Sophie Aubrey, a charming woman and a very old friend, who has two girls and a son, who looks after Brigid, my daughter, and who lives in a large house in Dorset with quantities of friends all round and a most respectable body of servants. And then, it appeared to what I can only diffidently call my mind - in other words the embodiment of my wishes - that I should return from the sea, and that together we should plot the course of our days: England, Ireland, France or Spain, or any combination according to your choice.'" He tries to give her his watch as a gift, and by morning she seems to be changing her mind, asking to think about it and visit the Aubreys in England.

128-9: Jacob says to Stephen, "'I must say that Captain Aubrey seems somewhat oppressed, and if he did not have official business ashore I think he might succumb.' He poured more coffee, plucked off another six inches of soft bread, and looking attentively at his old friend, asked, 'Stephen, are you satisfied with the Captain's health?' 'His physical health?' 'Can the two be separated?' 'On occasion, yes: but to be sure, in general the two are very intimately connected.' 'His light seems to have gone out.' 'His wife has used those very words.' 'Whereas yours, if I may say so, Stephen, glows like a moderately resplendent sun. I hope, my dear, you do not dislike my speaking in this way?' - they had as usual lapsed back into the French of their youth - 'But we have, after all, known one another a great many years.' 'We have indeed, Amos. No: I do not dislike it at all, in you: and I shall try to make the dimming - which I perfectly admit - more comprehensible. As far as the Royal Navy is concerned, I, for one, am attached, loosely attached, to the service: he is literally of it, and success or failure in the Navy is and always has been of paramount importance. He has risen high: he is a post-captain near the top of the list. But he is at that stage when some members of the group with approximately the same seniority are selected for flag-rank as rear-admiral of the blue. By no means all can be chosen: those who are not chosen, those who are passed over, are colloquially or by way of derision known as yellow admirals, admirals of a non-existent squadron. And that is the end of the poor man's hopes: there is no return to eligibility. Merit has something to do with this vital step, yet influence has more - political and family influence have more, sometimes much more; and Jack Aubrey has not always been politically wise. He is very much afraid of picking up the Gazette in the next few months and of seeing men junior to himself being given their flag, a blue flag to be hoisted at the mizzen, if my memory serves: a piece of bunting extraordinarily important to a man who has pursued it with such ardour for so many years. And now that we are no longer at war, now that there is virtually no chance of his distinguishing himself, it is understandable that his light should at least grow dim: there is the real possibility that it should go out entirely. And there is nothing that can restore it, nothing but that piece of cloth. Nothing.' A pause, and he went on, 'The malady, the state of mind, is called flagsickness in the Navy, and it affects almost all ambitious post-captains as they approach the decisive period. I have rarely seen it close at hand, since all my service has been under one commander, but I have often spoken of it to my colleagues, and they agree in saying that those affected - that is to say, all but the few officers whose achievements, family connexions or immediate political influence make their promotion sure - suffer from anxiety, loss of appetite and joie de vivre, while often the essentially masculine functions are disturbed, so that medical men have observed either a virtual impotence or an unwholesome activity. Here there is nothing so extreme; but there is an oppression: little or no music, and he will play chess, cards or backgammon only out of complaisance.' They returned to their coffee and sat considering for a while. Then Stephen said, 'Amos, at one time there were several Syrians and Armenians here: men of business, agents. Do you know any at present? It is of no vital importance, but I should like to know about a large Portuguese Guineaman bound for England, a vessel in which a lady, a friend of mine, is to take passage.' 'Dear me, yes,' said Amos, amused. 'Is not my own cousin Lloyd's representative in this port? Shall I take you to him?' Stephen felt for his watch - no watch of course, but a jet of delight: and a church clock told him that it was nine. 'You are very good. But would he, or one of his clerks, undertake so small a commission? I only wish to fill her cabin with flowers, or rather to have it so filled. And since we sail tomorrow and the Guineaman does not touch here for a great while, clearly the flowers must be procured by proxy.'"

136-7: "'My dear Christine...I think it would please you to watch the formation of a community so close-packed and eventually so tight-knit as the crew of a ship, above all of a man-of-war, which has so many more people to serve the guns, and a far more rigid hierarchy. Remarkably strong and lasting friendships are formed, particularly on very long voyages; but even in a commission so recent as ours the process is evident. Young Hanson, whom I have mentioned before, is, I understand from Jack, really talented as far as the mathematics are concerned, and Mr. Daniel, a master's mate, has helped him in their practical application to the guidance of the ship's course - even to determining her exact position on the trackless ocean, for all love. They have become close companions, which could scarcely have been the case on land, their origins, nurture, and manner of speech being so very far apart. When we were in Freetown they were inseparable, wandering about together, taking the bearings of capes and headlands, the height of towers, minarets, fortifications and so on, together with depths and tides. And now, since Mr. Woodbine's health failed him two or three weeks from the Guinea coast, the two have been devotedly
attentive to the ship's motions...there are few things more pleasing to see than that rise and growth of a natural, spontaneous liking, sometimes, indeed often, (as in this case), accompanied by similar tastes, abilities and studies: but by no means always, nor by an equality in age, and it would give me the liveliest pleasure to find you and Brigid friends. A very little notice on your part would overcome her timidity, and I know you would not find her wanting in affection, though it has been somewhat damped: the older girls do not show her much kindness, and although I do not advance this as anything more than a conjecture, I have the impression that they regard her as an intruder. And since infant emotions are rarely disguised with any skill I believe I may say that their mother's attentions and her kindnesses to Brigid quite certainly excite their jealousy, that most corrosive of passions, and the most unhappy.'"

139: "Stephen abandoned his desk and walked with a reasonably seamanlike pace to the taffrail, which he leaned upon, watching the interminable wake stretching away and away in a turbulent, right true line, and the ship's steady companion, always there just this side of the turbulence, a blue shark, larger than most: all this with the top of his mind, while the rest of it was concerned with Christine, her West African birds, her grace, her frankness, her singularity; while another part of it took notice of a fiddle being tuned in the cabin immediately below him and then the tentative beginning of an adagio obviously adapted from one of his own 'cello suites, but graver by far. Mixed feeling: pleasure that Jack was playing, and playing so well: sorrow that what he played was so unlike the Jack Aubrey he knew, bold, sanguine, enterprising, with a face made for laughter or at the very least for smiling."

156: Jack says they're a week from Rio. "'Good, good: very good. You ease my mind: but tell me, Jack - for I see that in spite of a sleepless night you are eager to be up and about, inspecting booms, gunwales, lifts...Pray tell me when you are inclined to sit down quietly and talk about the less physical aspects of our affair.' Jack looked at him thoughtfully, revolving the less physical aspects: then smiling he said '...let us say after dinner, over a private pot of coffee.' Jack Aubrey pushed back his chair, loosened his waistcoat, and said, 'I had no idea I was so hungry: I am afraid I must have eaten like an ogre.' Killick could be seen to smile: Jack's appetite always pleased him - his one deviation into amiability. 'Oh come,' said Maturin. 'Six mutton chops is not at all excessive in a man of your weight: an abstemious ogre would call it moderation.'" They talk about ship's business and "fell to drinking alternate sips. 'You are in the moon, brother,' said Jack after a while. 'What are you thinking about?" 'My transition to a C major passage in the adagio,' said Stephen, and he whistled it. 'I know the piece.' 'It seemed to me, out of nothing, during the blast, that it was out of place, a little flashy.' 'I should never, never say flashy: but out of place - well, perhaps.' 'Thank you, Jack. I shall leave it out. Now may I pour you a cup of coffee and leap on to Rio? ...as between friends in a ship that seems to be sailing along in an
exemplary fashion - these are the southeast trades, I gather? - could you not tell me roughly what to expect?'" Jack talks about the man they will meet, Lindsay, "'He speaks - perhaps rather too much and too long...but Stephen, do not think I am taking the man to pieces: I am just speaking openly, as I would not speak at anyone else.' 'I fully understand you, my dear.'"

184-6: Jack asks Stephen if he remembers the entomologist Austin Dobson. "'Have you heard about his inheritance?' 'Come, my dear, pray do not let us tease one another with question and answer. I find that I am somewhat fractious today - I have been made to work far too hard: I am nourished on most indifferently preserved penguins and seals. And I desire you to give me a plain straightforward seamanlike account of our colleague.' 'Very well. Let us go below and sit in comfort. There: put up your feet and calm your spirit. Austin Dobson, now, had a remote cousin whom he did not know - had barely met - who lived in gloomy splendour somewhere far in the north, where coal is mined and shipped from Newcastle. Now this cousin died, and Dobson inherited some ludicrous sum: millions - I do not know how many, but millions. And he instantly set about doing what he had always longed to do. He bought the Lisbon packet, a very stout serviceable craft designed to make rapid passages across the Bay of Biscay, and with an adequate crew and five or six friends, all Fellows of the Royal Society, botanists or entomologists and one authority on marine life - all men of wide interests - he set off by way of the Cape to India, Ceylon, the Spice Islands and so across the Pacific. They looked into Juan Fernandez and now they are working up the Chilean and Peruvian coasts as far as the Panama Isthmus, where two mean to cross and take ship the other side, carrying the seeds and more delicate specimens - they have university commitments - while Dobson and his remaining friends carry on to Nootka Sound, returning by way of Kamschatka, where two of them mean to study the Economical Rat of those parts.' 'What a noble ambition,' cried Stephen, clasping his hands. 'What fortitude, too...it is a noble way of enjoying an inheritance. I honour him.' Jack said, 'I am sorry you were not there: you would certainly have known most of them - you go to the Royal much more often than I do, and to the dinners. My friends there, the people whose papers I read with most attention, are the astronomers and mathematicians. These men here, of course, were primarily naturalists of one kind or another, and when the two craft put into San Patricio together for stores they asked the whalers all sorts of things about whales - the various kinds, depth of blubber, pregnancy in whales, where found, numbers in schools - accompanying young? Ambergris, where located?' They both laughed: Stephen had once been cast ashore on a coral island, where his only companion, apart from a few crabs, was a piece of ambergris. 'Why do we laugh? There was nothing droll about your situation or our anxiety,' said Jack. 'Perhaps because you found me, so it all ended happily. But to be sure, laughter is sometimes wonderfully obscure: whenever my mind moves to that piece of ambergris I feel the birth of a smile: I do hope we meet these men. Theirs is a very respectable curiosity and I for one long to know the answer to some of their questions.'"

190: Stephen is writing to Christine Woods about the damaged Ringle and the need for repairs. "'Captain Aubrey is having the barge carefully overhauled and beautified, to run in with me so that the chosen yard shall be ready to start as soon as Ringle comes. He takes me, not as you may well suppose, for my advice in sailing the boat, but merely for my ability to speak Spanish.'"

203-5: Stephen on the two most important people in his life. "It was some time before Stephen came back to their inn, for he had found the small Catalan colony in Valparaiso dancing their native sardana in the square outside St Vincent's and he walked in smiling, the familiar music still running in his head. But the smile was wiped clean away by the sight of Jack so reduced with sorrow, deeply unhappy, red-eyed and bent. Stephen had often deplored the tendency of the English to display their feelings - their emotional weakness - but now looking sharply at his friend he saw something quite out of the common run: and indeed Jack stood up, blew his nose, and said, 'Forgive me, Stephen: I do beg pardon for this disgraceful exhibition: but Sophie's letter quite bowled me over.' He held up the almost transparent pages. 'She is so brave and good - never a harsh word, nor a hint of complaint, even though the girls have been really ill and Heneage Dundas is not quite pleased with George's conduct in Lion. She brought the whole place so alive, Stephen - I could see it all, courtyard, stables, library, farm-land and common. And she said such kind things about Christine and your Brigid: ...Lord, it quite unmanned me. Strutting about on the other side of the world, leaving everything to them...I had no idea how attached I was.' Stephen took his pulse, pulled down his eyelid, and said, 'It is very, very hard: but in the first place you are to consider that the dear west wind will waft us through the Strait, and then, which is not improbable, if you accompany the squadron, it will almost take us to the Cape. And there with the liberation of Chile behind you, you may bring Sophie down and any others you choose, to a delightful healthy country, new sights and admirable wine - Sophie dearly loves her glass, God bless her. And as a physician I do assure you, Jack, that we must sup extremely well, on thick beef-steaks, with a large amount of burgundy (I know where Chambertin is to be had), and then a soothing draught to take to bed.' The next morning, having fondly visited both men-of-war - how very much at home he felt in either - having greeted all his old shipmates, and they reminding one another of cruel hard times - how the Doctor had declined a gravid seal's burden - and having conferred with Poll and Maggie about their cheerful, well-bandaged patients, he rode away...and all the way along this prodigious highway through the mountains, whether he rode or whether he walked, there before him, at various distances, sometimes diaphanous, occasionally sharply focused and clear, he saw not indeed Christine but various aspects of her: and the miles went by unnoticed, until the mare stopped at the usual resting-place and turned her mild gaze upon him, with a hint of reproof. On the next stretch they passed through an invisible barrier into a thinner, cooler air, and there were his - not illusions: perceptions might be the better word - of Christine again, clearer and sharper now, particularly as she moved across a dark wall of rock. A tall, straight, lithe figure, walking easily and well: he remembered with the utmost clarity how, when she was reading or playing music or training her glass on a bird, or merely reflecting, she would be entirely apart, remote, self-contained; and then how she would be wholly with him when he moved or spoke. Two strikingly different beings; and the delight in her company, as he delighted even in the memory of it, seemed to him essential happiness, fulfilment. Of course he was a man, quite markedly so, and he would have liked to know her physically: but that was secondary, a very remote stirring compared with gazing at this phantasm - this now remarkably clear and sharply-defined phantasm against the rock-face."

216-17: Jack invites O'Higgins and Colonel Valdes to climb into the top "'in preparation for our closer view of Valdivia a little later, when the sun is nearer the horizon?' 'I should be very happy,' said O'Higgins: and Colonel Valdes could hardly say less: but they concealed their happiness quite remarkably as they climbed up and up, with a wooden stoicism, until they reached the modest height of the maintop. 'We can go much farther up, you know,' said Captain Aubrey. 'Thank you, I can see perfectly well from here,' said O'Higgins, rather shortly: and Colonel Valdes asked whether telescopes might be sent up. In the case of those unaccustomed to going aloft, there was the danger of an involuntary, purely muscular, trembling of the hands if one were required to go up and down repeatedly. He was perfectly ready to stay in the top until the true reconnaissance should begin: it could not be long now - he could already make out several familiar stretches of the shoreline, and the sun was no great way from the horizon. Rather than distress them by remaining in the top, Jack vanished over the seaward side and returned to his cabin."

230: Jack explains, "'So my plan is to attack Callao and to cut out Esmemlda. I put it to Lindsay but he said it was impossible: the fortresses would sink us before ever we came to grips. And coming to grips with a massively built 50-gun frigate was no task for 28-gun Surprise, even supported by the Asp. He was fundamentally opposed to the plan - called it foolhardy, which surprised me, knowing how many times he had been out. But I shall say no more about him, poor soul.' 'God rest him.' 'No more ... So that, Stephen, is what I mean to do. Do you like my plan?' 'My dear, I am tolerably good at carrying out a suprapubic cystotomy. You are an expert in maritime warfare. Your opinion in the first case would not be worth a straw: nor would mine in the second. If you are content, I am content.'"

259-62: "[Stephen] came up the ship's side with his usual elegance, and he was greeted by Dr. Jacob, on whose brow a knowing eye could read A CODED SIGNAL HAS COME THROUGH. Stephen was led below to one of the really discreet parts of the ship and in a low voice Jacob said, 'Jaime brought it just after the government messenger had arrived from Santiago,' and although Jacob had not decoded anything like the whole there was an important section that he perhaps mistakenly thought should be transmitted to the person concerned at once. From the jerk of his head and upward look Stephen grasped that he was speaking of Jack: and this became yet more certain when Jacob spoke of his delight when the brig overtook and passed the heavy sloop-of-war that had set out from Valparaiso before he could find the owner of the brig. 'You have the original and your transcript?' asked Stephen. 'The original, but only a little of the transcript: let me show you how far I went before deciding to come out.' Stephen held the rough draft to the gunport and said, 'Certainly you were quite right, dear Amos. We must tell him at once.' 'No. He is your particular friend. Here is my copy of the D2 key: there are some difficult combinations that I did not trouble with, but the essence is quite plain and we can worry them out later.' Stephen nodded, shook his hand warmly, thrust the papers into a pocket and walked quickly out. Almost running into the clerk he said, 'Mr. Adams, pray do me a service. I should like a private word with the Captain: I shall be in the cabin.' Adams stared at so very extraordinary a request, but he saw that Stephen was in earnest, said, 'Very good, sir,' and hurried on deck. Stephen was gazing out of the middle stern window when the Captain came in, looking surprised and a little concerned. 'Jack,' said Stephen, 'a signal has just come in. It has not all been decoded, but the opening is addressed to you by name and ship and if you choose I will read you what has been made out and try to decode the rest as I go - it has been crumpled in the journey and I may miss some words. But here is the essence: Immediately upon receipt of the present order you will proceed to the River Plate, there joining the South African squadron: you will go aboard HMS Implacable, hoisting your flag, blue at the mizzen and take command of the blue squadron.' Jack sat down, bowing his face in his hands: he was almost unmanned, but after a moment he did say, 'Read that again, will you, Stephen?' Stephen did so, and Jack said, 'By God, Stephen, I am so glad it was you brought me this news. Sophie will be so happy. By God, I never thought my flag would come.' 'And there are some other things. Very hearty congratulations from the Duke of Clarence for the Callao action...May I too congratulate you, Admiral dear?' He embraced Jack, who took it quite naturally, in something of a daze: but then he said, 'It is all very glorious, brother, and I am glad they are pleased with us.'" The Chilean navy still cannot pay, so "After a last salute Jack glanced aloft - still the sweet west wind - and then he looked fore and aft: a fine clear deck, hands all at their stations and all beaming with pleasure; and turning to the master he said, 'Mr. Hanson, pray lay me a course for Cape Pilar and Magellan's Strait.'"

--------

"It would please you to watch the formation of a community so close-packed and eventually so tight-knit as the crew of a ship, above all of a man-of-war...remarkably strong and lasting friendships are formed, particularly on very long voyages; but even in a commission so recent as ours the process is evident...[they] become close companions, which could scarcely have been the case on land, their origins, nurture, and manner of speech being so very far apart. There are few things more pleasing to see than that rise and growth of a natural, spontaneous liking." <3
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