Quote of the Day

‘I cannot imagine,’ said Jack, recovering the chaplain and guiding him along the gangway, ‘what that sloth has against me. I have always been civil to it, more than civil; but nothing answers. I cannot think why you speak of its discrimination.’

Jack was of a sanguine temperament; he liked most people and he was surprised when they did not like him. This readiness to be pleased had been damaged of recent years, but it remained intact as far as horses, dogs, and sloths were concerned; it wounded him to see tears come into thecreature’s eyes when he walked into the cabin, and he laid himself out to be agreeable. As they ran down to Rio he sat with it at odd moments, addressing it in Portuguese, more or less, and feeding it with offerings that it sometimes ate, sometimes allowed to drool slowly from its mouth; but it was not until they were approaching Capricorn, with Rio no great distance on the starboard bow, that he found it respond.

The weather had freshened almost to coldness, for the wind was coming more easterly, from the chilly currents between Tristan and the Cape; the sloth was amazed by the change; it shunned the deck and spent its time below. Jack was in his cabin, pricking the chart with less satisfaction than he could have wished: progress, slow, serious trouble with the mainmast – unaccountable headwinds by night – and sipping a glass of grog; Stephen was in the mizentop, teaching Bonden to write and scanning the sea for his first albatross. The sloth sneezed, and looking up, Jack caught its gaze fixed upon him; its inverted face had an expression of anxiety and concern. ‘Try a piece of this, old cock,’ he said, dipping his cake in the grog and proffering the sop. ‘It might put a little heart into you.’ The sloth sighed, closed its eyes, but gently absorbed the piece, and sighed again.

Some minutes later he felt a touch on his knee: the sloth had silently climbed down and it was standing there, its beady eyes looking up into his face, bright with expectation. More cake, more grog: growing confidence and esteem. After this, as soon as the drum had beat the retreat, the sloth would meet him, hurrying towards the door on its uneven legs: it was given its own bowl, and it would grip it with its claws, lowering its round face into it and pursing its lips to drink (its tongue was too short to lap). Sometimes it went to sleep in this position, bowed over the emptiness.

HMS Surprise – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

The sloth was not easily alarmed; as soon as it was provided with a piece of hawser stretched taut in the cabin it went fast to sleep, hanging by its claws and swaying with the roll as it might have done in the wind-rocked branches of its native forest. Indeed, apart from its candid distress at the sight of Jack’s face it was perfectly adapted for a life at sea; it was uncomplaining; it requires no fresh air, no light; it thrive in a damp, confined atmosphere; it could sleep in any circumstances; it was tenacious of life; it put up with any hardship. It accepted biscuit gratefully, and pap; and in the evenings it would hobble on deck, walking on its claws, and creep into the rigging, hanging there upside down and advancing two or three yards at a time, with pauses for sleep. The hands loved it from the first, and would often carry it into the tops or higher; they declared it brought the ship good luck, though it was difficult to see why, since the wind rarely blew east of south, and that but feebly, day after day. 

Yet the fresh provisions had their astonishingly rapid effect; in a week’s time the sick-bay was almost empty, and the Surprise, fully manned and cheerful, had recovered her old form, her high-masted, trim appearance. She returned to her exercising of the great guns, laid aside for the more urgent repairs, and every day the trade-wind carried away great wafts of her powder-smoke: at first this perturbed the sloth; it scuttled, almost ran, below, its claws going clack-clack-clack in the silence between one broadside and the next; but by the time they had passed directly under the sun and the wind came strong and true at last, it slept through the whole exercise, hanging in its usual place in the mizzen catharpins, above the quarterdeck carronades, just as it slept through the Marines’ musketry and Stephen’s pistol-practice. 

HMS Surprise — Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘Ah, Mr Babbington, there you are: sit down. I dare say you know why I have sent for you?’

‘No, sir,’ said Babbington instantly. It was worth denying everything as long as he could.

HMS Surprise – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘Tell me, Stephen, what did you drink on that infernal rock?’

‘Boiled shit.’ Stephen was chaste in his speech, rarely an oath, never an obscene word, never any bawdy: his reply astonished Jack, who looked quickly at the tablecloth. Perhaps it was a learned term he had misunderstood. ‘Boiled shit,’ he said again. Jack smiled in a worldly fashion, but he felt the blush rising. ‘Yes. There was one single pool of rainwater left in a hollow. The birds defecated in it, copiously. Not with set intent – the whole rock is normally deep in their droppings – but enough to foul it to the pitch of nausea. The next day was hotter, if possible, and with the reverberation the liquid rose to an extraordinary temperature. I drank it, however, until it ceased to be liquid at all; then I turned to blood. Poor unsuspecting boobies’ blood, tempered with a little sea-water and the expressed juice of kelp.’

HMS Surprise – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

(Stephen has been attempting to learn the Urdu language)

‘I was repeating phrases from this little book. It is all I could get, apart from the Fort William grammar, which is in my cabin. It is a phrase-book, and I believe it must have been compiled by a disappointed man: My horse has been eaten by a tiger, leopard, bear; I wish to hire a palanquin; there are no palanquins in this town, sir – all my money has been stolen; I wish to speak to the Collector: the Collector is dead, sir – I have been beaten by evil men. Yet salacious too, poor burning soul: Woman, wilt thou lie with me?

HMS Surprise – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

He had an unlimited faith in Stephen’s powers; and although he had seen a ship’s company badly hit by the disease, with hardly enough hands to win the anchor or make sail, let alone fight the shop, he thought of the forties, of the great western gales far south of the line, with an easier mind. ‘It is a great comfort to me to have you aboard: it is like sailing with a piece of the True Cross.’

‘Stuff, stuff,’ said Stephen peevishly. ‘I do wish you would get that weak notion out of your mind. Medicine can do very little; surgery less. I can purge you, bleed you, worn you at a pinch, set your leg or take it off, and that is very nearly all. What could Hippocrates,  Galen, Rhazes, what can Blane, what can Trotter do for a carcinoma, a lupus, a sarcoma?’ He had often tried to eradicate Jack’s simple faith; but Jack had seen him trepan the gunner of the Sophie, saw a hole in his skull and expose the brain; and Stephen, looking at Jack’s knowing smile, his air of civil reserve, knew that he had not succeeded this time, either. The Sophies, to a man, had known that if he chose Dr Maturin could save anyone, so long as the tide had not turned; and Jack was so thoroughly a seaman that he shared nearly all their beliefs, though in a somewhat more polished form. 

HMS Surprise — Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘There’s two more of un behind us, terrible great murdering devils. Do ee bide still, Amos, and be meek. Mind master’s horses, and tip ‘em the civil.’

The quick determined clip of hooves, and Sophia whispered, ‘Don’t shoot, Stephen.’

Glancing back from the open window, Stephen said, ‘My dear, I have no intention of shooting. I have –’ But now here was the horse pulled up at the window, its hot breath steaming in, and a great dark form leaning low over its withers, shutting out the moonlight and filling the chaise with the civilest murmur in the world, ‘I beg your pardon, sir, for troubling you –’

‘Spare me,’ cried Stephen. Take all I have – take this young woman – but spare me, spare me!’

‘I knew it was you, Jack,’ said Sophia, clasping his hand. ‘I knew directly. Oh, I am so glad to see you, my dear!’

‘I will give you half an hour,’ said Stephen. ‘Not a moment more: this young woman must be back in her warm bed before cock-crow.’

HMS Surprise – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

Surprise!‘ cried Jack again. ‘I have not set foot in her since I was a midshipman.’ He saw her plain, lying there a cable’s length from him in the brilliant sunshine of English Harbour, a trim, beautiful, little eight-and-twenty, French-built witha  bluff bow and lovely lines, weatherly, stiff, a fine sea-boat, fast when she was well-handled, roomy, dry . . . He had sailed in her under a taut captain and an even tauter first lieutenant — had spent hours and hours banished to the masthead — had done most of his reading there — had carved his initials in the cap: were they still to be seen? She was old, to be sure, and called for nursing; but what a ship to command . . . He dismissed the ungrateful thought that there was never a prize to be looked for in the Indian Ocean — swept clear long ago — and said, ‘We could give Agamemnon mainsail and topgallants, sailing on a bowline . . . I shall have the choice of one or two officers, for sure. Shall you come, Pullings?’

‘Why, in course, sir,’ — surprised.

‘Mrs Pullings no objection? No — eh?’

‘Mrs Pullings will pipe her eye, I dare say; but then presently she will brighten up. And I dare say she will be main pleased to see me back again at the end of the commission; more pleased than now is, maybe. I get sadly underfoot, among the brooms and pans. It ain’t like aboard ship, sir, the marriage-state.’

‘Ain’t it, Pullings?’ said Jack looking at him wistfully.

HMS Surprise — Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘Bonden,’ cried Stephen, ‘take pen and ink, and write –’

‘Write, sir?’ cried Bonden.

‘Yes. Sit square to your paper, and write: Landsdowne Crescent – Barret Bonden, are you brought by the lee?’

‘Why, yes, sir; that I am – fair broached-to. Though I can read pretty quick, if in broad print; I can make out a watch-bill.’

‘Never mind. I shall show you the way of it when we are at sea, however: it is no great matter – look at the fools who write all day long – but it is useful, by land. You can ride a horse, sure?’

‘Which I have rid a horse, sir; and three or four times, too, when ashore.’

‘Well. Be so good as to step – to jump – round to the Paragon and let Miss Williams know that if her afternoon walk should chance to lead her by Landsdowne Crescent, she would oblige me infinitely; then to the Saracen’s Head – my compliments to Mr Pullings, and I should be very glad to see him as soon as he has a moment.’

‘Paragon it is, sir, and Saracen’s Head: to proceed to Landsdowne Crescent at once.’

‘You may run, Bonden, if you choose. There is not a moment to be lost.’

The front door banged; feet tearing away left-handed down the crescent, and a long, long pause.

HMS Surprise – Patrick O’Brian

Oscar Snub – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

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This post is a part of the “Oscars Snubs Blogathon” hosted by Silver Scenes and The Midnite Drive-In

If you were going to vent about the Oscar snub that bothers you the most, there are plenty of popular options from which to choose. You might still get riled up thinking about how Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan for best picture, that Forrest Gump won out over Pulp Fiction, or that Brokeback Mountain lost to Crash. Perhaps you’re indignant that Peter O’Toole never won an Oscar, or that Leonardo DiCaprio is still waiting for his. You could have a particular category that always manages to disappoint you, like Best Original Song does for me. Or maybe you’re just baffled that films like Around the World in 80 Days or Oliver! could have been marked among the best films of all time while something as influential as Star Wars was passed over. But given 88 years of Academy Awards history, you probably would not choose to object to the victory of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, arguably the most popular film to ever with the Oscar for Best Picture. But to me, the best film of 2003 was a different long-titled film adaptation of a popular book series about men at war: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

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