Quote of the Day

‘I have your plates,’ he said, holding out a green-baize parcel. 

‘Oh, thank you, thank you, Stephen. What a good fellow you are. Here’s elegance, damn my eyes. How they shine! Oh, oh,’ his face fell. ‘Stephen, I do not like to seem ungrateful, but I did say hawser-laid, you know. The border was to be hawser-laid.’

‘Well, and did I not say, “Let there be a hawser about the periphery” and did he not say, the shopman, God’s curse upon him, the thief, “Here, sir, is as pretty a hawser as Lord Viscount Nelson himself could desire”?’

‘And so it is. A capital hawser. But surely my dear Stephen, you must be aware, after all this time at sea, that a hawser is cable-laid, not hawser-laid?’

‘I am not. And I absolutely decline to hear more of the matter. A hawser not hawser-laid — what stuff. I badger the silversmith early and late, and we are to be told that hawsers are not hawser-laid. No, no. The wine is drawn, it must be drunk. The frog has neither feathers nor wool, and yet she sings. You will have to sail up to the Downs, eating the bread of affliction off your cable-laid baubles, and wetting it with the tears if misery; and I may tell you, sir, that you will eat it without me.’

Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

The lines seemed to crackle with life and happiness, but still the swam. ‘Wish me joy!’ Well, so I do, too. ‘You will never guess the news I have to tell you!’ Oh yes I shall, brother: pray do not use so many points of admiration. ‘I have the best part of a wife!! viz, her heart!!’ Stephen sniffed again. An intolerably tedious description of Miss Williams, whom Stephen knew a good deal better than Captain Aubrey — her appearance, virtues. ‘So direct — straightforward — nothing hole in the corner, if you understand me — no damned purser’s tricks — must not swear, however, — like a 32 lber.’ Could he really have likened Sophie to a thirty-two pounder? It was quite possible. How the lines did swim. ‘He must not speak disrespectfully of his putative mother-in-law, but . . . ‘ What did Jack imagine putative to mean?

Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘Jack,’ said he, walking into the cabin, ‘what are you at?’

‘I am trying to get this God-damned plant to stand upright. Do what I may, they keep wilting. I water them before breakfast and again in the last dog-watch, and still they wilt. Upon my word, it is too bad.’

‘What do you water them with?’

‘The best water, straight from the scuttle-butt.’

‘If you anoint them with the vile concoction we drink and wash in, of course they will wilt. You must send ashore for some rain-water; and at that rate of watering, some aquatic plants.’

‘What an admirable notion, Stephen. I shall do so at once. Thank you. But apart from these poxed vegetables, don’t you think it looks tolerably well? Comfortable? Homelike? The gunner’s wife said she had never seen the like: all she could suggest was somewhere to hang their clothes, and a pincushion.’

The cabin resembled a cross between a brothel and an undertaker’s parlour, but Stephen only said that he agreed with Mrs Armstrong and suggested that it might be a little less like a state funeral if the tubs were not quite so rigidly arranged about each cot. 

Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘We can shift the bulkhead a good eighteen inches for’ard,’ said Jack. ‘By the bye, you will not object to the bees going ashore, just for a while?’

‘They did not go ashore for Mrs Miller. There were none of these tyrannical caprices for Mrs Miller, I believe. They are just growing used to their surroundings — they have started a queen-cell!’

‘Brother, I insist. I should send my bees ashore for you, upon my sacred honour. Now there is a great favour I must ask you. I believe I have told you how I dined with Lord Nelson?’

‘Not above two or three hundred times.’

Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘Dogs,’ said the chaplain, who was not one to leave his corner of the table silent long. ‘That reminds me of a question I had meant to put to you gentlemen. This short watch that is about to come, or rather these two short watches — why are they called dog watches? Where, heu, heu, is the canine connection?’

‘Why,’ said Stephen, ‘it is because they are curtailed, of course.’

A total blank. Stephen gave a faint inward sigh; but he was used to this. ‘Mr Butler, the bottle stands by you,’ said Jack. ‘Mr Lydgate, allow me to help you to a little of the undercut.’

It was the midshipman who first reacted. He whispered to his neighbour Dashwood, ‘He said, cur-tailed: the dog-watch is cur-tailed. Do you twig?’

It was the sort of wretched clench perfectly suited to the company. The spreading merriment, the relish, the thunderous mirth, reached the forecastle, causing amazement and conjecture: Jack leaned back in his chair, wiping the tears from his scarlet face, and cried, ‘Oh, it is the best thing — the best thing. Bless you, Stephen — a glass of wine with you. Mr Simmons, if we dine with the admiral, you must ask me, and I will say, “Why, it is because they have been docked, of course.” No, no. I am out. Cur-tailed — cur-tailed. But I doubt I should ever be able to get it out gravely enough.’

Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

He went below, noticed the smell of midshipment in the fore-cabin, walked through into the after-cabin, and found himself in total darkness.

‘Close the door,’ cried Stephen, swarming past him and clapping it to.

‘What’s amiss?’ asked Jack, whose mind had moved so deep into naval life that he had forgotten the bees, as he might have forgotten even a vivid nightmare.

‘They are remarkably adaptable — perhaps the most adaptable of all social insects,’ said Stephen, from another part of the cabin. ‘We find them from Norway to the burning wastes of the Sahara; but they have not grown quite used to their surroundings yet.’

‘Oh God,’ said Jack, scrabbling for the handle. ‘Are they all out?’

‘Not at all,’ said Stephen. ‘And learning from Killick that you expected guests, I conceived you might prefer them away. There is so much ignorant prejudice against bees in a dining-room.’ Something was crawling on Jack’s neck; the door had completely vanished; he began to sweat heavily. ‘So I though to create an artificial night, when, in the course of nature, they return to their hive. I also made three fires for the sake of the smoke: these did not have the desired effect, however. It may be that the darkness is too complete. Let us compromise with a twilight — dark, but not too dark.’ He raised a corner of sailcloth, and a beam of sun showed an incalculable number of bees on every vertical surface and on most of those that were flat; bees flying in a jerky, meaningless fashion from point to point; fifty or so sitting on his coat and breeches. ‘There,’ said Stephen, ‘that is far, far better is it not? Urge them to mount on your finger, Jack, and carry them back to their hive. Gently, gently, and on no account exhibit, or even feel, the least uneasiness: fear is wholly fatal, as I dare say you know.’

Jack had the door-handle; he opened it a crack and glided swiftly through. ‘Killick!’ he shouted, beating at his clothes.


‘Go and help the Doctor. Bear a hand, now.’

‘I dursn’t,’ said Killick.

‘You don’t mean to tell me you are afraid, a man-of-war’s man?’

‘Yes I am, sir,’ said Killick.

‘Well, clear the fore-cabin and lay the cloth there. And uncork a dozen of claret.’ He plunged into his sleeping-cabin and tore off his stock — there was something creeping beneath it.

Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘Beg Dr Maturin to come on deck, if he is not engaged,’ said Jack. ‘Dr Maturin, is it possible to tell the sex of an ape by its teeth, or that kind of thing?’

‘It depends on the ape,’ said Stephen, looking eagerly at the object in Jack’s hands. ‘This, for example,’ he said, taking it and turning it about, ‘is an excellent specimen of the male simia satyrus, Buffon’s wild man of the woods: see the lateral expansion of the cheeks, mentioned by Hunter, and the remains of that particular throat-sac, so characteristic of the male.’

‘Well, there you are,’ said Jack. ‘Ajax it is. Thank you very much, Doctor. The charge of theft is dismissed. But you must not knock people about, Rogers. Has anyone something to say in his favour?’

The second lieutenant stepped forward, said that Rogers was in his division — attentive to his duty, generally sober, a good character, but apt to fly into a passion; that flying into a passion was a very bad thing — it would certainly lead him to the gallows, if indulged in. He was to command his temper, and do without grog for the next week. The head was confiscated temporarily, for further examination — indeed, it had already vanished into the cabin, leaving Rogers looking somewhat blank. ‘I dare say you will get it back in time,’ said Jack, with more conviction than he felt.

Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘Stephen,’ he said, ‘how are your bees?’

‘They are very well, I thank you; they show great activity, even enthusiasm. But,’ he added, with a slight hesitation, ‘I seem to detect a certain reluctance to return to their hive.’

‘Do you mean to say you let them out?’ cried Jack. ‘Do you mean there are sixty thousand bees howling for blood in the cabin?’

‘No, no. Oh no. Not above half that number; perhaps even less. And if you do not provoke them, I am persuaded you may go to and fro without the least concern; they are not froward bees. They will have gone home by morning, sure; I shall creep in during the middle watch and close their little wicket. But perhaps it might be as well, were we to sit together in this room tonight, just to let them get used to their surroundings. A certain initial agitation is understandable after all, and should not be discountenanced.’

 Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘Stephen, will you for the love of God take off that thing?’

‘My wool garment? You have noticed it, have you? I had forgot, or I should have pointed it out. Have you ever seen anything so deeply rational? See, I can withdraw my head entirely: the same applies to the feet and the hands. Warm, yet uncumbering; light; and above all healthy — no constriction anywhere! Paris, who was once a framework knitter, made it to my design; he is working on one for you at present.’

‘Stephen, you would favor me deeply by taking it right off. It is unphilosophical of me, I know, but this is only and acting-command, and I cannot afford to be laughed at.’

‘But you have often told me that it does not matter what one wears at sea. You yourself appear in nankeen trousers, a thing that I should never, never countenance. And this’ — plucking at his bosom with a disappointed air — ‘partakes of the nature both of the Guernsey frock and of the free and easy pantaloon.’

Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian

Quote of the Day

‘Listen, Jack,’ he said, smiling. ‘Put your ear firmly to the top and listen while I tap.’ The parcel gave a sudden momentary hum. ‘Did you hear? That shows they are queen-right – that no harm has come to their queen. But we must open it at once; they must have air. There! A glass hive. Is it not ingenious, charming? I have always wanted to keep bees.’

‘But how in God’s name do you expect to keep bees in a man-of-war?’ cried Jack. ‘Where in God’s name do you expect them to find flowers, at sea? How will they eat?’

‘You can see their every motion,’ said Stephen, close against the glass, entranced. ‘Oh, as for their feeding, never fret your anxious mind; they will feed with us upon a saucer of sugar, at stated intervals. If the ingenious Monsieur Huber can keep bees, and he blind, the poor man, surely we can manage in a great spacious xebec?’

‘This is a frigate.’

‘Let us never split hairs, for all love. There is the queen! Come, look at the queen!’

‘How many of these reptiles might there be?’ asked Jack, holding pretty much aloof.

‘Oh, sixty thousand or so, I dare say,’ said Stephen carelessly. ‘And when it comes on to blow, we will ship gimbals for the hive. This will preserve them from undue lateral motion.’

‘You think of almost everything,’ said Jack. ‘Well, I will wear the bees, like Damon and Pythagoras – ho, a mere sixty thousand bees in the cabin don’t signify, much. But I tell you what it is, Stephen: you don’t always think of quite everything.’

‘You refer to the queen’s being a virgin?’ said Stephen.

‘Not really. No. What I really meant was, that this is a crack frigate.’

‘I am delighted to hear it. There she goes – she lays an egg! You need not fear for her virginity, Jack.’

Post Captain – Patrick O’Brian