Clarissa oakes, p.1
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       Clarissa Oakes, p.1

           Patrick O'Brian
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Clarissa Oakes


  Patrick O'Brian is the author of the acclaimed Aubrey-Maturin tales and the biographer of Joseph Banks and Picasso. His first novel, Testimonies, and his Collected Short Stories have recently been reprinted by HarperCollins. He translated many works from French into English, among the novels and memoirs of Simone de Beauvoir and the first volume of Jean Lacouture's biography of Charles de Gaulle. In 1995 he was the first recipient of the Heywood Hill Prize for a lifetime's contribution to literature. In the same year he was awarded the CBE. In 1997 he was awarded an honurary doctorate of letters by Trinity College, Dublin. He died in January 2000 at the age of 85.

  The Works of Patrick O'Brian

  The Aubrey/Maturin Novels

  in order of publication









































  77-85 Fulham Palace Road,

  Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

  This paperback edition 2003

  Previously published in B-format paperback

  by HarperCollins 1994

  Reprinted six times

  Also published in paperback by Fontana 1993

  First published in Great Britain by

  HarperCollinsPublishers 1992

  Copyright © The estate of the late Patrick O'Brian CBE 1992

  Patrick O'Brian asserts the moral right to

  be identified as the author of this work

  ISBN 978-0-00-649930-5

  Set in Imprint by

  Rowland Phototypesetting Ltd.

  Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk

  Printed and bound in Great Britain by

  Clays Ltd, St. Ives plc

  All rights reserved. no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.

  This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form or binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  for Mary, with love and

  most particular gratitude

  Chapter One

  Standing at the frigate's taffrail, and indeed leaning upon it, Jack Aubrey considered her wake, stretching away neither very far nor emphatically over the smooth pure green-blue sea: a creditable furrow, however, in these light airs. She had just come about, with her larboard tacks aboard, and as he expected her wake showed that curious nick where, when the sheets were hauled aft, tallied and belayed, she made a little wanton gripe whatever the helmsman might do.

  He knew the Surprise better than any other ship he had served in: he had been laid across a gun in the cabin just below him and beaten for misconduct when he was a midshipman, and as her captain he too had used brute force to teach reefers the difference between naval right and naval wrong. He had served in her for many years, and he loved her even more than his first command: it was not so much as a man-of-war, a fighting-machine, that he loved her, for even when he first set foot aboard so long ago neither her size nor her force had been in any way remarkable, and now that the war had been going on for twenty years and more, now that the usual frigate carried thirty-eight or thirty-six eighteen-pounders and gauged a thousand tons the Surprise, with her twenty-eight nine-pounders and her less than six hundred tons, had been left far behind; in fact she and the rest of her class had been sold out of the service or broken up and not one remained in commission, although both French and American yards were building fast, shockingly fast: no, it was primarily as a ship that he loved her, a fast, eminently responsive ship that, well handled, could outsail any square-rigged vessel he had ever seen, above all on a bowline. She had also repaired his shattered fortunes when they were both out of the Navy—himself struck off the list and she sold at the block—and he sailed her as a letter of marque; but although that may have added a certain immediate fervour to his love, its true basis was a disinterested delight in her sailing and all those innumerable traits that make up the character of a ship. Furthermore, he was now her owner as well as her captain, for Stephen Maturin, the frigate's surgeon, who bought her when she was put up for sale, had recently agreed to let him have her. And what was of even greater importance, both man and ship were back in the Navy, Jack Aubrey reinstated after an exceptionally brilliant cutting-out expedition (and after his election to Parliament), and the frigate as His Majesty's hired vessel Surprise—not quite a full reinstatement for her, but near enough for present happiness.

  Her first task in this particular voyage had been to carry Aubrey and Maturin, who was an intelligence-agent as well as a medical man, to the west coast of South America, there to frustrate French attempts at forming an alliance with the Peruvians and Chileans who led the movement for independence from Spain and to transfer their affections to England. Yet since Spain was then at least nominally allied to Great Britain the enterprise had to be carried out under the cover of privateering, of attacking United States South-Sea whalers and merchantmen and any French vessels she might chance to meet in the east Pacific. This plan had been betrayed by a highly-placed, a very highly-placed but as yet unidentified traitor in Whitehall and it had had to be postponed, Aubrey and Maturin going off on quite a different mission in the South China Sea, eventually keeping a discreet rendezvous with the Surprise on the other side of the world, in about 4°N and 127°E, at the mouth of the Salibabu Passage, the frigate in the meantime having been commanded by Tom Pullings, Jack's first lieutenant, and manned, of course, by her old privateering crew. Here they sent her more recent prizes away for Canton under the escort of the Nutmeg of Consolation, a charming little post-ship lent to Captain Aubrey by the Lieutenant-Governor of Java, and so proceeded to New South Wales, to Sydney Cove itself, where Jack hoped to have his stores renewed and several important repairs carried out against their eastward voyage to South America and beyond, and where Stephen Maturin hoped to see the natural wonders of the Antipodes, particularly Ornithorhynchus paradoxus, the duck-billed platypus.

  Unfortunately the Governor was away and Jack's hopes were disappointed because of the ill-will of the colonial officials; and the fulfillment of Stephen's very nearly killed him, for the outraged platypus, seized in the midst of his courting-display, plunged both poison-spurs deep into the incautious arm. It was an unhappy visit to an unhappy, desolate land.
  But now the odious penal shores had sunk in the west; now the horizon ran clean round the sky and Jack was in his old world again, aboard his own beloved ship. Stephen had recovered from his distressing state (immensely swollen, dumb, blind and rigid) with extraordinary speed; the bluish leaden colour of his face had returned to its usual pale yellow; and he could now be heard playing his 'cello in the cabin, a remarkably happy piece he had composed for the birth of his daughter. Jack smiled—he was very deeply attached to his friend—but after a couple of bars he said 'Why Stephen should be so pleased with a baby I cannot tell. He was born to be a bachelor—no notion of domestic comforts, family life—quite unsuited for marriage, above all for marriage with Diana, a dashing brilliant creature to be sure, a fine horsewoman and a capital hand at billiards and whist, but given to high play and something of a rake—quite often shows her wine—in any case quite improper for Stephen—has nothing to say to books—much more concerned with breeding horses. Yet between them they have produced this baby; and a girl at that.' The wake stretched away, as true as a taut line now, and after a while he said 'He longed for a daughter, I know, and it is very well that he should have one; but I wish she may not prove a platypus to him,' and he might have added some considerations on marriage and the relations, so often unsatisfactory, between men and women, parents and children, had not Davidge's voice called out 'Every rope an-end' cutting the thread of his thought.

  'Every rope an-end.' The cry was automatic, perfunctory, and superfluous: for having put the ship about (with rather more conversation than was usual in a regular man-of-war but even more neatly than in most) the Surprises, in the nature of things, were rapidly coiling down the running rigging, braces and bowlines, just as they had done thousands of times before. Yet without the cry something would have been missing, some minute part of that naval ritual which did so uphold sea-going life.

  'Sea-going life: none better,' reflected Jack; and certainly at this point in time he had something like the cream of it, with a good, tolerably well-found ship (for the returning Governor had done all he could in the few days left), an excellent crew of former Royal Navy hands, privateersmen and smugglers, professional from clew to earing, with his course set for Easter Island, and many thousand miles of blue-water sailing before him. Above all there was his restoration to the list, and though the Surprise was no longer in the full sense a King's ship both her future as a yacht and his as a sea-officer were as nearly assured as anything could be on such a fickle element. In all likelihood he would be offered a command as soon as he came home: not a frigate alas, since he was now so senior, but probably a ship of the line. Possibly a small detached squadron, as commodore. In any event a flag, being a matter of seniority and survival rather than merit, was not so very far distant; and the fact that he was member of parliament for Milport (a rotten borough, in the gift of his cousin Edward) meant that independently of his deserts this flag would almost certainly be hoisted at sea, for rotten borough or not, a vote was a vote.

  This certain knowledge had been with him ever since the Gazette printed the words Captain John Aubrey, Royal Navy, is restored to the List with his former rank and seniority and is appointed to the Diane of thirty-two guns, filling his massive frame with a deep abiding happiness; and now he had another, more immediate reason for joy, his friend having made this astonishing recovery. 'Then why am I so cursed snappish?' he asked.

  Five bells. Little Reade, the midshipman of the watch, skipped aft to the rail, followed by the quartermaster with the log-ship and reel. The log splashed down, the stray-line ran gently astern; 'Turn' said the quartermaster in a hoarse tobacco-chewing whisper, and Reade held the twenty-eight second glass to his eye. 'Stop,' he cried at last, clear and shrill, and the quartermaster wheezed 'Three one and a half, mate.'

  Reade gave his captain an arch look, but seeing his grim, closed expression he walked forward and said to Davidge 'Three knots one and a half fathoms, sir, if you please,' directing his voice aft and speaking rather loud.

  The wake span out, rather faster now than Jack had foretold—hence the arch look. 'Cross in the morning and bloody-minded with it, like an old and ill-conditioned man. It is discreditable in the last degree,' he said, and his thoughts ran on.

  Profound attachment to Stephen Maturin did not preclude profound dissatisfaction at times: even lasting dissatisfaction. For a quick and efficient refitting of the ship, good relations with the colonial administration had been of the first importance; but in that very strongly anti-Irish and anti-Catholic atmosphere (Botany Bay had been filled with United Irishmen after the '97 rising) the presence of Stephen, irascible, more or less Irish and entirely Catholic, rendered them impossible. Or to put it more fairly not just his presence but the fact that he had resented an insult after a Government House dinner on his very first day in the penal colony—blood all over the bath-stoned steps. Jack had had to endure weeks of official obstruction and harassment—the vexatious searching the ship for convicts trying to escape, the stopping of her boats, the arrest of mildly drunken liberty-men ashore—and it was only when the Governor returned that Jack had been able to put a stop to all this by promising him that the Surprise should carry no absconder from Port Jackson.

  Stephen, poor fellow, could not really be blamed for the misfortunes of his birth, nor for having resented so very gross an insult; but he could be blamed, and Jack did blame him, for having, without the least consultation, planned the escape of his former servant Padeen Colman, equally Popish and even more Irish (virtually monoglot), whose sentence of death for robbing an apothecary of the laudanum to which, as Stephen's loblolly-boy, he had become addicted, had been commuted to transportation to New South Wales. The matter had been presented to Jack when he was exhausted with work and last-minute preparations, frustrated beyond description by a light forward conscienceless woman, liverish from official dinners in the extreme heat; and their difference of opinion was so strong that it endangered their friendship. The escape did in fact take place in the confusion that followed Maturin's encounter with the platypus and Padeen was now on board: it took place with the consent of Padeen's master and of the entire crew; and it could be said that Captain Aubrey's word was unbroken, since the absconder came not from Port Jackson but from Woolloo-Woolloo, a day's journey to the north. Yet for his own part Jack dismissed this as a mere quibble; and in any event he felt that he had been manipulated, which he disliked extremely.

  That was not the only time he had been manipulated, either. Throughout the voyage from Batavia to Sydney Jack Aubrey had been chaste: necessarily so, given the absence of anyone to be unchaste with. And throughout his anxious, frustrating negotiations in Sydney he had been chaste, because of total exhaustion by the end of the day. But after Governor Macquarie's return all this changed. At several official and unofficial gatherings he met Selina Wesley, a fine plump young woman with a prominent bosom, an indifferent reputation and a roving eye. Twice they were neighbours at dinner, twice at supper-parties; she had naval connexions, an extensive knowledge of the world, and a very free way of speaking; they got along famously. She had no patience with Romish monks or nuns, she said; celibacy was great nonsense—quite unnatural; and when during the interval in an evening concert given in some gardens outside Sydney she asked him to walk with her down to the tree-fern dell he found himself in such a boyish state of desire that his voice was scarcely at his command. She took his arm and they moved discreetly out of the lantern-light, walked behind a summer-house and down the path. 'We have escaped Mrs Macarthur's eye,' she said with a gurgle of laughter, and her grasp tightened for a moment.

  Down through the tree-ferns, down; and at the bottom a man stepped out of the shadows. 'There you are, Kendrick,' cried Mrs Wesley. 'I was not sure I should find you. Thank you so much, Captain Aubrey. You will find your way back easily enough, I am sure, steering by the stars. Kendrick, Captain Aubrey was so kind as to give me his arm down the path in the dark.'

  He had other causes for discontent,
such as the faint and even dead contrary airs that had kept Bird Island in sight for so long and then the curious falsity of the trade wind that obliged the ship to beat up close-hauled day after day, wearing every four hours. Other causes, some of them trivial: he had taken only two midshipmen from the Nutmeg into the Surprise, two for whom he felt a particular responsibility; and both of them were extremely irritating. Reade, a pretty boy who had lost an arm in their battle against sea Dyaks, was over-indulged by the Surprises and was now much above himself; while Oakes, his companion, a hairy youth of seventeen or eighteen, went about singing in a most unofficer-like manner—a kind of bull-calf joy. Jack skipped over the matter of Nathaniel Martin, the Reverend Nathaniel Martin, an unbeneficed clergyman, a well-read man and an eager natural philosopher who had joined the Surprise as assistant surgeon to see the world in Maturin's company. It was impossible to dislike Martin, a deeply respectable man, though his playing of the viola would never have recommended him anywhere; yet Jack could not love him either. Martin was of course a more suitable companion for Stephen in certain respects, but it seemed to Jack that he took up altogether too much of his time, prating away about primates in the mizzen-top or endlessly turning over his collections of beetles and mummified toads in the gun-room. Jack passed quickly on—he did not choose to dwell on the subject—and came to the strange, unaccountable behaviour of the frigate's people. Obviously they were not like a Royal Navy crew, being much more talkative, independent, undeferential, partners rather than subordinates; but Jack did not dislike that at all; he was used to it, and he had thought he knew them intimately well from his cruises with them as a privateer and from this long run from Salibabu to New South Wales. Yet something seemed to have happened to them in Sydney. Now they were fuller of mirth than before; now they had private expressions that caused gales of laughter in the forecastle; and now he often saw them look at him with a knowing smile. In any other ship this might have meant mischief, but here even the officers had something of the same oddness. At times even Tom Pullings, whom he had known since his first command, seemed to be watching him with a considering eye, hesitant, quizzical.


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