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Aubrey-Maturin Novels

Master and Commander

O'Brian, Patrick. Master and Commander New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1970.


  "Must I put on silk stockings?"
  "Certainly you must put on silk stockings. And do show a leg, my dear chap: we shall be late, without you spread a little more canvas."
  "You are always in such a hurry," said Stephen peevishly, groping among his possessions. A Montpellier snake glided out with a dry rustling sound and traversed the room in a series of extraordinarily elegant curves, its head held up some eighteen inches above the ground.
  "Oh, oh, oh," cried Jack, leaping on to a chair. "A snake!"
  "Will these do?" asked Stephen. "They have a hole in them."
  "Is it poisonous?"
  "Extremely so. I dare say it will attack you, directly. I have very little doubt of it. Was I to put the silk stockings over my worsted stockings, sure the hole would not show: but then, I should stifle with heat. Do you not find it uncommonly hot?"
  "Oh, it must be two fathoms long. Tell me, is it really poisonous? On your oath now?"
  "If you thrust your hand down its throat as far as its back teeth you may meet a little venom; but not otherwise..."

H.M.S. Surprise

O'Brian, Patrick. H.M.S. Surprise. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1973.


  "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 charat 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 the 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.

"In this bucket," said Stephen, walking into the cabin, "in this small half-bucket, now, I have the population of Dublin, London and Paris combined: these animalculae - what is the matter with the sloth?" It was curled on Jack's knee, breathing heavily: its bowl and Jack's glass stood empty on the table. Stephen picked it up, peered into its affable, bleary face, shoot it, and hung it upon its rope. It seized hold with one fore and one hind foot, letting the others dangle limp, and went to sleep.
  Stephen looked sharply round, saw the decanter, smelt to the sloth, and cried, "Jack, you have debauched my sloth."


  "Verse," said Stephen again, gazing at the illimitable blue-grey sea and the lop-sided moon above it. "Verse:
    Then we upon our globe's last verge shall go.
    And view the ocean leaning on the sky;
    From thence our rolling neighbours we shall know,
    And on the lunar world securly pry
by God I believe I see the albatross."
  "... believe I see the albatross," said Bonden's lips silently. "It don't rhyme. Another line, sir, maybe?"