Patrick O`Brian: THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL

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Patrick O`Brian THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL
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    THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL
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    Морские приключения / на английском языке
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    Английский
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The eleventh installment in Patrick O'Brian's excellent series of naval adventures finds Aubrey and Maturin back in Britain as their journey to the Pacific, begun in the previous book, comes to a conclusion. Aubrey, always a minnow among land sharks when he has money in his pocket, finds himself innocently ensnared in a complicated stock exchange scam that may have been set up by Maturin's enemies in the intelligence game. The complex case and courtroom scene, O'Brian assures us in a note, are based on a real case. The pillory scene is powerful, as Bonden gruffly clears the square of all but sailors, and officers and seamen of all stripes come to show Jack their love and respect. After several books at sea, "The Reverse of the Medal" brings readers back to the Admiralty in London with its complicated and layered intrigues, back to Ashgrove and Sophie, and back to Maturin's espionage machinations. As always, O'Brian's wonderfully intelligent prose and satisfying grasp of historical nuance captures the reader in little pockets of 18th-century Britain.

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Patrick O`Brian


THE REVERSE OF THE MEDAL


(Aubrey and Maturin - 11)


The eleventh installment in Patrick O'Brian's excellent series of naval adventures finds Aubrey and Maturin back in Britain as their journey to the Pacific, begun in the previous book, comes to a conclusion. Aubrey, always a minnow among land sharks when he has money in his pocket, finds himself innocently ensnared in a complicated stock exchange scam that may have been set up by Maturin's enemies in the intelligence game. The complex case and courtroom scene, O'Brian assures us in a note, are based on a real case. The pillory scene is powerful, as Bonden gruffly clears the square of all but sailors, and officers and seamen of all stripes come to show Jack their love and respect. After several books at sea, "The Reverse of the Medal" brings readers back to the Admiralty in London with its complicated and layered intrigues, back to Ashgrove and Sophie, and back to Maturin's espionage machinations. As always, O'Brian's wonderfully intelligent prose and satisfying grasp of historical nuance captures the reader in little pockets of 18th-century Britain.


CHAPTER ONE


The West Indies squadron lay off Bridgetown, sheltered from the north-cast tradewind and basking in the brilliant sun. It was a diminished squadron, consisting of little more than the ancient Irresistible, wearing the flag of Sir William Pellew, red at the fore, and two or three battered, worn-out, undermanned stoops, together with a storeship and a transport; for all the seaworthy vessels were far away in the Atlantic or Caribbean, looking for the possible French or American men-of-war and the certain privateers, numerous, well-armed, well-handled, full of men, swift-sailing and eager for their prey, the English and allied merchant ships.

Yet although they were old, weather-worn and often iron-sick they were a pleasant sight lying there on the pure blue sea, as outwardly trim as West Indies spit and polish could make them, with paint and putty disguising the wounds of age and their bright-work all ablaze; and although some of them had suffered so from fever in Jamaica and on the Spanish Main that they could scarcely muster hands enough to win their anchors, there were still plenty of men, both officers and foremast-jacks, who were intimately acquainted with the ship that was beating up against the steady breeze and with many of the people in her. She was the Surprise, a twenty-eight-gun frigate that had been sent to protect the British whalers in the South Seas from the Norfolk, an American man-of-war of roughly equal force. The Surprise was even older than the Irresistible - indeed she had been on her way to the breaker's yard when she was suddenly given the mission - but unlike her she was a sweet sailer, particularly on a bowline; and if she had not been towing a dismasted ship she would certainly have joined the squadron a little after dinner. As things were, however, it was doubtful whether she would be able to do so before the evening gun.

The Admiral was inclined to think that she might manage it; but then the Admiral was somewhat biased by his strong desire to know whether the Surprise had succeeded in her task, and whether the vessel she had in tow was a prize captured in his extensive waters or merely a distressed neutral or a British whaler. In the first case Sir William would be entitled to a twelfth of her value and in the second to nothing whatsoever, not even to the pressing of a few seamen, for the South Sea whalers were protected. He was also influenced by his ardent wish for an evening's music. Sir William was a large bony old man with one forbidding eye and a rough, determined face; he looked very much the practical seaman and formal clothes sat awkwardly upon his powerful frame; but music meant a very great deal to him and it was generally known in the service that he never put to sea without at least a clavichord, and that his steward had been obliged to take tuning lessons in Portsmouth, Valletta, Cape Town and Madras. It was also known that the Admiral was fond of beautiful young men; but as this fondness was reasonably discreet, never leading to any disorder or open scandal, the service regarded it with tolerant amusement, much as it regarded his more openly-avowed but equally incongruous passion for Handel.

One of these beautiful young men, his flag-lieutenant, now stood by him on the poop, a young man who had begun life - naval life - as a reefer so horribly pimpled that be was known as Spotted Dick, but who with the clearing of his skin had suddenly blossomed into a seagoing Apollo: a sea-going Apollo perfectly unaware of his beauty however, attributing his position solely to his zeal and his perfectly genuine professional merits. The Admiral said, 'It may very well be a prize.' He gazed long through his telescope, and then referring to the captain of the Surprise, he added, 'After all, they call him Lucky Jack Aubrey, and I remember him coming into that damned long narrow harbour of Port Mahon with a train of captured merchantmen at his tail like Halley's comet. That was when Lord Keith had the Mediterranean command: Aubrey must have made him a small fortune at every cruise - a very fine eye for a prize, although… But I was forgetting: you sailed under him, did you not?'

'Oh yes, sir,' cried Apollo. 'Oh yes, indeed. He taught me all the mathematics I know, and he grounded us wonderfully well in seamanship. Never was such a seaman, sir: that is to say, among post-captains.' The Admiral smiled at the young man's enthusiasm, his flush of candid admiration, and as he trained his glass on the Surprise once more he said 'He is a tolerably good hand with a fiddle, too. We played together all through a long quarantine.'

But the flag-lieutenant's enthusiasm was not shared by everyone. Only a few feet below them, in his great cabin, the captain of the Irresistible explained to his wife that Jack Aubrey was not at all the thing. Nor was his ship. 'Those old twenty-eight-gun frigates should have been sent to the knackers yard long ago - they belong to the last age, and are of no sort of use except to make us ridiculous when an American carrying forty-four guns takes one. They are both called frigates, and the landsman don't see the odds. "Oh my eye," he cries, "an American frigate has taken one of ours - the Navy is gone to the dogs - the Navy is no good any more."'

'It must be a great trial, my dear,' said his wife.

'Twenty-four pounders, and scantlings like a line-of-battle ship,' said Captain Goole, who had never been able to digest the American victories. 'And as for Aubrey, well, they call him Lucky Jack, and to be sure he did take a great many prizes in the Mediterranean - Keith favoured him outrageously - gave him cruise after cruise - many people resented it. And then again in the Indian Ocean, when the Mauritius was taken in the year nine. Or was it ten? But I have not heard of anything much since then. No. It is my belief he overdid it - rode his luck to death. There is a tide in the affairs of men…' He hesitated. 'I dare say there is, my dear,' said his wife.

'I do beg, Harriet, that you will not incessantly interrupt every time I open my mouth,' cried Captain Goole. 'There, you have driven it out of my head again.'

'I am sorry, my dear,' said Mrs Goole, closing her eyes. She had come from Jamaica to recover from the fever and to escape being buried among the land-crabs; and sometimes she wondered whether it was a very clever thing to have done.

'However, what the proverb means is that you must make hay while the sun shines but not force things. The minute your luck begins to turn sullen you must strike your topgallantmasts down on deck directly, and take a reef in your topsails, and prepare to batten down your hatches and lie to under a storm staysail if it gets. worse. But what did Jack Aubrey do? He cracked on as though his luck was going to last for ever. He must have made a mint of money in the Mauritius campaign, quite apart from the Med; but did he put it into copper-bottomed two-and-a-half per cent stock and live quietly on the interest? No, he did not. He pranced about, keeping a stable of race-horses and entertaining like a lord-lieutenant and covering his wife with diamonds and taffeta mantuas…'

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