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Original Essays | April 11, 2014

Paul Laudiero: IMG Shit Rough Draft

I was sitting in a British and Irish romantic drama class my last semester in college when the idea for Shit Rough Drafts hit me. I was working... Continue »
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The Yellow Admiral


The Yellow Admiral Cover

ISBN13: 9780393040449
ISBN10: 0393040445
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Having sunk the first ship he commanded off the coast of Ireland, Captain Matthew Quinton is determined to complete his second mission without loss of life or honor. Rebellion is stirring in the Scottish Isles, and King Charles II needs loyal officers to sail north and face the threat. But aboard His Majesty's Ship theJupiter, the young “gentleman captain” leads a resentful crew and has but few on whom he can rely. As they approach the wild coast of Scotland, Matthew begins to learn the ropes and win the respect of his fellow officers and sailors. 

But he has other worries: a suspicion that the previous captain of theJupiterwas murdered, a feeling that several among his crew have something to hide, and a growing conviction that betrayal lies closer to home than he had thought.

We would strike the rocks, the ship would break apart, and we would all

drown. Of this, I was certain.

 His Majestys ship theHappy Restorationwas beating up to Kinsale

harbour, into the teeth of a hard northerly gale that had blown up with

sudden, unforgiving fury. We had weathered the Old Head, somehow

avoided smashing ourselves to pieces on Hake Head, and were now

edging toward the chops of the harbour mouth itself. Vast seas drove

the ship every way at once, the timbers screaming against the waters

that sought to tear them apart.

 On the quarterdeck, we three men tried desperately to keep our feet,

clinging to whatever stood fast, fighting the bitter and freezing Irish

rain that drove straight into our faces. There was the ships master, John

Aldred, splendidly confident in his ability to bring us safe to anchor, as

drunk as Bacchus after a rough night in Southwark. There was the best

of his masters mates, Kit Farrell, my own age, watching the shore and

the sails and the rigging with a strange dread in his eyes. And there stood

I, or tried to stand, clinging desperately to a part of the ship I could

scarce, in my fright and inexperience, have named if called upon to do

so. Matthew Quinton, aged twenty-one, captain of his Majestys ship.

Strange as it sounds, the prospect of my imminent demise was almost

less dreadful to me than the prospect of surviving. Survival would mean

having to report to my superiors that we had spectacularly missed our

rendezvous with the Virginia and Barbados merchant fleets, which we

were meant to escort to the Downs in that year of grace 1661. They

were probably still out in the endless ocean, or sunk by the weather, or

the French, or the Spanish, or the Dutch, or the corsairs, or the ghost

of Barbarossa.

 A torrent of spray ended my aimless reflections in time for me to hear

Aldreds latest pronouncement. ‘Be not afraid, Captain! Plenty of sea

room, if we tack but shortly. Th is breeze will die from the west as fast as

it sprang up, as God is my judge.

 Aldreds eyes were glazed, not from the salt spray that stung us mercilessly,

but from too much victuallers ale and bad port wine. Kit Farrell

moved behind him, braced himself against a huge wave, reached me and

shouted above the roar of the sea, ‘Captain, hes mistaken – if we try to

tack now, well strike on the rocks for certain – we shouldnt have had so

much sail still aloft, not even in the wind as it was . . .

 But the tempest relented as he spoke, just a little, and a shout that

Aldred would never have heard before now carried to his ears as clear as

day. The old man turned and glowered at Farrell.

 ‘Damn, Master Farrell, and what do you know of it? he cried. ‘How

many times have you brought ships home into Kinsale haven, in far worse

than this? We would have thePrince Royalnext, I feared. ‘Dont you know

I first went to sea on thePrince Royal,back in the year Thirteen, taking the

Princess Elizabeth over to Holland for her marriage? Near fifty years ago,

Mister Farrell! And next it would be Drake. ‘Dont you know I learned my

trade under men whod sailed with Drake? Drake himself! And last would

come the Armada: Aldreds drunken litany of self-regard was almost as

predictable as dusk succeeding dawn. ‘Blood of Christ, Ive messed with

men who were in the Armada fight. So damn me, Master Farrell, I know

my business! I know the pilotage of Kinsale better than most men alive,

I know how to bring us through a mere lively breeze like this, and God

strike me down if I dont! And as an afterthought, as the wind and the

spray rose once more, he leaned over to me, gave me a full measure of

beer-vapour breath, and said, ‘Begging your pardon, Captain Quinton.

 I was too fearful to give any sort of pardon, or to remind Aldred

yet again that my grandfather had also fought the Armada, and sailed

with Drake to boot. Drake was the most vain and obnoxious man he

ever knew, my grandfather said.After himself, that is,my mother would

always add.

 The ever-strengthening wind struck us in full force once more,

snatching a man off the cross-beam that those who knew of such things

called the foretopsail yard. He flailed his arms against the mighty gale,

and for the briefest of moments it looked as though he had fulfilled the

dream of the ancients, and achieved flight. Then the wind drove him

into the next great wave bearing down on us, and he was gone. All the

while, Farrell and Aldred traded insults about reefs and courses, irons

and stays, all of it the language of the Moon to my ears.

 Kit Farrell started to rage. ‘Damn yourself to hell, Aldred, youll kill

us all! He turned to me. ‘Captain, for Gods sake, order him to bear

away! Weve too little sea room, for all of Aldreds bluster. If we brade

up close all our sails and lie at try with our main course, then we can

run back into open sea, or make along the coast for the Cove of Cork or

Milford. Easier harbours in a northerly, Captain!

 Uncertainty covered me like a shroud. ‘Our orders are for Kinsale

 ‘Sir, not at the risk of endangering the ship!

 Still I hesitated. Aldred began to snap his orders through a speaking

trumpet. After eight months at sea, four of them in command of this

ship, I was now vaguely aware of the theory and practice of tacking. I

remembered Aldreds tipsy and relatively patient explanation.No ship

can sail right into the wind, Captain, nor more than six points on either side

of it. To go towards the wind, you must sail on diagonals. Like a comb, sir,

like the teeth of a comb. Make your way up the teeth to the head of the comb.

I had seen it done often enough, but never in wind that came straight

from the flatulence of hells own bowels.

 Kit Farrell watched the men on the masts and the yards as they

battled equally with those few of our sails that were not yet reefed, as

they said, and to preserve themselves from the fate of their shipmate,

our Icarus. Between the huge waves that struck me and pulled me and

blinded me and knocked the breath out of me, I looked on helplessly

at the activity about the ship. I could see only sodden men taking in

and letting out sodden canvas in a random fashion. Farrell, bred at

sea since he was nine, saw a different scene. ‘Too slow, Captain – the

winds come on too strong, and too fast – too many raw men, too

much sail aloft even for a better crew to take in or reef in time – and

the ships too old, too crank

 The spray and rain eased for a moment. I saw the black shore of

County Cork, so much closer than it had been a minute before. Waves

that were suddenly as high as our masts broke themselves on the rocks

with a dreadful roaring. I ran my hand through my drenched and

thinning hair, for both hat and periwig were long lost to the wind.

 Aldred was slurring a mixture of oaths and orders, the former rapidly

outweighing the latter. Farrell turned to me again, his face red

from whip-lashes of rain. ‘Captain, well strike for sure – we cant

make the tack, not now – order him to bear away, sir, in the name of

dear heaven

 I opened my mouth, and closed it. I was captain, and could overrule

the master. But I knew next to nothing of the sea. The master controlled

the movement of the ship and set its course. John Aldred was one

of the most experienced masters in the navy. I knew nothing; I was

a captain but four months. But John Aldred was a deluded drunk,

lying unconscious in his cabin long after this sudden storm blew up.

I knew nothing, but I was a gentleman. John Aldred was old, with

bad eyes even when sober. I knew nothing, but I was an earls brother.

I was born to command. I was the captain. Farrells eyes were on

me, begging, imploring. I knew nothing, but I was the captain of the

Happy Restoration.

 I opened my mouth again, ready to order Aldred to bear away as Kit

had told me. ‘Mister Ald I began, but got no further.

 A great wave more monstrous than all that had gone before smashed

over the side. I shut my mouth a fraction too late, and what seemed a

gallon or more of salt water coursed down my throat. My height told

against me, for a shorter man would have been able to brace himself

better. The ship rolled, I lost my footing and slid across the deck on my

back. Farrell pulled me up, but my senses were gone for moments. I

coughed up sea water, then vomited. I heard Farrell say, very quietly, ‘Its

too late, Captain. Were dead men.

 As I retched again, I opened my eyes. The men high on the yards

were climbing down with all of Gods speed – and falling, too, I saw

with horror. The few sails we still had spread were loose, mere rags

blowing free on strings. Aldred was clinging to the rail, staring at the

shore. He was mouthing something, but I could hear barely anything

above the roar of wind and the awful crashing of water on rock. Farrell

took hold of me again, and as I lurched forward through the gale, I

made out Aldreds words.

 ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me;

for my bones are vexed . . . The sixth psalm of David. The old words

were a comfort, now, at what I knew was the moment of my death,

and I found myself mouthing them with Aldred, unheard above the

thunder of the seas that gathered at last to crush us.For in death there

is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks? I am

weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my

couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief . . .

 A vast wave struck our right broadside and turned the ship almost

over, driving the hull across the water. We must have ridden up onto a

great submerged rock, for our frames roared their agony, and I saw the

deals of the deck begin to tear apart as our back broke. The foremast

sprang with a loud crack. The force of the water and the impact of

our grounding threw Aldred across into the nearest mast, the one that

seamen call the mizzen, which folded him like paper around itself,

crushing his innards and backbone as it did so. I saw one of his mates,

Worsley, take the full weight of a cannon that had not been lashed

secure, driving him off the deck and to his maker. I saw these things in

what I knew to be my last moments, as my feet left the deck and I felt

only water, and wind, and then water.

 The old mariners on Blackwall shore will tell you that drowning men

see their whole lives flash before them, and see the souls of all the drowned

sailors of the earth coming up to meet them, no doubt as Drakes Drum

beats out its phantom galliard to welcome them to the shore beyond.

That day, as theHappy Restorationdied, I learned more of drowning than

most men. I heard no drum, saw no souls swimming to meet me, and the

pathetic apology that was my twenty-one years of life did not flash before

me. There was only the most unbearable noise, worse than the greatest

broadside in the greatest battle, and the screaming of my chest as it fought

for just one more breath. Then there was the face and horn of a unicorn,

and I knew that I was dead.

 ‘Take hold, Captain – God in heaven, sir, take hold!

I opened my eyes again, and the unicorn bent upon me the unfaltering

stare that only a creature of the dumbest wood can give. Kit Farrell

was holding me fast, his other arm taut around the head of a wooden

lion. Between us lay the harp of Ireland, the fleurs-de-lis of France, the

lion rampant of Scotland and the lions passant of England. It was our

sternpiece. Somehow, the proud wooden emblem of our country had

broken free from the ship, and become our raft. Somehow – by a miracle

of wind and tide or Farrells kicks into the sea – we had come into a pool

between two great rocks and wedged there, safe from the worst blasts of

the storm.

 I swallowed air as if it were ambrosia, and gripped my unicorn with

all my strength. I looked at Farrell. He was looking beyond me, so I

turned, and saw a sight that is with me to this day, as vivid as it was at

that very moment.

 My last sight of my first command was her bow. It reared into the air,

and a great wave pushed it higher still, pushed it toward the heavens. Our

new figurehead, the crown and oak laurels, was suddenly clear against the

sun in the west, as the gale blew itself out and the sky began to brighten.

Then the last great gusts blew the bow onto the western shore, where it

shattered like so much kindling. A moment before, I saw dark shapes

trying to crawl like ants up the deck, up towards our figurehead. The

strike against the rock threw some into the sea, some against the teeth of

the shore. The last of our men were gone. His Majestys ship theHappy

Restoration,formerly theLord Protector,was gone.

 I see that sight in my dreams, all these distant years later, as vivid now

as it was that October day. I still see the sight, and I still reckon the cost.

Upwards of one hundred souls, drowned or broken on the rocks. God

knows how many widows made, and orphans cast onto the streets. All

damned to oblivion by my ignorance, indecision, and pride.

Some hours afterwards, we were sitting on stools and swathed in blankets

in front of a blazing fire. We were in a barracks room of the old

James Fort, on the west side of Kinsale harbour. There were twenty nine

survivors from the wreck of theHappy Restoration.Kit Farrell and

I were the only officers. The Governor of Kinsale had been attentive

and sympathetic, sending over bowls of broth and jugs of a fiery Irish

drink, both of which burned the throat in equally harsh measure. But

the victuals served their purpose, and slowly, feeling returned to limbs,

my cheeks began to flush, and I finally rediscovered my tongue.

 I drew breath. ‘Mister Farrell, I said. ‘Thank you.

 Perhaps I should have said more. This man my own age had saved

my life, perhaps saved far more than he would ever know: the fate

of an earldom, at the very least. But my throat and lungs were sore

from the storm, the seawater, and the governors largesse, and I had

no breath for speeches. Nor in truth could I face unburdening myself

to another at that moment, for God knows what depths of anguish

and guilt might have spilled forth. Kit Farrell seemed to know this.

He pulled himself a little higher on his stool. Struggling to speak, just

as I had, he said, ‘It was the sternpiece, sir. It was carried away by the

same wave that swept us from the deck. Then he smiled, the proof of a

small private joke, and said, ‘Brazen incompetents, Captain. Corrupt

as a Roman cardinal. Old treenails, probably, so they could take the

new ones bought for the job down to Southwark market and sell them.

Deptford shipwrights, sir. Villains to a man. Deptford yard refitted

her when the king came back, and they took down Noll Cromwells

arms and put up the kings.

 I took another measure of the increasingly attractive Irish drink. ‘So

they cheated when they fastened the sternpiece?

 ‘And much else on that curse of a ship, for it to break apart as it did,

but they saved our lives by doing so. God bless them, Captain Quinton.

 ‘God bless you, Mister Farrell. But for you, Id never have caught

hold, and never seen this world again. I thought of my wife and all

that I had so nearly lost. I thought upon the scores of men who had

perished. I felt an uncontrollable pain; not a wound, but something in

my gut and throat that began to swell and tighten. I fought back my

shame, forced myself to look my saviour in the eye. Then I raised my

cup to him.

 ‘My brother is an earl, and friend to the king, I said, awkwardly. This

was entirely true. ‘We are a rich family, one of the richest in England.

This was entirely untrue, though once, things had been different. ‘I owe

you my life, Mister Farrell. We Quintons, weve always been men of

honour. Its lifeblood to us. I am in your debt, and my honour demands

that I repay you.

 He was probably as embarrassed at having to listen to this appalling

pomposity as I was in uttering it. A man of my own rank would have called

me a fool, or boxed me about the head. But a man of Kit Farrells rank

would have known nothing of gentlemanly honour, although evidently he

knew enough of sympathy and discretion. He sat silently for some minutes,

gazing into the fire. Then he turned his head towards me and said, ‘One

thing I would like, sir. One thing above all others.

 ‘Name it, if its in my power.

 ‘Captain, I cant read or write. I see men like yourself taking pleasure

from books, and Id like to know that world. I see that writing makes

men better themselves. Reading and writing, theyre the key to all. I look

around me, sir, and I see men must have them these days if theyre to

advance in life, be it in the kings navy or any other way of this world.

Knowing words gives men power, so it seems to me. But Ive never

found anyone willing to teach me, sir.

 I had a sudden memory of my old schoolmaster at Bedford – Mervyn,

the meanest sort of little Welsh pedant – and wondered what he would

have made of his worst pupil turning teacher. Then I thought of other

men, of my father and grandfather, and in that moment I knew what

they would have me say. ‘Ill teach you reading and writing, Mister

Farrell. Gladly. Its the smallest of prices for my life, so I should not

ask anything else from you in return. I retched up more Irish salt sea,

and something grey and indescribable. I reached for the governors

fire-liquid and burned away the taste. ‘But theres something Id have

you teach me, too.


 ‘Teach me the sea, Mister Farrell. Tell me the names of the ropes,

and the ways to steer a course. Teach me of the sun and the stars, and

the currents, and the oceans. Teach me how to be a proper captain for

a kings ship.

 I held out my hand to Kit Farrell. After a moment, he took it, and

we shook.

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bigmarlin, November 10, 2009 (view all comments by bigmarlin)
Patrick O'brian's Aubrey/Maturin series are riveting fiction about the British navy, at the end of the 1700's and into the early 1800's. Many of the adventures are based on true accounts from British navy logs and correspondence, into which "Lucky Jack" Aubrey and his crews are placed.
Watch the movie with Russell Crowe, then read the books. You will see excerpts from many of the books thorughout the movie.
Be sure to get the companion books, which provide details of the various adventures, along with maps and place names. It will enhance your reading experience.
Once you start the first book, you'll want to read them all!
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Product Details

O'Brian, Patrick
W. W. Norton & Company
O'Brian, Patrick
Davies, J. D.
New York :
Great britain
Historical - General
Historical fiction
Sea stories
Great Britain History, Naval 19th century Fiction.
Aubrey, Jack
Maturin, Stephen
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
1st ed.
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Aubrey/Maturin Novels
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
8 x 5.31 in

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
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The Yellow Admiral Used Hardcover
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Product details 272 pages W. W. Norton & Company - English 9780393040449 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , "There are those already planning this afternoon's trip to the bookstore. Their only reaction is: Thank god, Patrick O'Brian is still writing. To you, I say, not a moment to lose."--John Balzar, Los Angeles Times
"Synopsis" by ,
Having sunk the first ship he commanded off the coast of Ireland, Captain Matthew Quinton is determined to complete his second mission without loss of life or honor. Rebellion is stirring in the Scottish Isles, and King Charles II needs loyal officers to sail north and face the threat. But aboard His Majesty's Ship the Jupiter, the young “gentleman captain” leads a resentful crew and has but few on whom he can rely. As they approach the wild coast of Scotland, Matthew begins to learn the ropes and win the respect of his fellow officers and sailors. 

But he has other worries: a suspicion that the previous captain of the Jupiter was murdered, a feeling that several among his crew have something to hide, and a growing conviction that betrayal lies closer to home than he had thought.

"Synopsis" by , Life ashore may once again be the undoing of Jack Aubrey in The Yellow Admiral, Patrick O'Brian's best-selling novel and eighteenth volume in the Aubrey/Maturin series. Aubrey, now a considerable though impoverished landowner, has dimmed his prospects at the Admiralty by his erratic voting as a Member of Parliament; he is feuding with his neighbor, a man with strong Navy connections who wants to enclose the common land between their estates; he is on even worse terms with his wife, Sophie, whose mother has ferreted out a most damaging trove of old personal letters. Even Jack's exploits at sea turn sour: in the storm waters off Brest he captures a French privateer laden with gold and ivory, but this at the expense of missing a signal and deserting his post. Worst of all, in the spring of 1814, peace breaks out, and this feeds into Jack's private fears for his career.

Fortunately, Jack is not left to his own devices. Stephen Maturin returns from a mission in France with the news that the Chileans, to secure their independence, require a navy, and the service of English officers. Jack is savoring this apparent reprieve for his career, as well as Sophie's forgiveness, when he receives an urgent dispatch ordering him to Gibraltar: Napoleon has escaped from Elba.
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