Hell at Sea, Volume Nine: "Treason's Harbour"
Dr. Maturin has a diving bell!

You sit there on the taffrail, smoking a cheroot and playing with your long pigtails, half-drunk, all giddy, singing a nice long ditty about how you have cuckolded King George with the Pope. You have just blown up a 64-gun ship-of-the-line from His Majesty's navy and there were seemingly no survivors.

You are French.

You peer into the water. There is something down there. Folk tales about civilizations under the sea run through your pinked and pickled brain: mermaids and Leviathans with cities inside them full of sailors snatched bald from their inattentive posts. Dread ghost ships that sail upside-down beneath the waves on the flip-side of the ocean's surface, ships that puncture the hulls of even the most hearty men o'war and feast on the souls of drowned sailors.

Something flickers directly below you and your blood chills!

St. Elmo's Fire?

No! It is a goddamn bespectacled Irish surgeon with a goddamn scalpel and a fuming, pulsing vendetta on your entire dainty, thin-lipped race! He leaps from the water like a dolphin and plunges his blade deep into your chest, severing your heart from your brain instantly and you...



Anyway, in this volume of "Hell at Sea" (Part Nine, "Treason's Harbour"), Dr. Maturin has a diving bell. He can travel underwater now, like Jason Voorhees from the "Friday the 13th" Nintendo game.

This book is Patrick O'Brian's object lesson about why intelligence is superior to force in a martial engagement. O'Brian places Aubrey and Maturin in a nest of spies and counterintelligence agents and shows how easy it is to fuck up a navy by simply having all the information about where its ships are going and why.

The port of Malta is compromised. There are French spies everywhere, and somebody high up in the British navy is also leaking information to the French and their allies. Jack and Stephen are sent to the Middle East on a mission that everyone knows about. What will happen when they get there? Is the whole thing a trap?

The whole thing is a trap: but let me reiterate, Dr. Maturin has a diving bell. Everything will be fine.




1. A ship
2. A Captain
3. Spite

"The Captain'll be wanting his dog right after supper, but not RIGHT after supper, so you've got to give him time to let his pigeon pie and tripe balls settle before you go bringing it out there all la-dee-da-here-goes-my-Daisy. I start boiling the dog at the turn of the five o'clock glass, but sometime I'll be distracted by the midshipmen's berth playing snot-nosed tricks and have to start later, right when supper begins maybe. You've got to give the dog time to boil, lest you be the mongrel yourself and not have it ready when the Captain calls, and then you'll taste cat for dog, which ain't funny no matter how much you may smirk. Here's how to make a dog big enough for one officer or two ladies: first, get yourself two big fucking handfuls of flour and throw them in a bucket. Add a pinch of salt, one big fucking handful of good pig suet, and one clenched fist of sugar. Your dog'll need spots, so throw in one more big fucking handful of currants or raisins, or anything else you can find that's brown and clumps up like snot. Add water to the mess until you can form a firm dough. Roll the bastard into a cylinder the size of a working man's cock, and then roll the bastard into a wet, hot cloth sprinkled with flour. Tie the ends up like you caught yourself a monkey, but leave room for the monkey to breathe. Boil the bastard for two hours and then dump it on a plate. The Captain likes his Dog served hot with cold custard, the fucking prig."


In this volume's wacky subplot, a lovely Italian lady is turned out by the French to seduce Dr. Maturin. As leverage against her, the French use the fact that her husband â€" a British naval officer -- is being locked up and tortured in a military prison. Dr. Maturin finds the lady to be nubile and voluptuous and all that, but Stephen is a Catholic, and he demands total moral and intellectual submission from his amorous conquests: he will only dick a lady who truly wants to dick him back. This is morals.

So he keeps her at dick's length and instead pretends -- only PRETENDS -- to be engaged in infidelity with the female, whilst simultaneously sticking Jack with the reputation in port as the lass's lover, arousing smirks and gossip about Jack all over town.

THEN, the lovely Italian lady's husband escapes from his French prison, travels the country eating rats to make it to a British ship, and sails back to Malta with a bullet in his gut. Stephen saves his life, and the British lieutenant declares war on Jack for supposedly deflowering his wife's virtue, a thing that he did not even get a chance to do.

Maturin saves the lady's life from the French agents sent to kill her now that their leverage is gone, but he lets the agents live in an eyebrow-raising turnabout.

We learn one startling and lucid piece of intelligence advice from Dr. Maturin in this book: never kill opposing agents unless you are absolutely done with them or unless they are able to blow your cover. The best thing to do is to keep opposing agents alive, feed them false and damaging information, and then let their own side dispose of them after they have been branded as traitors and incompetents.


The book ends with Jack and Stephen sailing away to Gibraltar after surviving yet another trap, this one set by the same high-placed British traitor and the Dey of Mascara.

Fuck Malta. Fuck its spies and its jealous husbands. When the book ends:

-- Jack and Stephen still have no idea who the high-placed British traitor is! It is a recurring scoundrel from their past!
-- Jack and Stephen have taken the nubile Italian lady on board to keep her safe from the French murderers! Many speculate she has been abducted for licentious reasons!
-- Her husband waits in Malta to kill them all!
-- Jack still owes massive court costs and legal fees for his bad business deals back at home!
-- Diana is probably cheating on Stephen with that rosy, silly Scandinavian, Mssr. Jagiello! Someone keeps sending him notes about their affair in the mail!
-- Pullings has his own ship! He is a Captain!

Posted by miracle on Mon, 23 Mar 2009 00:22:35 -0400 -- permanent link

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