Ionian Mission 2

Another wonderful paragraph of Patrick O'Brian descriptive prose appears in Chapter 3 of The Ionian Mission as the ship with Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin moors at Gibraltar:

But he was back again the next afternoon, and he and Stephen now gazed upon the Rock at short range, the Worcester having been removed to make room for the Brunswick and Goliath, and Pullings having swung her stern-on so that her starboard side could be scraped and painted. It was one of those days when some particular quality in the light and not merely the brilliance of the sun makes colours glow and sing: a military band was playing on the Alameda, its brasses blazing like gold beneath the shade, while through the gardens and up and down the Grand Parade flowed an easy crowd of red coats, blue jackets, and a wonderful variety of civilian clothes from Europe, Morocco, the Turkish provinces of Africa, Greece and the Levant, and even from much farther east. White turbans and the pale, dust-blue robes of Tangier Copts, the dark red and broad straw hats of Berbers and the black of Barbary Jews moved in and out among the pepper-trees, mingling with tall Moors and Negroes, kilted Greek seamen from the islands, red-capped Catalans, and small Malays in green. On Jumper's Bastion stood a group of the Worcester's young gentlemen, some long and thin, others very small indeed, and Stephen noticed that they seemed to be gathered about a monstrous dog; but as they moved off it became apparent that the creature was a calf, a black bull-calf. Other Worcesters wandered among the geraniums and castor-oil plants: these were the select bands of liberty-men, those who had had the time and the foresight to provide themselves with white or black-varnished low-crowned hats with the ship's name embroidered on the ribbon, watchet-blue jackets with brass buttons, spotless white duck trousers, and little shoes; each had had to pass the master-at-arms' inspection, for although the Worcester was not yet a crack ship or anything remotely like one, Pullings was very jealous of her reputation and he acted on the principle that the appearance of virtue might induce its real presence. Few of them were drunk yet, and most of their mirth — clearly audible at half a mile — was the effect of pure unaided gaiety. Beyond them and the variegated crowd rose the grey and tawny Rock, green only at its lower rim, and above its long crest the strange fog or breeding cloud brought into being by the levanter, a breeding cloud that dissipated there in the blazing light of the western side. Stephen had Mount Misery clear in his telescope, and sharp against the whitish sky an ape: high, high above the ape a vulture hanging on the wind. Both Stephen and the ape gazed at the bird.

(cf. MasterAndCommander (2005-03-04), PostCaptain (2006-10-12), OnTheShore (2006-11-07), ExtremeClarity (2006-12-15), Ionian Mission (2012-01-28), ...) - ^z - 2012-02-03

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