Jack had always liked the young, and in any case he felt that a guest was entitled to consideration at his table, so having invited Ellis to drink a glass of wine with him, he smiled affably and said, ‘You people were reciting some verses in the foretop this morning. Very capital verses, I dare say — Mr Mowett’s verses? Mr Mowett turns a pretty line.’ So he did. His piece on the bending of the new mainsail was admired throughout the sloop: but most unhappily he had also been inspired to write, as part of a general description:
White as the clouds beneath the blaze of noon
Her bottom through translucent waters shone.
For the time being this couplet had quite destroyed his authority with the youngsters; and it was this couplet they had been reciting in the foretop, hoping thereby to provoke him still further.
‘Pray, will you not recite them to us? I am sure the Doctor would like to hear.’
‘Oh, yes, pray do,’ said Stephen.
The unhappy boy thrust a great lump of mutton into his cheek, turned a nasty yellow and gathered to his heart all the fortitude he could call upon. He said, ‘Yes, sir,’ fixed his eyes upon the stern-window and began,
‘White as the clouds beneath the blaze of noon Oh God don’t let me die
‘White as the clouds beneath the blaze of noon
Her b — ‘ His voice quavered, died, revived as a thin desperate ghost and squeaked out ‘Her bottom‘; but could do no more.
‘A damned fine verse,’ cried Jack, after a very slight pause. ‘Edifying too.’
Master and Commander – Patrick O’Brian