A scene from The Fortune of War (6th in the series), which includes the wonderful word “gowk”.
At this time our friends Capt. Aubrey, Dr. Maturin and some of the crew from HMS Leopard are on their way back to England via HMS La Fleche, carrying dispatches. Dr. Maturin and the officers of are in the gun room.
[The Leopards] found a fellow-spirit in the master, and presently their end of the table was in a fine flow of conversation, reminiscence, anecdote, and laughter – former shipmates recalled, other commissions compared. Stephen laid out some pains in being agreeable to McLean, who sat by him, eating voraciously with a good deal of noise; but until half way through the meal there was little or no response. Then at last persuaded that Dr Maturin was neither going to snub or scorn him, McLean said, ‘I hae your bukes,’ adding something that Stephen could not catch, the accent being so strong, the voice so lowered in embarrassment. But judging by the young man’s expression, the words were obliging, so Stephen bowed, murmuring, ‘You are very good, too kind. I believe, sir, you are a naturalist yourself?’ Yes. As a wee bairn McLean first skelpit a mickle whaup his Daddie had whangit wi a stane, and then ilka beastie that came his way; comparative anatomy had been his joy from that day to this, and he named some of the beasties whose inward parts he had compared. But since the scoutie-allen, the partan, the clokie-doo and the gowk seemed not to convey any precise idea, he followed them with the Linnaean names; Stephen did the same for the creatures he referred to, and from this it was no great way to Latin descriptions of their more interesting processes. McLean was fluent in the language, having been to Jena, and Stephen found him far more comprehensible; presently they were talking away at a great rate, with barely a word of English but Och aye, and Hoot awa. They were deep in the caecum of Monodon monoceros when Stephen, becoming aware of a silence on his right, looked up and met the delighted grin of Babbington and Byron. ‘We had just been boasting about you, sir,’ said Babbington. ‘We said you could talk Latin to beat a bishop, and these fellows would not believe it.’
Later La Fleche will burn at sea and explode. The survivors are finally and after great suffering picked up by HMS Java in time for her battle with USS Constitution. Following an interlude in early 19th c. Boston, we read about the battle between HMS Shannon and USS Chesapeake.
Want an unabridged recording? The best reading of the series is, without a doubt, by Simon Vance on Blackstone Audio. Here.
Those who know the Aubrey/Maturin series need no explanations. All I can say to those who have not yet read them is that I envy you the pleasure of their discovery.