Read an Excerpt
The Admiral's Daughter
A Kydd Sea Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Julian Stockwin
All rights reserved.
Nicholas Renzi nodded to the man sharing with him the warmth of the log fire at the Angel posting-house and regarding his deep tan with suspicion. It was not an attribute often seen in England after a hard winter. Renzi was newly returned from tumultuous experiences on the other side of the world that had left him questioning his reason. He had sailed to New South Wales as a free settler, determined to forge a new life there, but it was not to be. And now, in just a little while, he would see Cecilia ...
The ship that had brought him home had docked three days ago and, having signed off on the voyage, he and Thomas Kydd had made for Guildford. It had been cowardly of him, Renzi acknowledged, to have asked his friend to arrive first to prepare his sister for their sudden reappearance. Cecilia had nursed him through a deadly fever and touched his heart, but such was his respect for her that he had vowed to achieve something in the world before he made his feelings known to her, and had left without a word.
He had laboured long and hard to try to create an Arcadia of his small landholding for Cecilia, in that raw land. Eventually Kydd had rescued him: he had suggested that Renzi make use of his education by devoting himself to the elucidation of natural philosophy from a new standpoint. Where Rousseau and his peers had pontificated from the comforts of rarefied academia, Renzi's studies would be rooted in the harsh reality of the wider world, which he had encountered at first hand in places as varied as the Caribbean and the vast South Seas, the sylvan quiet of Wiltshire and the alien starkness of Terra Australis.
He would distil his observations and experiences into a series of volumes on the extraordinary variety of human response to the imperatives of hunger and aggression, religion and security — all the threats and challenges that were the lot of man on earth ... That would be an achievement indeed to lay before Cecilia and, it must be confessed, it was a prospect most congenial to himself.
This he would owe to Kydd, who had said he would employ his friend as secretary aboard whichever ship Kydd might captain.
For Renzi, performing this role — more of a clerk than anything — was a small price to pay for the freedom it bestowed on him; he had learned the tricks in Spanish Town long ago and knew that his duties would not be onerous. He had never set store by the petty vanities of rank and was glad to withdraw discreetly from the hurly-burly of tasking and discipline to be found on deck. Above all, he and Kydd, old friends, would continue to adventure together ...
A boy brought the other man's pot of flip, beer spiked with rum, and looked doubtfully at Renzi, who shook his head and stared into the fire. It was all very well to have found for himself an agreeable position but the wider world was now filled with menace: the recently concluded hostilities had ended with the worst possible consequences. Prime Minister William Pitt had been replaced by Henry Addington, whose panicked response to the spiralling cost of the Revolutionary War was to trade away all of England's hard-won conquests round the world for peace at any price. And Napoleon Bonaparte, now squarely atop the pyra mid of power in France, was energetically accruing the means to succeed in his greater goal: world dominance.
The King had recently delivered an unprecedented personal message to Parliament. In tones of bleak urgency, he had pointed to the First Consul's naked aggression since the peace — his occupation of Switzerland, his annexation of Savoy and more: there was little doubt now that Addington's gamble of appeasement had failed, and that England must brace herself to renew the struggle against the most powerful military force the world had ever seen.
Kydd, an experienced and distinguished naval officer, would not languish in unemployment for long and Renzi felt a stab of concern: might his friend be prevented from keeping his word on their arrangement?
He glanced at his pocket watch, his thoughts now on his imminent meeting. Cecilia's image had gone with him in his mind's eye on his long journey and stayed with him to be burnished and cherished: soon he would face its reality. He drew a long breath.
Kydd's mother handled the capacious muff of kangaroo skin dubiously; its warm, fox-red fur divided pleasingly to an underlying soft dark grey — but might not other ladies disdain it as an inferior substitute for fine pine marten?
"T' catch 'em boundin' along, Ma, it's so divertin' t' see! They hop — like this!" To the consternation of the house-maid, Kydd performed a creditable imitation of a kangaroo's leap.
"Do behave y'self, son," his mother scolded, but today Kydd could do little wrong. "Have y' not given thought, dear," she continued, in quite another tone, "that now you've achieved so much an' all it might be a prime time t' think about settlin' down? Take a pretty wife an' sport wi' y'r little ones — I saw some fine cottages on the Godalming road as might suit ..." But her son was clearly not in the mood to listen.
The commotion of his arrival began to subside a little as the rest of the knick-knacks expected from a voyage of ten thousand miles were distributed. His father, now completely blind, felt the lustrous polish of a Cape walking-stick fashioned from walrus bone and exotic wood as Kydd presented Cecilia with a little box, which contained a single rock. "That, sis, y' may not buy, even in London f'r a thousan' guineas!" he said impressively.
Cecilia examined it quietly.
"It's fr'm the very furthest part o' the world. Any further an' there's jus' empty sea to th' South Pole — th' very end of every-thin'." He had pocketed the cool blue-grey shard when Renzi and he had gone ashore for a final time in the unspeakably remote Van Diemen's Land.
"It's — it's very nice," Cecilia said, in a small voice, her eyes averted. "You did promise me something of your strange land in the letter, Thomas," she said. "I do hope the voyage wasn't too ... vexing for you."
Kydd knew she was referring to his captaincy of a convict ship and murmured an appropriate reply, but he was alarmed by her manner. This was not the spirited sister he had known and loved since childhood: there was a subdued grief in her taut, pale face that disturbed him. "Cec —"
"Thomas, do come and see the school. It's doing so well now," she said, sounding brittle, and retrieved the key from behind the door. Without another word they left the room and crossed the tiny quadrangle to enter a classroom.
For a space she faced away from him, and Kydd's stomach tightened.
"T-Thomas," she began, then lifted her head and held his eyes. "Dear Thomas ... I — I want you to know that I — I'm so very sorry that I failed you ..." Her hands worked nervously. Her head drooped. "You — you trusted me, with your d-dearest friend. And I let him wander out and be lost ..."
"Wha —? Cec, you mean Nicholas?"
"Dear brother, whatever you say, I — failed you. It's no use." She buried her face in her hands and struggled for control. "I — I was so tired ..."
Kydd reeled. He had sworn secrecy about Renzi's feelings for his sister and the logic that had impelled his friend to sever connection with her. They had prepared a story together to cover Renzi's disappearance: it had better be believable. He took his sister's hands and looked into her stricken face. "Cecilia, I have t' tell ye — Nicholas lives."
She froze, searching his eyes, her fingers digging painfully into his own.
"He's not lost, he — he straggled away, intellect all ahoo, y' see." It seemed such a paltry tale and he cursed yet again the foolish logic that had denied her the solace of just one letter from Renzi.
"He was, er, taken in an' attended f'r a long time, an' is now much recovered," he ended awkwardly.
"You know this?"
Kydd swallowed. "I heard about Nicholas in Deptford an' hurried to him. Cec, you'll be seein' him soon. He's on his way!"
"May I know who took him in?" she continued, in the same level voice.
This was not going to plan. "Oh, er, a parcel o' nuns or such," he said uncomfortably. "They said as how they didn't want thanks. Th' savin' o' souls was reward enough."
"So he's now recovered, yet was never, in all that time, able to pen a letter to me?"
Kydd mumbled something, but she cut in, "He tells you — he confides in his friend — but not me?" A shadow passed across her features. She stiffened and drew back. "Pray don't hold my feelings to account, Thomas. If you are sworn to discretion then who am I to strain your loyalties?"
"Cec, it's not as ye're sayin' —"
"Do you think me a fool?" she said icily. "If he's taken up with some doxy the least he can do is to oblige me with a polite note."
"No! I'm strong enough! I can bear it! It's just that — I'm disappointed in Nicholas. Such base behaviour, only to be expected of — of —"
Her composure was crumbling and Kydd was in a turmoil. Where did his loyalties lie? The words fell out of him. "Th' truth, then, sis, an' ye may not like it."
Now there was no going back. She waited, rigid.
"Ye have t' understand, Cec, that Nicholas is not like y' common sort o' cove. He has a rare enough headpiece."
"An' at times it leads him into strange notions." She did not stir. "Er, very strange." There was no help for it: she would have to know everything. "He — he cares f'r you, sis," Kydd said. "He told me so himself, "I own before ye this day that Cecilia is dearer t' me than I c'n say.' This he said t' me in Van Diemen's Land."
She stared at him, eyes wide, hands at her mouth. "He was there with you? Then what ...?"
"Y' see, Cec, while he was abed wi' the fever he was thinkin'. Of you, sis. An' he feels as it would be improper for him t' make it known t' ye without he has achieved somethin' in th' world, somethin' he c'n lay before ye an' be worthy of y'r attention. So he ships out f'r New South Wales as a settler, thinkin' t' set up an estate in th' bush by his own hands. But I reckon he's no taut hand at y'r diggin' an' ploughin', an' he lost his fortune and reason toilin' away at his turnips."
Kydd took a deep breath. "I offered him passage home. Now he'll come t' sea wi' me an' work on an ethnical book. It's all a mort too deep f'r me, but when it's published, I'll wager ye'll hear from him then."
Cecilia swayed, only a slight tremor betraying her feelings.
Kydd went on anxiously, "He made me swear not t' tell a soul — an' it would go ill wi' me, y' understand, Cec, should he feel I'd betrayed his trust."
"Nicholas — the dear, dear man!" she breathed.
"We conjured up th' story, sis, as would see ye satisfied in th' particulars, but ..." He tailed off uncertainly.
"Thomas! I do understand! It's more than I could ever ..." A shuddering sigh escaped her and she threw her arms round him. "Dear brother, you were so right to tell me. He shall keep his secret, and only when he's ready ..."
"Why, it's Mr Renzi. Just as y' said, Thomas!" Mrs Kydd was clearly much pleased by Renzi's reappearance and ushered him into the room. His eyes found Cecilia's, then dropped.
"Why, Nicholas, you are so thin," Cecilia said teasingly. "And your complexion — anyone might think you one of Thomas's island savages." She crossed to him and kissed him quickly on both cheeks.
Renzi stood rigid, then pecked her in return, his face set. She drew away but held his eyes, asking sweetly, "I'm so grateful to the nuns who ministered to you. What was their order? I believe we should thank them properly for their mercies to our dear brother restored to us."
"Oh, er, that won't be necessary," Renzi said stiffly. "You may be assured that every expression of gratitude has been extended, dear sister."
"Then a small gift, a token — I will sew it myself," she insisted.
Kydd coughed meaningfully, then grunted, "Leave him be, Cec. Tell us your news, if y' please."
She tossed her head. "Why, nothing that might stand with your exciting adventures." She sighed. "Only last week —"
"What is it, Mama?"
"I've jus' this minute remembered." Mrs Kydd rose and went to the sewing cupboard. "I have it here somewhere — now, where did I put it?"
"Put what, pray?"
"Oh, a letter f'r Thomas. From London, th' navy, I think." She rummaged away, oblivious to Kydd's keen attention. "I thought I'd better put it away safely until — ah, yes, here it is."
Kydd took it quickly. From the fouled anchor cipher on its face it was from the Admiralty. He flashed a look of triumph at Renzi and hastened to open it, his eyes devouring the words.
"The King ... orders-in-council ... you are required and directed ..." Too excited to take in details, he raced to the end where, sure enough, he saw the hurried but unmistakable signature of the First Lord of the Admiralty — but no mention of a ship, a command.
Renzi stood by the mantelpiece, watching Kydd with a half-smile. "Nicholas, what do ye make o' this?" Kydd handed him the letter. "I should go t' Plymouth, not London?"
Renzi studied it coolly. "By this you may know that your days of unalloyed leisure on half-pay are now summarily concluded and you are, once again, to be an active sea officer. If I catch the implication correctly, Lord St Vincent has knowledge of your far voyaging and therefore is not sanguine as to your immediate availability for service. He directs you, however, to repair at once to Plymouth where, no doubt, the admiral will be pleased to employ you as he sees fit." He frowned. "Yet within there is no mention of the nature of your employment. I rather fancy you should be prepared for whatever the Good Lord — or the admiral — provides."
"Then we should clap on all sail an' set course f'r Plymouth, I believe!" exclaimed Kydd.
"Just so," said Renzi, quietly.
Cecilia's face set. "Nicholas, you're sadly indisposed. You need not go with Thomas."
With infinite gentleness Renzi turned to her. "Dear sister, but I do."
"Come!" The voice from inside the admiral's office was deep and authoritative.
Kydd entered cautiously as the flag-lieutenant intoned, "Commander Kydd, sir," then left, closing the door soundlessly after him.
Admiral Lockwood looked up from his papers, appraised Kydd for some seconds, then rose from his desk. He was a big man and, in his gold lace, powerfully intimidating. "Mr Kydd, I had been expecting you before now, sir. You're aware we'll be at war with Mr Bonaparte shortly?"
"Aye, sir," Kydd replied respectfully. It was not the navy way to offer excuses, whatever their merit.
"Hmm. The Admiralty seems to think well enough of you. Desires me to give you early employment." The gaze continued, considering, thoughtful.
"Now I can give you an immediate command" — Kydd's heart leapt — "in the Sea Fencibles. The whole coast from Exmouth to the Needles. Eighty miles, two hundred men. Immediate command! What do you say, sir?"
Kydd had no wish to take a passive role ashore with a body of enthusiastic amateurs and fishermen watching and waiting on the coast. He clung stubbornly to his hopes. "Er, that's very generous in ye, sir, but I had hoped f'r a — f'r a command at sea, sir."
"At sea!" Lockwood sighed. "As we all do, Mr Kydd." He came round the desk and stood before Kydd, legs braced as though on a quarterdeck. "You've come at it rather late for that. For weeks now I've had all the harum-scarum young bloods to satisfy and you as commander and not a lieutenant ..."
It had come back to haunt Kydd yet again: as a lieutenant he could be put instantly in any one of the large number of cutters, brigs, armed schooners and the like, but as a commander only a sloop as befitting his rank would do. "Ah — I have it. Command? How do you feel about taking Brunswick, seventy-four, to the Leeward Islands, hey?"
A two-decker ship-of-the-line to the Caribbean? Kydd was dumbstruck. Was the admiral jesting? Where was the joke? Then he realised: the only way he could captain a seventy-four was if she was going to sail en flûte — all her guns removed to make room for troops and stores, a glorified transport, which would effectively remove him from the scene of action. "Sir, if y' please, I'd rather —"
Excerpted from The Admiral's Daughter by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2007 Julian Stockwin. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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