The Brave Captainsby V. A. Stuart
As the Russian cavalry prepares to launch a full-scale attack to seize Balaclava, the British find themselves in desperate straits. Dangerously outnumbered, they are hoping for reinforcements, but in the meantime they must hold their ground, calling for heroism that will test the courage of even the bravest man. Dodging bursting shells and Russian Cossacks, Hazard
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As the Russian cavalry prepares to launch a full-scale attack to seize Balaclava, the British find themselves in desperate straits. Dangerously outnumbered, they are hoping for reinforcements, but in the meantime they must hold their ground, calling for heroism that will test the courage of even the bravest man. Dodging bursting shells and Russian Cossacks, Hazard proves that the bluejackets fight as well on land as they do at sea.
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The Brave Captains
The Phillip Hazard Novels, No. 2
By V. A. Stuart
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1972 V.A. Stuart
All rights reserved.
The morning of Sunday, October 22, dawned bright and clear with a hint of frost in the air although, as yet, it was by no means cold.
Her Majesty's steam-screw frigate Trojan, 31, in company with the rest of the British Black Sea Fleet, lay at anchor off the mouth of the Katcha River, six miles to the north of Sebastopol. As the sun rose, the duty watch — anticipating an early pipe to breakfast — moved about her freshly holystoned upper deck coiling down and stowing hammock.
Vice-Admiral Dundas had assured Their Lordships of the Admiralty that, with the exception of the Albion and the Arethusa, he hoped to be able to make his squadron serviceable within 24 hours of the attack on Fort Constantine and, in Trojan's case, this hope had been fulfilled. Her fore-topmast had been replaced; the tangled network of broken spars and torn rigging, with which she had emerged from the action, had been cut away and replaced, and the gaping holes in hull and upperworks, made by the Russian round shot, plugged and caulked up. The carpenter and his mates had toiled no less energetically than the seamen aloft, their task to rip up and renew splintered or fire-scorched deck planking and to repair what could not be renewed. Only her single, black-painted funnel, which had been riddled by the guns of the Wasp battery, still bore witness to the fury of the engagement in which Trojan and her squadron had taken part.
Standing on the quarterdeck, Phillip Horatio Hazard, the frigate's First Lieutenant and acting commander, looked about him with approval. Her newly appointed Captain, he thought, would be able to find little fault with the order Trojan was in, when he came to make his inspection later this morning. The entire ship's company had worked with a will, like the good men they were and ... he bit back an involuntary sigh and, acknowledging the salute of the officer of the watch, who came to meet him, said formally, "Pipe hands to breakfast, if you please, Mr Fox. The ship's company will muster at five bells for Captain's inspection. Captain Crawford will read his commission and then inspect the ship, before conducting Divine Service."
"Aye, aye, sir." Lieutenant Fox nodded to the midshipman of the watch to pass on these instructions, his expression carefully blank and his voice lowered, as he added some routine instructions of his own. Seven bells of the Morning Watch struck; the Boatswain put his silver call to his lips and the pipe, echoed by his mate on the deck below, was obeyed with alacrity by the duty watch, who had all been out of their hammocks since 4 a.m.
As the men gathered in their messes, clustering hungrily about the well-scrubbed deal tables to await the appearance of the cooks, with their mess-kits of steaming cocoa and boiled ship's biscuit, the Boatswain's powerful, full-throated voice could be heard, carrying clearly to the lower deck.
"D'ye hear there, fore and aft? Clean for muster at five bells ... rig of the day duck frocks and white trousers! Clean shirts and a shave, for Captain's inspection at five bells...."
Phillip Hazard stood by himself on the starboard side of the quarterdeck, a tall and, in that moment, an oddly isolated and even lonely figure as he listened to the shouted orders, his dark brows meeting in a frown. Captain's inspection now meant, of course, Captain Crawford's inspection, not his own, he reflected wryly. In fact, this was probably the last time that he would stand on the weather side of Trojan's quarterdeck, clad in the dignified trappings of command, his word law to the three hundred officers and men who made up the frigate's complement of bluejackets, engineers, and marines. In a little under three hours' time, he would cease to enjoy the exclusive right to pace these few yards of narrow deck, which were, by tradition, the commander's prerogative, sacred to him as soon as he made his appearance from below, and to be shared only at his invitation, even by the officer of the watch. All too soon another man would stand here in his place and he himself, stripped of his brief authority, would be merely one of half a dozen watch-keeping lieutenants on board a ship- of-the-line, limited in his responsibilities, anonymous in his lack of importance.
He smothered another sigh and, suddenly aware that the eyes of his own officer of the watch were fixed on him in mute but nonetheless obvious sympathy, felt himself redden.
"Well?" He turned to face the offender. "What is it, Mr Fox?" His tone was discouraging, deliberately so, but Lieutenant Fox appeared to notice nothing amiss.
"Sir?" He came to Phillip's side, giving him the deference due to his temporary rank. "I said nothing, sir."
"No ... but you were looking uncommonly glum. I wondered why."
Fox hesitated. "It occurred to me that the time had come rather sooner than we had anticipated, that was all," he answered guardedly.
"The time? The time for what, pray?" Phillip's expression did not relax.
"For you to take your leave of us again, Phillip," the younger man told him, abandoning formality, since there was no one else within earshot. "And I was sorry — or glum, if you prefer it. The Trojan has been a happy ship under your command ... a happy and efficient ship, as she was when she was first commissioned. I wish, for all our sakes, that you could have had a little longer."
Phillip's lean, high-boned face hardened in an effort to avoid betraying his feelings. He regarded his senior watch-keeper and closest friend for a moment in frowning silence and then forced a smile. Their friendship had been of long standing, he reminded himself — dating back to their early days in the midshipmen's berth of Captain Keppel's Maeander frigate — and he had no secrets from Martin Fox. There was little point in pretending that he wanted to leave Trojan or welcomed the circumstances which compelled him to relinquish his temporary command and there was no point whatsoever in clinging to the remnants of a dignity he no longer possessed.
"I wish that too," he said flatly. "I wish with all my heart that I might have had a little while longer. I do not have to tell you with what affection I regard this ship or what it has meant to me to command her. But ... let's walk, Martin, shall we, until your relief puts in an appearance? Captain Crawford will be taking breakfast with the Commander-in-Chief, he told me, so I do not imagine that he will be here much before five bells. And he doesn't require a boat to be sent for him."
They fell into step together, pacing the starboard side of the quarterdeck with the measured, unhurried tread of men to whom every obstacle and every foot of planking was familiar, both in daylight and in darkness.
"What is he like, Phillip?" Martin Fox asked curiously.
"Captain Crawford, do you mean?"
"Yes. You talked to him yesterday aboard Britannia, did you not? What impression did you form of him?"
"An exceptionally favourable one," Phillip answered, without hesitation. "He is not young, in fact he's held post-rank for almost as long as you and I have been at sea. And he has a fine record, of course. He was in Sir Edward Codrington's squadron at Navarino, and served as a midshipman in the Blonde, which makes him one of the elite of this squadron. Admittedly, he has been on the half-pay list for several years but that, I understand, was due to ill health ... Captain Crawford is not a wartime misfit like North. You'll have no occasion to worry on that account, Martin, I assure you — he's a fine seaman, from all accounts. As to what he's like, as a man ... well, I spent only a few minutes in conversation with him yesterday. Both Admirals were present, plying him with questions concerning the latest news from home, so he hadn't much time to answer any of mine, but he struck me as a very pleasant individual. In appearance he is small and grey-haired, of rather frail physique, and he speaks very quietly. He seemed considerate and kindly and possessed of a dry sense of humour. I don't think you will find him hard to get along with."
"I trust you are right." Fox's broad shoulders rose in a shrug. The midshipman of the watch approached him diffidently, offering the muster book for his inspection. He excused himself, glanced at it, and nodded in curt dismissal. When he turned to Phillip again, the expression on his good-looking young face was a trifle less glum but he said, with regret, "I shall still be sorry to see you go. And so will this ship's company ... most damnably sorry, Phillip, believe me."
"It's good of you to say so," Phillip returned, his tone bleak. "I'll be sorry to go but there's no help for it, is there? I had no illusions. I didn't for a moment imagine that I should be left in command of this ship, however much I wanted to be. It was never on the cards, Martin — how could it be, when there are full Commanders and even Post-Captains of twice my age, having to be content with six-gun sloops and out-dated paddle-wheel corvettes? In any event, my dear fellow ..." He clapped a hand on his companion's shoulder and grinned at him affectionately. "My going will put you one more rung up the ladder and, if anyone has earned his promotion, you have ... and I mean that, in all sincerity."
"Promotion at your expense?" Martin Fox exclaimed. He flushed indignantly. "That's the last thing I want, the very last! And you know it, don't you?"
"Of course I do. And you, I am sure, know that old proverb about not looking a gift horse in the mouth."
"I have heard it quoted," Fox admitted, still very red of face. "But all the same, Phillip, Admiral Lyons did promise that you —"
Phillip cut him short. He said, his tone crisp, "The Admiral has done his best for me. Indeed, he's done far more than I had any right to expect, in the circumstances. I have him to thank for my appointment to the Agamemnon and —"
"As third lieutenant, Phillip! And he had told you, as he told us all, that he intended to recommend you for promotion," Fox put in.
"True," Phillip conceded, his smile widening and his tone now deliberately light. "But it is the Commander-in-Chief who decides whether or not to pass on such recommendations to their Lordships, is it not? I've been given the opportunity to volunteer for service with the Naval Brigade ashore, you know. Replacements are needed and Admiral Dundas himself advised me to take the opportunity. He —"
"Are you trying to tell me that Admiral Dundas has blocked your promotion?" Martin Fox demanded. He halted, staring at Phillip in frank bewilderment. "But why? What reason has he, for heaven's sake?"
Phillip fell silent, his smile fading. He was far from anxious to discuss — even with Martin Fox — what the Commander-in-Chief had said to him the previous evening, when he had been summoned aboard Britannia to receive orders to hand over his temporary command to Captain Crawford. The Admiral's words had come as an ugly shock to him, from which he had not yet fully recovered, and Martin Fox — being the loyal friend he was — would insist on coming to his defense should he suspect what had transpired. This, at all costs, must be prevented, Phillip thought wretchedly, since it would inevitably do more harm than good. He shrugged, with simulated indifference, and attempted to evade the question.
"The Admiral has his reasons, Martin, and no useful purpose can be served by going into them now, I promise you."
"But" — Fox was not to be put off — "he told you what his reasons were, I imagine?"
"Yes, he told me. But there's nothing to be done, in the circumstances. Nothing, that is to say, that would not make matters worse for us all ... you may take my word for that."
"For us all, Phillip?" Fox said quickly. "What do you mean? Surely ..." Comprehension dawned and he swore softly under his breath. "You cannot mean that the North affair is being held against you? If it is, then it's the height of injustice! Oh, I realize that it is considered reprehensible to speak ill of the dead, but where the late Captain North is concerned, my conscience is clear because I can, in truth, say nothing good of him."
"Then say nothing," Phillip besought him.
"Why? Is North to be whitewashed at your expense, without your lifting a finger to defend yourself? In God's name, Phillip, have you forgotten to what a state this ship's company was reduced under his command? Or to what desperate lengths we ourselves were being driven by his tyranny?"
"No." Tight-lipped, Phillip shook his head. "I have not forgotten — nor am I likely to forget. But I should infinitely prefer not to speak of it now, Martin. It is over, it's no longer of any consequence."
"But it isn't over!" Fox protested vehemently. "Phillip, we've been friends for a long time, you and I ... I beg you to tell me what the Admiral said to you, if it concerns North. You can trust to my discretion, you must know that ... unless, for some reason, I have forfeited your confidence. If I have then, for the sake of our friendship, you owe it to me to say so. At least tell me why."
"Don't be idiotic, my dear Martin ... of course you haven't forfeited my confidence. Nevertheless I ..." Phillip hesitated but finally, observing the injured look in Fox's dark eyes, he reluctantly abandoned his attempt at evasion. "Very well, since you wish it, I will tell you what there is to tell — provided I have your word that you will take no action in the matter. No action whatsoever, without consulting me first."
"That's a condition?"
"Yes, it is. I want your promise, Martin."
"Then you have it, naturally. But I —"
"Thank you." Phillip embarked on his explanation, choosing his words with care and hoping that Fox would not press him for too many details. "A few hours before he was stricken down by the cholera, Captain North paid a visit to Britannia. He requested an interview with Admiral Dundas, the purpose of which was, I have been given to understand, to accuse me of misconduct and to apply for my trial by court martial. The nature of the charges he made against me was such that, as Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Dundas has deemed it advisable to transfer me to another ship. I accept his decision of course," he added hastily, as Martin Fox endeavoured to interrupt him, "I've no right to question it, Martin. All things considered I have been fortunate ... Admiral Lyons most generously spoke up for me and, furthermore, expressed his willingness to have me appointed to his own flagship. So you see, it's not a matter concerning which you need lose any sleep. I go to Agamemnon very gratefully, even if it has to be without my promotion. Things might have been a great deal worse and I intend, in any case, to volunteer for the Naval Brigade, subject to Admiral Lyons's approval and there I —"
"One moment, Phillip," Fox pleaded. "That isn't the whole story, is it? You are trying to pull the wool over my eyes but please ... tell me the truth. I must know."
"What else do you want to know?" Phillip asked. "I've told you the essentials." It was almost eight bells, he thought, and Fox's relief would present himself in a few minutes. Although, being Sunday, when it was customary to allow an extra quarter of an hour for breakfast — to enable the men to prepare for inspection — the watch would not change until 8:30, or one bell of the Forenoon Watch. And this, unfortunately, would give his companion ample time in which to ask the questions he had been hoping to avoid ... he again forced a smile and sought to change the subject but, as before, Martin Fox refused to be put off.
"You mentioned charges, Phillip," he pointed out. "But what possible charges could North have brought against you that he could not have brought against the rest of us? We were all more deeply involved than you were — you had only just rejoined the ship, after serving on the Admiral's staff."
Excerpted from The Brave Captains by V. A. Stuart. Copyright © 1972 V.A. Stuart. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
V. A. Stuart wrote several series of military fiction and numerous other novels under various pseudonyms. Her settings span history and the globe, from the Napoleonic wars of Europe to India under the British Raj. Born in 1914, she was in Burma with the British Fourteenth Army, became a lieutenant, and was decorated with the Burma Star and the Pacific Star.
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