"Authentic, inspiring, well-characterized and finally, moving." —Sunday Times of London
"Impeccable naval detail and plenty of action." —Sunday Telegraph
War with Britain's former colony looms on the horizon, and Admiral Sir Richard Bolitho must lead a squadron against the powerful new ships of the United States navy. Supported by his loyal crew, Bolitho must use all his ingenuity to defeat one of America's great naval commanders, Nathan Beer.
"Authentic, inspiring, well-characterized and finally, moving." —Sunday Times of London
"Impeccable naval detail and plenty of action." —Sunday Telegraph
Lady Catherine Somervell reined in the big mare and patted her neck with a gloved hand.
"Not long now, Tamara. We'll soon be home."
Then she sat very still and upright in the saddle, her dark eyes looking out across the sea. It was close to noon on this first day of March 1811 , and a strange misty vapour had already covered the track she had taken to visit John Allday and his new wife Unis. She could not believe that they had all been left alone for so long, untroubled by the Admiralty in London. Two and a half months, the longest time she and Richard Bolitho had ever spent together in their own home in Cornwall.
She tossed the fur-lined hood from her head and the damp air brought more colour to her face. When she looked directly south, Rosemullion Head, which guarded the mouth of the Helford River, was also lost in mist, and it was only three miles distant. She was on the upper coastal track, much of the lower one having crumbled into the sea in the January storms.
And yet there were signs of spring. Wagtails darting along the bank of the Helford River in their quaint diving, haphazard flight; jackdaws too, like companionable clerics on the stone walls. The ragged trees that crested the nearest hill were still leafless, their stooping branches shining from a sudden fall of rain. Nevertheless there were tiny brush strokes of yellow to mark the early daffodils that flourished there, despite the salt spray from the Channel and the Western Approaches.
Catherine urged the mare forward again, her mind lingering on the past, clinging to the weeks of freedom they had enjoyed without restraint. After the first embrace, when Bolitho had returned from the Mauritius campaign and the destruction of Baratte's privateers, she had worried that he might become restless because he was not involved with his ships and men, secretly troubled that the navy for which he had done and given so much was neglecting him.
But the love they had reawakened upon their reunion was stronger than ever, if such things were possible. Walking and riding together in spite of the inclement weather, visiting the families on the estate and, when it could not be avoided, attending more splendid occasions at the grand house of Lewis Roxby, Richard's brother-in-law and aptly nicknamed the King of Cornwall. The celebrations had marked Roxby's unexpected acquisition of a knighthood. She smiled. There would be no holding him now ...
And what of worldly events? She had watched Richard for the usual signs of uneasiness, but there had been none. She thought of the passion and the delicate touches of love they had shared. There was nothing she did not know about her man any more.
And much had changed. Sir Paul Sillitoe's prediction had come true just a month ago. King George III had been declared insane and separated from all power and authority, and the Prince of Wales had become Regent until the day he would be crowned King. Some people had hinted uncharitably it was because of the Prince Regent's influence that Roxby had been knighted. Although his new title had supposedly been bestowed in recognition of his patriotic work as a magistrate and as the founder of a local militia at the time of a feared French invasion, some claimed it was because the Regent was also the Duke of Cornwall, and he would be quick to perceive Roxby's usefulness as an ally.
She looked at the sea, no longer a rival as she had once feared. Her shoulder was still burned from the sun in the longboat after the loss of the Golden Plover on the hundred-mile reef. Could it be two years ago? She had suffered alongside the other survivors. But she and Richard had been together, and had shared it even to the threshold of death.
There was no sun visible in the pale clouds, but the sea managed to hold its reflection, so that the undulating swell appeared to be lit from below as if by a giant lantern.
She had left Richard in the house to complete some letters for the afternoon mail coach that left from the square in Falmouth. She knew that one was for the Admiralty: there were no secrets between them now. She had even explained her own visit to Whitechapel, and the aid she had accepted from Sillitoe.
Bolitho had said quietly, "I never thought I would trust that man."
She had held him in her arms in their bed and whispered, "He helped me when there was no one else. But a rabbit should never turn its back on a fox."
Of the Admiralty letter he had said only, "Someone must have read my report on the Mauritius campaign, and the need for more frigates. But I can scarce believe that a wind of change has blown through those dusty corridors!"
Another day he had been standing with her on the headland below Pendennis Castle, his eyes the same colour as the grey waters that moved endlessly, even to the horizon.
She had asked, "Would you never accept high office at the Admiralty?"
He had turned to look at her, his voice determined and compelling. "When it is time for me to quit the sea, Kate, it will be time to leave the navy, for good." He had given his boyish smile, and the lines of strain had vanished. "Not that they would ask me, of all people."
She had heard herself say quietly, "Because of me, because of us — that is the real truth."
"It is not a price, Kate my darling, but a reward."
She thought, too, of young Adam Bolitho. His frigate Anemone was lying at Plymouth, in the dockyard after her long voyage from Mauritius by way of the Cape and Gibraltar. She had been so savaged in her final embrace with Baratte's privateers that her pumps had been worked for every mile she was homeward bound.
Adam was coming to Falmouth today. She heard the clock chime from the church of King Charles the Martyr, where Bolithos had been christened, married and laid to rest for generations. It would be good for Richard to have some time with his nephew. She doubted if he would raise the matter of Valentine Keen's wife. Confrontation was not the way to deal with it.
She considered Allday, when she had called at the little inn at Fallowfield, the Old Hyperion. A local painter had done the inn sign — the old lady down to the last gunport, as Allday had proclaimed proudly after his marriage, the week before Christmas. But his fresh-faced little wife Unis, herself no stranger to the Hyperion, in which her previous husband had died, had confided that Allday was deeply troubled, and fretting that Sir Richard might leave him ashore when he accepted his next appointment.
She had spoken out of great affection for this big shambling sailor, not from jealousy that the navy would come between them. And she had shown pride too, acceptance of the rare bond that held vice-admiral and coxswain firmly together.
Catherine had said, "I know. I must face it as you do. It is for our sakes that our men are out there, in constant risk from sea and cannon alike. For us." She was not sure she had convinced her.
She smiled and tasted salt on her lips. Or myself either.
The mare quickened her pace as she reached the new road which had been laid by some of Roxby's French prisoners-of-war. Catherine suspected that it was due to their efforts that Roxby's own house and gardens were always so immaculate. Like most other estates in the county, the Bolitho land was tended mostly by old men and cripples thrown on the beach by the navy they had served. Without an authorised protection any younger man would be snatched up by the ever-greedy press-gangs. Even the protection might not help on a dark night with a man-of-war tugging at her cable, and her captain not too eager to question his returning press.
She saw the roof of the old grey house showing above the last fold in the hillside. Would Adam have any news? He would certainly notice how well his uncle looked. Exercise, good food and rest ... Her mouth twitched. And love, which had left them breathless.
She had often wondered if Adam resembled his father in any way. There was no portrait of Hugh in the house; and she guessed that Bolitho's father had made certain of that after Hugh had disgraced himself and the family name. Not because of his gambling, the resulting debts from which had almost crippled the estate until Richard's success as a frigate captain had brought prize-money to clear them. Hugh had even killed a fellow officer in a duel related to gambling.
All that, their father could possibly have forgiven. But to desert the navy and fight on the side of the Americans in their war of independence: that had been beyond everything. She thought of all the grave-eyed portraits that lined the walls and the landing. They seemed to watch and assess her whenever she climbed the stairs. Surely they had not all been saints?
A stable-lad took the bridle and Catherine said, "A good rub down, eh?" She saw another horse munching busily in the stables, and a blue and gold saddle-cloth. Adam was already here.
She tossed her head and allowed her long dark hair to fall free on her shoulders.
As she opened the double doors she saw them standing by the great log fire. They could have been brothers, black hair and the Bolitho features she saw repeated in the portraits, the faces she had studied while this house had become a home around her. Her eyes settled only briefly on the table, and the canvas envelope which bore the Admiralty's fouled-anchor cipher. She had somehow known it would be there. It was a shock, nonetheless.
She smiled and held out her arms as Adam came to greet her. Richard would have seen her glance and her momentary dismay.
There was the true enemy.
Lieutenant George Avery stood at the window of his room and watched the bustling throngs of people and vehicles. It was market day in Dorchester: haggling over prices, country people coming in from the farms and villages to sell and buy. The taverns would be full by now.
He walked to a plain looking-glass and studied his reflection as he might examine a fledgling midshipman.
He was still surprised that he had decided to accept Sir Richard Bolitho's invitation to remain as his flag-lieutenant. He had sworn often enough that if the offer of a command were made, no matter how small or lowly, he would snatch it. He was old for his rank; he would not see thirty again. He stared critically at the well-fitting uniform, with the twist of gold lace on the left shoulder to denote his appointment as Sir Richard Bolitho's aide. Avery would never forget the day he had first met the famous admiral at his house in Falmouth. He had not expected Bolitho to accept him in the appointment, even though he was Sir Paul Sillitoe's nephew, for he hardly knew his uncle and could not imagine why he had put forth his name for consideration.
He still had nightmares about the experience which had almost cost him his life. As second-in-command of a small schooner, Jolie, formerly a French prize, he had been content, and excited by the dashing encounters with enemy traders. But his youthful captain, also a lieutenant, had become too confident, and taken too many risks. He could almost hear himself describing him to Bolitho during that first interview. I thought him reckless, Sir Richard. They had been surprised by a French corvette, which had swept around a headland and had raked them before they could stand away. The young captain had been cut in half in the first broadside, and moments later Avery had been struck down, badly wounded. Helplessly he had seen his men hauling down the ensign, the fight gone out of them in the overwhelming ferocity of the attack.
As a prisoner-of-war Avery had endured agony and despair at the hands of the French surgeons. It was not that they had not cared or been indifferent to his suffering. Their lack of resources had been a direct result of the English blockade, an irony he often remembered.
The brief Peace of Amiens, which had served only to allow the old enemies to lick their wounds and restore their ships and defences, had led to Avery's early discharge, an exchange with one of the French prisoners. On his return to England there had been no congratulations or rewards for his past bravery. Instead he had faced a court martial. Eventually he had been found not guilty of cowardice or of hazarding the ship. But the little Jolie had struck her colours to the enemy so, wounded or not, he was reprimanded, and would have remained a lieutenant for the rest of his service.
Until that day some eighteen months ago when Bolitho had given him the post of flag- lieutenant. It had been a new door opening for Avery, a new life, which he had learned to share with one of England's heroes: a man whose deeds and courage had stirred the heart of a nation.
He smiled at himself in the glass and saw the younger man appear. For only a moment his habitual expression of wariness vanished, as did the lines around his mouth. But the streaks of grey in his dark brown hair and the stiff way he held his shoulder, as the result of his wound and its treatment, gave the lie to what he saw.
He heard someone at the front door and glanced around his room: a bare, simple place without personality. Like the house itself, the vicarage where his father, a strict but kindly man, had brought him up. Avery's sister Ethel, who herself had married a clergyman when their father had been killed by a runaway horse in the street, still lived here with her husband.
He clipped on his sword and reached for his cocked hat, the gold lace still as bright as the day eighteen months ago when he'd gone to Joshua Miller, the tailor in Falmouth. For two generations the Miller family had been making uniform clothing for the Bolitho family although few could remember how it had all begun. Bolitho had outfitted him on his appointment as flag-lieutenant. That too had been another kindness, characteristic of the man he had come to know so well, even if he still did not fully understand him. His charisma, which he himself did not seem to know that he possessed; the way in which those closest to him were ever protective. His little crew as he called them: his burly coxswain Allday, his round-shouldered Devonian secretary Yovell, and not least his personal servant Ozzard, a man without a past.
He put some money on the table for his sister. She would get precious little from her miserly husband. Avery had heard him leave the vicarage very early on some mission of mercy, or to murmur a few words before a local felon was dropped from the gallows. He smiled to himself. If he was really a man of God, the Lord should be warned to begin recruiting his own little crew!
The door opened and his sister stood in the passageway, watching him as though unwilling for him to leave.
She had the same dark hair as Avery and her eyes, like her brother's, were tawny, like a cat's. Apart from that, there was little resemblance. He found it hard to accept that she was only twenty-six, her body worn out by child-bearing. She had four children but had lost two others along the way. It was harder still to recall her as a girl. She had been lovely then.
She said, "The carter's here, George. He'll take your chest to the stage at the King's Arms." She stared at him as he took her and held her closely. "I know you must go, George, but it's been so lovely to have you here. To talk, and that ..." When she was distressed, her Dorset accent was more pronounced.
Downstairs two of the children were screaming, but she did not seem to notice. She said suddenly, "I wish I'd seen Lady Somervell, like you have."
Avery held her more tightly. She had often asked him about Catherine, what she did, how she spoke with him, how she dressed. He stroked the drab clothing his sister had worn throughout his visit.
Once he had mentioned Catherine when Ethel's husband had been in the room. He had snapped in his reedy voice, "A godless woman! I'll not hear her name in my house!"
Avery had retorted, "I thought this was one of God's houses, sir."
They had not spoken since. That was why he had quit the vicarage early, he supposed, so that they would not have to lie to one another with brotherly farewells.
Excerpted from For My Country's Freedom by Alexander Kent. Copyright © 1995 Highseas Authors Ltd. 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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Alexander Kent is the author of twenty-seven acclaimed books featuring Richard Bolitho. Under his own name, Douglas Reeman, and in the course of a career spanning forty-five years, he has written over thirty novels and two non-fiction books.
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