Hazard of Huntressby V. A. Stuart
The Crimean War rages on, and determined to break the stalemate, the British decide to send a spy into Odessa. And who better for this perilous mission than Captain Phillip Hazard, newly promoted to command of the steam-powered Huntress and fluent in Russian? Hazard bravely takes on the task, but saddled with a surly first lieutenant whose previous captain died
The Crimean War rages on, and determined to break the stalemate, the British decide to send a spy into Odessa. And who better for this perilous mission than Captain Phillip Hazard, newly promoted to command of the steam-powered Huntress and fluent in Russian? Hazard bravely takes on the task, but saddled with a surly first lieutenant whose previous captain died mysteriously and with his crew plagued by an unknown illness, Hazard soon finds he must depend on his own resourcefulness to survive.
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Hazard of Huntress
The Phillip Hazard Novels, No. 4
By V. A. Stuart
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1972 V. A. Stuart
All rights reserved.
Phillip Hazard was in a mood of quiet elation when he left the Agamemnon to return to his own ship. It was pitch dark and very cold and he shivered as he took his place in the sternsheets of the Huntress's gig and, wrapping his boat-cloak about him, nodded to the boat commander to cast off.
The Admiral's hospitality had been generous, as indeed it always was, and he had enjoyed his four-hour stay aboard the flagship immensely, not least for the unexpected opportunity it had afforded him to talk at length to his friend and one-time Captain, Jack Lyons. With his fellow guests at the well-found table, he had drunk the health of the new Commander-in-Chief after witnessing, from Agamemnon's quarter-deck, the departure of his predecessor, whose flag had been flying for the last time from the steam frigate Furious. He had seen the courteous exchange of signals between the two Admirals, their earlier differences — of which the whole Fleet had been aware — forgotten as each wished the other well in a hoist of coloured bunting, seen dimly through the falling snow as the Furious steamed away from the anchorage and set course for Constantinople. Later, as he ate, he had listened with growing eagerness to the plans for future naval operations which the new Commander-in-Chief had lost no time in outlining to his guests and staff — plans that would be implemented as soon as the dread Crimean winter gave place to spring — if Sir Edmund Lyons had his way.
As surely he must, Phillip told himself, now that Admiral Dundas had gone ... and in spite of Canrobert. As Sir Edmund had remarked, a short while ago, Sebastopol could hold out indefinitely so long as its lines of communication remained open and reinforcements and supplies continued to pour into the town from the Russian mainland, with its vast resources of men and the materials of war. The siege guns on the Upland, upon which the French pinned their hopes, could pound the city's walls and forts day after weary day without bringing their defenders any nearer to defeat. And those defenders were housed and properly fed, spared the cruel rigors of winter under canvas, which the Allied land forces must endure.
The Fleets were, on the other hand, in undisputed command of the sea, as the Admiral had reminded his listeners. Once the enforced inertia of winter came to an end and when the ships of war were released from their inglorious role as transports, then they could and would make a major contribution to the successful prosecution of the siege of Sebastopol by attacking and cutting off the defenders' supply lines and starving them into surrender. Once the ice-bound Sea of Azoff became navigable, a squadron of light-draft vessels like his own could be despatched to carry the offensive to the enemy's back door. In the meantime ... Phillip had permitted himself a bleak little smile.
His own orders, issued privately and in confidence by the Admiral himself just before he left the flagship, had given him much to think about. "It is possible that I may not require this service of you," the Admiral had said. "If I am able to convince General Canrobert on the information I have available, rest assured that I shall do so. But, if I cannot, then you will receive sealed orders, the precise nature of which you are to divulge to no one except your brother. In the meantime, prepare to sail at once to relieve the Highflyer in the Bay of Odessa."
Phillip frowned. On the face of it, he would only be exchanging one unrewarding duty for another and the Huntress would, in future, maintain a lonely vigil off the port of Odessa instead of beating back and forth from Varna to Eupatoria, with every foot of space below deck occupied by seasick Turkish soldiers, whose discipline — by Royal Navy standards — left a good deal to be desired. But at least there would be some chance of action when he sought the information the Admiral had asked him to obtain and, he reflected with satisfaction, he would be free of his passengers. True, he had been warned that, when the time came, he must accomplish his mission without unnecessary risk to his ship and her company, but the warning was superfluous since he was unlikely ever to forget the Tiger's fate.
He was pleased to learn that he was to have his brother Graham as Master, and that young Anthony Cochrane was also to be appointed to the Huntress. A pity, though, that Cochrane wasn't more senior, so that he might have taken over as First Lieutenant. The two midshipmen who had been promised to him — Grey and O'Hara — would bring his complement of officers up to strength and put an end to a keenly felt deficiency which had tried him sorely ever since he had been given command of the Huntress.
Phillip's brow cleared. One major cause for dissatisfaction still remained in the person of Ambrose Quinn, his present First Lieutenant but ... Admiral Lyons had been more than kind in acceding to his request for his brother's transfer from the Trojan, as well as Cochrane's, and in permitting him to have the two midshipmen. He could expect no more and, indeed, might well have had to be content with less....
He raised his head, looking about him. It was still snowing heavily, he realized, as his gig pulled away from the temporary shelter of the towering Agamemnon and a biting off-shore wind drove a flurry of snow into his face. Beside him a shrill young voice exhorted the straining oarsmen to put their backs into it and he turned, in some surprise, recognizing the voice, although he hadn't at first recognized the muffled little figure crouching at his elbow.
Sensing his Captain's eyes on him and anticipating the question he was about to be asked, the boat's commander offered diffidently, "It's me, sir — O'Hara, late of Her Majesty's ship Trojan and now —"
"And now, it would seem, my gig's midshipman once more! Well, I'm extremely pleased to have you aboard, Mr O'Hara." Phillip held out his hand and the midshipman wrung it enthusiastically. "How are you?"
"Fine, sir. And if I may be permitted to say so, sir, I'm awfully glad to be serving under your command again."
Imagining the grin he could not see in the darkness, Phillip permitted himself a brief smile. "I applied for you, you know," he said, in explanation.
"Did you, sir? Thank you, I ... I very much appreciate your having done so." The boy's voice was vibrant with sincerity. He was a good boy, Phillip thought, with all the makings of a first rate young officer, reliable, keen, and, because he could always win the respect of the men he commanded, well able to take responsibility. By comparison with the willing, but inexperienced, youngsters he had had to make do with up to now, both O'Hara and Grey would be worth their weight in gold to the Huntress.
"When did you come aboard?" he asked.
"An hour ago, sir," Midshipman O'Hara answered promptly. "As soon as the signal from the flagship was received Mr Grey came with me — Mr Cochrane and Mr Hazard are to follow shortly, sir. And — er ..." he hesitated. "I brought Able-Seaman O'Leary with me, too, sir. He somehow got wind of the Admiral's signal and put in a request to be transferred to the Huntress also. Captain Crawford granted his request and he was in my boat before it was called away."
"O'Leary!" Phillip exclaimed, feeling an odd tightening of his throat. He and O'Leary had gone through a great deal together and, he reminded himself, he owed much to the big, raw-boned Irish seaman, who had been his orderly during the battle for Balaclava and later on the Heights of Inkerman. "Is he fully recovered and fit for duty now, Mr O'Hara?" he enquired doubtfully, recalling the severe injuries O'Leary had suffered when the Trojan, under his own brief command, had ridden out the November hurricane at sea, on her way to Eupatoria. "The last time I saw him, Surgeon Fraser was uncertain whether or not his leg would have to come off."
"Well, sir, the Surgeon saved his leg but he's not had an easy passage," O'Hara replied gravely. "And I can't truthfully say that he's fit. Captain Crawford wanted to send him to Therapia, to the Naval Hospital, but he contrived to avoid that. I fancy, sir, that the Captain was quite pleased to be rid of him. He's been in trouble a time or two, you see, sir, and well ..." The midshipman shrugged. "You know what he's like, sir."
He did, Phillip reflected wryly. Able-Seaman Joseph O'Leary had always had the name of a "Queen's Hard Bargain." Like many of his kind, he was at his best when he was in a tight corner or when there was fighting to be done; inaction drove him to drink and, inevitably, into trouble which was why, after nearly eighteen years' service, instead of being a petty officer, O'Leary was still rated A.B. He could imagine why Captain Crawford, who was reputed to keep rather a taut hand over his men, had been glad to see the last of him; but — he smiled to himself — Midshipman O'Hara had a weakness for his husky fellow-countryman and so, Phillip was forced to concede, had he. But it was hoped that the Huntress's patrol would provide O'Leary with sufficient action to keep him happy or perhaps the responsibility of rank might have the desired effect. Heaven knew, his crew were raw enough....
"Sir —" O'Hara ventured uncertainly. "You don't mind, do you, sir?"
"Mind? What should I mind, Mr O'Hara?"
"Well, sir, I'm afraid that I backed up O'Leary's request to Captain Crawford," the midshipman admitted. He spun the tiller expertly, shouting a brisk order as, a ghostly white wraith in the gloom, the Huntress came into sight ahead of them. "I took the liberty of telling the Captain that you'd be pleased to have him, you see, sir. But he's not really fit for active service, I must confess, and I feared you might think that I'd ... that I'd taken too much of a liberty. But O'Leary begged me to put in a word for him and ... well, we're both Cork men, sir. I couldn't bring myself to refuse."
"I am very glad you did put in a word, whatever your reasons," Phillip assured him. "O'Leary is a good man and I am pleased to have him, fully fit or not. My present ship's company, with very few exceptions, are inexperienced seamen, with quite a deal to learn ... and that applies to some of my officers also. Not to all, of course, but the two whom you and Mr Grey will replace are naval cadets, at sea for the first time in their young lives. They'll be better off aboard a ship-of-theline, which carries a chaplain and a schoolmaster and half a dozen mates, who'll have time to attend to their instruction." And, he thought grimly, where the poor little devils would be safe from the sadistic bullying of his First Lieutenant, from which — for all his vigilance — he hadn't always been on hand to protect them.
Ambrose Quinn was careful and he did not lack experience; he has chosen his time and his victims well. The two cadets, mere children of twelve and thirteen, were scared and submissive; they had borne the harsh treatment meted out to them without complaint and — Phillip frowned — on all too many occasions the youngsters' silence, and their stoical acceptance of punishment for alleged breaches of discipline, had made it impossible for him to intervene on their behalf, much as he had wanted to, for he detested bullying.
But at least Patrick O'Hara and the intelligent Robin Grey were lads of a different caliber, toughened by war and professionally equal to the adult seamen they commanded. They would know exactly how to deal with Ambrose Quinn. To make sure of this, he would make Grey up to Acting-Mate — he was old enough — and put him in charge of the midshipmen's berth, Phillip decided, and his expression relaxed a little. Then, as a sudden, uneasy thought occurred to him, he turned again to Midshipman O'Hara.
"Tell me, Mr O'Hara, how did you contrive so quickly to have yourself reinstated as my gig's midshipman? I left no instructions, since I was not aware until I reported to the Admiral, that my request had been granted and you would be joining my ship's company. Hitherto Mr Lightfoot has been in command of the gig and I did not relieve him of his duties."
"Yes, sir," O'Hara agreed. Like the efficient boat commander he was, he kept his eyes alertly on the ship he was approaching and, judging his distance exactly, sang out a sharp, "Way enough! Ship oars!" His crew thankfully obeyed him; he put the tiller up and nodded to the bowman to stand by. Then, his tone cautiously noncommittal, he replied to Phillip's question. "Mr Lightfoot had displeased the First Lieutenant. I don't know in what way, sir, I wasn't told. All I can tell you, sir, is that I was ordered to take his place."
"By the First Lieutenant?" Phillip asked coldly. It had not escaped his notice — nor, he was sure, O'Hara's — that there had been no hail from the Huntress's deck and that, as the bowman deftly secured his boathook to the midships chains, there was no sign of a side-party assembling to receive him. Quinn had the watch and ... His mouth tightened.
"Yes, sir," O'Hara confirmed flatly. "By the First Lieutenant, sir." He flashed a puzzled glance towards the entry port above his head. "Shall I hail the deck, sir?"
The thud of bare feet on the deck planking heralded the belated appearance of the side-party and Phillip shook his head. With the ease of long practice, he swung himself on to the ice-encrusted accommodation ladder and up this to the entry port, as a red-faced boatswain's mate raised his call to his lips. There was no sign of Quinn on the quarter-deck when he reached it and — harbour watch or no, Phillip thought angrily — his Captain's return on board should have ensured his presence there. Instead, one of the cadets, of whom he had spoken to O'Hara a short while ago, came scuttling nervously to meet him.
"Sir, I'm sorry," the boy stammered miserably. "I didn't see or hear your boat until you'd secured, sir. I do beg your pardon but I —"
Phillip cut him short. "Are you in charge of the deck, Mr Finch?" he asked, not unkindly. "Where is the First Lieutenant?"
"He — he went below, sir." A pair of frightened brown eyes looked pleadingly up into Phillip's face and he saw that they were filled with tears. "He went to attend to Johnny — that is, to Mr Lightfoot, sir. But I'm afraid it's all up with him, sir. He — he was smashed to ... to pulp when he hit the deck. And he couldn't speak, sir. I ran to him but he couldn't speak, not even to me. He didn't know me and —"
"Steady, lad," Phillip bade him, hardly able to believe the evidence of his own ears. The boy was sobbing openly now and he put an arm round the bowed shoulders, holding the small, shaking body firmly against his own. "Try to pull yourself together and tell me exactly what happened. How did young Lightfoot come to hit the deck? Surely he hadn't gone aloft, had he?"
"He ... yes, he had, sir. And he fell, he ... oh, it was horrible. I heard him cry out and ..." Finch's sobs were redoubled.
Phillip glanced upwards into the steadily falling snow, unable even to see the mainmast cross-trees from where he stood. Yards, rigging, and shrouds were thickly encrusted with ice. For this reason, he recalled, on Admiral Dundas's own orders, the Fleet had dispensed with the ceremony of manning yards on his departure. Yet Lightfoot had, apparently, gone aloft ... not, surely not, of his own volition? For a half-trained, frightened thirteen-year-old, a climb to the masthead would be fraught with peril, even in daylight. In darkness and during a snowstorm ... he drew in his breath sharply, sickened by the picture his imagination conjured up. Had Quinn — was it conceivable that Quinn had seen fit to punish the unfortunate boy thus? O'Hara had said that Lightfoot had earned his displeasure but ... he was jumping to conclusions, Phillip reproached himself, and he could be wrong. At all costs he must not allow his dislike and mistrust of his First Lieutenant to cloud his judgment.
Excerpted from Hazard of Huntress 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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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