Hazard's Command

Hazard's Command

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by V. A. Stuart

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The Crimean War is at its peak as the winter of 1854 sets in, and Commander Phillip Hazard of the 31-gun, steam-screw frigate Trojan is sent to bring troop reinforcements from Constantinople to Eupatoria. On the way, he must handle an overbearing young nobleman with a taste for blood and the pitiless power of a raging storm.


The Crimean War is at its peak as the winter of 1854 sets in, and Commander Phillip Hazard of the 31-gun, steam-screw frigate Trojan is sent to bring troop reinforcements from Constantinople to Eupatoria. On the way, he must handle an overbearing young nobleman with a taste for blood and the pitiless power of a raging storm.

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"For historical accuracy, writing verve and skill, and pace of narrative, [Stuart] stands alone."  —El Paso Times

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The Phillip Hazard Novels , #3
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Hazard's Command

The Phillip Hazard Novels, No. 3

By V. A. Stuart

McBooks Press, Inc.

Copyright © 1971 V.A. Stuart
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59013-290-6


Her Majesty's steam-screw frigate Trojan, of 31 guns and three hundred horsepower, lay at anchor off the entrance to Constantinople's Golden Horn. She had steam up and her decks were thronged with red-coated soldiers — some reinforcements, recently sent out from England but the majority recovered veterans of the Alma from the British Army hospital at Scutari, awaiting passage back to the Crimea.

From the sternsheets of his gig, which was taking him out to the anchorage, her acting Captain — Commander Phillip Horatio Hazard, Royal Navy — studied her with critical and faintly troubled blue eyes. The Trojan's previous passengers had been wounded from Balaclava, some of whom had spent many hours on the ill-equipped Hospital Wharf, without food or shelter, before embarking. Although her crew had worked day and night to remove the accumulation of blood and filth they had left behind them, the ship's state of cleanliness left, in her commander's eyes, a great deal to be desired.

It had been a nightmare voyage from Balaclava to Scutari and one he wished he could forget. The ship's surgeon, Angus Fraser, and some women of the 93rd who had volunteered to assist him, had done their best but, with little in the way of drugs and dressings and the unfortunate men crammed into every available inch of space below and even on deck, many had died. And many more would die, Phillip thought sadly, recalling what he had seen of conditions in the one-time Turkish barracks at Scutari, now officially converted into a British military hospital. Although perhaps converted was the wrong word ... it had simply been taken over and re-named.

From the outside or from a ship, anchored some distance from it, the place looked beautiful — a domed palace which the Sultan might well have occupied. But from within — he shuddered. From within it presented a very different picture ... dank and dark, a maze of long, echoing corridors and large, badly ventilated rooms, the stone floors cracked, the walls streaming with damp. The whole building was dirty and verminous, with no proper provision for cooking and it was deplorably inadequate to house the thousands of sick and injured men who were now beneath its leaking roof, where they lay in long lines, half-naked on the floor, most of them without bedding. Even the arrival of Miss Nightingale and her small band of trained female nurses had, as yet, made very little difference, as far as Phillip could see. The nurses' presence was deeply resented by Dr Menzies and Major Sillery, the two senior medical officers, and they had been forbidden entry to the wards, where such nursing as there was seemed to be left to a few elderly male pensioners, almost all of whom were untrained and incompetent or, worse still, drunk and quite indifferent to the suffering they were supposed to alleviate.

Phillip expelled his breath in an audible sigh. He had hated leaving the men he had brought from Balaclava in such a place. Those who had survived the rough passage across the Black Sea deserved better than to be transferred from the confines of the Trojan's heaving decks to foul, unwashed stone floors and vermin-infested straw mattresses, which were all that the Barracks Hospital could provide. Yet, he told himself, glancing up at the soldiers being mustered on the Trojan's forecastle for roll call, some did, by a miracle, live through the appalling experience and, having done so, would return once more to serve the guns and man the trenches on the Crimean Upland. Their faded uniforms and pale, glum faces contrasted strikingly with the bright scarlet jackets and healthy, pink and white faces of the newly-arrived men from England and stamped them for what they were. Watching them, as his gig drew nearer to the ship, Phillip wondered how many of his new passengers would live to see the Golden Horn again — or, indeed, their native England.

He was thankful, now, that he had withstood Catriona Moray's plea to take her to visit the Barracks Hospital and still more thankful — having himself paid several visits there — that he had eventually managed to persuade her not to offer her services to Miss Nightingale. He had seen the type of nurses chosen by Miss Nightingale, witnessed the frustration they were enduring, as a result of Dr Menzies' refusal to permit them to do what they had come to do, and knew that, for a girl of Catriona's birth and upbringing, such service would be difficult, if not impossible. True, she had lived with the women of the 93rd Highlanders in their camp at Kadi-Koi, following her adventurous escape from Sebastopol, where she had been governess to a Russian nobleman's family. But to the Highland women, she had been one of their own, a laird's daughter, to be protected and sheltered, treated with respect and spared the rigours of camp life on active service, insofar as it lay in their power to spare her.

It was also true that, during the terrible night which had followed Balaclava and the tragic charge made by the Light Cavalry Brigade, Catriona Moray had gone, with the others, on to the battlefield and later to the Hospital Wharf, sharing their toil amongst the wounded. Andrei Narishkin had died in her arms, imagining her to be his wife and comforted because she had encouraged this belief and ... Phillip's hands clenched fiercely at his sides as he looked back, remembering. Throughout the protracted passage from Balaclava, in strong, often almost gale force winds, she had not spared herself, spending every waking hour among the wounded but ... this had taken its toll of her. She had not collapsed, as many gently bred young women would have done — Catriona was too courageous to yield to fatigue or allow herself to be overcome by the horrors she had witnessed. So long as sick and dying men had need of her, she had been there, holding a cup of water to parched lips, saying a prayer for the poor fellows who knew their last hour had come, cleaning ghastly wounds and changing befouled dressings. Surgeon Frazer could not praise her or her fellow volunteers enough but all the same ... Phillip's jaw set obstinately.

He did not regret having taken Catriona to the residence of the British Ambassador and he felt no guilt for having contrived, without her knowledge, to have a telegraphed message sent to her grandfather, Sir Alastair Moray, in Scotland, informing him of her plight. His sailing orders had come before he had had time to do more but he had left her in Lady Stratford de Redcliffe's care, certain that she would be well and kindly looked after by the Ambassador's wife. The Trojan's Master, Mr Burnaby, had rejoined the ship and so, to make assurance doubly sure, he had also left his brother Graham, with money and instructions to obtain a passage home for her and the widow of a sergeant of the 93rd, who — now that she had lost her husband — was anxious to return to her native Sutherland. They would, in all probability, leave Constantinople within the next day or two, since there were plenty of transports due to sail home almost empty ... and Graham, detained in any case for a Court of Enquiry in Constantinople, would see to it that she and the sergeant's widow were provided with comfortable accommodation. After which his brother, if the Court found in his favor, would almost certainly be given a Master's appointment ... and there was a hail from the Trojan's quarterdeck.

"Aye, aye ... Trojan!" The midshipman commanding the gig answered the hail according to custom, his repetition of the ship's name an indication that her commander was aboard the boat.

Phillip, although he had twice previously acted as the Trojan's commander, was conscious of a thrill of pleasure as he listened to the brief exchange and saw the side party mustering at the entry port, ready to receive him with due ceremony. But for how long, he wondered, after they rejoined the Fleet off the mouth of the River Katcha, would he be left in command of his ship? A 31-gun steam frigate was a senior officer's command, as he was well aware, and his own promotion to Commander had been made temporarily by Admiral Lyons, to enable him to clear the last of the wounded from the Hospital Wharf at Balaclava and convey them to Scutari. His step in rank had yet to be approved by Admiral Dundas and confirmed by Their Lordships of the Board of Admiralty and he knew that, even if this should happen, it was unlikely in the extreme that he would be given a command of his own. If Captain Crawford's illness proved to be of comparatively short duration then he, obviously, would resume command of the Trojan but if not ... Phillip rose, as the bowman deftly secured his boathook to the frigate's chains and, waiting his moment as the gig lifted in the gentle swell, mounted the accommodation ladder and swung himself through the entry port with practiced ease.

The boatswain's mates raised their calls to their lips and the pipes shrilled, announcing his return on board. He acknowledged the salute of his First Lieutenant, Martin Fox, who had come to meet him, and together they ascended to the quarterdeck.

"You've completed loading?" Phillip asked formally.

"Aye, aye, sir." Martin Fox's good-looking face wore an unusually disgruntled expression, as he made his brief report. A year or two younger than Phillip himself and his closest friend, Fox was normally the most even tempered and placid of men but something, clearly, had upset him now. Whatever it was would have to wait until they were under way, Phillip decided. All was in readiness for sailing, his First Lieutenant assured him, so he said crisply, "Very well. Pipe hands to stations for leaving harbour, if you please. We'll proceed under engines until we're clear of the Bosphorus traffic ..." he gave his orders quietly, affecting not to notice Fox's glum face but added, when these had been passed on and the men of the duty watch were scurrying to their stations in obedience to the pipe, "It's Mr Cochrane's watch, is it not? Well, leave him to make sail — he's perfectly competent — and come to my cabin for a glass of Madeira as soon as we're under way. I have some paperwork to attend to and I want to change out of my shore-going rig, but neither task will take me long."

"Aye, aye, sir," Martin Fox acknowledged. His tone was still formal but, Phillip noticed, it was no longer stiff. Anthony Cochrane, the young red-haired Officer of the Watch, sang out, "Hands to cat the bower anchor, Bo'sun's Mate!" his order echoed in stentorian tones by the petty officer. Cochrane had matured since their arrival in the Black Sea, Phillip thought, watching him as he went efficiently about putting the ship to sea. They had all been affected, in their various ways, after serving under the Trojan's first Captain, the tyrannical Thomas North, but it had, perhaps, taken Cochrane longer than any of the others to regain his natural high spirits and his self-confidence, which Captain North had so persistently sapped.

When opportunity arose, Phillip now gave him responsibility, hoping thus to undo the harm that had been done, and young Cochrane was beginning not only to accept this but also to display a much higher degree of professional ability and seamanship than any of his brother officers had expected of him. He, more than anyone else on board — with the exception of Phillip himself — had suffered the cruel lash of North's tongue during the voyage out from England. Later he had been subjected to a sadistic bullying and what, at the time, had appeared to be a deliberate attempt on the Captain's part to provoke him into some act of insubordination, which would offer sufficient excuse to have him charged before a court martial and broken. An attempt that ... Phillip's mouth tightened involuntarily. An attempt that had nearly succeeded, both in Cochrane's case and his own. Indeed, the only reason why it had failed, he reflected, had been North's sudden and completely unexpected death from cholera ... he sighed, seeing again, in memory, as he entered his day cabin, the white, tortured face of his predecessor in command and hearing his agonized cries for help. It was a vision that still haunted him, whenever he used the cabin, after even a brief absence from the ship, for North had occupied it before him and had died in the cot he now slept in.

But ... he thrust the unpleasant memories from his mind and strode briskly into the smaller sleeping cabin where his steward, in anticipation, had laid out his undress uniform. He changed quickly and had almost completed his paperwork when Martin Fox, heralded by a tap on the door, came to join him. He reported the ship's course and position and the orders he had given Lieutenant Cochrane then, at Phillip's invitation, he seated himself and accepted a glass of Madeira, sipping it appreciatively, long legs stretched out in front of him.

"This is a pleasant wine," he observed.

"It was a present from Jack Lyons, after I dined with him aboard the Miranda the night before last. He was extremely generous and gave me a cask of it." Phillip signed his name to the report he had been writing and, gathering his papers together, laid them on one side. "Well ..." he raised his own glass. "Here's to the Black Sea Fleet! According to Jack, we've seen more action than the majority of the Baltic Fleet although, I gather, his detached squadron had quite a hot time of it in the White Sea. They put landing parties ashore and destroyed enemy fortifications and supplies, occasionally meeting with a very spirited resistance. And with only three frigates, they maintained a successful blockade of the Russian Arctic ports and made raids all along the coastline from Archangel to Tobolsk, besides capturing a most enviable number of prizes. In fact," — he grinned — "it would seem that all the Mirandas have made their fortunes in prize money, though it hasn't yet been paid to them, of course." Warming to his subject, Phillip repeated part of the account Jack Lyons had regaled him with, during their meal, and added thoughtfully, "Jack has the idea that we might do something of the kind with a small steam squadron here. Admiral Dundas isn't likely to agree to it but once Jack's father is Commander-in-Chief, he'll have a much better chance of a sympathetic hearing, I should imagine. Jack's plan is to enter the Sea of Azoff and ..." he broke off, suddenly aware that his companion was not really listening. "What is it, Martin?" he demanded.

"What is what?" Martin Fox evaded. But he reddened and murmured an apology. "I'm sorry, Phillip, I ... oh, it's nothing."

"I think you'd better tell me about it, all the same." Phillip leaned forward, the wine decanter in his hand, to refill both their glasses. "Go on," he encouraged.

The tall young First Lieutenant shrugged. "Very well then. You'll probably think I'm concerning myself unduly with a matter that is not my affair but ..." he sighed. "I had understood that the troops we are carrying were to be under the command of Major Leach of the 7th Fusiliers. Most of the men are his, with a sprinkling of the 23rd and some N.C.O.s of the 19th and 33rd — and they are all men recovering from wounds received at the Alma, like Leach himself, who lost an arm." Martin Fox paused, glumly sipping his wine. "Leach is a delightful fellow," he went on. "He came aboard yesterday, to have a word and to inspect our accommodation and, because he saw at once the state we were in, he sent a working party out — ahead of his main body — to assist in cleaning up and slinging hammocks. So I was very grateful, as you may imagine, because it enabled me to use our men to coal ship and take on water. I thanked him, of course, but he told me to think nothing of it because he owed you a debt ... it seems that you and a stretcher party from the Agamemnon carried him down from somewhere near the Great Redoubt, after the battle, when he'd been left for dead. And furthermore, Phillip" — Fox permitted himself a quick smile — "he said you'd filled him up with brandy before you attempted to move him!"


Excerpted from Hazard's Command by V. A. Stuart. Copyright © 1971 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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