Quarterdeck (Kydd Series #5)by Julian Stockwin
In this fifth adventure Kydd passes a tough examination for his lieutenancy but feels out of place among the high-born officers. Later he is caught up in the intrigue surrounding the birth of the American Navy and must use quick wits and superior seamanship to survive.
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A Kydd Sea Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2004 Julian Stockwin
All rights reserved.
The Portsmouth Mail made good speed on the highway south from London. Inside, it smelt pungently of leather and old dust, but Thomas Kydd did not care: it would take a great deal more than this to subdue his growing excitement.
After the examination, Kydd had spent some days in Yarmouth, where Tenacious had been taken out of commission for battle repairs, and had prevailed upon the naval outfitter in the matter of a splendid lieutenant's uniform, determined to go home on leave in a handsome manner.
He stared out at the tranquil winter country scene of soft meadows and gnarled oak trees. This was England at last, his hearth and home after so many years away. The postillion's long horn blared, and he leaned out of the window. It was Cobham — Guildford was not far away. He glanced at his friend sitting next to him. "An hour, Nicholas — an hour only, an' I'll be seein' m' folks again!"
Renzi had been quiet since London, his withdrawn, ascetic expression discouraging talk. He nodded politely and smiled, then looked away.
Heaven only knew what he was thinking about. Their years together had been full of perils and adventure, but Renzi's friendship had brought Kydd an insight into learning, and respect for the riches of the mind. And now they were returning to where their long adventure had started.
Yet again Kydd brought to memory how he had last left home, when he and Renzi had stolen away back to sea, to Artemis, the famous frigate, after founding a school to secure his family's livelihood. There had been a world voyage that had ended in shipwreck, rousing times in the Caribbean, adventures in the Mediterranean. It seemed half a lifetime, but it was only four years or so. Here he was, just twenty-five, and ...
The coach jerked to a stop, and the horses were changed for the last stage to Guildford. The door swung open, and a young lady was handed up, her tall bonnet catching on the roof sill. She settled opposite in a rustle of pale-blue silk, her eyes downcast.
An older gentleman followed, acknowledged Kydd and Renzi, then sat beside her. The ostler offered a hot brick in worn serge, which the man manoeuvred under the young lady's feet. "Thank you, dear Papa," she said demurely, snuggling her hands into a muff.
The man favoured a belly-warmer, which he settled inside his long coat. "Uncommon cold for this time o' year!" he grunted.
Long inured to conditions far worse, Kydd caught Renzi's amused but discreet sideways glance. "Er, I'm sure y'r right."
The girl looked up, and noticed their uniforms. "Oh!" she said prettily, her hand at her mouth. "You're sailors!"
The man coughed irritably. "They're officers, m'dear, naval officers, not sailors, d'ye see?"
"It is what I meant to say, Papa. Pray, sirs, were you in that dreadful battle of Camperdown? I have heard that it was quite the most shocking fight this age!"
The man clicked his tongue in exasperation, but Kydd's heart swelled with pride. Their coach still bore laurel branches from the helter-skelter celebrations of only a week or so ago.
"Indeed, this is so, Miss, and you will understand how truly weary we are, that we yearn for the blessings of peace and solitude for a period ..." Renzi said quietly.
"Of course, sir, please do forgive me." Her eyes rested briefly on Kydd. Then she turned determinedly to stare out of the window.
Kydd felt a pang of irritation, but understood that Renzi was sparing him idle chat so that he could enjoy the anticipation of his homecoming.
The mention of Camperdown, his first big fleet action, brought back emotions that were still too raw and recent, images of the nightmare of the great mutiny at the Nore and its sequel; his mind shied away from them and instead concentrated on the incredible fact that he had been promoted on the field of battle and officially confirmed. He was now Lieutenant Kydd! It was still too heady a thought, so he let his mind return to the excitement of his homecoming.
The coach jolted over the infamous potholes at Abbotswood: Guildford Town was now minutes away. Almost too quickly, the square, grey-stone Elizabethan grammar school passed on the left, and the town proper began, familiar buildings at the top of the high street. The post-horn's baying echoed off the almshouse opposite Holy Trinity, drawing mildly curious glances from the townsfolk.
Clattering over the old cobbled road, they passed under the big clock, and the driver tooled the mail-coach through the narrow black and white half-timbered entrance of the Angel posting-house.
Kydd and Renzi left their bags with the obsequious landlord, then emerged on to the high street and turned left, past shops and alleys well known to Kydd. The reek and colour of the town, the bustle and shouts, the passing tide of people all seemed to advance like a dream.
Some glanced curiously at the two men, others with admiration. Self-conscious, Kydd waited for someone to recognise him, but perhaps the dark blue, white and gold of his handsome uniform put paid to that. He saw Betty, the fishmonger's attractive daughter, who stopped and stared in shock at the sight of him. Kydd doffed his brand-new cocked hat.
They reached the red-brick church of Holy Trinity, and turned off past the glebe cottages to Schoolhouse Lane, as it was now known. There was no mistaking the little naval school ahead: a huge blue ensign floated above for all the world to see — the flag under which Kydd had fought at Camperdown. And as they drew near they could hear a muffled chanting on the air: "... three sevens are twenty-one, four sevens are twenty-eight, five sevens ..."
They stepped into the tiny quadrangle, two King's officers returned from the sea. A youngster emerged at the run from a classroom and teetered to a halt. He whipped off his cap and shrilled, "I'll fetch th' bo'sun, if y' please, sir!"
Jabez Perrott emerged out of the building and stumped importantly towards them. His eyes widened, and he gasped, "Be buggered! It's Master Kydd, be gob!"
Kydd opened his mouth, but Perrott, reddening with pleasure, grabbed for his silver call and emitted a piercing blast. Then, in a lower-deck bellow that had not softened with the years, he roared, "Aaaaall the hands! Haaaands to muster — clear lower deck, ye swabs! Haaaands to muster!"
Children boiled out of the classrooms, screeching in delight at the antics of their strict boatswain.
"Mr Perrott! Mr Perrott! What are you doing?"
Kydd recognised the voice and, holding back tears, advanced to meet his mother.
"Oh! Tom! It's you! M' darling boy, it's you! And you've ..." The rest was lost in a fierce embrace that went on and on, knocking his hat askew.
"Mother! So long ..."
Kydd's father had aged: his form was stooped and his eyes sightless. Nevertheless, he bore himself nobly in the black breeches of a headmaster. "Er, is that you, son?"
"It is, Walter!" his mother said, as the old man moved uncertainly towards Kydd, holding out his hand. Kydd took it, then hugged him.
"Walter, Tom is an officer!" She looked anxiously to Kydd for confirmation — the idea was so enormous.
"Aye, Mother, it's 'Lieutenant Kydd, Royal Navy' you must call me now, or I'll clap ye all in irons!" He spoke loudly so his father would make no mistake about what he was hearing.
"Carry on, sir?" Perrott said to Kydd, touching his hat.
"Er, please do," said Kydd.
"Ship's comp'ny, ahoy! I'll have yez in two lines afore the mast — let's be havin' ye!" he bawled at the children. They shuffled eagerly into line. "Now, we dips our colours t' a pair o' 'eroes 'oo has jus' come back 'ome fr'm such a battle as never was, an' we're going t' show how much we admires 'em!"
Lieutenants Kydd and Renzi stood solemnly to attention as "God Save The King" and "Rule Britannia" were sung enthusiastically by the wide-eyed youngsters.
A piercing squeal on the boatswain's call brought quiet, and the colours were dipped reverently to half staff. With great dignity Perrott turned to face Kydd, removing his hat. Taken by surprise, Kydd raised his own cocked hat, at which the colours rose again.
"Silence!" Perrott thundered at the awed children. "Now, Lootenant Kydd will talk t' you about y'r dooty."
Kydd managed to splutter a few words: "Y'r duty is ... steadfast in all weathers ... courage at the cannon's mouth ... King and country."
It seemed to be enough. An eager child broke ranks and held up his hand. "Please, sir, I want t' be a sailor — how do I be a sailor?"
Soon a pink-faced Kydd was mobbed by shouting boys.
"Pipe down, y' scurvy crew, 'n' listen to the l'tenant!" growled Perrott happily.
Kydd glanced across at his mother, who was bursting with pride, and knew there was only one thing to do. He turned to his father and touched his hat. "Cap'n, sir, permission f'r liberty ashore t' both watches!"
"Oh, er, liberty?" his father stuttered. "Yes, yes, er, Lieutenant Kydd. A half-holiday to, er, all hands!" The children screamed with delight and poured out of the school, leaving a dazed, happy Kydd family standing in the quadrangle.
"I shall withdraw at this point, if I may," Renzi said quietly.
"No, no, Mr Renzi," Mrs Kydd insisted. "You must stay an' tell us where you have been on the sea — you'll both have such tales, I do declare!" She turned to Kydd. "Now, I'll ask Mr Partington to spare us his room for you — he can stay with his friend Jonathan. For Mr Renzi ..." She trailed off. Then she resumed stiffly: "But, then, now Thomas has a reputation, he'll want t' have his own establishment."
His mother's words could not hide the essence of the matter, the brutal truth, and Kydd felt a chill at the passing of his simple life. He saw her colouring: she had understood that her son was no longer hers. From now on, society events and invitations would firmly distinguish between the Kydds.
"We shall stay at the Angel," Renzi said softly. "Then we will take modest lodgings in town."
Kydd mumbled agreement.
"Well, then, that's settled," his mother said bravely. "It's for the best, o' course. Come inside an' take a posset — you must be frozen after y'r journey."
* * *
As he cradled a mug of hot curdled milk at the kitchen table Kydd listened to the flow of prattle from his mother, felt the quiet presence of his father and caught the curious flash of the maid's eyes. His own kept straying down to his uniform, the blue and gold so striking. Who could guess what the future might hold now? A deep sigh escaped him.
He heard the approaching tap, tap of footsteps. His mother smiled. "Ah, that must be Cecilia — she'll be so surprised to see you!"
The last time he had seen his sister was in a wrecked boat in the Caribbean. He recalled her mortal terror as they had fought for their lives against the sharks. What would she think of him now?
"She's done very well with Lord an' Lady Stanhope, Thomas. Quite the lady companion she is now," Mrs Kydd said proudly. "And don't go quarrellin' with her, if y' please, you know how it upsets your father."
The outside door rattled, and Cecilia's voice echoed down the passageway. "Father — what is going on? I saw quantities of your boys on the street and ..." Her voice died away as the two men rose to their feet. She looked from face to face, incredulous. "Thomas? You ... you ..."
Kydd awkwardly held out his hands. "Ye're doin' well, Mother says —"
Suddenly her expression softened to a deep tenderness, and she seized her brother in a fierce hug. "Oh, Thomas! I've so missed you!"
He felt her body heaving, and when she looked at him again he saw the sparkle of tears. His own voice was gruff with emotion as he said, "Sis — y' remember in th' boat —"
She stopped him with a finger on his lips and whispered, "Mother!" Then she let him go, crossed to Renzi and placed a generous kiss on both his cheeks. "Dear Nicholas! How are you? You're still so thin, you know."
Renzi replied politely, and Cecilia turned back to her brother. "Thomas and Nicholas are going to take chocolate with me at Murchison's and tell me all their adventures, while you, Mother, prepare such a welcome for this wandering pair!" she announced. Her eyes widened. "Gracious me — and if I'm not mistaken in the particulars — Thomas, you're a ..."
"L'tenant Kydd it is now, Cec," he said happily.
The evening meal was a roaring success. Kydd became hoarse with talking and Renzi was quite undone by the warmth of his welcome. Cecilia could not get enough of Kydd's descriptions of the Venice of Casanova, even above his protestations that the danger of their mission meant he was hardly in a position to discourse on the republic's attractions.
Distant thumps and a sudden crackle sounded outside. Cecilia clapped her hands. "The fireworks — I nearly forgot! Tonight we'll see your Admiral Onslow — he is to be a baronet, and is now resting at Clandon with his brother the earl. It's said he'll make an address from the balcony of the town hall! Gentlemen — I wish to attend! I shall be with you presently." She swept away imperiously to appear shortly afterwards in a pelisse at the height of fashion: lemon silk, lined and faced with blue. She looked at them both with the suspicion of a pout. "And who will be my gentleman escort?"
Kydd hesitated, but instantly Renzi bowed deeply and offered his arm. "May I observe that I find Mademoiselle is in looks tonight?" he said, with the utmost courtly grace.
Cecilia inclined her head and accepted his arm. They went outside and, without a backward glance at Kydd, moved off down the lane, Cecilia's laughter tinkling at Renzi's sallies.
Kydd watched them helplessly. His sister had changed. There was not a trace of childhood chubbiness left: her strong features had developed into strikingly dark good looks and a languorouus elegance. Her position wit Lady Stanhope had allowed her to find an easy confidence and elegance of speech that he could only envy; he followed them, trying to look unconcerned.
Crowds pressed everywhere, while excited chatter and the smell of fireworks hung on the air. People held back respectfully. Kydd was not sure whether it was in recognition of them as gentlefolk or because of the Navy uniform. Closer to the torch-lit balcony the throng was tightly packed and they had to remain some distance back.
Cecilia kept Renzi's arm, but pulled Kydd forward, attracting envious looks from other ladies. "Oh, I'm so proud of you!" she exclaimed, her voice raised above the excited babble of the crowd. She smiled at them both, and Kydd felt better.
"It was th' admiral gave me m' step, Cec — there in th' great cabin o' Monarch." Kydd paused, remembering the scene. "But it were Cap'n Essington put me forward."
A deep thumping came from the other side, further down the high street: the Royal Surreys called out to do duty on this naval occasion. Thin sounds of fife and trumpet rose above the hubbub, strengthening as they approached. Then, with a pair of loud double thumps on the bass drum, it ceased.
The crowd surged below the balcony and settled into a tense expectation. Torchlight illuminated upturned faces, caught the sparkle of eyes, the glitter of gold lace. At the signs of indistinct movement within, a rustle of anticipation arose and the mayor emerged on to the balcony in his best scarlet gown and tricorne, resplendent with his chain of office. "M' lords, ladies an' gennelmen! Pray silence for the mighty victor o' the great battle o' Camperdown, our own — Adm'ral Onslow!"
The genial sea officer Kydd remembered stepped out on to the balcony. A furious storm of cheering met him, a roar of wholehearted and patriotic acclaim. Onslow, in his full-dress admiral's uniform, sword and decorations, bared his head and bowed this way and that, manifestly affected by the welcome.
Kydd watched him turn again and again to face all parts of the crowd. At one point he thought he had caught the admiral's eye, and wondered if he should wave back, but there was no sign of recognition.
Excerpted from Quarterdeck by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2004 Julian Stockwin. 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
Julian Stockwin joined the Royal Navy at 15 and transferred to the Royal Australian Navy when his family emigrated. Stockwin served eight years, and was eventually rated petty officer. He has also worked in the manufacture and design of computers and software development. Returning to the navy and the Royal Navy Reserve, Stockwin was honored with an MBE and retired as Lt Commander. He returned to the United Kingdom in 1990 and started to write in 1996.
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I just recently discovered this series. A fine complete to Patrick O'Brien's novels, though I found his to be a bit more like literature compared to the Kydd Series. But these are great reads...an inspired plan to begin not only with a pressed seaman, but also well before the big battles of the Napoleonic era, so that the series can progress and give an accounting of all levels of service and command in the old Royal Navy, as well as a historical account covering a large period. Patrick O"brien always lamented his series started too late, and didn't want to do any "prequels." The Kydd series is highly recommended for anyone interested in the sea, naval matters, adventure yarns, and history. And it's not just about the British - many American dealings!
After his fourth book, the author is finding his stride. Of the books in the series, Quarterdeck has been my favorite. The characters, especially Tom Kydd are not just finding their way around ship, but also the world. Great read that spans the UK, Canada and the newly-birthed United States. This is the cleverest work in the series.
I've read the series and these are great books, but many Nook versions in this series won't let you change/increase the font. This was confirmed by the B&N tech desk. I got a Nook so my dad could read books like this, and he can't unless he increases the font. The Nook version is useless for him.