"His descriptions of storms at sea and atmospheric effects were brilliant pieces of word painting." Dictionary of National Biography, 20th Century
The Yarn of Old Harbour Townby W. Clark Russell
This is the tale of the kidnapping of a sea captain's daughter, his frantic pursuit of her, and a fight in the English Channel. Enlivening the novel is an unforgettable cameo appearance by Admiral Lord Nelson.
This is the tale of the kidnapping of a sea captain's daughter, his frantic pursuit of her, and a fight in the English Channel. Enlivening the novel is an unforgettable cameo appearance by Admiral Lord Nelson.
Sir Edwin Arnold
The Spectator, October 14, 1905
Dictionary of National Biography, 20th Century
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1 The Squadron Beneath Gibraltar's towering and craggy protection, the mixed collection of anchored shipping tugged at their cables and waited for the sudden squall to abate. Despite streaks of pale blue which showed themselves occasionally between the brisk clouds, the air was cold, with a bite in it more common in the Bay of Biscay than the Mediterranean.
Considering its strategic importance, Gibraltar's anchorage was unusually deserted. A few storeships, some brigs and schooners finding shelter or awaiting orders made up the bulk of vessels there, and of major men-of-war there were but three. Anchored well apart from the other hotch-potch of local craft were three ships of the line, seventy-fours, which in this month of January 1798 were still the most popular, and the most adaptable, vessels in any plan of battle. The one anchored nearest to the land bore the name Lysander across her broad counter, a name to match the figurehead which stared angrily from beneath her bowsprit. It was a fine figurehead, with the black-bearded Spartan general adorned in crested helmet and breastplate, originally carved by Henry Callaway of Deptford. Like the rest of the big two-decker, it was well painted, with a look of newness which belied the ship's eleven long years in the King's service.
Back and forth, up and down her wide quarterdeck her captain, Thomas Herrick, walked with barely a pause to peer towards the shore. If he considered his ship's appearance and condition, it was more from anxiety than pride. The months of work in England to get Lysander ready for sea, the whole wearing business of re-commissioning and gathering what amounted to practically a raw company had gone on without a pause. Stores and powder, water and provisions, weapons and the men to handle them. Herrick had more than once questioned the fates which had given him his new command.
And yet, despite the delays and infuriating slackness amongst dockyard men and chandlers, he had seen his ship grow from a disorganised chaos to a living, vital creature.
Frightened men brought aboard by the unrelenting press-gangs, and others gathered by motives as varied as patriotism or merely fleeing into the Navy to avoid a hangman's halter, had been slowly and painstakingly moulded into something which, if still far from perfect, could offer hope for the future. The first squall in the Bay as Lysander had crawled south towards Portugal had brought some weakness to light. Too many seasoned hands in one watch, too many landsmen in another. But under Herrick's careful watch, and the efforts of Lysander's remaining backbone of professional warrant officers, they had at least come to terms with the awesome maze of rigging, the rebellious and treacherous folds of canvas which made up their daily lives at sea.
Once at anchor below the Rock, Herrick had waited with growing apprehension for this particular day. More ships had arrived and anchored nearby. The other two seventy-fours, Osiris and Nicator, the frigate Buzzard and the little sloop of war Harebell were no longer separate entities but part of a whole. By order of the Admiralty in London they had become one. The squadron, in which Herrick's ship would hoist the broad pendant of commodore, and over which and through all imaginable circumstances Richard Bolitho would at any moment now be exercising his right of command.
It was strange when Herrick hesitated to consider the matter. It was only four months since he and Bolitho had returned to England from this same sea. After a bloody battle in which Herrick's own ship had been destroyed and a complete French squadron routed or taken, they had gone to the Admiralty together. It still seemed like a dream, a memory of long past.
The result of that visit had been far-reaching. For Richard Bolitho an immediate promotion to commodore, and for Herrick the post of flag captain. Their admiral had been less fortunate. Packed off to govern a penal colony in New South Wales, the very swiftness of his fall from grace had somehow measured the step between authority and oblivion. Herrick's first overwhelming pleasure of being appointed flag captain to Bolitho had been slightly marred by another of the Admiralty's changes of heart. Instead of Bolitho's own ship, Euryalus, the great one hundred gun three-decker which he had originally seized as a prize from the French, they had been given the Lysander. Easier to handle than a great first-rate, possibly, but Herrick suspected that another officer more senior than Bolitho had claimed the ex-Frenchman for himself.
He paused in his pacing and ran his eyes along the busy decks. Seamen were working on the gangways and boat tier. Others swayed high overhead amongst the black criss-cross of shrouds and stays, halliards and braces, making sure that no frayed lines, no broken wisps of hemp would greet the new commodore as he stepped through the entry port. The marines were already in position. No need to worry about their Major Leroux. He was speaking with his lieutenant, a rather vacant young man called Nepean, while a sergeant checked each marine's musket and appearance.
The midshipman of the watch must have an aching arm, Herrick thought. He was very conscious of his captain's presence, and was holding a heavy telescope to his eye, obeying the last order, to report immediately when the commodore's boat shoved off from the jetty. Herrick shifted his gaze outboard towards the other vessels of the small squadron. He had had little to do with them so far, but already knew quite a lot about their various captains. From the little sloop which regularly bared her copper as she rolled uncomfortably in the squall to the nearest two-decker, Osiris, they all seemed to have some sort of link. Nicator's captain, for instance. Herrick had discovered that he had served with Bolitho during the American Revolution when they had both been lieutenants. Their reunion might present pleasure or otherwise, he thought. Commander Inch of the dizzily swaying Harebell had commanded a bomb vessel with the old squadron, here in the Mediterranean. Of Buzzard's captain, Raymond Javal, he had learned little but gossip. Hasty temper. Hungry for prize money. He had all the makings of a typical if awkward frigate captain.
He let his gaze rest on the Osiris once again and tried to conceal his irritation. She was almost a twin to the Lysander, and her destiny was firmly in the hands of Captain Charles Farquhar. All those years ago. It was like another fate which had somehow drawn them together once more, to serve under the same Richard Bolitho. Then it had been in the frigate Phalarope in the West Indies during the Americans' fight for independence. Bolitho had been her captain, Herrick his first lieutenant and Farquhar one of the midshipmen. Arrogant, high-born, Farquhar never failed to prick Herrick's resentment. Even looking at his Osiris did nothing to help. Her ornate gingerbread and other carving at poop and beakhead displayed a lavish use of real gilt paint as an outward sign of her captain's status and prosperity. So far they had avoided meeting each other, except when Farquhar had reported his arrival at Gibraltar.
Any sort of fresh beginning had faded as Farquhar had drawled, "I say, you don't seem to have spent much on the old ship, eh?" That same maddening smile. "Our new lord and master won't like that, y'know!" Suddenly, the lower line of black gunports opened along Osiris's sloping side, and with perfect precision the whole battery of thirty-two pounders trundled into the weak sunlight. As one. Something like panic ran through Herrick's mind. Farquhar would never allow his ambitious brain to be fogged by some stupid memory or dislike. He had kept his eye on what mattered most to him. Which at this particular minute was to impress the commodore. It happened to be Richard Bolitho, a man more dear to Herrick than any other living being. But if it had been Satan himself Farquhar would have been ready. As if to make the final stab the midshipman of the watch shouted excitedly, "Barge shoving off from the jetty, sir!" Herrick licked his lips. They felt like dry ashes. "Very well, Mr. Saxby. My compliments to the first lieutenant. He may muster the hands now."
Richard Bolitho walked to the quarter windows of the broad cabin and looked towards the other ships. Despite the importance of the moment, the solemnity of being received aboard his own flagship for the first time in his life, he could not contain his excitement. It was like wine and laughter all bubbling up inside him, held in check by some last reserve.
He turned and saw Herrick watching him from beside the screen door. Some seamen were carefully arranging chests and boxes which had been swayed up from the barge, and he could hear his coxswain, Allday, bawling angrily at someone to take care. "Well, Thomas, that was a fine welcome." He strode across the deck with its neat covering of black and white chequered canvas and took Herrick's hand. Overhead he could hear the thump of boots as the marine guard departed, the returning familiar sounds of normal routine.
Herrick smiled awkwardly. "Thank you, sir." He gestured at the baggage. "I hope you've brought all you need. It seems we may be a while from home."
Bolitho studied him gravely. Herrick's stocky figure, his round, homely face and those bright blue eyes were almost as familiar as Allday's. But he seemed different somehow. It was only four months, and yet . . . He thought of all that had happened since that visit to the Admiralty. The discussions with men so senior and powerful that he still could not grasp that promotion could mean so much. Whenever he had mentioned his anxiety over the progress being made with his new flagship he had seen that amused look in their eyes.
The admiral who had given him his appointment, Sir George Beauchamp, had put it into words. "You'll have to forget that sort of thing now, Bolitho. The captain must deal with the running of a ship. Yours is a more exacting task."
Eventually he had taken passage to Gibraltar in a fast frigate, pausing in the Tagus with despatches for the flagship of the fleet employed on blockade duty. There he had been given an audience with the admiral, the Earl of St. Vincent, so titled because of his great victory eleven months back. The admiral, still affectionately known as "Old Jarvy" by many of his subordinates, but only when he was well out of earshot, had greeted him briskly.
"You've got your orders. See you carry 'em out. It's been months since we knew what the French were up to. Our spies in the channel ports reported that Bonaparte visited the coast many times to lay plans for invading England." He had given his dry chuckle. "I think my medicine off Cape St. Vincent taught 'em to tread warily where the sea is concerned. Bonaparte is a land animal. A planner. Unfortunately, we have nobody to match him yet. Not on land, that is."
Looking back it was hard to measure how much the admiral had managed to explain and describe in that brief interview. He had been on active duty with hardly a break, and yet he had been able to sum up the situation in home waters and the Mediterranean better than any Admiralty official.
The admiral had walked with him to his quarterdeck and had said quietly, "Beauchamp is the man to plan this sort of mission. But it needs seagoing officers to push those ideas to reality. Your squadron's efforts last year in the Mediterranean told us a great deal about French intentions. Your admiral, Broughton, did not perhaps understand their true significance until it was all too late. For him, that is." He had given Bolitho a grim stare. "We must know the worth of putting a fleet into these waters again. If we divide our squadrons for a bad purpose, the French will soon explore our weakness. But your orders will tell you what you must do. Only you can decide how you are going to do it." Again that dry chuckle. "I wanted Nelson for the task, but he is still sorely weakened by the loss of his arm. Beauchamp chose you for this tickle at Bonaparte's underbelly. I hope for all our sakes it was a wise choice."
And now, after all the discussions, the searching through reports to discover the value of countless ideas of the enemy's motives and objectives, he was here in his own flagship. Beyond the thick glass windows were other ships, all linked by the dovetailed broad pendant which had broken at the masthead as he had climbed aboard to the slap of muskets and the din of fifes and drums.
And he still could not believe it. He felt the same as before. As eager to get to sea as he had been in the past whenever he had joined a new ship.
But the difference would soon display itself in all manner of ways. When Herrick had been his first lieutenant he had stood between his captain and company. The link and the barrier. Now Herrick, as flag captain, would stand between him and his other officers, his little squadron and every man-jack aboard each individual ship. Five vessels in all, way over two thousand souls divided amongst them. It was that kind of assessment which brought home the reality of his command. He asked, "How is young Adam? I did not see him when I came aboard." As he said it he saw the stiffness come to Herrick's face.
"I was about to tell you, sir. He is with the surgeon." He looked at the deck. "A slight accident, but, thank God, no real harm done." Bolitho replied, "The truth, Thomas. Is my nephew ill?" Herrick looked up, his blue eyes suddenly angry. "A stupid argument with his opposite number in the Osiris, sir. Her sixth lieutenant gave some sort of insult. They went ashore on their separate duties but arranged to meet and settle the matter."
Bolitho made himself walk slowly to the stern windows and stare down at the swirling water around the rudder. "A duel?"
Just the sound of the word made him feel sick. Despairing. Like father like son? It was not possible.
"High spirits more like." Herrick sounded unconvinced. "Neither was badly hurt, though I gather Adam nicked the other fellow the worse." Bolitho turned and regarded him calmly. "I will see him directly." Herrick swallowed. "With your permission, sir, I should like to deal with the matter myself."
Bolitho nodded slowly, feeling a great gap yawning between him and his friend.
He said quietly, "Of course, Thomas. Adam Pascoe is my nephew. But he is one of your officers now." Herrick tried to relax. "I am deeply sorry to trouble you in your first hour, sir. Not for the whole world would I wish that." "I know." He smiled gravely. "It was foolish of me to interfere. I was a flag captain and often resented my superior's hand in my own affairs."
Herrick looked around the big cabin, eager to change the subject. "I hope everything is to your liking, sir. Your servant is preparing a meal, and I have had some hands detailed to stow your chests for you." "Thank you. It seems most satisfactory."
He stopped. It was happening again. The formal tones. The offering and an acceptance. When they had always been used to sharing. Understanding.
Herrick asked suddenly, "Will we be putting to sea soon, sir?" "Aye, Thomas. Tomorrow forenoon if the wind stays favourable." He pulled the watch from his pocket and snapped open the guard. "I would wish to see my officers-" He faltered. Even that was changed. He added, "To see the other captains as soon as is convenient. I received some more despatches from the governor here, but after I have read them I should like to tell the squadron what we are about." He smiled. "Don't look so troubled, Thomas. It is as hard for me as for you."
For a brief moment Bolitho saw the old light in Herrick's eyes. The warmth and trust which could so easily turn to hurt. Herrick replied, "I feel like an old foot in a new shoe." He smiled, too. "I'll not let you down."
He turned and left the cabin, and after a discreet pause Allday and two seamen carrying a large case strode through the door. Allday glanced swiftly round the cabin and seemed to approve.
Bolitho relaxed very slowly. Allday was always the same, and for that he was suddenly grateful. Even his new blue jacket with the large gilt buttons, the nankeen trousers and buckled shoes which Bolitho had purchased for him to reveal his new status as a commodore's own coxswain did little to hide his thickset, rugged individuality. Bolitho unfastened his sword and gave it to him. "Well, Allday, what do you make of her, eh?" The man eyed him calmly. "A well-found ship," he hesitated over the word, "sir".
Even Allday had been made to alter his ways. Never in the past had he called him anything but "Captain." It was their own unrehearsed arrangement. The new rank had changed that, too.
Allday read his thoughts and grinned ruefully. "Sorry about that, sir." He glared at the two seamen who were watching them curiously, the case balanced between them. "But I can wait. It'll be Sir Richard afore long, and that's no error!"
Allday waited until the seamen had gone and said quietly, "I reckon you'd like to be left alone now, sir. I'll see that your servant is warned about your customs."
Bolitho nodded. "You know me too well." Allday closed the door behind him and glanced coldly at the ramrod-stiff marine sentry outside the cabin. To himself he murmured, "Better'n you'll ever know."
On the quarterdeck once more, Herrick walked slowly to the nettings and stared at the other ships. It had been a bad beginning. For both of them. Perhaps it was all in his own mind, like his dislike for Farquhar. The latter obviously did not give a damn for him, so why should he get so easily ruffled?
Bolitho had looked exactly as he had known he would. The same gravity which could alter in an instant to a youthful exuberance. His hair was as black as ever, his slim figure no different, apart from the obvious stiffness in his right shoulder. He counted the months. Nearly seven it must be now when Bolitho had been marked down by a musket ball. The lines at the corners of his mouth were a little deeper. Pain, responsibility? Parts of each, he decided.
He saw the officer of the watch eyeing him cautiously and called, "We will signal the squadron, Mr Kipling. All captains repair on board when I so order."
He pictured them putting on their best uniforms. Inch in his tiny cabin, Farquhar in his lavish quarters. But each and all would be wondering, as he was. Where bound? What to expect? The price for both. Alone in his cabin Bolitho heard feet thudding along the deck overhead, and after a momentary hesitation threw off his dress coat with its solitary gold stripe and seated himself at his desk. He slit open the large envelope but still hesitated over reading the neatly written despatches.
He kept seeing Herrick's anxious face. They were almost the same age, and yet Herrick seemed to have grown much older, his brown hair marked here and there like hoar frost. It was hard not to see him as his best friend. He had to think of him as a strength, the flag captain of a squadron which had never acted as a single unit before. A rough task for any man and for Thomas Herrick . . . he tried to hold back the sudden doubts. Herrick's poor beginnings, the son of a clerk, his very honesty which had marked him as a man who could be trusted under any known circumstances, could hinder his overall judgement. Herrick was a man who would obey any lawful order without question, with no consideration for his own life or ruin. But to assume control of the squadron if its commodore should die in battle?
It was strange to realise that Lysander's original master had fallen at St. Vincent. Her commodore, George Twyford, had been killed in the first broadsides, and her captain, John Dyke, was even now enduring a living hell in the naval hospital at Haslar, too cruelly maimed even to feed himself. The same ship had survived them and many more. He looked around the neat cabin with its well-carved chairs and dark mahogany table. He could almost feel them watching him. He sighed and began to read the despatches.
Bolitho nodded to the five officers who stood around the cabin table and said, "Please be seated, gentlemen." He watched them as they eased their chairs towards him, their mixed expressions of pleasure, excitement and curiosity. It was a very special monent, and he guessed they were all sharing it with him, if for varied reasons.
Farquhar had not changed. Slim and elegant, with the self-assurance he had carried even as a midshipman. Now a post-captain of thirty-two, his ambition shone in his eyes to match his gleaming epaulettes.
Francis Inch, bobbing and horse-faced, could barely restrain his beam of welcome. As commander of the sloop he would be vital for inshore work and sweeping ahead of the squadron.
Raymond Javal, the frigate's captain, looked more like a Frenchman than an English sea officer. Very dark and swarthy, with thick greasy hair, he had features so narrow that his deepset eyes seemed to dominate his whole appearance.
He looked at captain George Probyn of the Nicator and gave a brief smile. They had served together in the old Trojan when the American Revolution had erupted to change the face of the world. Yet it was almost impossible to see him in those times. He sat hunched against the table like a large, shabby innkeeper. A year or so older than Bolitho, he had left the Trojan in much the same manner as himself. To take command of a captured blockade runner and sail her to the nearest friendly port. Unlike Bolitho, however, whose chance had led directly to his first command, Probyn had been captured by an American privateer and had fretted out most of the war as a prisoner until an exchange had been made with a French officer. Those vital years in his early service had obviously cost him dearly. He looked uneasy, with a sly, darting way of examining his fellow captains and then looking down into his clasped hands.
Herrick said formally, "All present, sir." Bolitho looked at the table. In his mind's eye he was seeing his written orders. You are herby authorised and directed to proceed with your squadron to ascertain by every means in your power the presence and destination of considerable armaments . . .
He began quietly, "As you will know, the enemy has spent much time in seeking out some flaw in our defences. Apart from our successes at sea, we have been able to do little to stop the spread of French progress and influence. In my view, Bonaparte has never changed from his original tack, which was and still must be to reach India and seize our trade routes. The French admiral, Suffren, almost succeeded during the last war." He saw Herrick's eyes flicker towards him, no doubt remembering when they had sailed together in the East Indies, seeing for themselves the determination of their old enemy to regain ground lost in that uneasy peace. "Today Bonaparte must know that any delay in his preparations can only give us time to gain strength."
They all looked round as Inch exclaimed cheerfully. "We'll show them, sir!" He grinned at the others. "Like we did before!" Bolitho smiled. Glad that Inch, if ignorant of the facts, had not changed. Thankful that his excited comment had broken some of the distance between himself and the others.
"Thank you, Commander Inch. Your optimism does you credit." Inch bobbed and flushed with pleasure.
"However, we have no real intelligence of which way the French will move first. The bulk of our fleet is operating from the Tagus, to keep a wedge between the French and their Spanish allies. But the enemy may attack Portugal because of our presence there, or indeed he may attempt to invade Ireland again." He could not conceal his bitterness. "As they intended when our own Navy was beset with misfortune which broke last year in the great mutinies at the Nore and Spithead."
Farquhar looked at his cuff. "Should have hanged a thousand of the devils, not a mere handful!"
Bolitho eyed him coldly. "Perhaps if a little more thought had been given to our sailors' wants in the first place, no punishment would have been needed at all!"
Farquhar smiled up at him. "I take the point, sir." Bolitho looked at his scattered papers, giving himself time. He had risen too easily to Farquhar's intolerance.
He continued, "Our duty will be first to examine the progress of French preparations in the Gulf of Lions. At Toulon, Marseilles and any other port about which we can discover enemy activity." He looked at each of them gravely. "Our fleet is stretched to the limit. We cannot afford to allow the enemy to scatter it to the extent it can be devoured piece by piece. Likewise, we must not have a large fleet at one end of the ocean while the enemy is at the other. Seek, find and bring 'em to battle, it is the only way!"
Javal said harshly, "And mine is the only frigate, sir." "Is that an observation or a complaint?" Javal shrugged. "A malady, sir."
Probyn darted him a quick glance. "It is a vast responsibility." He looked at Farquhar. "If we meet with superior forces we will be without support."
Farquhar eyed him coolly. "But at least we will know they are nearby, my dear George!"
Herrick said, "It is a serious matter!" "Apparently." Farquhar's eyes flashed. "So let us tackle it seriously." Bolitho made them all turn towards him. "One thing is certain. We must work together. I do not care what you may think of the value of these orders. We must interpret them into deeds. Drive them to a rightful and profitable end."
Farquhar nodded. "I agree, sir." The others remained silent. "Now, if you will return to your commands and relay my wishes to your people, I will be pleased to have you aboard to dine with me tonight." They all stood up, already planning how they would rephrase his words to their own subordinates. Like Bolitho, each one of them, except Inch, would probably wish to be alone in his own ship to prepare himself and his ideas for whatever lay ahead. But they would have little enough time together, Bolitho thought. He needed to know each of them better, just as when a signal broke from Lysander's yards his captains would read the mind of the man who made it.
One by one they made their farewells. Probyn was the last to leave, as Bolitho knew he would.
He said awkwardly, "Good to see you again, sir. They were great times we once shared. I always knew you would be successful, famous even." His eyes moved hurriedly round the cabin. "I have been less fortunate. Through no fault of mine. But without influence . . ." He did not finish it.
Bolitho smiled. "It makes my appointment all the easier to have old friends in company."
The door closed and he walked slowly to the heavy mahogany wine cabinet which he had brought from London. It was beautifully worked, every join and surface the mark of a craftsman.
He was still looking at it when Herrick returned from seeing the other captains over the side into their various boats. He sighed. "Went well, I thought, sir." He saw the cabinet and gave a low whistle. "Now there is a thing of beauty!" Bolitho smiled. "It was a gift. More useful than some, I'd say, Thomas."
Herrick was examining it carefully and said, "I have your nephew outside, sir. I have dealt with his foolishness. Some extra duties to entertain his busy mind. I thought you'd like to see him." He touched the cabinet, adding, "May I enquire who gave you this fine piece, sir?"
Bolitho replied, "Mrs. Pareja. You will recall her, of course." He checked himself as something like a shutter dropped behind Herrick's eyes.
Herrick said flatly, "Yes, sir. I remember her well." "What is it, man?"
Herrick faced him. "With ships coming fresh from England, sir, there is always rumour, scandal if you like. There was some talk about your meeting with the lady in London."
Bolitho stared at him. "In God's name, Thomas, this doesn't sound like you."
Herrick persisted, "Because of it, your nephew crossed swords with another lieutenant." He added stubbornly, "A matter of honour they call it."
Bolitho looked away. And he had been imagining it was because of Pascoe's background, his dead father. Traitor and renegade. He said, "Thank you for telling me."
"Somebody had to, sir." The blue eyes were pleading. "You've done so much, for all of us, I'd not wish to see it thrown away because of a-" "I thanked you for telling me, Thomas. Not for your opinion of the lady."
Herrick opened the door. "I will call him in, sir." He did not look back.
Bolitho sat down on the bench seat below the stern windows and watched a fishing boat sculling below the two-decker's counter. The fisherman glanced up at him without expression. Probably in the pay of the Spanish commandant across the water in Algeciras, he thought. Taking the names of the ships. Tit-bits of information which might convey something in return for a few coins.
The door opened and Adam Pascoe stood inside the cabin, his hat tucked under his arm.
Bolitho stood up and walked towards him, feeling something like pain as he saw the way the youth was holding his arm away from his ribs. Even in his lieutenant's uniform he looked the same lean boy who had first been sent to him as a midshipman.
He said, "Welcome aboard, sir." Bolitho forgot the weight of his new responsibility, his unwanted clash with Herrick, everything but the youth who had come to mean so much. He embraced him and said, "You've been in trouble, Adam. I am sorry it was of my doing."
Pascoe watched him gravely. "I would not have killed him, Uncle." Bolitho stood back from him and smiled sadly. "No, Adam, but he might have finished you. Eighteen years is a beginning, not an end." Pascoe pushed the black hair from his forehead and shrugged. "The captain has given me enough extra duties for my pains." He looked at Bolitho's shoulder. "How is the wound, Uncle?"
"Forgotten." He led him to a chair. "Like your own, eh?" They smiled like conspirators as Bolitho poured two glasses of claret. He noticed that Pascoe's hair was cut in the new style, without any queue at the nape of his neck like most sea officers. He wondered what sort of a navy it would be when his nephew's broad pendant flew one day.
Pascoe sipped the wine. "They are saying in the squadron that this command would have been Nelson's had he not lost his arm." He watched him questioningly.
Bolitho smiled. There were few secrets in the fleet. "Perhaps." Pascoe nodded, his eyes distant. "A great honour, Uncle, but-" "But what?" "A great responsibility also."
Herrick reappeared at the door. "May I ask what time you would wish the other captains to return aboard, sir?" He looked from one to the other and felt strangely moved. About twenty years between them, yet they looked like brothers. Bolitho replied, "I will leave it to you."
When Herrick had gone Pascoe asked simply, "Is anything between you and Captain Herrick, Uncle?"
Bolitho touched his arm. "Nothing that can harm our friendship, Adam." Pascoe appeared satisfied. "I'm glad."
Bolitho reached for the decanter. "Now, tell me what you have been doing since I last saw you."
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