In this seventh book of the series, Thomas Kydd is master of his own brig-sloop Teazer and he must race the clock to make her battle-ready to defend Malta against Barbary pirates and the French, who are frantically trying to rescue the remnants of their army in the Levant. Suddenly, peace is declared, and the young captain finds himself ashore. To make ends meet, he agrees to transport convicts to Australia. Little does he know that his friend Renzi, weakened by illness and embittered with the service, is also bound for that colony as a settler. There they will be forced to face their deepest fears and prove themselves against all odds.
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A Kydd Sea Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Julian Stockwin
All rights reserved.
"Damn you, sir! You have set my standing orders to defiance and made Tenacious a spectacle before the Fleet. How dare you attempt an excuse for your conduct?" Captain Rowley's words could be heard right across the quarterdeck, even above the streaming rain and bluster of the filthy weather.
"Sir. M' respects, but I judged it t' be —"
"Judge? It's not your place to judge, Mr Kydd! No, sir! It is your sworn duty to ensure my orders are strictly obeyed. All of them — and most especially my written orders." Rowley's nostrils flared. "And this is not the first time I have had the disagreeable necessity of remonstrating with you concerning your conduct since I have come aboard."
"Sir, this is —"
"Enough!" Rowley shouted. "You, sir, have tried my patience too far." Kydd's stomach tightened. "You are now confined to your cabin until such time as the commander-in-chief is informed of your conduct and you have answered for it."
At the words, shocked faces turned: the place for a captain to discipline an officer was the great cabin, not on deck within earshot of the entire watch.
"Aye aye, sir," Kydd said thickly, and clapped on his sodden cocked hat. The die was now irrevocably cast: Captain Rowley was taking it further, to the august Admiral Keith, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet. Kydd turned stiffly and went below. This probably signalled the end of his naval career.
Rage washed over him. It was not so much the shame and futility, but the unfairness that of all the ghosts from his past it had been Rowley who had come back to haunt him. After the fearsome battle of the Nile two years ago Kydd had distinguished himself in Minorca and at the siege of Acre, then gone on to uneventful but steady service in Tenacious at the long blockade of Toulon, rising from fourth to second lieutenant under the cautious but fair Captain Faulkner. He had done well for himself, building experience and confidence, but now his hopes for substantial advancement in the fullness of time were crushed.
When Rowley had stepped aboard as the new captain of Tenacious, he seemed shocked to find Kydd among the officers. The last time he had seen him was on the night the famous frigate Artemis had struck rocks in the Azores; Kydd had been acting quartermaster at the conn and he the officer of the watch. At the subsequent court of inquiry Kydd had been prepared to testify against him but, with other seaman survivors, had been hastily shipped out to the Caribbean as an embarrassment.
Rowley, clearly troubled by Kydd's presence on this new ship, had reacted by making his life aboard Tenacious more and more difficult. It had been a hard time for Kydd and now it had come to a head.
Kydd bunched his fists as he relived the incident that had given Rowley the excuse to act. A squally spring north-westerly in the early hours of Kydd's morning watch had obliged him to shorten sail to topsails. He had duly sent notice of his action to the captain, in accordance with standing orders, then had employed the watch-on-deck to work mast by mast, leaving the watch below to their sleep.
A bell or two before the end of the watch, the squall had eased. East Indiamen and others had the comfortable habit of snugging down to topsails during night hours but Captain's Orders specified that Tenacious, in common with most vessels in the Navy, must press on under all plain sail. Kydd's duty, therefore, was to set courses again.
It would have been more practical, though, to leave it until the end of the watch, less than an hour away: after breakfast both watches would be on deck to make short work of it. In any case, a pressing need for speed was irrelevant in the endless beat of blockade.
Rowley was correct in the strictest sense, that Kydd was in dereliction of orders, and was bringing the matter — and all the other equally mindless "offences" — to the attention of the admiral, who would be obliged to take the part of one of his captains.
An awkward shuffling and clinking outside Kydd's cabin signalled the posting of a marine sentry. There would no longer be any privacy and the officers would ignore him for fear of being tainted. Only the first lieutenant would take it calmly, logically. Renzi would know how to act in the matter, but Kydd had vowed that his friend would not be drawn into the insanity between Rowley and himself.
His anger ebbed but his thoughts raced. It was less than two years since he had stood, with bloody sword, at the ancient walls of Acre and watched as Buonaparte skulked away in defeat. How things had changed. With brazen daring, the man had abandoned his army to its fate and escaped to France, where he had risen to the top in a power struggle and declared himself First Consul of the Republic with dictatorial powers. He had then brought together the military resources of the entire French nation into one fearsome fighting machine.
For the British, their earlier return to the Mediterranean had been crowned with success: defeat and annihilation for Buonaparte's great invasion fleet at the Nile followed by domination of the sea. The last major French presence, the fortress of Malta, had recently capitulated after a desperate siege, and the fleet was free to concentrate on locking up the remaining enemy forces in Toulon, off which they lay in close blockade.
Why then was there a sense of unease, of foreboding in the wardrooms of the fleet? It had seemed to Kydd that the very pillars of existence had trembled and proved fragile. Then, too, his great hero Nelson had scandalised many by his open dalliance with the wife of the ambassador to Naples and his subsequent involvement with political intrigue in that city. Kydd had stoutly defended him, even when Nelson was relieved of his command and recalled.
More generally troubling was the resignation of Pitt, the prime minister who had been so successfully conducting the war against such great odds. On the face of it, this had been on a matter of principle but it was widely held that he was exhausted and in ill-health. His successor was Addington, whose administration, of colourless jobbery, had already drawn from Canning the cruel epigram: "Pitt is to Addington as London is to Paddington."
And everyone mourned at the news that the King had suffered a relapse into madness on being informed of Pitt's departure from office. It was a depressing backdrop against which the war was being fought and bitterness surged back as Kydd contemplated his future ...
His interview with the commander-in-chief had been mercifully brief. Keith, a forbidding figure whom Kydd had only seen before at formal occasions, had listened with an expression of distaste as Rowley had brought out his smooth litany of the younger man's shortcomings.
Before evening, orders had arrived that now saw him staring moodily out to sea as a passenger in HMS Stag, a light frigate escort to a convoy approaching Malta.
It might have been worse. He had received orders to report for duty in distant Malta and at least had not been summarily dismissed from his ship. No adverse entry would appear on his service record. His career, though, was now all but over. Malta had run down its naval presence since the surrender six months earlier and, as far as Kydd was aware, only minor vessels were attending to the usual dull tasks of a backwater. All of the real action was at the other end of the Mediterranean.
The officers of the frigate had taken to ignoring him and his moods, no doubt making up their own minds about the reasons for his removal. He didn't care: he was leaving their world and mentally preparing himself for the narrowing of professional and social horizons that would be his lot.
There was a scattering of familiar faces from Tenacious on the foredeck — Laffin, Poulden, others — part of an augmentation of hands from the fleet for the Malta Service. Away from the discipline and boredom of blockade, they appeared in good spirits. One of the midshipmen volunteers was Bowden; heaven only knew why such an intelligent and experienced youngster had turned his back on the opportunities of big-fleet service under the eye of an admiral.
An irregular blue-grey smudge became visible on the horizon, one of Malta's outer islands; the convoy would be safely delivered before night. His spirits rose a little with the familiar excitement of a new landfall, but the memory of Renzi's farewell intruded and bleakness lowered in Kydd over the loss of their friendship. Never again would they debate philosophy during night watches in the South Seas, or step ashore together in exotic foreign ports.
Kydd and Renzi had been able to stay together as foremast hands because volunteers could choose the ship they served in, but officers were appointed at the whim of the Admiralty. They had been lucky enough to remain serving in the ship into which they had been promoted, Tenacious, but it could not last and now they had finally parted.
He wondered if he would ever see Renzi again. It was more than possible that he would not, unless their respective ships were in the same port at the same time. As the war spread far across the globe, that was increasingly unlikely.
Renzi's farewell gift to Kydd had been his own first edition of Wordsworth, which Kydd knew he had treasured; he felt unhappy that he had had no gift of equal worth to press upon his friend. With few words spoken, they had parted quickly, each to his separate destiny.
Depressed, Kydd had no real interest in their arrival. The main town of Malta and their final destination, Valletta, was in the south-east, a series of great fortresses occupying the length of a peninsula, with indented harbours on either side and more fortifications on each opposite shore.
Kydd went below to find his dispatch case, given to him by Keith's aide. He had a duty to deliver the contents ashore at the earliest opportunity; the rest of his baggage could wait until he knew more of his fate. He returned on deck, waited for the boat, then climbed aboard with other officers for the short trip to the stone quayside.
More boats from other vessels of the convoy converged on the landing place in an unholy scrimmage as seniorities were demanded loudly and boats manoeuvred deftly to land their passengers ahead of others. The Barriera, a stockaded enclosure, held the new arrivals until they could prove a clean bill of health to the Pratique Office and were granted the right to land.
Kydd accepted an offer to share a small, horse-drawn carriage with a lieutenant of marines who had business with the government, and they ground their way up a long incline, past massive stone walls and through streets of tall, golden stone buildings.
His dispatches were for the Officer Commanding Troops, a General Pigot; a larger packet had the superimposition "The Honourable Charles Cameron, Civil Commissioner for the Affairs of Malta and its Dependencies and Representative of His Britannic Majesty in Malta and Gozo." Kydd had been instructed to deliver Cameron's in person.
At what seemed to be the top and centre of the peninsula, the carriage left the street and turned into the courtyard of an imposing building. Footmen conducted Kydd, dutifully carrying his dispatch case, along stately corridors to an anteroom.
"Mr Cameron begs you will wait on him presently," murmured a clerk, showing him to a seat outside the office of the man Kydd understood to be the effective head of government.
The door flew open and a large, somewhat porcine individual appeared. "L'tenant, dispatches, is it not?" Kydd allowed himself to be shepherded in. "Cameron. Forgive the haste, sir. News! Boney made his move yet?"
"Not that I'm aware of, sir." This was the first time Kydd had heard Buonaparte referred to as such, but he recalled having been told that the man himself had thought fit to trim his name of its Corsican origin to become "Napoleon Bonaparte" because it was easier for his adopted countrymen to pronounce.
"Good. You'll excuse me if I take a quick peek at these first," Cameron said, in a fruity voice. "I've waited such a damnable long time ..." He ripped open the sewn canvas with a small knife and shook out the packets on to the desktop.
"Ah, the corn trade and the Università. Just as I thought!" His forehead creased as he read further. Another paper brought from him a sharp frown before it was discarded in favour of a sheaf bound with a thin red ribbon, which Kydd recognised as an Admiralty pack.
Cameron grunted and looked up genially. "At last. We're to have our sea force increased."
Kydd smiled apologetically. "I haven't m' orders yet, sir, and know little o' Malta."
"Well, we're no great shakes in the Navy line, you know, just a few sloops an' such. Rely on the Eastern Med squadron to top it the heavyweight — when it's about!"
"The increase t' force, sir?" Kydd said awkwardly, as Cameron continued to riffle through the papers.
"Not as who should say a frightener for Boney. Just a brig o' sorts that was building in the dockyard when we took Malta, and only now completing." He looked up, defensive. "You should understand we account it welcome news, sir."
"Of course, sir." Kydd tried to put a level of animation into his voice. "A brig-sloop indeed!" Even a small frigate would have near ten times the weight of metal in her broadside.
Cameron finished the Admiralty pack quickly, then extracted a paper with the ghost of a smile. "And did you say, Mr Kydd, that you had no knowledge of your service here?"
"Not yet, sir," Kydd said stiffly.
"Then I fancy this may be of interest to you ..." He passed across the single sheet.
Kydd took it, frowning. It was under the hand of the commander-in-chief — but then he saw his name. Under Cameron's gaze he read on ... and stopped. The words leaped up at him and, in a cold wash of shock, their meaning penetrated. From the hand of an unknown clerk came blazing, wondrous, thrilling phrases that left him breathless: "... you, the said Thomas Kydd ... to take under your command His Britannic Majesty's Brig-Sloop Teazer lying at Senglea dockyard, Malta ... whereof you shall fail at your peril ..."
Kydd raised his eyes slowly. Cameron chuckled and handed over a folded parchment. "Your commission — Captain."CHAPTER 2
Kydd stumbled from Cameron's office in a haze, clutching his pack of orders. He went to put it into his dispatch case but his eyes strayed down to the superscription: Captain, HM Sloop Teazer. It was so improbable — but it was true!
The boat's crew would be waiting patiently for his return but the moment was too precious, too overwhelming, and he needed to regain his composure before he faced them. He took a deep breath and marched off down the main street as though on important business.
There was no denying that he had been lucky beyond imagining. His promotion would be subject to Admiralty confirmation, but the actions of a commander-in-chief of the stature of Keith would not be unduly questioned. He wondered why he had been elevated before the many young officers of the Fleet clamouring for recognition — and why his advancement had been notified in this unusual manner, carried as dispatches. But, then, why question it? He was now indisputably Commander Kydd, captain of His Majesty's brig-sloop Teazer and the luckiest man alive!
A tear pricked; it would not take much to set him to weeping with the joy of it all. Passers-by looked at him curiously but he didn't care. Warm thoughts of arriving home in Guildford to boundless admiration were followed by images of mounting his own ship's side to the piping of the boatswain's call. A surge of pure happiness threatened to unman him. He stopped and blinked into a shop window.
Pulling himself together, he turned and made his way down to the quayside. The fortress-like Grand Harbour had now taken on a dramatic splendour: a great port with vessels from all the countries of the Levant and further, it would be a glorious and challenging place to begin his first command.
Excerpted from Command by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2006 Julian Stockwin. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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I like the attention to detail and the way the characters come alive on the page. Well done!