Filled with high-seas intrigue and sharp tensions, this nautical novel takes an intense voyage into the heart of Napoleonic-era Africa. The year is 1819 and Captain Adam Bolitho has been sent on an urgent but risky mission to make a fast passage from Plymouth to Freetown, West Africa, with secret orders for the senior officer stationed there. Due to the slave trade being declared illegal, ships in every harbor are waiting to be scrapped and officers have been cut loose without hope of future commands, thus Adam soon finds himself the object of envy and jealousy. In Africa he discovers unexpected allies and faces an enemy far more powerful and ruthless than any he has known before.
About the Author
Alexander Kent is the pen name of Douglas Edward Reeman, who joined the British Navy at 16 and eventually rose to the rank of lieutenant. He has taught navigation to yachtsmen and has served as a script adviser for television and films. He is the author of the Bolitho Novels series.
Read an Excerpt
In The King's Name
The Bolitho Novels: 28
By Alexander Kent
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Bolitho Maritime Productions
All rights reserved.
"Us and Them"
Quietly spoken and almost lost in the creak and murmur of shipboard sounds, but Adam Bolitho was instantly awake. If he had managed to sleep at all. A few hours, three at the most since he had slumped into the old chair, to prepare himself and be ready.
The great cabin was still dark but for the same small, shuttered lantern burning.
He looked up into the face above his chair. The white collar patches seemed almost bright against the darkness. The midshipman removed his hand immediately; he must have touched his captain's shoulder.
"The first lieutenant's respects, sir." He faltered as feet thudded across the deck overhead, slithering to a halt as a voice snapped a warning. Probably some of the newly joined men who had not realised the skylight was directly above this cabin.
He made another attempt. "He sent me, sir. The morning watch is mustered."
He gazed fixedly at his captain as Adam swung his feet onto the deck and sat upright.
"Thank you." Now he could see the moisture on the midshipman's coat, reflecting the lantern light. "Still raining?" He had not even pulled off his shoes when he had come down here to be alone with his thoughts. He could feel Onward moving steadily beneath and around him, still sheltered by the land. Plymouth, but not for much longer.
The thought gave him time. "Have you settled into life aboard yet, Mr. Radcliffe?"
He sensed the boy's surprise that he had remembered his name; he had only joined Onward a few days ago. His first ship, and such small details mattered. Today of all days.
"Yessir." The boy was animated now, nodding and smiling. "Mr. Huxley has made things much easier for me."
Radcliffe was a replacement for Deacon, the senior midshipman, who had left the ship to prepare for the Board, the vital examination which would decide his future, that step from midshipman's berth to wardroom and a career as a King's officer. They all joked about it, and poured scorn on the grim-faced senior captains who usually comprised each Board. But only afterwards. Adam had never forgotten. And neither did any one else, if he had any sense.
They would miss Deacon. Keen and quick-witted, he had been in charge of Onward's signals crew, the "eyes" of the ship. Adam remembered him when Onward had been beginning her approach to Gibraltar, or on their way home from the Mediterranean, and after their savage clash with, and capture of, the renegade frigate Nautilus. Men had been killed, others wounded, and the ship still bore the scars and reminders. And he recalled pride, too. On that morning with the Rock looming against a clear, empty sky, Deacon had written down Adam's signal in full before having it run up to the yards. His Britannic Majesty's Ship Nautilus is rejoining the Fleet. God Save the King.
The midshipman was still waiting beside the old bergère where Adam was seated, body swaying to Onward's movement as another offshore gust hissed against the hull.
"My compliments to Mr. Vincent. I shall be joining him on deck directly."
Vincent would understand. But when Onward had first commissioned and Adam had been appointed in command, they had remained strangers until ... Until when?
He heard the screen door close, voices: Midshipman Radcliffe on his way back to the quarterdeck with his captain's message.
Of one company. This was not the time to think of the missing faces, the dead men and the ones who had been put ashore badly wounded. Some would be over there in Plymouth today, watching and remembering as the anchor broke free of the land.
Even when he thought he was immune to it, the pain could still take him unawares, like a wound. Those seamen might become like the aimless groups that waited on the waterfront at Falmouth, criticising the ships coming and going with the tide, sometimes not a whole man among them.
And in Falmouth when they had moved aside to let him pass with Lowenna. The captain with his lovely bride, who wanted for nothing.
He walked across to his sleeping cabin, which was still closed. It was the morning watch, four o'clock, when most honest folk would be safely tucked up in bed, some recovering from Christmas, or preparing for the new year: 1819. He was still unaccustomed to it, despite having seen it on the official document, with the familiar wording which had left no room for doubt. Being in all respects ready for sea ... And his signature.
He knew there were many who would envy him today. There were nine hundred captains on the Navy List, some without hope of getting a command. Even here in the naval port of Plymouth there were plenty of empty hulls, whose only destination was the breaker's yard. And it was said that there was not an admiral flying his flag who was under the age of sixty.
The older seamen still yarned about the great sea battles, when there had never been enough ships. At Trafalgar, when "Our Nel" had been only forty-seven years old.
Adam Bolitho was thirty-eight, newly married, and now, after only the briefest time together, he was leaving her again. Lowenna ...
His hand was on the cabin door, but he stopped himself from opening it. Her portrait was hanging just beneath the deckhead, where it could be reached easily and stowed away if the ship cleared for action, even if only a drill. Where was she now? Lying in that same bed and waiting for the first hint of dawn, or some movement in the old grey house? Remembering? Accepting, or regretting the inevitable?
The sea is a widow-maker ...
He swung away from the door, thankful for the sound of voices beyond the screen. The Royal Marine sentry at his post, probably halfasleep on his booted feet, but always ready to challenge or announce any one who might attempt to intrude on the captain's privacy.
Not this time. It was Luke Jago, his coxswain and a law unto himself. And Adam was suddenly grateful.
Mark Vincent was the first lieutenant, and a good one despite their initial differences, and he had to be ready to assume immediate command should death or injury befall his captain. Only a fool would ignore that very real possibility. Adam touched the small desk as he passed, without truly seeing it. In one of its drawers was the broken epaulette which had been severed by a musket ball during the fight with Nautilus. It had felt no more dangerous than a hand brushing against his shoulder, or a fragment of falling rope; he had not even noticed it until Jago had told him. A few more inches, and Vincent would have been called to take Adam's place. He would have died like his beloved uncle, Sir Richard Bolitho, who had been marked down by a French sharpshooter during Napoleon's escape from Elba. Almost four years ago, but when you walked the streets or along the waterfront in Falmouth, it could have been yesterday.
Unconsciously Adam had reached up to touch his shoulder, reliving it, remembering Jago's words, the obvious concern.
"Best to keep on the move, Cap'n." Jago had tried to make light of it. "It's me they're after!" But the familiar wry grin had deserted him.
He wondered what Jago thought about leaving England again, after only a brief respite in harbour while the necessary repairs were carried out. Jago had spent most of his life at sea in one ship or another, and mostly in time of war. For him there was nothing else. He had seen the idlers watching from the jetties, and others pulling past the anchored frigate as if unable to stay away, and had said with feeling, "Better to be stitched up in a hammock right now than end up on the beach like that lot!"
Jago had been there in church as their guest when Lowenna had married his captain, sitting with John Allday and his wife, Unis. There must have been more than a few yarns after the ceremony. And a lot of memories.
"Mornin', Cap'n! Up an' about already, I see!" Jago was putting down a steaming mug and turning up the solitary lantern, apparently indifferent to Onward's motion as the deck tilted again. "Wind's steady enough — nor'east. We'll need a few extra hands on the capstan." He flicked open the razor until the blade caught the light and glanced at the old chair. "Ready when you are, Cap'n."
He watched as the faded seagoing coat was tossed onto a bench and Adam lay back in "the chair with a frog-sounding name," as Hugh Morgan, the cabin servant, had been heard to describe it. So many times ... Jago could shave his captain in a storm without effort, and the razor was very sharp; he always made sure of that. Adam glanced at the stern windows. He must be mistaken, but they seemed paler already.
"'Ere we go, sir!" Jago steadied Adam's chin with his thick fingers. He could think of a few throats that wouldn't have risked being in this position. One in particular.
He heard the sound of voices, feet scurrying across the deck: the morning watchkeepers preparing the way for all hands when the moment came.
He dabbed Adam's face with a towel still hot from the galley fire. The first lieutenant was making certain that nothing would go wrong, with every naval telescope trained on Onward, ready to find fault if there was any misjudgment or error. And this man under the blade would be the target.
The captain was unusually quiet, Jago thought. Getting under way: a thousand things to remember. Maybe you never got used to it. He recalled the lovely woman in the church, the way she and Bolitho had looked together, surrounded by all those people and yet apart. He couldn't imagine what it was like. He thought of the painting in the sleeping cabin behind him. And she had posed for it.
He wiped the blade and grinned. "Close shave, sir."
Adam stood up and looked at him directly. "Steady as a rock, Luke!"
He heard a muffled clink from the little pantry. So Morgan could not sleep, either.
"I have a letter to finish." The hardest one to write. "I want it to go ashore in good time."
Jago nodded. "The guardboat will take it, sir. I'll make sure of that." He hesitated by the screen door, but there was nothing more. "I'll leave you in peace, sir."
Adam called after him, "Thanks, Luke." "Sir?"
But Adam had walked to the quarter windows and was standing there, a slim figure of medium height, eyes as dark as his hair, pale shirt framed against the outer darkness like a spectre. As if he could see the nearest land.
He heard the door shut, the sentry clearing his throat while Jago told him the captain mustn't be disturbed. He moved to the little desk and pulled open another drawer. The letter was there, half-written.
The ship was suddenly quiet, and he could hear the repetitive squeak of the hook where his best uniform coat hung from the deckhead, complete with the new epaulettes. He had worn it at his wedding in Falmouth. Adam touched his skin, and the slight scrape left by the razor when Jago's concentration had wavered, a rare thing for him.
He dipped the pen and wrote slowly, as if to hear the words.
It was not tomorrow. It was now.
Lieutenant Mark Vincent stood by the quarterdeck rail and stared along Onward's full length, making sure he had missed nothing. It was almost physical, this relaxing muscle by muscle, like a gun captain who has made the final decision before opening fire. He had been appointed to Onward just over a year ago when she had been commissioned here in Plymouth, and he thought he knew every inch of her one hundred and fifty feet, above and below deck; how she behaved at sea, even how she looked to any passing vessel. Or to an enemy. She was a frigate which had more than proved herself during her short life, and one any man would be proud and, these days, lucky, to command.
He pushed the envy to the back of his mind, until the next time.
It was rare to see the deck so crowded. The lower deck had been cleared, hammocks smartly stowed in the nettings with a minimum of fuss. He glanced up at the sky, shreds of ragged cloud scudding ahead of the cold north-easterly, with only a few pale streaks of blue, like ice.
"Guardboat's casting off, sir!"
Vincent said curtly, "As ordered." He did not know the seaman's face, one of the replacements for somebody killed or injured in their brief, bitter fight with Nautilus, but a few drills or an Atlantic gale would soon change that. And most of the new hands were volunteers, a far cry from his first days at sea when they had been pressed men or worse, "scrovies" as the worthless were termed — picked up by local crimps when they were too drunk to know what was happening.
He thought of the idlers he had seen on the waterfront when he had been ashore on some mission or other, doubtless some of the same Jacks who had once cursed every minute they had served aboard a King's ship.
The guardboat was pulling away from the chains, the officer waving to someone by the entry port, the oars reflecting in the choppy water as they angled to take the first pull. Vincent unslung the telescope from his shoulder and trained it across the slow-moving boat. A two-decker of seventy-four guns was anchored between Onward and the inshore moorings and catching the first gleam of sunlight on her high poop and gilded "gingerbread," and the rear-admiral's flag at her mizzen. He closed the glass with a snap. Like a warning, or perhaps it was instinct. There were several figures on deck with telescopes pointing toward Onward. Officers, despite the early hour; the greasy smell of breakfast still lingered on the cold air.
He looked over at the companion and saw the captain's coxswain climbing into view and pausing to touch his hat to the Royal Marine officers ranged beside a squad of scarlet coats.
As if it were a signal, Vincent crossed the deck, which had been cleared to allow space for the capstan bars to be slotted into place. Jago walked past the big double wheel and took up his station at the rail.
Another quick glance, and Vincent saw the signals crew standing by the flag locker, Midshipman Hotham in charge, his narrow face set in a frown, and very aware of the moment. A clergyman's son, but, as he was always quick to point out, "so was Our Nel!"
The Royal Marines' boots clicked together and someone saluted. The captain touched his hat, and Vincent thought he might have nodded slightly to his coxswain. He faced Vincent and smiled.
"It'll be lively when we clear the Sound." He was looking along the deck and gangways at the groups of seamen at their stations, most of them staring aft at their captain.
Vincent swallowed: his mouth felt bone-dry. How does it feel? His decision. I might never know.
Young Hotham's voice scattered his thoughts. "Signal from Flag, sir!" A pause, and a telescope squeaked as somebody else focused on the flags breaking to the wind. "Proceed when ready!"
Adam saw the acknowledgment running up the halliards, Hotham peering eagerly forward as the bell chimed out as if to mark the moment.
Vincent shouted, "Man the capstan! Fo'c'sle party stand by!"
"Heave, m' lads, heave!"
Adam turned, momentarily caught unawares. It would take time to become used to another new voice. Harry Drummond, the bosun, was a professional seaman to the tips of his iron-hard fingers, but it was impossible to forget the massive Guthrie, around which the ship's company had seemed to revolve like hands obeying the capstan. He had fallen like a great tree, his men stepping over him to obey his last order.
The pawls of the capstan were moving, clicking into place as more men added their weight to the bars. Someone slipped and fell sprawling; the deck was still treacherous with rain.
But he heard a voice trying to raise a cheer as a fiddle scraped, and squealed into a familiar sailor's shanty.
There was a lass in Bristol town —
heave, me bullies, heave!
It was Lynch, the senior cook, eyes shut and one foot beating time to every clink of the capstan.
Adam stared up at the yards, the topmen strung out like puppets against the hurrying clouds. The long masthead pendant gave some hint of the wind's strength, and he could picture Onward's outline like a lithe shadow edging slowly toward the embedded anchor.
"Heave, me bullies, heave!"
He heard Julyan, the sailing master, speaking to the quartermaster and his extra helmsman. Calm, unhurried, just loud enough to carry above the chorus of wind and rigging. One eye on the compass, another on his captain, whose ultimate responsibility this was.
Adam remained by the quarterdeck rail, the ship and her company moving around him, but as if he were quite alone. Did you ever become so accustomed to this moment, or so confident, that it became merely routine?
Excerpted from In The King's Name by Alexander Kent. Copyright © 2011 Bolitho Maritime Productions. 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Hope he will keep the Bolton stories coming?
I always enjoy Alexander Kent's Bolitho Novels.