Napoleon Bonaparte's ambitions for world domination are growing apace, when Captain Sir Thomas Kydd returns to take up command of his ship Tyger, he finds himself called to be part of a great armada on a mission of the utmost urgency. Britain is alone and isolated in Europe. If the kingdom is to thwart a deadly threat she must move very quickly to secure her position with neutral Denmark. A desperate decision is made by the Cabinet. It sends a sea force to the entrance to the Baltic and pressures the Crown Prince of Denmark to turn over the Danish fleet before it falls into the hands of Bonaparte. Unbeknownst to Kydd, his old friend, Renzi, has been called upon to undertake a parallel diplomatic mission to persuade the Danes to give up their fleet for the duration of the war. Renzi and Cecilia, Countess Farndon, are trapped in Copenhagen when everything comes to a terrible conclusion. In the meantime Kydd is lured ashore and captured by the French, but in a strange twist finds himself released to snatch the future king of France from exile. He returns to find a scene of chaos and terror. While attempting Renzi's rescue, Kydd is witness to the poignant sight, never to be forgotten, of the entire surrendered Danish fleet sailing out of Copenhagen harbor the ships slowly proceeding one by one.
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A Kydd See Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press Inc.Copyright © 2016 Julian Stockwin
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Eskdale Hall, Wiltshire, England. Summer 1807
The night had turned unseasonally chilly. Captain Sir Thomas Kydd sat before the fire with his particular friend, the Earl of Farndon, and his wife, who also happened to be Sir Thomas's sister. The evening's reception and stately ball had been accounted the most splendid held for many years, and he'd been introduced to a dizzying quantity of the county's highest society, who'd been particularly attentive to the acclaimed sea hero. But now he gazed vacantly into the flames.
'Are you not enjoying your Armagnac, Thomas?' Cecilia asked in concern. 'Nicholas keeps back his 'seventy-nine for your visits alone, my dear.'
'Pray take no notice of me, sis. I'm in a complicated mood.'
'Oh? What can this mean?' she teased.
'To tell it straight, Cec, my intellects are in a whirl for all the fanfaronade since we made port, and I've a mort of things to think on. I confess what I crave most is nothing more than to sit and stare at a wall for above a day.'
'Well, I'll allow the lot of a public hero is an active one.' Lord Farndon – or Nicholas Renzi as he would always be known to his bosom friend – set down his glass and smiled indulgently. 'Now, my dear fellow, you cannot persuade me that it was all of it a burden beyond bearing. I do recollect your distinct pleasure in telling me of the subscription dinner by members of the Exchange and the presentation of silver at its conclusion.'
'Yes, that was handsomely done. Baltic traders at the Virginia and Baltick in Threadneedle Street in appreciation of my contribution to the safeguarding of their interests, even if I'm at a loss to fathom why an action in support of the Prussians counts as that.'
'But that nasty fuss in the newspapers!' Cecilia added, her face stormy. 'Such words about your —'
'Those scurvy villains are a contemptible crew and I'll thank you to pay no mind to 'em, sis.'
Recalling the bitter turmoil that had followed a True Briton report of Kydd's opinions after the notorious Popham trial, Renzi chuckled. 'Well, that's certainly no longer of any consequence to your sea prospects. Have you not received an intimation of the Admiralty's entire satisfaction at your conduct?'
'I did that,' Kydd agreed. 'A private letter from the first lord wishing to assure me of his continued interest in my naval career.'
'And this is a rum one, Nicholas. Lord Camden, somebody big in government, wants me to be a Member of Parliament in the Tory interest.'
'Why not, Thomas?' Cecilia squealed. 'You'd make a splendid figure standing up in the House with a speech as will make the scoundrels sit up and listen.'
'No, sis. I've no hankering after arguments all the day long. Besides, when will I have time to take Tyger to sea?'
Renzi looked fondly at his friend. 'So, Kydd of the Tyger it is, to be sure. Long may he sail the high seas against the King's enemies!'
There was a trace of wistful envy in his voice, which Kydd knew came not from any wish to be a celebrated hero like himself but the knowledge that he could no longer taste the freedom of the sea in all its lure and mystery.
'On another matter entirely,' Renzi added quickly. 'You said Toby Stirk – or is that Gunner's Mate Stirk – did survive his injury?' Renzi and Stirk had been with Kydd since his first days as a pressed man, and Renzi had seen him learn much from the leathery old seaman.
'He did, Nicholas. Hard as nails but he was sadly knocked about and dead to the world for near two days. Came round after we arrived at Sheerness. We had the devil's own job getting the beggar to agree to go ashore to the hospital for observing, and only my personal vow he wouldn't be removed for another in Tyger had him off.'
Renzi gave a half-smile. 'Dear fellow, I own I'm at the loftiest rank of society but there are moments I'd give it all away to possess the truehearted devotion of the ship's company of a fighting frigate like Tyger ...'CHAPTER 2
The next day Kydd took coach in neat but anonymous gentleman's dress.
After the near hopeless battle against three frigates and the following desperate days nursing a wounded Tyger to her refuge, he craved space to find himself again, to get away somewhere blessedly remote, where the ferocious wars of Napoleon Bonaparte were another world, and to feel something of the old times when the only concerns were the success of the harvests and the jollities of market day.
Tyger was under repair but had been given precedence by an Admiralty keen to show its intention of setting one of its most famous frigate captains at sea again as soon as may be. It had been classed a 'small repair', even though she'd suffered untold injuries, for, apart from a docking to replace the damaged strake between wind and water, there was nothing that would require taking down her hull. Nevertheless, an unknown number of weeks would pass until he could claim her.
Before he could let the benison of rest do its healing, Kydd needed to journey to Sheerness to visit the hospital where so many Tygers were paying the price for his triumph.
The last mile across the marshes from Queenborough brought back memories of the dark year of the great Nore mutiny where his destiny had changed irrevocably: from the prospect of a noose at the yard-arm to the felicity of treading the quarterdeck as a king's officer.
It was humbling to be received joyfully by men with shattered limbs who would never again work a long splice or race aloft in the teeth of a gale for the honour of their ship. They would be turned ashore, the lucky ones to a berth in Greenwich Hospital, others to a sailor's sad exile on land.
'The gunner's mate on your books,' Kydd asked an orderly. 'Tobias Stirk. Is he still here, by chance?'
'Don't rightly know. Gets these moods, like. Drifts off an' no one knows where till he returns. Odd sort – and claims he won't be bound by no long-shore coves tellin' him what to do. I'll see if 'n he's about.'
He wasn't, and Kydd felt the stir of unease for the hard and fearless seaman of old, now taken with phantoms of doubt and mortality and wandering abroad in a futile effort to lay them to rest. He couldn't leave without at least wishing his old shipmate a good recovery.
There was a drawing room for the families of visitors and Kydd settled in a chair to wait. On the table were newspapers and old issues of the Gentleman's Magazine. He flicked through one but when he saw his name in it he turned it face down, embarrassed, and picked up another.
From time to time, curious staff offered refreshments, with well-meant platitudes. Dusk drew in and a lamp was brought. He knew he should think about leaving: his continued presence would be causing awkwardness for the hospital. Should he write Stirk a note, perhaps a light touch about the time when they were both foremast hands in the old Duke William? Or not: he had remembered the man's sense of pride and —
A figure appeared in the doorway, difficult to make out by the light of the single lamp.
'Aye. They said y' wanted t' see me.' The husky voice was defensive and Stirk removed his shapeless hat awkwardly.
'Do come in and sit, Mr Stirk,' Kydd said, wondering whether it had been such a mercy to seek the man out after all.
Stirk came forward into the light but remained standing. He was not in his usual comfortable seaman's rig, instead wearing a shabby dark coat and a muffler. His eyes glittered in deep-sunken pits.
'I – I came to see how you were, Mr Stirk,' Kydd ventured. It sounded affected before the reality of the fine old seaman who stood before him.
'Sir. Nothin' that can't be put right by a spell o' canvas-backing.' This was a sailor's term for taking refuge in his hammock.
'They're saying you're out and about a lot. Are you —'
'Got no right t' tell you that,' Stirk grated. 'Poxy bastards! Sir.'
It was ridiculous, Kydd thought, for him to be sitting at his ease in an armchair while a man he admired more than most stood before him like a felon. Kydd got to his feet. 'Are you in want of anything, Mr Stirk? Prize money is a long time coming and —'
'I'm right 'n' tight, Mr Kydd,' he replied flatly.
'Well, then —'
'An' I thanks ye for the askin' of it.'
Was that a glimmering of feeling in his voice? 'So you'll be off soon to see your folk, I'd guess,' Kydd chanced.
'How are they all? Romney Marsh, isn't it? A fine place this time of year.'
'Cap'n. It was right dimber of ye to see me, an' I'll not keep ye any longer.' His voice had dropped so low Kydd struggled to hear.
He wanted to reach out to Stirk but there seemed an unbridgeable gulf between them. The tough, indomitable figure was bearing the strain of something beyond his mastering but was trapped in the husk of his own iron-hard character.
'Well, yes, time to leave,' Kydd said. Then he paused as if contemplating a sudden idea. 'To tell the truth, I'm off to seek a mort of quiet to settle my thoughts. I'm looking for a place to stay as is peaceful and out of the way. What do you say to Hythe by the Marsh?' There was no response, merely a steady gaze from unblinking black eyes.
'Stage to Maidstone, another to the coast, as I remember. Oh, and I'd be gratified should we travel together,' he added casually. If he could just get Stirk to his family ...
'May I know why not?' Was the distance between them too much?
"Cos we don't live there any more.'
There was the slightest hesitation, then: 'Scotland. Dunlochry.'
'I'm not certain I've heard of it.'
'Had to skin out o' the Marsh. Revenoo took against m' young bro. Had t' quick find somewhere quiet, like.'
Kydd held silent for a moment. 'Quiet? This Dunlochry sounds just the place to lay up for a while and hoist in some peace.'
'You'd be going all the ways up there?' Stirk said slowly, the sunken eyes never leaving his.
'The barky's in for some weeks. I've got the time.'
The moment hung.
'It's a wee place. They'll realise you're —'
'I'll go as plain Mr Thomas Paine, heading north with my old friend Tobias Stirk. No one to know else. Right?'CHAPTER 3
It was days on the road by the Glasgow mail, but there was little opportunity to talk because Stirk had taken it upon himself to ride outside. They ate together at the stops but Stirk was still held in some sort of inner thrall that did not admit others: he answered only in monosyllables.
Then it was two days in a cramped, fast packet to the new whisky-distillery town of Oban on the Firth of Lorne in the Hebrides.
Kydd stood on the little quay in the tentative sunshine. The wild beauty of the Western Isles reached out to him, ramparts of blue hills, islets beyond counting and an unutterable sense of remoteness. If he was going to lay the ghosts of the recent past it would be here.
Stirk had left him with the baggage and returned a little later.
'Thought I'd turn up the little scroat in the Three Bushels,' he rasped. With him was a wild-eyed youth, who regarded Kydd with suspicion. 'Mr Paine – this'n is Jeb, m' younger brother. An' Jeb, Mr Paine's a gent who's come here for a spell o' resting. Now, you minds y'r manners – he's an old matey o' mine and I'll not have him vexed b' your rowdy ways.'
Stirk humped their baggage to the end of the quay and dropped it into a half-deck ketch strewn with fishing gear. Without a word he swarmed down a mooring line and landed lightly on the after end. Not hesitating, Kydd did the same.
Jeb looked on with respect. 'As ye've been a sailor, then, Mr Paine,' he said, as he alighted and went forward to see to the lines.
Before he threw off the tiller beckets, Stirk lifted up a corner of the untidy mass of nets to reveal three small casks. He spluttered an oath. 'Ye just can't leave it alone, can ye, y' clinking fool?' He let the nets drop and spat pointedly over the side. 'I see any more an' you're out o' here, cully!'
A black mood descended, and Stirk set sullenly about the hoisting of sails and casting off. Kydd took the main-sheet and they leaned to the wind and out into the choppy waters of the firth.
The scenery was dramatic. Caught by the sun the bare Hebridean islands lay with spreading pale beaches and black rocks stretching seaward, throwing up surf in vivid white against the deep green of the sea, the more distant islands scattered in a romantic misty blue-grey. Despite its beauty, the seaman in Kydd knew it could all change within minutes: the dark skerries at the edge of the islets would turn to cruel fangs to tear out the bowels of any vessel lost in the murk.
They made good speed, the red sails board-taut, and the breeding of the plain but stout Scottish fishing boat shone through.
Kydd slid along to Stirk at the tiller. 'What's her name?'
He thought the big man hadn't heard but then came a gruff, 'Maid o' Lorne. As belongs t' my sister's husband.'
'It's what I said, didn't I?' Stirk caught himself and turned to him, stricken. 'Sorry, Mr K — Paine. Didn't mean t' go ye. Ain't m'self lately.' His hand fidgeted on the tiller. 'Jeb's to take her out wi' some island younkers as crew, like. Herring, and long-lining for haddock and whiting, mebbe some cod.'
At the fore Jeb looked obstinately away. He'd given up the helm and authority of the boat without question to Stirk, and Kydd sensed there was much not being said.
'How far's your Dunlochry?' Kydd asked Stirk.
'This'n is the Sound o' Mull.' He gestured at the long sea passage ahead. 'We's on the outer coast t' larb'd.'
They emerged into the open waters and the power of the Atlantic's vast reaches: a massive swell, wind-driven to surging white-tipped waves. As though born to it, Maid conformed in an easy long lift and fall, effortless in her economic movements.
This was a different realm from the close lochs and firths of the inner isles – more remote, a wildness Kydd had never seen before. He suppressed a smile at the thought of how Renzi would react to them: the sublimity would, without a doubt, have brought on a paean or two, even if his friend was as aware as he himself was of their deadly character to the unwary mariner.CHAPTER 4
Dunlochry, Isle of Mull, Scotland
By the time they had reached the sharp foreland pointed out as the entrance to Dunlochry, Kydd had prised most of the story out of Stirk.
His sister, Constance, had married a Scot who held a valuable position as gamekeeper to the laird of the Isle of Mull. They lived in an estate cottage. When Jeb's difficulties with the Revenue had cropped up, he had thought to come here and lie low with his sister, the understanding being that he would make his way by working the Maid. It had not been a complete success, Stirk's younger brother being so headstrong and unreliable.
'And your folks?' Kydd asked politely.
'A year or so back, in Kent. Ain't no more.'
'And so ...'
'These 'ere are all the kin I got.'
Around the point a deeply indented bay opened up, snugly sheltered between weathered dark cliffs by a twist of topography. Steep tree-stippled slopes converged on a small village with a tiny jetty and a gaggle of boats at moorings in the barely ruffled inlet.
They dropped the mainsail and glided in, the smell of pines, heather and the stink of fish mingled with the smoke of peat-fires coming out to enfold them in a fragrant welcome.
Curious eyes watched them disembark. As Stirk straightened, there was a hail, and a short, stout individual lumbered across. 'Wha' hae, m' fine friend!' he puffed, clapping Stirk familiarly on the shoulder. 'Away wi' ye, but it's bin a hoora long time.' Shrewd eyes swept over Kydd. 'Then who's this'n?' The Scottish burr had fallen away to a more understandable English at Kydd's appearance.
'It's ... an old navy shipmate. Name o' Paine.'
'Aye. Well, pleased t' take the hand of owt who knows Toby, Mr Paine.'
Stirk introduced him to Kydd. 'This is Brian McFadden. We calls 'im Laddie. Hails from the south, like we. Owns the fishing boat, Aileen G,' he added.
Kydd shook hands, taking in the hard, calloused grip. The life of a fisherman would be far from easy in these waters.
Excerpted from Inferno by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2016 Julian Stockwin. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press Inc..
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