In the 10th book of the popular series, rumors fly of Napoleon’s planned invasion of England, and British naval commander Thomas Kydd is sent to liaise with American inventor, Robert Fulton, who has created "infernal machines” that can wreak mass destruction from a distance. Fulton believes that his inventions, namely the submarine and torpedo, will win the day for the power that possesses them, and Kydd must help him develop the devices. Despite his own scruples, believing that standing man-to-man is the only honorable way to fight, Kydd agrees to take part in the crucial testing of these weapons of mass destruction, which just may decide the fate of England.
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A Kydd Sea Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Julian Stockwin
All rights reserved.
"MR. KYDD, HOW DARE YOU, SIR? To think to approach me in my own headquarters, demanding a hearing in such an impetuous manner." Admiral Sir James Saumarez stood upright at his desk, clearly outraged. "I'll remind you, sir, that you narrowly escaped court-martial by your contemptible actions and must be satisfied with a dismissal."
Commander Kydd held his impatience in check: at long last he had the evidence to prove false the accusation that had led to him being removed from command of his beloved Teazer and his first lieutenant, Christopher Standish, given the ship. "Sir, I beg leave to place before ye — this." He handed over a small, folded piece of paper.
Saumarez inspected it, then flung it down with contempt. "Mr. Kydd! If this is a brazen attempt to implicate me —"
"No, sir, it is not. Those are the secret orders I found within your reg'lar instructions as made me act as I did, an' which —"
"It's nothing but a crude forgery! And not in the proper form as you must well allow."
"Sir, I acted in good faith as I've never seen secret orders afore. I couldn't produce it for ye in your investigation as it was stolen from me, but now I can! If you'd be so good as to hear me out ..."
Saumarez's expression remained stony but he sat reluctantly, and as Kydd told his story, the admiral's anger was replaced first by bewilderment, then dismay.
It was a sorry tale: driven by envy and resentment at Kydd's successes, a more senior captain had arranged for false secret orders to be inserted into Kydd's main instructions that had him clandestinely retrieving a chest ashore. After a tip-off by an anonymous informer, a formal search was made of HMS Teazer on her return and the chest was found to contain smuggled goods. The upright and honourable Admiral Saumarez had seen no option other than to remove Kydd, the ship's captain, from his command.
Still standing, Kydd produced a second sheet of paper. "And this is Lieutenant Prosser's confession, sir. He agrees to testify against Commander Carthew as principal in the matter."
"Thank you, Mr. Kydd," Saumarez said heavily. "If this is true, it is a particularly sad circumstance, imputing as it does an appalling transgression against common morality on the part of an officer of my command. It were best I should bring this matter to a head without a moment's delay."
The admiral rang a bell and ordered his flag-lieutenant, "Commander Carthew, Scorpion, and Lieutenant Prosser, Teazer, to attend me here within the hour." Then he turned back to Kydd. "You'll oblige me by remaining, sir, while I establish if there is a case to answer."
Carthew entered the room, his dress uniform immaculate. When he caught sight of Kydd he recoiled.
"Sit, if you please, Mr. Carthew — there," Saumarez said, indicating the place opposite Kydd.
"Mr. Prosser, sir." The flag-lieutenant ushered in a haggard-looking officer who stared doggedly downwards. Carthew was clearly disconcerted to see him.
"Now, this should not take long, gentlemen," Saumarez began. "Mr. Kydd has laid before me evidence of a conspiracy that resulted in the loss of his ship and his good name. We are here to —"
"Sir!" Carthew flung a murderous glance at Kydd. "Surely you're not to be swayed by anything this proven blackguard has said! He's —"
"Mr. Prosser," Saumarez said flatly, ignoring Carthew, "do you recognise this?" He handed across a paper.
"I do, sir," the man said miserably, in barely a whisper.
"Did you or did you not give Mr. Kydd to understand that it was part of his orders from this office?"
Carthew turned pale.
"Under whose instructions?" Saumarez continued.
"Mr. Carthew's, sir," Prosser muttered.
"This you will swear in court?"
After a tense silence he replied, "I — I will."
Saumarez took a sharp breath. "You shall have your chance to rebut in due course, Mr. Carthew. I find that this matter shall go forward in law.
"You, Mr. Prosser, may consider yourself under open arrest. Mr. Carthew, your case is more serious and I can see no alternative but —"
Carthew's chair crashed to the ground as he leaped up, chest heaving, crazed eyes fixed on Kydd. "You — I'll see you in hell —" With a panicked glance at Saumarez, he pushed wildly away.
"Commander! Return at once, sir!"
At the door Carthew knocked aside the flag-lieutenant and ran down the stairs.
"Stop that officer!" Saumarez roared.
Kydd leaped to his feet and followed. Shocked faces peered out of offices at the commotion. The sound of footsteps stopped, and when Kydd reached the main entrance Carthew was nowhere in sight. "Where did the officer go?" he demanded, of a bewildered sentry.
"Well, an' I was salutin', like," the man said. Even a hurrying officer still required the stamp and flourish of a musket salute, with eyes held rigid to the front in respect.
Two marines with ported muskets appeared. "Too late. He's gone," Kydd snapped, and returned to Saumarez. "Nowhere to be found, sir."
"Then I take it he's absconded. Flags, do alert the provost. He's to be returned here without delay." He turned to Prosser. "You, sir, will hold yourself in readiness to make deposition concerning this lamentable business. Now leave us.
"Mr. Kydd," Saumarez began gravely, "I'm faced with a dilemma. By his actions Commander Carthew stands condemned, and will answer for it at his court-martial, as will Lieutenant Prosser. I am concerned that you, Mr. Kydd, do see justice. In fine, a public disgrace — losing your ship — should at the least deserve a public restoring. Yes, that must be the right and proper thing to do."
Kydd's pulse beat faster. Could it be? Was he to step aboard Teazer as her captain once again? He tried to appear calm.
"Yet at the same time there is something of a moral difficulty."
Kydd's heart felt about to burst.
"I believe you will have already considered the grave consequences of your assuming command of Teazer at this time, and it does you the utmost credit, sir," Saumarez went on.
Fearful of betraying his feelings Kydd dropped his eyes.
"Therefore I shall relieve you of any responsibility. In my opinion the claims of natural justice outweigh those of position and advancement."
Kydd was struggling to make sense of what was being said.
Saumarez pondered then continued, "Conceivably the circumstances should properly be construed as the unfortunate relinquishing of command, which, in the nature of the sea service, must from time to time occur."
So he was not going to be allowed to take back Teazer!
Saumarez saw Kydd's stricken face and hastened to console him. "Pray do not allow your natural human feeling for a brother officer to affect you so, sir. Consider, in leaving command Mr. Standish must in any event revert to lieutenant. He is an acting commander only and therefore the mercy is that, by this happenstance, he is spared being sent ashore as unemployed."
Kydd's mind whirled. He certainly did not want the arrogant prig back as his lieutenant after the contempt he had shown for him when he had become a privateer captain. "I — I do see that, sir," he managed, "but I have concern that the hands might not show proper respect, he being reduced back to lieutenant an' all."
Saumarez reflected for a moment. "Oh, quite. Then you shall have a new lieutenant. I see no reason to delay matters. The sooner this sorry affair is concluded the better for all. I shall draw up your letter of appointment immediately, Mr. Kydd."
Having allowed Standish a couple of days to set his affairs in order and send his gear ashore, Kydd now stood proudly on North Pier watching Teazer's gig stroking towards him from where she lay at anchor in the Great Road of St. Peter Port. Hallum, his new lieutenant, waited behind him.
The boat approached and at the tiller Midshipman Calloway fought hard to keep a solemn face. "Oars!" he snapped. Obediently they stilled as the gig swung towards the pier.
"Toss oars!" As one, each man smacked the loom across his knee and brought it up vertically. The gig glided into the quay; the bowman leaped nimbly ashore and secured the painter. Calloway snatched off his hat with a huge smile.
Kydd looked down into the boat: Stirk at stroke, Poulden next to him, others, all beaming.
As was the custom, Hallum descended first. "Bear off!" Calloway ordered. "Give way t'gether!"
It had happened. At last Kydd was on his way to reclaim his rightful place. Beside him, Hallum nodded agreeably and both took in the lovely ship until the gig was brought smartly around to the side steps to hook on. Conscious of the men lined up on deck, waiting, Kydd straightened his gold-laced cocked hat a second time, then clambered aboard.
There before him was the ship's company of HMS Teazer. With Hallum standing respectfully behind him he drew out his commission and read himself in as captain. Instantly, his commissioning pennant broke out proudly on the mainmast truck.
"Mr. Purchet." He acknowledged the boatswain, whose smile split his face from ear to ear. Kydd went on to greet individually those he had come to know and respect in times past. "Mr. Clegg. An' how's our little Sprits'l, can I ask?"
The sailmaker grinned and whispered shyly, "Why, he's a berth in m' cabin, Mr. Kydd, an' nary a rat shall ye find in th' barky."
The gunner removed his hat and shuffled his feet in pleased embarrassment. "Our metal's as good as ever it was, sir," he muttered.
Kydd's eyes found others and the memories returned.
The rest of the Teazers were assembled forward, their faces leaving no doubt about their feelings that their old captain had been restored. Kydd had Teazer back and the future was up to him. He turned to address the men. Legs abrace, he took off his hat and opened his mouth, but a lump in his throat stopped the words. He drew out his handkerchief and spluttered into it until he had regained his composure. Then he began, "Teazers . It's — it's with ..." It was no good. He wheeled on the boatswain. "Mr. Purchet, this afternoon a make 'n' mend for all hands!" In the storm of cheering that resulted he took refuge in his cabin.
It was bare and unkempt, with an alien smell. Standish had cleared it completely and, without furnishings, it looked immense. Kydd gave a bleak grin. After his dismissal from his ship he'd been reduced to the life of a wandering vagrant, sleeping in a sail-loft until he had achieved handsome riches through privateering. Standish's petty act was meaningless — with his new-found fortune he could easily purchase replacements.
There was a well-remembered knock on the door. "Come, Tysoe!" he called happily, and stood to greet his old servant.
The man entered discreetly, his nose wrinkling in disdain at the sight of the forlorn cabin.
"Aye! Well, we've a mort of work to do in seeing this'n all shipshape — but there's none better, I dare t' say, as I trust to take it in hand." In the absence of his sister Cecilia's womanly touch, he could safely leave it to Tysoe to go ashore and make the necessary purchases.
A murmuring outside resolved in to the anxious features of Ellicott, the purser. "We should set th' books straight now, sir," he said, holding a pack of well-thumbed papers.
"We will," Kydd promised. He knew the reason for the haste: Standish had no doubt fudged the signing-off on some accounts. Ellicott feared that until Kydd signed them into his charge he, as purser, would be held responsible for any deficiencies in the boatswain's store, gunner's allowance and so forth.
Before Kydd started on the paperwork, though, there were a few things he must attend to first. "Is the ship's clerk in attendance?" he asked carefully. It was a delicate matter: his friend Renzi had been acting in that role while Kydd was captain but had given up the post and gone ashore with Kydd when he had been dismissed from his ship. But if the new one was ...
"Larkin, sir," Ellicott said apologetically, ushering an elderly seaman inside.
"You!" Kydd said in surprise.
"Aye, sir," Larkin mumbled. Kydd was taken aback: he knew him to be a fo'c'sleman with an unusual attachment to poetry. In the dogwatches it was his practice to copy out verse from books in large, beautifully formed copperplate. Clearly he had been "volunteered" for the task by the previous captain.
"This is no task for a prime sailorman, Larkin," Kydd said briskly. "I'll see if Mr. Renzi is at leisure to relieve ye, an' then your part o' ship shall be fo'c'sleman again."
The man beamed.
"So, Mr. Ellicott, I'm your man in one hour." He turned to Tysoe. "Now then, I'd like t' hear as how you think we should best fit out the cabin. Then ye're to step off an' secure it all. Oh, an' at six bells ye'll find Mr. Renzi on North Pier with his books. He'll want hands to bear a fist in swaying 'em aboard."
In the afternoon the men settled to their make-and-mend, a time set aside for leisure and attention to sea-worn clothing or the crafting of a smart step-ashore rig. It was also a fine opportunity not only to make discreet survey of how his ship had fared out of his hands but as well to bring Hallum to a closer appreciation of Teazer's character. It would be a welcome respite, too, from the welter of paperwork that Ellicott seemed intent on drowning him in.
Hats firmly under arms, the two officers strolled along the deck forward. In favoured positions on the gratings, against the sunnier bulwark or simply sprawled out on the planking, men got on with the serious business of gossip and yarn-spinning while they skilfully stitched away. They fell silent as Kydd approached but, in the custom of the sea, off-watch this was their territory, and once the two had passed they resumed chatting.
The Teazers seemed in good heart; Kydd knew the telltale signs of disaffection and saw none. He had a suspicion, however, that much of their contentment stemmed from the prospects of a proven prize-taker being in command — but who knew what lay ahead?
Kydd went to a carronade and lifted the lead apron protecting the gunlock bed. The weapon gleamed with attention from lamp-black and linseed oil, but when he peered more closely he saw that the fire-channel between vent and pan shone with equal lustre. The gun had probably not been fired since his own time.
Further forward there were other giveaway signs of a ship that had been prepared more for a flag-officer's inspection than war, but with growing satisfaction he noted there was nothing wrong with Teazer that a good first lieutenant could not bring to order in quick time.
As dusk fell Renzi came aboard, Kydd's closest friend and one to whom he owed his present felicity. It had been Renzi who had uncovered the truth behind the conspiracy to ruin him, but he had not wanted to go into details. From long experience Kydd knew not to press his friend until he was ready to talk.
"M' very dear Nicholas! Let's strike your dunnage down and my apologies to ye, the ship being all ahoo like this. We'll sup together tonight."
It was a brave showing. The great cabin had a dining table in the form of a grating on mess tubs, tastefully concealed beneath borrowed wardroom linen and quite passable in the golden candlelight.
"I fear it could be short canny t'night," Kydd said, as they entered. "Tysoe has been ashore an' not had time for my cabin stores." It was a small price to pay for his return to his ship.
"Shall you ...?" Renzi hesitated before the carpenter's canvas easy-chair — or was it to be the boatswain's stout high-back, which was said to be proof even against the frenzied movement of a fresh gale?
Kydd settled into the boatswain's chair and nodded to the awed purser's steward, tasked with the honours of the evening in Tysoe's absence. A light claret was forthcoming, glasses charged, and the two friends toasted their new situation with feeling.
"Nicholas, you must have something in your philosophies as should prepare a man for fortune's sport," Kydd remarked.
Renzi shook his head with a smile. "As to that, dear fellow, who can say? Let us seize the hour and reck not the reasons. The workings of Fate are not to be comprehended by mortals, I'm persuaded."
Renzi looked gaunt, his eyes deep-set and lines in his face adding years to his age. Kydd regarded him with concern. At their lowest ebb, Renzi had travelled to Jersey and found menial employment with a titled foreign émigré. "You've suffered, m' friend. That rogue y' prince has worked ye near to death! I've a mind to say —"
Excerpted from Invasion by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2009 Julian Stockwin. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a dull, laborious read. There is no action, just an historical rambling that....rambles! At about halfway, I decided Kydd is dumber than a "box 'o rocks." I have read the series--to this point--and it seems to be getting away from the gnarly sea adventure, much as O'Brien did; without the charm of the Master. The last couple of books have been yawners but I will try one more before I give up on Kyddiot.