Another exciting volume in the popular high-seas nautical adventure series featuring the dashing and debonair naval commander Thomas Kydd
Word has come from the British ambassador Arbuthnot that the neutral Turks are being wooed by the French and if the ancient city of Constantinople falls into their hands, Napoleon's route to India will be completely unfettered and his plans for world domination a reality. Concerned for his safety, Arbuthnot is demanding a large fleet presence to take him off and bring the Turks to their senses. Braving treacherous currents, unreliable winds, and giant bombards, Thomas Kydd returns to sea and rescues the ambassador, but as Kydd waits for the rest of the expected fleet, the French are able to strengthen the Turkish defenses. Meanwhile Kydd's friend and confidential secretary, Nicholas Renzi, has assumed a new and dangerous role that he can never make public. He engineers a coup in the Topkapi Palace that turns the tables on the French but at the cost of both infidel nations being ejected from the Ottoman Empire. When Kydd learns of Renzi's incarceration in a Turkish prison, he knows if will take superb seamanship and sheer bravado to free his friend.
About the Author
Julian Stockwin is a retired teacher and educational psychologist, and a former lieutenant commander of the Royal Navy Reserve. He entered the British Navy at age 15 and was eventually named a Member of the British Empire. He is the author of the Kydd Sea Adventures series.
Read an Excerpt
A Kydd Sea Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Julian Stockwin
All rights reserved.
It was as if the handsome frigate knew that she and her two-hundred-odd company were going home. After leaving the Caribbean she had quickly picked up a reliable westerly and now hitched up her skirt and flew, overtaking the broad Atlantic waves one by one in an eager swooping that had even old hands moving cautiously about the deck.
Channel fever was aboard and it gripped every soul. Soon after the chaos and drama of Trafalgar, HMS L'Aurore had been sent to join an expedition to wrest Cape Town from the Dutch. Success there had not been matched by the following ill-starred attempt at the South American colonies of Spain, and after capturing the capital, Buenos Aires, they had been forced to an ignominious surrender. Their later few months of service in the Caribbean had been abruptly terminated in an Admiralty summons to return to England. No doubt her captain was wanted at the vengeful court-martial to follow. But at last the handsome frigate and her crew were homeward bound.
Standing braced on the quarterdeck, Captain Thomas Kydd tried to take pleasure in the seething onrush of his fine command but he couldn't shake a feeling of foreboding.
A snatch of song floated aft. The men were in good heart. They had served nobly in all three actions and could rely on liberty and prize-money to spend while L'Aurore received overdue attentions from the dockyard. Her captain, however, could only look forward to —
"How now, old horse! Do I see you the only one aboard downcast at the prospect of England?"
His old friend and confidential secretary, Nicholas Renzi, had come on deck to join him. They'd shared countless adventures since they'd met as common seamen so long ago and had no secrets between them.
"England? Why, not at all — it's rather what's lying in wait there that troubles me."
"Quite. We gave it our best against the Spanish but lost. And our leader to be crucified for quitting station — if we'd prevailed it would have been overlooked, but the Admiralty will never forgive us now." Kydd gave a bitter smile. "There's above half a dozen captains who'll bear witness that I was in league with the commodore. It's beyond believing that they'll stop at only a single one to pay."
"Possibly. But L'Aurore has done valiantly since, which should ease their lordships' wrath a trifle."
"You think so? They won't yet have learned of our putting down the sugar-trade threat, and while we did stoutly at Curaçao, who's ever heard of the island, let alone Marie Galante? No, m' friend, after Trafalgar the country expects nothing less than victory, every time!"
"It might not be as bad as —"
"Don't top it the comforter, Nicholas. I'll take it, whatever comes. It's ... it's just that it would grieve me beyond telling should I lose L'Aurore."
"That would put us both in a pickle, I'm persuaded," Renzi said. "For at this particular time I'm obliged to say there are no shining prospects in store for me at all. I'll not hide that I'm disappointed my novel was not received more warmly. It did seem to me a sprightly little volume, but the public's taste is never to be commanded."
"Well, I thought it a rattling good yarn, Nicholas! Are you sure?"
"It's been over a year and I've heard not a thing." Renzi's head dropped. It was no use pining, though: he had to accept he was clearly not destined to be a novelist.
"But there's one thing you can look forward to."
"Nicholas, sometimes you try the patience of a saint! You seem to have forgotten your promise!"
"Yes, your promise that when we touched port in England," he ground out, "you would that day post to Guildford and lay your heart before Cecilia."
Nothing would please Kydd more than to see the long attachment between his sister and his particular friend brought to a satisfactory conclusion.
"Yes, of course," Renzi said awkwardly. "I'd not forgotten. But ..."
"Yes?" Kydd said, his voice rising.
"Well, in the absence of prospects, I rather thought —"
"Nicholas, dear fellow," he barked, "if you're not on a Guildford coach within one hour of our casting lines ashore I'll ask Mr Clinton for a file of marines who will personally escort you there. Am I being clear enough?"
It was the age-old excitement of landfall. A screamed hail from the volunteer masthead lookout, whose height-of-eye was more than that of the legitimate watch-keeper in the fore-top, sent pulses racing. The man would later claim his reward from the tots of his shipmates.
The pace of their homecoming quickened: now England would be in sight constantly, the well-known seamarks passing in succession until they reached the great anchorage at Portsmouth — Spithead.
The Needles, white and stark against the winter grey, were Kydd's reminder that within hours all would be made clear. The order that had reached out to him in the Caribbean would have been followed by another, now waiting in the port admiral's office. Relieved of his command pending court-martial? Open arrest?
Gulping, he realised that these last few sea-miles might very well be the last he would make under the ensign he had served since his youth.
Rounding Bembridge Point would bring Spithead into view and, if the fleet was in, he must make his report to the admiral afloat. If they were at sea, it would be to the port admiral in the dockyard. Gun salutes, of course, would be needed in either case.
The deck was crowded with men gazing at the passing shoreline, some thoughtful and silent, others babbling excitedly and laughing. It seemed the entire crew was on deck.
"Mr Oakley!" Kydd threw at the boatswain. "Is this a pleasure cruise? Get those men to work this instant!"
L'Aurore had long since been willingly prettified to satisfaction but she was a king's ship and had her standards. And he knew the real reason for his outburst and was sorry for it. Would the crew remember him fondly or ...?
The point soon yielded its view of the fleet anchorage — but four ships only and bare of any admiral's flag. Thus it would be the port admiral to whom he would make his number.
Her distinguishing pennants snapping at the mizzen halyards in an impeccable show, L'Aurore rounded to and her anchor plunged into the grey-green water.
Everyone knew what must follow but Kydd told them nevertheless. "I shall report and return with orders, Mr Gilbey. No guardo tricks from the men while I'm gone or there'll be no liberty for any. Secure from sea and I want to see a good harbour stow. Carry on, please."
With a tight stomach he boarded his barge, taking his place in the sternsheets and determined not to show any hint of anxiety.
"Bear off," he growled at his coxswain, Poulden.
The boat's crew seemed to sense the tension and concentrated on their strokes even as they passed close by the raucous jollity of Portsmouth Point.
Reaching the familiar jetty oars were tossed in a faultless display and the boat glided in.
"Lay off, Poulden," Kydd ordered, and stepped on to English soil for the first time in what had seemed so long. It had been nearly two years.
There was no point in delaying: he turned and strode briskly up the stone steps. At the top, unease gripped him as he saw a line of armed marines ahead.
Orders screamed out, muskets clashed, and an officer began marching smartly across.
"Captain Kydd. Sah!"
"I am he."
The port admiral, accompanied by his flag-lieutenant and other officers, appeared from behind the rigid line of red coats. "Kydd, old fellow! Welcome to England! How are you?"
He held out his hand. "We've been expecting you this age."
The flag-lieutenant stood to one side in open admiration.
"Oh, do inspect Cullin's guard, there's a good chap."
There was nothing for it, and with a senior admiral at his side, Kydd did the honours, pacing down the line of marines wearing an expression of being suitably impressed, stopping with a word to one or two. At the end there was a flourish of swords and the party was released to go to the admiral's reception room.
A sense of unreality was creeping in: had they mistaken him for someone else? "Sir. I thank you for your welcome, very pleasing to me. But might I enquire why ...?"
A small frown creased the port admiral's forehead. "Do you think me a shab not to recognise a hero of the hour? Let me tell you, sir, since Boney set off his bombshell the public have sore need of same!"
"Hero?" Kydd said weakly.
"The papers have been in a frenzy for weeks. Curaçao — as dashing an exploit as any in our history! Throwing a few frigates against the might of a Dutchy naval base, sailing right into their harbour in the teeth of moored ships, forts and armies. Then every last captain takes boat, waves his sword amain and storms ashore to carry the day! How can it not thrill the hearts of the entire nation?"
"Well, it was a furious enough occasion, I'll grant you, but —"
"Nonsense! A smart action — and deserving of your prize-money," he added, with a touch of envy.
"Sir." Kydd paused. "Are there orders for L'Aurore at all?"
The port admiral turned to his flag-lieutenant.
"Yes, sir. I'll get them instanter."
He was back but not with a pack of detailed orders, just one, folded and sealed with the Admiralty cipher. Kydd signed for it, with only the slightest tremor to his hand.
"Do excuse me, sir," he said, as he stepped aside to read.
It was short, almost to the point of rudeness. He was to place his ship under the temporary command of the port admiral forthwith pending refit while he should lose no time in presenting himself in person to the first lord of the Admiralty.
His heart bumped. There was a world of difference between a public hero and a naval delinquent and, without doubt, this was going to be the true reckoning.
"I'm to report to the first lord without delay. Do pardon me if I take my leave, sir. L'Aurore is to come under your flag until further orders — Lieutenant Gilbey, my premier, will be in command."
"You know the routine, Mr Gilbey. I'm ... not sure of future events but ship goes to harbour routine, full liberty to both watches. Don't be too harsh on 'em." His first lieutenant touched his hat and left.
Renzi watched his friend gravely. "In truth, it doesn't appear you're to expect a welcome from their lordships."
"That's my concern. Get your gear together — we leave in an hour."
"You want me to —"
"I'm posting to London. You're coming with me as far as Guildford, Nicholas."
"You have my promise," Renzi said, in an injured tone.
"Yes. And I have you for a shy cove. You'll do the deed or I'll know why!"
There was little conversation in the swaying, rattling coach. A cold winter rain beat at the windows and the countryside blurred into anonymity.
Past the little town of Petersfield, Renzi said stiffly, "There's nothing I can bring to mind that makes my matter the easier to say."
"Fire away nevertheless, Nicholas."
"It's that ... should Cecilia accept me ... then, to be brutally frank, I have very little means to support her as a wife, as I keep telling you. Is it morally right then to —"
"If she agrees to marry you, I shall settle something on you both — tell her it's your prize-money portion, if you like."
"That's very hard to accept, Tom, but nobly offered."
"You'll take it for her sake, Nicholas."
"And none of your tricks o' logic. No telling me you'll marry her right enough, but the wedding day's only to be when you find the time."
They continued on in companionable silence. Some time later Hindhead appeared out of the driving rain. Renzi turned to Kydd and said, in a low voice, "Whatever is ahead for us both I know not — but the friendship in my heart I will value for all of time."
The whip cracked over the tired horses as they toiled up the steep hill in Guildford Town. The Angel posting-house was halfway up and the coach swung through the arch. The driver cursed as he descended, tearing off his dripping cloak and keeping out of the way of the ostlers.
Renzi turned to his friend. "You'll ... ?"
"No, Nicholas. I have to get to the Admiralty without a moment lost. I don't want to disturb my folks only to be off again. After they change horses I'll be away. Now, you're going through with —"
"You have my solemn word on it."
"I wish you well, dear friend. It's my prayer you'll still be in possession of a ship at the end of it."
"I never took you for the praying sort, Nicholas, but thank you. And I do wish you every happiness, you and Cecilia both."
They clasped hands, then parted.
Renzi turned and left the Angel, crossing the road and taking the short cut through the Tunsgate to the Kydd naval school.
His mind raced — even now it was not too late to slink away, avoid the issue entirely, for there was every chance that Cecilia had given up on him, had married another. Or perhaps she was out somewhere in the far reaches of the world with her employer, that diplomat of mysterious assignments, the Marquess of Bloomsbury.
Or she might be at home.
Hammering at him was one overriding question: was it right to propose marriage dependent on a settlement from his friend? A delicate ethical dilemma: on the one hand there was every moral imperative to decline to pursue his suit but on the other he had given his word to Kydd.
He looked up from the rain that drove in his face and found that he was close to the school. He must make up his mind quickly. So much hung on —
A hand touched his arm. Startled, he swung around to see the rosy face of Emily, the Kydds' maid.
"It is! Mr Renzi, as I stand!" she blurted, with a broad smile. "Come t' visit. Right welcome you are too, sir."
"Do let me assist, my dear," he said, taking the basket of vegetables she was carrying.
"Why, thank you, sir. They'll be main pleased t' see you, what with no news about Mr Thomas and such. Have you had tidings a-tall?"
There could be no retreating now and he let her prattle wash over him until they reached the door.
Unexpectedly, a calm settled. He would go through with it: he would formally propose to Miss Cecilia Kydd.
"Why, Mr Renzi!" Mrs Kydd cried. "Do come in out o' that rain. I'm so pleased to see you — have you any word o' young Thomas?" she added anxiously.
"He's hale and hearty, Mrs Kydd, let me assure you. He's important business in London but desires me to convey to you his filial devoirs and promises to visit at the earliest opportunity."
"You're so wet, Mr Renzi. Emily, run and get a towel for Mr Renzi — quickly now!"
"Who's that, Fanny?" quavered a voice from within.
"Why, Mr Renzi, Walter, that's who," she replied.
"Come into the parlour, Mr Renzi. Sit y'self down while we find you something to warm the cockles." She ushered him into the small front room, so well known from times before.
"You are in good health, Mrs Kydd?"
"So-so. I always gets chilblains in this blashy weather, but never you mind."
"And Cecilia?" he asked carefully.
"Oh? Yes, she's fine. Now do tell us where you've gone to these last — bless my soul, it must be coming on for two years now."
"A long story, and I'd much rather it were Thomas in the telling." He paused, "Might I enquire, what does Cecilia these days?"
"Poor lamb. She had a fine position, as y' know, with the marquess an' lady, but now they can't travel so she's been let go with an encomium. Spends her days about the house moping — she should get out and find herself a man, if y' pardon my speaking so direct."
"Is she here? I'd like to pay my respects."
"She was. Gone out to see a friend — she'll be back soon, I'll not wonder."
Renzi's heart skipped a beat.
"Emily!" Mrs Kydd called in exasperation. "Where's that posset? Mr Renzi here is a-dyin' from the cold an' wet. I'll give you a hand."
She bustled out, leaving Renzi alone.
Excerpted from Pasha by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2014 Julian Stockwin. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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