Captain Nathan Peake’s adventures continue as he charts a perilous course into the dangerous waters of post-Revolutionary Paris. There, he encounters two of the most beautiful and scandalous courtesans in history and their playmate, laughingly dubbed Captain Cannon, who is about to win enduring fame as Napoleon Bonaparte. Back at the helm of the Unicorn, Peake joins Captain Horatio Nelson, another young glory-seeker, in a bid to wreck Bonaparte’s plans for the invasion of Italy. Amidst the chaos of war, Peake has his own private agenda to find his lost love; but as the fighting spreads from the mountains to the sea, he discovers that glory comes at a higher price than he originally thought.
About the Author
Seth Hunter is the pseudonym of the author of a number of highly acclaimed novels for adults and children. He has written and directed many historical dramas for British television, radio, and the theatre.
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The Price of Glory
A Nathan Peake Novel
By Seth Hunter
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Seth Hunter
All rights reserved.
the Fog of War
THE BAY OF QUIBERON, off the south coast of Brittany, the 27th day of June in the Year of Our Lord 1795 — or Year 3 of the Revolution, according to the system prevailing in these more enlightened climes: the month of Messidor, the day of Garlic.
A day of fog, in fact, and the frigate Unicorn floating upon a flat calm, her people standing listless at the guns which had been run out as a precaution, so close to these hostile, bristling shores of France, though they had to take this in good faith from their captain and he from the sailing master, for the fog hung so heavily about the ship it was difficult to discern the forecastle from the quarterdeck and caused the lookouts in the tops to suppose they were cut off entirely from all human contact and become a species of ghoul that dwelt in clouds. A nasty, brutish, troublesome fog; a Republican fog. A wet blanket draped over history: the glorious day that was to turn back the tide of Revolution.
Mr. Graham, the ship's master and a loyal subject of King George, glared out upon it from under the battered brim of his hat, as if he would seize it by the throat and throttle the life out of it, or blast it into Kingdom Come with a double broadside.
It had crept upon them in the dark and now they were halfway through the morning watch and still it would not lift, and they could be anywhere between Belle Isle and the wicked claw of Quiberon, with its shoal waters and its savage rocks and its treacherous tides.
Not that the master would have admitted publicly to so imprecise a knowledge, for he knew that the captain had his eye upon him, and that it was a cold and speculative eye, for Mr. Graham was new to the ship, having joined her less than a week ago at Portsmouth upon her return from the Caribbean, and he had yet to win the confidence of either captain or crew.
The Unicorn was a new ship, launched a little over a year ago: one of a new class of heavy frigates with thirty-two long guns, 18- pounders for the most part, and six 32-pounder carronades. But she had taken some hard knocks on her first commission, harder knocks than many an older ship. She had endured mutiny, hurricane, yellow fever and battle, losing many of her crew and most of her officers in the process, and the replacements who had come aboard at Portsmouth were as yet unproven, and in the case of Mr. Graham not popular. It was not only her captain who looked upon their new master with mistrust, for it had been observed on the lower deck that he had an eye for the young gentlemen and exorcised his demons with the bottle.
Four bells in the morning watch, tolling in the muffled air like a funeral dirge in a country churchyard. And as if in reply, a distant keening away to starboard and then again, closer, off the larboard bow. Some of the newcomers, mostly landsmen taken by the press, looked wildly about them, fearing Sirens or other ill-intentioned spirits of the sea, and the older hands looked grim knowing it to be the shrill alarum of boatswains' pipes from at least two other ships, warning the unwary to keep their distance.
"I think we must shorten sail, Mr. Graham," said the captain, "to be on the safe side. And let us sound a warning." Then, raising his voice a little: "Mr. Holroyd there!"
One of the young gentlemen came scurrying aft, eager with nervous importance for he had recently been raised to acting lieutenant, a promotion that more than compensated, to his mind, for the loss of an ear on their last commission. "Sir?"
"Have some of your people line the rail with sweeps, if you will, Mr. Holroyd, and stand by to fend away."
A rush of feet along the decks and up into the forecastle. The gun crews fidgeting at their guns and the lookouts peering from the tops, questing for some substance to these eerie, spectral wails. The captain rejoined his first lieutenant at the rail.
"I think we have found our squadron," he mused.
"Unless it be the French."
"We should smell them, surely."
"Of what does a Frenchman smell that is distinct from the human?"
"I have not been able to elicit a precise account, but I am told you know it when you smell it."
There was irony in these remarks, for both men had a large dose of French blood in their veins, sufficient, as they said, to make one whole Frenchman between them. The captain was descended on his mother's side from a distinguished line of Huguenots whilst his companion hailed from the Channel Isles — the illicit progeny of a fisherman and the daughter of a local seigneur. In fact, they shared rather more respect for the traditional enemy than was deemed natural or seemly in an officer of the King's Navy, though they tended to keep it to themselves in company.
The two men were roughly of an age, which was somewhat between twenty-five and thirty: one dark, one fair, both tall and personable if a little scarred here and there, as if they had been in the wars — which they had. They wore identical tarpaulins buttoned up to the throat and might have passed for midshipmen, the lowest form of marine life to bear the king's commission, had it not been for a certain authority in their bearing and from the way the true midshipmen that were about the quarterdeck kept their distance as if there was an invisible line drawn upon it — which there was.
The captain, Nathaniel Peake, had attained these lofty heights on the untimely demise of his predecessor, who had suffered the indignity of having his throat cut by former members of the ship's crew off the Floridas. The first lieutenant, Mr. Tully, had been assisted in his rise to greatness by the enemy, who had obligingly knocked his rivals on the head, one by one, in the waters of the Caribbean. Indeed, the two men had shared enough perils and privations to form a kind of friendship, inasmuch as that relationship could prevail between the captain of a King's ship and a mere mortal.
The sharp report of a cannon from somewhere off to starboard. A signal gun, in all probability, but the gun crews tensed and the captain cursed, betraying the unease beneath his banter, not so much at the prospect of an engagement as from the fear of a collision, for the tide was running swiftly enough to promise he would lose more than his dignity and his ship a little paint if such a misfortune were to occur. He had been ordered to join Sir John Borlase Warren off Quiberon "with the utmost haste," but his great fear was that the Unicorn should prove too hasty and announce her arrival by running upon one of Sir John's squadron in the mist, adding to a growing, if in his view unwarranted, reputation for recklessness.
The signal gun again — and as if it had awoken Aeolus from his slumbers, they felt the first real breath of wind that morning: a mere zephyr that barely stirred the sodden canvas, and faded ... only to return stronger and more confident, and the sails filled, flattened and filled, and the frigate shied like a colt so that Nathan was moved to utter another curse and instruct the sailing master to back the fore course.
Then, all of a sudden, the fog lifted. And there were the spectres that had haunted them: one, two, three stately ships of war, the nearest about a cable's length to leeward. Nathan could see the white ensign at her stern and the officers about her quarterdeck and he was about to touch his hat to them, with that nonchalance to which he always aspired, for he could see she was on a parallel course and posed no immediate threat, when an urgent commotion forward alerted him to the greater danger: a brute of a two-decker, dead ahead, and so close it seemed impossible they would not run aboard her. He was at the con in an instant with a stream of orders, the helmsmen frantically spinning the wheel. Slowly, slowly the bows came round. Nathan watched in an agony of helpless apprehension as the Unicorn's long lance of a bowsprit advanced upon the stern windows with all the jaunty confidence of a charging knight. He braced himself for the splintering, wrenching shock and the retribution that would surely follow ... And then they were clear. Clear by a good six feet and drawing away, leaving an enduring memory of the double band of broad white stripes and the pale, astonished faces on the rail above and one, more ruddy and in the uniform of an officer, shaking his fist and bellowing a terrible curse.
"Captain Peake — so here you are at last. I had given you up for lost."
Sir John Borlase Warren, the expedition commander, was seated in the day cabin of the flagship Pomone with a white cloth spread over his shoulders whilst his barber, or one of the many servants available to supply that function, applied an even sprinkling of powder to his ample brown locks. Behind him, through the stern windows, Nathan could see one of the three 74s of the squadron and beyond that, several of the fifty transports that made up the bulk of Sir John's command, the steam rising from their decks as the June sun mopped up what remained of the morning mist.
The commodore was in his early forties: keen-eyed and noblebrowed, possessed of a long straight nose, a firm chin and an excellent tailor. He had two claims to distinction, both of which made him an unusual member of the species of naval officer. He possessed a university degree — an MA from Emmanuel College, Cambridge — and he had entered the service as an able seaman. His admirers proposed that, by sheer energy and application, he had succeeded in combining a life upon the lower deck with the life of a Cambridge scholar; his detractors that he had contrived through the influence of friends in high places to have his name entered on the books of HMS Marlborough, then serving as guard ship on the Medway, in order to secure valuable years of sea time without the inconvenience of spending years at sea. He had compounded this crime, in the eyes of these cynics, by entering Parliament, within a year of gaining his degree, as the member for Marlow in Buckinghamshire, a constituency in the gift of his family. And though this imposed even fewer restrictions upon his time than a university education, he had not properly entered the service until the venerable age of twenty-seven. Two years later he had been made post captain of a frigate.
Nathan had reason to acknowledge the value of patronage but he had served as midshipman and lieutenant for ten years before his first command and he was not disposed to admire a man whose ambition had been considerably aided by his political connections.
Just as he resented the implication that he had taken his time getting here.
He felt obliged to point out, with respect, that he had left Portsmouth within a few hours of receiving the order and proceeded as fast as the winds would allow.
"Well, well, you are here now and no harm done," conceded the commodore, "for we have given the French a bloody nose in your absence and have them bottled up in L'Orient."
So Nathan had heard from the commander of a sloop he had encountered off Ushant, though he might possibly have disputed the use of the pronoun "we," had he valued his career less than he did. Warren's convoy had been attacked by the French off the Île de Groix, but the rapid intercession of the Channel Fleet had caused the enemy to run for L'Orient with the loss of three ships of the line.
Nathan said that he was sorry to have missed it. And he meant it. The prize money would have been useful, for his circumstances were unusually straitened.
"Well, it has eased our situation somewhat," agreed Sir John complacently. He considered his appearance in the mirror that was raised for his inspection before dismissing the menial with a languid hand. "And now all that is left for us to do is to put our eager fellows ashore with as much haste as we can muster."
Nathan had seen a selection of these eager fellows lining the rails of the transports on his way from the Unicorn and would not have said they displayed any more signs of haste than the commodore. Though they wore the red coats of British regular infantry, they were French émigrés who had fled to England in the years since the Revolution and were now being sent back courtesy of the British government and at the expense of the British taxpayer, to restore the Bourbons to the throne of France. Judging from the scowls Nathan had observed as he was rowed past them in his barge they were by no means as fervent to accomplish that feat as those who had despatched them hither.
"And what force is at our disposal, sir?" Nathan enquired, "if it is not to betray a confidence."
"Well, it is to be hoped the French remain in ignorance for a while longer but I believe we may share the secret with you, Captain, as you must play your part in ensuring our success. The first contingent consists of above two thousand infantry — but doubtless Mr. Finch will have a more precise figure to hand."
Mr. Finch was the Commodore's political adviser: a man of indeterminate years, but no longer youthful — if indeed he had ever enjoyed that state — with a long, thin face and the sober dress of a clergyman or a banker. Being an appointee of the First Lord of the Treasury, it was probably the latter. Mr. Pitt must have dipped heavily into the public purse to finance the expedition and Mr. Finch was doubtless expected to account for every penny upon his return — and the value derived thereof.
He attached a pair of spectacles to the end of his long, thin nose and began to read from one of the many documents on the table before him: "Four regiments of foot under d'Hervilly, Dudresmay, d'Hector and La Chartre, each comprising between 300 and 340 muskets. Rotalier's artillery regiment comprising 60 guns and 720 men. Some 80 additional officers to command volunteers from the local population. And 50 priests under the Archbishop of Dol."
Sir John noted Nathan's surprise at this latter provision and was moved to explain.
"The local populace having a great respect for their priests, not dissimilar to that of the King's Catholic subjects in Ireland. Despite the efforts of the Republican authorities to persuade them otherwise." His tone remained sardonic. "Doubtless they will perform miracles."
They would have to if such a miserly force were to turn back the tide of Revolution, Nathan thought. Possibly this heresy conveyed itself to Mr. Finch who added: "This being the composition of the first division. The second, of approximately equal number, has been assembled in the Channel Isles and is to join us presently. And of course we anticipate considerable reinforcement from the Royalist rebels currently active in the Vendée."
Warren arched a thin brow in Nathan's direction. "I take it you are familiar with the situation in the Vendée, Captain?"
"I have not made it my particular study," Nathan temporised, carefully.
In fact the present company might have been surprised to know just how much the situation in the Vendée interested him, and why.
"I am sure Mr. Finch will supply any deficiency in that respect," the commodore murmured.
Mr. Finch required no further prompting. "I think it is fair to say that the whole of Brittany and much of the country south to the Gironde is united in its opposition to the current regime in Paris," he announced confidently. "Many have risen in open rebellion, led by their nobles and their priests, calling themselves the Catholic and Royalist Army — otherwise known as the Chouans, a term derived from the French word for the hooting of an owl which they employ as a signal to attack, usually by night."
"I think we may assume that Captain Peake needs no tuition in the French language, whatever his appreciation of the strategic situation," Sir John proposed, "or of the local wildlife."
Despite the flippancy of his tone, Nathan wondered if the remark betrayed a greater insight than he would have thought possible in the circumstances. The only man he had told of his interest in the Vendée was Martin Tully and he was confident he could rely upon his discretion. But there had been the letter to his mother ... Pitt's agents were perfectly capable of intercepting correspondence between private individuals and might, indeed, be expected to do so if it originated in France. Besides, she had been under surveillance for her Republican sympathies since before the war. Could this be why he had been sent to join the expedition, so soon after his return from the West Indies? But for what purpose?
"They are, of course, irregulars," Mr. Finch continued, "but they have enjoyed some success over the National Guard and we hope to increase this by furnishing them with a sufficiency of weapons and equipment. To wit ..."
Excerpted from The Price of Glory by Seth Hunter. Copyright © 2010 Seth Hunter. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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