This book finds Thomas Kydd aboard Tenacious, part of a small squadron commanded by Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. Its mission is to scour the Mediterranean and locate Napoleon and his army. Kydd's newly fired ambition leads him to volunteer for shore service in the capture of Minorca. Later, he faces the great ships-of-the-line at the Battle of the Nile as the British take on the French in a no-holds-barred struggle for supremacy in southern waters. But there is one more test to come: the Siege of Acre, where Kydd and a handful of British seamen under the command of Sir Sidney Smith face an army of thirteen thousand!
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A Kydd Sea Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Julian Stockwin
All rights reserved.
Lieutenant Thomas Kydd turned in his chair to Tysoe, his servant. "An' I'll have another soup, if y' please." He smiled at his friend Renzi, and loosened his stock in the warmth of the crowded wardroom of HMS Tenacious. "Thunderin' good prog, Nicholas, d'ye think?"
"Moose muffle," Pringle, captain of marines, called over the hubbub. He inspected the piece of meat he had speared. "Spring moose is better in June, you'll find, once the beast has a mort of fat on him."
The wardroom echoed to gusts of laughter in response to a sally by Captain Houghton at the head of the table — his officers had invited him to dine with them this night. The older of the seamen servants glanced at each other meaningfully. The ship had pulled together in fine style: with officers in harmony so much less was the likelihood of interference in their own community.
Kydd's soup plate was removed. "Ah, I think the baked shad," he said, and turned to Pybus, the surgeon. "Not as I mean t' say I'm wearying of cod, you know."
"That, in Nova Scotia, is a felony, Mr Kydd," Pybus said drily, reaching for the chicken. As usual, he was wearing an old green waistcoat.
Kydd nodded at the servant, and his glass was neatly refilled. He let his eyes wander beyond the colour and chatter of the occasion through the graceful sweep of the stern windows to Halifax harbour, the darkness relieved by scattered golden pinpricks of light from other ships at anchor. Just a year ago he had been under discipline before the mast, accused of treason after the Nore mutiny. He had joined the insurrection in good faith, then been carried along by events that had overwhelmed them all. But for mysterious appeals at the highest level, he should have shared his comrades' fate and been hanged with them; he had never dreamed of elevation to the sanctity of the quarterdeck. Now he had won another great prize: acceptance by the other officers as an equal. Where might it all lead?
"Pray assist me with this Rheingau, Tom," Renzi said, reaching across with a white wine. There was a contentment in him too, Kydd observed. His friend, who had come with him from the lower deck, was now settled at this much more agreeable station, which befitted his high-born background.
"Mr Kydd — your health, sir!" The captain's voice carried down the table.
Kydd lifted his glass with a civil inclination of the head. "Votter santay," he responded gravely.
Houghton had risen above his objections to his fifth lieutenant's humble origins after a social coup had established Kydd's connections with the highest in the land. Unaware of her identity, Kydd had invited Prince Edward's mistress to an official banquet — to the great pleasure of the prince.
"I c'n well recommend th' ruffed grouse, sir," Kydd said. A seaman picked up the dish and carried it to the captain, who acknowledged it graciously.
Tall glasses appeared before each officer, filled with what appeared to be a fine amber fluid. The captain was the first to try. "By George, it's calf's foot jelly!" he said. "Lemon — who's responsible for this perfection?" he demanded of his steward.
"Lady Wentworth's own recipe, sir. She desires to indicate in some measure to His Majesty's Ship Tenacious her sensibility of the honour Lieutenant Kydd bestowed on her by accepting her invitation to the levee."
"I see," said the captain, and flashed a glance at Kydd.
The third lieutenant, Gervase Adams, shifted in his chair. "No disrespect intended, sir, but it gripes me that we wax fat and indolent while our country lies under such grave peril."
Houghton frowned. "Any officer of honour would feel so, Mr Adams, but the safeguarding of trade and securing of naval supplies is of as much consequence to your country as the winning of battles. Pray bear your lot with patience. There may yet be a testing time ahead for us all."
Houghton motioned to his steward and the last dishes were removed, the cloth drawn. Decanters of Marsala and port were placed at the head and foot of the table and passed along, always to the left, as custom dictated. When all glasses had been filled, Houghton nodded almost imperceptibly to Bryant, first lieutenant and president of the mess, who turned to Kydd as the most junior lieutenant present. "Mr Vice — the King."
Kydd lifted his glass and paused for quiet. "Gentlemen, the King."
The words echoed strongly around the table. The simple ceremony of the loyal toast seemed to Kydd to draw together all the threads of his allegiance to king and country, and with others he followed with a sincere "God bless him."
The solemn courtesies complete, other toasts were made: "Foxhunting and Old Port"; "Our brothers at sea"; and the heartfelt "A willing foe and sea room!" Red faces testified to the warmth and the wine, and when the brandy had circulated Houghton called, "Captain Pringle, might we press you to honour us with your flute?"
"Should I be joined by our excellent doctor, I would be glad to, sir."
The marine was a proficient and sensitive player, and a lively violin accompaniment from the normally acerbic Pybus set the mood of the evening. Adams was persuaded to render a creditable "Sweet Lass of Richmond Hill" in his light tenor, and Renzi delivered a reading from his new copy of Lyrical Ballads:
It is the first mild day of March;
Each minute sweeter than before,
The red-breast sings from the tall larch
That stands beside our door.
There is a blessing in the air
Which seems a sense of joy to yield
To the bare trees, and mountains bare,
And grass in the green field ...
Houghton rose to his feet. He raised his glass and said softly, "To Tenacious."
"Tenacious," came the reply, with more than one murmured "Bless her!" There were no ready words to describe the affection that the old 64-gun ship-of-the-line had won in the hearts of her officers, and Kydd felt a lump in his throat. He could see the others were affected, too.
In the quiet, a sudden knock at the wardroom door sounded overly loud. With rainwater streaming from his grego, the duty master's mate awkwardly handed over an oilskin packet. "Cap'n, sir — urgent from Flag."
It was unusual to the point of disquiet that the admiral had seen fit to act immediately instead of waiting for the usual morning postal round, and all craned towards the head of the table.
Houghton scanned the covering letter, then looked up gravely. "Gentlemen, you should be advised that the situation in Europe has intensified. Therefore we are to be recalled from this station to join that of Admiral the Earl St Vincent before Cadíz — we sail with the utmost dispatch."
Taking the deck for his first sea-watch since leaving Halifax, Kydd strode to the ship's side and looked down with satisfaction at the busy wake forming and spreading in a hiss of obedience, slipping astern to join the other side in a lazy track that stretched far into the distance.
He returned to the binnacle: the ship's heading was within a whisker of east by south. His eyes rose to meet a look of reproach from the helmsman and he concealed a smile. He had no right to usurp the quartermaster's responsibility for the course and knew only too well the irritation of a meddlesome officer-of-the-watch.
But these were momentous times. Since Houghton had received his orders from the admiral, he had been unsparing in his drive to get Tenacious to sea. Whatever additional information he was privy to had lined his face and he had issued each officer-of-the-watch stern instructions to clap on every stitch — but woe betide all should it cost even a single spar.
As he paced the quarterdeck, Kydd's thoughts turned briefly to another matter: Gibraltar was less than a day's sail away from Cadíz. It would serve his purpose well if they touched on that fortress port. It would give him great satisfaction to conclude a particular task there. He had decided on it after parting with his uncle in a remote settlement in the Canadian Maritimes.
Kydd stopped to feel the ship's motion. Under all plain sail in the brisk, quartering south-westerly, Tenacious heaved and rose over the long Atlantic rollers in a strong and compelling rhythm, pleasing in its regularity. He sensed the waves meeting her bow and surging aft under the keel, the vessel's slow pitch conforming to its motion. But there was something further — a trifle, perhaps, but out of harmony with the concert of movement.
He glanced across the deck. Captain Houghton was taking the air on the weather side, walking with the first lieutenant. There was a full watch of the hands on deck and others were at work on their part-of-ship. Kydd signalled to the quartermaster that he was going forward, then made his way to the foredeck and stood feeling, sensing.
The bow-wave swashed and hissed below; above him soared the headsails, taut and trim. But there was something. He turned to peer up, above the mighty fore-course, past the tops to the topsail and topgallant. Something was causing a hesitation, a brief interruption in the forward urge of the ship. He moved to one side until he could see the end of the bowsprit spearing into the sky ahead.
It soared and dipped but then Kydd saw what was happening. It was not an up-and-down motion. Instead, it described a circle in the sky, certain indication that the helmsman was having to ease the wheel each time the bows met an oncoming sea. That was it — a griping caused by the ship's tendency to come closer to the wind when her forefoot bit deep into the wave. Kydd was annoyed that the quartermaster had not noticed it: he knew that with every billow Tenacious was losing way through the water — only a tiny amount, but there were countless thousands of waves across the Atlantic.
He turned on his heel and headed back, trying to work out how to resolve the problem. The usual remedy was to move provisions or guns aft, but the ship was fully stored and this would be awkward and dangerous. Also, with but a single frigate nearly out of sight ahead, it would be prudent to leave the guns where they were.
He reached the quarterdeck and Houghton glanced at him curiously. Kydd did not catch his eye as he ordered the mate-of the-watch, "Hands to set sail!" Stuns'ls had been struck earlier in the day and the man looked surprised. He hesitated, then hailed the boatswain.
"Mr Pearce," Kydd told him, "as we're lasking along, wind's fr'm the quarter, I mean t' take in the fore-topmast stays'l and then we'll set the large jib." The boatswain's eyebrows rose, but after only the briefest look in the captain's direction, he drew out his silver call.
Kydd knew it was not a popular order among the men. The large jib would have to be roused out from below and heaved up on deck, the long sausage of canvas needing thirty men at least to grapple with it. And the handing of the fore-topmast staysail, a fore-and-aft sail leading down from aloft, was hard, wet and dangerous, followed by the awkward job of hanking the large jib.
Houghton had stopped pacing and was watching Kydd closely. The master emerged from the cabin spaces to stand with him and the first lieutenant, but Kydd kept his eyes forward as the boatswain set the men about their tasks.
The fo'c'slemen lowered the fore-topmast staysail, the men out on the bowsprit using both hands to fist the unruly canvas as it came down the stay. This was a job for the most experienced seamen in the ship: balancing on a thin footrope, they bellied up to the fat spar and brought in the sail, forming a skin and stuffing in the bulk before passing gaskets round it. All the while the bowsprit reared and fell in the lively seas.
Kydd stayed on the quarterdeck, looking forward and seeing occasional bursts of spray from the bow shoot up from beneath, soaking men and canvas. He felt for them.
At last the jib was bent on and began jerking up, flapping and banging, and the men made their way back inboard. Sheets were tended and the action was complete.
"Mr Kydd, what was your purpose in setting the large jib?" Houghton called.
Kydd crossed the deck and touched his hat. "The ship gripes, sir. I —"
"Surely you would therefore attend to the trim?"
"Sir, we're fully stored, difficult t' work below," he began, recalling his experiences as a quartermaster's mate and the dangers lurking in a dark hold when the ship was working in a seaway. "This way we c'n cure the griping an' get an edge of speed."
Houghton frowned and looked at the master, who nodded. "Ah, I believe Mr Kydd means t' lift the bows — you'll know the heads'ls are lifting sails, an' at this point o' sailing the large jib will do more of a job in this than our stays'l."
"And the speed?" Houghton wanted to know.
But Kydd could already sense the effects: the hesitation was gone and it felt much like a subtle lengthening of stride. He turned to the mate-of-the-watch. "A cast o' the log, if y' please."
It was only half a knot more, but this was the same as subtracting from their voyage the best part of a hundred miles for every week at sea.
Kydd held back a grin. "And if it comes on t' blow, we let fly, sir."
Houghton gave a curt acknowledgement.
"Does seem t' me she's a sea-kindly ship, if y' know what I mean, sir," Kydd dared.
The wardroom was a quite different place from what it had been a day or so before: officers sat at table for dinner together in the usual way, but now they were in sea-faded, comfortable uniform and there was always one absent on watch. And instead of the stillness of harbour repose, there was the soaring, swooping movement of deep ocean that had everyone finding their sea-legs once more.
Fiddles had been fitted round the table — taut cords at the edge to prevent plates tumbling into laps; glasses were never poured more than half full and wetted cloths prevented bottles sliding — all familiar accompaniments to sea service.
The chaplain entered for dinner, passing along hand by hand to steady himself. "Do take a sup of wine," Kydd said solicitously.
"Thank you, perhaps later," Peake murmured, distracted. He reached for the bread-barge, which still contained portions of loaves — soon they would be replaced with hard tack — and selected a crust. "I confess I was ever a martyr to the ocean's billows," he said faintly.
Kydd remembered the times when he had been deprived of Renzi's company while Peake and he had been happily disputing logic, and could not resist saying, "Then is not y'r philosophy comfort enough? Nicholas, conjure some words as will let us see th' right of it."
Renzi winked at him. "Was it not the sainted Traherne who tells us ... let me see ... 'You never enjoy the world aright, till the sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world'?"
Peake lifted dull eyes and said weakly, "I believe the Good Book may be more relied upon in this matter, as you will find in Proverbs, the thirtieth chapter: 'There be three things which are too wonderful for me ... the way of an eagle in the air ... the serpent on a rock — and the way of a ship in the midst of the sea.'"
Bampton's voice cut above the chuckles. "That you can safely leave with us, Mr Peake, but we'll have early need of your services, I fancy." Adams gave the second lieutenant a quizzical look. "You don't really think we'd be cracking on like this unless there's to be some sort of final meeting with the French? It stands to reason," Bampton continued.
The table fell silent: the frantic preparations for sea, the storing of powder and shot, and last-minute fitting and repairs had left little time for the contemplation of larger matters.
Renzi steepled his fingers. "Not necessarily. All we have is rumour and hearsay. We have abandoned the Mediterranean with reason, that we can no longer support a fleet there, and therefore every vessel of ours is undefended prey. In this case we have no means of intelligence to tell us what is happening, hence the wild speculation.
Excerpted from Tenacious by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2005 Julian Stockwin. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I finished reading TENACIOUS and must profess, I believe it to be Stockwin's best effort yet! The action sequences at the Nile are masterful, gripping and told me more about the Battle of the Nile than I ever knew before. I had read many accounts, but never with such clarity, strength and power. The cast of characters in the series grows with each book and Stockwin draws in some of my favorites from history and makes them fit so naturally into the story. Stockwin keeps them accurate to their character and personality. I love the small details that he includes, such as: the sword that Kydd has made and the inclusion of the birds on the engraving of the blade, and also how he came by the gold to purchase it. His opening dinner in Halifax, including some of my own favorite dishes, is a prime example. Stockwin captures all of the confusion, danger and excitement of locating the French fleet in the Med., the storm and the battle to survive it, and repair the fleet all based on actual events, helps build excitement and suspense. I was very surprised with the side adventure to Acre and the seige. Sir Sydney Smith is a character from history, who's real life reads like a Hollywood script, and his inclusion is masterful and works so well. He never really recieved the attention in history or nautical fiction, that he was due. I believe TENACIOUS will be the most successful in the series yet, taking nothing away from KYDD, SEAFLOWER, ARTEMIS, MUTINY or QUARTERDECK......just it's a story very well written and very well told!
Action packed - excellent research