The latest volume in the popular high-seas nautical adventure series featuring the dashing and debonair naval commander Thomas KyddKydd is offered a new command but that ship is still under construction, so he decides to look up one of his old naval friends and enjoy some of the pleasures of London. This is cut short when he is summoned to Portsmouth to bear witness at the trial of Sir Home Popham for his actions at Cape Town and Buenos Aires. Kydd confides in friends his true feelings about the way his old commander was treated and, when his opinions become public, finds himself in hot water with the Admiralty. Kydd is punished for his indiscretion by being given a different command: a mutiny ship, Tyger, moored at Yarmouth. On board he faces numerous challenges from a hostile and dejected crew, still under a malign influence. It will take all of Kydd's seamanship and leadership in voyages to the far north and in Baltic waters to turn the ship around. The measure of his success is tested in a cataclysmic battle against three Prussian frigates under the French flag.
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A Kydd Sea Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2015 Julian Stockwin
All rights reserved.
L'Aurore was new-moored off the legendary Plymouth Hoe. After so long at sea, and the strangeness and allure of foreign shores, it was gratifying to take in the deep green softness of England.
"Do excuse my not seeing you ashore, Renzi old fellow," Captain Sir Thomas Kydd said, taking his friend's hand warmly. "You know I'm bound to sail back to Cádiz to rejoin the fleet and —"
"Dear chap, allow that I've a modicum of experience in the sea service and do respect your bounden duty. To be borne back to England in your inestimable bark has been more than my deserving."
Kydd's commander-in-chief, Admiral Collingwood, had been generous in allowing the frigate that had rescued this peer of the realm from a Turkish prison to continue on to England. Now they must part — Renzi to his seat in Wiltshire and Kydd to restore HMS L'Aurore to the blockading fleet as soon as possible.
"You'll give my respects to Cec — that is, your noble wife, won't you?" That his young sister had married an earl and was now a countess was still a thing of wonder to Kydd.
"I will. Providing I have your promise that you'll honour us with a visit just as soon as you're able?"
"You may count on it, Nicholas."
He watched his closest friend swing over the bulwarks and, with a last wave, descend into the boat hooked on alongside. He heard his coxswain Poulden's gruff "Bear off — give way together," and saw it stroke smartly off.
It had been this way before: a boat bearing Renzi shorewards after far voyaging, once after the near-mortal illness that had ended his naval career, and again after his high-minded but doomed attempt to start a new life in New South Wales, Kydd himself, as a lowly sloop commander, heading ashore to social ruin after spurning an admiral's daughter for a country girl. But now he and Renzi were immeasurably different creatures.
The first lieutenant broke in on his thoughts with a discreet cough.
"Yes, Mr Curzon?"
"The carpenter asks if he might have a word."
The mild and obliging Legge came forward with a worry frown fixed in place and touched his hat. "Sir Thomas, m' duty, an' I begs to know how long we'm here at all."
"Why do you need to know that, Mr Legge?"
"Me an' m' mates had another look at that garb'd an' I has m' strong doubts about 'un."
"It's druxy timbers, I'd swear on it."
Kydd's expression tightened. This was not good news: the carpenter suspected rot, and in the worst part of the ship — the garboard strake was the range of planks that met the keel, all but impossible to get to from inboard. It was, as well, the natural resting place for bilge water. In those dark and secretive spaces, ill-ventilated and never to be kissed by sunlight, it would be the first to yield to the insidious miasma that would turn to rank decay.
It was said to have been the cause of the loss of Royal George at anchor in Spithead, with the deaths of her admiral and nine hundred souls — the bottom had dropped out of her. And so many other ships had put to sea to disappear for ever, meeting a lonely fate far out on the ocean when rotten timber deep within their bowels had given way under stress of storm.
"Very well, Mr Legge. I'll send for a dockyard survey."
They arrived promptly and disappeared below with their augers and probes but came back up with dismaying haste. The extracted sample told it all: instead of tough, dark timber, this was spongy, white-veined — and spurted foul water when squeezed.
Kydd went cold.
"We recommends you comes in f'r a better look, like," the shipwright surveyor said impassively.
L'Aurore went to the trots in the Hamoaze opposite the dockyard, joining the long line of pensioned-off vessels and others for repair to await her fate.
A frigate, however, was worth every effort to retain for service and no time was lost in bringing out the master shipwright and his team. L'Aurore was heeled and investigated and the contents of her hold discharged into lighters alongside. Then her footwaling, the inside planking, was taken up to expose her innards.
There was no doubt. An area on the starboard side, extending from midships right to her forefoot, was condemned.
"Middling repair, great repair — either way it's a dry docking as will take a lot o' months," the master shipwright pronounced.
Kydd slumped back in despair. It was almost too much to bear — he knew the navy would not allow them to spend the period in idleness. The expense of maintaining a ship and officers all this time was out of the question — and, besides, the country needed every man jack it could find in its desperate grappling with Bonaparte. L'Aurore would be taken out of commission and her ship's company scattered throughout the fleet.
He had to face it, however much it hurt. The beautifully forged weapon that was his crack frigate was now no more. The trust and interdependence that had grown between captain, officers, men and ship, the precious bond stemming from shared danger, adventure and achievements, was broken for ever.
All in a day.
Lieutenant Bowden's features were troubled as he entered the great cabin. "Sir, you've had word?"
"Yes. L'Aurore is for repair. Docking. Months. I rather fear this will mean the end of the commission."
Bowden stepped back as though he had been slapped. "I — I ... Shall you tell ...?"
Kydd nodded gravely. There were formalities: the Admiralty to be informed, and by return, orders for L'Aurore's decommissioning and paying off would arrive. The master attendant would have to consult his docking schedule but soon it would be all over. "Yes, the people have a right to know."
The young lieutenant turned to go.
"Mr Bowden — Charles! Please stay."
It came out before he could stop it. Years ago, as a lieutenant, Kydd had taken him under his wing as a raw midshipman and had seen the lad develop into a man. Bowden had witnessed Kydd's reading in of his commission to his first command and their destinies in the service had interwoven ever since.
"I'd take it kindly should you tarry to raise a glass to L'Aurore."
"That I'll do right gladly, sir, should we drink as well to the Billy Roarers."
A pall hung in the air as the news spread. L'Aurore had been a happy ship and lucky with prizes under the legendary captain they called "Tom Cutlass." She was a barky to boast of in sailors' haunts and wherever seamen gathered to spin yarns about daring and enterprise on the seven seas. From the shores of Africa to South America to the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. The monster guns of the Turks. Trafalgar to empire. Glory and prize-money.
Kydd was determined he would see them right: they would be paid off and no guardo tricks with the pay tickets. It was the least he could do. The men would have one glorious spree and, after it was all spent, return to sea, necessarily to give their allegiance to another ship.
Nevertheless, there were duties that had to be performed before they could be discharged ashore. The first was de-storing: the landing of all the provisions and war impedimenta a frigate needed to sustain herself at sea. All to be noted up in due form — a painstaking task to enable Kydd to clear his accounts with the Admiralty.
Even with the assistance of the ship's clerk and the purser it was going to be a long and arduous job, and the day wore on while all the time unaccustomed jarring and strange thuds told of the dismantling of the life-essence of his lovely frigate.
There were tasks of special poignancy: his duty at the end of a commission was to render to the Admiralty his "Observations of the Qualities of His Majesty's Ship L'Aurore," which detailed her sailing capability. Form questions had to be answered: how many knots does she run under a topsail gale? What is her behaviour in lying to or a-try? In a stiff gale and a head sea?
How much more revealing it would have been to tell of her heroic clawing from the path of a Caribbean hurricane, her exquisite delicacy in light airs so close to the breeze that none could stay with her — that endearing twist and heave in a following wind ...
A subdued Dillon, his confidential secretary, brought the completed copy of the captain's journal for forwarding to the Navy Office.
This was not the ship's log, maintained by the sailing master and replete with plain and practical observations of course and speed, weather and incidents, it was an account of what her captain had done with L'Aurore. In it were such details as the various gun salutes fired and with what justification; reasons for condemning three barrels of salt pork, and why he had authorised the purser to purchase petty victuals, viz, five quintals of green bananas, from a port on the African coast.
The most explicit of all were accounts of the actions L'Aurore had fought. In carefully measured tones the whole course of each engagement was laid down — the signals passed, the exact time of opening fire, the dispositions of the enemy. Its dry recounting would never stir the reader's blood but Kydd would remember every detail to the day he died.
It was all so sudden, and before the shock of the situation had ebbed he found himself sitting down in the gun-room with his officers for the last time. Tried in the fires of tempest and combat, now, through no fault of their own, they were unemployed and on half-pay.
There were more officers in the navy than appointments available and their fate would assuredly be a dreary waiting on the Admiralty for notice and a ship. Even if they were successful, the chances of a frigate berth were scant; more to be expected was to be one of eight lieutenants walking the quarterdeck of a battleship on endless blockade duty.
"Well, at least I'll be able to see through a whole season in Town." Curzon's attempt at breeziness was met with stony looks. With his blue-blooded family he would not want for an easy life, but money could not buy preferment in the sea service.
"And you, Mr Brice?" Kydd prompted his taciturn third lieutenant.
The man flashed him a dark look. "Should I not get a berth quickly I'll sign on with the Baltic trade as a merchant jack out of Hull." He'd joined L'Aurore in somewhat mysterious circumstances and was closemouthed, but with his experience in the North Sea his seamanship was excellent and he was a calm and fearless warrior.
Bowden was next. "And I shall hold myself blessed that I saw service in the sauciest frigate there ever was," he said, adding, with a forced gaiety, "and so will be content with anything after that swims."
The master and gunner were standing officers and would remain with L'Aurore during the repair.
Kydd was unsure of his own future. His whole being demanded he stay by the ship he loved but his fate was in the hands of their lordships of the Admiralty.
The meal passed off miserably. There was no singing or yarns and the toasts were proposed into a funereal silence. Then they left with awkward goodnights.
The next day HMS L'Aurore paid off. The clerk of the cheque arrived on board with an iron-bound chest and the ship's company was mustered by open list in divisions. It was the last time her people would be assembled together and for Kydd, standing to one side, it was an almost unbearably poignant moment.
The ship's clerk called each man's name and rate from the muster roll. The shore clerk sang out his entitlement as he approached the table, cap in hand: the amount was carefully counted into it from the chest and the man returned to his shipmates.
Kydd remained to see every one of L'Aurore's some two hundred-odd men step up and receive their due. Some touched their forehead; others, avid for a spree ashore, hurried off, but he knew each man and could place them with entire trust in any one of a hundred situations, fearful or challenging, dire or victorious.
And now all were lost to him.
In the afternoon the boats started heading ashore, carrying them and their sea-bags filled with treasured possessions — curios from far parts of the world, beautifully worked scrimshaw and tiny model ships. Soon, all over England, there would be delighted reunions: wives, sweethearts and families, children awestruck at the exotic being that was their sailor-father.
Village taverns in the summer evenings would crowd around the homecoming mariner, pots of ale pressed on him, and in return they would be regaled with tales of the high seas and confusion brought to the King's enemies by one who could claim to have sailed under the knighted hero of Curaçao.
Kydd took refuge in his great cabin but some came to pay their respects before they left. He found words for each of them: Poulden, his coxswain, Doud, Stirk, others. Most were tongue-tied, overcome by the final parting, mumbling their farewells and blindly turning away.
And then the ship was empty.
Echoing mess-decks, no watch-on-deck, the helm abandoned. A chill wind, a flurry of rain and endless stippled grey water.
The actual ceremony of decommissioning was a subdued affair. With only the standing officers, a few dockyard workers and his officers witnessing, Kydd's pennant was struck from the main masthead where it had flown night and day since from that time before Trafalgar when it had proudly mounted up. It was solemnly presented to him, and then, in accordance with the immemorial custom of the sea, the ship's cook went aft and lowered the ensign.
It was finished.CHAPTER 2
So kind in you to call, Sir Thomas." The first lord of the Admiralty was in an affable mood and had quickly found time for a now legendary frigate captain. "I heard about L'Aurore. Hard luck, old fellow."
"Thank you, my lord. It will be quite some months, I fear, before L'Aurore is fit for service. We'll know more after she's docked." Mulgrave was a not unsuccessful army general and therefore could not be expected to feel the void in Kydd's soul.
"Yes, yes. I heard you brought back a travelling earl caught up in that business in Constantinople."
"Lord Farndon, sir."
"And jolly grateful he must have been, undoubtedly. Well, now, and you'll be taking some time to be with your family, no doubt. Pray don't neglect us here, Sir Thomas — you are at some eminence in the public eye and the government is always proud to be associated with such a one."
"I will, my lord, although I do feel I should stand by my ship as she repairs."
"Well, yes, we've been giving thought to that. You are, of course, unemployed as of your pennant being struck."
"Yes, sir, but it doesn't signify. I shall wait for L'Aurore to be made good, however long it takes."
"Ah. Don't you consider a trifling twelve-pounder of the breed just a little beneath the notice of a distinguished captain such as yourself?"
"Why, no, my lord. She's tight and true and I'll wait until —"
"Nonsense. The public would never stand for it. There is a better course — I'm appointing you to a brand-new heavy frigate. A thirty-eight no less, and all eighteen-pounders! From the best shipyard in the country, Buckler's Hard, and to the latest design. What do you think of that?"
So there was no waiting for his ship's restoring: now he had lost his dear L'Aurore altogether and another would know her and her sweet ways. "... I thank you, my lord."
Mulgrave's brow creased. "I would have thought such a prospect would bring more joy than you show, Sir Thomas?"
"Oh, I'm deeply honoured, my lord," Kydd said, adding hastily, "I'm merely thinking of the much greater responsibilities a heavy frigate brings."
The frown cleared. "Good. I'm sure you'll be equal to the burden. Then you'll accept?"
"I ... Yes, sir." It felt a betrayal, like casting off an old love to run with a younger.
"Excellent. I shall immediately let it be known in the proper quarters. The broadsheets will love it."
"Sir, what is her name, at all?"
"Name? She has none! Only at the launching, I'm told. I'm sure the Navy Board has a right fearsome-sounding tally to an ocean-bounding beast such as her. Why don't you go down and sight your new command?"
There was a lot to take in. The most immediate was that the ship was still building, and while the launching was set for five weeks hence, with fitting out and trials it could be anything up to half a year or more before he was once again at sea. The pace of his life had, in one stroke, fallen to an amble.
Excerpted from Tyger by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2015 Julian Stockwin. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
To much time is spent on Pophams trial. WAY to much time is spent on the Prussian army. Both of the above cut down on the sea action, which one expects in a Kydd series.
I’ve just finished Tyger and I’m left with mixed emotions. I found this novel to be absolutely satisfying, yet way too brief. I wanted it to last at least another 300 pages so I could savour it for a few more days. Tyger is the best Kydd book in an age. Julian Stockwin’s skill has reached a level of virtual perfection that transcends the Ramage, Bolitho, and Hornblower novels and at least equals those of Jack Aubrey. Julian Stockwin’s plot invention, coupled with the historical and technical accuracy that interlaces the Kydd yarns, makes the read even more enjoyable. The thought that I have to wait almost a year before reading the next Kydd book is daunting.