The Valiant Sailors

The Valiant Sailors

by V. A. Stuart

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781590130391
Publisher: McBooks Press
Publication date: 07/01/2003
Series: Phillip Hazard Novels Series , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

V. A. Stuart wrote several series of military fiction and numerous other novels under various pseudonyms. Her settings span history and the globe, from the Napoleonic wars of Europe to India under the British Raj. Born in 1914, she was in Burma with the British Fourteenth Army, became a lieutenant, and was decorated with the Burma Star and the Pacific Star.

Read an Excerpt

The Valiant Sailors

The Phillip Hazard Novels, No. 1


By V. A. Stuart

McBooks Press, Inc.

Copyright © 1986 V.A. Stuart
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59013-337-8


CHAPTER 1

1


Phillip Horatio Hazard, First Lieutenant of Her Majesty's steam frigate Trojan, was not ill-pleased by the unexpected opportunity to visit London before his ship sailed. He concluded his official business at the Admiralty in time to dine with his parents at their house in Kensington Gore, where his arrival was warmly welcomed. Since he was not required to assume responsibility for the Trojan's two female passengers until noon the following day — when, he had been told, they would meet him at Paddington Station — he was able to spend some pleasant hours in the bosom of his family which he had not anticipated and, in consequence, greatly enjoyed.

After taking affectionate leave of his mother and young sisters, he drove to the station with his father, a retired rearadmiral who, in spite of a heavy cold, insisted on accompanying him thus far on his journey. As their cab clip-clopped its slow way through the crowded streets, the Admiral talked enthusiastically of the impending war with Russia.

"I envy you, Phillip. 'Pon my soul, boy, I wish I were coming with you. Why, I remember in '98 ..." His faded blue eyes were lit by a fugitive gleam of excitement as, for his son's benefit, he recalled some of the epic naval engagements in which, during his long and distinguished career, he had taken part.

Phillip listened dutifully. He had heard most of the stories before and, as a child, had listened to them enthralled, for they had inspired all his boyhood dreams. But he was in the Navy himself now — at twenty-seven a man, not a boy, with nearly fourteen years' seagoing experience behind him — and the oftrepeated tales of past glories had long ago lost their magic for him. He had been stripped of his youthful illusions and, although he would have changed the life he led for no other, he was unable to share his father's unqualified enthusiasm for a war in which, all too soon, he would be actively involved.

He could not regard any war as ... how had the old man put it? As offering a splendid chance of advancement to an ambitious young officer ... he smiled ruefully to himself. Under the command of a man like Thomas North, he would be as well to curb his ambitions, in any case....

The Admiral broke off in mid-sentence. As if guessing the trend of his son's thoughts, he said with an abrupt change of tone, although without apology, "But that's all past history, is it not? We should talk of the future, of your future, Phillip ... because I'm depending on you to acquit yourself well. You have a name to live up to, don't forget. I named you after the greatest naval commander this country ever bred, although your mother, more's the pity, insisted on Phillip as your first name. Phillip, after that uncle of hers, who was a poet ... he shook his head disgustedly.

"Yes sir," Phillip acknowledged, his voice flat.

Ignoring the interruption, his father went on eagerly, "I'd like to hear that you've been given your own command before this war's over ... it would mean a great deal to me. I regard you as my only son, Phillip, you know that, I think. Your brother Graham is lost to us but ..." The stern old face relaxed suddenly in a smile of singular warmth and affection. "You are the source of much pride to me."

"I am glad of that, sir."

"Your own command, Phillip," the Admiral urged. "That is what you must aim for ... your own command. I had mine when I was your age, so it is not too much to expect, is it, with a war to help you?"

"No, perhaps not, Father. Except that I ..." Phillip bit back the words he had intended to say. He wanted to talk to his father about North, to seek his advice, but he knew suddenly that he could not expect the old man to understand, in the circumstances ... to understand or even to sympathise. They were of different generations, he thought regretfully, and they saw everything through different eyes now — the navy, the war, the conduct of his brother Graham, perhaps even life itself. There was a gulf between them, which neither could hope to bridge during the few minutes left to them and this precluded his asking for advice.

"Except that you ... ?" his father prompted. "Except that you what, Phillip?"

"It was nothing, sir, nothing at all," Phillip evaded. "I shall do my best, you may be sure."

To his relief, the cab turned into the station entrance and came to a halt behind a line of other vehicles. A porter opened the door. Phillip hesitated and then alighted, to stand bareheaded in the open doorway, studying his father's lined face and red-rimmed, fever-bright eyes with a pity he was careful not to betray.

"Don't wait, sir," he begged, "because it will not improve that chill of yours if you do. Railway stations are drafty places and my train is not due for another forty minutes, at least."

"And you have these female passengers of yours to meet, have you not ... the mysterious Baroness von Mauthner and her charge?"

Phillip inclined his head. "I was instructed to meet them here, as I told you, and escort them to the ship."

"It's deuced odd, when you come to think about it," Admiral Hazard observed. "Giving passage aboard one of Her Majesty's frigates to two foreign females in time of war ... but I suppose their Lordships know what they're about. You haven't any idea who they are, have you?"

"No, sir, none," Phillip was compelled to admit. "I have been told very little about them. Simply the Baroness's name and that she is elderly and her ward young. It is to be hoped that I shall recognize them, when they arrive."

"Well, I must not keep you from your duty," the Admiral said. He blew his nose with unnecessary violence. "Remember what I've told you, Phillip."

"I won't forget, sir."

"And you'll write ..." The old man was seized with a fit of coughing. He added gruffly, when he could get his breath, "Your mother will be anxious for news of you. Women don't see wars in quite the same light that we do, of course, and they worry. Your mother more than most, I sometimes fancy."

"I shall write as often as I can, Father," Phillip promised, "to you both ..." he had a momentary vision of his mother's small, sweet face and forced a smile. "Goodbye, sir. I'm very glad I was able to see you both again before sailing."

"Yes, I am glad, too. Godspeed, Phillip. Take care of yourself." A thin hand gripped his and then abruptly released it. Phillip nodded to the cab driver, anxious for his father's sake as well as his own, to keep their parting to its usual brief and unemotional level. They were accustomed to partings, after all, and there had been many before this one.

Admiral Hazard, following the family tradition, had sent him to sea as a naval cadet at the age of thirteen and had himself been appointed to his first ship — H.M.S. Captain, 74 — when he was barely eleven but in time, as he had just proudly recalled, to serve under Nelson's command at the Battle of Cape St Vincent. But now he was approaching his 68th year and, with indifferent health, was beginning to show his age, Phillip thought, conscious of an unexpected pang as the cabby, in obedience to his signal, whipped up his horse and the cab started to move away. If the duration of the war with Russia should prove to be longer than the five or six months predicted by the experts, this might well be the last time that they would see each other, he realized. The last time, perhaps, that he would feel that thin old hand clasp his and listen to the rasping injunction to remember that he had a name to live up to ... he smothered a sigh.

"Carry yer bag, sir?" A porter was hovering at his elbow but Phillip shook his head. Reminded of the reason for his presence at the station, he picked up his small grip and went to stand by the entrance to the booking hall, looking about him speculatively. No one even remotely resembling the two ladies he had been commanded to meet appeared, as yet, to have arrived but, consulting his pocket watch he saw that — thanks to his father's passion for punctuality — there was still plenty of time before the departure of the Plymouth train. To make assurance doubly sure, he went on to the platform and, having ascertained that they were not on the train, he left his bag in a vacant first class carriage and returned to his vantage point by the booking office.

He was, as instructed, in uniform and he hoped, on this account, that the ladies he sought would pick him out from the crowd of other travellers and make themselves known to him, should he himself fail to recognize them. He frowned, as two ladies muffled in furs walked past him without any sign of recognition. As he had explained to his father, he had been told very little when he called at the Admiralty. The confidential nature of his mission had been impressed on him and was emphasized by the sealed orders he had been given to deliver to his Captain. These, presumably, concerned the two ladies who were to be the Trojan's passengers but, being sealed, were not for his eyes and he could expect no details, unless Captain North chose to confide in him, which ... Phillip's firm young mouth compressed. Which would not assist him in his present search and was, in any event, unlikely since Captain North had already demonstrated a marked preference for keeping his own counsel.

As his father had observed, the whole affair was more than a little odd, he thought, glancing again at his watch. Ladies, it was true, were not infrequently carried as passengers aboard naval vessels in peacetime, and many captains brought their wives with them when cruising or on being posted to a new station. Often they invited female relatives and friends as guests, on a cruise of short duration — this was one of the privileges of command and was officially permitted by the Board of Admiralty. But at a time like this — when a declaration of war was expected almost hourly and when H.M.S. Trojan was under orders to proceed to the seat of war — the reason for their Lordship's decision to allow two ladies of importance to take passage in her was difficult to imagine.

Indeed, it passed his comprehension. He had welcomed the news no more enthusiastically than Captain North had welcomed it yesterday, when the Admiralty's instructions had reached them ... the only occasion, in fact, when he and his commander had seen completely eye to eye about anything, Phillip reminded himself wryly. Admittedly he had found consolation in the prospect of being able to bid his family farewell, while the Captain had been annoyed at having to dispense with his services for 24 hours but ... he started to pace restlessly up and down, still keeping a watchful eye on the station entrance.

His father had urged him to seek a command of his own, he reflected, and expelled his breath in a deep sigh of frustration. There was nothing he wanted more, heaven knew, but this was the first appointment he had held in his present rank and his chances of a command were slight. He had been gratified when promotion to First Lieutenant of a frigate had been offered him, although it had meant leaving the St Jeanne d'Acre, a 101-gun ship-of-the-line — at this moment on her way to the Baltic with Admiral Napier's Fleet — and her much loved commander, Captain the Honourable Henry Keppel, under whom he had been serving at the time. Now, however ... Phillip permitted himself a tight-lipped smile. Now he regretted the change, although he had not told his father so, and regretted it with increasing bitterness with each passing day.

He had served under Captain North for nearly two months and relations between them were still as strained and unhappy as they had been after the first day, when the newly appointed Captain had arrived on board the Trojan to read his commission to the assembled ship's company. From the outset, they had found themselves opposed, both professionally and personally. No doubt the fault for this was largely his own, Phillip thought, forcing himself to review the situation objectively. He had resented North's appointment to command of the Trojan and, perhaps, had failed to hide his resentment ... but he had reason, surely, to feel resentful?

It had been he, not North, who had put the ship in commission. He had done so, he recalled, when she was lying in an uncovered dock with her masts out and no copper on, her engines being overhauled, her rudder in a shed repairing, and ten foot of water in her hold. Since no captain had then been appointed, it had been left to him to supervise her fitting-out and manning, to wrangle with the foreman shipwright, the dockyard engineers and painters — even to plead with the Admiral-Superintendent, on occasions — so that his ship's needs might be satisfied. He had entered her crew, had stood over the sailmaker and the carpenter and their mates, watching the progress of their work with a critical eye, passing nothing that failed to reach his own exacting standards of perfection.

During those weeks of preparation, while Trojan was masted, rigged, armed, stored, and provisioned, she had been his ship. As he had watched the masts and yards rise and the rigging take shape and listened to the powerful hum of her newly tuned engines, he had come to love her as other men love a woman, with all the pride and the passionate devotion that was in him. He had been fully aware than she was not his ship, of course. He had neither expected nor hoped to be given command of her — a 31-gun frigate was a post-command and he was too junior — but he had hoped that a captain who was worthy of her might be appointed when the time came. A man of the calibre of Henry Keppel, perhaps, and instead ... Phillip's hands clenched convulsively at his sides. Instead, their Lordships had given Trojan to Thomas North.

He frowned, endeavouring to analyse his feelings concerning North, to justify them. It was not only that he disliked the man. Other things being equal, he could have overcome his dislike or, at least, contrived to conceal it, for he was not by nature rebellious or inclined to criticize his superiors. In North's case, however, his feelings went deeper than mere personal dislike — he mistrusted his senior's professional capabilities, his seamanship and judgement, and doubted his fitness for command. Worse still, he could not escape the uneasy conviction that, when the real test came, Thomas North would be found wanting. His fears on this score were probably more instinctive than reasoned but, for all that ... Phillip halted his restless pacing. For all that, they haunted him and he could not erase them from his mind.

The advent of war with Russia had, he knew, made heavy demands on the manpower reserves of the British Navy. Many more ships than were normally required had had to be put into commission and officers and seamen found to man them. Inevitably a number of officers, who had been on half-pay for many years, had received seagoing appointments ... and Captain North was one of these, a man approaching fifty, whose last command had been that of a 6-gun brig on the West Africa Station. His ship had paid off in 1841 and he had been on shore ever since, either not wishing or being unable to obtain another command, while his name rose slowly higher on the Navy List.

He ranked now as a post-captain but he had never before commanded so large a ship or so many men. He had no experience of steam and Trojan was fitted with an auxiliary screw-propeller and engines of 300 horsepower. In addition to her seamen and marines, she carried a full complement of engineers and stokers, of whose particular functions Captain North knew nothing ... and concerning which, on his own admission, he had no desire for enlightenment.

"Engines, Mr Hazard, are auxiliary to sail and, in my view, they always will be," he had stated, his tone dogmatic and brooking no argument. "I shall thank you to remember this, even if you do chance to hold a certificate to prove that you have successfully completed a course of study in the use of steam-power. In my ship the engines will, no doubt, serve their purpose when it is a question of entering or leaving harbour but, at all other times, they will be auxiliary. There is a qualified engineer" — he made the word sound offensive — "in charge of the engines, leave them to him. You will best please me by working up the seamen's divisions to the peak of efficiency I'm accustomed to and am entitled to expect of a smart crew and a competent first lieutenant. I'll tolerate no slackness aloft, Mr Hazard ... no slackness at all!"


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Valiant Sailors by V. A. Stuart. Copyright © 1986 V.A. Stuart. 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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