In the 11th book of this popular series, Napoleon Bonaparte continues planning for the invasion of England as Admiral Horatio Nelson and the Royal Navy patrol the seas, seeking out their elusive enemy. When convoluted political machinations in England lead to the impeachment of the head of the Navy, Commander Thomas Kydd is forced to choose sides. Eager to take on the real enemy, Kydd decides to join Nelson’s squadron just before the Battle of Trafalgar, the greatest sea encounter of all time. Amidst the chaos and bloodshed, Kydd and his shipmates must prove once and for all that the Royal Navy truly rules the seas.
About the Author
Julian Stockwin is a retired 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.
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A Kydd Sea Adventure
By Julian Stockwin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Julian Stockwin
All rights reserved.
At a hesitant knock on the cabin door Thomas Kydd's servant paused in shaving his master.
"Sir — Mr. Hallum's duty an' Ushant is sighted to the nor'east, eight miles," blurted the duty midshipman, a little abashed at seeing his captain under the razor.
"Thank you, Mr. Tawse," Kydd grunted.
Nicholas Renzi looked up from the papers he was working on by the early morning light. He and Kydd were friends of many years. Both had achieved the quarterdeck from before the mast, but while Kydd had gained command of his own ship Renzi now pursued scholarly interests and acted as his clerk. Peering out of the stern windows of the little brig-sloop he said hopefully, "And a fair wind for the Downs — I so yearn for a dish of Mistress Butterworth's haricot of mutton."
Teazer had been taken from her patrol line along the French coast near the invasion ports and sent with dispatches, passengers and mail to the blockading battleships off Brest. A small ship had to expect such lowly employment but on her return, she would have a short spell in Deal, then be back on station, playing her part to thwart Napoleon Bonaparte's plans for the invasion of England.
It was the nightmare that haunted every man, woman and child — that the moat would be crossed and the staunch island nation must then taste the horrors of war. All it needed was for the emperor to wrest control from the Royal Navy for a few tides and, with half a million men under arms and two thousand vessels now in the invasion flotilla, he could flood the country with the armies that had conquered all Europe.
Kydd shifted restlessly. "Thank you, Tysoe. A breakfast when it's ready." The towel was expertly flicked away and he was released to take up his lieutenant's reworked quarters bill. They had lost two men to death and wounding and five to sickness; it had been made very clear that there would be no replacements, for the country had been stripped of trained seamen and Teazer's humble station did not warrant special treatment.
He glanced at the paper irritably. Hallum had no doubt done his best but to rate up the pleasant but diffident Williams to full gun-captain was not the way to fill holes. Even now, after months in Teazer, his first lieutenant seemed not to know the men, their character, their individual strengths and weaknesses.
Kydd circled Bluett's name in the gun-crew and scrawled, "to be GC" then realised that as a sail-trimmer the man could not be expected to absent himself just when his crew would need him. Damn. Very well, he'd make young Rawlings sail-trimmer. Barely more than a ship's boy, he was nevertheless agile and bright — he'd soon learn to swarm up to the tops with the best of them. But would he cope under savage enemy fire?
Imperceptibly the ship's angular rhythm of pitch and roll changed to a smoother rise and fall as she rounded Ushant, the lonely island that marked the northwest extremity of France. Now, with this fair southwesterly, it was a straight run up-Channel for home.
The masthead lookout's hail cut through Kydd's thoughts. "Saaail hoooo! Sail t' the larb'd quarter!"
He snatched up his grego against the autumn chill and joined the group on the quarterdeck. "Mr. Hallum?"
"Two points abaft the beam, sir, and steering towards us."
Kydd nodded: the unknown ship was inward bound from the Atlantic Ocean. A lone merchantman? But every British merchant ship had by law to be a member of a convoy. Then was it a daring Frenchman breaking the blockade? If so, his luck had just run out ...
"I'll take a peep, I believe," he said, and swung easily up into the main-shrouds, mounting to the main-top. His pocket glass steadied on the speck of paleness away to the west. Smallish, but unmistakable with its tell-tale three masts, it was a chasse marée, a lugger, and the favoured vessel of the infamous Brittany privateers.
A smile of satisfaction spread across Kydd's face: he was perfectly placed to crowd the luckless corsair against the unfriendly Cornish coast, and in any chase the rising seas would favour the larger Teazer. He hailed the deck below, ordering the necessary course change to intercept.
Almost certainly the vessel was returning after a voyage of depredation from somewhere like St. Malo, a notorious nest of privateers, but now it had found Teazer athwart its hawse. Suddenly the image foreshortened, then opened up again — it was putting about, back to the open ocean.
It would be to no avail: Teazer held it to advantage and would converge well before it could escape. Kydd descended quickly and stood clear as the guns were cast loose and battle preparations made. The privateer was making a run for it. It was unlikely to take on a full-blooded man-o'-war but it was armed and dangerous with plenty of men so nothing could be left to chance.
The wind was veering and strengthening; there would be reefs in its soaring lugsails soon and, with the quartering fresh breeze as Teazer's best point of sailing, he could rely on an interception before noon.
Within a few hours the sombre dark grey of the English coast lifted into view and they had gained appreciably on the privateer, which would soon be in range. Apart from a far-distant scatter of coastal sail there did not appear to be any other vessels and Kydd would shortly make his move.
"Bolderin' weather," said Purchet, the boatswain, staring gloomily at the approaching change. Curtains of white hung vertically against sullen dark cloud banks. Teazer's open main-deck in a line squall was not best placed for play with the guns; it was a challenge to try to keep the priming powder dry on heaving wet decks while rain hammered down.
The squall accelerated and then it was upon them, a hissing deluge of cold rain that blotted out everything beyond a hundred yards.
Suddenly Kydd snapped, "Three points to starb'd!" The group about the helm looked at him in astonishment but hastily complied.
Teazer swung back before the wind, seeming to have abandoned the chase and wallowing in the temporary calm behind the line squall. But when the rain thinned and cleared, there was the privateer, not half a mile distant — and dead ahead. Kydd had instinctively known that the captain would reverse course in the squall with the intention of slipping past him.
"Quarters, Mr. Hallum," Kydd ordered. "We'll head him, I believe," he added. "And when —"
"Company, I think." Renzi had come up beside him. While others were more interested in the unfolding action ahead, he had spotted a frigate emerging from the drifting curtains of mist a mile or two away in the wind's eye.
"T' blazes with 'im," growled Purchet. Admiralty rules dictated that all on the scene would share equally in any prize-taking, no matter their contribution.
"Don't recognise she," muttered Teazer's coxswain, Poulden, at the wheel, his eyebrows raised.
"Private signal," Kydd ordered Tawse.
Their flags soared up. After a short delay, fluttering colour mounted the frigate's mizzen, with what seemed very like the blue ensign of Admiral Keith's Downs Squadron accompanying it.
"Can't read 'em!" the youngster squeaked, training the signal telescope.
The flags were streaming end on towards them, but who else other than a roaming English frigate would be this side of the Channel?
The privateer had gone about once more in a desperate bid to evade capture but there was no chance for it now with a frigate coming up fast to join the fun. Kydd judged the distance to the privateer by eye and decided to make his lunge.
"A ball under his forefoot when within two cables," he ordered, then glanced at the frigate. If it interfered, disregarding the unwritten rules of prize-taking that as Kydd was first on the scene it was his bird, the commander-in-chief would hear about it. He couldn't recollect ever coming across the vessel but it was not unknown for recent captures to be put into service without delay and this was clearly a frigate with distinct French lines.
The forward six-pounder cracked out: a plume arose not an oar's-length from the privateer's bows and precisely on range. The gunner straightened and glanced back to Teazer's quarterdeck with a smirk of satisfaction. The lugger held on but it would not for long ...
Then, in an instant, all changed. The frigate, now within just a few hundred yards, jerked down her ensign and hoisted another on the opposite halliard. After the barest pause it slewed to a parallel and guns opened up along its entire length, a shocking avalanche of destruction.
Aboard Teazer a man dropped, shrieking in agony and one of the marines fell squealing. Kydd forced his mind into the iron calm of combat. The frigate had not achieved its goal: it had obviously aimed for their rigging, intent on disabling Teazer, so it could then range alongside and accept their surrender under the threat of overwhelming force. But Teazer sailed on obstinately, capable of fighting back, albeit with sails shot through and lines carried away aloft.
Kydd knew it was no dishonour to flee before such odds, and he would have to let the privateer go as his first duty was to preserve his ship. He looked around quickly. The frigate was in a dominating position to weather and he had noted her swift approach before the wind. Was she as fine a sailer close-hauled as Teazer?
"Down helm, as close as she'll lie, Poulden," Kydd cracked out. Teazer surged nobly up to the wind. The frigate, taken by surprise, was forced to conform also. They'd established a precious lead on the larger ship.
It was taking them in a hard beat back out into the Atlantic but it couldn't be helped. Kydd bit his lip. If they were overcome, Napoleon's newspapers would make much of one of Britain's famed men-o'-war humbled, captured in glorious combat on the high seas and paraded into port for all to see, with no account taken of the odds. The frigate's captain would be well rewarded by his new emperor.
The frigate, trailing by barely a couple of hundred yards, had only to make up the distance and the guns would speak once more. At the moment the gap stayed. And the privateer had not fled: it had curved around and was beating resolutely after them. Then Kydd realised they were working together.
Straining every nerve, his little ship thrashed away over the miles, out into the wastes of ocean, in a desperate race for life. Speed was being dissipated with the loss of wind through the rents in the sails but it would be suicide to pause to bend on new.
Slowly the privateer overhauled Teazer and took position on her defenceless quarter, confident she could not break off to deal with it.
Meanwhile Purchet, watching the frigate, said in a low voice, "She's fore-reaching on us." Out in the open seas the broad combers that rode on the lazy swell were meeting Teazer's bow in solid explosions of white, each one a tiny brake on their progress, while the larger frigate was throwing them aside with ease.
Kydd felt the creeping chill of doubt. The privateer was easing closer under their lee, the masses of men it carried clearly visible. It had few guns — but on a slide on its foredeck there was a twelve-pounder, double the size of Teazer's biggest carriage gun. Suddenly this crashed out with a heavy ball low over her quarterdeck. The vicious wind of its passage made Kydd stagger.
It was now deadly serious. With the privateer to leeward and the frigate coming up to windward, they would soon be trapped. Another shot sent powder-smoke up and away to leeward. The ball threw Dowse, the master, to his knees with a cry and smashed the forward davit. Their cutter hung suspended aft, splintering against Teazer's pretty quarter gallery until it fell away.
Kydd saw it was the helm the lugger was aiming at. With that knocked out, the frigate would be up in a trice and it would all be over. But there was a card he could play.
"Ready about!" He was gambling their lives that the brig-rigged Teazer was handier in stays than the three-masted frigate, but if any fumbled his duty ...
The privateer could do nothing to stop them, and the frigate must have thought their motions a bluff for it carried past as Teazer took up on the other tack. There was a price to pay, however — its other broadside thundered out at the sloop's stern-quarters as she made away. Two shot shattered Teazer's ornate windows and erupted through her captain's cabin, slamming down the length of the vessel.
It was a stay of execution. Now on the opposite tack, Teazer was being forced back towards the French coast and would be lucky to weather Ushant. The privateer resumed its station off their ruined quarter and continued its slow but relentless fire as the frigate went about and took up the chase again.
There would not be another chance. They could only hope for the deliverance of a stray warship of the Brest blockading squadron having occasion to go north-about as they had done. Teazer's luck had finally turned and there was every prospect that before the end of the day the tricolour of Napoleon's France would be floating aloft and Kydd's precious fighting sword would be in the proud possession of the unknown frigate captain.
Kydd's eyes stung. Teazer — his first and only command. To be taken from him so cruelly, without warning and on her way home. It was —
A twelve-pounder shot struck an upper dead-eye of the main-shrouds with shocking force, setting the lanyards to a wild unravelling. The heavy rope jerked away, then swung dangerously free to menace the quarterdeck. Poulden gripped the wheel-spokes defiantly — another ball had nearly taken his head off before chunking into the hammocks at the rail and sending them flying to the wind.
With the privateer now redoubling its efforts to destroy the helm, Poulden continued to stand fast, doing his duty. Kydd honoured him for it as he balled his own hands in frustration. Then he decided: there was one last scene to be played. He knew his men were behind him in whatever must be done.
"Mr. Hallum," he said to his lieutenant, in a calm voice, "I'm going to hazard a move at the privateer. If we can put him down, we've a chance — a small one — with the frigate. Post your men quickly now."
The older man's face lengthened. For a moment Kydd felt for him: he should be quietly at home with his grown daughters, not at the extremity of peril out here in the wild ocean. Then he realised that, although the lieutenant had no deep understanding of his men, the stolid and unimaginative officer was determined to do his duty as well in England's time of trial. He added warmly, "Never forget, sir, we've the better ship."
"Ushant again," Renzi murmured. The grey smudge gratifyingly to leeward was token of Teazer's weatherliness, but they dared not ease away south towards the blockade, for the frigate had already shown her qualities before the wind. It was time for the final throw of the dice.
Warned off, the men hauled furiously on the lines as Teazer wheeled on her tormentor, her carronades crashing out — but the privateer was clearly waiting for such a move. Instantly it put down its tiller and bore away, the pert transom offering the smallest of targets.
Kydd saw that the move had failed and, alarmingly, he now felt the weight of the wind more squarely on the battle-damaged fore-topsail. Then it split from top to bottom, each side flapping uselessly.
"Ease sheets," he said dully, conscious of the many pale faces looking aft, waiting to hear their fate. What could he offer them? Surrender tamely? Fight to the last? Think of some ingenious stratagem that would even the odds?
It was no good. The end was inevitable: Why spill his men's blood just to make a point? He raised his eyes to the frigate coming up. It seemed in no rush — but, then, it had all the time in the world to finish them.
Should he haul down their colours before the broadside came? "Mr. Tawse ..." but the order wouldn't come out. The frigate altered course and made to run down on them, the row of black gun muzzles along her side probably the last thing on earth many of his crew would see.
But the cannon remained mute. "Ohé, du bateau!" came a faint hail from the frigate's quarterdeck.
Kydd cupped his hand: "Le navire de sa majesté Teazer."
"À bas le pavillon!" demanded the voice, in hectoring tones — Strike your colours!
Feeling flooded Kydd. This was not how it was going to end with his beloved ship. He would not let the French seize and despoil her. It would be like the violation of a loved one. Fierce anger clamped in.
Excerpted from Victory by Julian Stockwin. Copyright © 2010 Julian Stockwin. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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