Authors: Alexander Kent
The Bolitho Novels by Alexander Kent
The Complete Midshipman Bolitho
Stand Into Danger
In Gallant Company
Sloop of War
To Glory We Steer
Command a King's Ship
Passage to Mutiny
With All Despatch
Form Line of Battle!
Enemy in Sight!
The Flag Captain
The Inshore Squadron
A Tradition of Victory
Success to the Brave
Honour This Day
The Only Victor
Beyond the Reef
The Darkening Sea
For My Country's Freedom
Cross of St George
Sword of Honour
Second to None
Man of War
Heart of Oak
Published by McBooks Press 2011
Copyright Â© 2011 Bolitho Maritime Productions
First published in the United Kingdom by Century, Random House, 2011
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without the written permission of the publisher. Requests for such permissions should be addressed to McBooks Press, Inc., ID Booth Building, 520 North Meadow St., Ithaca, NY 14850.
Cover Painting: Geoffrey Huband
Cover and Text Design: Panda Musgrove
Library of Congress Control Number: 2010917810
The e-book versions of this title have the following ISBNs:
Kindle 978-1-59013-482-5, ePub 978-1-59013-483-2, and PDF 978-1-59013-484-9
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Printed in the United States of America
9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
To my Tiger, with all my love
and with thanks for your love and support.
Was I to die this moment
, âWant of Frigates'
would be found stamped on my heart
Quietly spoken and almost lost in the creak and murmur of shipboard sounds, but Adam Bolitho was instantly awake. If he had managed to sleep at all. A few hours, three at the most since he had slumped into the old chair, to prepare himself and be ready.
The great cabin was still dark but for the same small, shuttered lantern burning.
He looked up into the face above his chair. The white collar patches seemed almost bright against the darkness. The midshipman removed his hand immediately; he must have touched his captain's shoulder.
“The first lieutenant's respects, sir.” He faltered as feet thudded across the deck overhead, slithering to a halt as a voice snapped a warning. Probably some of the newly joined men who had not realised the skylight was directly above this cabin.
He made another attempt. “He sent me, sir. The morning watch is mustered.”
He gazed fixedly at his captain as Adam swung his feet onto the deck and sat upright.
“Thank you.” Now he could see the moisture on the midshipman's coat, reflecting the lantern light. “Still raining?” He had not even pulled off his shoes when he had come down here to be alone with his thoughts. He could feel
moving steadily beneath and around him, still sheltered by the land. Plymouth, but not for much longer.
The thought gave him time. “Have you settled into life aboard yet, Mr. Radcliffe?”
He sensed the boy's surprise that he had remembered his name; he had only joined
a few days ago. His first ship, and such small details mattered. Today of all days.
“Yessir.” The boy was animated now, nodding and smiling. “Mr. Huxley has made things much easier for me.”
Radcliffe was a replacement for Deacon, the senior midshipman, who had left the ship to prepare for the Board, the vital examination which would decide his future, that step from midshipman's berth to wardroom and a career as a King's officer. They all joked about it, and poured scorn on the grim-faced senior captains who usually comprised each Board. But only afterwards. Adam had never forgotten. And neither did any one else, if he had any sense.
They would miss Deacon. Keen and quick-witted, he had been in charge of
âs signals crew, the “eyes” of the ship. Adam remembered him when
had been beginning her approach to Gibraltar, or on their way home from the Mediterranean, and after their savage clash with, and capture of, the renegade frigate
. Men had been killed, others wounded, and the ship still bore the scars and reminders. And he recalled pride, too. On that morning with the Rock looming against a clear, empty sky, Deacon had written down Adam's signal in full before having it run up to the yards.
His Britannic Majesty's Ship Nautilus is rejoining the Fleet. God Save the King
The midshipman was still waiting beside the old bergÃ¨re where Adam was seated, body swaying to
âs movement as another offshore gust hissed against the hull.
“My compliments to Mr. Vincent. I shall be joining him on deck directly.”
Vincent would understand. But when
had first commissioned and Adam had been appointed in command, they had remained strangers until â¦
He heard the screen door close, voices: Midshipman Radcliffe on his way back to the quarterdeck with his captain's message.
Of one company
. This was not the time to think of the missing faces, the dead men and the ones who had been put ashore badly wounded. Some would be over there in Plymouth today, watching and remembering as the anchor broke free of the land.
Even when he thought he was immune to it, the pain could still take him unawares, like a wound. Those seamen might become like the aimless groups that waited on the waterfront at Falmouth, criticising the ships coming and going with the tide, sometimes not a whole man among them.
And in Falmouth when they had moved aside to let him pass with Lowenna.
The captain with his lovely bride, who wanted for nothing
He walked across to his sleeping cabin, which was still closed. It was the morning watch, four o'clock, when most honest folk would be safely tucked up in bed, some recovering from Christmas, or preparing for the new year: 1819. He was still unaccustomed to it, despite having seen it on the official document, with the familiar wording which had left no room for doubt.
Being in all respects ready for sea
â¦ And his signature.
He knew there were many who would envy him today. There were nine hundred captains on the Navy List, some without hope of getting a command. Even here in the naval port of Plymouth there were plenty of empty hulls, whose only destination was the breaker's yard. And it was said that there was not an admiral flying his flag who was under the age of sixty.
The older seamen still yarned about the great sea battles, when there had never been enough ships. At Trafalgar, when “Our Nel” had been only forty-seven years old.
Adam Bolitho was thirty-eight, newly married, and now, after only the briefest time together, he was leaving her again.
His hand was on the cabin door, but he stopped himself from opening it. Her portrait was hanging just beneath the deckhead, where it could be reached easily and stowed away if the ship cleared for action, even if only a drill. Where was she now? Lying in that same bed and waiting for the first hint of dawn, or some movement in the old grey house? Remembering? Accepting, or regretting the inevitable?
The sea is a widow-maker â¦
He swung away from the door, thankful for the sound of voices beyond the screen. The Royal Marine sentry at his post, probably halfasleep on his booted feet, but always ready to challenge or announce any one who might attempt to intrude on the captain's privacy.
Not this time. It was Luke Jago, his coxswain and a law unto himself. And Adam was suddenly grateful.
Mark Vincent was the first lieutenant, and a good one despite their initial differences, and he had to be ready to assume immediate command should death or injury befall his captain. Only a fool would ignore that very real possibility. Adam touched the small desk as he passed, without truly seeing it. In one of its drawers was the broken epaulette which had been severed by a musket ball during the fight with
. It had felt no more dangerous than a hand brushing against his shoulder, or a fragment of falling rope; he had not even noticed it until Jago had told him. A few more inches, and Vincent would have been called to take Adam's place. He would have died like his beloved uncle, Sir Richard Bolitho, who had been marked down by a French sharpshooter during Napoleon's escape from Elba. Almost four years ago, but when you walked the streets or along the waterfront in Falmouth, it could have been yesterday.
Unconsciously Adam had reached up to touch his shoulder, reliving it, remembering Jago's words, the obvious concern.
“Best to keep on the move, Cap'n.” Jago had tried to make light of it. “It's
they're after!” But the familiar wry grin had deserted him.
He wondered what Jago thought about leaving England again, after only a brief respite in harbour while the necessary repairs were carried out. Jago had spent most of his life at sea in one ship or another, and mostly in time of war. For him there was nothing else. He had seen the idlers watching from the jetties, and others pulling past the anchored frigate as if unable to stay away, and had said with feeling, “Better to be stitched up in a hammock right now than end up on the beach like that lot!”
Jago had been there in church as their guest when Lowenna had married his captain, sitting with John Allday and his wife, Unis. There must have been more than a few yarns after the ceremony. And a lot of memories.
“Mornin', Cap'n! Up an' about already, I see!” Jago was putting down a steaming mug and turning up the solitary lantern, apparently indifferent to
âs motion as the deck tilted again. “Wind's steady enoughânor'east. We'll need a few extra hands on the capstan.” He flicked open the razor until the blade caught the light and glanced at the old chair. “Ready when you are, Cap'n.”
He watched as the faded seagoing coat was tossed onto a bench and Adam lay back in “the chair with a frog-sounding name,” as Hugh Morgan, the cabin servant, had been heard to describe it.
So many times
â¦ Jago could shave his captain in a storm without effort, and the razor was very sharp; he always made sure of that. Adam glanced at the stern windows. He must be mistaken, but they seemed paler already.
“âEre we go, sir!” Jago steadied Adam's chin with his thick fingers. He could think of a few throats that wouldn't have risked being in this position. One in particular.
He heard the sound of voices, feet scurrying across the deck: the morning watchkeepers preparing the way for all hands when the moment came.
He dabbed Adam's face with a towel still hot from the galley fire. The first lieutenant was making certain that nothing would go wrong, with every naval telescope trained on
, ready to find fault if there was any misjudgment or error. And this man under the blade would be the target.
The captain was unusually quiet, Jago thought. Getting under way: a thousand things to remember. Maybe you never got used to it. He recalled the lovely woman in the church, the way she and Bolitho had looked together, surrounded by all those people and yet apart. He couldn't imagine what it was like. He thought of the painting in the sleeping cabin behind him. And she had posed for it.
He wiped the blade and grinned. “Close shave, sir.”
Adam stood up and looked at him directly. “Steady as a rock, Luke!”
He heard a muffled clink from the little pantry. So Morgan could not sleep, either.