Victory, p.9

Victory, page 9

 

Victory
 



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  Murray sat back, blinking.

  ‘Oh, I can assure you, sir,’ Renzi went on hastily, ‘that in my many appendices there will be sufficient evidence to persuade even the most doubting.’

  ‘Not a travel book.’

  ‘No, sir – yet of some interest to those who hold Rousseau to be—’

  ‘Let me be frank, Mr Renzi.’

  ‘Of course, sir.’

  ‘I do believe you are more than you seem, sir. I’m a judge of character and in you I perceive one who has seen more of this world than most. Sir, in fine, you have a story to tell. Which is why I do not dismiss you summarily and am prepared to spend time on you.’

  ‘Why, sir, I—’

  ‘Consider. Our readership today values the novel before all else – in the Gothic fancy and tremulous with romance. These do sell in their thousands, and even with the barbarous margins booksellers demand, it affords us a flow of revenue sufficient to fund other authors.

  ‘Your work, however, is of more interest to the scientificals and they will never pay more than a few shillings. Where, then, is the profit to be obtained from a run of just a hundred copies that will cover the printing outgoings?’

  Murray leaned back and fiddled with a quill. ‘There are those who will be published on a subscription basis but this I cannot advise unless your acquaintance with the literati is wider than I suspect it is. Others see salvation in a part-book treatment but this, I fear, is not to be contemplated in your case.’

  He straightened in his chair. ‘Could you conceive perhaps of a reworking, a different standpoint – say, to appeal more to the worthies of self-help and improvement? Or, better yet, a moral tome for children? Or, best of all, a tale of exotics and adventure such that—’

  ‘I really cannot see that this will be possible, sir,’ Renzi said, with a pained expression.

  ‘Then it will be hard to see how you will succeed, Mr Renzi.’ He paused for a moment. ‘Of course, your chief difficulty is that you are as yet unknown to the world. Should your name be more before the public then it would be a different matter. Those in possession of a name may write whatever they will and be assured of an audience.

  ‘I should start by placing one or two modest articles on your interest in the popular magazines – the Agreeable and Instructive Repository comes to mind.’

  Renzi gave a half-smile and stood up. ‘Thank you for your time, Mr Murray, and you have made your position abundantly clear. I shall not trouble you further.’

  Murray offered his hand. ‘I’m desolated to find that I’m unable to offer you any pecuniary encouragement, sir, but urge you not to abandon your endeavours on my account.’

  ‘When the manuscript is finished—’

  ‘Then perhaps we will look at it together. Good day to you, Mr Renzi.’

  Cecilia stopped in the street and turned to Jane Mullins. ‘My dear, as we’re passing by, I think I’ll pop in and see how my brother does. Do run along and take another look at that blue bonnet – I shall join you presently.’

  It had been five days since last she had spoken to Nicholas. Had he news for her? Her heart beat faster as she tapped the door-knocker and waited for Tysoe to answer.

  ‘Good morning, Miss Cecilia. I’m afraid Mr Kydd is not here.’

  ‘Oh – then is Mr Renzi at home, perhaps?’

  ‘Yes, miss. ’

  Renzi was stretched out in an armchair in the drawing room, moodily staring at the fire. He rose guiltily. ‘Why, my dear . . .’

  ‘Jane and I were passing and I just thought that I’d visit to see how Thomas is with his new ship. Have you heard from him at all, Nicholas?’

  ‘Not – not recently.’

  ‘No matter, he’s probably very busy learning all about her. The frigate, that is.’

  ‘Yes, I suppose so.’

  She sat demurely. ‘By the way, Nicholas, have you consulted your publisher yet?’

  ‘I – er, no, not yet.’

  Cecilia held back a wave of frustration. ‘You mean to say you haven’t been able to find an hour or two in all this time to see to your future as a writer? I really find this hard to credit in you, Nicholas.’

  ‘I’ve been, um, busy.’

  ‘This is not the way to see your book finally printed. You must make the effort and see an editor or somebody in charge and find out what has to be done. You promised me!’

  ‘It’s, er . . . I don’t believe I’m quite ready to – to hand over my manuscript as yet.’

  She caught her breath. ‘Mr Renzi, if you find it so very difficult to accept the advice of your friends then there’s nothing more to be said – is there?’ Without waiting for a reply she stood and left the room.

  Out on the street anger took hold. That he had the gall to refuse her perfectly reasonable request – her brother had told her in the strictest secrecy that Renzi had confessed to him an undying love for her, a confidence that she had since kept sacred. Was this, then, the man’s conception of the word?

  She knew, too, from Kydd that it was Renzi’s plan to offer her marriage just as soon as he had in his hands the volumes that would provide him with the income to support a wife. Why then was he hesitating to conclude arrangements? A tear pricked as she hurried along to her rendezvous with Jane.

  Her own feelings for Renzi were unchanged: no more upright and honourable man ever trod the earth and she felt that deep within him passions were held in check only by his formidable logic and moral strength. If they were to be married it would be . . . But he was doing everything to avoid the commitment. What did it mean?

  She blinked furiously. Before too many more years she would cross that awful Rubicon – she would be thirty. How long should she be expected to wait?

  A lump in her throat made her gulp. If she had been honest with herself she should have seen it long ago: Renzi was a born scholar, a gifted savant whose work the world would value. But it was transforming him. Into a hermit, a recluse. He didn’t want to see a publisher because it was part of a world he despised. And history was full of those, like Isaac Newton and others, who had retired into their private world, had never married, never cared for a woman – who were lost to love.

  She had to confront it. He was slipping away from her. No amount of patient waiting would bring him back. These last years had been wasted and if she didn’t do something about it she would end up a sad and lonely figure on the fringe of someone else’s happiness.

  That stark prospect was now no longer a possibility – it was certain. The truth brought tears that could not be held back. She was still a handsome and desirable woman and had every right to look forward to marriage and a settled life, children. And – and with Renzi, this was no longer in prospect.

  She crushed her anguish and dried her eyes. She had to look to the future. Why, there was Captain Pakenham of the 95th – with only a very little encouragement, by this time next year she could be married into one of the foremost families in the north, chatelaine of her own estate and with a husband on an income of fifteen thousands.

  He was twenty years her senior but there were others, too, younger, gayer – she would not lack for laughter and high living and would never have to open her purse with unease again. She must think long and hard about it.

  She stopped. In her distraction she had gone right past the shop. Composing herself, she went back. ‘Jane, my dear. The new bonnet, which then is it to be?’

  The Board of Ordnance official leaned back with a tired expression while Kydd strove to make the master shipwright understand. ‘It won’t fadge, sir! In this age, a twelve-pounder frigate? Why, it’s not to be borne! If there’s an Admiralty order as will make us an eighteen-pounder, you must comply, sir.’

  Hocking sat immovable. ‘The Admiralty may order all it likes, Mr Kydd, an’ it won’t do a ha’porth o’ good. This ship can’t take ’em. I’m telling you an’ I’ll tell their lordships th’ same. I’ve done m’ tests – and there’s two good reasons why, and these I’ll tell ye.’
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  Kydd had seen him and his party with plumb-bobs and cryptic chalk marks deep in the hold while a single eighteen-pounder carriage gun was moved by degrees out from the centreline on the main-deck.

  It seemed that with increased weight high on her decks an entity called the metacentre was being threatened by the upward advance of the centre of gravity, thereby reducing the righting arm available to L’Aurore. In graphic terms Hocking spelled it out: in anything of a blow, as the ship lay over under assault by gale or wave, she would be reluctant to return to the vertical to the extent that her stability would vanish and she could then conceivably capsize.

  When the man quoted the tons-per-inch immersion figure to show that, fully loaded with thirty-two eighteens, her gun-port sill would be barely four feet above the sea it became very clear that L’Aurore would remain a twelve-pounder.

  After they left Kydd was in a foul mood. The loss of the guns was bad enough but when the surgeon, Peyton, reported, he was unprepared to put up with the supercilious young man and his airs. Readily admitting he was only filling in time before a Harley Street practice, the man had the hide to loudly protest the quality of his cabin. Kydd caustically reminded him that virtually all his patients were in somewhat harder living conditions.

  His signature was being constantly required now; the sniffy ship’s clerk, Erasmus Goffin, apparently saw it as his right to interrupt him at will, bearing the duly scratched-at paper back to the purser as though it were a holy relic.

  It was a ray of sunshine when Calloway reported shyly. Kydd gratefully appointed him his keeper, and when two volunteers of the first class appeared he placed them in his charge – one eleven years old, the other twelve. Rated as captain’s servants, they were in effect apprentice midshipmen, gaining sea-time and instruction in the best way possible. The ruddy older one was Potts; the more pale and serious lad was Searle. Kydd reflected that the wide-eyed youngsters were now about to start on a life that, for extremes of squalor and glory, could not be equalled. They would survive or not on their own, with little but their character and courage to help them.

  At last the first batch of seamen arrived. Howlett set up court with a table at the main-mast, dispassionately disposing of their fates in accordance with their declared skills, Goffin duly inscribing beside him.

  Kydd watched from the half-deck. As far as he could see, his first lieutenant was swift, efficient and sound in his judgements, and progress was made. He waited until the process was complete, then walked across.

  ‘How goes it, Mr Howlett?’ he asked pleasantly.

  ‘A bare score or two of volunteers only, sir. The rest mainly the damned quod.’

  The ‘quod’ was those men supplied by law from all the counties of England under the quota system. At best, they were guaranteed to be useless rural labourers and at worst, felons released to make up numbers.

  ‘Any of value, do you think?’ Kydd asked.

  ‘Precious few. We’ve less’n fifty so far and no petty officers as I could see.’ Kydd frowned – quite apart from being under a quarter manned, without a strong backbone of sea-experienced senior hands to train the others, how could they set sail, let alone fight?

  He glanced up. The masts and rigging were full of men working and the shouts and cries of orders and curses sounded along the deck, as ignorant men were driven to menial tasking around the shipwrights, caulkers and artisans of all stripes hastening to finish their last jobs.

  The noise was worse below-decks, the thuds and scrapes magnified and the empty spaces echoing with discordant noises. Kydd needed to think; he told Howlett he would be back and paced off through the dockyard, deep in thought.

  He was being pushed to hurry completion for sea and the ultimate responsibility for manning L’Aurore was his. There were authorities like the Impress Service but they were there only to assist. Attracting more volunteers was down to him. It wouldn’t be difficult to get a press warrant and mount a raid, but in a notoriously man-hungry port like this their haul would be pathetic, of men with a grudge.

  There had been stories told of ships swinging about a buoy for months waiting for men – the thought was too terrible to contemplate. What if—

  Something cut through his dark musings. He had left the dockyard, yearning for the solitude of the open spaces of Southsea Common, but as he went through the gates he heard a man’s voice, a pure, light tenor lifted in song:

  ‘Life is chequer’d – toil and pleasure

  Fill up all the various measure;

  Hark! The crew with sunburnt faces

  Chanting Black-eyed Susan’s graces . . .’

  It was issuing from within the old Admiral Benbow, hard by the dockyard gate. He stopped: he knew the voice and the air. The years fell away in an instant: his time of terror when first climbing aloft, that desperate open-boat voyage in the Caribbean – it had to be . . .

  Without stopping to consider he hurried over and threw open the doors – and saw it was Ned Doud, songster and shipmate from the old ninety-eight-gun Duke William, somewhat aged but still with the same open, laughing face and with his pot of ale as he sang.

  The tavern fell still. Doud tailed off and the resentful eyes of seamen and their women turned Kydd’s way. A full post-captain bursting in on a sailors’ taphouse – what did it mean?

  Kydd hesitated, then took off his gold-laced hat, clapped it under his arm and slowly went over to Doud, who put down his ale warily.

  Conscious of the incomprehension and hostility about him, Kydd allowed a smile to surface. ‘And I see you’re still topping it the songbird, Ned.’

  The man squinted, then started with sudden recognition. ‘Be buggered, an’ it’s our Tom Kydd!’ he blurted, then fell silent, unsure and defensive.

  Kydd grinned and said heartily, ‘Should you want it, there’s a berth in m’ frigate.’

  Confronted with the young seaman of the past now unaccountably garbed in the awful majesty of a senior captain, Doud was speechless.

  ‘Are you free t’ volunteer?’ Kydd asked neutrally.

  ‘I’m quartermaster o’ Naiad,’ Doud answered carefully.

  Kydd felt a pang for the long-ago days in the Caribbean when things had been so carefree and . . . different. ‘We have young Luke Calloway aboard,’ he said.

  ‘Leave ’im be, Cap’n!’ said one of the females, sharply. A hostile murmuring began behind him.

  Kydd decided it was time to go. ‘Then – then I’ll bid you goodbye, and wish you every fair wind.’

  ‘Aye, thank ’ee,’ Doud muttered.

  Kydd got as far as the door before he heard Doud call after him, ‘I’ll come if’n ye can square it wi’ Cap’n Dundas – exchange, or somethin’.’

  Kydd paused. ‘I think it possible.’

  ‘An’ only if I gets to bring off m’ particular friend.’

  More memories.

  ‘Pinto?’ Kydd brought to mind the quick, fiery-eyed Portuguese, deadly with a knife.

  ‘Aye. Quarter gunner.’

  ‘It’ll be done. We’re fitting out. You’re needed aboard just as soon—’

  ‘Aye. We’ll be there – Mr Kydd.’

  It cost him not one but three prime hands to achieve the exchange, and when L’Aurore’s marines reported, there was still only a pitiful number of proper seamen on the books. They had a seasoned sergeant, Dodd, but only a green subaltern as officer, Clinton – no captain of marines over just twenty-eight privates. ‘Is this all?’ Kydd snapped.

  ‘Oh, I rather think it is, Captain,’ Clinton replied uneasily, looking to Dodd for support.

  ‘None more left in barracks f’r sea service, sir,’ the sergeant confirmed.

  ‘Very well. Get ’em kitted and ready for posting immediately.’

  ‘Sah!’

  Ruing that they were sadly under strength as well with the Royals, Kydd turned to go below and saw Renzi standing on the quay, looking up in wonder. ‘Nicholas, ahoy there! Come aboard!’

  Renzi mounted the brow sl
owly, taking in the sweep of the frigate, her teeming decks and bewildered new hands.

  Kydd pumped his hand. ‘Welcome – welcome, m’ dear friend! Let’s below and I’ll tell you how she fares.’

  After Renzi’s warm approbation of Kydd’s apartments, Kydd unburdened himself of his worries. ‘But she’s a prime frigate, Nicholas. We should have no trouble manning her, they hear we’re shortly outward bound.’

  ‘It would seem so, but I would think Portsmouth not your most favoured place. Have you considered the outports – Lymington, for instance?’

  ‘Set up a rondy there?’ A recruiting rendezvous was more usually to be found in the big merchant-shipping ports.

  ‘Why not? Some rousing posters promising adventure and glory pasted up where young lads can see them on the way to their work in the morning . . .’

  ‘Yes! Well said, Nicholas. And, o’ course, you’ll bear a fist in the writing, you being the prime article.’

  A strange look passed over Renzi’s face before he hurriedly went on, ‘Be that as it may, brother. I rather think something like:

  ‘“All true British heart of oak who are able and willing to serve their King and Country, and um –”’

  ‘“– can carry a purse o’ Spanish cobbs a mile,”’ Kydd interjected.

  ‘“Be it known there are only a few berths left aboard the saucy L’Aurore now lying in, er –”’

  ‘“Lying at Spithead under orders from the King,”’ Kydd added stoutly, then muttered, ‘And that a lie – we’ve none yet.’

  ‘“Under the command of the famed Captain Kydd whose prize money from his last voyage –”’

  ‘Belay that, Nicholas, I won’t have it this is a voyage o’ plunder. It’s Boney we’re after.’

  ‘“– whose valour against the foe any stout heart may read for himself in the London Gazette, etc. Do repair to the right Royal Portsmouth rendezvous at the, er, some notorious tavern wherever—”’

 

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