Bolitho 21 - Beyond the Reef by Alexander Kent

Bolitho 21 - Beyond the Reef by Alexander Kent

Author:Alexander Kent [Kent, Alexander]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Fiction:Historical
Publisher: Arrow
Published: 2011-06-19T13:01:08+00:00

So many ifs and maybes. Suppose the plan to land on and capture the French islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe misfired? Without overwhelming superiority at sea the scheme would certainly fail. To draw the main enemy force together and engage it in battle was their only sane approach. He kept his face impassive, knowing that Jenour was watching him. Seven sail of the line and one frigate was hardly an overwhelming squadron.

He heard the first lieutenant call, "Permission to carry out punishment, sir? Able Seaman Wiltshire, two dozen lashes."

Keen sounded suddenly dispirited. "Very well, Mr Sedgemore." He looked up at the limply flapping sails and added bitterly, "It seems we have nothing better to do!"

Bolitho turned towards the companion-way. He had seen the expressions on the faces of some of the new hands. Resentful, hostile.

Hardly the faces of men who would rally and fight to the death if so ordered, not by a long stretch of the imagination.

He said, "I'm going aft, Val. Keep me informed."

Keen stood beside Jenour as the ritual of rigging a grating on the larboard side was supervised by the boatswain and his mates.

Jenour said with concern, "Sir Richard seems depressed, sir."

Keen tore his eyes from the boatswain who was examining his red baize bag, in which he kept the cat-o'-nine-tails.

"He frets for his lady, Stephen. And yet the sailor in him craves the solution to his problem of command here." He glanced at the vice-admiral's flag barely moving at the foremast truck. "Sometimes I wonder ..."

He looked round as Sedgemore called, "Pipe the hands, sir?"

Keen acknowledged him curtly, but not before noting the first lieutenant's complete indifference. As one who hungered for promotion, and had already shown his ability under fire, it was surprising he had not become aware of the need to care for the people he might soon have to lead in battle.

The calls shrilled and twittered from deck to deck. "All hands! All hands lay aft to witness punishment!"

As he walked aft to his quarters Bolitho understood the unpleasantness and necessity as if he were Keen. Holding his ship together, administering punishment with the same equality and fairness as he would reward and promote a promising seaman. He found Yovell waiting with a sheaf of papers requiring his signature but said wearily, "Later, my friend. I am at low ebb, and am poor company at the moment."

As the portly secretary left the cabin, Allday entered.

"What about me, Sir Richard?"

Bolitho smiled. "Damn your impertinence! But yes--take a seat and join me in a wet."

Allday grinned, partly reassured. It would all come right in the end. But this time it would take a bit longer.

"That would suit me well, Sir Richard."

The first crack of the lash penetrated the cabin.

Allday pondered. A beautiful woman, his own flag at the fore, a title from the King. The lash cracked down again. But some things never changed. Ozzard padded into view with his tray: a tall glass of hock and a tankard of rum, as usual.

When Bolitho leaned over to take the glass Ozzard saw the locket hanging around his neck.


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