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Master and Commander Charles Hayden returns in the riveting seafaring adventure by bestselling author S. Thomas Russell.
In 1794, the French Revolution rages, and Charles Hayden sets off aboard the HMS Themis with orders to destroy a French frigate and to gather intelligence from a royalist spy. Upon discovering French plans for an imminent invasion of England, Hayden must return to Portsmouth to raise the alarm before it’s too late.
But the enemy is laying in wait—and so begins a dangerous chase out into the Atlantic and into the clutches of a powerful French squadron. With no chance of fighting their way through, Hayden and his officers are taken prisoner.
Shipwrecked in a storm on the French coast and mistaken for a French sea officer, Hayden must attempt a desperate escape to warn the Lords of the Admiralty. Failure will mean the invasion of England—and the guillotine for Hayden.
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S. Thomas Russell is a lifelong sailor whose passion for the sea inspired Take, Burn or Destroy, A Battle Won, and Under Enemy Colors. He lives on Vancouver Island in Canada.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Also by S. Thomas Russell
An excerpt from Until the Sea Shall Give Up Her Dead
They waited upon the Port Admiral for permission to sail.
Seamen came of age comprehending their dependence upon wind, tide, and weather, and so developed a patience for such natural forces that if not saintly was at least philosophical. Being held in port by human agency, however, as Hayden’s ship was, provoked quite a different response. Mr Barthe stomped about the decks impressing his juniors with his command of the English language, most especially the strain that could not be used in the presence of ladies. The other sea officers were not so vocal but peevish and too easily vexed, which was quickly sensed by the hands, who modified their behaviour accordingly.
It was Hayden’s most urgent desire to get his ship under way on the morrow at first light and be out of Plymouth Sound and into the Channel before the decks were dry. But the forenoon had passed without the awaited permission arriving and now the afternoon was well advanced, the day speeding.
What had the First Secretary said? I want you at sea—and beyond recall—as soon as can be arranged. These words sent a little shiver through Hayden’s entire being. “Beyond recall” were the words he found most ominous. Beyond recall of whom?
If only the Port Admiral would co-operate. The man’s tardiness in granting Hayden’s request to sail was madding if not peculiar. It caused Hayden to wonder if the Port Admiral served the designs of the “enemies” Hayden had been informed he possessed and if that was the reason the man was so dilatory in granting Hayden’s request; orders from Whitehall Street were expected momentarily that would see him removed of his command.
Such were the thoughts that forced their way into a man’s mind after the First Secretary informed him that if he did not accept this command it might never be within the First Secretary’s power to gain him a comparable appointment again. Such words did speak of secret forces working against him . . . did they not?
Hayden, however, was aware that his mind was not performing as it should and might be making much of nothing . . . or not nearly enough of what appeared to be very little. His estrangement from Henrietta had made sleep all but impossible, his stomach approved neither food nor drink, and his thoughts could hardly be turned to the matters at hand. Some part of him hoped he would suddenly be relieved of his command that he might return to London, find Henrietta, and have an explanation with her about the recent false claims of the Bourdages—mother and daughter.
Hayden paced across his cabin, glancing out of the stern gallery windows now and again, across Plymouth Harbour to fields on the eastern shore. The new green of spring grass rippled in the breeze—a fair breeze for Le Havre, to which place Hayden had been ordered to take or destroy a frigate using that harbour as a base from which to harass British shipping.
A knock on his door interrupted Hayden’s thoughts, somewhat to his relief, as they had been tracing this same circle for several hours.
At a word from Hayden, his marine sentry cracked open the door.
“Mr Barthe, sir . . .”
“Send him in.”
The sailing master, all corpulence and jowls a-jiggle, waddled in, ancient hat tucked beneath his arm revealing a head of red and grey—ash and flame.
“Please do not tell me, Mr Barthe, that you have discovered some fatal wound to our rig.”
“Our rigging is all in order, sir, most perfectly so. And our sails are bent and ready to loose, but . . .” The sailing master hesitated.
“Do complete your sentence, Mr Barthe, the suspense is almost more than I can bear.”
Barthe smiled. “If we are not to sail this day, sir, Mrs Barthe and my daughters would like very much to visit the ship. Mr Wickham has kindly arranged a boat to carry them out, sir, if that would be acceptable.”
“Did Mr Archer not inform you that we have yet to complete our powder?”
Barthe was genuinely surprised. “He most certainly did not, sir.”
“For which I have no explanation. The powder hoy is to visit us this very afternoon. I still hope to win our anchor at first light tomorrow and be in the Channel by breakfast.”
Barthe did not hide his disappointment at all well. “Perhaps . . . perhaps Mr Archer did inform me about the powder hoy, sir.”
“Mr Barthe, it is very obvious that you are attempting to conceal Mr Archer’s lapse, but I shall have to have a word with him about it. As to Mrs Barthe and all the Misses Barthe, I am almost as sorry as you that they cannot visit the ship. Please send Mrs Barthe my regrets and explain the reason; I should not want her to feel the least unwelcome.”
“I shall, sir. Thank you, sir.”
Barthe’s ample bottom retreated out of the door. Hayden was sure every man aboard would be very disappointed to learn that Mrs Barthe would not be bringing her handsome daughters for a visit—even Hayden felt a little chagrin.
Allowing the sailing master a moment to make his exit, Hayden then opened the door. “Pass the word for Mr Archer, if you please,” he ordered the marine.
Hayden looked at the mass of paperwork that lay in untidy piles upon his desk. If only his mind would consent to focus on it for more than five minutes before returning to Henrietta and his distressing financial troubles.
A respectful knock on the door announced the arrival of Mr Archer. The lieutenant came striding quickly in.
“I am sorry, sir, it was entirely my failure to inform Mr Barthe. He did not for a moment forget.”
“And it is a very serious failure, Mr Archer. How is Mr Barthe to plan his work without such knowledge?”
“I do not know, sir. I shall not let such a thing happen again.”
“I am quite certain you will not. Fires have been extinguished all about the ship?”
Archer tried not to display offence at this but failed. “All but the lamp in the light room, sir. And I have ordered wet blankets draped about that.”
“Go through the ship and be certain that we have no fires lit, Mr Archer. As to Mr Barthe’s family, or any other visitors to the ship, I should not want to take the chance of blasting them to hell. Would you?”
“No, sir, I would not.”
“Then be about your business, Mr Archer.”
The lieutenant went stiffly out. Although Hayden did not enjoy the role of angry captain, he had come to the belief over the years that the occasional upbraiding kept young officers on their toes and alert to their duties. It had certainly had that effect upon him. Archer’s pride would be stung for a day or two, but Hayden was certain he would get over it and be better for it as well. There was a small part of Hayden that wondered if he was merely being peevish—a result of his own distress and anxiety about his personal and professional life—and this thought was not easily dismissed. He was peevish, he knew; the slightest things sent his choler soaring. But then, Archer’s mistake was fairly grave and could not have been passed over without comment. He bloody well should have informed the sailing master that the powder hoy was expected. What had he been thinking?
“Perhaps he was distracted by his personal life,” Hayden muttered. “As have you been, Captain.”
For a moment he sank down on the bench before the windows, his mind deflecting away from duty of its own volition, and wondered again if his letter would reach Henrietta and if she would read it. His greatest worry was that she might simply burn it or toss it away out of anger with him for what she believed was his betrayal—his reputed marriage to a French émigrée. It was a source of the utmost frustration to him that he could not have a five-minute explanation with her that would clear away all misunderstandings . . . but he had not been able to find her while he was in London and neither Lady Hertle, Henrietta’s aunt, nor Mrs Hertle, her cousin and confidante, would consent to speak with him.
Yet another knock upon his door interrupted this too familiar train of thought.
“Boat alongside with orders from the Port Admiral,” Midshipman Gould reported when the door was opened.
Hayden arose from the constant feeling of enervation and weight bearing down upon him and went quickly up the ladder to the deck, where he found Lieutenant Ransome speaking sharply to an unknown young officer of the same rank.
“The Port Admiral requires your signature, Captain,” he said as Hayden appeared. “Mine, apparently, will not answer.” Ransome, who had been put aboard his ship by no less a personage than Admiral Lord Hood, had the kind of pride that was rather too easily wounded—a trait that Hayden found aggravating in a lieutenant, and especially so today.
Hayden signed the papers without comment, and discovered not just orders from the Port Admiral but a second letter from the Admiralty. He felt a need to sit, suddenly, and retreated below to the privacy of his cabin.
Sinking down into the chair at his desk, Hayden held the two letters a moment wondering which he would open first. A letter from the Admiralty was the more likely to contain bad news.
If only the Port Admiral had given me permission to sail! Hayden thought.
A moment more of wondering, his mind racing, and then Hayden came down on the side of the letter from the Admiralty. It was from Philip Stephens, and in the Secretary’s own hand too. It was prefaced as “Most Secret and Confidential.”
My Dear Captain Hayden;
You are hereby ordered, at the earliest opportunity of wind and weather, to take HMS Themis and proceed off the harbour of Le Havre on the night of April the 12th. At two of the morning of April the 13th, at a distance no greater than one mile due west of the headland, you must show a single light, visible to the shore, for one half of the hour. A small boat shall approach carrying an individual who will identify himself as “Monsieur Benoît.” He will bear information of a sensitive nature essential to the prosecution of the present war. This intelligence must then be conveyed to the Admiralty with all speed and in a manner that will not compromise the identity of its source. If this task conflicts with previous orders given to you by me, meeting Monsieur Benoît and reporting his intelligence to the Admiralty shall take precedence. These orders should not be communicated to your officers until such time as they require the information and certainly not until you are at sea and well out of sight of our shores.
The letter was signed “Philip Stephens, First Secretary.” Hayden laid it down for a moment on his desk and then cursed loud enough for his sentry no doubt to have heard. It was like the Admiralty to give him additional orders that would make the execution of his previous duties difficult if not impossible. He was also frustrated because taking a frigate could mean prize money, which, given his recent reverses, he desperately required. Meeting a spy did nothing but put his ship in danger, given that the spy could very easily be apprehended and questioned before Hayden arrived and the time and place of their rendezvous then be made known to the French authorities.
He cursed again, this time under his breath. Breaking the seal on the second letter, he found his request to sail finally had been granted. Any thoughts that he might be returned to land and the possibility of a rapprochement with Henrietta must be given over. He was for Le Havre and a meeting with the mysterious Monsieur Benoît. He cursed this particular gentleman in French.
A malformed moon drifted above the haze and cast a meagre light upon the deck. Beyond the rail, an inky, restive sea rolled and muttered in its bed.
“It is an unwholesome sea.” The sailing master appeared out of darkness, stomping the few feet to the bulwark where Charles Hayden stood with a night glass tucked into the crook of his arm.
“Unwholesome? Whatever do you mean, Mr Barthe?”
“It seems like a broth left to stand until it has gone thick and chill.” Barthe shivered visibly.
Hayden hid a smile. “I believe you are becoming somewhat of a poet, Mr Barthe. It is just the usual April sea, to my eye. Though the night is too close by half.” He raised his glass and swept it very slowly across sixty degrees of arc, then back again, before returning it to its place of rest.
“Three hours yet, Captain, before we have some light,” Barthe observed, divining what was in his superior’s mind. “Time yet.”
Hayden did not think it was near enough time and wanted to be under sail even as they spoke.
“I would rather see them returned sooner than later,” Hayden replied. “And as for the other matter . . . That man might be in gaol or on his way to the guillotine. I shall not wait past the appointed time.”
A cutter, still painted black from their recent enterprise on the island of Corsica, had set out some hours earlier to enter the French harbour of Le Havre under cover of darkness. Whether the frigate Hayden was to destroy had gone out on the hunt that night, Hayden needed to know. There was no way to intercept it along the British coast, where it stalked its prey under cover of darkness—other than by matchless luck—so Hayden hoped to meet with Monsieur Benoît and then lie in wait for the frigate’s return. If, however, the French ship remained in harbour that night, Hayden did not want to lose the element of surprise by being observed lying in ambush. In that case, Hayden would order the Themis to slip away long before first light to take no chance of being becalmed within plain sight of the French port.
But for now he must meet this damned “Monsieur Benoît,” who, if he had been discovered by the French, could easily give away the time and place of this rendezvous, in which case French ships might keep the appointment instead, which caused Hayden more than a little uneasiness.
“Can you make out the coast, Captain?” the sailing master wondered, his voice suddenly a bit thin. “I fear we are being set to the east. This is no place for a ship on such a dark night. When the Seine fills, upon the rise, the currents can shift inshore, and the duration of high water is often prolonged. I have seen currents set a ship counter to the best pilot’s predictions. It is a damned dangerous situation, and I am not pleased with it.”
“We are of one mind in this, Mr Barthe, but we have no choice in this matter.” Hayden tu...
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Book Description Berkley Books, 2014. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. Master and Commander Charles Hayden returns in the riveting seafaring adventure by bestselling author S. Thomas Russell. In 1794, the French Revolution rages, and Charles Hayden sets off aboard the HMS Themis with orders to destroy a French frigate and to gather intelligence from a royalist spy. Upon discovering French plans for an imminent invasion of England, Hayden must return to Portsmouth to raise the alarm before it s too late. But the enemy is laying in wait--and so begins a dangerous chase out into the Atlantic and into the clutches of a powerful French squadron. With no chance of fighting their way through, Hayden and his officers are taken prisoner. Shipwrecked in a storm on the French coast and mistaken for a French sea officer, Hayden must attempt a desperate escape to warn the Lords of the Admiralty. Failure will mean the invasion of England--and the guillotine for Hayden. Seller Inventory # AAS9780425268537