A Tradition of Victory

A Tradition of Victory by Alexander Kent Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: A Tradition of Victory by Alexander Kent Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alexander Kent
open his signal book with the other hand.
    “She’s Phalarope, thirty-two, Captain Emes, sir!”

    Allday muttered, “Holy God!”
    Bolitho folded his arms and waited for the bows to rise again, the horizon appearing to tilt as if to rid itself of the two converging pyramids of sails.
    Bolitho had known she would come today. Even as Styx ’s people had run to halliards and braces, he had known.
    Neale watched him warily. “What orders, sir?”
    Bolitho turned to see the bright signal flags break from Styx ’s yard. Numbers exchanged, two ships meeting on a pinpoint. To most of the hands it was a welcome diversion, as well as a sight of some additional fire power.
    “Heave to when convenient, if you please. Make to—” his tongue faltered over her name, “to Phalarope that I shall be coming aboard.”
    Neale nodded. “Aye, sir.”
    Bolitho took a telescope from the midshipman of the watch and walked up the deck to the weather side.
    He was conscious of each move and every heartbeat, like an actor about to make an entrance.
    He held his breath and waited for the sea to smooth itself.
    There she was. With her yards already swinging, her topgallants and main-course being manhandled into submission, she was heeling on to a fresh tack. Bolitho moved the glass just a fraction more. Before that bowsprit plunged down again in a welter of flying spindrift he saw that familiar figurehead, the gilded bird riding on a dolphin.
    The same and yet different. He was frowning as he moved the glass again, seeing the insect-like figures on the ratlines and gangways, the blues and whites of the officers aft by the wheel.
    Outdated, that was it. The weak sunlight touched the frigate’s poop, and Bolitho recalled the fineness of her gingerbread, carved by experts in the trade. That had been another war.
    Newer frigates like Styx had fewer embellishments, less dignity,
    honed down to the demands of chase and battle.
    Neale lowered his telescope and said huskily, “Hell’s teeth, sir, it’s like yesterday. Like watching myself.”
    Bolitho looked past him at Allday by the hammock nettings.
    He was opening and closing his large fists, staring at the fast-running frigate until his eyes watered. So that he looked as if he was weeping.
    He made himself raise the telescope once again. She was smart for her age, and was reacting to the sight of a rear-admiral’s flag just as Bolitho had once done when he had taken Phalarope to Antigua.
    Neale called, “Heave to, Mr Pickthorn! Have the gig swayed out.”
    Browne asked, “Will you require me, sir?”
    “If you want to come, please do.” Bolitho saw the uncertainty, the need to understand. He added, “If you can trust your stomach during the crossing.”
    Allday walked to the entry port and waited for the gig to be pulled round to the main-chains. Neale’s own coxswain nodded to Allday and allowed him to take his place at the tiller without comment.
    Bolitho noticed all and none of these things. So it was right through Styx already, probably every vessel under his flag.
    He touched his hat to the officers and marines at the entry port, and to Neale said quietly, “I will renew the acquaintance-ship for all of us.”
    Who did he mean? Allday and Neale, Herrick back in Plymouth, or Ferguson, his steward, who had lost his arm at the Saintes. Or perhaps he was speaking for the others who would never come home.
    Then he was settled in the sternsheets, the oars already thrashing at the tossing water to take the gig clear of the side.
    Allday called, “Give way, all!”

    Bolitho glanced up at him. But Allday kept his eyes fixed on the ship. Perhaps they had both known this would happen, but now that it had, could no longer share it.
    Bolitho unclipped the boat cloak he wore, and threw it clear of the bright gold epaulettes, each with its new silver star.
    It was just another ship in a desperately depleted squadron, and he was their admiral.
    He glanced again at Allday’s rigid shoulders and

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