A Tradition of Victory

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

Book: A Tradition of Victory by Alexander Kent Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alexander Kent
knew it was a lie.
    After the creak of oars and the sting of spray it seemed suddenly subdued on the Phalarope ’s deck. Bolitho replaced his hat and nodded briefly to the ship’s marine officer who had arranged his men in two scarlet ranks to receive him.
    “Captain Emes?” Bolitho held out his hand as the slightly built figure stepped forward. He had a swift impression of alert wariness, a youthful face, but with a mouth hardened by the rigours of command.
    Emes said, “I am honoured to receive you aboard, sir.” Again there was a sharpness to his voice, a man on guard, one who had been practising for this very moment. “Although I fear you must know Phalarope better than I do.” A shutter seemed to drop behind his level gaze, as if he had already said too much. He half turned, but although he was about to present his officers, his eyes were elsewhere, seeking flaws to the pattern, anything which might make a poor showing.
    Bolitho could well understand any captain being eager to make a good impression on his new flag-officer, the man who could fulfil or shatter his hopes for any kind of future. But he had gleaned enough about Emes to doubt if that was the full story.
    A post-captain at twenty-nine was a record to be proud of, and should have given him a confidence to go with it.
    Emes said crisply, “My senior you will also know better
    than I, sir.” Emes stood aside as if to watch for reactions.
    Bolitho exclaimed, “Adam! Of all things!”
    Lieutenant Adam Pascoe, looking even younger than his twenty-one years, was both relieved and pleased.
    “I—I am sorry, Unc—” he flushed, “sir, I had no way of letting you know. The appointment came without warning and I had to leave for Ireland by the first packet.”
    They examined each other, more like brothers than uncle and nephew.
    Pascoe added uncertainly, “When I heard what my appointment was to be, I am afraid I thought of little else.”
    Bolitho moved on and shook hands with the second and third lieutenants, the sailing-master, ship’s surgeon, and the captain of marines. Beyond them, the midshipmen and other warrant officers were backed by crowds of curious seamen, who were too surprised at this unexpected visit on their first commission to be aware of the more personal emotions by the entry port.
    Bolitho looked slowly along the gun-deck, at the neatly flaked lines and taut rigging. He could even remember the way she had felt that first time when he had stepped aboard.
    He cleared his throat. “Dismiss the hands, Captain Emes, and take station to windward of Styx. ” He did not see the astonishment in Emes’s eyes. “Allday, send back the gig.” He hesitated.
    “You remain with me.”
    The mass of seamen and marines broke into orderly confusion as the call to get under way was piped around the deck.
    Within fifteen minutes Emes had reset the courses and topgallants, and although some of the hands were slow and even clumsy as they ran to obey his commands, it was obvious they had been training hard since leaving harbour.
    Browne said, “Fine ship, sir.” He looked around at the bustling figures, the stamp of bare feet as the seamen hauled hard on the braces.

    Bolitho walked along the weather gangway, oblivious to the darting glances from the seamen and Emes’s shadow behind him.
    He stopped suddenly and pointed below the opposite gangway. No wonder she had seemed changed. Instead of her original nal lines of twelve-pounders, each gunport was filled by a blunt-muzzled carronade. The carronade, or “smasher” as it was respect-fully termed by the sailors, was carried in almost every man-of-war.
    Normally mounted on either bow, it could throw an enormous ball which burst on impact and discharged a murderous hail of grape through an enemy’s unprotected stern with horrifying effect.
    But as a ship’s armament, never. It had been tried experimentally some years back in another frigate, the Rainbow, but had proved unsuccessful and not a

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