Almost a Scandal

Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex Read Free Book Online

Book: Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elizabeth Essex
wary relief spread itself across the boy’s animated face. “Aye, sir. Thank you, Mr. Colyear. But I wasn’t afraid. I like being aloft.” And then, as if he thought he had said too much, the boy ducked his head to hide beneath the brim of his hat. A long sweep of his Kent-red hair escaped his queue to slide down around the curve of his cheek. Kent fished it back over his ear with a quick, economical flick of his fingers.
    The gesture, and the strange grace of the boy’s hands, sent another shot of alarm firing into his gut, demanding attention.
    Damn his eyes. It was only hair, however vibrant a ginger, pulled back in a short queue, much like his own. The other two boys, the scions of Society, had had theirs cut shorter in deference to fashion. But young Kent just looked like a naval man through and through, like his brothers, or like Mr. Horner and Col himself. There was nothing strange about that.
    Yet try as he might, his head could not convince his gut. What was he missing?
    Kent fished the signal flag out of his waistcoat, folded and rolled improbably precisely, and ready to be stowed. “The signal flag, sir.”
    “Thank you, Mr. Kent.” Col acknowledged the task with a nod. “Mr. Horner, you have the deck. When the watch is done, you can show these three”—he cast a look up to include Jellicoe and Worth, still picking their way down—“and make a thorough tour of the lower decks to see that all the lights are put out. Then send them to bed, so they’ll be ready for the sailing master to make a mash out of their brains with the mathematics of navigation in the morning.”
    Col left the quarterdeck to Mr. Horner, and headed down for the sanctuary of his small cabin in the gunroom. All his gut needed was a decent claret to chase away any lingering thoughts of the inconvenient strangeness of Richard Kent.
    “Will you be wanting to set a kedge, sir, before the storm comes?”
    Col was halfway down the quarterdeck ladder when Kent’s words made the hairs at the back of his neck stand to attention. He had turned back, retracing his steps to Kent before he could stop himself.
    “What storm?” Horner was asking, full of a junior officer’s perturbation for a midshipman. “The rain has stopped.”
    Kent said nothing, but Col could see one eyebrow arching up into the brim of his hat. In answer he turned to look over the larboard rail to the southwest, toward the Channel, his nose tipping up to the light breeze.
    Col followed his gaze, but saw nothing particularly ominous. It was as it had been all afternoon—the worst of the rain had passed and the leaden sky was dripping its slow way into evening. But his brain still held the image of the way the lad had put his nose into the breeze above, and Col had shipped with enough Kents to not discount the boy. “What makes you think so, Mr. Kent?”
    The boy winced his eyes closed for the briefest moment at finding Col near. His answer was so reluctant and low Col had to bend his head down to hear it. “I suppose I can smell it, sir.”
    Jack Horner looked to Col. For himself, he could smell nothing out of the ordinary. Audacious smelt of salt and air, and tar and hemp, and the funk of two hundred and sixty-odd men living cheek by ruddy jowl. “And what does a storm smell like, Mr. Kent?”
    The boy’s shoulders shifted in an uncomfortable shrug. “Like storm.”
    Col chose to be patient. He made a simple spinning motion with his finger to draw the response out of the reluctant lad.
    “It smells like heat over cold, or today, like cold over heat. The air, I think, felt colder when I was above and it was moving. Maybe slightly faster, or in a slightly different direction, than below?” He scrunched up his nose. “And it smelled heavy, like…” He tossed up his hands in exasperation. “Like there was a great bloody blow coming out of the western Channel.”
    Kent seemed to think better of continuing, but Col could hear what he reckoned was the ring of truth

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