An Act of Treason
- An Act of Treason
- by Charles Mossop
- Genre Historical Mystery Thriller
- Tags History, mystery, murder, eighteenth century, sailing ships, action, naval warfare, spies, Napoleonic War
- Release January 24, 2014
- Cover Designer Charlotte Volnek
- Words 15717
- Pages 81
- ISBN 978-1-77127-484-5
- Price $3.50
It is 1799, and England is at war with France on land and at sea. Napoleon is laying waste to Europe, and England herself is preparing to repel an invasion. Aboard the frigate HMS Invincible, on blockade duty off Bordeaux in the Bay of Biscay, Admiral Lord Hayward is murdered, and Captain Sir Robert Foster finds himself entangled in a dangerous web of lies, sedition and treachery which threaten England’s very existence. If he cannot find the murderer, the war with France may be lost and Bonaparte crowned king of England. As he fights off attacks by French ships, he must use all his skill in the search for the traitor aboard his ship.
“Signal the flagship, if you please,” said Foster to the signals midshipman. “Ask them what assistance they require.”
The flags soared up the halyard as the signal gun boomed out, and Second Lieutenant Seymour, whose tall frame and fair hair rendered him the antithesis of the swarthy Lieutenant Barwick, relayed an answer to Foster a few minutes later.
“From the flagship, sir,” said he, briefly grasping the brim of his hat with the thumb and index finger of his right hand. “Admiral Hayward’s compliments and he will transfer his flag into Invincible and come aboard at once. Saturn is badly damaged, and he has ordered her back to England.”
“Very well,” Foster answered and turned to the bosun.
“Mr. Keith, speak to my steward and see the stern cabin is made ready for the admiral. Have my dunnage and papers moved to the first lieutenant’s berth. Mr. Barwick will have to share with Mr. Seymour.”
“Aye, sir,” replied Keith, and gave a series of orders to one of his mates.
“Acknowledge the signal,” said Foster. “Tell Saturn we shall stand by.”
With a hasty salute, young Collins, the midshipman of the watch, scurried back to the signal halyards, thumbing through his code book to find the flags required. Watching him, Foster remembered his own days as a midshipman when signaling was a far more complicated matter. Many a midshipman had blessed the name of Admiral Lord Howe for his greatly simplified numerical code introduced throughout the fleet in 1791.
Within the hour, the admiral’s barge, rising and falling on the three-foot swells, came alongside Invincible, whereupon the coxswain hailed up for a bosun’s chair. The tackle was speedily rigged at the main yardarm and the chair lowered.
“Careful now. Gently, damn your eyes,” shouted Seymour, as Admiral Hayward was hoisted into Invincible’s waist and gingerly deposited on deck. His uniform coat was draped over his shoulders, his shirt torn and his left arm supported in a blood-stained sling. Bosun’s pipes sounded boarding honors and the red-coated marine guard presented arms while the white-gloved side-boys saluted. Foster hurried down to the admiral as he was being helped from the chair, accompanied by barely stifled grunts of pain. His face was haggard and deadly pale.
“Upon my word, my lord,” said Foster, “we were not told you were wounded. How do you fare?”
“I’ll survive, I shouldn’t wonder,” said the admiral, a man with a weathered, lined face and a remarkably crooked nose. “Elbow’s smashed to bits. French grapeshot, and on my own damned quarterdeck to boot. The Frogs came at us out of the fog at first light, and were banging away almost before we knew where we were. Played old Harry with us, as you can see. Our surgeon was killed in the same volley that did for me, and so I must request the services of your man.”
“I am grieved to hear of this, my lord,” Foster said, “but you may depend upon it you will be well cared for by our Dr. Joiner. He is a physician, not merely a ship’s surgeon trained up from a surgeon’s mate.”
“I’m obliged, Captain,” said the admiral, after Foster sent for Dr. Joiner, “and lest I forget, allow me to express my thanks to Invincible for decisive and honorable action in face of the enemy. I shall see it is reported.”
“We are grateful to have done our duty, my lord.”
Thomas Joiner, a cadaverous man of four-and-thirty wearing the customary long black coat of a ship’s medical man, appeared from below and hastened towards them, his expression as melancholy as ever. Joiner had always struck Foster as a man who found the world in general a decidedly disagreeable place.
“Is that your physician, Captain?” asked the admiral, placing his right hand on Foster’s shoulder to steady himself. “Looks more like an embalmer.”
“Come along now, my lord,” said Joiner, “that arm will have to come off at once.”
“Of course it will, damm’ee sir,” snapped Admiral Hayward, then turning to Foster, said in a low voice, “Captain, there is a matter of great urgency which I must discuss with you before this dismal-looking fellow has at me.”
“A moment, Dr. Joiner, if you please,” said Foster. “Move back, you men. Give us privacy.”
“Captain,” said Joiner, “with the utmost respect, I must insist the admiral comes at once. I will not answer for his life, else.”
“I fear you’d best go, my lord,” said Foster with a nod. “Your wound is far from slight, and you would be wise to trust the doctor’s counsel. I’m sure the matter can wait for a time. We shall speak as soon as you are able.”
“No, God blast it,” protested the admiral, albeit feebly. “I must—” He swayed and staggered backwards.
“If you please, my lord,” Joiner said. “Take him to the cockpit, you men, ere he dies where he stands.”