Authors: Richard Woodman
BENEATH THE AURORA
Mariner's Library Fiction Classics
Voyage: A Novel of 1896
The Celtic Ring
The Shadow in the Sands
The Darkening Sea
The Nathaniel Drinkwater Novels
(in chronological order):
An Eye of the Fleet
A King's Cutter
A Brig of War
The Bomb Vessel
In Distant Waters
A Private Revenge
Under False Colours
The Flying Squadron
Beneath the Aurora
The Shadow of the Eagle
This edition published 2001
by Sheridan House Inc.
145 Palisade Street
Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522
Copyright Â© 1995 by Richard Woodman
First published in Great Britain 1995 by
John Murray (Publishers) Ltd
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission in writing of Sheridan House.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Woodman, Richard, 1944-
Beneath the Aurora: a Nathaniel Drinkwater novel/
p.cm. â(Mariner's library fiction classics)
ISBN 1-57409-102-6 (alk. paper)
1. Drinkwater, Nathaniel (Fictitious character)âFiction.
2. Great BritainâHistory, Navalâ19
3. Napoleonic Wars, 1800-1815âFiction.
I. Title. II. Series
PR6073.0618 B46 2001
Printed in the United States of America
ISBNÂ Â Â Â Â 1-57409-102-6
For Rozelle and Dick Raynes
and their ships
âWe may pick up a Marshal or two,
but nothing worth a damn.'
|A Person of Some Importance||September 1813|
Lieutenant Sparkman eased off the second of his mud-spattered boots with a relieved grunt, and kicked it beside its companion. Leaning back in the chair he wriggled his toes, picked up the tankard beside him and gulped the hot rum flip with greedy satisfaction. The heat of the fire drew steam from the neglected boots and a faintly distasteful aroma from his own feet. The woollen stockings were damp, damned near as damp as the Essex salt-marsh alongside which he had ridden that afternoon. Boots were no attire for a sea-officer, he reflected, though he had heard hessians were increasingly fashionable among the young blades that inhabited His Majesty's quarterdecks nowadays. But as an Inspector of Fencibles, Sparkman was no longer what might, with justice, be called a âsea-officer'. His sore arse testified to the time he spent in the saddle and he promptly set the thought aside. He avoided disquieting recollections, having learnt the wisdom of jettisoning them before they took root and corroded a man's good temper.
True he had been disappointed in his expectations in the naval service, but he had little to complain about since swallowing the anchor. After all, the path of duty was not arduous: the Red Lion at Kirby-le-Soken was a comfortable enough house and the landlord a convivial fellow, having once been at sea himself. They would doubtless share a glass or two before the night was out. Sparkman stretched himself again and swallowed more rum; he should reach Harwich before
noon next day, which was time enough; he had no intention of starting early, for the weather had turned foul and there was little improvement expected. He half cocked an ear at the wind blustering against the Red Lion's sturdy walls and the faint rattling of tiles above his head. Periodically the fire sizzled and smoked as, through some vagary of the chimney, a spatter of rain was driven down against the updraught.
He wriggled his toes again, content: in Harwich there was a chambermaid in the Three Cups who was worth the effort, despite the weather, for Annie Davis had taken a shine to him on a previous visit and would share his bed for a florin.
The easterly gale which had begun that morning threatened to blow for a week, a wind which, despite its ferocity, would once have had every Tom, Dick and Harry on the coast fearing invasion. Those days were over, thank heaven. The French were on the defensive now, hard pressed by Great Britain's Continental allies. News had arrived of the check administered by the Emperor Napoleon to Schwarzenburg's Austrians; but the two Prussian armies had achieved success. One under BlÃ¼cher, had surprised Marshal Macdonald on the Katzbach River and had routed him with the loss of 20,000 Frenchmen and over 100 cannon; while the second, commanded by von BÃ¼low, had caught Marshal Oudinot south of Potsdam, and had defeated him at Gross Beeren. Moreover, all the while, knocking at the back door of France Lord Wellington's Anglo-Portuguese army steadily advanced across the Pyrenees out of Spain.
Sparkman yawned and cast a glance at the dank leather satchels hung across the back of the room's other chair, dripping darkly over the floorboards. He thought of the report he should have been writing on the sea defences along the coast of the Wallet. It seemed a rather small and trivial task, set against this vast ebb and flow of soldiers marching and counter-marching across war-weary Europe.
Well, so be it. To the devil with his report! He would write it when he arrived at Harwich, after he had had a look at the redoubt there (and taken his pleasure on the plump but enthusiastic body of Annie Davis). The Martello towers from Point Clear to Clacton were sound enough, even if their
garrisons were tucked up in Weeley barracks, a good hour or two's march from their posts.
âThere's a manned battery at Chevaux-de-Frise Point,' Sparkman muttered to himself, easing his conscience, âand no damned radeaux will put to sea without the free-trade fraternity knowing about it, never mind an invasion fleet.'
The wind boomed in the chimney and rattled the small window, emphasizing the drowsy snugness of his room under the thatch. He recalled an old woman who had passed the time of day with him in a lane that morning. Pointing to the proliferation of wayside berries, she had croaked that it would be a hard winter; perhaps the crone had been right. He continued to toast his feet and look forward to a chat with the landlord, a beef pie and clean sheets all in due time, teasing himself with anticipation at parting Annie's white thighs.
He was dozing when the landlord burst in. An uncivil clatter of boots followed him on the wooden stair. It was clear his host's abrupt entry had precious little social about it.
âMr Sparkman, sir, Cap'n Clarke is here demanding to speak with you.'
For a moment the tired Sparkman was confused, the rum having drugged him. He woke fully to an ill-tempered resentment, irritated that men such as Clarke should call themselves âCaptain'. The upstart was no more than Master of a smuggling lugger.