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Authors: Allan Mallinson

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BOOK: Hervey 09 - Man Of War
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Hervey could now turn with a clearer mind to his own concerns. ‘I saw Sir Francis Evans in the United Service this morning. He said the new commander-in-chief is unhappy with the inquiry.’

‘Well, it vexes Lord Hill, certainly,’ said Howard, pouring them both more tea. ‘Though it’s not a matter of pre-eminent urgency exactly. What to do with the Militia is the question of the moment – and, of course, where to find troops for every scheme the government has dreamed up. That, though, is a good deal less of a business now with the duke in the saddle. No, Lord Hill is of the opinion that the court of inquiry will end up all of a piece with the others we’ve been suffering these several past years, principally that we’re bound to have the radicals calling for even more retrenchment. But that is beside the point. The inquiry’s to take written evidence to begin with and then assemble to decide what they will. Your returning now is most apt: they make a beginning towards the end of May.’

Hervey sighed ruefully. ‘Who is to be president?’

‘It is not yet decided.’

There was just a note of evasion in the reply. Hervey narrowed his eyes and inclined his head.

Howard in turn sighed. ‘See, I may as well tell you as not. Hill wants Sir Peregrine Greville to do it.’


What?

Howard looked distinctly uncomfortable. ‘It is not decided absolutely.’

‘But why Greville? The old fool’s—’

Howard held up a hand. ‘Lord Hill believes that it is Sir Peregrine’s very . . . seclusion in the Channel Islands, his immunity from the condition of affairs here, that makes it apt for him to preside.’

Hervey struggled to suppress his rising panic. His indiscretions so far with Lady Katherine Greville had gone unremarked publicly, but such a state could not survive long once a court of inquiry were convened: every tattler and budding Gillray in London would be peddling the connection. ‘When will it be decided?’

‘Soon, I hope. The War Office has asked for a convening order by the month’s end.’ Howard rose. ‘I know it’s the very devil, but . . . Stay if you will for the moment; I must have words with Lord Hill.’

Hervey tried to compose himself. He exaggerated the danger, no doubt. But try as he might, he could not dismiss the image of exposure – and all that would follow: breaking-off of the engagement, an end to his hopes for command, perhaps even resignation of his commission. In truth, oblivion.

In a minute or so his friend returned. ‘Lord Hill wishes to see you.’

Hervey looked astonished. ‘Wishes to see me?’

‘I told him you were here, and he wishes you to tell him at first hand of the affair with the Zulu.’

Hervey breathed a sigh of profound relief, for he had supposed the worst, that the commander-in-chief wished to interrogate him on the business at Waltham Abbey – and by extension, though it were no logical progression, nor even likely that Lord Hill knew, about his connection with the wife of the Governor of Alderney and Sark.

‘He recalls you very well from Talavera, you know.’ Howard said it in just such a manner as gave away his admiration for a record of service as active as his own had been desk-bound.

‘Upon my word . . . It will not matter that I wear a plain coat?’

‘Not in the least.’ Howard smiled. ‘If you cannot wear scarlet it is infinitely better that you wear plain!’

Hervey rallied. ‘
Nulli secundus
, Howard. Don’t I recall that right?’

‘So say the Coldstream.’

Hervey’s interview with Lord Hill lasted a full half-hour. It was entirely agreeable. The general was not called ‘Daddy’ Hill by the army for nothing, and his appreciation of Hervey’s service that day at Talavera had not diminished with the years. At the close the commander-in-chief said simply that he, Hervey, was not to worry over the business of Waltham Abbey: he felt certain the Sixth had acted with all proper and unavoidable severity. ‘Indeed, I may go as far as to say that as soon as the consequences of
inaction
that night are understood by the more radical sections of parliament and the press your gallant regiment’s standing will be even greater. Make no mistake, though, Hervey: the inquiry’ll be a deuced tiresome thing. There’ll be mischief.’

Afterwards, Hervey took his leave of the Horse Guards without ceremony, conscious that Lord John Howard had pressing business to be about (the sooner the Lisbon five thousand were back on these shores, or at Gibraltar, the sooner, quite evidently, would the new commander-in-chief and the new prime minister be content). The two friends made an appointment to dine at Howard’s club – White’s – later in the week, and Howard assured Hervey that he would send any news of the inquiry to the United Service with the greatest promptness.

Hervey now hurried to Westminster Abbey. He had never been inside before, an admission which Fairbrother had found at once extraordinary and engaging. He wondered if indeed Fairbrother would still be at the abbey, for he had stayed twice as long at the Horse Guards as expected. The abbey had been their rendezvous, however, and it being empty of any other life save a candle trimmer, Hervey found his friend easily enough, by a marble monument to naval prowess, though not to ‘the immortal memory’.

‘Lord Nelson’s was as fine, I trust?’

Fairbrother looked resigned. ‘It is not here, but in the cathedral.’

Hervey frowned. ‘I should have known that. I don’t believe I did.’

‘This one is to Charles Holmes, rear-admiral of the Blue, commander-in-chief Jamaica . . . my father’s godfather. I did not know his memorial was here.’

‘You have more illustrious connections than do I,’ said Hervey, taking a closer look at the inscription. ‘It must give a man a powerful sense of obligation to have such a connection memorialized in the nation’s parish church.’

Fairbrother turned his head to him and smiled ironically. ‘You think me English, do you?’

Hervey pondered on it for a moment. He was not sure
what
he had thought. ‘I believe I do!’

‘Well, I may tell you one thing. I am less drawn to the appellation by monuments such as this, than by those yonder.’ He nodded to a jumble of busts and plaques across the nave. ‘You honour your men of letters as much as your men of war. There’s Chaucer’s grave there, and so many poets as to lift the weariest of spirits.’

‘I shall bear it in mind when next mine are low.’

‘And do recollect, if you will, my friend, that Admiral Holmes may have been my father’s godfather, but my mother’s – if such a thing there had been – was some heathen savage.’

Hervey put his hand on Fairbrother’s shoulder, and smiled warmly. ‘You do not suppose that I think so much of that? And I tell you once more that you quite mistake the matter if you imagine anything but the same of my brother officers at Hounslow.’

Fairbrother looked at him in evident disbelief. ‘Hervey, you astonish me.’

Hervey smiled. ‘Perhaps I do make somewhat light of it . . .’ In truth, he knew that acceptance by one’s fellow officers was a deuced tricky business. There were any number of things to which they might take exception, and which varied between regiments with no very great predictability. He himself, for all his unremarkable complexion, had found it to be so. He could still recollect how disapproving of Jessye, his ‘cob-charger’, his ‘covert-hack’, the mess had been at first; and how his name, because of its presumed connection, had brought him approval in certain quarters, and then, when clerical impoverishment had revealed itself, how that approval quickly disappeared. It had ceased to trouble him, however. Or rather, he had increasingly managed to confine it to a place of isolation. He was determined that his friend should have no fears on that account: ‘Perhaps I am
inclined
to dismiss these things for their unworthiness, but I sincerely trust that I judge it faithfully. You saw how were my troop at the Cape?’

‘I saw, of course.’ Indeed, Fairbrother had seen nothing but to admire. Therein lay the problem, though, for so excellent a body of men and such admirable officers were surely so elevated above what had been his own murky purlieus – the Royal Africans – that he could never hope to be received with more than plain civility.

But Hervey did not catch the nuance. ‘I tell you, you will find my regiment the more intrigued by an acquaintance with Chaucer than with illustrious family monuments.’

Fairbrother shook his head, returning the smile with faux weariness. ‘I do think
you
believe it to be so!’

‘I am certain of it,’ he said, resolute. ‘Now, shall we take a turn about the green lanes? I must tell you of my interview with the commander-in-chief . . .’

They left by way of the Dean’s Yard, and Hervey realized he must be walking the same cobbles as had his old friend Eyre Somervile, as an inky-fingered schoolboy. How perfect a nursery for affairs of state, it appeared to him, for the great enterprise that was India, and for the regulation of a dozen other places about the globe whose allegiance was to the Crown: the school stood in the shadow of the very place of coronation, within sight of parliament, a stone’s throw from the office that controlled the greatest navy the world had seen, and from the headquarters of the army that had done the most to bring about the destruction of the ‘Great Disturber’.

Somervile
: it reminded him – he must present his compliments at the office of the Secretary for War and the Colonies before too long in case there was anything in the lieutenant-governor’s despatch that required, as Somervile himself had said, not elucidation but elaboration. But all that could wait a day or two, probably more, knowing how distracted was that office at present. No, there was indeed a more pressing concern, one which no amount of good-humoured banter with his friend could quite put from his mind. The court of inquiry was no longer a nuisance to him; it threatened his all.

‘Fairbrother, I beg you would forgive me, but something has come up and I must needs attend to it at once.’

‘By all means. It is not serious, I hope. May I be of help?’

Hervey smiled thinly and shook his head. ‘It is something requiring urgent attention, else . . . but no, thank you. I fear it is lonely business. You will be content to see the sights?’

‘I am no more strange to London than were you on first visiting.’

Hervey’s smile grew broader. ‘A very philosophical answer. The generality of advice is, I understand, not to venture the other side of the river on foot, though I think that extreme counsel. I shall be back in time for us to dine together, but if for any reason I am delayed – the streets can become nigh impassable of an early evening – then you must call for dinner yourself. You will be quite at your liberty to do so.’

‘I think I shall first visit with your parliament,’ said Fairbrother brightly.

‘Your parliament too,’ said Hervey, with mock reproach. ‘She is just yonder, as you see. Now, if you will excuse me, I must find a hackney cab.’

It then occurred to him that he would most likely find one outside parliament itself, so they walked there together through St Margaret’s churchyard. No fewer than six cabs were drawn up outside, as well as a good many private carriages. Fairbrother insisted on seeing his friend into one.

Hervey hesitated to give his destination to the driver. ‘Hyde Park,’ he said, sounding uncertain.

‘Which end, sir?’

‘Kensington Palace.’

Fairbrother raised his hat as the cab rolled away.

At Holland Park, Hervey dismissed the cabman for an hour. It was the deucedest expense, engaging a hackney for such a time, but he needed some independent means of getting back to the United Service Club, and he did not suppose that these new-found conveniences ranged very far west of the Piccadilly bar.

A familiar face answered the door. ‘Good afternoon, George,’ said Hervey.

The footman admitted him and showed him into the library. ‘Lady Katherine is engaged at the present, Colonel. Shall I bring you tea, sir?’

Hervey shook his head. ‘No, George, thank you. I fear I have not a great deal of time.’

‘The
Standard
is there at the table, sir, new-arrived.’

Hervey thanked him again, took up the newspaper and sought to divert himself for as long as Kat was engaged.

In the pages of the
Standard
he found much gossip, which might as a rule have served, but in the circumstances it merely aggravated his own misgivings about the inquiry. Only news that the Duke of Wellington was appointing a committee to consider raising a police force for London diverted him sufficiently to have the half-hour pass moderately quickly.

The doors of Kat’s drawing room opened. Hervey heard, and rose unseen. Kat was all smiles, and her caller likewise, an officer in the uniform of the Second Foot Guards, some half-dozen years Hervey’s junior.

Kat now saw him in the library: ‘Matthew!’ She advanced on him unselfconsciously and kissed his cheek. ‘Do you know Captain Darbishire?’

‘I do not.’ He trusted that he hid his wholly unreasonable – indeed, inexplicable – resentment at finding another officer calling.

‘Colonel Hervey,’ said Kat to her caller.

‘Sir!’ Captain Darbishire braced, and bowed.

Hervey returned the bow, but Kat disobliged him from the duty of conversation. ‘Captain Darbishire has brought me an invitation from his general, to attend a ball at Almack’s.’

Hervey nodded. ‘Let me not detain you, Captain Darbishire,’ he said, a shade brusquely.

Captain Darbishire’s confident air was fast changing. He knew very well who was Colonel Hervey: a man who had seen off revolutionaries on a dark night at Waltham Abbey, and who had worsted African warriors on their own ground. He imagined that an aide-de-camp from the London District headquarters would be given no quarter, stuttered his apologies and took his leave.

When he was gone, Kat led Hervey into the drawing room. ‘I am delighted you are come, Matthew. When did you arrive in London?’

‘This morning. I—’

Kat was overjoyed by this evidence of her lover’s eagerness, and when the footman had closed the doors, she embraced him. ‘How long shall you stay?’

BOOK: Hervey 09 - Man Of War
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