Alexander Kent

For My Country’s Freedom

(Bolitho – 23)

For Kim With my love.

The World is ours.

Yet, Freedom! yet thy banner, torn but flying,

Still streams like the thunderstorm against the wind.

Childe Harolds Pilgrimage

Lord Byron, 1812

Part 1. 1811

1. Regrets

Lady Catherine Somervell reined in the big mare and patted her neck with a gloved hand.

'Not long now, Tamara. We’ll soon be home.'

Then she sat very still and upright in the saddle, her dark eyes looking out across the sea. It was close to noon on this first day of March 1811, and a strange misty vapour had already covered the track she had taken to visit John Allday and his new wife Unis. She could not believe that they had all been left alone for so long, untroubled by the Admiralty in London. Two and a half months, the longest time she and Richard Bolitho had ever spent together in their own home in Cornwall.

She tossed the fur-lined hood from her head and the damp air brought more colour to her face. When she looked directly south, Rosemullion Head, which guarded the mouth of the Helford River, was also lost in mist, and it was only three miles distant. She was on the upper coastal track, much of the lower one having crumbled into the sea in the January storms.

And yet there were signs of spring. Wagtails darting along the bank of the Helford River in their quaint diving, haphazard flight; jackdaws too, like companionable clerics on the stone walls. The ragged trees that crested the nearest hill were still leafless, their stooping branches shining from a sudden fall of rain. Nevertheless there were tiny brush strokes of yellow to mark the early daffodils that flourished there, despite the salt spray from the Channel and the Western Approaches.

Catherine urged the mare forward again, her mind lingering on the past, clinging to the weeks of freedom they had enjoyed without restraint. After the first embrace, when Bolitho had returned from the Mauritius campaign and the destruction of Baratte’s privateers, she had worried that he might become restless because he was not involved with his ships and men, secretly troubled that the navy for which he had done and given so much was neglecting him.

But the love they had reawakened upon their reunion was stronger than ever, if such things were possible. Walking and riding together in spite of the inclement weather, visiting the families on the estate and, when it could not be avoided, attending more splendid occasions at the grand house of Lewis Roxby Richard’s brother-in-law and aptly nicknamed the King of Cornwall. The celebrations had marked Roxby’s unexpected acquisition of a knighthood. She smiled. There would be no holding him now…

And what of worldly events? She had watched Richard for the usual signs of uneasiness, but there had been none. She thought of the passion and the delicate touches of love they had shared. There was nothing she did not know about her man any more.

And much had changed. Sir Paul Sillitoe’s prediction had come true just a month ago. King George III had been declared insane and separated from all power and authority, and the Prince of Wales had become Regent until the day he would be crowned King. Some people had hinted uncharitably it was because of the Prince Regent’s influence that Roxby had been knighted. Although his new title had supposedly been bestowed in recognition of his patriotic work as a magistrate and as the founder of a local militia at the time of a feared French invasion, some claimed it was because the Regent was also the Duke of Cornwall, and he would be quick to perceive Roxby’s usefulness as an ally.

She looked at the sea, no longer a rival as she had once feared. Her shoulder was still burned from the sun in the longboat after the loss of the Golden Plover on the hundred-mile reef. Could it be two years ago? She had suffered alongside the other survivors. But she and Richard had been together, and had shared it even to the threshold of death.

There was no sun visible in the pale clouds, but the sea managed to hold its reflection, so that the undulating swell appeared to be lit from below as if by a giant lantern.

She had left Richard in the house to complete some letters for the afternoon mail coach that left from the square in Falmouth. She knew that one was for the Admiralty: there were no secrets between them now. She had even explained her own visit to Whitechapel, and the aid she had accepted from Sillitoe.

Bolitho had said quietly, 'I never thought I would trust that man.'

She had held him in her arms in their bed and whispered, 'He helped me when there was no one else. But a rabbit should never turn its back on a fox.'

Of the Admiralty letter he had said only, 'Someone must have read my report on the Mauritius campaign, and the need for more frigates. But I can scarce believe that a wind of change has blown through those dusty corridors!'

Another day he had been standing with her on the headland below Pendennis Castle, his eyes the same colour as the grey waters that moved endlessly, even to the horizon.

She had asked, 'Would you never accept high office at the Admiralty?'

He had turned to look at her, his voice determined and compelling. 'When it is time for me to quit the sea, Kate, it will be time to leave the navy, for good.' He had given his boyish smile, and the lines of strain had vanished. 'Not that they would ask me, of all people.'

She had heard herself say quietly, 'Because of me, because of us-that is the real truth.'

'It is not a price, Kate my darling, but a reward.'

She thought, too, of young Adam Bolitho. His frigate Anemone was lying at Plymouth, in the dockyard after her long voyage from Mauritius by way of the Cape and Gibraltar. She had been so savaged in her final embrace with Baratte’s privateers that her pumps had been worked for every mile she was homeward bound.

Adam was coming to Falmouth today. She heard the clock chime from the church of King Charles the Martyr, where Bolithos had been christened, married and laid to rest for generations. It would be good for Richard to have some time with his nephew. She doubted if he would raise the matter of Valentine Keen’s wife. Confrontation was not the way to deal with it.

She considered Allday when she had called at the little inn at Fallowfield, the Old Hyperion. A local painter had done the inn sign-the old lady down to the last gunport, as Allday had proclaimed proudly after his marriage, the week before Christmas. But his fresh-faced little wife Unis, herself no stranger to the Hyperion, in which her previous husband had died, had confided that Allday was deeply troubled, and fretting that Sir Richard might leave him ashore when he accepted his next appointment.

She had spoken out of great affection for this big shambling sailor, not from jealousy that the navy would come between them. And she had shown pride too, acceptance of the rare bond that held vice-admiral and coxswain firmly together.

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