My visitor today is Jane Charlesworth, who has come from the pages of Rebellious Cargo by Susan Lodge to share three days from her journal, written whilst aboard the naval frigate HMS Serena.
The Aegean Sea. Thursday 19th May 1803.
I felt like one of the cheese barrels when I was taken aboard the naval frigate today. Except that I have the feeling the cheese is viewed by the ship’s captain as a more welcome commodity.
Captain Marston has shown little respect for my profession, my gender or my predicament and has made it clear I am a tiresome interruption to his schedule. His irritation I suspect is partly because my ship had managed to outmanoeuvre his attempts to track me down for the past week. The possibility that I would know these waters better than he is an impossible concept for him to swallow.
The stench and sounds of the ship bring back such horrors from a year ago. However disagreeable this Captain is, I pray he runs a disciplined ship. The last time I was the guest on one of His Majesty’s ships, the weasel in command showed only concern for his position on the admiral’s list, causing him to turn a deaf ear to the conduct of the most prestigious of his company.
Captain Marston has orders to enlist my services and deliver me to Malta. He will not tell me what awaits me there. I had presumed we would be going back to England but he tells me that is not the case.
Damn, Marston! How dare he treat me with such disregard after his orders have come via the Prime Minister himself, demanding my assistance. But why me? I cannot fathom why they had to track me down. Surely they have other code breakers nearer to home who could see to their needs.
I cannot sleep. The nightmares have returned and I lay staring at the ceiling as the ship’s bell rings out every half hour, punctuating the long night.
Friday 20th May 1803
I found a dead rat in my bed – of the furry kind. I know who is to blame.
Juvenile midshipmen like their jokes, tiresome as they are. Cross and Anderson are no more than boys thrown into a man’s world. Their leadership of hardened sailors almost comical to witness. Although, when the French attack, there will be nothing comical about it. Just tears, maimed bodies and talk of honourable conduct.
My cabin is adequate and I take comfort that Celine is installed next door. Thank God, she had the common sense to masquerade as my maid – although the thought makes me smile. As an ex-slave her memories must be stirred by the thought of sailing into the unknown. She is much bolder and far more beautiful than I and does not have the temperament of a servant. I found that out years ago when my father first rescued her from a life of hell. But she is my responsibility and I must keep her safe.
The food is plenty, but challenging at times. I fear my teeth will loosen with the consistency of the beef and the ship’s biscuits. Although the latter, with their unique texture and density, are handy things to tuck away in a reticule thereby turning it into an effective cosh. I swear I may be tempted to land mine quite forcibly over a certain Captain’s head next time he casts that disdainful look my way.
Saturday 21st May 1803
I have just finished decoding a document that the Captain retrieved from a French ship a week before I arrived on board. It has taken me longer than normal. I am out of practice. But the satisfaction of being able to deliver the results to the man who thinks I am such an encumbrance was most gratifying. He was surprised at my success. He finds it hard to believe that my late father, England’s top code breaker, had the temerity to pass on the family skill to a mere daughter.
Now I have a new worry. Celine has encountered trouble, I am sure of it. I have never seen her eyes so cold, her face so haunted, especially when she thinks I am not watching her. She has a secret and I feel saddened and alarmed she has not chosen to share it with me.
The Chaplain has taken a thorough dislike to me. Why? I have no idea. I do my best to keep out of his way, but I will not be cowed by the pompous oaf. God’s representative he might be, but he distributes little comfort to anyone. And he has selected Celine and me for unwarranted and unnatural disfavour. However I have no time to worry about him as I have been summoned to the Captain and from the sound of his voice it is not to discuss the view of the clear night sky.
About Rebellious Cargo
Jane Charlesworth, daughter of England’s foremost code breaker, is the only person thought capable of deciphering a vital government document. But when a naval frigate is sent to enlist her services and transport her to Malta, Jane is horrified. Haunted with terrible memories of an earlier voyage, she has no intention of putting herself under the protection of the Admiralty ever again.
Anxious to be at the forefront of the action as the peace with France crumbles, Adam Marston is livid when his ship is diverted to collect a reluctant blue-stocking whose accusing eyes and insolent manner hold nothing but contempt for him and his orders. Sparks fly when captain and code breaker find they have different ideas on how to handle a French attack, a malicious chaplain, and boisterous midshipmen.
Duty and desire collide as they approach Malta, but Jane is determined that her judgment will not be clouded by Adam who, once he has despatched his Rebellious Cargo, will sail out of her life again. But, as the ship docks, Jane’s life becomes a nightmare and she is forced to gamble that Adam is the only person she can trust.
As passion battles with duty, will future orders throw them together or tear them apart?
About Susan Lodge
Susan was born in England’s West Country and spent her first years amongst strawberry fields, caves and orchards. Leaving home at eighteen she headed for London and embarked on a career in the Civil Service – gaining a Science degree along the way. So what is she doing writing historical romance? It is probably something to do with the ports and cities of the South where she has lived and where you can still feel the echo of the Georgian period.
A short story published in a national magazine was her first success which spurred her on to finish and seek a publisher for her novels.
Susan loves spell checks, piano, swing dance and musical theatre. Her ambition has always been to travel into space, but she needs to write a best seller first to fund the excursion.
Please visit Susan Lodge’s website, where you can find out more about her books.
Other links: Twitter- Susan Lodge @pagehalffull