To top
15 Jan

Chapter XXIII

I was reasonably twisted on the laudanum I had packed in case of seasickness, washed down with gin and water, when a relentless hammering on the door of my cabin recalled me from the depths. It was McIntyre, bearing an enamel mug of steaming black coffee and a request from Captain Lakeman to join him for a conference in Major Seton’s private quarters in fifteen minutes. I accepted the coffee with bleary-eyed thanks. Lakeman had obviously got...
Continue reading
2 Oct

Chapter XXII

I searched for my family for months, but found not a trace. I had Grove hire agents to investigate; that, too, was all to no good purpose. Even in those days it was estimated that there were already almost two million people living in London, and anyone not wishing to be found could effortlessly disappear into the labyrinth, as Freddie had done, evidently dragging my family along with him into the shadows. When I returned my attention to...
Continue reading
4 Sep

Chapter XXI

Making life on the ship a deal more complicated than it had been, women and children had now boarded. The presence of more civilians at least made my position more tenable and less isolated, but the young families in particular made my heart ache for my own. I had managed thus far to not dwell upon this lack by immersing myself in the company of military men by day, while tapping the admiral and then writing at...
Continue reading
14 Aug

Chapter XX

Dickens had not changed much. In common with MacBeth he was possessed of a vaulting ambition, and although by nature still taciturn, he remained remarkably confident in his own talent. I envied his self-assurance. However well I was doing, I never felt the like, and was confident only in the coming of the next personal catastrophe. I learned later that he was not so different regarding many areas of his life, only he hid it better than...
Continue reading
7 Aug

Chapter XIX

Britannia
It was decided that Spike Island, a fortified islet within the lower harbour of some hundred acres and, according to our political masters, of great strategic significance, would serve Lakeman and Granger as a most efficacious pitch for a war game. Fort Westmoreland, a star fort built in the previous century, provided a square, while the beaches of the small, green skerry might be assaulted and defended. The location was also far enough away from the town...
Continue reading
31 Jul

Chapter XVIII

Already being in possession of a husband and a good fortune, and what with the fashionable summer season drawing to a close, Mrs. Garwood decided that what she was most in want of was culture, in the form of a personal tutor, an expert, she said, in literary history and composition, someone, in fact, very much like me. Now, never let it be said that I do not know an invitation when I hear one. Her husband...
Continue reading
24 Jul

Chapter XVII

Money
In the long summer of 1834, I became the success story of the season, at least in literary terms, leaving poor old Ainsworth behind in the end, for his family soon spoiled his fun. But I was yet young, and unblessed by either wife or children as far as I knew. I would like to claim that it was the quality of my work that caused my star to rise so far and so fast, but the...
Continue reading
17 Jul

Chapter XVI

Parade
BOOK TWO THE DEATH HUNTER After a couple of days spent rattling around a relatively empty vessel while she chugged around the Western Approaches, the Birkenhead docked off Queenstown in the precincts of Cork Harbour on the fifth of January. It was a miserable morning; wet, and as hard and cold as flint, while the terraces of ugly slated houses in view beyond the quay stuck out like rows of monstrous teeth. I felt equally wretched, and I thus...
Continue reading
10 Jul

Chapter XV

Bannockburn
It was strange to think that a domestic withdrawing room, even one as ostentatiously furnished as Lady Blessington’s, was the acknowledged centre of all that was considered brilliant in literature and art in those days. But it was, and to be seen there was worth a thousand copies shifted in a week. Ainsworth seemed quite comfortable in this new environment, although his stentorian Lancashire accent was as foreign there as my own by then fluent Cockney. I had...
Continue reading
3 Jul

Chapter XIV

Bannockburn
Years passed. And so, as they say, I grew to manhood. By the early part of next decade, I was quite the man about town, and as in love with the city as is any Londoner who was not born there but came in from the provinces. I was in the prime of my life, and fancied that I cut quite a dash. I dressed well, and like Cruikshank I was a bit of a dandy. My dramatic...
Continue reading