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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 the measure of me already, and it was disconcerting to accept that I was so transparent: the tortured and self-destructive artist, the doomed romantic. It had been a stylish affectation in my youth, but now, like Coleridge and De Quincey,...
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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 night, so as to have something halfway decent to dispatch to the Chronicle before we sailed. Thus far all these activities and attendant mental states (observer, reporter, and drunk) had served as albeit very different distractions from a loneliness upon...
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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 for the discharge of blank cartridges to cause no inconvenience to the local civilian population, while also ensuring that the battle might be conducted with as much martial authenticity as possible. The fort was both garrison and convict depot. I...
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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 did not reject Captain Lakeman’s offer to ‘Irish up’ the mug of tea around which I wrapped my numb fingers from a silver hip flask when our paths crossed on deck. I inwardly blessed him for a saint in soldier’s...
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10 Apr

Chapter II

Marine
A few passengers, including myself, had embarked at Portsmouth a month earlier, on the first day of January, 1852. This gave us a day or so of relative peace in which to become acclimated to the ship and to each other, before she took on the bulk of her human cargo at Cork. The 12th Foot (the East Suffolks) were already on board, seventy-odd men and their officers, Granger and Fairtlough, as well as the mercenary Lakeman and his contingent, the Lancers Rolt and Sheldon-Bond, and about a hundred Highlanders from the 73rd, 74th, and 91st Regiments, including Major (soon to be Lieutenant-Colonel) Seton and Captain Wright, the senior military officers on the ship. With the beginning of the...
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