Granger sat down at the table to break his fast, smiling at his wife.“I cannot express how much I appreciate you coming back to London to be with me as we prepare to sail.”
Caroline smiled at him.“I was glad to do it, and I have enjoyed myself.”She was reminding Granger of their lovemaking session last night, and then again this morning, and that made him blush slightly.
“I have enjoyed having you here,” he responded gamely.
“How long until you sail?” she asked, and bit her lip to hide her sadness at their impending separation.
“Valiant is ready to sail, but there have evidently been some delays with our departure,” Granger told her.
“It seems that Lords Grenville and Whitworth decided that Valiant was not a sufficient show of force to impress the Danes,” Granger told her, letting her see his discomfort with this news.
“I think that Their Lordships underestimate the awe in which your ship is held,” Caroline said playfully.
“As they are envisioning a fleet of at least five battleships, I think they have an entirely different thought of awe than you are imagining,” he replied back in the same way.“I am to meet with them this morning to discuss these changes.”
“Is that not unusual?” Caroline asked curiously.It was one thing to be asked to discuss his orders; it was entirely different to be asked to discuss them before they were issued.
“It is indeed, and I am sure it has caused some problems for me,” Granger said ruefully.“Admiral Dickson is to command the fleet, and he is not known for being fond of such a breach of protocol.”
“I do not think I know him,” Caroline mused, which said much about Dickson’s background.He was not often found in polite society, such as it was.
“Sir Archibald Dickson, Baronet,” Granger said, as if to introduce her to the man.“He is from Yorkshire, and seems to have worked his way up in the Navy by merely getting old.”
Caroline laughed at that.“And how old is Sir Archibald?”
“I don’t think anyone truly knows, but as he was posted as a captain in 1774, and as he had no great connections to propel him to that rank at an early age, I would guess that he is at least approaching 70,” Granger said.
“And he commands in the North Sea?I fear Valiant will end up as his flagship, if only because of your stoves,” she said.
“I suspect he’ll spend most of his time in Yarmouth with the fleet,” Granger said.The North Sea fleet had had its glorious moment with the Battle of Camperdown, and now that the Dutch were vanquished, he didn’t view that station as a very exciting place to be.
“They are not very zealous in protecting our shores?” Caroline asked in a jovial but accusatory way, working to make this conversation fun and enjoyable.
“Rather, many of the ships are so old and worn out that they must be careful to miser what life is left in them,” Granger said dourly.The North Sea fleet, with dilapidated and obsolete vessels, not to mention ancient commanders, would have made Granger loathe to serve there.He was also willing to make allowances for his general prejudice against it, based on his own experiences with it when he guided Bacchante past the mutineers from that fleet at the Nore.
“Perhaps you are being sent there to inject some excitement into an otherwise boring and dreary part of the war,” Caroline teased.
“Perhaps,” Granger said dubiously.“Regardless, my understanding is that there is supposed to be some urgency about this mission, so I would expect to sail within the next few days.”
“That would explain our invitation to dine with the Spencers this afternoon,” she said sadly, since Granger had finally managed to dampen her mood with his own.
“As I am meeting with His Lordship this morning, I suspect he will be sick of me by then,” Granger said with a smile, trying to goad Caroline out of this new somber mood, but it was to no avail.
“Hopefully you will be back soon,” she said.
“I think that is almost inevitable, since the Gulf of Finland freezes in December,” Granger said.“We would have to be on our way home by at least then.”
“That is still a long time, but it is nice to know that it won’t be indefinite,” Caroline said.“Are your personal stores complete?”
“I met with the tailor yesterday to make sure I had not just an additional uniform, but to get cold weather gear.I fear that the trunks with my coats, boots, and other items to help me survive the frigid weather will take up so much space, I will have to jettison food to make room.”
“Your crew will not appreciate that,” she said, knowing that Granger would never do such a thing; starve his men only to provide for his own comforts.
“I am ready for this trek but for one thing,” he said, pausing to make sure he had her attention.“I will feel as if I will have left a wound open if I cannot talk to Cavendish and find out how he is faring.”
“You have not heard from him?” she asked, a bit surprised.
“I dispatched messages to him at Brighton and Weymouth, but I have received no response,” he said.“Granted, I have only been back in England for a fortnight, but I cannot understand why he would not at least have sent me a simple reply.”
“I cannot explain that either,” she said, and seemed as stumped as he was.
“In any event, I must take my leave of you,” Granger said, hiding his frustration.He stood up, straightened his uniform, and then strode confidently out of his home and straight to the carriage.He noticed that there were more footmen than he normally had.“Am I that unpopular that I require more protection, Adams?” he asked the coachman pleasantly.
“I fear, my lord, it is just the opposite.We have been hard-pressed to keep your admiring fans a reasonable distance from the carriage,” Adams said.
“I am sorry you must endure that,” Granger said, directing that to Adams and the footmen.He was even more sorry that he had to endure it.
“It’s an honor to be part of your household, my lord,” Jenkins said.He was a footman who had, on occasion, served as Granger’s valet.“And begging your pardon, my lord, but we’re all right proud of you.”
“Well thank you all for that,” Granger said uncomfortably, because he didn’t really want his staff to be as adoring as the mob.He got into the carriage and sat back so he wasn’t visible from the window, then he chided himself for it.It was his duty to be polite and as accommodating to the crowds as much as possible, or at least that’s how he saw it, so hiding was not only cowardly, it was dereliction of duty.His last voyage, with the capture of the treasure fleet and the battle with the Oranian ships, had made him even more popular, but he was still unused to the clusters of people who stopped and cheered him as he wound his way to the Admiralty.Granger decided there were definite benefits to being at sea, and avoiding the unreliable masses was one of them.
He arrived at the Admiralty and was ushered back to the Board Room where he found only Lord Whitworth.“Granger, how good to see you,” he said in his friendly way, even as he stood respectfully.Granger had spent some time with Whitworth over the past few days, and had gotten to know and respect this man, who had managed to successfully defend Britain’s interests in the snake pit that must be the Russian Court. Whitworth was dressed formally, but in a style that was some years behind the times.He looked as if he were planning to go to Court as it was some 15 years ago.Granger wondered if that was due to his time in Russia, which was rumored to be very backward, or if it was more a reflection of his more advanced age.It was no surprise that he wore copious amounts of perfume, making Granger suspect that he had not embraced the newer trend of good personal hygiene.
“The pleasure is surely mine,” Granger said, throwing his best smile at Whitworth.The old diplomat smiled at him.
“Your charm would have been much appreciated by the former Russian Empress,” he said, referring to Catherine.“I think Paul will be less receptive.”
“Perhaps Your Excellency underestimates me,” Granger said jovially, making Whitworth chuckle.
“Perhaps,” the old diplomat responded.Their pleasant interlude was interrupted by the arrival of Daventry and Spencer.Daventry was dressed in his trademark black and gold clothing, with an outfit that looked positively utilitarian next to Whitworth’s more garish attire.Daventry looked much more elegant, wearing clothing that was perfectly tailored to his slim body, and with cropped hair that accentuated his handsome features.They had only time to cordially greet the others before Admiral Dickson arrived.The mood had been pleasant, but soured considerably with the presence of the dour old admiral.
Dickson was to Granger what Whitworth was to Daventry.Dickson wore a uniform that was not of the high quality that Granger insisted on from his tailor, both in terms of fit and material.He had substantially more gold lace than Granger, as befitted an admiral, but Granger still managed to outshine him with his various medals and orders.Dickson wore a wig that did not fit him properly, while Granger looked young and alert with his blond, cropped hair.And perhaps most disturbing, Dickson had not bothered to add enough perfume to his body to cover up his body odors, something that made Daventry and Granger both subconsciously crinkle their noses.
“Please be seated,” Spencer said hospitably.They took their seats around the table in this room that usually hosted Their Lordships of the Admiralty.There was a wall of maps, and Granger noticed that the map of the Baltic had already been unfurled.Spencer poured them all a glass of wine, and then took his seat at the head of the table.
“My lords, I have just received your instructions, and I find it wholly unacceptable that Valiant is to be dispatched to the Baltic, with my fleet, yet she has not been placed under my command,” Dickson said.While his tone was firm and even, the redness in his cheeks betrayed the anger that lay beneath it.
“Valiant’s mission is only linked to yours at the beginning of this mission, Sir Archibald,” Daventry responded coolly.“It is the way I want it.”
“Well it is not the way I want it, my lord,” Dickson snapped back nastily.
“Sir, I am sensitive of your concerns, and I can pledge that Valiant will follow your directives to the degree that they do not conflict with the instructions of Lords Whitworth and Daventry,” Granger said diplomatically.
“Captain, do not presume to know my concerns, and do not presume to tell me how to command my fleet,” Dickson said to Granger so loudly it was almost a shout.
Granger manfully controlled his anger, and directed his next comment to Spencer, using a neutral tone that seemed almost serene after Dickson’s outburst.“Sir, I am wondering if this meeting is designed to deliver our orders, or if it is a council of war?”
“I would suggest that with our colleagues from the Foreign Office here, that would make it a Council of War,” Spencer replied.Ironically enough, he seemed to be more annoyed with Dickson than Granger, or at least that was the case until Granger returned his focus onto Dickson.
“Then as that is the case, Sir Archibald, your tone to me demonstrates a marked lack of respect, a respect owed to me as a Peer of the Realm, and as one who is the Governor and Constable of Windsor,” Granger said in a firm, piercing way, even as his eyes bored daggers into Dickson’s head.“I am willing to overlook your outburst, providing that now that we know the true nature of this meeting, you conduct yourself more appropriately.”
“My apologies, my lord,” Dickson said insincerely, then his tone got much more sinister. “When we are at sea, the situation will be different, and then we can continue this conversation under my terms.”
“Sir Archibald, the concerns I had expressed about the chain of command, and the reasons why I was adamant that Valiant remain independent of your fleet, are quite adeptly demonstrated by your comments,” Daventry said coldly.
“You do not get to make that decision, my lord,” Dickson snapped.
“Indeed?” Daventry asked, raising his eyebrow, then turned to Spencer.“Spencer, if you cannot give me your unqualified guarantee that Valiant will be independent of Sir Archibald’s command, then I will leave you to work with His Excellency the Prime Minister to find a different candidate for this mission.”Granger hid his surprise, while it appeared that Whitworth was trying to hide a grin, as Daventry threw down the gauntlet as it were.
“I am quite certain that His Majesty’s Government can find a less quarrelsome diplomat, my lords,” Dickson said with a sneer, one that turned Whitworth’s expression, albeit one that was hardly discernable, from mild amusement into a visage of rage.
“I would submit that it would be easier to find an alternate admiral to command the fleet,” Whitworth said imperiously.
“While that is not my preference, I would tend to agree with Lord Whitworth,” Spencer said to Dickson.Dickson was stunned at that, as he had clearly assumed that Daventry was of no consequence, nothing more than a glorified aide to Whitworth.It must be maddening to him in the extreme to have run afoul of these two young whippersnappers who would challenge his authority.Granger was not surprised, but he was impressed, with how much power Daventry was able to wield in this situation.“As Valiant is to sail within the next few days, I would recommend that you decide whether you are willing to execute your orders as they have been given.”
“Quite so,” Dickson said, and stood up to leave.He paused, as if he expected them to beg him to stay, but they merely stared at him until he became so uncomfortable that he all but stalked out of the room.
“Your admirals, or at least that one, do not seem to understand how to follow the orders you give them,” Whitworth said, taunting Spencer.
Daventry interceded to smooth things over before Spencer could voice a singeing reply to Whitworth.“I think that was less about the chain of command than it was about money,” he said, letting his cynicism show.
“I don’t see the web that you see, Daventry, so enlighten me,” Whitworth said in a frustrated way.
“Granger has been lucky with prize money,” Spencer said.“If he is assigned to Dickson’s fleet, Dickson would get the flag officer’s share of any money Granger manages to extract from the Danes, the Swedes, the Germans, and the Russians.If he is not, Dickson will not share in Granger’s next pot of gold.”
Granger was horrified that his luck with prize money had actually sparked such a response from Dickson, and was cognizant once again that the world, with its greed and avarice, could be a dark place.“Your admiral is as grasping as Talleyrand,” Whitworth said to Granger.
“I do not think Admiral Dickson can even begin to approach Monsieur Talleyrand when it comes to greed, but I must say that Talleyrand is much more pleasant to be around.I think it rather makes up for the increased cost,” Granger joked, making them all laugh, and considerably improving all of their moods.
“I am wondering if it would not be in everyone’s best interest to accommodate Sir Archibald on this topic?” Spencer asked the group in general.
“There seems to be this idea in Sir Archibald’s mind that I am almost guaranteed to haul off untold riches during this voyage, when I am not convinced we will have any luck as it relates to prizes at all,” Granger said.The others rolled their eyes at him and his naiveté.
“It matters not whether you capture riches or not, it is merely the chance that you will that makes this valuable,” Daventry said.“You have a track record, and so Dickson would mark his piece of the action, knowing the odds are good that you will continue to be lucky.”Daventry seemed to understand that just the potential of riches was reward for some, while Granger was unable to comprehend such an idea.
Granger found the entire discussion to be annoying and distasteful.“Sir, if you think that it would placate Sir Archibald if I were put under his command for the purposes of dividing prize money, I would be amenable to it,” he told Spencer. Granger had already agreed to split any prize money they were fortunate enough to earn on this voyage with Daventry in the same way they’d divided things on their last voyage, so it was no surprise that Daventry was intensely annoyed by Granger’s offer to give away a chunk of their money, especially to someone as uncouth as Dickson.It said much about the depth of their relationship that it only took a look from Granger to Daventry to silence any of his protestations.
“I will meet with Sir Archibald and see if that will make him happy,” Spencer said.“And now, let us turn to the mission ahead.”
“Indeed,” Whitworth said frostily.Before they could get back on topic, a secretary entered the room.
“I beg your pardon, my lord, but I was told to give you this note, that it was most urgent,” the man said, handing a sealed envelope to Spencer.
Spencer opened the note and read it, and almost appeared to be panicked until he calmed himself.“Who delivered this note?”
“Major Treadway, my lord,” he said.That certainly piqued Granger’s interest, but not as much as Spencer’s next order.
“Please ask Major Gambier to ready a squad of men immediately, and have Major Treadway brought here,” Spencer told the man, while his guests merely looked at him curiously.Granger could not fathom why Spencer would want Gambier, along with his platoon of His Majesty’s Life Guards to be made ready.
“Of course, my lord,” he said, and left the room.
“I fear we have an important matter to attend to, one that will cause us to delay this meeting,” Spencer said.The others just watched him, waiting for him to explain.“I have just received word that there is to be a duel between Lord Frederick Cavendish and Mr. Charles Barnett.”
Granger tried to restrain his own panic, but was unsuccessful this time.He rose up instinctively, even as the others sat there.“We must stop this idiocy!”
“We must indeed do that,” Spencer said calmly, trying to graft that emotion onto Granger, but he was only partially successful.
“What is this nonsense about a duel?” Spencer demanded.
“My lord, I heard a rumor about it and then made some inquiries,” Treadway said a bit nervously.“It was only after I confirmed the event, the time, and the location, that I came here to alert you and Lord Granger.”
“Please, be seated,” Spencer said, remembering to be polite, and giving Granger a not-so-subtle hint to calm himself and be reseated as well.He poured a glass for Treadway, even as both he and Granger took their seats.
“And what are those details?” Daventry asked.
“The duel is to take place at a knoll near Windsor, and will happen in three hours,” Spencer said.
“It will be tough to get there in time to stop it,” Whitworth observed rather disinterestedly.“I would suspect, though, that Gambier is well able to take care of it.”
“I fear I must leave you gentlemen to attend to the details of our mission,” Granger said.“I must go help to see that this duel is stopped.”
“You have interesting priorities, Granger,” Whitworth said acidly.
“Lord Frederick Cavendish is one of my best friends, one who gave his leg to save my life,” Granger replied, just as coldly.“That would seem to indicate that my priorities are in fact correct.”
“If that is so, then why are you not involved in this affair, notably as Cavendish’s second?” Whitworth challenged.
“Probably because Cavendish knew that Granger would never agree to be involved with such tomfoolery,” Spencer said to Whitworth.“I will trust you to let me know how this resolves itself.You may call on me here, or at home, and then I will brief you on the details I discuss with these gentlemen.”
“Thank you, sir,” Granger said.“I fear this means I will not be able to accept your invitation to dinner today.”
“Perhaps we can sup together instead, upon your return,” Spencer said.
“Of course, sir,” Granger said.He left with indecent speed, with Treadway in tow, lest they somehow be dragged back into the meeting. It only took a quarter of an hour for Granger to send his coach home along with a message explaining things to Caroline; for Gambier to arrive with two dozen strapping Life Guardsmen; and for Granger, Treadway, Gambier, and his men to begin their 12 mile trek to Windsor.Treadway managed to explain to Gambier the situation, and their destination while they were doing all of this.
“My lord, if we travel at a deliberate pace, I think we will be able to avoid changing horses, and will actually arrive there sooner,” Gambier said, forestalling Granger from spurring his horse into a full-blown cantor.Granger was about to argue with the man, but Gambier would know the route well, since this was the same way they would go when they escorted the King from London to Windsor.Gambier would also know what his troop was capable of.
“Then I will allow you to set the pace, Major, while holding you responsible for making sure we arrive before this duel,” Granger said, And so they began their trek, with half the Life Guards in front of them to clear the road, and the other half around and behind them to keep any of Granger’s fans at bay. After they had settled into a comfortable trot, Granger turned his attention back to Treadway.“What do you know of this affair?”
“I was at Brooks’ Club, my lord, and one of the men there mentioned it to me in passing, since he knew that Lord Cavendish and I are friends,” Treadway said.“Once I heard of the event, I was able to talk to other members who knew of it such that I was able to piece together the details.”
“I appreciate your efforts,” Granger said, to acknowledge Treadway’s sleuthing abilities.
“They picked a good location,” Gambier noted.“I have heard of duels being fought there before, but only when His Majesty is not in residence, as is currently the case.”
“That would seem to be a given,” Treadway responded, since the King hated dueling, and would be furious about it even if it didn’t take place on a royal demesne.He paused to wipe a rivulet of sweat from his face, because as the morning had gone on, it had gotten warmer and muggier as one would expect of London in August.They were fortunate in that, while it looked to be hot and uncomfortable, at least it did not look as if it would rain.
“What is the cause of this duel?” Granger asked.
“Charles Barnett is the brother of Miss Barnett, the woman Cavendish has refused to marry,” Treadway explained.
“He certainly isn’t the first man who has avoided that woman, and this certainly isn’t Mr. Barnett’s first duel,” Gambier noted.
“You’re saying that Mr. Barnett is a rogue?” Granger asked.
“He is a bit of an enigma, my lord,” Gambier replied.“He can seem quite charming and cultivated in good company, but beneath that façade is a man more at home in brothels and gambling establishments.”
“Did Cavendish have sex with Miss Barnett?” Granger asked, trying to discern why her brother would be so upset.
“I am almost certain he did not deflower her, my lord,” Treadway said.
Gambier chuckled, which sparked a similar reaction in Treadway.“I daresay that it would be difficult to visualize Miss Barnett’s feminine nature to be similar in any way to a flower.”
“She is a bit mannish,” Treadway agreed, and then they chuckled again.
“Then why would Mr. Barnett challenge Cavendish?” Granger asked, unwilling to let this discussion dissolve into a dissection of Miss Barnett’s person.
“Mr. Barnett claims that Cavendish’s refusal to marry his sister is an insult to his family and to their honor, my lord,” Treadway said.“He points to the fact that the marriage was agreed to, and then severed, and that such an act insults his sister and impugns her reputation, making it difficult for her to find a suitable husband.”
“It should not be difficult for her to find a husband as long as one is seeking someone who is willing to overlook everything else in exchange for a sizeable dowry,” Gambier observed cynically.
“What does Mr. Barnett do for gainful employment?” Granger asked.
“His father is quite wealthy and owns a trading house, and my understanding is that Mr. Barnett works for his father, my lord,” Gambier said.
“It would also be pertinent, my lord, to note that Mr. Barnett’s trading house is rumored to be affiliated with the Guild,” Treadway added.Granger rode on silently, contemplating this latest development, and wondering if the Guild was indirectly targeting him with their attack on Cavendish.They had certainly worked hard in the past to cause him no end of problems, but there was supposed to be a détente with that group at present.Granger pondered that based on the likes of Guild members he’d dealt with to this point, a promise of détente was most likely of little value, but it would still be very blatant and bold of them to challenge him so directly.Granger allowed his mind to wander a bit more, and found himself becoming very irritated with the Duke of Portland for arranging for his son, and thus for his family, to be involved with the Guild through this union.
“I have also heard rumors that Mr. Barnett has had a run of bad luck, and has accumulated some rather large gambling debts, my lord,” Gambier added.
“If his father is wealthy, surely those debts would be paid?” Granger asked.Barnett would find himself in a tight situation if he refused to honor his gambling debts, and may very well find himself in prison or be forced to flee to the Continent.It would seem to leave his father limited choices: he could either pay his son’s debts, or disown him.
“He has paid them in the past, and I suspect he will pay them again, my lord,” Gambier suggested, “only this time it is possible that he wants something in exchange for such remuneration.”
“I don’t understand,” Granger said, frustrated.
“My lord, I think what Major Gambier is suggesting is that it is entirely possible that Mr. Barnett’s father may agree to pay his son’s debts provided his son defend the family’s honor, as well as the honor of his sister, by dispatching Cavendish,” Treadway interpreted.
“I am truly surprised that His Grace would want his family associated with such uncouth ruffians,” Granger said with true disdain.Both Treadway and Gambier became silent, as if they were unwilling to share their thoughts on that, but Granger was having none of that posturing.“If you gentlemen can shed light on this situation, I would be obliged if you would do so.”
“My lord, Lord Cavendish is known to be one of your friends, so that makes this topic difficult to broach,” Gambier said nervously.
“I pledge that if you will be honest with me, I will not hold such candor against you,” Granger said.
“His Lordship has a tainted reputation, my lord,” Gambier said, his normally stoic façade failing enough that it let his discomfort show through.“He has been linked with several men who are known benders.”
“I have never known Lord Cavendish to shun someone’s friendship due to such a malady,” Granger observed carefully, since he was most likely linked to the same ‘benders’ that Cavendish was.Granger was fortunate because he was married and had fathered children, making assertions that he was a sodomite less credible.Cavendish would not have that to rely on, and it would be additionally damning that he was refusing to take a bride and evidently creating quite a scandal because of it.
“Yet he appeared to have almost an intimate relationship at one time with Sir Arthur Teasdale, and more recently, his conduct with John Ward has been less than discrete,” Gambier said.He looked nervously toward Treadway, but only for a second, making Granger wonder if Treadway too was suspected of being one of Cavendish’s lovers.
“John Ward is the son of Viscount Dudley and Ward, is he not?” Granger asked.He had not seen John Ward since he was a boy.He must be almost 20 years old now.His mention had roiled Granger’s mind.Was Cavendish involved with Ward?
“He is indeed, my lord,” Gambier said.
“I understand he is acting as Cavendish’s second in this matter,” Treadway added.
“That is correct,” Gambier agreed.
“So you are telling me that with Lord Cavendish being suspected of having unnatural liaisons with other men, and with the loss of his leg, he was so unattractive as a match that Miss Barnett was the best His Grace could do for his son?” Granger asked incredulously.
“Yes, my lord,” Gambier said simply.
Granger rode on in silence for a bit.“I must thank you for being so direct and honest with me, Major,” he said to Gambier.“To speak of such things in this context is the mark of a true friend.”
Gambier smiled broadly at such a flattering statement.“You honor me, my lord, by including me in the circle of people fortunate enough to be considered your friend.”
“I think, rather, that it is you who do me the honor,” Granger said with a smile.That expression soon faded, as Granger began to mull this news that Gambier had given him.