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Authors: Mark Keating

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Cross of Fire

BOOK: Cross of Fire
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Cross of Fire

 

 

Mark Keating

 

 

 

 

www.hodder.co.uk

First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Hodder & Stoughton

An Hachette UK company

 

Copyright © Mark Keating 2013

 

The right of Mark Keating to be identified as the Author of the Work

has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright,

Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any

means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be

otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that

in which it is published and without a similar condition being

imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

All characters in this publication are fictitious, or are historical figures

whose words and actions are fictitious. Any resemblance to real

persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

 

eBook ISBN 978 1 444 72791 3

Book ISBN 978 1 444 72788 3

 

Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH

 

www.hodder.co.uk

For Jim and Nick


little Villains must submit to Fate

That great Ones may enjoy the World in State
.

 

Samuel Garth

The Dispensary
. 1699.

Contents

 

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Epilogue

 

Author’s Note

About the Author

Prologue

 

London. February 1721

 

He had been called back. Not to Walsingham House as he expected or even to Whitehall. The victualler’s house at Tower Hill was where the coach from Portsmouth had carried John Coxon.

The first frozen grey days of February and the former post-captain was coming home, or at least to London. Home was a parsonage in Norfolk, a dead father and mother, a brother perhaps still preaching from a stone pulpit somewhere.

He had never known London as now, in the midst of winter, and he wrapped his boat-cloak about his face and snapped the ice from the window frame of his carriage. It was as cold as the Massachusetts Boston colony he had left just weeks ago. He had thought of the Caribbean then, when the two men in black cloth had come to him to request he return, and he thought of its warmth again now, a memory hard to recall when the frost numbed him so.

He could not remember being cold in the wars, or in thirty years at sea. His duty had kept him in warm climes all the year and all the world round and he imagined he might die if he stayed here much longer.

His skin was dry. He could feel his joints move. His hands were chapped; he owned no gloves. He had never needed them, and he was not gentleman enough to wear deerskin just for colour.

I am no longer English
, he thought.
I have come to a foreign land
.

He had retired to Boston after it all. Retired and withdrew to open a store as he had always thought to when the sea finally let him go. At first it was just a chandlery and then, over the months, he had come to sell all manner of general goods as the homes around him matured and one by one brickwork replaced wood.

Last, before, he had been with Woodes Rogers as part of his colonisation of the Bahamas, of New Providence, where colonisation had truthfully meant the eradication of the pirate crows nested there. Coxon had gone with Woodes Rogers because it was the challenge of the Caribbean, as ever. Because he saw a white star-shaped scar on his right forearm every morning when he woke. Because Devlin might be there. Because Coxon could have his revenge.

And then Devlin beat them again.

But he had been promised that was all at an end now.

For years the name Patrick Devlin had pursued John Coxon with ridicule and rumour. He was Post-Captain Coxon now, his rank granted following actions he had taken when an Irishman in the Marine Royale stepped forward to save the lives of his French officers by translating for them. That was Devlin. Coxon had been fascinated to discover what adventure could possibly have brought an Irishman into the service of the French fleet.

It was a tale beginning with injustice, as in all good stories. But a father’s injustice: the little boy sold to a butcher and working at eight years old for a burlap bed beneath a counter and beer for breakfast. Bloodied hands all his life. Butcher-boy grown up to poacher until a hypocrite magistrate’s judgement had forced Devlin to flee to London. Then the murder of a fellow countryman who had taken him in set him running again, as only the poor are able, now to St-Malo for dread of accusation and the rope. A few years of fishing along the Breton coast and then war had saved him from starvation until the day Coxon captured his sloop.

Devlin became his steward. For years the younger man stood at his shoulder and, charitably, when he found that his ward could read and write, Coxon gifted knowledge and books to him. The Irishman absorbed the intricacies of navigation and became a valued acquaintance if not quite friend. Yet Coxon had much in common with the ex butcher-boy despite his officer’s strut. For Coxon, son of a clergyman, had succeeded through sheer hard work and grasping opportunities. The servant, with the same application, might one day make a fine bosun’s mate – and more than that, Coxon was sure, had it not been the fellow’s misfortune to have been cursed with Irish birth.

But no matter now. Instead, the loss of his ship, the loss of Patrick Devlin to the pirates, to the Devil. And now Coxon’s promise to give the Devil his due.

 

The unevenly worn heels of his shoes added to his poor gait and marked him as a man before the mast as he clacked his way along the black-and-white corridor. But he walked towards the closed double-doors confidently, assured they would open by the breeze of his approach.

And they did.

He entered the dark room, naked candles at the four tall, shuttered windows on the right, a blank wall on the left, and enough light from the open door and the flames to discern the smoky outlines of picture frames recently removed. There would have been portraits hung up, portraits that he supposed he might have recognised.

The glare from the corridor threw his shadow to the back of the room, and then the unseen hands closed the doors and only the narrow candlelight remained.

Coxon was not a man for ghosts and melodrama. He had lived too long.

He turned and faced the men by the door, their lower faces hidden by cloth. He nodded at them to no response. He removed his hat.

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