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This title is available for pre-order and will be released on Thursday 08 March, 2012.

What can a young man of fifteen do when he is told by his mother that the three cousins he is about to meet all want to marry him?

Daniel Wilson Horden has arrived in London with his parents from their home in Northumberland on the very day of King Charles II’s triumphant return to his capital. Receiving his own personal wave from the king, Daniel longs only to serve him, but first he must keep at bay the threat of marriage.

His two French cousins are adamant in their pursuit of him, but Daniel is intrigued by his English cousin, Eunice, whose Puritan father snatches her away from the reunion celebrations. Unaware that his gallant attempt to save her has endeared him to her, Daniel only just escapes the marriage trap which his younger French cousin lays for him and is sent off to study at Cambridge University.

Once she returns to her father’s home, Eunice is condemned to a life of austerity. Heart-sick, she is assured by her grandmother that Daniel will come for her when he graduates from university.

But, unaware of his cousin’s feelings for him, Daniel goes off to join the navy only to find that fighting in the king’s service is not as glorious as he had imagined.

While the navy suffers at sea, London passes through plague and fire.

Will Eunice survive the hardship? And will Daniel return to fulfil the promise in his eyes on that fateful day in London?

Clifford was very ready to go downstream and his word prevailed. The wherry on which they took seats left from Milford Steps and on an ebb tide with a west wind made good speed under London Bridge.

     With mounting excitement Daniel could see ahead of them a good part of the fleet at anchor in the Pool. Most were awaiting repairs the waterman told them but two he pointed out had their great guns run out and the sailors exercising.

     “Can you read the name on her?” he said to Daniel sensing his interest.

     It was a massive three-decker they were approaching. They would pass close under the bows.

     “The Royal Charles,” he breathed and gazed up in wonder as they scuttled by. He was especially struck by the sight of a few officers, handsomely dressed, watching the scurrying activity of dozens of men.

     He didn’t want to share his delight with anyone, certainly not Madeline or Diana, but he told himself that is where I should be, not translating Greek texts or discoursing on the nicer points of theology. I am a man of action. Oh to serve my King in a great fleet battle!

     He thought back to his boyhood when he had read in the newspapers – which eventually found their way to Horden Hall – vivid accounts of the sea-battles between the Dutch and the English in the days of Cromwell. It hadn’t bothered him then that it was not the King’s navy, as long as the English were winning.

     “She was called Naseby when she was launched in ’55,” the waterman said, “but all them Commonwealth names went, painted out the day they brought the King from Holland. She’s a fine vessel. Upward of a hundred guns.”

     Recalling his boyhood Daniel realised that he had been fascinated by the navy even then. He could picture a day when he was eight and enacted the Battle of Scheveningen with toy boats he fashioned himself, making the Dutch warships half the size of the English ones and concluding with a little stick man representing the famous Admiral Tromp shot on the deck of his ship. He had triumphantly thrown his dead body overboard and watched it float away down the Horden Burn.  

     The waterman continued free with his comments as they came past a two-decker, the Elizabeth and the Royal James, another towering three-decker.

      “Ay, they look powerful and people think they could put to sea at any moment if the Dutch gets up to their old tricks – indeed the word is the Dutch fleet are within sight of our coast now, somewheres near Boulogne, but bless your hearts our ships are not fit for the high seas. I know a man has worked on them, says they’re short of men and gear, and the men they’ve got never gets their pay regular.”

     “Short of men, are they? Not ready for action?” Daniel was somewhat daunted by this comment. But secretly he thought, the King needs me.

     “Let’s hope we are not attacked then,” Daniel heard his father say to Clifford. “Long may we stay at peace. That’s what I have prayed for under our new King.”

     Clifford nodded vigorously. “Amen to that, I say. War is bad for trade. Ah, now there’s a sight.” He turned and grabbed Daniel’s arm and pointed downriver. “That’s what you want to be looking at, young man.” A merchant vessel was heading for the docks. “See that. She has on board cotton, indigo and ginger from the West Indies. They are destined for my warehouses. I have buyers waiting for my goods from all over Europe. Trade is a wonderful thing.” He slapped Daniel on the back. “This evening I will show you and your father my office and warehouses. The ladies will not care for that.”

      That’s why he was keen to come downriver, Daniel thought. He has been expecting this vessel to come in and he is mighty relieved to see it with his own eyes sailing up the Thames after such a long voyage. I have never seen him so genial.

“It’s a fine, proud ship, sir,” he said and Clifford actually beamed at him.

     Having discharged some passengers at Woolwich and taken some more on board they made the return journey and Daniel studied every vessel of the fleet again, making notes of their names and what rates they were from the informative waterman.

     That evening Clifford could hardly wait to summon the coach and take him and Nathaniel to his office by the river in a building between two of his vast warehouses.   

     Here he opened up his great ledgers and pointed to the listing of every piece of merchandise, its quantity, price, origin and destination.

     Daniel politely remarked that it was a splendid piece of organisation to know where everything was at any time of the day or night.

     “That it is,” Clifford said and then laid his hand on Daniel’s arm and looked him in the eye. “Well, young cousin, would you not like to come in with me in this great work?”

     Daniel stared back, open-mouthed. “What! You mean, sir, be employed by you?”

     Clifford switched his gaze impatiently to Nathaniel. “It’s a fair offer. He would inherit the business. He’ll make more money than he ever will from an impoverished Northumbrian estate. Of course he’d have to learn from the ground up but he’s the age my William began and if he hadn’t gone down his own crazy path he would have been ready to ease into full control now and take the weight off my shoulders. But I am in good health, thank God, and can carry on another ten years by which time your lad here will be fit to take over.”

     Daniel could see his father struggling to think of a diplomatic answer.

     “Has this just occurred to you, Cousin Clifford?”

     “Not at all. I’ve been observing the lad. He is not frivolous. He pays no attention to those silly young French girls. He has shown an intelligent interest in all we have shown him about London.”

     “But I’m afraid his destiny lies another way. He is heir through his mother to the Horden estates, indeed at his majority title and land are solely his. Before that he will take his degree at Cambridge so that he will be a fit person to make his mark in the capacity of magistrate as his grandfather was and be a respected figure in the community.”

     Clifford snorted and turned back to Daniel. “What say you, young man? They may hang a Bachelor’s gown on your shoulders but you’ll never be a respected figure – as your father puts it – if your estates are loaded with debt. I needed no University years. Indeed, my fortune was not built upon the Latin and Greek I learnt at school, so I see not that a heavier dose of the same would have made me any richer. But I am respected. I dine with Lords and Ladies. I have influence in the City.”

     And yet, Daniel was thinking, watching the workings of the old merchant’s lined face, you are not inwardly content in the way my father is.

     He smiled down at the close-set eyes. “Well, sir, I thank you for your offer but my father wishes me to go to Cambridge after the summer.” It would not be wise to mention the King’s navy at this point.

     Clifford shook his head as if he could scarcely believe such folly.

    “We all have our different destinies,” Nat put in mildly and Daniel thought, at least I have pleased my father with my answer. He grinned to himself at Clifford’s sour expression. I would be suffocated sitting in an office like this one staring at entries in these close-written ledgers. It could be worse even than the University.

     But the time must come when he would break his ambition to his father. One day he would stand on a deck and give orders and sailors would jump to his bidding. He would never be seasick on great vessels like the Royal Charles. They couldn’t be tossed about like the little collier which had brought them from Newcastle.

    It was a disappointed, grumpy Clifford who carried them back home in his coach.

     Before he went to bed his mother came in to say goodnight. With much laughter she told him that Clifford had been very disenchanted with him and his father after the rejection of his offer. “So he is going to make arrangements for our departure on the stage coach in three days’ time. Celia has just told me that if you had consented to join the business he would have formally proposed a marriage between you and Eunice. Did I not tell you he would be after you for her? Celia doesn’t see why it shouldn’t still happen. If you whisked Eunice off to Horden it would keep her well away from her father. Of course Clifford’s plan was to keep all the wealth in the Horden name.”

     That night in bed staring up at the ornate tester and its lavish hangings Daniel began to wonder how his parents would respond if he volunteered now for the navy. That day when he was eight and had played out the Battle of Scheveningen they had found him just as he was finishing his game and gleefully throwing away the Dutch Admiral Tromp.

     His father had crouched down by him. “Why do you find delight in war and death and destruction? Your Uncle Daniel and I were once persuaded to join the army but it was a horrible mistake. Neither of us could have used our pikes in anger for there was no sense in the cause for which we were fighting. I fell ill and the army moved on. My dear twin brother stayed with me and we neither of us ever joined our troop again. You have been told what happened to him later so you know the whole venture was a disaster. Even when a cause seems just I have ever since felt that war and violence produce no lasting good.”

      Mother Bel had sat herself down on the bank the other side of him. “Oh Nat, Dan is too young for a sermon. Boys will always play war-games. I acted the Battle of Newburn on this very spot with Sam Turner, and had sticks for the Scots and English soldiers. It ended in complete massacre on all sides. Of course at that time I was still more boy than girl.”

     Daniel had been surprised because Sam Turner was a tenant farmer on the Horden land. It was odd to think of him as a boy playing games with Mother Bel.

     Lying stretched out in bed now Daniel probed those early memories. Would his mother object to the navy now that he was a man? It would grieve his father but he was more afraid of grieving her. She loved the three of them being together at Horden Hall and had freely admitted she would weep when he went to Cambridge. So strong a character, so free, so happy as she was she had carried a dreadful cloud about her for much of her youth.

     She had become very quiet later that day when he was eight. He had demanded to know why and as always she answered him honestly. “The day I acted the battle with Sam Turner was the same day I caused the fire in the Turner’s haystack for which your father’s twin, the Daniel after whom you were named, was hung like a felon. Grandmother Wilson has told you how it was.”

     “Too many times,” he had squeaked out.

     “Well, you playing at battles with stick soldiers made me remember and when I do I go quiet.”

     “You shouldn’t think about it because it was an accident.”

     Then she had laughed and hugged him. “I know but I felt like a killer for a long time. You will never have such a cloud. Always bring your worries into the open, Dan. I had no one to tell and even my dearest friend I couldn’t tell because I thought she would hate me.”

     “Who was that?”

     “Why, Ursula, your Nana Sula of course.”

     “She could never hate anyone.”

     “I know. I was a silly lost soul to think so. So Dan, hide nothing away inside you like a canker. I tell you everything about my past. I tell you how I love your father and you. Be the same with us. We are all open books together.”

      He could hear her saying the words that day, such aeons ago it seemed. But now he had reached the uncomfortable point in his life when too much openness was an embarrassment. There were tumbled emotions inside him that could not be laid bare because he hardly knew what they were.

     He had found he liked looking at the flaunted bosoms of his French cousins though he was sure he disliked the girls themselves, while little mysterious Eunice tiptoed about in his thoughts till he longed to be free of her. His parents should not expect to know his secret hopes and plans. Nor should the things they had suffered in their past lives have any sway over what he did with his. He didn’t want to cause them fresh pain but they had each other. That should be enough.

     He turned over seeking a cooler place in the bed. London nights were too warm in June. He was now impossibly wakeful. Recalling that conversation with his mother had set him thinking of home which the whirl of London scenes had thrust far from his mind. How remote it all was! He had hardly given a thought to Nana Sula. Now it hit him hard that Madeline and Diana would see her bustling about the Hall, never without a task in her hands, from polishing silver to weeding the vegetable garden. Yet she ate dinner and supper with the family. How would it be when his cousins were seated around the table too? In this house there was complete separation of the two worlds of family and servants. But Nana Sula was no servant. She was in a saintly world of her own.

     Thinking of her he found himself clenching his fists. He would struggle not to slap the girls across their impudent faces if they dared to laugh at her. The sad thing about Nana Sula was that her face was terribly deformed. Her mouth was twisted so that some words were hard for her to say, her chin was practically non-existent and her nose crooked. None of this mattered in the least to those who knew her. They saw nothing but her brilliant blue laughing eyes which spoke love to all humankind. Her real name was Ursula and he had been taught she was his Nanny which in his first speech had become Nana Sula. Without any shame he still called her that. Running in on his Saturday afternoons home from the Grammar School his first words had always been, “Nana Sula, I’m back.” What would she say to him joining the navy?

    Quite unable to sleep now his thoughts turned to other facets of his home life. There were his other grandparents, Joseph and Anne Wilson who always dined with them after Sunday service. They didn’t live in the Hall but in the vicarage at Nether Horden where the Reverend Joseph had quietly stepped into the empty benefice, laid aside his surplice for the Puritan times and would perhaps be wearing it again now the King was back.

     It was a relief to remember that his French grandmother, Lady Maria Horden, Aunt Henrietta and the girls were all Catholic and would perhaps find a clandestine Mass somewhere in Newcastle. Nana Sula was Catholic too and was encouraged to attend from time to time though she did not demand the privilege often. At least she would know where a Mass could be had if they were keen to find one, though he had  seen no great eagerness yet on his cousins’ part to flaunt their religion. But they would not attend the Nether Horden church and Daniel would not have to be embarrassed at the brief simplicity of his Grandfather Wilson’s sermons, always on the theme of love and peace. It was easy to see how his father had absorbed that message all his childhood.

     What he did wonder was how his Grandmother Wilson would tolerate Lady Horden. Grandmother Wilson despised all airs and graces and believed every woman however high borne should be devoted to good works. Shattered in her mind for a while by the terrible fate of her son Daniel, most loved because he was weak in the head, she was still liable to changes of mood and all too outspoken at times. Sunday lunches, her grandson Daniel foresaw, would be very uncomfortable.

     He wished he had not been named after his uncle. Grandmother Wilson was sparked into recollections of that unfortunate young man whenever she heard his name spoken. Would she recount the terrible injustice of his hanging on the very first occasion that she met the newcomers? Although she had managed to accept the innocence of his mother’s tragic part she could never forget that Grandfather Horden was the magistrate and his son, Robert, the one who had stirred the crowd to the lynching. Being under the roof of Horden Hall was liable to bring on one of her reminiscences and meeting Lady Horden, the widow of Sir John and mother of no-good Robert could be a harrowing experience.

     Daniel, tossing and turning, finally pulled off his nightshirt and slid his naked body between the sheets. Had his parents considered what a hornet’s nest they might be creating by mixing up the two families for an indefinite period?

     Of course he wanted to see them all at home again but if he volunteered for the navy now he would be spared the unpleasantness of seeing two incompatible worlds collided. Boys became midshipmen younger than he...

     With that thought he finally fell asleep.

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