Cover image for Jester's fortune : an Alan Lewrie naval adventure
Jester's fortune : an Alan Lewrie naval adventure
Lambdin, Dewey.
Personal Author:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Me. : G.K. Hall, [1999]

Physical Description:
618 pages (large print) ; 25 cm
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X Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print

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From broadsides to bedchambers, Commander Alan Lewrie is back. The year is 1796, and Napoleon's unstoppable army has rolled across Italy and dealt the Austrian Empire a lethal blow. Lewrie commands the Fester, one of four Royal Navy ships patrolling the Adriatic Sea. He lives for adventure and the pleasures of port, and finds them both as he wreaks havoc on French merchantmen and visits the fabled city of Venice. But with England's allies failing, and Napoleon rearranging the world map, the British squadron commander strikes a detestable devil's bargain. With their squadron stretched dangerously thin along the Croatian coast, they have enlisted the aid of Serbian pirates. Wary from the start, Lewrie and his stalwart crew are plunged into a barbaric struggle that threatens all their lives.

Author Notes

Dewey Lambdin was born in 1945. He received a degree in film and television production from Montana State University in 1969. He worked for local television stations and in advertising. After being laid off, he started writing fiction. His first novel, The King's Coat, was published in 1989. He is the author of the Alan Lewrie Naval Adventures series and What Lies Buried: A Novel of Old Cape Fear.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Amiable rakehell and thorough professional Alan Lewrie undertakes his eighth adventure, and he still hasn't made it through 1796. At this rate, his saga will surely be the next multivolume Napoleonic naval epic, sailing in the wake of Forester and O'Brian. In command of H.M.S. Jester, a sloop of war, Lewrie sails to the Adriatic as part of a squadron in support of Britain's allies in the area. Unfortunately, Napoleon invades Italy at the same time, Britain's allies are beset or intimidated, and the British must ally with Serbian pirates to make up for their lack of strength for operations against French supply vessels. The uneasy alliance brings the action-packed novel to a gripping if gruesome climax. Lewrie sails away with his reputation enhanced and another willing woman in hand. Lewrie is not always appealing company, except possibly to cat lovers, but his adventures present a vivid, well-researched, thoroughly readable portrait of the rough-and-tumble side of the Royal Navy, at its best and its worst, during the days of sail. --Roland Green

Publisher's Weekly Review

The eighth title in the Alan Lewrie adventure series (after The King's Coat) finds our hero in 1796 the commander of the sloop HMS Jester, one of four Royal Navy ships patrolling the Adriatic. Napoleon has been marauding in Northern Italy and the squadron's duty is to maintain the Alliance's shaky ties with Venice. Feeling shorthanded, the flotilla's leader decides to enlist, sub rosa, some Balkan pirates on the English side. Lewrie is justifiably hesitant about this ploy and, as events ensue, he's proven right when the Serbian pirates engage in an orgy of gut-churning brutality. The face of ethnic cleansing has rarely looked so ghastly. Lambdin offers views of new places here (Corfu, the "fabulist sham" of Venice); exotic history (someone calls the feral feuds of the Serbs, Croats, Greeks, Turks, Albanians, Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims "rather complicated"‘British understatement raised to a new level); and inner workings of a craft (sailors' life, aboard and ashore). There are successful sea actions (and prize money), a bloody denouement with the Serbian pirates and, for the "bit unconventional" Lewrie, who is somewhat of a scamp, a new romantic entanglement. Readers of the series will not be disappointed in the ending, although Lambdin should lose his annoying tendency to mimic phonetic speech, which seriously slows the plot (e.g., an Austrian officer/translator remarks, "He asks me, are we de British Royal Navy vich hezz so vahry much silver to buy brat unt sheep"). But fans will find plenty to like in this colorful adventure. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



Chapter One Admiral Sir John Jervis was a stocky man, just turned a spry and still energetic sixty years of age. Still quite handsome, too, for he had been a lovely youth, and had sat to Frances Cotes for a remarkable portrait once in his teens. Duty, though, and awesome responsibilities, had hunched his shoulders like some Atlas doomed to carry the Earth on his rounded back. Keeping a British fleet in the Mediterranean, such was the task that wore him down now, countering the ever-growing strength of the French Navy. Suffering the foolish decisions--or total lack of decisions--of his predecessor, the hapless Admiral Hotham, who had dithered and dallied while the French grew stronger, frittering away priceless advantages in his nail-biting fogs, merely reacting to French move and countermove, or diluting his own strength in pointless patrols or flag-visits.     Now France was in the ascendant, and he was in the unenviable position of being outnumbered at sea, should the French ever concentrate and come out. There were no allies left in the First Coalition possessed of anything even approaching a navy; the Neapolitans' feet had gone quite stone-cold after Toulon had fallen in '93, and sat on the sidelines. British troops were still committed to the colonial wars, dying by the regiments of tropical diseases on East and West Indies islands where Jervis himself had held the upper hand.     To guard the Gibraltar approaches, he had to send a part of his fleet west, yet French line-of-battle ships still slipped into the Mediterranean from Rochefort, L'Orient and Brest, on the Bay of Biscay, fresh from the refit yards, some fresh from the launch-ramps. Over twenty-three sail of the line were at Toulon, that he knew of. French grain convoys from North Africa and the piratical Barbary States had to be hunted down and intercepted. He had to hold a part of his fleet in San Fiorenzo Bay, near the northern tip of Corsica, Cape Corse, just in case the French sallied forth from Toulon.     The Barbary States, encouraged by general war, had to be kept under observation, before his supply ships and transports proved to be too great a temptation for their corsairs in their swift xebecs .     Then there were the Austrians--goddamn them.     They were the only ally left that had a huge army. Even that very moment, they were skirmishing along the Rhine for an invasion of France, and still had enough troops to threaten a second invasion in Savoy, then into the approaches of Toulon. With Toulon his again, he might breathe easier; that French fleet would be burned, properly this time, or scattered to fishing villages in penny-packets.     But the Austrians were not happy with His Majesty's Government, nor with the Royal Navy, at present. Late the previous year, General de Vins had lost his army--they'd run like terrorised kittens--at the very sight of French soldiers, losing him the use of Genoa and the Genoese Riviera as a base. And, of course, they'd blamed being run inland and eastward on lack of naval support.     Captain Horatio Nelson's small squadron, now much reduced by wear-and-tear, now blockaded harbours where they had funneled supplies and pay to the Austrians the previous year, plodding off-and-on that coast, which was now French-occupied, and hostile. A valuable duty, aye, Sir John mused most sourly; but not much use in supporting a new Austrian spring offensive.     Hands clasped in the small of his back, he stomped the stern-gallery of his flagship, the 1st Rate HMS Victory , taking a welcome few moments of fresh air from his stuffy great-cabins, away from the mounds of paperwork, away from the warnings and cautions from London, which charged him to coddle the Austrians no matter what, and keep them in the war, and to maintain sea-contact with them so the gold and silver could flow to purchase their allegiance.     He heaved a great round-shouldered sigh and scrubbed at his massy chin in thought, trying to conjure a way in which to remain concentrated for a sea-fight, which he was pretty sure he would win should it come. British Tars were unequaled, and his own ships, even at bad odds, he was certain, could still outsail, outmanoeuvre and outfight the poorly practiced French. He must remain strong, yet fulfill every area that demanded the presence of Royal Navy ships.     "Excuse me, Sir John," his harassed flag-captain interrupted, "but Captain Charlton has come aboard as you bid, and is without."     "Hah!" Sir John harrumphed, with very little evidence of pleasure. But then, "Old Jarvy" had never been very big on Pleasure. "Very good, sir, send him in."     Another of Hotham's. "Old Jarvy" frowned from behind his desk in his day-cabin as Captain Thomas Charlton entered. He'd never met this fellow, even in peacetime service when the Royal Navy was reduced to quarter-strength. Good enough record, he'd found, but nothing particularly distinguished since the American War. Good patrons, Charlton had, though; even if Hotham was his principal "sea-daddy," there were enough recommendations from others he trusted more who had vouched for him.     "Thomas Charlton, come aboard as directed, sir," the man piped up, with just more than a touch of cool wariness to his voice. "Old Jarvy" was one of the sternest disciplinarians in the Fleet, known for a volcanic temper when aroused. Known for using a hatchet when a penknife would suit others, too, when it came to dealing with those who'd irked him. Charlton reviewed his recent past; had he done something wrong?     "Captain Charlton, well met, sir. Take a seat. And I will have a glass with you," Sir John Jervis offered, almost sounding affable.     With a well-concealed sigh of relief, Captain Charlton sat, his gold-laced hat in his lap, happy that it wouldn't be his arse that was reamed out--not this time.     A few minutes of social prosing, enquiries about acquaintances, even a politic question as to his predecessor Admiral Hotham's newest posting; then Sir John put the situation before Charlton, liking what first impression he'd drawn of the man.     Not that he had that much choice; those senior post-captains he knew well enough to trust, some of whom he'd stood "sea-daddy" to, or those he'd learned he could trust with responsibility once he'd taken command, were already busy about his, and their King's, business. He counted himself fortunate that he'd found another he could trust; much like turning over a mossy rock and not finding the usual slug!     Charlton was nearly six feet tall, a little above middle height; a slim and wiry sort, most-like possessed of a spare appetite and a spartan constitution. Most captains in their late forties went all suety, to "tripes and trullibubs" from too many grand suppers and the arrival of modest wealth and good pay, at last.     A lean, intelligent face, well weathered by wind, sea and sun. He wore his own hair instead of a side-curl wig, which was wiry, going to grey the slightest bit, though like most well-to-do Englishmen who could boast membership in the Squirearchy, that class which led regiments, captained the King's Ships, or sat in Parliament (as Jervis had) Charlton still owned a full head of it. A very regular, sturdy sort was Charlton; salt of the earth. Or salt of the sea. His brown eyes sparkled with clear-headed wit, and his brow hinted at a cleverness, an ability to extemporise, should duty call for it. Well, not too clever, Sir John hoped. Like young Nelson off Genoa at the moment, there were only so many and no more in every generation who had experience enough to temper their cleverness with caution. For better or worse, Charlton would just possibly do, Sir John decided.     "I expect Admiral Man's arrival weekly, d'ye see, sir," Sir John told him. "Eight more sail of the line, and several more frigates. Relying on the promise of his reinforcement by Our Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, I may now make such dispositions which I've had planned for some time. Such as keeping a squadron far west, to keep an eye on the Straits of Gibraltar. And the Dons. I cannot imagine a least likely alliance--Levelling, Jacobin France, and the Spanish Bourbon Crown. 'Twas Bourbons the Frogs chopped when the Terror began , hmm? Their fleet at Cadiz, Cartagena, and Barcelona, d'ye see. Spanish banks honouring French notes ... signing a nonaggression treaty with 'em. Should they come in against us ... well!"     "Perhaps Spain's long-term hatred for us outweighs their hatred for the Revolution, Sir John?" Captain Charlton posed. "There's our possession of Spanish soil at Gibraltar."     "Aye," Sir John said with an appreciative smile--his first that was not merely polite--thinking that his choice for an onerous and fraught-with-danger mission would turn out to be a sensible captain, after all. Even if his voice was a little too nasal, and Oxonian "plumby" in local accent. He sounded more House of Lords than House of Commons, where he'd sat. Still, the Italians and the Austrians might expect a British officer, sole representative of his nation's navy, to sound more like the ambassadors they were used to. Or, being foreigners, might not notice the difference.     "Have you any Italian, sir?" Sir John pressed. "Or German?"     "A smattering of both, Sir John." Charlton frowned in puzzlement.     "Capital!" Jervis actually beamed. "Simply capital! As for the necessity, now sir ... with Genoa gone, and the Austrian army far inland, we cannot cooperate with them, nor communicate. There is the matter of Vado Bay, where ..."     "They ran like rabbits, Sir John?" Charlton dared interpose.     Jervis nodded. "Hence, no way to ship them the cash subsidies to fund their armies on the Rhine or in Italy. The Austrian Netherlands are lost, the Dutch and their navy are now French allies, and block the route down the Rhine, or overland through the Germanies. The only port left open to Austria is Trieste, on the Adriatic."     "I see , sir!" Charlton tensed, though filled with a well-hidden exuberance. This smacked of an independent command, of responsibility far from the everyday control of the flagship. Thirty years Charlton had served, in war or peace, from Gentleman Volunteer at age twelve, to Midshipman, then a commission, and years as a Lieutenant. Patrons had eased his climb up the ladder, had gotten him a brig o' war during the American Revolution, promotion to Commander, then at last a ship of his own and his captaincy. Where he'd languished since, even if he did have good patrons and was well connected. He'd not gotten a ship of the line when he'd been called back to the Colours in '93. He was just senior enough for a 5th Rate frigate, HMS Lionheart , one of the new 18-pounders of 36 heavy guns, plus chase-guns and carronades.     But what Sir John Jervis was offering him was a squadron , he speculated. Might it also include a promotion to commodore of the second class? Fly his own broad-pendant at long last, with a flag-captain under him to supervise the day-to-day functioning of his new ship? Perhaps exchange for a 3rd Rate 74, even an older 64, or one of the few ancient 50-gunned 4th Rates?     "You're to have a squadron, Captain Charlton," Sir John said, as if in answer to his every dream, that instant! "A thin 'un, given the paucity of bottoms we have at present, but a squadron nonetheless. It cannot come with a proper broad-pendant, I fear. That's the leap in rank reserved for Our Lords Commissioners to decide."     Of course, Charlton realised, deflating a little, though hiding his disappointment as well as he'd concealed his enthusiasm. An English gentleman was raised to be serene and stoic, no matter what! Admirals on foreign stations couldn't promote at will. But a good performance during a brief spell of detached duty could incline the Admiralty to reward him. If he made good, if he could safely steer a wary course 'tween diplomatic niceties, neutrals' rights and the zealous performance ...     "There's your Lionheart ," Admiral Jervis was saying. "Then I may spare Pylades . She's new-come from Chatham, a 5th Rate, thirty-two guns. A `twelve-pounder,' being a tad older, of course. Benjamin Rodgers is her captain. A bit `fly,' but a fighter. About as active as a hungry terrier in the rat-pit, I'm told. Only two others, d'ye see, ship-sloops, I'm sorry to say. But their shallower draught is certain to prove handy in the Adriatic `midst all those islands. I may spare Myrmidon . An eighteen-gun, below the Rates. Six-pounders."     "A most felicitous choice, Sir John; thankee," Charlton said with a broad grin.     "Aye, her captain's known to you," Jervis stated, very flatly.     An admiral departing a foreign station was allowed several few promotions without Admiralty approval; one Midshipman to Lieutenant, without having to face an Examining Board of post-captains; one Lieutenant to Commander, and one Commander to Post-Captain. When Hotham left, he'd anointed Lt. William Fillebrowne from his own flagship's wardroom (the surest route to quick advancement, that) to Commander, and put him into Myrmidon , to replace another favourite who'd gotten the Departure Blessing to Post-Captain into a 6th Rate Frigate whose own captain had gone sick.     Charlton and Fillebrowne, both protégés of the same patron, were surely known to each other already, Jervis thought. Perhaps were from that same mould that Hotham thought most valuable to the Fleet. He had no wish to curry favour with Hotham in this regard--damn his blood!--but they might work together the better for being "dipped" in the same ha'porth of tar. Charlton he thought he might be able to trust. Fillebrowne, well ...     Come to think on't, he mused as his cabin-steward poured them a top-up of claret, the one time he'd met Fillebrowne, he'd struck Jervis as a bit too suave, too cultured--too quick to smarm and try to "piss down his back." With the same Oxonian mumble as Hotham or Charlton. A very smooth customer, entirely. Tarry-handed, Jervis grudgingly allowed, but with cat-quick wits, and the amusedly observant air of the practiced rakehell, who went about with his tongue forever stuck in his cheek.     Jervis thought he could trust Charlton to handle this mission-- and keep a wary weather eye on Fillebrowne, for Fillebrowne wasn't the sort Sir John wished to have round him.     "The last vessel I may spare is a tad more potent, sir," Sir John said with a smack of his lips after a sip of wine. "HMS Jester . Another ship-sloop of eighteen guns. But French eight-pounders, which is to say, English nines, in our measurement. Just came in to water from the Genoa blockade, Hate to deprive Captain Nelson, but, needs must. Commander Alan Lewrie."     "Ah," Charlton commented, frowning a bit. "Took her late in '93, didn't he, sir? Quite a feat, I heard tell. Being chased by a frigate and a brace of corvettes after Toulon? Took one for his own, dismasted the other and the rescue force took the frigate?"     "That he did, sir," Sir John agreed, with a matching frown.     "Spot of bother, though, something `bout cannonading civilians in a Genoese port he raided?" Charlton squirmed diplomatically.     "Completely disproved, sir," Admiral Jervis countered, though he continued to frown. "A gasconading lie put out by French spies and agents provocateurs. The matter was looked into and he was found entirely blameless."     "Didn't he, uhmm ... oh, some months ago, sir." Charlton dared to quibble further. "Took a prize near Vado, then sailed her straight onto the beach and wrecked her, just so he could chase some Frenchman? Mean t'say, Sir John ... a perfectly good prize?"     "Rode inland and shot the fellow," Jervis related, nodding slowly in agreement. "Two-hundred-yard shot, with a Ferguson rifle. And spared us no end of bother from this Frog Navy captain. Chief of all their coastal convoys, raiders and escorts, so I've been informed. A rather nasty customer. But he stopped his business most perfectly."     "A bit unconventional, though. Don't ye think, sir?" Charlton essayed. He was not yet a Commodore, not yet one of the anointed, so well regarded by his commanding Admiral or London that he could veto a ship or captain. To be allowed to pick and choose, that was a favour granted only a remarkable few. And this was about as far as he could go, or ought to go, to suggest to Admiral Jervis that he would much prefer someone else; some other small ship. Taking a Frog corvette, being all dashing and brave--well, anyone could be brave, even the daft and foolhardy. Wrecking a valuable prize, going ashore and leaving one's command, just to pot a Frog, well, that made this Lewrie sound as mad as a March hare!     "Unconventional, hmm." Sir John pondered over his claret. He rubbed his chin once more and then broke into an icy grin. "To say the least , sir! And, it doesn't signify. After all, beggars can't be choosers, hmm? But he's all I have to spare. It may occur, sir, that Lewrie and Jester will prove useful to you. Above all, he knows how to fight! And he's experienced in blockading with Captain Nelson's squadron. And you'll be hip-deep in supposedly `neutral' merchantmen where you're going."     "Of course, sir," Charlton replied, aware that he'd just been taken down a peg by the Admiral's "beggars can't be choosers" remark.     "You must first of all sweep that sea clean of French traders, warships and such, should they be there in force," Jervis directed, back to business. "You are to completely estop the traffic in naval stores--Adriatic oak and Balkan pine--which supports the French fleet in the Mediterranean. You will stop and inspect every ship you meet, determining their bonafides, and whether they are laden with a contraband cargo or sailing to a French-held port."     "Aye aye, sir," Charlton replied firmly.     "Further, you will liaise with our allies the Austrians and perform for them any task which a Royal Navy squadron may do to keep their friendship," Jervis hammered out, though not without a slight sneer about Austrian "Friendship." "Have an eye toward strengthening or expanding what poor excuse they deem their Adriatic Squadron. As for Venice, well, make a port-call or two. Put a flea in her ear `bout throwing in with us. Venice may be on her last legs, but she still is possessed of a substantial fleet of ships and useful bases in the Ionian Islands. The Foreign Office is working on that aspect now, and the presence of your squadron might just tip the scales in our favour, d'ye see. Escort and protect any and all British trade, as well. Goes without sayin', hmm? And the merchant vessels of the Neapolitans, Papal States, Venice ... and other ... how do they put it? `Ships of those nations in amity with His Majesty's Government'?"     "I see, sir." Charlton nodded soberly.     "B'lieve 'twas Pitt the Elder," Sir John mused, "but you must not quote me, sir, said that `trade follows the flag'? Well, this time round, perhaps the flag must follow trade, hmm?"     "Of course, sir." Charlton nodded again.     " Pylades and Jester are here, at San Fiorenzo Bay, sir," Sir John grumbled. It was rare that he made a jest, and he'd thought it a rare good'un; though Charlton hadn't risen to it. " Myrmidon is down in Portoferrajo, on Elba. She escorted a troop-ship, so we could begin fortifying Elba and the isle of Capraia. At least protect the sea-lanes to Leghorn. And Corsica's flanks. Close the Tyrrhennian Sea to French ships, at least, should they have a plan to seize those isles first, d'ye see."     With Genoa gone, her port city and capital now regarded as hostile, Tuscany was wavering, too, much like the Neapolitans. Admiral Jervis all but winced as he considered it. The Tuscans were leery of allowing Great Britain to base its fleet out of Porto Especia, or Leghorn, any longer. Garrisoning Capraia and Elba was a safeguard so that Tuscany did not think to put troops on them first!     "You will sail as soon as the wind allows you, Captain Charlton," he said. "And gather up Myrmidon on your way. Written orders and such will be aboard Lionheart no later than the end of the Second Dog Watch this evening. Along with copies of Admiralty and Foreign Office directives to me, too. To enlighten you. As much as Foreign Office despatches may enlighten anyone, hmm?"     "Very good, Sir John," Charlton said, rising. "And thankee for the opportunity, sir. For your faith in me. You shan't regret it, I swear to you."     "I'd best not , sir," Admiral Jervis cooed in reply, with that bleak and wintry smile of sardonic humour of his. "Good fortune, sir. And good huntin', Captain Charlton."     "Aye aye, sir!" Charlton nodded, wilting, in spite of the honour just done him. And vowing to himself that he would prove worthy of his awesome new trust--if he died in the attempt. Or had to kill somebody else to do it!     In the great-cabins he'd just left, Admiral Sir John Jervis allowed himself a brief moment of leisure to savour the satisfaction he felt in having done himself, and Captain Nelson, a favour.     This Lewrie fellow was a bit too much the "fly" character to suit him. A stallion more suited to the rare oval racecourse, or the neck-or-nothing dash cross winter fields in a steeplechase. And the source of his information was the Foreign Office, their own spies, those who'd used Lewrie before. He was too headstrong to suit them as well. Too prone to take the bit in his teeth and gallop to suit the gallant Nelson.     But perhaps Lewrie would be the perfect addition to Charlton's ad hoc, understrength and isolated squadron. "Old Jarvy" might have just done the Captain a huge favour. Or the greatest harm. Only time, and events, might tell.     And either way, he was shot of him! Copyright © 1999 Dewey Lambdin. All rights reserved.