Sneak Peek! Chapter One of ‘Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall’
Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall is available for pre-order and will be published in a week’s time, on the 28th of August. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter I.
Chapter I – Midshipman Kirkpatrick
Bay of Biscay, November 1866.
Captain Carrington looked up from his desk, waved a hand towards the chair facing him, and busied himself with some papers, ignoring my presence.
It was rumoured that he had spent so long waiting for a captain’s commission, that his hair had turned white and his skin grey. His face was dented with deep ridges that cut his hollow cheeks, and his head and stomach were unusually large compared to his scrawny limbs. I wondered how he had become so overweight with the meagre portions we ate while at sea.
He folded a document, which looked like a letter, and then stared at me before addressing me at last. “Why are you here, Midshipman Kirkpatrick?”
“I wanted to be in the navy, like my father, sir.” I had said the words so often I had convinced myself they were true.
“Who are you running away from?”
I took a few seconds to reply to his unexpected question. “I have never run away from any man, sir.”
“I can believe that.”
His eyes dug into mine, once again. “Cold blood. Determination. I’ve seen you kill without a second thought, when you needed to.”
The crew were mostly decent, self–respecting men, who worked hard and obeyed the regulations. However, there had been a few blackguards of the worst sort, tough merciless men who stole rum and provisions, slept on guard, and increased the workload of the rest of the crew. Many of them had served their time in prison, where they should have remained. A group of such criminals had provoked a mutiny threatening the captain’s life shortly before our arrival in Jamaica. In spite of being flogged for not joining their criminal uprising, I managed to escape with the help of a few brave and loyal sailors and suppressed the rebellion by slaying the scoundrels.
“I’m prepared to do what is necessary for my ship and the crew, sir.” I was relieved that the conversation had returned to professional matters.
“Then it’s a woman you are running away from.” He smiled wryly, and I knew there was no point in denying it. I could not imagine how he knew, because we had never spoken about personal matters. “Not a woman, sir. A very special lady.”
“They are all special to someone, my boy. Beyond your station, perhaps? Her family didn’t think you were good enough, did they?”
“Something like that, sir.”
“So you came here to fix that, did you? To prove that you’re worthy of the damsel?”
“I came to forget.” I had not spoken to anyone about Jane since I left Eyre Hall and it was more painful than I had imagined.
“Of course, to forget.” He nodded mockingly, pressed his fingers on the mahogany desk and raised himself up painfully, swearing as he limped around the cabin. He stopped behind me, breathing down my neck. “But you can’t, can you? She is in your thoughts, under your skin, inside your blood, and you cannot pull her out. You smell her before you fall asleep and touch her in your dreams, don’t you?”
I was relieved that he stood behind me. I needed time to compose myself. How could he know how I felt if I did not understand my feelings myself?
“And when you wake up, your whole body misses her, and your heart aches to hear her voice, you long to look into her eyes, preferably looking up to you from beneath.” I felt his hand on my shoulder. “Am I right, Kirkpatrick?”
I was silent, containing my breathing. How could he know?
“So, what are you going to do about it, man?”
“Nothing, sir. It’s impossible.”
He returned to his seat, staring at me again. “And if you were to return as a commissioned officer, as a lieutenant. Would that make it easier to convince her father?”
“No, sir. It would not.”
“Interesting, no father.” He shuffled the papers on his desk then looked up. “Is that why you’ve been trying to get yourself killed almost every day since we set sail six months ago, Lieutenant?”
“I’m not a lieutenant, sir.”
“You’re a dangerous and valuable man who can kill with one hand and plan the mathematical coordinates of the ship with the other. Your father would have been proud of you, and, one day, so will your beloved’s family.”
“Thank you, sir, for your concern, but I’m afraid not, sir. The lady is out of the question.”
“Then you’ll have to replace her.”
“Admirable self–control and loyalty. I presume she must be married?”
“She is beyond my reach, sir.”
“You were a valet at a country estate before enlisting, am I right?”
“I don’t think a young maid would have made you flee, or rejected you, and seeing the ambition and astuteness in your eyes, I added two and two, and realised it must have been the mistress of the house, or her daughter. Which was it?”
The captain was a gruff man, and although he had been the closest to a father figure I had ever had since my father’s death, I was not ready to discuss my feelings with him.
“In any case, young man, I suggest you start thinking about improving your life, instead of trying to get yourself killed and wasting your life.”
He was right. Jane had offered me a place by her side, and I had joined the navy because I was afraid of commitment. Was I trying to cover up my cowardice by risking my life at sea?
“You know why you are here, don’t you?” The captain interrupted my gloomy thoughts. “Admiral Fitzjames, my last commander, asked me to look after you because your father died in his service; that’s the only reason someone as inexperienced as you would ever have got on board a frigate after only six months at naval school.”
“Thank you for the opportunity, sir.”
“I’m going to give you some advice because you saved my life, and because I can see you have it in you to further your career in the navy. We need good officers who can command respect, and risk their lives.” He paused. “Go back to her, son.”
“I told you it was not possible, sir.”
“You’ll get yourself killed if you don’t. You need to go back and either get her out of your system, or back into your life.”
“Thank you, sir, for your advice. I will think on it.” I wasn’t prepared to tell him why I was living with my soul in the grave.
Are you impatient to read book II before it’s published next week?
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