Dire news yesterday: His Majesty’s frigate Resolute, 72, was destroyed while on blockade on one of the Abyssal approaches to Provençe. I was officially so informed by the Admiralty’s Third Sky Lord, who had summoned me to Yorke; but unofficially the news had reached even to Camp Moorhen.
Resolute was one of a number of the King’s ships on that approach, on duty to ensure that none of Le Maréchal’s ships-of-war slipped out and that no foreign cargo slipped in. According to a dispatch from Admiral Austen, three Provençese sloops-of-war had appeared, outbound from Toulouse, and he had sent Resolute in to destroy or capture them.
All eyes, and I imagine every spyglass in the fleet, were on the Resolute as three war-wagons rose from each of the sloops and engaged the vastly larger ship with small-arms fire. The Resolute‘s Captain Dundas was cut down in the initial volley, along with her First Lieutenant, Mr. Mowett. The marine sharpshooters in the fighting tops were killed shortly after, followed by all of the men on deck. The war-wagons’ crews were firing out of loop-holes in the hardened side-panels, and so were protected from the fire of the sharpshooters; and by their nimbleness and ease of maneuver were protected from the Resolute‘s great guns. The Second Lieutenant, Mr. Colton, ordered the guns to reload with grape; which indeed led to the destruction of two of the attacking war-wagons. But only the deck guns could bear on the attackers, and then only if they dropped too low, and Mr. Colton was shortly cut down himself.
Having reduced the defenders, the wagons then proceeded to drop incendiaries on the Resolute‘s deck. Another wagon was destroyed when by carelessness, haste, or mischance it itself went up in flames, and two more were lost when the fires reached the Resolute‘s magazine. By that time a very few of the Resolute‘s men had been able to flee in one of the ship’s boats.
The remaining four wagons returned to the sloops, which in turn sailed for the mainland.
Lord St. Victor laid this out for me in a private meeting at Admiralty House, concluding with,
“So, I believe I may say that you have proven your point: conventional methods are fruitless against this new threat. We shall ensure that Camp Moorhen remains supplied, and your wagons properly manned.” At this point he grimaced. “There are some, ah, discussions on-going between our service and the Royal Army as to just who shall man them. Colonel Redvers has spoken rather heatedly in favor of your wagons remaining in Army hands. But that is no worry of yours.”
And then, rising, he continued, “And that is not why I summoned you. We have received a deputation from the Guild of Shipwrights; I wished you to be present when I meet with them.”
Taking a folded broadsheet from his desk, he led me down the hall and into a larger room furnished with a long table and chairs. As we entered, three men were admitted by another door; one of them was Master Eaves, of the Ember and Sons Shipyard. He saw me at the same time, and shot me a look that I am afraid I found quite gratifying.
St. Victor took his place at the head of the table, and waved me to the seat at his right. One of the shipwrights, a man with silver hair and piercing eyes, took the opposite end, with Eaves on his left and the third man on his right.
Master Eaves made as if to speak, but the silver-haired man laid a hand on his arm, and he subsided, though he continued to stare intently at me.
“Lord St. Victor,” the silver-haired man said, “thank you for agreeing to meet with us.”
“Master Ravell,” said St. Victor. “I understand that you have concerns.”
“Yes, your lordship. It is our understanding that so far from building up His Majesty’s fleet in the face of the Maréchalist threat, you are devoting your funds to a new kind of ship, untried, untested, and unsafe. Due to our deep concern for the safety of the His Majesty’s sailors, then, we must ask: is this in fact the case?”
“Master Ravell, it is true that we are not building any conventional ships-of-war at this time. As you must know, I cannot possibly say anything beyond that.”
“And yet, your lordship, we remain concerned. Without new shipping, how do you intend to respond? Only Cumbria’s wooden walls can preserve our country in peace.”
“That seems to be in question,” St. Victor said. He unfolded the broadsheet, and slid it down the table. “I presume you have heard of the fate of the Resolute?”
Ravell exchanged glances with the man on his right. Eaves continued to stare at me, teeth clenched.
The man on Ravell’s right spoke for the first time. “And are not we of the Shipwright’s Guild best suited to help you find the answers you need? Does not this work fall to us?”
“That also seems to be in question,” said St. Victor, smoothly. “I have no doubt that we will need new ships in due course. But for the moment I am quite satisfied with the fleet as it stands.”
“But what of these developments that have reached our ears?” the third man continued. “These ‘war-wagons’. We have reason to believe that they are necessarily unsafe.”
St. Victor looked at me.
“Le Maréchal‘s men will find them so, I am sure,” I said. “More I may not say.”
St. Victor nodded. “It is as Grandmaster Tuppenny has said. And I must urge you to have a care, masters. If you have heard anything concerning ‘war-wagons’, as you call them, or any other official matters, you might be found in defiance of the Official Secrets Act. The cost to your employers could be…severe.”
Eaves could contain himself no longer. He bolted to his feet and shouted, red-faced, “But this man, this Tuppenny, has stolen the secrets of the Shipwright’s Guild!”
I had of course been expecting this, and I was prepared.
“Masters, it is true that I consulted with Master Eaves last month. But I swear on my honor that I have made no attempt to steal your guild’s secrets.” I shook my head. “In fact, I spoke to Master Eaves only to verify that, for my purposes, you had none worth the stealing.”
Dear Journal, I confess that I was afraid Master Eaves would do himself an injury. But Master Ravell said only, “Is this your final word?”
“It is,” said St. Victor.
“There will be questions asked in Parliament over this,” warned the third man.
“Ask away,” said St. Victor, rising. I rose with him; and as a uniformed sailor ushered them out I felt at last repaid for the string of sailor’s taverns Eaves had led me through in Salisbury.