Hello, friends! It's my pleasure to have Don Jacobson here today to share a bit about his new book, The Sailor's Rest, and there's a chance to win an eCopy of his book. Details are at the bottom of the page.
Please give Don a warm welcome!
Since I began writing Austenesque fiction eight years ago, I have been fascinated by supporting characters. Note that I did not write “secondary” characters. That diminishes their importance in my eyes. I have found that a conscientious treatment of the supporting cast allows a richer and deeper reading experience.
Authors have their styles allowing them to explore the truths they seek to uncover in their work. Austen did this. Her requirements for her secondary characters were precise. She needed them to reveal specific traits against which the leads’ characteristics could be bounced.
For instance: Mr. Collins impressed Elizabeth as a profoundly silly man with little depth and almost no capacity for thought—let alone rational thought. His direct opposite is Darcy—serious, thoughtful, and responsible. Thus, if Collins entirely puts off Elizabeth, one can sense Austen saying Look at this Darcy fellow. I smile as I write this, for Austen wrote Bingley as shallow enough to be of little interest to Lizzy. I could go on with other character juxtapositions throughout the Canon, but you can understand my point.
When I began working on The Sailor’s Rest, I quickly realized that the plot I envisioned demanded supporting actors to supply capabilities that none of the leads could. Of these, I focused on Admiral and Mrs. Croft—experienced in life and the Royal Navy. Recall that The Sailor’s Rest uses the Persuasion timeline after Anne and Wentworth rediscover their love. Thus, the Crofts are at Kellynch. I had Anne staying with them after her betrothal while Wentworth was away on a mission to Sweden.
I always have felt that Croft has been treated as a bit of a ‘Colonel Blimp’ type, almost a comic relief in a blustery way. His character is meaningless other than to serve as the financial salvation of Sir Walter’s retrenchment. That is one of the terrible shortcomings of the television/motion picture filters through which the public has seen the Canon. Two hours is tragically short for any character development.
My research showed that only thirty seagoing admirals were active at any one time in the Napoleonic Wars. I will not go into a lengthy explanation of attaining the final step in a naval officer’s career except to note that there were two types: those assigned to the Yellow Squadron and thus never to serve in any capacity and those who gained a Red, White, or Blue Pennant. Promotion came with seniority. The higher you moved up the post-captain’s list, the longer you lived, the closer you came to flag rank. Even if you were first in line, you needed an admiral to die for you to get your stars.
Admiral Alfred Croft was not a bumbling fool but an experienced fighting man with uncommon vision and martial intellect. He had just returned from a lengthy tour in the Far East. Croft was well-respected in the Admiralty as a warrior and diplomat. As such, his wife would also be most capable. Mrs. Sophie Croft had spent years in the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea. She was no society wife. Imagine, if you will, Caroline Bingley or Elizabeth Elliot aboard a 72-gun battleship. Both Crofts are imbued with their own brand of common sense. I brought that out, I hope. This makes a difference for Anne Elliot and Elizabeth Bennet as they embark on a perilous journey to recover Wentworth and Darcy.
|I see Iain Glen playing my Admiral Alfred Croft. He has the perfect squint.|
With Admiral Croft’s backstory in hand (see Chapter Four), I could then consider the tools he could bring to bear. First amongst these were his connections with the Admiralty, specifically the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Joseph Yorke. Croft makes two passages through Whitehall: before and after the party seeks word of Wentworth in Barton Upon Humber. Please enjoy the excerpt, which peels back the essentials of Rear Admiral of the White Sir Alfred Croft.
This excerpt is © 2023 by Donald P. Jacobson. Reproduction is prohibited. Published in the United States of America.
From Chapter 5
The Admiralty, Tuesday, February 28, 1815
Croft knew the Admiralty and those who made the system work. His uniform coat hewed tightly to his frame and accentuated his powerful build. Cox’n Tomkins, used to Wentworth’s more subdued garb, whistled when he hefted Croft’s topcoat laden with gold braid and honors. Now Croft’s dazzling array accomplished its purpose. His feet had barely crossed the threshold before a visibly nervous porter accosted him. That low-placed functionary instantly saw Croft as one who had most recently led one of the Far East squadrons. ’Twas in his self-interest to recognize men whose heads rose into the rarified clouds enlivened by red, blue, and white pennants.
Croker has not survived multiple First Lords without being an adept manager of the political currents flowing through Whitehall’s blue water corridors. He will suspect my motives for rooting around his bailiwick. That will benefit me, for it will arouse his curiosity, a dangerous trait in any bureaucrat. I might impress his clerks with all my shining braid, but Croker will terrify them with his bland stygian manner and voice like the rustling of dried leaves. He will work the problem from this end.
The porter returned and begged Croft to follow him. A few turns through the paneled corridors presented Croft with an unexpected sight. John Wilson Croker stood in the doorway leading into his room. The Admiralty’s chef de cabinet could have remained in his cell and forced Croft to enter and bow before his throne. Croker did not because he had served Collingwood and, through him, had known Croft.
Few captains could have earned Collingwood’s approbation. The late admiral was known to have despised the incompetence lofty connections often brought aboard. If Croft had abandoned Somersetshire’s climes—custom had an admiral earning six months liberty after a long and challenging tour—there was a worthwhile reason that justly commanded Croker’s attention.
“Sir Alfred: an unexpected pleasure to see you. I was unaware you had arrived in town.”
Croft bowed and followed the factotum into the chamber. After the two men had settled themselves, Croft laid the Admiralty message on the desktop and nudged it toward an otherwise motionless Croker. Only his eyes moved as he took in the broken seal.
“I freely admit that I read Wentworth’s orders. I will, however, plead the necessity of circumstances. Once I relate the facts known to us, you will understand that while this is a family matter, there may well be implications for the service,” Croft rumbled.
‘Implications for the service’ fixed Croker’s attention. Economy of motion hid his interest. Croft unspooled the tale at his nod as those at Kellynch knew it to be. The earlier surprise jelled into a chill that settled below Croker’s stomach the longer the admiral spoke.
In a voice heard when careers foundered, Croker grated, “We never ordered Captain Wentworth here. Do you have proof that we did otherwise?”
Croft snorted. “Proof? Do I have the document? No! I only possess the one letter dated February 9 that Miss Anne Elliot received from Barton upon Humber. Wentworth—and I know the man’s hand—stated that he left Laconia in Newcastle to come south for his wedding. His only detour was to be here. He gave no details except that he had orders. Likely what he received was unspecific, but we sailors can only divine Admiralty intentions as through a glass darkly.
“We expected Wentworth a fortnight ago, give or take a few days. I think you will agree that Captain Frederick Wentworth has ne’er missed a rendezvous except when the deck has been blasted from beneath his feet.”
With that Croft subsided and fixed the secretary with slate gray eyes. That turbulent shade was a color well known by mariners familiar with the North Atlantic. The patch of unforgiving waters could freeze a man’s flesh on his bones. Men with such gales in their orbs eventually became admirals or died in the process. That ice-like attention to duty was why Croft had become one of the service’s indispensable men. Croft was an officer who knew when to use a diplomat’s touch instead of a 24-pound bludgeon.
Croker saw the set of his jaw and the storm in Croft’s eyes as a sign that the admiral was ready to embark on a course that would bring him near rocks and shoals. “As I said, we have no record of orders dispatched to the captain. We had been under the impression that he would spend some time in Somersetshire after his nuptials.”
The cabinet secretary raised the message and pointed a corner at Croft to emphasize his point. “The hall porter noted that you were coming to me on a family matter. I have had your acquaintance long enough, Admiral, to know that you are nothing if not precise in your seamanship—and speech.
“You have but one family member in our harness—your wife’s brother. Thus, I asked my clerks to locate our correspondence directed to him after he began his mission to the Swedish capital.”
Croker lowered the Kellynch message onto the desk and pulled a buff-colored folder across the surface to rest beneath his fingertips. “If one eliminates demands for accountings of cordage, powder, and shot as well as casks of salt beef and biscuit, there are precious few communications of importance.
“One was an official notice of the required court martial after the wreck of the frigate. Appended to it was our acknowledgment of his acquittal with distinction for his accomplishment in bringing the ship to harbor and saving his crew.
“The other was this message,” the hand lifted from its anchor, and a long finger tapped the folded stationery earlier proffered by Croft, “sent to him at your home. We needed to post him into a new command bound through the Gut to quell the rumblings coming from the Bey of Algiers who is less-than-pleased that his frog patron remains in enforced retirement.”
The secretary’s hand lifted and floated above the fawn dossier before dropping atop the file: fingers splayed, pinning it to the desktop. Croker closed his eyes to emphasize his final pronouncement and dismay at the discovery. “The record remains suspiciously silent about any intervening missives.”
Croft leaned forward. “Then it appears that you, sir, will have to pull on your end of the hawser whilst I must haul on mine.
“I am off to Barton but will apprise you of any developments: the most urgent ones by semaphore using the admiral’s code. Otherwise, I will attend you in a sennight or thereabouts.”
news and features to advertising, television, and radio. His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards. He has previously published five books, all nonfiction. In 2016, he published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series, The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey. Since then, Meryton Press re-edited and republished Keeper and the subsequent six volumes in the series. In 2022, Meryton Press published the eighth and final book in the series—The Grail: The Saving of Elizabeth Darcy. Other Meryton Press books by Jacobson include Lessers and Betters, In Plain Sight, and The Longbourn Quarantine. All his works are also available as audiobooks (Audible).
Oh, I'm looking forward to this one!ReplyDelete
I hope you find it enjoyable. Good luck on the drawing.Delete