Cat onine tails, p.1
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       Cat-O'nine Tails, p.1

           Julia Golding
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Cat-O'nine Tails

  Cat O’Nine Tails



  First published 2007

  This edition published 2008

  by Egmont UK Ltd

  239 Kensington High Street, London W8 6SA

  Text copyright © 2007 Julia Golding

  The moral rights of the author have been asserted

  ISBN 978 1 4052 4185 4

  eBook ISBN 978 1 7803 1087 9

  A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library

  Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI Books (Cox and Wyman)

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher and copyright owner.

  Egmont is passionate about helping to preserve the world’s remaining ancient forests. We only use paper from legal and sustainable forest sources, so we know where every single tree comes from that goes into every paper that makes up every book.

  This book is made from paper certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), an organisation dedicated to promoting responsible management of forest resources. For more information on the FSC, please visit To learn more about Egmont’s sustainable paper policy, please visit



  The Diamond of Drury Lane

  Cat among the Pigeons

  Den of Thieves

  Black Heart of Jamaica

  Cat’s Cradle



  Empty Quarter


  Secret of the Sirens

  The Gorgon’s Gaze

  Mines of the Minotaur

  The Chimera’s Curse

  The Ship Between the Worlds


  ‘London’s greatest literary export since my own plays went to America’ – R. B. SHERIDAN

  ‘A well-dressed tale of daring exploits’ – BEAU BRUMMEL

  ‘Unexpected authorial manoeuvres worthy of Admiral Rodney at his most inventive’ – LORD CHATHAM, FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY

  ‘She had me all at sea with her tale – water, water everywhere . . .’ – SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE

  ‘England expects every man to read this book!’ – ADMIRAL NELSON

  ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, but that Cat Royal is possessed of a superior wit’ – THOMAS JEFFERSON

  ‘Enough to make you want to retire to contemplate life in the wilderness’ – HENRY DAVID THOREAU

  ‘Fancies herself a writer on Indian affairs? Well, I hope that’s the last of her and her tribe’ – JAMES FENIMORE COOPER

  ‘Libellous scribbles, completely traducing the honourable intentions of decent American farmers’ – GENTLEMEN OF THE LOYAL LAND COMPANY

  ‘Her tales open up vast tracts of land in which the reader may roam free’ – CREEK CHIEF MCGILLIVRAY OF THE WIND CLAN

  ‘Sir, I am still too busy to read her – will you stop pestering me for my opinion. I have a country to run!’ – GEORGE WASHINGTON




  The life of the rich

  Act I

  SCENE 1 Dancing with Billy

  SCENE 2 Press gang

  Act II

  SCENE 1 Courageous

  SCENE 2 Tattoo

  SCENE 3 Fight

  Act III

  SCENE 1 Nightmare

  SCENE 2 Storm

  SCENE 3 Fort Frederica

  SCENE 4 Savages

  Act IV

  SCENE 1 The Wind Clan

  SCENE 2 Adoption

  SCENE 3 White Men

  Act V

  SCENE 1 Life or death?

  SCENE 2 Philadelphia






  If you are about to sail with me, you should first read the regulations that rule in my navy.

  1. All those in command of the English language are welcome aboard.

  2. All persons on my vessel of war being guilty of profane oaths, cursings or other scandalous actions are in good company with the author.

  3. Every person in my fleet who does not duly observe the standing orders of the admiral (me) to enjoy my tale is hereby ordered to go dunk their head in a bucket of seawater.

  4. If any person in the fleet shall find cause to complain of the unwholesomeness of the fare provided, he or she shall quietly make the same known to his commander in chief who shall, as far as she is able, strive to take the criticism without losing her temper.

  5. Care shall be taken in conducting and steering this vessel so that it be not stranded, or run upon rocks or sands, but keep an eye on the lifeboats just in case.

  Your Commanding Officer,

  Cat Royal



  Catherine ‘Cat’ Royal – late of Drury Lane, your guide

  Pedro Amakye – former slave, violinist, good at sea-shanties

  Mr William Shepherd – crime lord who turns up like a bad penny

  Frank, or the Earl of Arden – heir to a dukedom, under threat

  Mr William Dixon – gentlemanly cousin of the Avon family


  Mr Syd Fletcher – press-ganged boxer, a faithful friend

  Mr Maclean – purser and tormentor Captain ‘Barmy’ Barton – unhinged captain, haunted by demons

  First Lieutenant Lely – his humane second-in-command

  Lieutenant Belsize – ginger-haired junior officer

  Mr Harkness – friendly ordinary seaman

  Mr Nightingale – burly bosun’s mate

  Mrs Foster – kindly gunner’s wife


  Kanawha – young Creek fishergirl, a mean shot Tecumseh – her handsome warrior brother

  Little Turtle – their shy amorous brother Killbuck – their wise uncle Grandmother Bee – an elderly medicine woman with a sharp sting

  Chief McGillivray – rich and wily leader of the Creeks

  Mr Davies and Mr Stuart – white explorers recording Indian customs


  Mrs Elizabeth Fitzroy, or Lizzie – an old friend grown rather fat

  Mr Jonathan Fitzroy, or Johnny – American citizen, proud husband

  Dancing debutantes, sailors, Indian villagers, etc., etc.

  For my godchildren, Rachel, Jessica, Alexandra, Nick, Toby and Jude

  (Though the bits about Syd are especially for Jamie of Waterstone’s, Truro)

  Bath, December 1791


  Reader, imagine yourself sitting in the luxurious surroundings of Boxton, the country house of the Duke of Avon situated near Bath. In the morning room, the walls are hung with hand-painted paper depicting Chinese flowers and animals; the delicate tables bear silver teapots and teacups so fine that the light shines through them. To amuse yourself, you have a pianoforte – or any other musical instrument you care to name, embroidery, sketching or polite novels. And what is the result? Boredom.

  Do not mistake me, Reader: this is not just a little ladylike weariness: I am so bored I could scream.

  My two friends, Frank, the Duke’s son, and Pedro, a superb violinist originally from Africa, are out hunting with the gentlemen. The duchess is still abed. And I’m left kick
ing my heels until the men of the family come home. I’d exchange a good muddy walk across the fields for an embroidery frame any day, but according to Frank, it would not be decent for me to go with the hunters. He even laughed when I suggested as much this morning.

  ‘You know you can’t do that. What would the other guests think?’ Frank’s navy blue eyes twinkled at me, daring me to laugh with him at my absurd idea.

  ‘I don’t care,’ I said, refusing to succumb to his attempt to charm me into a good humour. ‘I’ll do something desperate if I have to sit about any longer.’

  He smiled with slight apprehension, knowing me fully capable of acting outrageously. ‘I trust you would not abuse our hospitality and do anything too scandalous. Take a well-deserved rest, Cat. Read. Study Latin if you must. You’re supposed to be having a holiday.’

  ‘No, Frank, gentlemen have holidays; ladies just have extended periods of vacancy.’

  Frank cast an exasperated look at me, then turned to Pedro who was helping himself to a hearty breakfast from the sideboard. ‘What shall we do with her?’

  Pedro shrugged, piling three bacon rashers alongside a poached egg. ‘Can’t we take her with us?’

  ‘Not you as well! You both know that’d cause a scandal.’

  This was true: my position in the Boxton household was strange enough already. An orphan brought up in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, I had had the good fortune of making some unusually well-bred friends. When made homeless by the closure of the theatre, I had been invited to live among them while I sorted out my future. The invitation had stretched to several months. Pedro, just back from Italy where he had been on tour with his master, Signor Angelini, had returned to find me domiciled with one of the first families in the land; me, who had been the lowliest maid-of-all-work, now not even having to empty my own chamberpot!

  ‘Act like a proper lady just for today, Cat,’ Frank appealed to me, taking my hand. ‘Some of my family have particular views about behaviour suited to your sex.’

  ‘Not your mother, surely?’ I protested.

  He shook his head. ‘No, she would probably tell you to put your boots on and take a gun with you. No, I was thinking of Cousin William. He’s come up from Bristol especially for the shoot and to be introduced to my friends. I don’t want him to meet you for the first time and get the wrong idea. I want him to like you; I want you to like him.’

  Frank’s cousin, William Dixon, had arrived late the night before. I knew Frank had been looking forward to this visit most among all the other company expected at Boxton for Christmas. He had described William with great affection, recounting many tales of previous holidays spent roaming the estate with them both getting into hilarious scrapes. According to Frank, over the last few years William had sobered as he had taken over his father’s shipping business in Bristol and been deluged with new responsibilities, but I sensed that Frank still felt a little in awe of the glamorous older man.

  On the strength of this description, I was strangely eager to meet him too.

  ‘All right,’ I conceded grumpily. ‘I’ll behave.’

  ‘I’ll stay with you if you like,’ offered Pedro.

  ‘No, no, you go. I’ll be fine.’ Given that Pedro was a former slave, it was important that the other guests realized that he was in the household by invitation, not as a servant. Staying behind to entertain me would undermine his status. ‘Perhaps your mother will give me another singing lesson when she rises,’ I suggested to Frank, trying to make the best of it.

  Frank grimaced. ‘You know her. She won’t leave her bedroom till well after noon.’

  ‘Then I’ll find your tutor and badger him to translate a passage of Virgil with me.’

  ‘Sorry, he’s going on the shoot too.’

  I sighed. ‘In that case, I’ll write to Lizzie and Johnny and tell them what a scintillating time I’m having.’

  Frank chuckled. ‘You do that. Send them my love, won’t you?’

  ‘Frank, you really should write to your sister yourself.’

  ‘I know, but you’re so much better at that kind of thing, Cat. It’s one of the female accomplishments that you possess in abundance.’

  ‘Meaning I’m sadly lacking in the others?’

  ‘Well, you could pass the time improving your embroidery – or painting a screen.’

  I poked Frank in the ribs, making him spill his devilled kidneys on his lap.

  ‘All right, all right: I surrender!’ He held his hands up. ‘And I promise I’ll take you riding this afternoon when we get back.’

  So there I was, marooned in the morning room, waiting for someone to rescue me. I couldn’t ever remember being bored before. Life at Drury Lane had been so busy; something was always happening, what with the bustle of rehearsals, the noise of set construction, the daily ebb and flow of the audience as regular as the tides. And, of course, the excitement of each performance. I desperately missed watching Shakespeare and Sheridan acted out on stage. Despite having the library at Boxton at my disposal, the printed page was no substitute for a play. It was a madness worthy of Bedlam to expect anyone to be satisfied with Shakespeare from a book.

  I was interrupted in my thoughts by the arrival of the post. Joseph, my favourite footman, brought me a letter on a silver plate.

  ‘This just came with the carrier, miss,’ he said solemnly.

  This was a rare event: a letter for me. Thanking him, I turned the envelope over with interest as I didn’t recognize the handwriting. After breaking the seal, I unfolded the cheap notepaper:

  Bow Street, 1 December

  Dear Miss Cat,

  I apologize for taking the liberty of writing to you, but our Syd always said you were a true friend, so I hope you don’t mind. As you know, our boy was expected back in October at the latest from his boxing tour but we’ve had no word from him or his manager. His father and I are going almost out of our wits wondering what to do. One of Syd’s boys suggested we write to you and ask you to beg that young lord of yours if he can make enquiries on our behalf. The last news we had was that Syd was in Bristol. They tell me that this is not far from you so I hope it won’t inconvenience you to ask around for us.

  Yours in hope,

  Mrs Joanna Fletcher

  I folded the note and sat staring at the walls, no longer seeing the painted paper but remembering my oldest friend. Syd, the gentle giant, leader of the Butcher’s Boys, missing! I didn’t like it, and yet I also found it hard to imagine that he could have come to any harm. He was too skilled with his fists to fall prey to anyone wishing him ill. There had to be an explanation. He couldn’t read or write, so perhaps it was just that he was delayed longer than he expected and had failed to get a message home. Take into consideration that he was with Mick Bailey, his manager, then it wasn’t surprising. Bailey was a piece of work: I wouldn’t put it past him to persuade Syd into staying away if Bailey was still making money from his boxing matches. Mrs Fletcher need have no doubts about us helping her: Frank and I would do all we could to discover Syd’s whereabouts. After all he’d done for us, we’d go to the ends of the earth to help him if we had to.

  An excited barking and slamming of doors announced the return of the shooting party. I stopped myself running out into the hall and sat demurely with the letter folded in my lap like a proper lady. Frank burst in, his face reddened with cold, curly brown hair hanging damp with dew on his neck. He looked full of energy, invigorated by his morning’s excursion.

  ‘Seven – I shot seven, Cat!’ he said, rubbing his hands with delight. ‘What do you think of that?’

  ‘Poor birds, that’s what I think.’ I passed him the note.

  The door opened again and Pedro entered, talking to a tall, handsome man who bore a family resemblance to Frank: same blue eyes and dark hair, same lanky frame, though his shoulders were broader and his nose worthy of a Roman emperor. It wasn’t hard to imagine he might be Frank’s older brother.

  Frank frowned over the letter but thrust it into h
is pocket as his guests arrived.

  ‘Ah, Will, this is the young lady I mentioned. May I present Miss Royal?’

  Frank’s cousin clicked his heels together and bowed most charmingly over my hand. ‘Miss Royal, a pleasure to meet you.’

  I rose and curtseyed. ‘I’m very pleased you have joined us, Mr Dixon.’

  ‘I hope my young cousin here has not been neglecting you?’ Mr Dixon asked, ruffling Frank’s hair affectionately. ‘He kept us out far longer than expected chasing after an elusive eighth partridge.’

  Frank grinned apologetically at his cousin. ‘But Will reminded me of my duty to my other guests so it lives to see another day.’

  With the newcomer among us, it didn’t seem polite to ask Frank what he thought of the letter. Mr Dixon might not appreciate a duke’s son being asked to run an errand for a butcher’s wife. Frank obviously thought this too as he passed the letter to Pedro when his cousin’s attention was engaged elsewhere. Instead we spent the time until dinner listening to Mr Dixon’s lively talk.

  ‘I have my own small business in Bristol,’ Mr Dixon explained modestly. Frank had mentioned a far from insignificant shipping concern with vessels all over the world. ‘It keeps me in this part of the country so I am thankful to have the delights of Bath to amuse me. I understand you like the theatre, Miss Royal?’

  ‘Like’ was too feeble a word for what I felt about the stage.

  ‘Yes, sir, it is my passion.’

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