How Conflicting Loyalties Came to Be

How Conflicting Loyalties Came to Be

 In 1954 on the Holland – West African Line freighter Guinea Kust from Freetown to Amsterdam, my father read C. S. Forrester’s naval historical novel Commodore Hornblower to my brother and me. It was the beginning of my love for historical sea sagas and all things naval, and of the writing of Conflicting Loyalties.

Our family of four had just completed a year in Sierra Leone where father was teaching under a Fulbright Grant at FourahBayCollege. It had been a wonderful year during which we had crossed the Atlantic on the S.S. United States and traveled from Southampton to Freetown on the Royal Mail Ship R.M.S. Oriole. The former was the flagship of the America Line and the latter was a fully appointed Cunard passenger liner. Both had customs, rules, and nurseries for children that made the voyages exciting and enjoyable, but rather structured; not so on the Guinea Kust.

Guinea Kust was a freighter with only two passenger cabins, spotlessly clean (as a Dutch ship should be), crewed by very professional, but young and child-friendly sailors and officers who gave my brother and me the run of the ship within reason and with a careful regard for our safety, although we did not realize it at the time. There were massive teak logs strapped to the weather deck around which green seas broke when we encountered some heavy weather. These became the sides of enemy ships-of-the-line for us to board, though not in high seas. With a little string run through a grommet by a crewman, we would hoist signals (dad’s socks) from the wings of the bridge. The cook could have had a job at the best restaurants in Paris or New York, but loved the sea. The mash potatoes were served in the shape of a swan with colored beak, eyes, and wingtips, and the deserts were chocolate windmills with wafers for vanes, so we imagined ourselves at the state dinner with the Czar in St. Petersburg.

The lifeboats were particularly appealing as they occasionally were uncovered so that we could transform them into H.M.S. Nonesuch and I as Hornblower and my brother as Captain Bush could combat the French. Somehow, while we were thus engaged a smiling Dutch crewman always had duties close alongside the lifeboat.In the Bay of Biscay, we encountered thick fog and the captain had the lifeboats readied in earnest with the comment, “Not a fog in Biscay, but a ship goes down.” We had seen the Spanish coast in late afternoon, so I could imagine us rowing to land and was very excited about the chance for a ride in the lifeboat, until dad pointed out that my Hercules bicycle, purchased at Harrods’s on the way out to Africa, would be lost. I cancelled my prayer for a lifeboat experience.

The imaginings aboard the Guinea Kust had included adventures in harbors and the one I knew best was the Sierra LeoneRiver at Freetown, the third largest natural harbor in the world. As the years progressed and I devoured all of Forrester’s Hornblower saga and the myriad of similar tales, I conceived of my own series that would begin with a clash of Napoleonic squadrons off West Africa. The idea was one of those vague dreams in the distant future when living life would not get in the way of creative endeavors. It did not even make the bucket list, let alone an actual plan.

Then in 2000, the opportunity to write the story literally fell upon me in the form of a 1,000 pound horse. I was loading two horses into a trailer to go to a Civil War reenactment near Kansas City. In the process one of them went down on me breaking my right tibia and blowing out the right ankle. I had just left a job and had not as yet found another. I could not drive for six months. The family was spending the summer in Canada. I decided to turn disaster into opportunity and write my naval novel. Patrick O’Brien’s Jack Aubrey series was extremely popular at the time and another Napoleonic sea officer’s tale was unlikely to catch the fancy of the publishing or reading world. I decided to move the time of my work forward half a century to the War Between the States. My mother, a Ph.D. student of T. Harry Williams, had had me tromping over Civil War battlefields before I really could walk. I had been a Civil War re-enactor during the centennial in the 1960’s. I had re-entered the hobby when I created a Civil War living history honors program at a military school where I served as Vice President. Thus, I had an understanding of life in the mid-nineteenth century. Thirty years as a Marine with several significant times afloat would be helpful and West Africa as a setting for an American Civil War story would be unusual. Six months should be about right to write the book.

The devil always is in the details and the difference between a general yarn and a detailed, historically accurate story is in the research. The difference between a first draft and a final manuscript is in the innumerable reviews, edits, and re-writes in between. Writing, I found, is a laborious, time intensive process, especially when little irritations such as making a living compete for that time. Through many fits and starts this work has been shelved and revived, while improving with every pass through it. Finally, we (my many helpers and advisors, a few of whom are listed in the book’s Acknowledgement, and I) think it is ready for the ultimate evaluation, that of you, the reader. May you enjoy it and find it worthy.

Kline Family aboard RMS Oriole bound for Freetown
Kline Family aboard RMS Oriole bound for Freetown

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