The acrid smell grew stronger as [Reverend Theophilus and Mrs. Cattermole] climbed, and was particularly strong on the landing. In fact, some wisps of bluish smoke, which seemed to be the cause of the smell, were curling out from under a door at the head of the stairs. There was a neat notice pinned to the door. It said:
The Rector’s impulse was to burst into the room at once, but experience of his nephew’s arrangements made him more prudent. He “nocked” twice urgently. At once the door opened as though by some magic agency, letting out a concentrated waft of the smell which had previously annoyed them…
A small figure standing by a littered table…turned calmly…He was fifteen years of age but looked less because of his lack of height. He wore a pair of large steel-rimmed spectacles and his black hair was cut shorter than was the fashion of 1803, but the general effect of neatness was spoiled by a large black smudge which covered most of the lower half of his small pale face.
“Are you killed, my lamb?” demanded Mrs. Cattermole shrilly.
“Pray don’t distress youself, ma’am” returned Septimus gravely. “A little experiment, sir…It had occurred to me that if the substance known as Potassium Chlorate were to be contained in some small vessel with the right quantity of Sulphur and the compound impacted — that is to say, if I hit it a pretty fair whack with a pestle — the result would be an expl–“
“Enough!” thundered the Reverend Theophilus. “You will wash your face, sir, and then come to my study. I wish to have a talk with you.”
Meet Septimus Quinn – a British lad, orphaned at age 14, living temporarily with his uncle, wearing out his welcome in no time flat, and about to be packed off to the Royal Navy as a Midshipman on the frigate, Althea.
Septimus is a bookish fellow, with a mind keen to understand the whys and hows of everything and a penchant for experimentation with chemicals, glass-blowing, disguises, and other curious occupations.
It’s the era of the Napoleonic wars. The Brits have been fighting the French for ten years already. Because of the Quinn family’s lofty connections, Septimus’ father has been able, prior to his death, to obtain an excellent position for his son, so that despite his youth, Septimus is beginning his duties in an advantageous position.
It will take all Septimus’ ingenuity and nerves of steel for him to hold his own in the battles to come, yet come what
may — from explosive sea battles to tangles with pirates, daring rescues and intrepid spying — Septimus Quinn is up for the job.
There are four separate books in this collection: Midshipman Quinn, Quinn of the Fury, Midshipman Quinn & Denise the Spy, and Quinn at Trafalgar, written between 1956 and 1965. Together, that’s 600 pages of rip-roaring sea and naval adventures with an incredibly likeable hero. We read these aloud when my son was about 9 years old and the whole family thoroughly enjoyed them. For listeners ages 8 and up, or readers around age 12 with a hearty vocabulary, who are not quite ready to tackle the classic Horatio Hornblower series, it’s a perfect fit, though I enjoyed the stories quite as much as my kids!
Showell Styles was a Welsh mountaineer who served in the Royal Navy during World War II, then went on to lead a Himalayan expedition and two Arctic expeditions. Obviously a guy who loved adventure, and that zeal and glee for risky business comes through strongly in these bracing, action-packed, wryly humorous, stories.
I haven’t met many others who have read these stories, and that’s a shame. Great summer reading!
Here’s the Amazon link:The Midshipman Quinn Collection (Bethlehem Budget Books)