The Launching of Roger Brook
It was July 28th 1783. The scene, Sherborne School - Dorset. The sixteen year old Roger Brook was brawling with George Gunston following an effort to retrieve the Mortar board that George had taken from Rogers' head.
The fight was interrupted by the eighteen year old 'Droopy' Ned, The Lord Edward Fitz-Deverel; The younger son of the most noble Marques of Amesbury.
Rogers's opponent was to become General Sir George Gunston who fought on the field of Waterloo.
Rogers's saviour was Mr William Pitt's principal secret agent during the French revolution in the struggle against Napoleon.
Rogers's father is very keen for Roger to join him in a Navy career. Roger is equally adamant that he is not going to. After a ‘fearful’ row Roger decides to disappear from his Lymington home.
He decides to head for the village of Highcliffe some seven miles to the west of Lymington to talk things over with his neighbour, friend and confidante Georgina Thursby. In order to gain some privacy they climb the large150 foot, square and unadorned, tower that is situated behind Highcliffe Manor. There were over 300 stone stairs which had to be climbed to gain access to the little room at the top, which was only large enough to accommodate a brocaded settee, two chairs and a table. The view from the top was stunning with views to the southern tip of the Isle of Wight.
Georgina persuades Roger that his best plan is to seek his fortune in London. She gives him some trinkets that he could sell to give him a start when he arrives there.
He is a little concerned at leaving on his own when he is not yet sixteen years of age. “So” she teases, “You are not a man yet, just a timorous little boy”
He then show’s her in no uncertain terms that he is not. Her plan had worked.
Did this tower exist I ask myself. Is the tower still there? I haven’t been to this part of the country since I was approx ten years old, but if I am ever near the Serpentine wall built next to Grove house I will check it out.
(Could this be another Cardinals Folly type search???)
RB furtively heads back home to gather a few items. He meets up with the smuggler, "Dan Izzard" who agrees to take him on board (for a fee) as he is crossing the Cannel that night.
He arrives in Le Havre.
He meets many characters including;
The man in Red – Chevalier Etienne de Roubec – who absconds with the jewellery that Georgina had given him.
The man in Blue – Aristotle Fenelon – A roving doctor who sells his medicines and potions in the towns and villages of France. RB becomes his assistant.
The man in Grey – Josef Fouche – A lay preacher who interests himself in Police affairs and playing the part of a private investigator and informer.
Fouche tries to extort money from Fenelon and after a fight shoots Fenelon. RB escapes the fight and is hidden from Fouche by hiding in a carriage owned by Athenais de Rochambeau. She decides to protect him.
The man in Green – Maitre Leger is the Rochambeau's lawyer. He is drafted in so that he isn't implicated in the death of Fenelon.
RB is given employment by Maitre Leger and learns various aspects of law.
Subsequently a position becomes available at a wealthy family home and RB is given the job as secretary to The Marquis de Rochambeau. (The father of Athenais.) RB is delighted as he has become besotted with Athenais.
DW fills large sections of the book with the infamous information dumps on French/Dutch/Austrian politics which, to be honest hold even less interest than the info dumps on the English equivalents from previous books which at least hold some relevance to the English readers.
RB realises that a lot of this information may prove useful to the British government and so sends the details to the Admiralty via his father at Lymington. (His role as a spy is forming).
Some of the most interesting historical facts revolve around the growing unrest of the poor;
The French population at this time is 26 million of which there are 140,000 Noblesse and 190,000 Clergy. The Noblesse pay no tax at all whilst the Clergy pay a nominal sum 'en bloc'. This equates to 13% of the population (including the Crown) which contributes next to nothing. The peasants are heavily taxed and very limited in what they can and can't sell. It's no wonder that revolution is around the corner.
Athenais eventually declares her love for RB (as he does for her) but can never marry him as she will have to marry into nobility and as their religious views are totally opposed it could never happen as she is a Catholic and he is a Protestant and neither of them are prepared to risk their mortal souls!!
In the meantime the Marquis de Rochambeau has been organising various eligible (rich) bachelors as a potential husband for Athenais.
RB becomes very friendly with one of these men – Monsieur de la Tour D' Auvergne and if he has to forgo Athenais' hand in marriage he would prefer it to be him. However her father selects Le Comte de Caylus who being a top swordsman and very rich was also one of the most 'odious' men that he could have picked.
Monsieur de la Tour D'Auvergne offers him a dual. D'Auvergne loses and is injured but survives.
RB then offers De Caylus the same proposition. RB has become an accomplished swordsman himself and kills De Caylus.
When the Marquis finds out that his private secretary has killed his future son in law he is furious. He is doubly furious that he has also taken a highly important document giving details of a proposed French invasion of Holland which would heavily involve England.
Roger has to flee the country whilst Athenais and Monsieur de la Tour D'auvergne run off together to marry in Evreux.
RB eventually manages to get on board a boat heading for England anxious to get this valuable piece of paper to London. When he arrives home in Lymington he is attacked by an unknown assailant who steals the document. He explains to his father what has happened and he assists him to catch this unknown attacker.
They eventually manage to get to London and regain the document which is passed on to the Prime Minister, Mr Pitt.
The attacker turns out to be the man in Grey – Josef Fouche who had been trying to get his hands on the 500 Louis reward money for the recovery of the document.
RB surprisingly lets him off any charges (as he apologised???!!).
A decision that his friend Droopy Ned (and now the PM's assistant) said might come back to haunt him as he would, "strangle his own mother and crave her pardon while accomplishing the act from a fixed conviction that a soft answer ever turneth away wrath"
Droopy was right; In time we would see Joseph Fouche, his pale hands dripping with the blood he had shed during the terror, emerging from it as the dreaded Chief of the Secret police under the Consulate and became the most unscrupulous, hated and feared of all Napoleon's servants.
(The description sounds a little like Grauber)
Mr Pitt sends RB back to Europe to pass on his dispatches to the military leaders in The Hague. The early warning quickly brings the European situation to a speedy conclusion. Mr Pitt thanks RB for all that he has done and offers him a job working for the Government.
Joseph Taggart, in The Star (1948), said, “Roger Brook is a bigger and more realistic hero than the Scarlet Pimpernel. “ http://www.scarletpimpernel.com/flower.html
“Outstanding qualities of this superbly exciting story are realism, historical accuracy and the creation of a hero who, though drawn on the D’Artagnan scale, is yet a fellow no more incredible than his arch-enemy Fouche, or Billy Pitt himself”
Rogers's mothers' maiden name is Lady Marie McElfic. She is an irreconcilable Jacobite.
Rogers Fathers name is Rear Admiral Christopher Brook.
Rogers little fingers were of exceptional length reaching almost to the nails of the third fingers.
DW was very interested in Palmistry and Cheirognomony – the science of reading character from the shape of the hands. (See – You and Your Hand – Cheiro. Library of the Occult - Volume 12)
RB was born on January 8th 1768
DW was born on January 8th 1897
Evreux is twinned with Rugby (My home town – just thought I'd mention it!!!)
In all my years of reading Dennis Wheatley books this was the first (and only) Roger Brook book that I had ever read.
I only read it then as it was the second book of the Heron Books collection which happened to pop through my letterbox. I was still on a 'high' having just read the first book in of the collection (The Devil Rides Out) in 1972.
I can remember enjoying The Launching of Roger Brook then, but having now read it for the second time cannot recall anything of the content other than the very beginning when Roger fights with Gunston. I enjoyed this second reading more than I thought I would as I had become so indoctrinated into Duke de Richleau, Gregory Sallust etc. I am now very much looking forward to reading the next book in the series - The Shadow of Tyburn Tree.