Historical Nautical Fiction: The Uncommon Valour duology

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Duncan MacLeod, Aug 23, 2019.

  1. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Is this something folks around here would like to read? I'll start posting it if there's an interest, if not I'll just let the thread fade away. So it's up to you folks. Yes or No?


    In the steaming cauldron of war some battles are personal.


    The Frigate Captain

    February 1779, the war in North America does not go well for Britain. At sea the strength of the Royal Navy has been blunted by a war of small fast ships, while on land the corruption and incompetence of the military government have allowed a handful of rebel troops to hobble an army.

    John Sinclair is a senior captain, a man well used to service in difficult conditions, but haunted by past demons. William Mason is a young loyalist commander determined to do his duty to King and Country. Tara is the beautiful young woman that connects them both. When the two men meet in the North Atlantic their lives become intertwined by a web of French intrigue. A web that threatens to destroy all that both hold dear.

    But duty is still duty and whether in London’s squalid back alleys or the blood stained New York countryside it demands no less than the fullest measure of devotion that they have to give.


    Broad Pendant

    May 1779, still stinging from losses suffered in the southern colonies Britain is faced with a new danger as a combined Rebel/French raiding squadron continues to plunder the trade lanes defying the powerful ships of the Royal Navy.

    Into this seething cauldron sail John Sinclair and William Mason on a mission to end their trepidations once and for all. But first Mason, newly posted to the 26-gun frigate Vanessa, finds himself trapped between family and duty, while Sinclair must defend himself against a charge of treason at a time when his country needs him most.

    But when the beat to quarters sounds all past doubts and fears must be put aside as the fate of the nation may rest on the decisions they must make in the awful heat of battle.
     
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  2. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Houston, we have a problem...
    I presume you are talking about the books by Showell Styles (British author of MANY books decades ago)?

    I'm not sure if I've even seen any of these in used book stores in years. I have heard that some of them are quite good but, his naval fiction was overshadowed by C.S. Forester's Hornblower series (which I am just now finishing my "revisit" of).
     
  3. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
  4. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Houston, we have a problem...
    Need to be careful here - the mods don't like it if you are "advertising" something...

    Any historical fiction is cool with me but then, I'm a wee bit obsessed with history.
     
  5. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    What advertising? It's been out of print for more than a decade. You might find a used copy somewhere but I sure won't see a penny of it.

    No this is a gift to the TrekBBS.
     
  6. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    We'll start with a little background.

    What Has Come Before:

    Captain John Sinclair, Royal Navy

    John Sinclair was born on 12 September 1735, the first born of Andrew Sinclair, a wealthy magistrate, and his wife Mary (Burke) Sinclair at the family estate of White Oaks outside the town of Thornbury in county Gloustershire just a dozen miles north of Bristol. Scion of one of the richest families in England young Sinclair grew up with the best of everything yet somehow never grew overly pretentious over it. Even as a very young child he interacted well with others from a wide variety of the social spectrum, be they Gentry, Merchant or Working class.

    Educated mainly by a series of tutors Sinclair showed a flair for both theoretical and practical matters very early on and advanced rapidly in his studies. But despite his uncle being a Cambridge professor the academic life held no great allure for Sinclair, it was the sea that had claimed his soul and the sea that would have him. After much cajoling his parents reluctantly gave their permission and with a nudge from his grandfather, Sir Thomas, he entered the King’s Navy on 14 September 1748 as a midshipman aboard HMS Tyche, 50 under the command of a friend of his Uncle Henry, Captain Donald Vincent.

    It was quite an experience to go from a life of luxury to one of hardship and the demands of a Man o’ War’s discipline but Sinclair thrived on it, swiftly gaining a reputation of being a real go-getter aboard the big fourth rate and within a very short time his natural talent for leadership had moved him to the forefront of the ship’s gunroom. However in time everything must come to an end and after just under thirty-four months Tyche paid off on 8 June 1751, in those days appointments were hard to come by and thus unable to secure another posting young Mr. Midshipman Sinclair returned home to White Oaks in time to attend the funeral services for his younger brother Robert who had died of pneumonia just a day earlier at the age of eight.

    Still without prospects for employment in September, Midshipman Sinclair attended classes at Cambridge Trinity College until he was able to obtain new appointment on 21 March 1752 aboard HMS Dagger, a 14-gun Brig of War employed as a courier between Whitehall and Antigua. After a year and a half as the brig’s senior midshipman Sinclair passed his lieutenant’s examination with flying colours on 17 November 1753, unfortunately this put him in a severe quandary: continue to serve but as a midshipman deferring his commission until a lieutenant’s post was available or except his commission immediately but go on half-pay. Although he was quite willing to continue as senior midshipman he realized that his captain would find it far easier to find a replacement for him then and there rather than some nebulous point in the future when Dagger might well be at sea. Thus Sinclair was commissioned a lieutenant only to be placed on half-pay where he would remain until the Seven Years War began in the middle of the next year.

    In time John Sinclair secured a position as the junior lieutenant aboard HMS Angelyne of 24-guns and 492 tons on 2 August 1754. The little sixth rate had a very young company but it included a core of men whom had previously served aboard the little brig Dagger before she’d gone into the dockyard for a long overdue refit. Sinclair thus found many old friends aboard and made many new ones as well, sadly all too soon there would be very few left. Angelyne was assigned to Admiral John Byng’s fleet at the Battle of Minorca on 17 May 1756. The small frigate along with the rest of Admiral West’s Van Squadron was badly battered by the French under Admiral de Galissioniere. The little twenty-four’s frail timbers were shattered by the French cannonade while the main fleet under Admiral Byng hung back refusing to tack on more sail and engage. In John Sinclair’s eyes it was an act of supreme cowardice, worse it was followed by the order to abandon the Minorca garrison to the French. As the only commissioned officer left alive Sinclair sailed Angelyne back to Plymouth with the hands working until they dropped of exhaustion each day and the pumps barely keeping the little ship afloat. In a final irony an Admiralty board condemned the ship as a hulk shortly after she arrived.

    In March 1757 Lieutenant Sinclair gave evidence at Admiral Byng’s Court Martial. Although he knew that the trial was politically motivated he cared little for the reasons, all that mattered to him was that the man who had left Angelyne’s people to be butchered like cattle would pay for his cowardice. Following Byng’s execution Sinclair was posted to HMS Southampton, 32 under Captain Gilchrist as second lieutenant. Thus began John Sinclair’s career aboard the first of the modern English frigates, it was a career fraught with much peril and no small number of wounds as well.

    In one particularly difficult battle against five French privateers on 25 July 1757 Sinclair was badly wounded by a pike thrust that pierced his left leg, fortunately the wound was a clean one and he recovered rapidly. Not many months after, on his birthday, the Southampton captured the 26-gun Emeraude after a hard-fought action, Captain Gilchrist named the still recovering Sinclair as prize master, he sailed the prize to Plymouth without incident and returned to Southampton in October.

    Five months later came the action that cost Southampton her captain. In a fierce duel she battled the French frigate Danae of 40 guns on 28 March 1758; although vastly out-gunned Captain Gilchrist managed to capture the Frenchman however the severe wounds that he suffered in the fight had clearly disabled him permanently. The Admiralty retired him from active service after which Parliament awarded him a pension of some three hundred pounds.

    It was not long before a replacement commander arrived aboard in the person of Captain Philip Mainwaring a highly competent Cornishman in his early thirties. Shortly after Mainwaring had taken command Southampton was assigned to Commodore Richard Howe’s squadron in the Bay of Seine. On 6 August 1758 the squadron captured the French town of Cherbourg and burnt the harbour front before withdrawing. This action set the pattern for Howe’s operations as his squadron continued to raid up and down the French Coast for another two years.

    In a noteworthy action whilst he was in charge of the boats during a raid near Caen in June of 1759 Lieutenant Sinclair saved a lovely young girl of sixteen from three rapists and returned her to her father. The two promised one another that they would meet again when the war was over. A few months later once more in command of another shore detachment on one of the raids, this one on a foundry of artillery near Rouen, Sinclair cut through a cordon of French troops to rescue the after-guard of the British landing force on 9 September 1759. Commended by Howe for his courage and daring Sinclair was promoted to Junior Post Captain, a rank that was quickly confirmed by the Admiralty in London.

    Captain Sinclair was posted to command HMS Penelope, 24 a small 6th rate frigate, a sister ship to the little Angelyne, on 24 September 1759. The ship was assigned to the Leeward Islands Station where both she and her new captain proved themselves in action against both the French and Spanish. Sinclair had made good use of his previous service learning the essentials of command from Captains Hughes, Gilchrist and Mainwaring; with a few advanced lessons coming from Black Dick Howe.

    Early in March of the following year he was joined aboard Penelope by his old and dear friend Alfred Bassingford, whom had just completed seven years of study at three different Universities to become a physician. Bassingford had not been aboard for a full month before Penelope went into a major action, capturing the French corvette Brigitte, 24 on 11 April 1760 in what would later become known as the Battle of the Ladies off the coast of Virginia.

    Following her repairs at the New York dockyard, during which Sinclair found his presence much in demand as it seemed that everyone wanted to meet the ‘Hero of the Battle of the Ladies’, Penelope was transferred to that station on 29 May 1760; over the next twenty-five months Captain Sinclair fought his way across North America bringing the enemy to battle on literally dozens of occasions. In the course of his two-year whirlwind Sinclair and his Penelope engaged and destroyed or captured 11 ships and 23 coastal craft.

    But all was not fire and death during those two years for while in Canada in 1761 Captain John Sinclair met the girl he had saved years earlier, following a whirlwind courtship he and his lovely Angelique were married on 11 April 1761 in New York. They spent just seventeen months in the little cottage he had bought for her on John Street before Penelope returned to Portsmouth for a well-earned overhaul on 9 November 1762 her company having paid off. Captain Sinclair was given three months leave while the frigate was in the dockyard, but with the signing of the Treaty of Paris the ship was ordered laid up and Captain Sinclair placed on half pay.

    On 21 June 1763 Sinclair returned home from a meeting in Bristol to find Angelique shot by her half brother Gerard’s hand when she had refused to betray her husband, she had been six-months pregnant with their first child. Although Doctor Bassingford was summoned at once he arrived too late and she died in John’s arms even as Gerard made his escape. Gerard was tried and convicted of murder in absentia, Sinclair swore vengeance on him putting a bounty of five thousand pounds on the Frenchman’s head, but within a few weeks he had sunk deeply into depression. Slowly the ceaseless efforts of Bassingford, his cox’n MacGregor and friend George Therrien managed to bring him out of the worst part of it.

    Sinclair was posted to command the 28-gun frigate Argo on 6 February 1764, Argo was assigned to a variety of standard duties over a seven year long commission that took them from the Irish Sea to the South Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Far East. Always brave, Sinclair had become almost recklessly fearless during this period to the grave concern of Alfred Bassingford, however by the time they returned from the Far East Sinclair’s aggressiveness seemed back to normal.

    Soon after, Argo was paid off on 20 March 1771, within less than a week Captain Sinclair had been posted to command a new ship. This time she was the frigate Arethusa, 32 assigned to the East Indies Station in Bombay. Most of their missions were simply showing the flag or expeditions to improve the Royal Navy’s charts of the area, punctuated by the infrequent battle with Arabian corsairs. Until the spring of 1774 when a more serious threat made its appearance. Arethusa, in company with the old Tyche, which was by this time under Captain Philip Mainwaring, went on the hunt for four French pirates that had been preying upon the ships of the Honourable East India Company. On 17 June 1774 the Frenchmen were brought to bay and defeated, three destroyed and one captured, but Captain Mainwaring had lost an arm in the action and was invalided out of the service. Outraged at such a cavalier judgement, Sinclair protested vehemently against this treatment of his former captain. In retaliation Earl Sandwich ordered him removed from command of Arethusa and placed on half pay again and there he would languish for many months.

    As the Revolution in America gained momentum the Royal Navy was expanded back up to full strength in 1775. Captain Sinclair was offered command of HMS Lion, a new sixty-four, but feeling that he was a frigate captain first and foremost he turned the posting down requesting another frigate instead. Sandwich used this as an excuse to refuse Sinclair a posting. The request cost him eight more months on half pay until the Admiralty relented after his first captain, Donald Vincent recently elevated to Peerage as Earl St. John became Second Lord and posted him to command the 32-gun Goshawk on 1 December 1775.

    HMS Goshawk set sail for Spanish America on 30 January 1776 she arrived four and a half weeks later and began investigating reports that the Dons were supplying the Rebels with arms. Uncovering several weapon pipelines Captain Sinclair shut them down one by one. No evidence was found to conclusively show that His Most Catholic Majesty's Government was involved in the sale of arms, however suspicions had been raised.

    On 17 July 1776 the news of the American’s Declaration of Independence reached Goshawk, the conflict had taken on a whole new character as both sides knew that there would be no turning back. Sent to northern waters Goshawk was ordered to Newport shortly thereafter. Under the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Bryan Sommervell KB as part of his Inshore Squadron, Goshawk fought in a series of actions over the next two years. While patrolling the approaches to Massachusetts Bay on 11 December 1776 she engaged an American frigate in the midst of a swirling snowstorm, the fight was inconclusive and the badly battered American retired to Boston while Sinclair brought his ship to Newport for repairs. Later Goshawk captured two blockade-runners loaded with French muskets and ammunition on 5 April 1777. Then acting on a tip from British agents, on 31 October 1777 Goshawk ambushed a smuggler loaded with powder and shot on Muscongus Bay off Northern Massachusetts, the Captain of the smuggler destroying his vessel to avoid capture.

    Ordered to transport Rear-Admiral Sir Malcolm Parker KB back to England Sinclair engaged two French 28-gun frigates that attacked out of a fogbank on 18 July 1778. The battle was a close run thing but Captain Sinclair managed to defeat the pair of them. Goshawk however was a wreck and Captain Sinclair was badly wounded, his life was saved by the skill of his old friend Doctor Alfred Bassingford Goshawk’s surgeon, however it would be some months before he was fit for duty again.
     
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  7. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Location:
    New England
    Miss Tara Mason

    Tara Mason was born on 4 April 1760, in Annapolis, Maryland colony, the sixth of seven surviving children and the only daughter born to Richard Mason, a merchant sea captain and plantation owner and his wife Vanessa (Quinn) Mason.

    Tara was educated by a series of governesses and often by the tutors hired to teach her older brothers, although sometimes over the brothers’ objections. She enjoyed outdoor pursuits as a young girl and learned to ride almost as soon as she could walk. She found the indoors confining, except when engrossed in a book from her father’s extensive library, which formed the basis for her education.

    Mr. Mason believed that his daughter’s mind was as good as her brothers’ and began to teach her to play chess at the age of six. He discussed politics, literature, religion and the arts with her with equal emphasis, and although she learned almost no Greek or Latin, she demonstrated an affinity for French, German and Spanish as well as excelling in mathematics and logic.

    In 1776 the family, loyal to the crown and convinced that war was not the solution to the problems facing the colonies, was forced by circumstances to abandon their home and move to Halifax, Canada, which was still under crown control. The shipping business suffered somewhat, but Mr. Mason was able to rebuild with help from his oldest son, also named Richard. Shortly after arriving Tara met and became engaged to the 23-year old Timothy Atwood a Royal Navy Lieutenant serving as commander of a brig. Her happiness was short-lived however; in the early months of 1777 Tim’s ship was lost at sea in a violent storm. Tara was heart-broken and withdrew from the world to heal the grief in her soul. Slowly she recovered only to be struck down by a serious fever contracted during the harsh winter of 1777-78. With the love and care of her family and friends, as well as her own hardiness the young woman recovered from this latest hardship, but Tara had not been the only one suffering.

    In late 1778 the move and the extreme cold of the Canadian winters began to tell on Vanessa Mason and the family sailed for England, ostensibly to buy gowns for Tara’s long delayed debut in the Spring of 1779 but also to consult with an eminent Wimpole Street physician. He offered little hope - Mrs. Mason was too far advanced with congestive heart failure, and she died in February 1779 after persuading her husband to take her home to Annapolis one last time. Mr. Mason, deprived of the woman who had given his life meaning for nearly thirty years, lost touch with realty and began to live in a dream world where his wife was only gone out to see friends and would be returning shortly. The burden of his care has fallen to Tara and although the young woman is doing her best the strain coupled with the lingering effects of her own troubles are taking their toll upon her.



    Ian MacGregor, Cox’n, Royal Navy

    Ian MacGregor came into the world on 19 April 1741 the first born of Cullum MacGregor, the finest Blacksmith on the Isle of Skye and Rhiannon (Drummond) MacGregor his distant cousin. As the MacGregor name was still banned at this time, the family’s public name was Gregg. When the ban was rescinded in 1774, the family at once re-claimed the name of MacGregor. Ian grew-up a giant among his fellows on the Hebridean Isle and by the age of nine was nearly as tall as many men and had begun working in his father’s smithy.

    Reaching nearly six feet and fifteen stone MacGregor competed in his first Highland Games in the summer of 1754. He continued to compete growing stronger and going on to bigger and bigger games each year. At the Glasgow Games of 1757 MacGregor won the caber toss and set the first of his four records in this event.

    Celebrating in the city he encountered a Press Gang from HMS Southampton taking a break at a tavern. The brash sixteen year-old MacGregor taunted them and boasted that he’d serve no man who couldn’t take him in a fair fight. The boast was not an idle one for by this time MacGregor was six foot four inches and near seventeen stone of solid muscle. With a single blow from one of his huge fists he layed out the burly bosun’s mate that tried to teach him a lesson. When the Lieutenant in charge of the press gang challenged him the Scot expected another easy victory but was unable to lay a hand on his more experienced opponent. Then a rock-hard fist hit MacGregor in the soft spot twixt chest and belly paralyzing him. Three window-rattling punches to the jaw later the mighty Scot lay senseless atop the cobbled street.

    When he recovered, true to his word, MacGregor pledged his service to the twenty-one year-old Lieutenant John Sinclair and signed on. Taking to the sea in a manner born he went from Landsman to Able Seaman within four months. By the middle of the next year he was a gun captain in Lieutenant Sinclair’s division and was appointed a cox’n by March of 1759.

    When Sinclair was made post in September he took MacGregor with him as his cox’n. They were together until the end of the war when MacGregor went home to the Isle of Skye. Before that however he was given leave to compete in the Edinburgh Highland Games where he set his second record and earnt the nickname ‘The Great Hebridean Mountain.’

    MacGregor returned to Sinclair’s side following the murder of Angelique Sinclair in April of 1763. He persuaded the Captain to come and see the Inverness Games where he set his third record. Together they returned to sea in HMS Argo the next year. The frigate spent five years patrolling, battling pirates and renegades and escorting merchantmen from the Irish Sea to the South Atlantic. In 1769 MacGregor convinced his kinsman Andrew Bailey to sign on as Captain’s Steward before they embarked on a cruise to the Far East.

    Both MacGregor and Bailey went with Captain Sinclair aboard Arethusa. After the debacle in the East Indies they returned to Thornbury in 1774. The next year at the Aberdeen Games MacGregor set his fourth and final record in the caber toss.

    The kinsmen were again with Sinclair aboard Goshawk from 1776 to 1778. After Sinclair was wounded they returned to Thornbury, which had become home to both of them. MacGregor began to keep company with a beautiful dark-haired barmaid named Jennie who works at Will Sommersby’s pub, The Crown and Castle.

    When Captain Sinclair is posted to command the frigate Sapphire they’re off to sea again.



    Commander William Mason, Royal Navy

    Fourth child and third surviving son of Richard and Vanessa (Quinn) Mason, William was born on 29 July 1754, in Williamsburg, Virginia, where his father was a prosperous merchant mariner. He and his oldest brother, Dick, who although four years his senior looked almost like his twin once the two were into their teenage years, spent their time first in Williamsburg and later in Annapolis learning the family shipping business and exploring the woods around their home. Dick chose to follow his father into the family business but Will had always yearned for a naval career, so when he was twelve he convinced his father to use his many contacts in London to find him a midshipman’s berth. Mr. Mason was as good as his word and the boy was taken aboard HMS Chimera, 74, Captain Bruce Hobbes commanding, in September 1767, just a few weeks past his twelfth birthday. There he met a man who would become a lifelong friend, Mr. Midshipman Bartholomew Jones.

    In May 1770, just short of his sixteenth birthday, Chimera was laid up in ordinary and her crew dispersed to the four winds. With glowing recommendations from his captain and first lieutenant in hand, Mason had no difficulty finding another berth, this one in HMS Syren, 32. Syren was assigned to patrol between New York and Halifax, and it was on one of those visits to Halifax that William had his first love affair, with devastating consequences. He discovered that the young woman he had given his heart and his love to was in fact an unscrupulous adventuress set on marrying him for his family’s wealth. With a determination born of seeing men fight and die since he was a lad of twelve, he went to the girl’s relatives, demanded the truth and got it. The girl was sent back to England in disgrace.

    Mason passed his lieutenant’s examination with flying colours on 9 August 1773, and was appointed fifth lieutenant in HMS Ardent, 64, Captain Raymond E. Monroe commanding. With him in the wardroom, though some years senior to him was another man who would become both his lifelong friend and his brother in law, Michael Gilmore. Mason continued to climb the ladder of promotion, first to fourth lieutenant following the death of that officer in a duel in October 1774, then to third lieutenant in 1776 when HMS Ardent was present for the British capture of New York at the beginning of the American war. A few months later Ardent was ordered home for a partial refit and shuffling of officers. Gilmore found himself promoted to Commander and given the little 16-gun sloop Wasp while Mason was advanced to second lieutenant. Commander Gilmore asked Will to spend the holidays with him and his lovely young bride-to-be Winifred in her home town of Cirencester, Will was happy to accept. While there he met and fell deeply in love with Winnie’s younger sister, Jennifer Willis.

    When the war in America had begun, the Mason family suffered considerable upheaval because of their loyalist views. Mr. Mason chose to move his family to Halifax rather than have his wife insulted on the street or worse. Also at this time, one of Mason Shipping’s most senior first mates, Nicholas Stewart, a man who had been raised alongside Richard Mason after his own parents had been killed, chose to leave the firm and with his employer’s blessing seek out Lieutenant Mason aboard his ship. Captain Monroe heard the story and accepted Stewart readily as a master’s mate. The older man attached himself to the younger, whom he had raised almost as a second father. When Mason was promoted to commander in 1777 and given a ship of his own, the little sloop HMS Paladin of 18 guns, Stewart followed his young captain to the ship as coxswain. Stewart stood beside Mason when he married his lovely Jennifer on October 28th then helped settle her into the little cottage he had leased for them in Portsmouth.

    During the fall of 1778, Mason distinguished himself in action against the French pirate Quare and in operations against Quare’s base on Sardinia, leading a daring boat action that resulted in Quare’s capture, although not without the inevitable wound sustained by Mason. After taking a pistol ball in his shoulder and narrowly avoiding a cutlass slash that would have decapitated him, Mason was carried bruised and bleeding from the scene of the battle by Stewart. His surgeon, Harmon, removed the spent ball, patched him up, and recommended time to recover in England. The senior captain of the squadron, Gosnell, sent Mason back to England with the prisoner and the necessary dispatches. While on his way home, he encountered his old friend Michael Gilmore, now commanding the frigate HMS Predator. Gilmore asked him to deliver some letters to Mrs. Gilmore at her family home near Cirencester, and suggested that Will and Jen spend the holidays with Mr. and Mrs. Willis. Mason left his ship in the able hands of his lieutenant and had no sooner arrived at his cottage then he learned that his parents, brother Dick and sister Tara had arrived in England and were at that moment in London. Torn between spending time with his family or his wife’s a solution was found in them all being guests of Mr. And Mrs. Willis over the Christmas holidays.

    It was at this time that Mason was called to a secret meeting with Earl St. John and ordered to undertake a perilous mission to his old home of Maryland. Before the mission had even begun Mason had been wounded by French agents and saved by the quick thinking of his wife and younger sister, whom had used his pistols to turn the tables on their attackers. Paladin sailed on Boxing Day and once they reached the Chesapeake Mason, Stewart and Major Scarboro, St. John’s agent, engaged the rebels in several skirmishes and in the major battle at Scottsville, Virginia that saw the loyalist militia broken and scattered, followed by a sea battle with the French in which Mason was badly, in fact almost mortally, wounded. As Paladin returned to Annapolis she found Mason Shipping’s Resolute Star at anchor with William’s family aboard. Will’s mother, who had been ill for some months, had taken a turn for the worse and had been brought to her old home for one final time. A few days later Vanessa Mason passed away, she was laid to rest alongside her father-in-law in the Annapolis churchyard.

    As Resolute Star took the broken-hearted Richard Mason home to Halifax, William and Scarboro continued their search for the mastermind behind the spy-ring that was operating in the area. With the aid of Dick Mason, himself a senior agent, they had already uncovered one of the man’s agents, Miss Roberta Donnelly, but she had done away with herself before they had managed to learn anything beyond her hatred of the British. By watching Donnelly’s associates they managed to uncover and capture the key French agent Gerard Leveque at a small cove on Eastern Bay across the Chesapeake from Annapolis. With their prisoner safely in irons aboard, Paladin raised sail for England in March.
     
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  8. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    And here we go:

    Prologue
    Whitehall, London

    Wednesday, 3 February 1779

    As a chill winter breeze made itself felt through London’s brick and mortar canyons, John Sinclair, Senior Post Captain in His Britannic Majesty’s Navy, stepped down from the luxuriously appointed carriage in front of the Admiralty. With his heavy winter cloak swirling about him Sinclair hurried across the windswept open courtyard past the Marine sentries and into the warmth of the huge edifice. Once in the foyer he swept off his cloak and cocked hat handing them to the Admiralty footman nearby along with a half crown. With a nod of thanks the footman accepted them and quickly took the items to the cloakroom as the captain twitched his uniform into place.

    Stepping to the clerk’s desk that stood off to one side he spoke briefly.

    “Captain John Sinclair to see Lord St. John.”

    “Yes, sir, his Lordship is expecting you.” The clerk, who wore the uniform of a lieutenant and the aiguillettes of the staff service, replied. He rang a small bell that sat atop his desk and another lieutenant appeared from one of the antechambers. “Mr. Fanshaw will take you to his Lordship’s private waiting room, sir.”

    Sinclair nodded and followed the younger officer through a maze of antechambers, corridors and staircases until they came to a smaller, comfortably appointed room on the second floor.

    “I’ll inform his Lordship that you’ve arrived, sir.” Fanshaw said before closing the door quietly. Alone, Sinclair walked to the hearth and allowed its warmth to drive the winter’s chill from his body. Spying a decanter on the sideboard he considered pouring himself a glass but decided that at not quite three bells in the forenoon watch, 9:30 in the morning as they measured time ashore, it was too early. Stepping up to the window he gazed out at the street below. Despite the cold the street was thronged with city-dwellers going about their affairs, oblivious to the fact that they were under the observation of a man that almost all of them were familiar with, at least by reputation.

    John Sinclair was a tall man, broad of shoulder and narrow of waist, who distributed nearly fifteen stone on his muscular six foot one inch frame. His eyes were deep green and his hair a dark brown marked with but a few strands of grey at the temples despite having celebrated his forty-third birthday some months earlier. Unlike many men of his age he distained a formal powdered wig nor did he wear his own hair long and tied in a neat queue as did most younger sea officers but instead kept his hair cut short at the nape of the neck. He was clean-shaven but for a pencil-thin moustache that gave his face a rakish air that both men and more especially women, found very handsome.

    Sinclair had first risen to prominence twenty years earlier as a lieutenant aboard the Southampton, the first of the modern English frigates, when his heroism during a shore action had earned him post rank at the young age of 24. He’d gone on a year later to fight a classic frigate action against a French corvette that was a near-perfect match for his 24-gun HMS Penelope. The three-hour duel in which he’d captured the Brigitte had excited the imagination of the nation and was known far and wide as the Battle of the Ladies. Since the conclusion of the Seven Years War Sinclair had served a long tour as captain of the 28-gun frigate HMS Argo, which had sent him to Far Eastern waters, followed by a shorter voyage as captain of HMS Arethusa, 32; until 1774 when his protests of the policies of the Earl of Sandwich then, as now, First Lord of the Admiralty had seen him beached on half-pay for almost seventeen months.

    Then in December of 1775 Admiral Sir Donald Vincent, KB, the Right Honourable Earl St. John had been appointed Second Lord to rein in some of Sandwich’s excesses. One of his first acts had been to offer Sinclair command of HMS Goshawk another 32-gun frigate and an assignment of considerable importance in America. Following its completion Sinclair had spent another two years on that station fighting rebel privateers, smugglers and Frenchmen alike until last summer when he had been ordered to transport one of St. John’s strategists home from a mission in North America. Off the coast of Ireland they had been set upon by the enemy and Sinclair had been badly wounded in that furious action in July.

    It was now more than six months since he had come home, more dead than alive really, after the battle off Erris Head. Two French 28s had pounded his beautiful Goshawk to a near wreck before he’d managed to send one to her doom on the rocks and cripple the other. But the cost had been fearsome, sixty-eight of his crew had been killed in that action and another fifty-four wounded. More than half of his crew were casualties, the majority of them dead including his second and third lieutenants; and he had come very close to joining them. Only the exemplary skill of his surgeon and life-long friend, Doctor Alfred Bassingford, had managed to save his life and even Bassingford himself had no idea how he managed it.

    The door opened and the Earl’s private secretary, Mr. Joseph Milton stepped into the waiting room.

    “Captain Sinclair, his Lordship will see you now. If you would please follow me.”

    In short order Sinclair was led into the Second Lord’s sanctum sanctorum where St. John was seated at his desk a cup of tea at his elbow reading through a report.

    “You’ll pardon me a moment while I finish this, Captain.” He said after nodding a dismissal to Milton. “Help yourself to some tea.”

    Pouring a cup from the sterling tea service that stood on a small table a few feet from the hearth, Sinclair took the seat that his lordship had indicated and sipped patiently while St. John finished his business.

    “Damned idiots.” The Earl said as he tossed the report onto his desk with disgust. “Politicians are the bane of the world, Sinclair.”

    “Worse than usual, m’ Lord?”

    “Yes!” St. John exclaimed before taking a deep breath and continuing. “Or perhaps I’ve just grown less tolerant of them. Not that I was very tolerant to begin with. Once again the fools have refused to fund the regular issuance of limejuice. Does the whole bloody fleet have to come down with the scurvy before they finally get around to seeing the need for it?”

    “That’s disappointing.” Sinclair frowned. “I can afford to pay for it myself, of course, but few captains have my resources. Is there any hope that his Majesty might override them and order it done?”

    “Some,” St. John admitted grudgingly. “But not much.”

    “Then I suppose that we will have to make due until things change, m’ Lord.”

    “So…” The Earl said, changing the subject. “You say you’re ready to return to duty.”

    “Yes, m’ Lord.” St. John searched on his desk for another letter for a moment. Finding the one he sought he began to read from it.

    “ ‘…And it is my professional opinion that Captain Sinclair is fit only for limited duty at this time…’ I don’t need to tell you who said that.”

    “Fred’s an old worry-wart.”

    “No doubt.” St. John said sardonically before becoming serious once again. “John, I’ve known you since your Uncle Henry, God rest his soul, and I were lieutenants together forty years ago. I know how strong your constitution is, but even so are you sure you aren’t pushing things a bit?”

    “No, m’ Lord, I’m not. Do I look like I need to be coddled?”

    St. John shook his head. “No you look well enough, but I do respect Fred’s opinions you know. And your Aunt Ashley passed away only in October so there’s the emotional scar as well. That’s not as easy to detect.”

    “Sir, I give you my word I am fit for duty.” The Earl stroked his closely trimmed grey beard as he studied the resolute Sinclair. Was he telling the truth? Probably, at least from his point of view. Was he fit for duty? Perhaps, but if he wasn’t now then it wouldn’t be much longer before he was and outfitting would take at least another month. Most important of all was he ready for the mission that St. John had in mind?

    “Very well, John.” He said as he handed over a sealed envelope. “You can read it at your leisure but basically I’m giving you Sapphire, 36. The second of the Gemstone class and just now completing at Portsmouth. Once she’s ready for sea you’ll be for the North American Station under Vice-Admiral Eisenbeck, there’s a job I want done out there, you’ll get the particulars when it’s time.” Sinclair took the envelope and slipped it into his pocket.

    “Thank you, sir. I need to be at sea again.”

    “I’ll need you here in London for a few days. Briefings on strategy, intelligence and such, Sir Malcolm will conduct them. I take it you’re staying at Pinetree House?” St. John asked naming the Denham estate that belonged to Sinclair’s old friend Sir David Rothburne.

    “It’s only a few miles from London, m’ Lord. An hour’s ride by coach.”

    “That will do nicely then. Be here tomorrow morning at two bells in the forenoon. We should be done by late Saturday evening and you can leave for Portsmouth Monday morning. But now I know you have some letters to write.” They stood and shook hands, then, without a word, Milton re-appeared and led Sinclair from the room.

    “You didn’t tell him, sir?” Sir Malcolm Parker said from the conference room door after Sinclair had taken his leave. St. John shook his head.

    “No. It’ll take me weeks to talk Sandwich into it. Even assuming that I can.” They both walked over to the window overlooking the courtyard and watched as Sinclair climbed back into his carriage and departed.

    “He’s the best we have for the job, I know that from personal experience.”

    “I know,” St. John replied. “I just don’t like burdening him like this so soon that’s all. He’s had a lot to bear over the years.”

    “Agreed, sir, but he’d not thank you for protecting him. And with all due respect I think that he’ll handle it with ease. He’s more than ready for this.”

    “We’ll see, Malcolm,” the Earl said with a sigh. “We’ll see.”
     
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  9. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    February 1779


    Second Week

    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair,
    Senior Post Captain, Royal Navy

    Monday, 8 February 1779

    I’ve left Sir David’s residence at Pinetree House and MacGregor and I are riding for Portsmouth. Stopping only for a quick luncheon of sausages, cheddar and ale we’ve made good time since leaving four hours ago. Bailey and Jamison are following, albeit at a much slower pace, with our belongings in one of my old friend’s coaches. They are accompanied by young Reginald Shea one of Sir David’s nephews whom I have accepted as a midshipman.

    With good fortune MacGregor and I should reach Petersfield by nightfall and Portsmouth by tomorrow noon. My injuries from the action off Erris Head last July have healed, although there are some who would dispute that fact, and I am eager to be at sea again. After more than six months on the mend ashore I can stave off the melancholy no longer. Each night my dreams of Angelique have become more and more heart-breaking. This last month with nothing to occupy my mind during the long hours of the day I find those thoughts clinging to me during my waking hours as well. I must have the sea and the work and responsibilities that go with the command of a King’s ship. I have stood for Fred’s fussing for as long as I can. I know that my old friend means well but in this case I believe in my heart that he is wrong and further rest is not the answer. The final stage in my convalescence lies not ashore but on the sea. It has been too long.



    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Tuesday 9 February 1779

    After a long hard ride MacGregor and I arrived in Portsmouth. We quickly settled into the old George Inn before heading for the Port Admiral’s office. The Admiral was out but his second, Captain Giles Humbarton, was available and I presented myself to him straightaway.

    My interview was brief as he was quite busy, a fact that I readily observed from the work piled upon his desk. Giving my commission only a cursory examination he offered me an excellent brandy that one of his patrols had taken off a blockade-runner a few days earlier. Our conversation quickly moved to the current situation in the Americas however, and on this subject he was blunt and to the point.

    “I tell you quite frankly, sir, the war does not go well for us out there. When the French came out against us in the open last year it emboldened the rebels far more than we would have believed possible.

    “Their privateers are well-trained and as dedicated to their cause as any Englishman. Fast, handy, well-armed for their size and able to go places that no line-of-battle-ship can even dream of going; they’ve created a whole new kind of conflict. One in which the line of battle is well nigh meaningless.

    “It is frigates, sloops and brigs that we need most out there. And the more the better. But at the same time we cannot ignore the French. Their ships are tilting the battle against us. Why we recently received word that in December Rear-Admiral Barrington’s squadron was attacked at St. Lucia by squadrons under Comte d’Estaing. Barrington managed to hang on and captured the island but it was a near thing.

    “The point is that we cannot ignore the traditional enemy either. Toward that end we’ve developed a new weapon that we believe may help us.”

    By this time he had taken me over to where a small model of a carronade lay on a table. Like all carronades it was a strange-looking thing short and stubby with an extremely large bore for the weight and a carriage like none found on conventional guns.

    “These new carronades were developed at the Carron Iron Works in Scotland, the same place as the originals came from twenty years ago. The merchant service has been making use of them because of their light weight and low crew requirements. A twelve-pounder carronade only needs a crew of two while a long four-pounder needs four. That gives them three times the firepower for half the crew. What the Carron Works have done now is to create a much heavier gun that is a real advantage for the Navy. We’re making them in four sizes in addition to the twelve and eighteen pounders that the merchantmen carry, twenty-fours for sloops and sixth rates, thirty-twos for fifth rates, fourty-twos for fourth rates and the smaller third rates and sixty-eights for anything mounting seventy-four guns or more.

    “We sent two 32-pounders out last summer on the frigate Hereward and they proved exceptional. The Gemstones are the first class to have them as standard armament. You’ll carry ten of them, five on each broadside, two on the fo’c’sle and three on the quarterdeck. They’re light enough that they shan’t affect your trim even though they’ll fire a thirty-two pound ball. The combination of extremely heavy ball and low velocity produces a different sort of damage. Unlike normal long guns these don’t punch a nice neat hole through a ship’s side, but instead smash a huge jagged opening that will send up a cloud of splinters from even the heaviest timbers. The guns on your maindeck are traditional eighteen-pounder long guns, twenty-six of them, and you’ve a pair of nine-pounder bow-chasers as well.

    “One more thing, these carronades, or ‘Smashers’ as we call them, are quite powerful at short range but like all carronades beyond three hundred and fifty yards they’re next to useless. They’re intended to give you a decisive edge at close range. Be aware of it, sir.”

    Captain Humbarton then asked me to wait in the antechamber and he would have a lieutenant fetch me down to Sapphire shortly. The interview was over.

    *** ******* ***

    She was a thoroughbred, sleek and powerful but with all the speed that was expected of her breed. A hunter, designed to slash in at high speed and bring down her prey. From the outthrust lance of her bowsprit to the wide expanse of her broad counter, from her newly coppered bilges to the skyscraping royal yards high above her deck she was a thing of beauty. Most of all she was a frigate, with all that that entailed.

    Her shrouds and standing rigging had already been set up but not yet blacked down, yards crossed but without any sails neatly furled to them. Her hull had been painted but was without the extra touches that gave a ship her individuality. She hadn’t even been warped out to the anchorage proper but was still tied up to the number three dock. There was work to be done before she was ready for sea.

    “The bosun’s aboard her now, sir, along with an anchor watch of a dozen hands.”

    I nodded to the young lieutenant that had escorted me down here but my attention was on the ship before me. At 146 feet long His Majesty’s Ship Sapphire was one of the biggest frigates I’d ever seen, her beam was 38 feet 9 inches and when she was fully armed and provisioned she would displace 1,019 tons or thereabouts. Bigger and heavier than any ship I had commanded previously she maintained the same proportions and thus retained the racehorse lines that had come to be associated with these magnificent vessels over the past thirty years. Her greater than normal size would give us all just a little more room aboard, room that would allow us to mount the eighteen pounders that were a significant increase over the twelve pounders more common in thirty-sixes.

    As we approached my attention was claimed by the fifth rate’s figurehead. Though still unpainted the carved wooden figure of a bare-breasted sea-nymph one hand outstretched to the distant horizon while the other held aloft a sword was at once both beautiful and fearsome. With a tiara of sapphires adorning her streaming hair she looked for all the world like an amazon poised to smite the enemy. I had heard that Izod Lambe, the fine young wood carver from Plymouth, had done the work. If so he was a man whose skill would be in great demand in the coming years.

    “Cap’m Sinclair!”

    I looked up to see the beaming face of an old shipmate. Bron Helstrom had been one of my bosun’s mates aboard the old Arethusa five years ago. I had lost contact with the Swedish born seaman when Earl Sandwich had taken the frigate from me and exiled me to a spell on the beach. The giant Swede, and he was as big as MacGregor was, thundered down the gangplank to the dock. He snapped to attention before us and knuckled his forehead.

    “Bron Helstrom, Bosun, reportin’ t’ da Cap’m!” he said with a huge grin. I smiled back at him and touched my hat in return before holding out my hand.

    “Well done, Mr. Helstrom. It’s good to know that Sapphire’s fo’c’sle will be in the best of hands. When did you make Bosun?”

    “Two years ago, Cap’m. Aboard da old Somerset, sev’ty-four. Dey got her up at da num’r eight dock. She come in back ten veeks ago an’von’t be out another t’ree mont’s maybe. So dey send me over here.”

    I nodded and looked back to Sapphire. “What do you think of her, Swede?”

    He cast a professional eye over her before replying. “Vell, you know it’s hard to say vhen she ain’t been t’ sea yet, Cap’m. But I been aboard a lot a’ frigates an’ dis von looks good, Cap’m. Real good.”

    Without further word we boarded her and the Swede gathered the anchor watch on the main deck as I took out my commission and began to read:

    To John Sinclair, Esq. Senior Post Captain in His Majesty's Navy

    From the Right Honourable Sir Donald Vincent, Earl St. John, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Admiral of the White, Deputy Commander in Chief of His Majesty's Ships and Vessels, Second Lord of the Admiralty, etc., etc., etc.

    Sir,


    You are hereby required and directed to proceed on board His Majesty's Frigate of 36 Guns HMS Sapphire located at Portsmouth Harbour and take upon you the Charge and Command of Captain of her; willing and requiring all the officers and company belonging to the said HMS Sapphire to behave themselves in their several employments with all due respect and obedience to you their Captain; and you likewise to observe as well the General Printed Instructions and what Orders and Directions you may from time to time receive from any of your superior Officers for His Majesty's Service.

    Hereof you nor any of you may fail as you will
    answer the contrary at your Peril and for so doing this shall be your Order. Given at the Admiralty on this 2nd day of February 1779.

    By command of Earl St. John,
    Second Lord of the
    Admiralty

    Folding my orders and returning them to my pocket I looked out at the fourteen men that at the moment made up the crew of this brand new ship.

    “Not too many of us are there.” I said with a wry grin. That brought more than a few smiles and even a chuckle or two. “That will change quickly enough I’m sure. I’m not going to waste your time with a long speech, Lads, so you needn’t worry. But I will say this; I’m going to be demanding much of you all during this commission. Britain is fighting not just the Rebels but also our old enemy, the French as well. Soon the Spanish will join in and perhaps even the Dutch. It will be a long hard war that will demand the best that we have to offer.

    “I know that I can trust you to give that best and you know that you can trust me to give you my best as well. It’s true that before this commission is done some of us will likely be dead. It may be you, or me, or even all of us. But I promise you all this: while we are here we will make a difference. You’ve all heard of the Battle of the Ladies and the legend that Penelope created in the Navy, well this ship will carve her own legend as well. We will seek out the enemy, be he American, French or anyone else, and bring him to heel. We shall attack him at sea and on land, we shall bring the full might of these British Isles to bear upon him and we shall win through to victory, no matter what forces they may array against us. And through all this we shall always remember that we are Britons, we shall not stoop to gutter atrocity against our foe but shall instead meet and defeat him with our honour intact. We shall give them cause to fear, and yet at the same time respect, the name of Sapphire!”
     
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  10. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Friday 12 February 1779

    “Are you completely, bloody deranged?!” The tall gentleman in the brown broadcloth suit of conservative cut roared at me, having burst into my rooms at the old George Inn without so much as a by your leave.

    “And a very good morning to you too, Fred.” I replied calmly with just a trace of a smile on my lips.

    “Never mind all that folderol. Are you going to answer my question or not.”

    “What question is that?” I responded, doing my level best to keep a straight face.

    “What the hell question do you think? I’ve only asked one. Are you bloody deranged?”

    “Oh, that,” I said calmly. “Why? Have you heard something?”

    “Oh I give up!” replied Doctor Alfred Bassingford, throwing his hands up in disgust. I broke into a huge grin at my old boyhood chum. Then tried a different tack.

    “Fred, you certified me fit to return to duty, didn’t you?”

    Exasperated he answered. “For limited duty only.”

    “This is limited. Sapphire won’t sail until mid-March at the earliest, and even after that will be a cruise of three weeks or more before we reach our duty station. A nice leisurely cruise to take one’s mind off one’s troubles will be just the ticket.” Fred looked at me as if I’d suddenly sprouted a second head.

    “Besides,” I continued. “I’ll have you here to look after me.” A third head seemed to have popped up between the first two. “You’re signing on as my surgeon aren’t you? That is why you’ve come to Portsmouth isn’t it?”

    “You are mad, sir. You know that don’t you?” In response I simply smiled at him. “I’ve been offered the opportunity to buy a wonderful practice in London with a clientele that any medical man would kill for. Why on earth would I throw all that away to, yet again, go to sea with you?”

    “I’ve no idea,” I said shrugging my shoulders. “But you are, aren’t you?” His mouth opened and closed several times before he finally found his voice again.

    “You’re crackers! You are absolutely, positively ‘round the bloody bend!” He stood there for a moment then shook his head at me. “And the worst part is I’m just as mad as you are.” He breathed out a deep sigh of resignation. “All right, John. Any other familiar faces in the insane asylum?”

    “Welcome aboard, Fred,” I said with a smile and a hearty handshake. “Oh one or two I should think. MacGregor, Jamison and Bailey of course, and the Swede’s been rated Bosun he’ll be there too. I’ve sent letters to several more, haven’t heard anything back yet.” I went over to the sideboard, poured two glasses of chilled hock from a tall decanter and handed him one.

    “I suppose that we shall have to make do,” he said taking a sip from his goblet. “What I can’t understand is how you managed to worm another frigate out of the Admiralty. This makes five that you have commanded.”

    “Earl St. John knows a good frigate captain when he sees one,” I replied. “And we need as many as we can get out there right now. Still and all I’ve no doubt that Sapphire will be my last frigate and quite possibly my last ship.” Fred looked over at me.

    “Getting clairvoyant in your old age?” I smiled at him.

    “No, merely observant. I’ve near twenty years seniority as a Post Captain, Fred. Won’t be that much longer until my flag comes. No more than five years, perhaps as few as one. One more commission, this one, certainly no more than two.”

    He swallowed the rest of the hock in one gulp. “Well unless you want that flag to be yellow try not to push things. You are still recovering. Doctor’s orders.” I smiled at him.

    “Aye, aye, sir.” I reached down to the paper I had been reading when Fred had come in. “Come on, you can help me with these handbills. I’ll need two hundred and fifty men aboard Sapphire and right now there are only twenty-eight of us.”

    We sat down and went to work.
     
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  11. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2002
    Location:
    Houston, we have a problem...
    Pretty well detailed so far, and covering a period that a lot of historical fiction authors seem to avoid (American Revolution - kind of a touchy subject for some).

    Squarely in the mold (or is that mould?) of O'Brian and Forester. Have you thought about resubmitting the books for publication again?
     
  12. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Thank you. Yes I have thought of it. But you need an agent first and just finding one who's willing to read the book has been difficult. I thought about submitting to my cousin Loretta's agent. She does historical fiction, but she only seems to represent female authors. So that was the end of that idea. Still looking though.

    The third week of February will go up tomorrow.
     
  13. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2002
    Location:
    Houston, we have a problem...
  14. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Third Week

    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair
    Friday 19 February 1779

    “Sir, do you have a moment?” said Lieutenant Bartholomew Jones standing at the open door to my day cabin.

    Jones was a dark-haired officer of twenty-nine, a native of Folkestone on the coast of county Kent and the son of a brewer he had first gone to sea at the tender age of eleven. Through hard work and his own native intelligence he had fought his way up the ladder from cabin servant to midshipman and finally to lieutenant at which point I had met him. He had come to me having just passed his examination for lieutenant in 1769 with a most favourable report from his previous captain and I had taken him into my wardroom aboard Argo as a replacement for Jacob Harland who had been killed during our engagement with a Sicilian pirate named Andolini a few months earlier. Jones had been with us on the long voyage into far eastern waters and again as my second lieutenant in the East Indies aboard Arethusa, in fact he had taken her home for me after I had been relieved of command. We’d reunited a bit over three years ago when I’d offered him a post as my senior aboard Goshawk. He’d been on half-pay since she was hulked last August having turned down a chance to command a brig-of-war in order to remain available when I was fit for duty again. Rather than respond to my offer by post, Jones had simply reported aboard six days ago and had begun interviewing the seemingly endless stream of young and not-so-young lieutenants hoping to fill out our wardroom.

    “Certainly, Mr. Jones,” I answered setting down my quill and looking up from the ship’s books that were spread out before me.

    “There seems to be a problem with the beef hogsheads the yard sent out. As per your orders I was examining them before having them stowed in the hold.” The first lieutenant hesitated for a barest instant before taking a deep breath and continuing. “You might want to have a look yourself, sir?”

    “Let’s have a look then.” I replied as I strode from the cabin and out into the brisk winter sunshine.

    There was a crowd gathered about five open hogsheads on the maindeck beneath the boat tier. I noticed the Purser and his mates, a dozen hands ready to sway the heavy hogsheads into the ship’s hold, young Shea and standing a bit apart but carefully watching everything the gigantic forms of MacGregor and ‘Swede’ Helstrom the Bosun. The open hogsheads, which should have been filled with beef, were instead packed with tattered rags, scrap iron and stones.

    “I can’t understand it, sir.” The Purser said as I stepped up to him. “Never seen the like.”

    “Well, Mr. Ford?”

    “I passed on your orders to the Victualling Yard, sir. Just as you gave them to me. Fifty-five hogsheads each of salt beef and salt pork, not more than one month in the cask. The marks on the hogsheads say that's what they are. But when Mr. Jones and I opened them to double-check like afore they was stowed, this is what we found. Why that far cask is filled with sand, sir.” At this point Jones interjected.

    “And there are seven more on the dock just like these, haven’t opened ‘em up yet but I should be surprised if they weren’t more of the same, sir.” These first hogsheads would have gone into the deepest part of the hold. But for my orders it would have been months before they were opened and we would be well away from England by then. By the time we returned the issue would be sufficiently obscured that there would be no clear evidence as to whom had done what.

    “Where are the men from the Victualling Yard?” I asked.

    “Gone back to the yard to collect another load, sir. They should be back in about twenty minutes.”

    “Have my gig swayed out, Mr. Helstrom. Mr. Jones I’m going to the Victualling Yard, take charge aboard until I return. Mr. Ford you’ll accompany me, and I’ll want a bag of the sand from that far cask.” The three acknowledged their orders and turned to carry them out. I walked slowly over to where MacGregor stood by the rail.

    “See that your gig’s crew is armed, MacGregor, cutlasses only we’ll not need pistols for this.”

    “Ye’ll be wantin’ me there, Cap’n.” The cox’n said in his thick Scot’s voice.

    “At my side, old friend, like always.” He nodded, satisfied and went to collect his boat’s crew.

    **** ******** ****

    A short fifteen minutes later the gig had tied up next to the Victualling Yard and I climbed up the dock followed by Ford, MacGregor and the rest of the boat’s crew, each with a heavy cutlass hanging from his belt. Ford and I stepped into the Victualling Office and saw a short extremely obese man a little older than I was sitting at a counter and writing in a ledger. He looked up and a scowl appeared on his face but before he could say anything I calmly asked.

    “Are you in charge here, sir?” Taken aback by the politeness he simply nodded.

    “I’m the Victualling Superintendent, Oliver Simpson. And you are?”

    “Captain Sinclair.”

    “Well, what is it that you want, Captain? I’m a busy man and I’ve not the time to sit around in idle chit-chat.” It wasn’t exactly the response I’d expected, Simpson apparently had no memory for the names of various naval officers he’d heard of over the years, either that or he simply paid no attention to such things. To him one captain was very like another and all of them needed him and the victuals that he provided. Doubtless that had always proven sufficient to guarantee him a free hand in the past.

    “Why I’ve come to thank you, Mr. Simpson. For the excellent salt beef you sent out to my ship.” I nodded to Ford who stepped up to the counter.

    “Funny thing about that beef though,” I continued as Ford poured the contents of his bag onto the counter, completely burying the ledger. “Somewhere along the way it seems to have turned into sand.”

    “Impossible!” he responded. “We send only the best victuals out to the brave lads that serve the Crown. More’n likely it was your purser what stole that what was sent out and put this in it’s place.”

    “I’m Sapphire’s purser, Mr. Simpson,” Ford shot back at him. “If there was any thievery going on here it was you and your men what done it. Every cask and sack that comes aboard is opened and double-checked by both the first lieutenant and me afore it’s stowed. Captain’s standing orders, so I couldn’t get away with something like that even if I wanted to and I knows it. Or do you think I’m bloody stupid.” Simpson’s face had turned a dark crimson. His first line of defence, casting the blame elsewhere, had been broken so he resorted to the second: denial and threats.

    “I don’t have to listen to such damned nonsense!” The fat man blustered. “This Yard has a spotless record and I’m not going to listen to a lot of lies. Now the pair of you just get the hell out of here or I’ll call my bully-boys to put you in your places!”

    Without my having said a word MacGregor stepped into the office. Just the sight of the giant Scotsman stopped Simpson's bluster but then he called out and eight cudgel-armed men trooped into the office from the back of the building where they had been presumably working. They were a rough-looking crowd, well used to exerting their authority through physical force. Ford blanched at the sight but MacGregor and I stood our ground. We could have probably beaten them but I hoped to avoid a fight.

    “Still so confidant, Captain?” The Yard Superintendent asked taking his read from Ford’s reaction. I let out a quick whistle and a rush of feet and rasp of steel announced the arrival of the armed boat’s crew. I looked over at victualler’s bully-boys.

    “How many of you want to die for the likes of him?” I asked pointing at Simpson. They seemed to think it over for a moment then turned and left the office.

    “You can’t get away with this!” Simpson shrieked. “I have friends in high places! I’ll see you broken, damn your eyes! I’ll…” The fat man was cut off as MacGregor’s huge hand shot out, grabbed him by the throat and lifted him off his feet.

    “Ye’ll be mindin’ yer manners when ye talk t’ the Cap’n.” The husky Scottish voice said. “Understand?”

    “Let go of m…” Simpson managed to get out before MacGregor’s iron fingers forced his silence.

    “Will ye be wantin’ me t’ break his thievin’ neck, Cap’n?” The cox’n asked, seemingly oblivious to the man’s weight. I shook my head.

    “No. We’ll take him to the Port Admiral. There’ll be a complete investigation into the matter and I’ve no doubt he won’t be the only one dangling in the end.” I turned to the purser. “Mr. Ford I want you to return to Sapphire. Report what’s occurred to Mr. Jones; have him send the second lieutenant and a party of armed men with a reliable petty officer to take charge here. I want this Yard locked down until the proper authorities arrive. We shall wait here until Mr. Talbot and his party arrives. Understood?”

    “Aye, aye, sir.”

    “Off you go then.” He scampered out the door. I turned to one of the men. “Barkley, see if you can find some rope to tie our prisoner up with.”

    We settled in for the wait.
     
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  15. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Fourth Week

    From the Journals of Doctor Alfred Bassingford,
    Surgeon - HMS Sapphire

    Wednesday, 24 February 1779

    “Ye wanted t’ be seein’ me, Doctor?”

    I looked up from my patient to see Ian MacGregor standing there, his great mass of muscle filling the doorway into the Sickbay.

    “Yes, MacGregor,” I nodded. “Come in, I shall be finished here in a moment.” Squeezing through the narrow, for him at least, doorway, and crossing his hugely muscled arms over his massive chest, the Scot leaned back against the bulkhead to wait.

    Turning my attention back to young Connors, I had just finished cleaning my hands after having slathered the burn salve on his palms where he had badly abraded the skin by foolishly sliding down one of the backstays rather than descending hand over hand as he ought to have. Quickly I bandaged his injuries, and then sent him on his way with a stern warning to be more careful in future, as well as an instruction to return at sick call tomorrow morning.

    “The young ones have na respect for their ain hides.” MacGregor commented with disapproval.

    “Not just the youngsters, my gigantic friend.” I reached into my medical chest and pulled out a bottle of single malt and two glasses. Pouring them about half full I passed one over to him.

    “Ye be thinkin’ about the Cap’n, Doctor?”

    I nodded, “You were with him on the ride from London, Ian, and again last week at the victualling yard, was there any sign of pain or weakness? He’d never say anything, but you know him better than most. If he was having trouble, he’d not be able to conceal it from you.”

    “Nay, Doctor. He was as strong as I’ve ever seen him. I ken that ye be worried about him, an’ with good cause, aye. But he truly is well healed from the battle last year.”

    “Well, if you’re certain, Ian. But keep a close eye on him and let me know if you see even the least sign that anything might be wrong,” I ordered. MacGregor looked at me closely for a moment, seeming to be debating with himself. Then nodded, having reached his decision.

    “What are ye worried about, Doctor? The Cap’n’s been wounded afore, an’ ye never reacted like this. So what be so diff’rent this time?”

    It was on the tip of my tongue to rebuke him severely for overstepping his bounds, but then I remembered with a start that, that was exactly what I was doing as well, and in any case MacGregor was an old and trusted friend to us both. I took a sip of the single malt before answering.

    “Ian … according to everything I know about medicine, all that I have learnt over the past thirty years, that man should not be alive. The wounds he suffered, the amount of blood he lost, the organs that were damaged, not to mention the usual post-operative infections, should have killed him. Yet there he sits in that cabin back there. Alive, and, seemingly at least, well.

    I swallowed more of the whiskey as I took a moment to bring my thoughts into order. “And I, my friend, have no idea how it happened. I’m good Ian, without any false modesty I can honestly say I am probably one of the best surgeons in the world, but I am not that good. No one is.”

    MacGregor shook his head gently at me. “But ye were not alone, Doctor. Tis certain I am that The Lord did guide yon hand that day. He has work for the Cap’n still. T’was by His will that the Cap’n tis still with us this day.”

    I thought about that. I believed in the Power of God, as did all sensible men, but I never really saw Him as troubling Himself with the lives of ordinary men. I saw Him as more concerned with guiding the lives of Kings and the destinies of nations, but perhaps MacGregor was right. After all, who can say which man will be called to greatness and which man will not. Were Abraham and David not ordinary men before they were chosen by The Lord? Maybe God did have a plan for John Sinclair that none but He knew. And I did pray for his life after he was taken from the sickbay that terrible day. Clearly my prayer had been answered, it was rather ungrateful of me to be asking why.

    “You could be right Ian. But The Lord helps those who help themselves. So let’s keep a close watch on our brave Captain, and see if we can give the good Lord a bit less to do, shall we?”

    “Aye, Doctor,” he grinned back at me. “Now that be an idea worth havin’.”
     
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  16. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    March 1779


    First Week

    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair
    Tuesday 2 March 1779

    The tramp of marching feet could be heard clearly though the skylight of my day cabin alerting me to what was going on even as the midshipman knocked at my door.

    “Come.”

    “Mr. Zachery’s respects, sir.” The senior middy reported. “And the marines are coming aboard.”

    “My compliments to the third lieutenant, Mr. Cutler. Have him see that the Marines are properly berthed aboard in accordance to Mr. Jones’ billet plan. And also present my compliments to the marine officer. Ask him to see me as soon as is convenient.” The seventeen-year old responded with a quick ‘aye aye, sir’ and was off.

    A pity that the marines hadn’t been aboard two weeks ago, still it had turned out well enough. Several officials of the Victualling Yard had been discovered to be involved in the swift investigation that followed our actions of the 19th. As I’d predicted that thieving rascal Simpson had not been alone when he’d paid for his treachery. Four more men had followed him to the gallows. The Port Admiral’s justice had been swift and harsh, no doubt helped along by the fact that Sir Edmund himself had been the victim of such trickery from the Victualling Office years earlier. A fact that had apparently been unknown to Simpson and his cronies. At least I could not imagine how they could have proceeded as they did had they been aware of it.

    I glanced over at the ship’s Muster book, Sapphire was still fifty men short of complement at the moment but I had hopes of that changing soon. I had sent the first lieutenant ashore with a recruiting party in three large wagons, borrowed from the dockyard’s rope houses, with orders to make a try at the small fishing and merchant ports. He was carrying over two hundred guineas to be used as bounties to attract seamen to sign on. Five for able seamen, three for ordinary seamen and one for landsmen and boys. I felt certain that when he returned in three more days we would be very close to complement.

    There was a sound of booted feet in the passageway followed by a knock at my door.

    “Come.”

    The door opened and two red-coated men walked in, snapped to attention before me, saluted and announced.

    “Lieutenant William Tremaine.”

    “And Sarn’t Jock Calhoun.”

    “Reporting to the Captain as ordered.” They both finished.

    “Well, well,” I said. “If it isn’t the Terrible Twosome.”

    They were a most unlikely pair, Tremaine almost boyish and Calhoun as grizzled and hard-bitten as we come. But Tremaine was hardly the innocent that he appeared to be nor was Calhoun the cynical, surly bastard either. And together the pair made an exemplary command team getting more out of their marines than I would have believed possible.

    “And what mis-carriage of justice inflicted the pair of you on my ship... again?”

    They both seemed embarrassed and glanced at one another before Tremaine answered.

    “We volunteered, sir,” he said quite seriously. “The thing of it is, sir, the whole company did, least ways what was left of it. We were waiting to be re-deployed anyway, it took us a while to rebuild and break in the new men, then we heard that you were commissioning so Calhoun and I went to the Regimental Colonel. He said it was alright and gave the orders.”

    “Besides, Cap’n, I still owe that thief MacDonald ten guineas and there’s a better chance of prize money with you.” Calhoun added in.

    “Unfortunately for you, Sergeant, there’s also a better chance to lose even more.” His face fell for just a second. “That’s right. Our gunner is Hamish MacDonald and unless your play has improved somewhat I expect you’ll have some trouble beating him. But you know what they say you can only improve by playing against someone who’s better than you. Just try to keep the stakes lower this time, eh.”

    “Aye, Cap’n.”

    “Well get forward, have Fred give you the once over, then get your lads settled in. Oh, and I’ll see you both for dinner this evening.”

    “Aye aye, sir.” They answered then saluted crisply and left. I smiled. Things were definitely looking up.



    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair
    Sunday 7 March 1779

    “Damned Rebel Scum! Ought to hang the lot of ‘em if you ask me!” The hot-tempered words echoed across the drawing room. I turned to see a short, thin captain making a pointed gesture at two of his fellows. They nodded in assent emboldening him further as he launched into another tirade.

    It was bad enough to be away from Sapphire for one of these damned useless balls without having to put up with this blasted popinjay as well. Not that I had any objection to balls mind, it was just that as a late afternoon affair, at the urging of the Admiral’s wife no doubt, the timing was very bad. Doubly so in that this called for Jones as well as myself to attend and leaving Talbot in command right when we had the powder hulk alongside. For the past two hours I had been dreading the sound of an explosion coming from Sapphire’s berth.

    Of my most senior four officers only Liam Talbot had never served with me. He seemed competent enough but that easy-going Irish manner did nothing to inspire confidence, especially when handling gunpowder. MacDonald, the gunner, knew what he was about but still it was Talbot that was in charge. All I could do was hope for the best, which didn’t make the waiting any easier of course.

    The ladies had retired to their parlour following dinner and we men had come here to the drawing room for pipes and port. I had declined a pipe as tobacco does not agree with me and had limited myself to a single glass of port as had Mr. Jones but several others, the loud voiced captain among them, had rather over-indulged.

    “Over-bred young fool,” said my companion. I had been spending an entirely pleasant few moments speaking with the captain of a ship of the line recently returned from duty in the West Indies. Captain Gregory Archer was a few years older than I and carried himself with an air of impartiality, fair-mindedness and rock-solid dependability that I greatly admired. His demeanour bespoke of a cool head in battle, able to think and plan while all about one was fire and death, the ideal captain of a seventy-four. We also both felt the same about this sort of folderol, as Fred would call it.

    “Can’t seem to hold his liquor very well either,” I said. Archer grunted.

    “Had a lieutenant like that aboard Spartan, name of Matheson, fool went and got himself captured the first time he was off on his own.” He said gruffly then sighed. “By the time our orders for England came all my lieutenants, excepting only my senior, were under twenty-one years of age. That’s why we were re-called I am sure. Chronic shortage of experienced officers.”

    “True enough.” I replied. “I was very fortunate to be able to gather as many of my old officers as I did. Although my third lieutenant last sailed with me as a midshipman aboard Arethusa in ‘74.” Archer looked at me closely as if a light had suddenly flared to life.

    “You commanded Arethusa in ‘74?” I nodded.

    “In the East Indies with my old friend Philip Mainwaring?”

    I looked down at my glass. The whole business had been shameful. I had commanded Arethusa and Captain Mainwaring had, had the old Tyche, the ship I had first served in as a newly rated midshipman in ‘48. Together we took on four French pirates, destroying three and capturing one. But during the dreadful action that June day Captain Mainwaring had been badly wounded and it had cost him an arm. Earl Sandwich then as now First Lord of the Admiralty had decided, quite arbitrarily in my opinion, to invalid him out of the service. There had not even been a pension. Parliament it seems had no interest in officers whose injury came in time of peace. I had protested but to no avail, the order had gone through all the same.

    “Yes.” I said not looking up. Archer grasped me by the shoulders and forced my eyes to meet his.

    “Thank you, John.” The shock must have been evident on my face for I certainly hadn’t expected that reaction.

    “I know what your protests cost you,” he continued. “They took your ship from you and left you on the beach. Even when war came and ships were being put into commission almost daily they left you on the beach for over a year. Upon my soul, sir, I cannot fathom the workings of the bureaucratic mind.”

    “Never been to sea most of them. Never learned. Like him.” I said pointing my chin at the belligerent little captain on the other side of the drawing room. “It seems like we have two navies at times. The real one that brings battle to the enemy and protects England and the parasite that lives off it, weakening it bit by bit, until there is nothing left. And I for one am heartily sick of it.”

    I felt the room closing in on me. The dull pounding behind my eyes was growing louder and more insistent by the second and the stench of the tobacco had my stomach ready to rebel at any moment. I looked into Archer’s honest seaman’s face.

    “I’m sorry, Gregory, but I feel the need for some air.” I caught Jones’ eye and gestured toward the door before turning back to Archer. “Join me for dinner aboard Sapphire tomorrow night. We can talk of old friends.” He smiled at me.

    “I would relish that, thank you.”

    “Two bells in the second dog then.” I said holding out my hand. He grasped it firmly and replied.

    “I shall look forward to it.”

    Quickly making my excuses to Sir Edmund I met Jones at the door. We collected our greatcoats and cocked hats from the Admiral’s servant and put them on.

    “Well, Mr. Jones, let’s see how Mr. Talbot has made out shall we?” And we stepped out into the chill early March evening.
     
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  17. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Second Week


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason,
    Master & Commander - HMS Paladin, 18

    Monday, 8 March 1779

    Slowly the oars dipped into the waters of Eastern Bay as the stroke of three men on each side propelled the little jolly boat quietly along. There was just a sliver of moon out this night, barely enough to navigate by, the perfect night for a clandestine meeting between spies and traitors. The Americas were sparsely populated in any case but this particular stretch of coastline along the eastern side of the great Chesapeake Bay was even more remote than most, requiring both horse and boat to reach from Annapolis. In our case I had brought my ship, HMS Paladin, around and anchored about a mile away, tucked in close along the Kent Island shoreline. With all lights doused she would be well nigh invisible to anyone who did not know exactly where to look.

    There were a total of nine of us in the boat, the six of my boat’s crew, all stalwart Jack Tars whose skill and fighting prowess I had come to rely upon in the seventeen months of my command. Nicolas Stewart, my friend and cox’n, who had helped to raise me almost as a second father. Tireless, powerfully built and a master mariner Stewart had doubtless forgotten more about the sea than I would ever learn. Major Ronald Scarboro and I completed the party. From the little that he has let slip, Scarboro has been an agent for more than 15 years, having been indoctrinated into the shadowy world of espionage when he was a newly commissioned ensign of marines.

    An extremely competent agent it was Scarboro who had picked up the lead that brought us out here on this dark March night. After the captured agent, Roberta Donnelly, had committed suicide he had circulated through Annapolis. His sharp eye had spotted a note being secreted at what he described as a “blind drop” – a place where agents could pass information by leaving such a note which another agent would retrieve hours or even days later. Scarboro had read the note – which had proved to be instructions for the meeting tonight – and had placed it back where it had been. If he hadn’t been observed doing so, then we would be able to break the back of the Annapolis spy ring with a single blow tonight.

    “Easy all,” I quietly commanded. As one the oars fell silent and we all listened intently for the telltale sounds of oars, hoof beats or footfalls. But nothing could be heard save the chirp of crickets and the sluice of the water against the hull. The men were looking to me and after a moment I nodded for them to resume the stroke.

    “Steer us for that beach over yonder,” I said to Stewart, pointing out the spot about two cables away. He nodded and put the tiller over as the jolly boat quietly crept forward. Pulling out my watch I could just make out the time in the sliver of moonlight. Twenty-seven minutes past nine, just a few minutes away from three bells in the first watch. The meeting was supposed to take place at ten in the next cove up the bay. We had timed things so that we would arrive a minute or two late. There had been quite the difference of opinion over that. I had felt it would be best to arrive early and wait for them to get there but Scarboro had disagreed – “If it were only myself, Mason, I would do exactly that. But there are nine of us in this party. That means nine chances that someone will make a noise at the wrong time. Add to that is the fact that none of your lads is trained to this sort of stealthy business. No, best we arrive at a time when their approach and conversation will act to mask any sounds that we may make. Cutting out party quiet should be sufficient then.” In this case I had given in to his experience, but I was still a bit uneasy over it.

    “Boat your oars,” Stewart ordered. The dripping oars were quietly taken inboard, then the two men in the bow slipped soundlessly over the sides and ran the boat well aground. I felt a stab of pain from my wounded right leg as I went over the side and set foot on solid ground once more but just gritted my teeth against the momentary reminder of our action with a French squadron a few weeks ago. A nine-pounder ball had shattered the quarterdeck rail, driving splinters deep into my thigh. It had been touch-and-go there for a while but the wound was healing well enough now and I was in no mood to baby myself.

    As we sorted ourselves out on the beach I called two of the men over.

    “Teague, Hart, I want you to go up ahead with Major Scarboro. See what you can discover.” The former had been a poacher before going to sea, while the later had grown up in the Carolina backcountry. I felt confident that they were well able to move as silently as Scarboro himself if not more so. They both knuckled their foreheads and, with one taking a position ahead and one behind the major, the three of them melted into the trees with barely a rustle of underbrush to mark their passing.

    Stewart stepped over to me and in a voice a shadow above a whisper reported, “All set, sir.” Each man was armed with a cutlass and musket, the latter as yet unloaded, while Stewart, Scarboro and I carried a pair of pistols in addition to our blades. Absently I touched the hundred-year-old sword that my French Huguenot ancestor had taken into exile in Virginia with him. I had worn the rapier at my side since the day I’d first gone to sea a decade ago, it was an old friend by now and its presence was a comfort to me. Stewart was armed with a cutlass like the rest of the boat’s crew, albeit a rather more ornate one, that had been given to him by my father many years ago.

    I nodded to him and sat down on a nearby rock. My leg had begun to throb a bit and I didn’t want to put too much stress on it at this point, that would come later.

    “Is the leg bothering you, sir?” he asked.

    “A bit,” I admitted. I knew what was coming next and gave him a look that said not to press the issue. Whether he didn’t see it in the darkness or just decided to pay it no mind I’ve no way of knowing, but he pressed forward in any case.

    “You know you don’t have to go, sir. The lads, Major Scarboro and me, we can take care of it.”

    “I’m sure you could, Stewart. But I’m still going and that’s final.” I could see his sardonic grin as he ruefully replied,

    “You’ve always had a stubborn streak in you, sir.”

    “You’ve no one to blame but yourself, Stewart,” I answered. “I learned it from you after all.”

    We grinned at each other like conspirators as someone whispered, “Teague’s coming back, sir.” A moment later the ex-poacher stood before me and knuckled his forehead.

    “We found the spot, sir, only one of ‘em there - along with a few bodyguards - so far. The Major figures ‘im for a Frenchie. ‘E says for you t’ take Mr. Stewart an’ two of the lads an’ come quiet as y’ can through the woods dead a beam of us. I’m t’ take the rest back to ‘im. The Major, ‘e plans to listen in on what they says, then stand up and challenge ‘em when it looks like they’s ready to leave. You’re to close the back door on ‘em y’ might say.” It was good plan, simple and without any complicated timing. I called the men over and gave them their orders before we silently parted company again.

    “Load your muskets, men. But don’t prime the firing pans yet,” I ordered. The noisy clatter broke the stillness of the night air as ramrods rose and fell. The biggest danger in an operation like this was that some fool might accidentally set off his musket too soon, alerting the enemy. But as we had yet to prime our guns, the odds of this were slight. I signalled the men and with Stewart in the lead we moved into the tree line.

    As we crept through the woods a rustle of underbrush accompanied us, even though we were trying to move as quietly as possible. At times the sound seemed incredibly loud, although I knew that it really wasn’t. We stopped to listen carefully several times and as we got closer I could hear voices up ahead. Apparently the other man had arrived and the two were in the midst of a heated discussion. Good, their argument would mask the sound of our approach. One of the voices was definitely French, while the other possessed a colonial drawl. It sounded as though the Frenchie was annoyed at his compatriot’s tardiness.

    Near the edge of the tree line I motioned for us to stop and prime the guns. Carefully, I filled the firing pans of my two pistols. Separated from us by a distance of about twenty yards or so, there were a total of nine people on the beach. Five were obviously the crew of the tiny boat that had brought the Frenchman here, two seemed to be bodyguards, and the last two were the Frenchie and the Yankee traitor. Nearby a horse, presumably belonging to the latter man, stood grazing on the sparse grass. I saw no sign of Major Scarboro and the rest of the men, but I had every confidence that they were in place and silently observing everything.

    “This is all you bring?” The Frenchman snapped. “It is nothing!”

    “I bring what I can,” his compatriot fired back. “I’m not Miss Roberta, she had every officer in Annapolis wrapped around her little finger. Even had the Governor talkin’. But I can’t mix with the quality. I have to try and worm things out of the servants and the soldiers. They just don’t know as much.”

    “Imbecile! I pay you to tell me where the English will be, and ‘ow many of them will be there. Last week General Landon lost many men at Ashland because we did not know the enemy would ‘ave that regiment of Scottish barbarians there.

    “And now you tell me you think they may stay closer to Annapolis for a while. This information is useless! Go back and the next time I send for you, you had better bring me something I can use!”

    “Just a damned minute, Leveque, I bring you the best that I can get!”

    “Hah! A trained monkey could do better than an idiot like you!” That had been the man’s breaking point apparently, because he snarled a curse and began to draw his pistol. Whether he actually intended to fire or merely threaten will never be known for he failed to reckon with the explosive reflexes of a professional spy. Leveque had his pistol out in a flash and fired. The pistol ball, fired at a range of mere inches, tore through the man’s belly before exiting out his back in a spray of dark blood.

    “Halt,” Scarboro called out as he stepped out from the tree line, “in the King’s name!” The four men with him dropped to one knee and brought their muskets up, the click of the hammers going back unnaturally loud after Leveque’s gun shot. The Frenchman was already moving however, diving behind a downed log, even as his second pistol cracked out and one of our brave lads went down, a dark stain of blood spreading on his chest.

    Leveque was joined by his two bodyguards as the others took cover behind the boat that had brought them. From our vantage point I could see the Frenchman frantically reloading his pistols while his men provided covering fire.

    “Hold your fire until I give the signal, men,” I ordered, then turned to Stewart. “Stewart, let’s see if we can pick off those two bodyguards.” He carefully gauged the range and wind before replying.

    “Reckon we can, sir. Won’t be an easy shot but I reckon we can manage it.” We smiled at one another. It was Stewart who had taught me to shoot as a boy, and for a brief instant I allowed myself the luxury of thinking back to those earliest lessons at my grandfather’s tobacco plantation in Woodbridge along the banks of the Potomac. Then we drew our pistols, cocked them and extended them out to arms length. Steadying them with both hands, we aimed carefully. The sights of even well made smoothbore pistols, such as these, were not particularly exact. The windage, the difference between the pistol’s bore and the diameter of the ball, was too great for any sort of real accuracy beyond a dozen yards or thereabout. Still, I was confident that they would prove good enough to put the balls somewhere in the torsos of our targets.

    “Take the one on the left,” I ordered. Stewart answered with a quiet “Aye”. The pistols were steady and I took a deep breath.

    “Now!”

    The two pistols cracked out simultaneously. Stewart’s ball took his man in the centre of his torso and he slumped over, stone dead. My ball tore through the other man’s skull, causing his head to erupt in a fountain of dark blood. I had been aiming for his centre but had jerked the pistol slightly up at the last instant. I was fortunate I hadn’t missed him entirely.

    The boat crew, now alerted to our presence, fired back at us. The balls kicking up dirt, or ricochetting off the rocks and trees we were using for cover. Andrews and Lawton returned the fire with their muskets but with no effect as the balls whined off into the night. With the enemy muskets empty I knew this was the moment and called out.

    “At ‘em, lads,” as, shouting like fiends, we broke cover and dashed forward. We hadn’t gone more than a few paces when my foot caught on a tree stump that I hadn’t seen and I went sprawling in the dirt as pain screamed through my wounded leg.

    “Captain, are you hit?” Stewart cried as he skidded to a halt by my side.

    “No,” I snapped. “I caught my foot on a damned root. Go on!” The three of them resumed their charge as the five men of the French boat crew dashed out from behind their boat to meet them with drawn cutlasses. Suddenly Stewart’s second pistol cracked out, sending its ball crashing through flesh and bone to reduce the odds. I heard the sound of running feet and another shot from Leveque as Major Scarboro and the rest of the men charged forward to take the French spy. I was on my feet by this time, and was quickly, if painfully, hobbling after my men, sword in one hand and pistol in the other.

    Steel rang on steel as my men plunged into a melee with the enemy. The lads quickly made short work of three of them, but in so doing had allowed one to get behind them. He drew back his cutlass to hack Stewart across his unprotected back. My pistol was up in a flash, the hammer already falling even as the barrel was coming in line with the man’s body. Fanning past Stewart with mere inches to spare, the ball took the last Frenchman in the chest, the impact flinging him backwards to land in a broken heap on the beach. The sand beneath him slowly turning black as the blood ran from his still form.

    With a suddenness that was almost unnerving, silence descended on us. Broken only by the gentle lap of the tide along the beach, the sounds of the night and the rasp of our breath as we took in huge gulps of the cold night air. Flanked by two armed men, the disarmed spy was led up to us. Major Scarboro’s smile of satisfaction was a supreme contrast to the scowl of the Frenchman.

    “Mason, allow me to present our prisoner, Monsieur Gerard Leveque. Top of His Lordship’s most wanted list for years. Once we get you back to England he’ll be having a nice long chat with you, Leveque. I’d advise you to cooperate with him.”

    “I will tell you nothing,” the Frenchman sneered. “Not you, and not your master.”

    “It might have assured you of a less unpleasant demise, but suit yourself,” Scarboro replied with a shrug. “You’ll have a few weeks to reconsider during the voyage to Britain.”

    When I noticed that Teague and Hart were not with them I looked over and could just make out the still forms lying further up the beach. The Major followed my gaze and nodded grimly.

    “I’m afraid the action this night was not without cost.” I nodded sadly. Both men were well-liked aboard Paladin, there would be a great deal of sadness when we returned.

    “Let’s have the bodies loaded aboard this boat. I want to be back aboard Paladin as soon as possible. We’ll give them a proper burial at sea once we’re clear of the Chesapeake.” Stewart and Scarboro both looked a question at me and I nodded wearily. “All of them.”

    “Even the traitor, sir.”

    “Yes. He’s paid for his treason in full, perhaps now his soul can find peace.” And with that we prepared to take our leave of this troubled land.
     
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  18. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Thursday 11 March 1779

    I have come to New York in search of an opportunity to serve my King and country in intelligence gathering activities, hardly a normal occupation for the gently-bred daughter of a Cirencester wool merchant or for the wife of a Commander in the Royal Navy, both of which I am. Nevertheless, I think I can do some good, so with the consent of my husband and the assistance of his older brother, who is also my superior, I am here; although, thankfully, not alone. My friend Mary Stewart, whose husband Nicolas is William’s coxswain and his closest friend, has come with me. A strong, almost fearless woman from the Virginia backcountry, she is an unlikely ally for a young woman with my background, but at the same time I feel safer with her than I think I would with any other bodyguard. We arrived in New York a few days ago and have spent the time settling in, one of my first tasks being to obtain mourning gowns to suit my role as the very recent widow of a young naval officer. I would be wearing black anyway out of respect for my parents and William’s mother, taken from us so recently, so the charade was made easier for me in that respect. The dressmakers here in New York paid little attention to the story I told them, as long as my money was paid on time - and they charged a premium price for their services, to be sure – they cared little for why I wanted to order black gowns.

    Once the proper ‘costuming’ for my new role was delivered, I set out to seek employment in the bookshop run by a man suspected of feeding British military secrets to the Americans. This man, Ravenwood, has fingers in several pies, it seems: a printing house, a coffee house, several alehouses and most recently a bookstore. He seems to specialize in sensationalist material, both in the columns of his newspapers and in the books he offers for sale, many of which he prints himself. My plan was to appeal to his sense of the chivalrous by spinning a tale of a young woman who was left penniless by her husband’s untimely passing after having been cast off by her family for making a runaway match. With no money and no family to fall back on, I am forced to rely on the kindness of strangers, in this case the Mason family. I will say that my late husband, Lieutenant Longley, was a colleague and former shipmate of William Mason and that I appealed to the family for assistance in finding a position which would allow me to earn enough money to gain a measure of independence. The Masons got me to New York, where job prospects were deemed better than in Annapolis, where I was last, and have allowed me to live temporarily in some rooms they own above the firm’s local offices.

    All this was carefully rehearsed several times over the weekend, and finally it was time to make my debut. Mary had found out that Ravenwood’s premises were only a few blocks away, on Pearl Street, so early this morning, carefully attired in a black gown with a black widow’s cap on my brown curls, I set out with Mary behind me, a pistol tucked into her skirt pocket.

    I must be a better actress than I thought. I secured an interview with James Ravenwood and proceeded to spin him a sob story worthy of a Drury Lane melodrama. Touching a scrap of black-edged lace to my eyes occasionally, I spun him the tale. I am afraid I had no compunction about libeling the Mason family, implying that they had been very grudging with their assistance and even that there were strings attached to that assistance – in other words, that Dick Mason had brought me to New York instead of taking me to Halifax to stay with his family because he expected some less than moral return on his investment. I was trying to escape the silken trap I found myself in as a pretty woman alone and friendless in the world, and only Ravenwood could help me do it by giving me a job and a chance to be independent of those who would take advantage of my reduced circumstances. I felt uncomfortable subjecting a man as wonderful as William’s brother to such calumnies, but he had suggested the story himself and when I objected, said only, “I know it’s not true, and anyone who knows me knows it’s not true. I really don’t give a damn what a possible traitor like Ravenwood or his ilk believe.”

    I had struck just the right note. Ravenwood, eaten up with jealousy of wealthy and powerful men like Dick Mason, welcomed a chance to assist the victim of one of those – and perhaps bring that man down at some point. I could almost see him rubbing his hands at the prospect.

    “I don’t normally hire females, Mrs. Longley, but a respectable widow of a true naval hero – well, that’s different. Shall we say a one-month trial, then one month’s notice either side? You’ll be working in my bookshop, assisting customers. I’m sure a lovely lady like yourself will soon be a favorite of the reading public, and that many more officers will find that they simply must have the latest book of poetry or treatise on military tactics!”

    He glanced outside to where Mary stood, waiting patiently. “Who is that woman? Is she with you? She’s as tall as most men I know, slap me if she isn’t!”

    “My waiting woman, Mary.”

    “That’s good, my dear, that you have a maid. Even in the most difficult circumstances, we musn’t lower ourselves to menial labor, must we? She seems strong and sturdy, that’s good, but keep an eye on her, my dear. You can never be too careful. After all, they are only servants, eh?”

    He put out a hand and I had to let him kiss mine, although his palm was moist and fleshy and made my skin crawl, but finally he was content to let me go and I took my leave.

    I was still fuming at his stupid words about Mary and I must have shown. She asked what was wrong and I told her, my voice tight with anger. She just shook her head and said, “I learned long ago that the opinions of scum like him don’t matter, Miss Jennifer. Don’t you worry about me. You just do the job Mr. Mason asked you to do, and I’ll take care of making sure you’re fed, clothed, and protected from this rabble that calls itself an army,” she said stoutly as she eyed several drunken soldiers reeling past.



    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Friday 12 March 1779

    Today I began my job as a shop assistant in Ravenwood’s bookshop on Pearl Street. I was dressed to fit the part of the very respectable widow I have chosen to play - a high-necked, unadorned black mourning gown, a black lace cap, and no jewelry other than a ‘mourning brooch’ and my wedding rings. Only the last are authentic; being able to wear my own rings brings me comfort when I have no idea where William is or what he is doing.

    Ravenwood was not in the shop, according to his chief clerk, a Mr. Quimby. I was to learn how to wait on customers, how to order and receive shipments of books, and where to put the books on the shelves. Quimby made no secret of his disapproval of a female clerk, even a respectable widow, or of his dissatisfaction with his situation in general. He is an Englishman who came to this country some years ago and somehow never got back across the sea to his home, much to his chagrin.

    “I wonder that you should be here, ma’am, if you are bereaved. Surely your family would send for you to return to England?”

    His questions were obvious. Who was I? Why was I here? What was keeping me in New York when any decent widow would have long since fled to the bosom of her loving family? I carefully repeated the story I had made up for myself. I doubt he believed me - he probably assumed, as everyone else seems to, that I am living in New York because Richard Mason has set me up as his mistress here, just far enough from his own family in Halifax to be discreet. I don’t think I am going to like Quimby, but I don’t have to like him, just keep my eyes and ears open. Someone is this establishment is believed to be passing information to General Washington - my job is to find out who it is and how the information is being passed.

    “Now, Mrs. Longley, this is the latest book from Mr. Ravenwood’s printing house, a daring expose of the shocking moral practices of the rebel who calls himself General Washington and his band of reprobate officers. We have instructions to offer this book to everyone who comes in. Mr. Ravenwood is most anxious that this book should do well. I hope you take my meaning?”

    Oh, I understood all right. ‘Sell this sensationalist poppycock or lose your job,’ was the real message. Well, with the quality of officer I’ve seen so far in New York, that shouldn’t be too difficult. They seem to thrive on scandal, rumor and gossip, so this sort of book should be very popular. And who knows? Perhaps one day an officer might walk into my shop and actually want to read Pope, Swift, or Dryden. One can always hope.



    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Sunday, 14 March 1779

    Under minimal sail Sapphire ghosted back to her berth off the Portsmouth Dockyard. We had just returned from two days at sea on our final trials. It has been 34 days since I took command of this fine new frigate. Hard days filled with the work of fitting out, provisioning and recruiting a crew. And I am most grateful to have the services of my senior, Mr. Bartholomew Jones, for he has proved once again to be worth his weight in gold to me.

    “This will do, Mr. Jones.” I said. Jones raised his speaking trumpet.

    “Helm a’ lee!” I watched as the bow swung into the wind, gauging the moment.

    “Let go!” I called and the anchor plunged into the harbour, slowly bring us to a stop within easy rowing distance of the berth that we had originally tied up to a month ago.

    “Have the hands muster aft, Mr. Jones.”

    “Aye aye, sir.” He replied and then shouted into his speaking trumpet. “All hands! All hands muster aft!”

    As the command was passed through the ship the people came and gathered in ordered ranks on the maindeck beneath the quarterdeck rail.

    “Hands mustered aft, sir” Jones said touching his hat. I nodded and stepped up to the rail. A good crew I decided looking down at them. A bit raw at the moment but that would change.

    “Well, lads, that was better than I could have reasonably hoped. But there is still a great deal more to do.” The more experienced hands nudged one another, they knew what that meant. Sail drill and gun drill under the first lieutenant’s pocket watch, over and over.

    “It took you thirteen minutes twenty-five seconds to clear for action. I want that down to ten minutes within a month’s time. It takes you almost three full minutes to load, run out and fire a single broadside. That would be very good … if this were a Spanish vessel. But Sapphire is not a Spanish vessel and three minutes just isn’t good enough. In my last ship, the frigate Goshawk, we could fire three broadsides every two minutes. I shall accept nothing less from Sapphire.

    “It is time of war and we have not the luxuries to be found in peacetime. We could be called to battle an hour after we up anchor. Any sail we sight could be the enemy. We must be ready as soon as possible. Therefore we will begin at once instituting a programme of gun and sail drill. All day, every day until I am satisfied. For the next month or so you’ll be cursing the day you signed onto this ship. But I want you all to remember something. The sweat and hard work you do now, may well save all our lives later. That’s all.”

    I ordered Jones to dismiss the hands and waited until the off-duty watch was below before calling him over.

    “We’ll start the major drills tomorrow, Mr. Jones. Today I want you to identify our problem areas and concentrate on getting the people used to working as a team. We’ve a large percentage of landsmen aboard and they’re not used to it yet. Oh and make sure the petty officers are less free with their starters. These men just don’t know any better yet so a patient word will get us further right now.”

    “Aye aye, sir.” He answered. “About the water, sir?” I shook my head.

    “We have enough in the hold for another two weeks yet. I want to delay bringing the rest aboard until as late as possible. You know how water is after a few months in the cask; even a day’s extra freshness is worthwhile.”

    “Do we know where we’re headed yet, sir?” Jones asked.

    “Not for certain.” I responded. “We were scheduled for the North American Station under Vice-Admiral Eisenbeck, things might have changed although I don’t really think so. I shall know more after I get a response from Earl St. John. I’ll be sending my report for him ashore directly. So I’d best be about it. You have the deck, Mr. Jones.”



    14 March 1779

    My Lord,

    In accordance with your instructions of 3 February 1779 I have the honour to report that His Majesty's Frigate Sapphire of 36 guns is fully supplied, provisioned and crewed. Lacking only full supplies of water, which I shall take on immediately prior to sailing to preserve freshness. In all other respects we are ready to proceed to sea at your Lordship's command.

    Your Obedient Servant,

    Captain John Sinclair, RN
    HMS Sapphire, 36
    Portsmouth Anchorage
     
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  19. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2002
    Location:
    Houston, we have a problem...
    So far - pretty solid stuff. Distinctly different style with the characters narrating much of the dialog but, that seems to work well.
     
  20. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Third Week


    15 March 1779

    From: Earl St. John Second Lord of the Admiralty
    To: John Sinclair, Esq., Captain HMS Sapphire.

    Sir,

    You are directed to make provision aboard your vessel for approximately twenty replacement Officers for the 70th and 16th Regiments of Foot. You are then to make contact with the Captain of the Troop Transport HMS Windsor, also carrying replacement troops and supplies, and escort said ship to New York Harbour there to await additional orders from Vice-Admiral Victor Eisenbeck or in the form of a dispatch from the Admiralty. You are to assume overall command of the operation and Captain Fulker of the Windsor has orders to place himself at your service.

    I cannot stress enough the critical need for these
    troops in the upcoming months. You are to make every effort to ensure their safe delivery to the colonies. We have positive intelligence that the number of American and French Privateers operating on our sea routes will double this year from last, and I need not mention the numbers of French Naval Vessels at sea. I wish you the best of luck, and am confident in your success.


    Sir Donald Vincent, KB
    Earl St. John

    Second Lord of the Admiralty




    From the Diary of William Mason

    Tuesday 16 March 1779

    Several days ago we left Annapolis, Maryland, where we had been for several weeks – very eventful weeks indeed. Since we arrived there in January I have been reunited with my wife and family, only to lose my mother to heart disease, suffered a battle wound that all most killed me and captured a man who has been at the top of St. John’s most wanted list for years, if what Scarboro has let drop is true. Like the spy he is, he will tell me very little else, though. He is a good enough fellow to work with, all things considered, but frankly espionage work and I do not suit. I think I shall stick to straightforward naval operations, and I hope to be posted before I am thirty. Scarboro has hinted that successful completion of this mission will certainly enhance those chances of promotion; I hope he is right, if only because I love the sea and I want to do well in my chosen career.

    Our prize, the key French agent Gerard Leveque in irons in the hold, we are sailing rapidly toward England in compliance with our orders to bring the man to justice as quickly as possible. We have made good progress, although there were a few tense hours a few days ago when my masthead lookouts sighted a sizeable squadron sailing south. If it was French, we would certainly be captured or even killed; if it was English, we would lose valuable time explaining to the Commodore or the Admiral why we could not join his squadron, since sloops like mine are always in short supply for reconnaissance duty, running messages, and so on. We took evasive action, something it is fairly easy for a small, fast vessel like HMS Paladin to do, and left whoever it was far behind. If they were French, as I suspect they were, we will probably hear of some engagement off the Maryland or Virginia coast at some future date.

    Yesterday we passed the latitude of New York without slackening speed, although I did spare some thought for how Jennifer is doing in her new duties. I could tell Stewart was thinking much the same thing as we watched the coastline slip by on the larboard bow.

    “She’s fine, Stewart. They both are. They’re friends, they watch out for each other, and my brother knows better than to let anything happen to them. He wants to go on living, after all.”

    “I was about to tell you the same thing, sir. But still, can’t help worrying a bit. We’re used to war after all, we’re trained for it, it’s what we do. But they…”

    “They will be fine.” I said firmly, more to convince myself than for him.

    Early this afternoon, my masthead lookout called down, “Deck there!”

    Robertson grabbed the speaking trumpet. “Deck here. What do you see?”

    “Sail, sir, dead ahead, closing fast. Looks like a big merchantman.”

    “Very good. Keep an eye peeled.”

    “Aye, aye, sir.”

    A few minutes later, the lookout called down again. “Deck there!”

    “Deck here. What do you make of her?”

    “Merchantman all right, sir, big ‘un, local built, I’d say.”

    Robertson turned to me. “On the off chance she is a privateer under a letter of marque to the Congress, sir…”

    “I agree completely, Mr. Robertson, we will clear and load, but do not run out until I give the word,” I ordered.

    Drums beat to quarters and organized chaos erupted as my ship, which had been lucky to clear in fifteen minutes when I first took command eighteen months ago, set about clearing, trying to beat my pocket watch.

    Our record so far was a few seconds under ten minutes – this time they managed the effort in a few seconds more that, but still in plenty of time to meet our enemy, if enemy it was, with a telling broadside.

    “Ten minutes, five seconds, Mr. Robertson. A good effort, though not as well as we have done.”

    The men looked disappointed. “I am sure that we will better our record another time. For now, let’s see what that ship is.”

    Robertson had the big signals telescope propped on young Mr. O’Connor's shoulder. After a moment he said, “I think you should see this, sir.”

    A glance through the lens told me why he was grinning. The big merchantman was flying the Union Jack and the pennant of Mason Shipping Lines – it was Resolute Star, most likely bound for New York with a load of cargo for the garrison there.

    “If I can see him, he can see me, Mr. Robertson. We’ll come up to her and pass within hail, if you please.”

    My brother Dick used the speaking trumpet to shout, “Will, you old rascal, what are you doing up here? I thought you were down catching spies in Annapolis?”

    “We caught him. Dick, heave to, will you? I’m coming over.”

    A short time later I was shaking my brother’s hand and following him down into his luxurious cabin, so different from mine. Over Madeira for me, claret for Scarboro and rum for Stewart, he listened to an account of our capture of Leveque and then told us what had been going on since we parted more than two weeks ago. We heard a report on Jennifer and Mary that greatly reassured us.

    “I’m on my way down there now, as it happens. Can I assume that you have letters you want delivered?” He was teasing; he knew we would. I handed them over and he gave us our own mail in return.

    “What news of Father, Dick?”

    “He sits in a stupor all day, Will. It’s like his mind is so overwhelmed with losing Mother that he can’t think. He’s very docile, he will do whatever we tell him, but there’s no life in him. It's really a pity to see.”

    “And the rest of you?”

    “James has just announced his betrothal to Miss Amelia MacKenzie,” he said.

    Immediately a red flag went up in my mind and I said, “Major, would you excuse us, please? My brother and I have family business to discuss. Stewart, if you wouldn’t mind giving the Major the grand tour?”

    Scarboro may have been puzzled, but he went willingly enough. Dick saw them off and then said, “What’s on your mind, Will? It must have to do with James and Miss Mackenzie.”

    “It does,” I said grimly. “Dick, you have to convince him to break this engagement, and the sooner the better.” Briefly, I went on to tell him why the family name was anathema to me.

    “I can see your point, Will, but we have a problem. If they are as rapacious and unscrupulous as you say, they’ll have no hesitation in filing a suit for breach of promise against James. He has to agree to break this engagement; I can’t do it for him. Father probably could order him to do so, but we know Father isn’t in touch with reality right now.”

    “He’d better get out now, suit or no suit, or he’s going to be miserable for the rest of his life. He may be my brother, but if he marries that woman Jennifer and I will not receive them in our home. She’s sure to be just as bad as her mother.”

    “You don’t know that for certain, Will. Your experience happened years ago when she was just a child, after all. “

    “Yes, a child who was raised by that mother to be a mindless doll with more hair than wit. I’m sorry, Dick. I can’t budge on this one. The whole family is bad news for anyone named Mason.”

    He sighed. “All right. I’ll do what I can, but we may be at checkmate on this one.”

    “That’s all I can ask for, Dick. Now, how is Tara doing?”

    “Not well. She is losing weight and I’m afraid she’s going to make herself ill again with worry over Papa, but nothing I say seems to help. She won’t leave him, and the stress has ruined her appetite, she says.”

    “And Stephen?”

    “Stephen wants to go to sea so badly he can taste it.”

    “Go to sea as a midshipman, or go to sea with you?”

    “He’ll take whatever he can get. I know the idea was for him to go to Oxford, but it was really Mother’s dream for him. He would have gone to please her, but what he really wants is sea duty. Can you take him on, Will, not now, I know that, but maybe in another six months? I can get him some experience with me, but he really wants the Navy.”

    “Ask me in six months, if I’m still on this side of the Atlantic. I have two midshipmen now but I can always find work for Stephen.”

    “If you would be willing to do that for Stephen he will thank you forever, Will.”

    “I’m sure of it. Now, you have our letters, do you have any that need to be taken to London? I know you have your regular channels, but we are going almost directly to His Lordship with our prize Frog.”

    “As it happens, I do.” He crossed to an elegant desk and pulled out what looked remarkably like a weighted dispatch bag, complete with padlock.

    “Send this to London with your other dispatches. St. John will know what to do from there. And thank you, Will.”

    After a few parting words, I collected Stewart and Scarboro and we were off.
     
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