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

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

    Tuesday, 16 March 1779

    Our orders arrived an hour ago by Admiralty messenger. It seems that someone has been talking to their Lordships and they have been listening. It is the only explanation that I can think of for the orders we have received. A brand-new 36-gun frigate, of our newest and most modern class, being used as a troop transport. The business of acting as escort wasn’t unusual of course, but escorting a single vessel certainly was. A thirty-six ought to be escorting a convoy of half a dozen. And then there was the Windsor herself, a seventy last I’d heard, elderly but still in fine condition. She must be sailing en flute with at least her lower-deck battery of 24-pounders removed to accommodate the troop replacements she was carrying and from the wording of the dispatch she would be staying that way. It must be infuriating for Captain Fulker.

    I knew who had been talking, it was Fred of course. He’d been worried about my returning to duty so soon and had done all he could to dissuade me. When he’d seen he couldn’t he must have written St. John once again and suggested a non-taxing assignment. For most it would have been an exercise in futility, but when a highly respected member of the Royal College of Physicians makes a recommendation even the Admiralty listens. I understood Fred’s concern, I had very nearly died after all, but I wished he would stop interfering. I was fine now, even the long, hard ride from Denham a month ago hadn’t tired me excessively. I made a mental note to talk to him about it this evening.

    “Officer of the Watch!” I said rapping the cabin skylight. Talbot’s round Irish face looked down at me.

    “Sir?”

    “Have my gig swayed out if you please, Mr. Talbot.”

    “Aye aye, sir.” He replied and then disappeared but I could hear him bawling orders in that high-pitched Irish accent. He had done well last week when the powder had come aboard. MacDonald the gunner had given me a full report; in spite of his easy-going manner the second lieutenant was stickler for safety. I had been pleased to hear it.

    At length the Marine sentry at my door had rapped his musket on the deck and announced.

    “Midshipman o’ th’ Watch, sir!” Young Shea had entered at my bidding and reported.

    “Mr. Talbot’s respects, sir, and your gig is ready.”

    “Thank you, Mr. Shea. My complements to the second lieutenant and I shall be up directly.”

    After he’d left Bailey held out my coat and I slipped it on. I could not help but smile as the steward fussed like an old maid when he clipped my sword on. Andrew Bailey would never change. When he had finished I turned from the cabin, Windsor and Captain Fulker were waiting.


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Thursday, 18 March 1779

    I watched as the first longboat hooked onto the main chains and the senior most of the nine officers aboard her reached out and made to scramble up Sapphire’s tumblehome. Unfortunately he mistimed it badly and only MacGregor’s quick hand and bulging muscles kept him from splashing into the harbour as the cox’n hauled him back into the longboat before he went in headfirst. The man was more successful with his second attempt and managed to clamber through the entry port without further incident.

    Conscious of what had happened to their senior the remaining officers listened carefully to the instructions that MacGregor gave them before scrambling up the side and through the ship’s entry port. Instructions which their Colonel, much to his subsequent chagrin, had chosen to ignore.

    Now all nine were gathered on the maindeck as Jones sorted through them. At first I had been quite concerned as to where to put them. If they had been private soldiers or even Corporals and Sergeants I would have simply assigned them hammock space with the crew, but the fact that all my passengers were officers made things a different matter entirely. They would expect private quarters aboard. I had none to give them of course but would do what I could to see that the forms were followed as closely as possible in a ship of Sapphire’s size.

    Looking toward the dock I saw the second longboat bearing the remaining officers shove off from the jetty. Once they arrived we would commence preparations for getting underway. We had taken on the last of our water yesterday when we had received word that our passengers would arrive for boarding today. Boats had been going from the dockyard to the old Windsor all day long bearing more and more soldiers destined for the 70th and 16th Foot. In order to fit them all into her fat hull nearly all of Windsor’s guns had been removed, both the lower deck twenty-fours and the upper deck twelves had been taken off leaving the elderly two-decker with but the dozen eight-pounders of her fo’c’sle and quarterdeck batteries for defense. It was no wonder St. John had wanted Sapphire along as escort.

    O’Rourke the second midshipman scrambled up the quarterdeck ladder and touched his hat to me.

    “First lieutenant’s respects, sir. The Colonel requests to speak to you at your convenience.” I had heard the loud and angry voices from the maindeck and doubted very much that Colonel The Honourable Charles Courtenay had been nearly so polite. Still he was assigned to take command of the 70th Foot so I should try to be at least civil to him.

    “My compliments to Mr. Jones. I shall see the Colonel in my day cabin in five minutes.”

    As O’Rourke saluted and hurried for the ladder again I took one more look at the dockyard before turning to quarterdeck gangway.

    When I reached my cabin I found Bailey setting out a decanter of Madeira and two glasses. I ruefully shook my head at him; news has fast legs on the lower deck. MacGregor stepped in and looked over at the wine.

    “Another glass, Andrew.” He said. I looked over at him and he shrugged. “Colonel o’ the 16th’s asked t’ be seein’ ye, Cap’n. Thought ye might kill two birds with one stone like and see ‘em together.”

    “What an impertinent fellow you are, MacGregor.” I said. “I sometimes wonder why I put up with you.” He looked solemn for a moment, then looked at me with a twinkle in his eye.

    “I wonders sometimes too, Cap’n.”

    “One day, my lad. One day you'll go too far.” I replied shaking a finger at him. But the big Scot only smiled, you could never win with MacGregor, and anyway we’d been playing this game for a long time.

    Out in the passageway the marine sentry’s musket stamped twice on the deck.

    “Colonel Courtenay, sir!”

    I gestured towards the door to my sleeping cabin for MacGregor and Bailey then turned to the passageway.

    “Come.”

    It was a moment before Courtenay entered as he had apparently been expecting someone to open the door for him. Fair-haired and looking very young for his rank Courtenay I knew was the third son of the Earl of Devonshire and had just recently purchased his colonelcy of the 70th after the previous commander had been killed in a skirmish with the rebels. According to my information from Sir David, Courtenay had believed that the regiment was being returned to England. When he had learned that replacements were instead being sent out to the Colonies he had tried to sell his commission but had found no takers even at one-third the price he'd paid for it.

    “See here, Sinclair.” He began. “What’s this damned nonsense about my having to share quarters? Never heard such tommyrot in all my life! And stand at attention when a superior officer speaks to you! Doesn’t the Navy know anything about military courtesy?” Not another one I thought, then sat back on my desk and took a deep breath before responding.

    “First off, Colonel, you are not the superior officer here, I am. In accordance to the regulations of 1748, which clearly state that a Royal Navy senior post captain is the equal of a colonel of the British Army. My seniority at that rank is dated from 24 September 1762. If my information is correct then you became a colonel on 23 February of this year, all of which makes me senior.

    “Second, even if it didn’t my orders place me in command of the mission and in any event until I put you ashore you are just cargo. And overrated cargo at that! Third, this is a frigate not a damned passenger vessel, you’ll berth where we have room to put you! If you don’t care for the quarters you’ve been assigned I can arrange alternate accommodations in the cable tier with the rest of the rats! Fourth!!” I stopped and forced myself to regain my composure before finishing with a nasty little smile on my lips. “Fourth, stand at attention when addressing a superior officer, Courtenay.”

    His mouth dropped open and he just stood there for several seconds, his face turning an impressive shade of purple before he finally sputtered.

    “This is intolerable! I shall not sit still for such treatment! I demand satis…”

    “Don’t!” I shot out interrupting him with fire in my eye. “Don’t finish that, Colonel, I warn you. I have been a fighting officer for more than thirty years. I have killed with pistol, sabre and sword more times than I prefer to recall. And I have stood on the Field of Honour more than once as well. If you complete your challenge I promise you, I will put you into your grave!”

    He locked his eyes on mine and I could feel the hatred behind them but it was nothing to me but a mild annoyance and looking into my eyes he knew it as well, and something else besides. He knew that I could and more importantly would carry out my threat. I saw something else in his eyes then. Something that overpowered the hatred and drove it into the background. Fear.

    The sentry’s musket sounded against the deck again.

    “Colonel of the 16th, sir!”

    The spell was broken. Colonel Courtenay spun on his heel and stormed to the door before turning back to me.

    “This isn’t over … sir!” The word was spat out like a bitter pill. I looked back on him calmly.

    “It is aboard this ship, Colonel. Understood?” He nodded curtly and left. He would keep his word but once we were no longer aboard … well as he had said, this isn’t over. Then the door opened and a booming voice called out.

    “Good Heavens, John, what did you do to little Charlie? He looks like he’s ready to shoot his favourite dog if it looks at him crosswise! Which wouldn’t be much of a stretch for him come to think of it. He’s got a terrible temper you know. It goes nicely with the streak of yellow down his back.”

    Now it was my turn to stare at the apparition that stood in my doorway. The first time I’d met George Therrien was back in ‘59. He had been a major with the 43rd Regiment of Foot on detached duty with Black Dick Howe’s squadron that was raiding the French coast. I’d been a lieutenant aboard the Southampton in the same squadron. It was one of the last raids of the year. I had been in charge of one of shore detachments that brought the raiders off when word had come that the afterguard had been cut off by French Cavalry. My senior, an officer from the flagship, had panicked and ordered us to quit the beach and return to the squadron. I had ignored him and taken my lads inland. We found the remains of George’s battalion surrounded and immediately attacked, breaking through the French forces and opening a gap that George’s lads could escape through. Together we had fought our way back to the beach, re-embarked and got safely back to the squadron.

    Once we’d arrived the cowardly lieutenant had insisted that I’d disobeyed his direct orders to return to the squadron. I had pointed out that I had in fact followed his orders to return, I just hadn’t done it alone. In the end he was forced to resign and Black Dick himself had commended me and ordered me made post. The Admiralty confirmed the order and gave me Penelope fifteen days later.

    George and I had kept in touch afterwards. He’d resigned his commission following the Peace of Paris that ended the Seven Years War and had retired to his family’s estate to ride, shoot grouse and deplete the deer population. I had visited him several times and when the former lieutenant and I had finally settled the matter on the Field of Honour in ‘63, George had been my second.

    “Good Heavens, sir, you look quite dazed. I told you I was thinking of buying back in. Why are you so damned surprised?”

    “Because I expected that you’d write before you actually did it, and I certainly didn’t expect you to show up here as one of my replacements. Although now that I think of it I should have guessed what with the way MacGregor was acting. I suppose you told him to keep his mouth shut, eh?” He smiled back at me.

    “I wanted to surprise you, Johnny.”

    “Well you certainly did that, George. And don’t call me that. You know I hate it.” His grin became even larger as he replied.

    “That’s why I do it, Johnny. Keeps you humble, besides excepting your Aunt Gwendolyne I’m the only one who can get away with it.”

    “Not anymore you can’t.” I laughed. “You were retired for seventeen years. I outrank you now.”

    “Oh, tosh!” He said waving a hand dismissively. “You think I give a damn about that?”

    “No, I suppose not, Georgie.” His eyebrows shot up to his forehead, stood there quivering for a moment, then descended and he laughed out loud.

    “All right, John, I’ll stop.”

    “I thought you might.” I said grinning at him. “Here let’s have a glass then you can tell me how you got here. And let’s have Fred and that damned rascal of a cox’n in here too.”

    He laughed his jolly laugh and I began to pour.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  2. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Thursday 18 March 1779

    Another long and tedious day at Ravenwood’s bookshop – whoever said that espionage work was thrilling and exciting obviously hadn’t done much of it. I can’t say Dick Mason didn’t warn me, of course, and the work has to be done. So far I have been able to gather little of value, although I keep my eyes and ears open. I am getting to know some of the officers, though, and I have made a point of ‘admiring’ the articles in Ravenwood’s newspaper, the Loyal Leader, in hopes that he will be flattered into allowing me to assist in the production of the paper, either by writing copy or by acting as a proofreader. If Ravenwood is leaking information to General Washington as we believe he is, there are any number of ways he could do so. Dick showed me a type of code device called a ‘mask’– it is an hourglass shaped cut out of plain paper that when placed over a letter or page of print reveals a secret message hidden among otherwise innocuous words. I have made a mask and have tried placing it over pages of the Loyal Leader, but nothing intelligible resulted. Mary and I returned home after work today to a welcome sight – Richard Mason was sitting in our parlor, waiting for us.

    “I apologize for this intrusion, ladies, but a little of Simms goes a long way. He’s a good enough clerk, but he likes gossip too much, and I’m tired. Besides, at the risk of offending you, Jennifer, the more we allow him to think you are here as my paramour, the more legitimate your reason for staying in New York.”

    “We’ve discussed this, Dick. I know the truth, and so does my husband. The rest of world can think what they like. Now, will you join us for a light supper? Mary has learned all the best places to find good food at prices that are lower than usual, although not low enough for her. She has friends among the Dutch on Long Island who keep us well supplied with eggs, milk, butter and flour, so we do very well.”

    Over supper, he told us about his recent meeting with HMS Paladin. He obliged us graciously as we two lonely women pumped him for details about our husbands: had William recovered fully from his wound, did Nicolas look well, had they succeeded in their mission in Maryland, and so on. He produced letters and told us that ours had been passed along as well, then thanked us for the supper and went on his way. I helped Mary read her letter – she is improving, but still needs help with some words – and then I went to bed to cherish my own.



    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Sunday, 21 March 1779

    The sun shone brightly through the rigging as I thought back over the past two days. We had sailed with the morning tide on the 19th and worked our way close-hauled into the Channel. Almost all of our passengers had been quite seasick even in that easy motion and some of the landsmen among the new hands the same.

    Yesterday at three bells in the afternoon watch our masthead lookouts had reported sighting Land’s End and we had altered course Nor’ West by North. It is my intention to skirt the coast of Ireland and continue on that course for northern waters. Although the latitudes near Iceland and Greenland will be colder and we shall have to spend more time beating and broad-reaching it should also greatly reduce our chances of encountering French warships. Much as it galls me to have to act thus it needs to be done, at least until our gun and sail drill have borne fruit. Most of our lads are too new to the sea and although they have heeded my words and work hard at their drills it will still be some weeks before they are up to the standards I demand of them. For now then, this slower northerly course is the wisest one.

    For myself I am fortunate that my sea-legs have not deserted me after my long convalescence ashore. Colonel Courtenay it seems suffers severely from seasickness and has spent the past two days in bed or in the officer’s head. I suppose I should be more than human if I didn’t take some satisfaction in his condition, still it disturbs me that I should be so pleased by his misfortune. Such cruelty is not like me but I must admit that such highborn fools have always tended to bring out the worst in me.

    The ship’s bell chimed out eight bells in the afternoon watch and I called Jones over.

    “You may secure the guns and send the watch to their dinners, Mr. Jones.” I said. He touched his hat to me and saw that it was taken care of. George Therrien climbed up the quarterdeck gangway and strode over to where I stood by the mizzen.

    “How long is it taking them now, John?” He asked. I snapped the guard of my watch closed and answered.

    “Twelve minutes eighteen seconds to clear for action, that's down by one minute seven seconds from a week ago. And the sail drill is even better. We were fortunate to sign on a good number of experienced hands as topmen. Still our gun crews contain the majority of our landsmen and it shows. Our gunnery is still much too slow and our accuracy fair at best.”

    “Is there no improvement at all?”

    “Some.” I said frowning. “But it still takes nearly two minutes for each broadside. It will not do, George. We could sight a French warship at any time and as things stand now we would be hard pressed to defeat even a well-handled sixth rate let alone anything larger. It’s just not good enough.”

    “Give it time, John. We’ve only been at sea for a few days.” He advised.

    “I know. But you know me, George, I’ve always been impatient when it comes to my ship.” I smiled and put a hand on his shoulder. “Join me below for a glass of hock before dinner.”

    “And who have you invited to the Captain’s table this evening?”

    “I asked Courtenay.” George looked at me, shocked. “Out of politeness, of course. Unfortunately he sent his regrets. So we’ll have Jones, Zachery, Tremaine and young Shea. Oh and Fred of course, I couldn’t possibly forget Fred I should never hear the end of it. We’ve space for one more, perhaps you could choose one of your lads.”

    “I think I can find one worthy of the honour.” He replied with a twinkle of amusement in his eye. And we stepped over to the quarterdeck gangway.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  3. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Thank you. The epistolary style isn't used much these days but it seemed appropriate for the period. All these diaries and logs were written to be passed on to succeeding generations of the writer's family.

    Bram Stoker wrote Dracula the same way.
     
  4. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2002
    Location:
    Houston, we have a problem...
    ^Exactly! It works very well with this story.
     
  5. cultcross

    cultcross We truly were a song of ice and fire Moderator

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2001
    Location:
    The Small Council
    This thread isn't really suitable for the discussion forums, having consulted with the Fan Fiction mod, I'll move it there.
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2019
  6. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    My thanks to all the mods, but particularly to cultcross.

    And now on with the story.
     
  7. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Thursday 25 March 1779

    Mary called for me as usual at Ravenwood’s this afternoon, and we began the short walk up Pearl Street to Broad. At Fraunces Tavern we turned right and within a few minutes we were home. As a merchant sea captain, Dick Mason took the lease on our building because it is very convenient to both Whitehall Slip and Albany Pier, but it is also very convenient for us, as long as we stay away from the docks except in daylight and always go armed, as we do.

    As we walked, Mary told me of meeting a woman in the market earlier in the day.

    “Poor soul, she’s only about sixteen, great with child and the thieving stallholders were trying to cheat her out of her last cent. There’s prices fixed in this town and everyone knows it, but when you ask for bread or flour or milk or meal they say they don’t have anything – but if you will pay their prices, they suddenly have plenty. Makes me downright angry, Miss Jennifer.”

    “I daresay they don’t argue too much with you, Mary,”

    “No. I don’t buy much from them, I prefer to take the ferry across to Long Island and deal with the Dutch farm wives over there, but today I was just happening by when I saw them turn her away – and not ten minutes before they’d had plenty of food, I saw it. So I went and got her the milk and flour she needed. She looked so tired, Miss Jennifer, I asked her home to rest. I hope I did right.”

    “I trust your judgment, Mary. I doubt we’ll get home to find our rooms looted.”
    Far from it – in fact, Maisie Hollis, for so she is called, was busily making tea for us. She greeted me with a curtsey and stared at her shoes – a broken pair of men’s brogues tied on her feet with rags – while Mary made the introductions.

    “Mrs. Jennifer Longley, this is Mrs. Maisie Hollis. Her husband is a sergeant in the 28th, the North Gloucestershires, and she is from Moreton-in-Marsh. I told her you were from Cirencester.”

    “Indeed I am, and my sister lives in Stow-on-the–Wold, which is even closer to your home, Maisie. I’m very happy to meet you.”

    “Oh, mum, it’s ever so good to see some’un from home, so it is. An’ Mrs. Stewart here was ever so nice too, helpin’ me get milk and flour an’ such. Hollis, he draws rations from the commissary but they’re barely enough to keep body and soul together, not with a nipper comin’, you know.”

    “Is this your first child, Mrs. Hollis?”

    “Oh, mum, just call me Maisie. That’s what Mrs. Squire called me when I were dairymaid, back afore I married Hollis. First child – well, yes and no. I had one, poor mite, but he died during the winter. Terrible hard winter it were, mum, terrible hard. But Hollis, he says, “This one’ll be a comfort to you, Maisie my girl,” so it will.”

    “And when is your baby due?”

    “July, near as we can tell. I’m ever so glad he’ll be born in summer, so’s he can get some growth on him afore the winter comes.”

    Mary and I looked at each other in dismay. We had heard of the plight of the soldiers’ wives and children in New York, living in tents and ruined, burned-out houses, scavenging for food to feed themselves and their children and wood to keep themselves warm, but this was our first real experience of what it must be like to try to live under those conditions.

    “Maisie, would Hollis mind, do you think, if you were to work a few hours each day helping Mary with laundry and cooking and such? No rough cleaning, not in your condition. We’d pay.”

    “Mind? Why, mum, he’d be over the moon! A chance to get out of that Canvas Town – and there’s terrible bad things going on down there, mum, you don’t ever want to go down there without Hollis comes with you – and earn a bit o’ the ready, and to work in such a nice place for two nice ladies, why that would be just heavenly!”

    We negotiated rates of pay – we were not rich, to be sure, but we had more than this poor woman had. The first order of business was to find her a decent pair of shoes that actually fit her feet, but we would have to be careful how we approached her with them. For all their poverty, women like Maisie Hollis still have their pride. Perhaps if we offered the items to Maisie not for herself but for those in need? Then she could take what she needed and give away or sell the rest to provide for herself and her family. Mary’s feet are too big, not surprising considering she is nearly six feet tall and rawboned as they say in the backcountry, and my shoes would be too small – but Tara Mason might be able to help, and I suspect that Mrs. Mason’s clothing and shoes have not all been given away to the poor just yet. I resolved to ask Dick about it the next time I wrote.



    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Thursday 25 March 1779

    To avoid privateers and French national ships who might attempt to use force to relieve us of our notorious prisoner, the top spy Gerard Leveque, we have taken a northern route home, sailing north and east through the southern tip of the Labrador Basin and on towards Greenland and Iceland. Today’s noon sights found us off the coast of Greenland; we expect to pass considerably to the south of Iceland within the next few days and to be back in England by this time next week, if all goes well. Despite the cold that is inevitable at these latitudes, Paladin continues to handle well. Major Scarboro tells me that our ‘guest’ has complained bitterly about the cold, but has elicited no sympathy, since there is no heat anywhere in the ship other than from the galley fire. Most of the men seem to think that the Frog deserves to freeze; certainly he cannot expect any better conditions than those endured by the ordinary seaman.

    I have used the time to catch up on all the reports, logs and letters that I must submit when we reach England, including a complete report on the capture of Leveque. We know that St. John wants to question Leveque personally - beyond that we have no idea what our next orders will be, where we will be going, or even if the Major will continue aboard HMS Paladin. Of course, we have our hopes and dreams, but who knows what will happen? I think we are all secretly hoping for another North American assignment. Naturally, Stewart and I want to be on the same side of the Atlantic as our wives, but we shall see. Oh, well, staring into space thinking about what Jennifer is doing now and hoping she continues to be well will not get this report written.



    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Friday, 26 March 1779

    “That’s right, Mr. Cutler. Let your opponent’s blade slide along your own while you guide it away.” Instructed Tremaine. “Then step back and release his blade.”

    The Marine Lieutenant was instructing the midshipmen on the finer points of swordsmanship. We were now seven days out from Portsmouth. Cape Clear on the Irish coast had passed behind us on Monday and we were now about halfway betwixt there and Iceland. The winds had been kind to us and Sapphire had spent most of the voyage to this point on a steady broad-reach in a fresh breeze.

    Looking through the starboard mizzen shrouds I could see the old Windsor continuing on the same course at a distance of about two cables. Captain Fulker was handling her well, he had an experienced crew and it showed. Sapphire wasn’t doing badly herself either. Our experienced topmen had quickly settled into a solid team and were now rapidly developing the speed that a frigate’s crew needed. Gunnery on the other hand was still disappointing. The time to clear for action was still eleven minutes and fifty-eight seconds, down by a bare twenty seconds from Sunday last and the time for a broadside was still well over one and one half minutes, nearer to two actually. I decided to devote more time to gun drill in the coming days. I very much wanted to reach two broadsides in two minutes before we altered course to West by South at Iceland. For once we began beating back and forth across the wind the hands would have precious little strength or time for it.

    I turned my attention back to Tremaine and the midshipmen. All three were in attendance for although O’Rourke was nominally Midshipman of the Watch I had given my permission for him to attend Tremaine's instruction. Their faces were studious as the Marine Officer explained the finer points of swordsmanship and all seemed to take the instruction well. They knew of course that their very lives could well depend upon how well they learned this lesson, but there seemed to be more to it than just that. Tremaine was a natural teacher. Stern but patient, demanding much from his students but quick to praise when they got it. He rarely raised his voice but rather looked at his charge with a gentle frown of disappointment, which made them even more penitent and asked them to try again. The image was quite at odds with the fierce follow he became in combat.

    “Now once you’ve turned your enemy’s attack he’ll be off balance. He won’t stay that way for long so you must be prepared to exploit what is a momentary weakness at best. You must move like lightning to bring your blade to its mark before he is at guard again or before he launches a backswing attack. If you succeed the fight is over and your sword will be in his chest. If you miss you must step back and disengage to prevent him from doing the same to you.”

    The ship’s bell chimed out six bells and the instruction period ended with a promise to practice further tomorrow. O’Rourke returned to the Watch and Cutler and Shea went below carrying the swords that Tremaine had issued them for the exercise in lieu of their customary Midshipman’s dirks. I beckoned Tremaine over before he could retreat below.

    “How are they coming, Mr. Tremaine?” He answered almost immediately.

    “Quite well, sir. Oh they make mistakes of course but rarely the same one twice. Young Shea seems to be particularly good at it. He’s had some good basic instruction and it shows.”

    “Sir David would spare no expense in that regard. He’s seen to it that the boy has a good grounding in mathematics and basic seamanship as well.” I said. “And yet he still has stars in his eyes. You can see it in the way he looks at the ship.”

    “As you say, sir.” Tremaine looked as though he wanted to say more but instead just touched his hat to me and made his way below.

    A soft meow came from nearby and I looked down to see Dunkin our ship's cat rubbing his long black and white body across my left leg. The cat had come to me as a kitten some years ago, having been born aboard Arethusa back in ‘74 to our ship’s cat and Captain Mainwaring’s aboard Tyche. Dunkin’s mother and littermates had been killed in the same battle that had cost Philip Mainwaring his arm and I had more or less adopted the orphaned four month old kitten.

    I crouched down and he leapt up to my left shoulder and settled himself onto his normal perch. As I straightened I reached over and stroked his cheek as he purred softly and pressed hard against my hand.

    “Finally come out have you.” I said to him. He meowed again a bit more loudly this time. I looked toward the gangway that Tremaine had disappeared down.

    “Now what do you suppose was on his mind.” I said half to myself and half to the cat. There was a laugh from behind me.

    “He probably wanted to mention that he could also see that look when Shea looks at you.” George Therrien said with a smile. “Worst case of hero-worship I’ve ever seen. Couldn’t say it of course. Not to you. But I can.”

    I smiled back at him “That’s normal, George. I felt the same way about my first captain.”

    “Not to this extent, John.” He replied. “You have to remember young Shea has grown up on Sir David’s stories. And you always provided him with plenty of material what with one thing or another.”

    “If that’s so then the youngster is bound to be disappointed. Sir David has a tendency to embellish things considerably.”

    “Of course he does, John.” Therrien replied, but from the tone of his voice he didn’t believe it. Perhaps he was right about that, but I would cross that stream when I came to it there was no point to borrowing trouble ahead of time.

    I sighed and turned back to the sea.



    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Sunday 28 March 1779

    We have cleared the coast of Greenland and are en route to Iceland and then back to England. This northern route is cold, but the chances of meeting a French national ship bound for New York are much smaller, and our primary goal is to get the prisoner Gerard Leveque to England and St. John as quickly as possible. He has been closely watched by Major Scarboro’s marines to ensure that he does not try to do away with himself as his confederate Roberta Donnelly did, as well as to ensure that he does not attempt to seize a weapon and create a hostage situation. Guards are changed every two hours to ensure alertness and constant vigilance is maintained. He has been a very difficult guest, complaining constantly about the cold, the food, the lack of wine - he has been restricted to water, since the last thing we need is a raging, drunken maniac - and everything else he can think of. We will all be very glad to be rid of him.

    As this is the last Sunday of the month, in place of Divine Service hands were mustered today to hear the Articles of War. I thank God that my crew is so well-disciplined that the last time they heard the Articles read before a punishment was back in November of 1777, not long after I took the ship over from a captain who sat in his cabin all day and did nothing. The last offender was the ringleader of a group of malcontents who were on the verge of mutiny, a man who was given two dozen for cursing a petty officer, but then volunteered for a boat action into Sardinia and subsequently died defending that same petty officer, thereby redeeming himself in the eyes of the men. He is only a dim memory, and so is the lash. I have emphasized to my officers and petty officers that trouble must be stopped before it starts - sometimes it is as simple as changing a man's mess assignment to get him away from a group of people that he simply does not get along with.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  8. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Monday, 29 March 1779

    “Deck there!” Came the cry from the masthead lookout. “Sail two points abaft the larboard bow!”

    We had only last night altered course to South West by West and the wind was steady from the Nor’ West allowing us to remain on the starboard tack. If it held we would reach Greenland in only five days. This morning the dawn had found us engulfed in a thick sea mist as the warm waters of the Gulf Stream reached the cold arctic air of these northern latitudes. But the bright March sunshine was rapidly burning through the fog and had revealed the other vessel.

    “What do you make of her?” I called up to the masthead. It was a brief moment before the reply floated down.

    “Sloop-of-War about six maybe seven cables off. English built, sir!” I turned to the Officer of the Watch.

    “Hoist our Colours to the main, Mr. Zachery.”

    “Aye aye, sir.”

    We watched as the Union Jack broke from the main topgallant masthead and waited to see what the other ship would do.

    “English colours breakin’ from the masthead.” Came the cry from aloft.

    “Make query, Mr. Cutler. And hoist our number.” I ordered. Within minutes the flags had blossomed from signal halyards. I watch as Cutler climbed the hammock nettings and trained his glass on the sloop. A response broke from her yards with admirable speed, always the mark of a good crew.

    “Number 307, sir.” Cutler said reading her hoist. Zachery thumbed through the registry quickly.

    “She’s Paladin, sir. Eighteen guns, Commander William Mason.”

    “Signal her to close with us, Mr. Cutler. When she gets within two cables we shall heave to, Mr. Zachery, and signal Windsor to do the same then send ‘Captain repair onboard’ if you please.”

    “Aye aye, sir”

    “I’ll want you to meet Captain Mason at the entry port, Mr. Jones” There was a gleam in Jones’ eye that I recognized. “You know him then?”

    “Aye, sir.” He nodded. “We served as midshipmen together aboard the old Chimera, 74 until I passed my examination for lieutenant and joined you as one of your replacements aboard Argo back in ‘69. He was newly appointed back then but was a bright lad none the less, a quick learner as well and well liked by all aboard. A colonial from Maryland if I recall correctly, sir.”

    “And now he has a command and you do not. Well no matter, Mr. Jones. I shall see you with Master and Commander’s rank at least before this commission is over. You have my word on it, sir.” He smiled at me.

    “I’ve no hard feelings, sir. I’m content to serve as first lieutenant to the finest frigate captain in Britain.”

    “Mr. Jones!” I said with mock anger. “You are getting quite as bad as that damned Cox’n of mine.”

    “Very likely, sir.” He replied with a great smile on his face. I knew many captains that would never permit this kind of familiarity on their ships let alone right on the quarterdeck. Stern inflexible men who strove to gain respect chiefly by inspiring fear in their subordinates. But I had my own methods and they had served me well for twenty years.

    “Carry on, Mr. Jones.” I said. He touched his hat to me and I proceeded below.



    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Monday 29 March 1779, dawn

    I came awake fully half an hour before dawn when a knock heralded the arrival of Henry O’Connor, midshipman of the watch. Something that was covered in my standing orders must have happened to cause Robertson to disturb me; I had not long to wait.

    “Mr. Robertson’s respects, sir, and a thick sea mist has come down, reducing visibility.”

    “Thank you, Mr. O’Connor. I will come up directly.”

    It was very thick, so thick that we could barely see from one end of the ship to another. In these latitudes, there is always the danger of icebergs, so Robertson had wisely put extra men in the bows.

    “Real pea-souper, sir,” Robertson said cheerfully, touching his hat as he loomed out of the mist like some ghostly apparition.

    “Indeed. Well, since we don’t know what's on the other side of that curtain of mist, Mr. Robertson, we’ll have the men at quarters now, if you please.”

    “Aye, aye, sir.”

    The marine drummer boy was summoned and began to beat out the familiar rhythm, the Spithead nightingales shrilled, and the sounds of nearly 240 feet running to their battle stations echoed off the wall of mist. Eight minutes later Robertson touched his hat again and reported.

    “Ship cleared for action, Captain.”

    “Very good, thank you. Keep me informed of any developments. I’m going below.”

    Fifteen minutes later I was shaved - the water had been heated before the galley fires were doused, obviously - and dressed and was letting the first cup of hot coffee explore my insides when I heard Robertson give the order to send the lookouts aloft. No sooner had Neville, my most experienced man, reached the mainmast crosstrees than he was singing out.

    “Deck there!”

    “Deck here!” Robertson responded. “What do you see, Neville?”

    “Two sail sir, no more'n six or seven cables off, two points to starboard.”

    Mr. O’Connor was back again immediately to make his report. Shrugging into my coat and clapping on my hat, I followed him up. By this time Neville was reporting again.

    “Frigate, sir, British built, and a sail of the line - third rate, sir. Just hoisting English colours, both of them, sir.”

    I grabbed a bring ‘em near and looked through the clearing mist. One was a big frigate, a thirty-six, and the other a third rate, but with no muzzles protruding through the ports of her two gun decks. Was she traveling en flute, as a transport, perhaps, with the frigate as escort? That seemed the most likely explanation. We would soon know more when the day’s challenge broke to the wind - at least, we would know which ship held the senior commander.

    “Frigate’s challenging, sir.” Ah, there was my answer. A quick consultation of the table in the signal book proved that the challenge was correct. This ship was just what she appeared to be - a frigate escorting a transport.

    “Acknowledge.”

    “She’s hoisting her number, sir.” Kennedy, my signals midshipman, leafed through the book, the newest edition that we had gotten from my brother Dick when we met him off the coast of New York. I didn’t ask how Dick had something some Royal Navy captains didn’t yet have; I knew he had friends up to the highest levels of the Admiralty. Kennedy was speaking again.

    “She’s HMS Sapphire, 36, Captain John Sinclair!”

    Captain John Sinclair, the one officer in the Royal Navy that I most admired. The Hero of the Battle of the Ladies, the actions against pirates both off the Falklands and in the Gulf of Aden, and so many other sea-fights. I felt my excitement rising rapidly but tampted it down with an iron hand and made myself reply normally.

    “Very well, hoist our number in turn, if you please.” The appropriate signal flags were already bent on to the halyard; Kennedy was only waiting for the order to send them soaring up the mast. After a few moments he reported again.

    “She’s signaling for us to close up, sir.”

    “Acknowledge. Mr. Robertson, you may stand the men down. Mr. Boyd, bring us within hail and prepare to heave-to. If memory serves me correctly Captain Sinclair is one of the most senior post-captains in the Navy and one I would like to meet. Besides, he might have mail for us from England.”

    “Or be willing to take mail to America,” Nicolas Stewart said from his station on the wheel.

    “Indeed, old friend. I hope you have been writing faithfully so that your Mary can use her new-found skills to read your letters.”

    By now we were within two cables of the large frigate and she had hoisted, ‘Captain repair on board.

    “Acknowledge, Mr. Kennedy. Mr. Robertson, I’ll have the gig, if you please. Major Scarboro, I’m sure you will like to go over for this one, and as for you, Mr. Kennedy, since Mr. O’Connor went on the last visit, suppose you go too. I’m sure Captain Sinclair will have a midshipman or two who will make you welcome. But I would recommend a clean shirt, sir. That one looks like you've been using it as a serviette.”

    Kennedy looked ruefully at the large gravy stain on his shirt, one he had hoped that his waistcoat would cover, no doubt. With a rueful touch of his hat he sped below, to emerge just as the gig was manned wearing a slightly damp but clean shirt. By now Stewart had helped me into my dress coat and had buckled on the family sword with its two hundred year-old French blade. How ironic that on more than one occasion that blade had saved my life against the French – but then my family, of sturdy Huguenot stock, has been fighting the Catholic Ancien Regime for centuries. Then it was down into the gig to join Kennedy and Scarboro and over to the waiting frigate, with Stewart calling the stroke for his crew.

    “Boat Ahoy?” The challenge floated down from the side of the much larger ship. Compared to my Paladin, she looked almost as large as a ship-of-the-line. Stewart cupped his hands and bellowed back.

    PALADIN!

    Sinclair’s Marines had manned the side in an impressive display of military precision drill that met even Major Scarboro’s exacting standards, if his nod was any indication. The bowman hooked on and I grasped the side ropes to climb up and through the entry port, there to be met by a very familiar face - Bartholomew Jones, my old senior midshipman in HMS Chimera until he was promoted. I had not seen him since before the war began. We exchanged salutes and shook hands cordially.

    “Will Mason! Last I heard you were second lieutenant in HMS Ardent under Captain Monroe, helping put down the rebellion. When did you get a command?” he asked.

    “A year ago last October, Bart. You’re looking well. Managed to find the Fair Maid of Kent yet?”

    This had been a running joke in Chimera’s gunroom - that Jones, a Kentish man born and bred, would never marry until he found the perfect ‘Fair Maid of Kent.’

    “Alas, no. And you? Have you stepped into parson’s mousetrap yet?”

    “Yes and no.” I said cryptically.

    “Ah, that remark intrigues. But Captain Sinclair has directed that you be taken below immediately you arrive, you and your party.” I made the introductions, Kennedy was placed in the care of one of Sapphire’s midshipmen, and we went below.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  9. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Monday, 29 March 1779 (continued)

    When I arrived in my cabin I found that Bailey had already laid out my dress coat and I quickly slipped into it while he took down the second of my three presentation swords from the rack on the larboard bulkhead. This was the one of ninety guineas value voted me by the Patriotic Fund in London following the Battle of the Ladies in 1760. The older hanger of thirty guineas that I had been given while serving aboard Southampton and the new smallsword that had been given to me last year by the people of Thornbury remained at their places. Bailey clipped the straight-bladed hanger to my belt and stood back as MacGregor, bent low beneath the deckbeams, nodded with satisfaction at me.

    From beyond the skylight I heard the traditional challenge of the approaching boat and the response. I was curious to meet this young colonial officer. By what Jones had said he would be about the same age I had been when I’d taken command of Penelope all those years ago. ‘The right kind of captain can make a King’s ship a happy one, the wrong kind almost a hell on earth.’ Black Dick Howe had said those very words to me when he'd given me that first command in ‘59. Since then I’d tried to live by them. I hoped that someone had had the same kind of talk with young Mason, but then from what Jones had said they might not have needed to.

    “MacGregor, my compliments to the Purser. I’ll want a tot for Paladin’s boat’s crew. See that they come aboard for it. There should be time.” The big Scot nodded his approval again and with his usual “Aye, Cap’n.” was off. He’d make a few new friends, of that I was sure. I turned to where Bailey stood by my wine chest.

    “Three glasses, Bailey.” I said then watched as he busied himself and set out the glasses on a silver tray.

    “Might I suggest the Highland whiskey, sir,” he said. I smiled at him.

    “You always suggest the Highland whiskey, Andrew. You know as well as I do that Highland whiskey is an acquired taste. But set it out anyway along with a decanter of Madeira. I’ll give my guest the option of it at least.”

    The Marine sentry’s musket stamped twice on the deck.

    “First Lieutenant, sir!” The Ship’s Corporal announced loudly.

    “Come.” I replied and turned to see Jones enter followed by two men. The first was a fair-haired, whipcord slim young officer in the dress coat of a Master and Commander. He had a handsome face, attentive blue eyes and wore what seemed to be a fine, old style French musketeers rapier at his side. The second man was somewhere in his middle thirties, broad shouldered and wearing the uniform of a Marine Major. His eyes quickly darted about the cabin missing nothing as though he were concerned with an ambush. It was a look that I remembered well and not with any fondness. And a piece of the puzzle clicked into place.

    “Captain William Mason and Major Ronald Scarboro, sir.” Jones said. I stepped forward and extended my hand to first one then the other.

    “Delighted to meet you, Gentlemen. Welcome aboard Sapphire.”

    “Thank you, sir.” Said the man in the marine uniform followed an instant later by a soft colonial drawl.

    “It is indeed a pleasure to meet you, sir. I’ve followed your career with interest for years. Indeed it was the accounts of the Battle of the Ladies which my father read to me that first inspired me to make the King’s Navy my calling.”

    “You flatter me greatly, sir.” I answered. “I understand that you and Mr. Jones have served together in the past. I hope you will have no objection if I ask him to remain during this interview?”

    “Not at all, sir.”

    “Also I’ve ordered some grog for your boat’s crew. Not too much I assure you. Just enough to warm them up for the pull back to Paladin. A fine vessel, by the way, very well handled I compliment you and your crew.”

    “On behalf of our people as well as myself I thank you kindly, Captain.”

    “Now tell me, Captain Mason,” I began, finally getting around to the question that I'd wanted answered since that first hail from the masthead. “How did you come to be this far North?” His eyes flicked momentarily over to Scarboro standing beside him.

    “We’re carrying a French prisoner home under close guard, sir. He is to be interrogated at the highest levels and I expect that the French will do everything possible to free him before he reaches London. The northern route offered me a better chance to avoid French patrols, sir.” I nodded.

    “A wise course of action. This prisoner is a spy I take it. That would explain the presence of one of Earl St. John’s top agents.” Both their jaws dropped although Scarboro, by virtue of his training no doubt, recovered almost immediately. I smiled at them.

    “A Sloop-of-War rates a squad of Marines under Sergeant.” I explained. “If you were trying to hide, Major, you’re wearing the wrong coat. Also why would an ordinary marine have come aboard here, unless he was more than an ordinary marine. And in any case I’ve had dealings with agents before. I know the look.”

    “I shall have to remember that in the future, sir.” Scarboro said. He shook his head ruefully and muttered under his breath “Damn.” I smiled gently at him.

    “Feel like a great, bloody imbecile do you?”

    “Something like that, sir.” He wryly replied.

    “We all make mistakes, Major. Just try not to make the same ones twice, eh.”

    “Aye, sir.” I gestured to the chairs that had been set out and they took their seats at them. I stepped over to the silver tray on the table. Several extra glasses had mysteriously appeared on it, Andrew Bailey’s work no doubt.

    “May I offer you a drink, I’ve some excellent Madeira or a fine Highland whiskey if you prefer?”

    “Madeira, if you please, sir.” Mason said while Scarboro replied.

    “I should be pleased to accept the whiskey, sir.” I turned to Jones.

    “Yes, I know, Mr. Jones. Madeira for you.” The first lieutenant smiled at me.

    “Highland whiskey is an acquired taste, sir, and one that I have no desire to acquire.”

    “I’ll be sure to let MacGregor know that you feel that way.” I replied with an evil smile.

    “MacGregor is my cox’n.” I explained to Mason and Scarboro. “He’s six foot six inches of solid muscle and fiercely loyal to me, this ship and Scotland; in that order. He used to toss the caber at the Highland Games before he went to sea.”

    “If you don’t mind my asking, sir, what is a caber?” Mason asked.

    “A caber,” I explained as I handed them their drinks. “Is a wooden pole about a foot wide and 12 to 15 feet long. Scots make a game of seeing who can throw them the furthest. Most of MacGregor’s records still stand although he doesn’t compete anymore. He says they’re making the cabers too light these days so there’s no challenge.”

    “So who’s this spy you've caught?” I said as I turned and picked up my glass.

    “A Frenchman by the name Leveque…” Mason began. My glass slipped from my hand and shattered when it hit the deck, but I paid it no mind as I whirled on the young sloop Captain.

    “Leveque!” I cried grasping him tightly by the wrists. “Gerard Leveque!” Mason’s face went white from shock and pain but he manfully responded.

    “Yes, sir.” I could scarcely believe it.

    “Sir, if you would please release me.” He said.

    I looked down at him, only just then realizing just how tight my grip on him was and removed my hands from his wrists. He rubbed them to restore his circulation as I stumbled back to the table and poured a full measure of whiskey into a fresh glass. Then downed it in one swallow before pouring another.

    “At last,” I said heavily. Then my mouth hardened into a straight line and my eyes turned cold as the frozen north. “No escape for you now, you bastard! Damn you! God damn you to Hell!” I turned back to the gathered officers.

    “If he were going to anyone but St. John I would remove him from your ship, Captain. By force if need be! And shoot him dead with my own hand on Sapphire’s quarterdeck. Then I’d have his body chopped to bits and thrown overboard for the sharks! If I didn’t decide to keel-haul him instead!”

    With considerable effort I fought to rein in my rampaging temper and regain some measure of calm. The others looked at me with shock, which helped to steady me again. It was Mason who found his voice first.

    “Captain Sinclair if you would rather not speak of this…” I held him off with a raised hand.

    “No, you have a right to know. I’m sorry that I abused you just now, please accept my apologies. Once I explain what was behind it I think you will understand.” I took another swallow of the whiskey and then began to explain.

    “It had its beginnings when I was a lieutenant aboard the old Southampton. We were assigned to Black Dick Howe’s squadron that was raiding the French coast. During one of our earliest raids I was commanding the shore detachment set to bring off the raiding force. While waiting for them to return I heard a scream followed by another. I told my lads to wait there and taking only one man went to investigate.

    “What I found chilled my blood. It was a young girl perhaps sixteen years old; her clothing lay in tatters around her. She was being held to the ground by two ruffians while a third had his trousers about his ankles in preparation to violate her. Without any conscious thought I raised my pistol and sent a ball through the man’s head. As he fell Waites and I rushed at the other two. They released the girl and made to run but I was too incensed to let them get away. My hanger took one through the chest while Waites’ cutlass chopped halfway through the neck of the other.

    “With her assailants dead we turned our attention to the girl. A vision of loveliness she was, Gentlemen, make no mistake about it. Her hair was of spun gold, her eyes a startling violet hue and her figure could have been carved from alabaster by one of the great master sculptors. She was frightened of course but between my halting French and the few words of English that she understood we were able to convince her that she was safe now. Waites very gallantly volunteered his shirt as her clothing had been largely destroyed and once she was decently attired we escorted her to her home.

    “Once there we spoke to her father, decent gentleman once one got to know him really. His chief concern, after we had explained how his only daughter had come to be in this state, was that his family was to be made prisoners of war. I assured him that the Royal Navy did not make war upon civilians laying his fears to rest.

    “After enjoying a glass of brandy and accepting the thanks of her father we were about to take our leave when the young lady herself re-appeared now suitably attired. Waites knuckled his forehead to her and I bent low and kissed her hand. Well she would have none of that. She swept into my arms and kissed me all the while murmuring thanks into my ear. Though I had no desire to ever release her I knew that the shore party I’d left behind would be concerned. Making our goodbyes I assured Angelique that when the war was over we would meet again and extracted from her a promise never to go out at night alone.

    “Soon we were back at the beach, the raiding party returned and we left France behind. I fully intended to keep my promise to Angelique and return but as it happens our next meeting did not have to wait for the end of the war.

    “Two years later I found Angelique again, this time in America. I was commanding Penelope by then and based in New York. Angelique was in Canada with her half-brother, settling their father’s business affairs as he had passed away some months earlier. By this time Angelique’s beauty had come into full blossom and I realized that what I had seen before was but a girl just beginning to show the true loveliness that she now possessed.

    “I had been entranced by her from the first moment and in the years since not a day had gone by that I hadn’t thought of her. Once we met again she and I were near inseparable. She’d had many suitors but from that moment she spurned them all. For my part I had made no secret of my intentions and before a month had passed I’d asked her half-brother for Angelique’s hand. To my surprise he’d readily consented. At first I’d suspected that he’d been eager to rid himself of her but as he was often a visitor in the small home that I'd bought for us in New York that hadn’t seemed to be the case.

    “At length Penelope was ordered to Portsmouth dockyard in ‘62 and I arranged for my Angelique’s passage aboard her when we went. The Peace came while Penelope was in the dockyard and my three months leave turned into half-pay as the Navy was reduced to peacetime size. I had no regrets for I had my Angelique and shortly thereafter she gave me the wonderful news that she was with child. Little did I know however that my joy would be short-lived.

    “Angelique had been under pressure for some time from her half-brother. He had been using her marriage as a means of gaining tidbits of information from the Naval officers that he’d come in contact with as a result. But now he wanted more, he wanted her to spy on me; to become one of his agents for as it turned out he had been working for the French government all along. When Angelique refused he’d threatened her, I do not know what with, she would not say. But again she refused and this time ordered him to leave our home and never return. He just laughed at her and said that he would just have to find another wife, a proper agent this time, for the grieving widower. Then drew out a pistol and shot her. There was a shout from the servants for they had seen what occurred even if they hadn’t understood the French conversation. And as he’d fled the scene they got my wife into the house. I arrived moments later and we immediately summoned Fred, my doctor, but by the time he arrived she was gone.

    “I had held my beloved Angelique in my arms as she’d died. And she’d told me what had happened before she breathed her last. Her final words were ‘Remember me, my Love.’ I have never forgotten her and I never shall. She is my Angelique, my angel.

    “Her vile half-brother escaped and managed to take passage on a brig that was about to leave Bristol even as he arrived. Since then we have never managed to get close to him. Until now. Your prisoner is the man who murdered my wife, his own half-sister, when she was of no more use to him. That is the man that you have in your hold right now, Captain Mason. I owe the pair of you my eternal thanks. I am in your debt, sir and you will not find me ungrateful.” Mason looked over at Scarboro and then Jones before turning back to me.

    “Your words and the knowledge that justice is finally being done to this evil man are thanks enough, sir.” He said, but I shook my head.

    “No, sir it is not. Perhaps you are unaware but there is a bounty on Leveque’s head in the amount of some five thousand pounds. Before you gentlemen leave I shall give you a letter for my Solicitor in London releasing the bounty to you upon conformation of Leveque’s hanging. I shall leave it you as to how it is to be divided.”

    “That is most generous, sir,” said Major Scarboro. “I can assure you that Monsieur Leveque will pay for his crimes at the end of a rope as soon as the Earl is finished with him.” I shook my head at him.

    “No, Major, the noose is merely his passage. He will pay for his crimes when his soul reaches the deepest pits in Hell, there to remain for all eternity.” They were silent for a moment and then I spoke again.

    “Would you, Gentlemen, do me the honour of dining with me this evening before you proceed on your way? We also have a number of letters that you might take to England for us and of course I shall be glad to carry any correspondence that you might have for America.”

    “Thank you, sir.” Mason replied. “We would be pleased to accept.”

    “Excellent,” I said. “Mr. Jones perhaps you would give our guests the grand tour whilst I complete my letters.” Jones stood up.

    “This way, Gentlemen.” And they were led from the day cabin.

    Once they were gone I sank back into my chair and slowly opened my shirt to bring out the small locket that hung about my neck. I opened it revealing the tiny portrait that it contained.

    “My Angelique.” I murmured gently. Then the image began to blur as my control finally deserted me and the tears filled my eyes.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  10. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Monday 29 March 1779, (about midnight)

    Bart Jones took us below and introduced us to his captain, the famous John Sinclair. Here was a man who received his first command twenty years before, when I was a child of four being put on my first pony by my friend - and now cox’n - Stewart. My father, although a merchant captain, had told me stories of the sea, of battles fought and won, of courage under fire, and this man had figured largely in many of them. To finally meet him was like a dream come true. I hoped my apprehension didn’t show too badly as I shook his hand. John Sinclair is an inch or so taller than I, and about fifteen stone of solid muscle judging by his grip - this despite the fact that he was badly wounded in his last engagement and spent months on shore recovering.

    He welcomed us cordially, told us that he had ordered a tot for Stewart and his crew to keep out the cold, and complimented Paladin on her sail handling. Coming from a man who does not hesitate to speak his mind and cannot abide slackness, this was praise indeed, but then he asked the question. Why were we traveling this far north? With unerring accuracy, he identified Scarboro as an intelligence operative, noting that Paladin rated a sergeant of Marines, not a Major and that I would have no reason to bring my marine officer over in any case were he not something more; then put us at our ease by offering chairs and wine or whiskey. Scarboro’s association with the fighting parson, Angus MacDonald, had obviously had its effects – he took the whiskey, while I stuck to my preferred Madeira.

    We were making polite small talk about Scotland and the Highland Games when Captain Sinclair asked us who our prisoner was. I think we were all startled when he reacted so violently to the name of Gerard Leveque. He looked as if he had seen a ghost or a demon from hell. In considerable agitation, he grasped my wrists hard enough to leave bruises as he repeated the name of Leveque as if he could hardly believe it. Through the pain - and I am sure he had no idea that he was causing it - I asked for my release. Recalled to the present, he dropped my wrists and seemed almost to stumble, like a man dazed by a tremendous blow, back to the table, where he quickly downed a large measure of neat whiskey and then, vowing revenge, cursed our prisoner with a coldly savage fury.

    His mouth grim, he informed us that only the fact that Leveque was bound for London and the King’s justice kept him from removing our prisoner and executing him himself. He was in such a passion, the memories obviously so bitter, that I could hardly bear to see this strong, self-controlled man tormented so. Surely Leveque had committed some heinous crime, perhaps against a close friend of Sinclair or even a member of his family? Had there been a younger brother slain by Leveque’s treachery? I had never heard of the Captain being married or having children, so I did not think his wife or children were involved, but it seems I was wrong.

    Once he recovered a bit of his composure, the story came out - how during the last war he had rescued a lovely French girl of sixteen from a gang of rapists, had married her a few years later, and had only just received word that his lovely Angelique was to bear his child when Leveque, her half-brother, murdered them both because Angelique would not betray her beloved John to the French and threatened to expose her relative. I thought of how I would feel if anyone dared to lay a finger on Jennifer and I understood his anger completely. He concluded his tale by thanking us for risking our lives to apprehend this cruel, vicious man. As we were only doing our duty, I told him that the knowledge that justice would finally be served was thanks enough, but he disagreed, then went on to inform us that there was a bounty of five thousand pounds on Leveque’s head, payable upon his execution for his many crimes. Scarboro and I looked at each other. Five thousand pounds to be shared out among the men of Paladin, all of whom had a part in Leveque’s capture in one way or another - it would be the equivalent of over a year’s pay for many of the men, and it would ensure that I could provide adequately for Jennifer and Stewart for his Mary, no matter what happened in the coming months.
    Captain Sinclair concluded the interview by inviting us to dinner that night, then suggested that Bart Jones give us a tour of the ship. We left this remarkable man alone with his thoughts - many of them of Angelique, I am sure - and followed my old friend out of the cabin.

    Imagine my surprise when I saw the entire fo’c’sle and quarterdeck batteries outfitted with the same type of heavy gun Captain Gosnell had carried aboard HMS Hereward during our mission to capture the Frenchman Quare last fall.

    “Smashers, Bart?” I queried, and when he looked surprised that I recognized the new models, told him about my previous experience with these powerful products of the Carron Iron Works.

    “Then you are one of the few officers in the Navy who has seen one of these, Will. Have you seen them in action? We’ve only fired them in practice, not in battle.”

    “Yes, I have, and although the range is short, as you know, the effect is devastating. Captain Gosnell battered a much larger frigate almost to a hulk with well-placed shots from his two in a battle off Sardinia last fall, certainly battered her well enough to pave the way for a very successful boarding action.”

    “Fascinating, you’ll have to tell the captain all about it,” he murmured.

    We met the officers, most of them veterans of Sinclair’s other ships, and many of the men. We were on the way back up to the main deck when a ringbolt caught me unawares and I went down in a heap, the weakened muscles in my right leg screaming in agony. Scarboro and Jones helped me up, only to have the leg fold up under me.

    “Pass the word for Doctor Bassingford, lively now.” Jones ordered, his tone anxious.

    “I don’t need to see the bloody doctor. I’ve had enough of doctors to last me for the rest of my life,” I said through gritted teeth. Bassingford must have been nearby, because he said.

    “Indeed, sir? And why do you say that? Take him to my surgery, if you please, gentlemen.” He was a tall, spare man who spoke without any thought that he might not be obeyed instantly. Before I knew it I was laid out on a table clad only in an open shirt while Bassingford poked and prodded and clucked and hemmed.

    “Nasty scar on your right thigh, Captain Mason. Recent too. Splinter?” A nod confirmed his diagnosis.

    “How long ago?”

    “19th February, five and a half weeks.”

    “Five and a half weeks! Captain, are you out of your bloody mind, to be putting this kind of stress on this leg so soon?” He exploded. “And I suppose that it festered, they usually do, no matter how good your surgeon is, and it almost did you in.”

    “Aye, Doctor, that’s so.” This was Stewart, who had come below when he heard I had fallen.

    “Keep your bloody damned mouth shut, Stewart, or I’ll have you flogged,” I threatened, knowing I would never hurt the man who had raised me like a second father.

    “You’re the one who ought to be flogged, Captain, putting yourself at risk like this. I suppose your surgeon tried to get you to slow down and you told him to put a cork in it.”

    “Aye, that’s true too.” Stewart said calmly, a gleam of triumph in his eyes. Finally, a doctor who would make me do what was best for me, he must have been thinking.

    “Well, I will tell you this, Captain Mason. You must allow this leg to heal properly or it will fail you in battle, just as it failed you a few minutes ago.”

    “Almost did him in when we was taking Leveque, Doctor. He tripped over a tree root in the dark and I thought he’d broken the wound open again.” Stewart supplied helpfully, ignoring my glare. I’m going to get a new cox’n, as God as my witness I am.

    “And when was this?” Bassingford wanted to know.

    “Three weeks ago, to the day.”

    Bassingford exploded again, colourfully and very profanely. I was insane, heedless of my own safety, a willful child intent on self-destruction - and those were the nice things he said. Finally he wound down, but I found my tour interrupted by a complete physical examination the likes of which I have never known - at least not when I have been conscious. Each scar had to be queried, each wound explained. Finally, he said,

    “You can get dressed, Captain. I would not be your surgeon for a King’s ransom, before God I would not. Just trying to keep you alive must be making him old and grey before his time!”

    “Like you, Fred?” That was Sinclair, alerted by the news that I had been hurt and taken to the sick bay.

    “Like me. You two ought to get along just fine. You’ve both got a death wish!” He said in disgust as he waved us out of his domain.

    Of course, Stewart had to tattle to Harmon as soon as we got back to Paladin, and then it was time for another inquisition. Backed up by so distinguished a member of the Royal College of Physicians, he became much more bold.

    “I’m sure Doctor Bassingford told you that you should be resting much more often than you are, Captain. I’m going to insist, as your surgeon, that you do so at least until we make landfall in Portsmouth, and possibly for a period of recovery thereafter.”

    “And are you going to come with me as my minder, Harmon?” I asked acidly.

    “If necessary, sir. I have a house in London that was left me by my godfather, in Brook Street. There’s a small staff to run it. I’d be delighted if you and Stewart would be my guests.”

    All he got out of me was a grudging, ‘Maybe,’ but the idea had been planted. I did agree to rest for much of the afternoon before we went back to the Sapphire for dinner. Harmon had wangled an invitation to go over and meet the famous Doctor Bassingford, so he went with us in the gig - us being myself, Scarboro, and Kennedy. We were a congenial group that gathered in Captain Sinclair’s cabin that night filling it to capacity - besides the Captain himself there were of course Bart Jones, who tried without success to winkle the whole truth about Jennifer out of me, unfortunately it was a truth that I needed to keep secret at least from anyone on that side of the ocean, Mr. Shea, who has become fast friends with Mr. Kennedy, Tremaine, Sapphire’s marine lieutenant who was soon picking Scarboro’s brain on matters of fighting and tactics, the two sawbones, and Colonel George Therrien, commander of the 16th Regiment of Foot and an old friend of the Captain’s. He asked Scarboro and I a number of questions about the situation in America, grilling us on our impressions of Loyalist strength, the strengths and weaknesses of Washington and his army, and so on, but eventually the dinner was over and Captain Sinclair excused all but myself and Scarboro.

    “If you will do me the favor of taking these letters to St. John, gentlemen, I would be grateful, and I would be happy to return the favor.”

    We had come prepared. I passed over a thick packet that was almost two weeks’ worth of a daily diary to Jennifer as well as Stewart’s shorter missives. He looked at the address.

    “Mrs. Jennifer Longley, 13 Broad Street, New York. A married sister, an aunt, perhaps? I know your family is native to the colonies.”

    “No, sir. My wife. She’s English, actually, from Cirencester. We met in early December of 1776 and were married, just after I was made commander. It’s complicated, sir. Her parents died early last month and her cousin, who was adopted by her father years ago now controls her fortune, he and I have never got along as I know him to be a liar and a hypocrite, and he was able to delay Jennifer’s dowry for almost a year and still hasn’t paid it all. Now that he controls the family fortune things seem to have gotten even worse. You see he’s Mr. Willis’s business partner also, and is trying to withhold both the rest of her dowry and her inheritance as well. I’m not greedy, sir, I won’t touch a penny of the money, but I won’t stand by and let that pompous windbag take what’s rightfully hers. At the same time we have another even more pressing situation. Jennifer is in New York because she is working as one of St. John’s operatives, posing as the widow of a young naval officer and using an assumed name. Stewart’s wife Mary lives with her as companion and bodyguard.”

    “Your wife is an intelligence operative? Dangerous business, Mason.”

    “Aye, sir, but after she foiled a French attack on me at Christmas there was no stopping her. St. John met her and approved her for limited duties, mainly gathering information about possible rebel spies in New York, and my brother Richard trained her on the voyage over from England. He says she's a very good shot and a very quick study. But for obvious reasons we’re keeping our marriage a secret as least as far as anyone in America is concerned. You’ll be one of a handful of people in the Americas who even know the marriage took place, sir.”

    “A very remarkable young woman, then. But still and all I’d advise you to try and convince her to give it up. The spy business is dangerous in the extreme, it has cost me my wife and I’d hate to hear that the same has happened to you.” I nodded, understanding the truth, and deep sadness, behind his words; then he asked, “Do you have a miniature?”
    I reached into an inside pocket to pull out a watercolour sketch Winifred Gilmore had made of Jennifer two years ago.

    “Just this, sir.” It showed Jennifer to the life - dark hair, lively brown eyes, heart-shaped face with its slightly turned-up nose.

    “Lovely. How old?”

    “Just eighteen when the picture was made in 1777.”

    “That’s how old Angelique was when I married her. Well, I will call on her personally and give her a full report, you may be sure.”

    “I would be most grateful, Captain.”

    We shook hands in farewell and then it was time to leave, but if my brief acquaintance with John Sinclair is any indication, he will do more than just call on Jennifer and Mary - he will do everything in his power to make sure that no harm comes to either of them, if only in memory of his own beloved Angelique.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  11. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    First Week


    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Thursday 1 April 1779

    Last Sunday morning I woke to the sound Mary Stewart retching quietly – as quietly as possible, that is – into a basin. Throwing on a dressing gown and slippers, I found a clean towel and handed it to her just as she took a deep breath and sat back on her heels, her face pale and beaded with sweat.

    “Back to bed, Mary,” I directed, and although she mumbled a protest, she went easily enough, collapsing onto my bed because it was closest.

    “Lie there, don’t try to move, I’m just going to go get the fire going and put the kettle on. No, Mary, don’t move. I can start a fire and make tea, you know.”

    When I came back in with a cup of hot, sweet tea, she sipped it cautiously, as if she was afraid it would make her sick again.

    “I don’t know what happened, Miss Jennifer. I got up to use the necessary and I just got so sick, I couldn’t help myself. I think it was that meat we had last night. I hope you don’t get sick from that meat too.”

    “I feel fine, Mary. You just rest. We’ll not worry about church today, just have a quiet day at home, writing letters and such.”

    “I feel so bad that you’re waiting on me, Miss Jennifer.”

    “Nonsense. You are no more my servant than I am yours. We are friends who help each other, just like Nicolas helps William and looks out for him. Now, you need rest. Go back to sleep.”

    The same pattern was repeated every day since and again today, and both of us were beginning to become alarmed and wonder if a competent physician could be found nearby. We were so new to the city, we scarely knew anyone. Maisie Hollis, bless her, solved our problem for us, but hardly in the way we expected. She arrived for her usual day at work – she comes three days a week, with Hollis’ full consent - just in time to hand Mary the basin when another wave of nausea overtook her. Maisie may only be sixteen, but she diagnosed the situation unerringly.

    “Oh, mum, don’t you worry none. It’ll go away in a month or so, no more’n three. Why, me, mum an’ m’ sisters we all always gets sick as dogs the first three months. Hollis says he always knows what’s coming when I starts castin’ up my accounts first thing in the mornin’. Tea and toast, that’s the ticket; I’ll make you some.”

    Mary and I looked at each other in amazement. It was obvious what Maisie meant, and now that I put the pieces of the puzzle together it made perfect sense; how had we not thought of it before?

    “Miss Jennifer, you don’t think…”

    “Maisie certainly thinks so, and you must admit she is a veteran,” I grinned, nodding to the increasingly large bump that was Maisie's belly.

    “But I never – I was married to Daniel for nearly twenty years and I never could – except that once, and I lost it when they murdered him.”

    “Maybe with Daniel Morgan you couldn’t, Mary Stewart, but obviously Nicolas Stewart is a man of many talents and abilities.”

    “Yes, ma’am, Miss Jennifer. Sure do admire that man’s talents and abilities.”

    Once she got over the shock, Mary did some quick mental calculation and estimated that the happy event would come in early December.

    “Miss Jennifer, you don’t think that you? You’ve been married longer than I have, and Mr. Will, well, he's a fine figure of a man.”

    “No, Mary, I feel fine. It’s unlikely, anyway. I had a riding accident when I was about twelve and the doctor told my parents then that there might be long-range consequences. William knows – he’s not concerned about heirs or founding a dynasty, thank God. I made sure I told him as soon as he proposed. His response was a rather emphatic, ‘I want a wife and a lover, my dear, not a bloody broodmare. If we are blessed with children, I will welcome them, but that is not why I want to marry you.’ So I will rejoice with you and Nicolas and spoil your child unstintingly, so that you will wish you had never seen Aunt Jennifer Mason.”

    “Now that’s never going to be true, Miss Jennifer. I still can’t take it in – at my age – and Nicolas, he’s forty-six. What will he say?”

    “After Will picks him up off the floor, you mean? Oh, something like hip, hip, huzzah! I should think. You just stay here and rest. I’ll get Maisie to walk me to the bookshop. She may be young, but she’s almost as tough as you are - living in Canvas Town I guess she has to be. While I’m gone, you rest, supervise Maisie, and write a letter to that talented husband of yours telling him the good news. They should be in England soon, so he should get the news within a month or so.”



    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Thursday 1 April 1779

    We continue south toward the coast of Ireland, having passed Rockall on the starboard beam earlier today. French and even American enemy activity is a real threat in these waters, as evidenced by the daring raids carried out only a year or so ago by the American captain John Paul Jones and his Ranger. We are maintaining extra vigilance at the mastheads and in the bow and stern each night, and not just for icebergs. Throughout the night, Robertson or Boyd, as officer of the watch, will query each lookout every fifteen or twenty minutes. It keeps the men on their toes as far as unusual occurrences are concerned – it also keeps them from falling asleep, any of them. Leveque’s guard has been doubled and he is not allowed on deck even for exercise. Neither the Major nor I want to try to explain how he escaped us at this juncture, not to St. John and certainly not to Captain Sinclair. The latter is a man whose respect is hard to earn and easy to lose, and having, hopefully, done the former, I certainly do not intend to do the latter.

    Harmon’s conversation with Doctor Bassingford over dinner aboard HMS Sapphire seems to have made him bolder. With Stewart’s unwavering support, he comes each afternoon to ‘prescribe’ a period of rest of several hours. I am allowed to get out of my cot only if I promise to remain in a chair, sitting quietly reading or writing letters to my family and friends. I have poured out my frustration at the inactivity in a letter to Jennifer that I will probably never send because it would only worry her, but just putting the sentiments down on paper helped a great deal. I am surrounded by scores of men in a tiny sloop, yet I am isolated because of my position, and quite frankly the cabin is lonely. Stewart has been my friend since I was a tiny boy, but even he dare not cross a certain line. It was bad enough when I was a bachelor; it is worse now because I miss my wife desperately. I try very hard not to worry about what she is doing or how she is faring, but hardly an hour goes by but I do not think of her unless I am asleep or very active. I understand Doctor Bassingford’s concern for my health, but I wonder if he realizes that all this activity is a way of staving off melancholy? Surely, as the closest friend of Captain Sinclair, a man who is still desperately in love with his Angelique sixteen years after her death, he understands why we must stay active or go mad. At least my wife is still alive, for which I am eternally grateful.
    This afternoon the sentry announced Harmon as I was writing yet another letter to Jennifer.

    “Good afternoon, Captain. I’m pleased to see that you are following Doctor Bassingford’s orders.”

    “Since you employ this entire ship’s company as your spies, Harmon, I’m hardly likely to escape if I do not, now am I?” I asked ironically.

    “With respect, sir, I’m willing to do whatever it takes to keep you with us for a very long time. Those men out there came too damned close to losing you, and they don’t like the feeling. I’ll take whatever help I can get. Now, about this house in London I told you about. It’s in Brook Street, as I said, a small but comfortable terraced house at the quiet end of the street. My neighbors are prosperous merchants and professional men and their families. April in England is beautiful, you know that, sir. Since you dropped the lease on the cottage in Portsmouth you’ve no place better to go. Won’t you consider it? My godfather was a solicitor who loved books, and he left me one of the best libraries I’ve ever seen outside a stately home,” he added as incentive, knowing I love to read but never have enough time or enough books because of lack of storage space on this ship.

    “It all depends on what St. John says, Harmon, you know that. I could be ordered back to sea as soon as we re-provision and effect any repairs needed.”

    “I know, sir, but during that time, at least. You know Mr. Robertson and Mr. Boyd can handle all of that more than adequately.”

    “Considering Mr. Robertson ran this ship for a do-nothing captain before I took it over a year and a half ago, yes I do know that. Well, I’ll make a decision shortly after we reach Portsmouth, Harmon.” My tone told him that any further discussion would likely make me decide in the negative, since I hate being badgered. Willing to quit while he was ahead, he saluted cheerfully and left me to my thoughts and my letters.


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Thursday 1 April 1779 (continued)

    Pesky mosquitoes, why won’t they leave me alone? How is a man supposed to get all this rest that his doctor insists he must have if the insects won't let him sleep?

    Mosquitoes? In these latitudes? Oh, that’s hardly likely. Slowly my brain began to register that the noise I heard and the touch I felt were not coming from mosquitoes. In fact, they were coming from a rather large black and white cat who had ensconced himself on the edge of my cot and was pawing at my cheek, claws retracted, all the while purring. Blearily, I tried to focus, but a movement only encouraged the little beast to jump directly onto my chest and examine me with intent curiosity.

    “Didn’t anyone ever tell you curiosity killed the cat?” I asked him in exasperation. Now that I examined him more closely, I recognized him as Dunkin, Captain Sinclair’s mascot and a member of the company of HMS Sapphire. What was he doing on board my ship, bound in the exact opposite direction from his friends? I remembered meeting
    him at dinner in the great cabin of Sapphire on Monday night; it was now Thursday afternoon. If he had hidden under the gunwales of my gig in the darkness that night, it was entirely possible we could have overlooked him until he decided to show himself. I tried to remember what Captain Sinclair had told me about him. He was about five years old, had been orphaned as the result of a battle that had killed his mother and siblings, and had been adopted as Sinclair’s ship’s cat as a tiny kitten. He had earned the name of ‘Dunkin’ from his habit of dunking things in his water dish. Now, it seemed, he had decided that his friends in Sapphire were sailing in the wrong direction, and he wanted to go back to England, either that or he just wanted to see what was in the gig – and then it left before he could get back out.

    “So why are you here, eh?”

    He stared at me intently, twitching his tail occasionally.

    “I need to get out of this cot, if you don’t mind. Shoo!”

    His expression became pained. Who was this ignorant human who thought he could shoo a cat? Flies, yes, birds, certainly, but a cat? Hardly.

    I sat up. He jumped soundlessly to the deck, then leapt to the top of my sea chest and began cleaning himself. He didn’t look starved, but of course every ship has rats aplenty, so food would be no problem. At this point, Oakley, my steward, tapped on the screen partition.

    “Sir, when would you like your dinner served?” he asked softly when I answered.

    “The usual time, thank you. Oakley, come in here a minute, I want to show you something.”

    Oakley is in his late thirties, a former under-butler at a great house somewhere in Nottinghamshire who was falsely accused of stealing some valuable plate – it turned out the wastrel son of the house had taken it to sell to pay gambling debts. Oakley was cleared of the charges, but nothing could restore his reputation, so he came to sea as a last resort. He is vastly overqualified for this ship – he should be waiting on some admiral somewhere, given his talents – but he stays with me and I am grateful for his skills.

    “Sir?”

    “Oakley, have you seen that cat before?”

    “No, sir.”

    “Well, I think he belongs to Captain Sinclair of HMS Sapphire and I think he has been hiding just long enough to keep us from giving him back. See that he’s taken care of, will you? He’ll be good at keeping the rats down, at least.”

    “There’s another cat down in the cable tier, sir. Nobody can coax it out, it’s been there since we left Georgia, late last summer. We know it’s there because it leaves dead rats around, or what’s left of them.”

    “Probably where he’s been, then, socializing with his feline friend. Well, keep an eye on him and I’ll write and tell Captain Sinclair he’s here. His name is Dunkin, I believe.”

    Oakley must like cats – he went over and caressed the little beast and it began to purr.

    “Come on then, let’s see what we can find for you, eh?” He said, and the cat jumped down to follow him.

    This certainly has been an unusual voyage. What next?



    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Thursday, 1 April 1779

    “Well, Mr. Jones?” I asked trying not to sound as impatient as I felt.

    “No sign of him, sir. And we’ve searched the ship from keel to masthead.” Jones answered. “The last anyone can recall seeing him was Monday night at about five bells in the first watch. He was by the entry port looking down into Paladin’s gig. I can’t believe that he fell overboard, sir.” I snorted at him.

    “Of course he didn’t fall overboard, Mr. Jones. The rascal’s gone roaming again. I’ve no doubt that he leapt down and hid in the gig. He’s most likely aboard Paladin this moment keeping our friend William Mason company while he recuperates. He did the same with me when I was wounded last year.”

    “Oh, dear. It took us six months to get him back the last time he did this, sir. The rats will be quite impossible by then.”

    “True.” I sighed. “We’ll start offering a bounty for dead rats then. Make it two pence apiece, that should keep things under control. As for getting him back that shouldn’t be as difficult this time. We know where he is and where he’s headed. I shall write a letter to Captain Mason asking that he take Dunkin to White Oaks. Mrs. Sommersby will look after him until we return to England.” I thought about that for a few moments then added. “I’ll offer Mason the hospitality of the place as well. Five and a half weeks is much too short a recovery time for that kind of splinter wound, Fred was right about that. Don’t tell him I said that though.”

    “I haven’t heard a word, sir.” Jones said with a grin.

    “We’ll stand into the trade lanes and see if we can find ourselves a homeward bound vessel to deliver that letter. Alter course to South by West, Mr. Jones.”

    “Aye aye, sir.” Jones replied then raised his speaking trumpet.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  12. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Friday 2 April 1779

    Until Mary Stewart begins to feel better in the mornings we have made arrangements for Maisie Hollis to come for a few hours each day instead of working all day for only three days a week. She assured us that Hollis would not mind, although I suspect that for all her youth, in this instance Maisie was the one who told Hollis what she would do, not the other way around! She arrived for work this morning in more than ample time to escort me to my job at Ravenwood’s, where my month’s trial will be up at the end of next week. I have reason to believe I will asked to stay on – business is brisk, some of them there merely as curiosity seekers, men who want to see this ‘female clerk’ that Ravenwood has hired, but some genuine book lovers. They seem startled at first to find that I have actually read most of the books – well, not the sensationalist claptrap Ravenwood prints, but the real works of literature he imports from England – and can discuss them intelligently. I have had reason to bless both my dear Aunt Lindsey, who believes that education is not a luxury but a necessity for females, and my dear Papa, who encouraged me to read the papers and discuss politics, the arts and literature with him. It has been two months since he and Mama were taken from us, and I sometimes can scarcely believe it. In my dreams I often return to the house in Cirencester to find him waiting for me with a hearty laugh and a warm kiss for his Jen.

    Mary continues to be unwell each morning. Although I understand that this is normal for many women in her condition, it still causes me concern, but she insists that she is fine within a few minutes of my leaving the house each day, and the illness never seems to afflict her in the evenings as it does some women – my sister Helen, for example, had ‘morning sickness’ only at night! Mary called for me as usual today, bursting with news. She waited until we were out of earshot of Ravenwood and his nosy clerk, Mr. Quimby, before informing me that Dick Mason was back in town and waiting for us at the house.

    “Already? He was just here!”

    “Yes, ma’am, and there’s aught amiss or I’m no judge of people. He looks tired and worried, but I had to leave to come here almost as soon as he arrived. I hope he’ll tell you what’s wrong.”

    Dick Mason greeted me with a fraternal kiss and resumed his chair in our tiny sitting-dining parlor. “Dick, you look almost ill. It’s not William, is it?”

    “No, my dear, I’m sorry to let you worry for even a moment. I've heard nothing more from William, and I assume he is well. No, it’s Stephen – he’s disappeared.”

    “He’s left home, you mean?”

    “Yes, sometime shortly after I left Halifax to come down here a few weeks ago. Tara says he said he was going down to the wharf to watch the ships come and go, something he can do for hours if we let him, and he never came home. Tara is almost frantic. With trying to take care of Father and worrying about Steve, she’s not eating, she barely sleeps, and she’s about to make herself ill again.”

    “I’m sure you’ve talked to anyone who might have some idea where Stephen went.” I stated.

    “Of course, I’ve been to everyone I can think of, more than once. I’ve talked to people on the wharf and they remember seeing him, of course, but he was there so much they can’t remember what days he was there and when he stopped coming. He’s not anywhere in Halifax or the area around it, so I’m about to expand my search out. I came down here to start asking questions, and I’ve written to our agent in Southampton to be on the lookout for him, and to Will and Robert, of course. I’m just about desperate enough to call in some favors from my friends in St. John’s network to see if they can find him.”

    “He loves the sea, I know you told me that.”

    “And he wanted to go to sea. I have one clue – a ship called Dartmouth Lass left Halifax about the time he disappeared, bound for Portsmouth. It’s possible he signed on with her. He’s thirteen but he looks fifteen or sixteen and he knows his way around sails and rigging. On the other hand, he could be here, somewhere in New York. I swear, if I get my hands on that boy, I am going to give him such a thrashing!”

    “Dick, I know you said Tara won’t leave your father, but if worry is ruining her health, perhaps if she could be persuaded to come down here and stay with us for a month or so, just for a rest? She’s been taking care of your mother and then your father for months now and she wasn’t so long over her own illness. Would your doctor help, perhaps by prescribing a change of scenery? Mary and I would love to have her.”

    Mary nodded to confirm this opinion. “And she wouldn’t have to lift a finger, Mr. Dick, I’d do all the work.”

    “No, you will do some of the work, Maisie will do the rest.” I reminded her. A silent question passed between us and we agreed tacitly that the hopeful father had a right to know about his child before anyone else did, so we would remain mum on the subject for now.

    “We have a young soldier’s wife who does some of the cooking and cleaning, Dick,” I explained. “We hired her more because she needed a job than because we needed the help, but she's a good girl from Gloucestershire. Would Tara come, do you think? Perhaps beginning around Eastertime? That’s only two weeks away, really, but that would give you time to make your inquiries here and go back for her. If she refuses to come down, I’ll leave this job and go up there, but a change of scenery might be just what she needs right now.”

    “I don’t honestly know, Jennifer, I’ll try, though. I can’t stand to see her just wasting away by inches. Perhaps if you wrote a letter and asked her, that would help.”

    “I’ll do that now.” I sat down at the little escritoire in the corner and composed a quick but I hope very persuasive note, folded it and sealed it with a wafer. “There. I hope that helps. You’ll stay for dinner, I hope?”

    Over dinner we discussed my work at the bookshop – not selling books, but listening to conversations. “You may not think it is much, my dear, but if you can hear those officers discussing Sir Henry’s plans for the summer campaign then so can any rebel spy in earshot. Do you recall their names? Perhaps someone should warn them that even the walls in New York have ears.”

    All too soon he had to leave. Mary excused herself to begin washing up and I walked my guest to the door.

    “Does Simms watch your comings and goings still?”

    “Oh, yes. I'm sure he’s convinced that I am very much in your keeping, Dick.”

    “Damned impudence. He’ll change his tune if Tara comes. A man doesn’t send his sister down to keep his mistress company!”

    “Well, in a way, we rather let him believe that, though, didn’t we, Dick? Otherwise, why would I be here instead of back in England or in Halifax with Tara?”

    “I suppose so. Ironic, isn’t it? Here we both are, happily married even though our spouses are on the other side of the ocean just now, and Simms, scandalmonger that he is, thinks we're romantically involved. Ah well. I’ll take this letter to Tara, Jennifer, and thank you for everything.” Another fraternal kiss and he ran down the stairs.


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Saturday 3 April 1779

    The buccaneers who sailed the Spanish Main had parrots perched on their shoulders, if the stories are to be believed. I have a cat. Since he emerged from his stowaway’s hiding place, probably deep in the cable tier, Dunkin, Captain Sinclair’s cat, has come and gone at will, but when he is with me he has taken to jumping up on my shoulder for a ride. He likes to survey his domain – for we know it is not mine, but his, no matter what the Admiralty says – from this lofty perch fairly consistently. This morning, though, he was nowhere to be found. Curious, I asked Oakley, who has taken a liking to the sturdy little beast, if he had seen any sign of Dunkin. He answered in the negative. Had I worn out my welcome so quickly, that he no longer came for his ride?

    We are off the coast of Ireland, moving at a rate of speed that will put us into Portsmouth by Monday, if all goes well. The distant blur of the green hills to larboard are a welcome sight – land, and land that belongs to the British crown. I think Mr. Kennedy is hoping we will get close enough to the mouth of the Shannon that he can point his home district out to Mr. O’Connor, who is a Dubliner born and bred.

    Imagine our surprise this afternoon when Dunkin came back – but not alone. With him was a graceful tortoiseshell cat we had never seen before – could this be our Georgia stowaway, the one none of the men could coax out of hiding? It would seem so. Tails waving, the two felines marched across the deck and disappeared into my cabin. Two cats? Three days ago I thought we had none, and now we have two. I followed them, only to discover they had found comfortable spots on the cot and were curled up for a nap. Slowly, for fear of being scratched, I touched the tortoiseshell. It did not purr, but it did not hiss either. Dunkin watched me carefully.

    “I’ll be careful, Dunkin. You know I would never hurt a friend of yours. I just want to see if it’s been hurt in any way.”

    Carefully, I picked his new friend up and gave it a cursory visual examination. There were no visible scars or wounds, and although she was still a bit thin, she seemed to be gaining weight and seemed healthy enough. Yes, Dunkin’s new friend is female.

    “So this is what you’ve been doing all these nights, you old tomcat, you!” I said almost accusingly to Dunkin, who opened one eye and stared at me in complete ennui. “I haven’t seen my wife in over a month and here you are, having a high old time in the cable tier with your lady love. Well, I hope you intend to do the honorable thing, or I shall be sadly disappointed in you. What’s your good lady’s name, eh?”

    No reply. Well, that wasn’t much help. The men think she came from Georgia, so perhaps we should name her that.

    “Georgia. Welcome aboard, Georgia. I hope you'll be very happy as a Paladin.” She yawned. Dunkin, having seen his lady safely settled in the best accommodation on the ship – my cot – jumped back onto my shoulder as if to say, ‘Well, why are you just standing there? It’s not time for your rest yet! We have work to do, don’t we? Let's get to it, Captain!

    I wonder how Harmon is going to react when I tell him his duty is going to include playing midwife to a cat?



    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Sunday 4 April 1779

    When Mary and I got home yesterday afternoon William’s brother Richard was slumped in a chair in our sitting room. Friday he looked worried; today he looked like he had aged ten years literally overnight. He was pale and drawn, but managed to greet us quite civilly. Mary took one look at him and went for the bottle of medicinal brandy she keeps in the kitchen cupboard. He waved the glass away.

    “No, Mary, I’ve already had too much, or not enough, depending on how one looks at it. I need to keep a clear head for a while at least.”

    Something horrible had happened, that much was evident. My fears for my husband and Mary’s must have shown on my face, because just as before he hastened to reassure us.

    “Your husbands are well.” He said heavily.

    “Stephen? Your father?’ He shook his head to each. As if he could not trust himself to speak, he reached into a pocket and produced a letter, signed by St. John himself. It told Dick the news no man ever wants to hear – that the prominent actress Lucinda Graydon - his beloved Lucy -had been murdered in cold blood in London, that her bodyguard had also been killed, and that the official story was that they were the victims of vicious footpads. It was obvious that St. John believed enemy agents were at work. Richard’s wife of less than four years was dead.

    “Oh, Dick, not Lucy - I’m so sorry.”

    Mary looked puzzled, so I explained hastily.

    “Oh, Mr. Dick, I’m so sorry – do they know who murdered her?”

    “No. They have some ideas, I think, but nothing definite. Jennifer, I want you out of the spy business, tonight. I already have one woman’s blood on my hands; I won’t have yours too. I would never be able to forgive myself or look my brother in the eye if I let you go on taking risks like this. We took every possible precaution to protect Lucy and still this happened.”

    I think he expected an argument, but the news had shaken me badly, and I knew that neither he nor my husband would ever rest easy if I insisted on working as an intelligence operative. My brief career was over – so be it.

    “Very well, Dick. Do you want us to leave New York and move back to Halifax?”

    “No, but I want you out of that bookshop. I don’t trust Ravenwood.”

    “Dick, I doubt I would have been asked to stay on beyond my trial month, and that will be up in a week’s time anyway. I thought I would but yesterday Ravenwood began dropping hints that my continued employment hinges on being ‘cooperative’ as he puts it.”

    Dick Mason’s fists clenched and he cursed fluently and viciously. “I’ll call the bastard out. Will’s not here to do it, and I’m his next of kin.”

    “Not on my account, Dick. The only connection between you and Ravenwood is me. I’d prefer to avoid the scandal, especially if we stay here.”

    He took a few deep breaths and seemed to calm himself a bit, but I could tell that this episode was far from over.

    “First Simms and now Ravenwood. Well, neither one of them will get away with insulting you.”

    “Simms? What does your chief clerk downstairs have to do with this, Dick?”

    “My ex-clerk, as of an hour ago. I arrived and he made some suggestive remark about our relationship, so I broke his jaw and then discharged him. He’ll be laid up for awhile but I don’t give a damn. His assistant, Coleman, is worth ten of him. I’ve promoted him as of today.”

    “Dick, we can discuss this tomorrow. You need rest.”

    “I won’t sleep, Jennifer, not unless I get blind drunk. I may as well stay here and talk to you. I have an idea of some work you can do that will not involve spying or putting yourself at risk. I have a friend, Colonel Randall Jenkinson, who commands your friend Maisie’s husband and the rest of the men of the 28th Foot – the North Gloucestershires. He’s done a bit of work for us in the past in addition to his usual military duties. He’s about forty-five, married, his wife is with him but their children are in school in England. I had dinner with him last night after I left here. He expressed a need for someone, preferably a genteel married woman, to see that the wives of the soldiers of the 28th are properly cared for. He realizes there are dishonest quartermasters and commissary officers in New York and he is afraid that the women are not being treated right. The idea would be that you would go to regimental headquarters and be available to speak to women who have trouble getting proper rations or other necessities. They would tell you things they wouldn’t tell one of Jenkinson’s officers.”

    “Dick, those women won’t come to headquarters. They’d be afraid it would reflect poorly on their husbands, or their husbands would forbid them to do so, because it would look like begging.”

    “Well, how else can you talk to them? You can’t go down into Canvas Town!”

    “Why not, with a proper military escort? Hollis or one of the other sergeants?”

    “It’s not safe!”

    “Then it won’t get done, Dick, I’m sorry. They won’t come to headquarters, I know that much. We’ll just go back to Halifax and help Tara take care of your father.”

    “All right, if you have an escort at all times, if you go armed, and if you only go during the middle of the day a few times a week,” he negotiated.

    “Agreed. Dick, I think you’ll find that once the people find out what I’m doing they’ll all look out for me. My Aunt Joan used to go to some of the worst sections of Bristol when my uncle was a vicar there. The people knew she was there to take care of them, and they passed the word to the thugs and thieves that anyone who tried to bother her would find that street justice is swift and quite brutal. Besides, I can shoot, you taught me yourself.”

    Somewhat reluctantly, he agreed to propose the alternate plan to his friend Colonel Jenkinson. “If he agrees, can you meet with him at about two tomorrow?” We made the arrangements and he took himself off with a bitter, “If you’ll excuse me, ladies, I’m going to go back to my ship and get blind, blessedly drunk.”

    He may have had a few brandies, but he certainly did not drink himself into a stupor, because although he looked a bit pale and worse for wear this morning, he was certainly able to function. He came up the stairs at two as promised, but this time he had two men with him – one I recognized as Coleman, the new head clerk, but the other was a stranger.

    “Mrs. William Mason,” - so the new changes were in effect already – “and Mrs. Nicolas Stewart, may I present Jacob Coleman and his deputy clerk, Albert Prewitt. I have hired Prewitt as of today.”

    A glance at the second man told me that he might be on the books of Mason Shipping as a deputy clerk but that his real job was as a bodyguard and night watchman. Dick was taking no chances.

    “Mrs. Mason is married to my brother William, who is currently in England with his ship. Mrs. Stewart’s husband is Captain Mason’s cox’n. I have told these men that they are to render all possible assistance to you, ladies. That will be all, men.”

    As soon as they retreated, we set out for the regimental headquarters of the 28th Foot. Jenkinson proved to be a fairly short, stout man in a powdered wig. He welcomed us cordially, ordered a tea tray, and then got down to business.

    “Now, ma’am, I understand you believe that you can do the most good if you can actually go down into Canvas Town and speak to the women in their homes. There’s sense in that, and I agree, but with the conditions Mr. Mason here has imposed. I will detail Sergeant Hollis to escort you at all times. If he is unavailable, I will come myself with the new escort. Under no circumstances are you to accept an escort if I have not personally introduced him to you.”

    I could tell that this man had indeed been in the intelligence service, if only in a minor way.

    “Agreed, Colonel. Red coats are easy enough for an impostor to find in this town.”

    “I am glad you understand, ma’am. Now, as to money – the regimental coffers won’t stretch to a salary, but we can provide a fund from which you may draw money to assist those in need, and of course we will provide transportation. It’s quite a way from your rooms on Broad Street to Canvas Town, so I will send my carriage for you each time with Hollis as your driver.”

    We worked out the details quickly and efficiently and then he sent for Hollis. I am sure the poor young man – he couldn’t have been more than twenty-five – thought he was to be carpeted for some imagined wrong and he was sweating profusely under his red coat as he came to rigid attention in the colonel's presence.

    “Sergeant Hollis, you know Mrs. Mason, of course.”

    “No, sir.”

    “But your wife does, she works for her as a daily woman.”

    “No, sir, Maisie, she works for a Mrs. Longley.”

    Jenkinson looked puzzled.

    “Perhaps I can clear this up, Colonel. I was married about six weeks ago because my husband’s ship was about to sail for England, but we had to keep it a secret for a few weeks because I was still in mourning for my first husband. Now that my period of mourning has ended, I can reveal that I am Mrs. William Mason.” I sent Jenkinson a significant glance to tell him that this was the story Dick and I had decided upon to explain my change of name. He was very quick on the mark; he nodded understanding and said,

    “Yes, of course. Mrs. Longley and Mrs. Mason are the same person, Hollis. Now, here is your assignment. You will be released from all other duties on the days you are to escort Mrs. Mason and Mrs. Stewart…” He went on to explain what Hollis was to do. Hollis may have been puzzled, but unquestioning obedience to orders was too ingrained to allow him to show it. He merely saluted and said, "Yes, sir."

    Once he had left, Jenkinson said, “That’s quite a creative story, Mrs.Mason. You know it will be all over the regiment by nightfall.”

    “Oh, certainly, it appeals to the sense of the romantic in young women like Maisie Hollis and her friends. True love in the midst of tragedy, the dashing young naval officer who won the love of the grieving young widow. Almost as good as a play!”

    I got the first smile out of Dick Mason I had seen in days.

    “Thank you, Mrs. Mason, Mrs. Stewart. I’ll send Hollis in the carriage for you on Monday.” He kissed my hand, shook Mary's and bowed us out of his office.

    “I’ll need to turn my resignation in to Ravenwood, I suppose,” I said as we left to go back to Broad Street.

    “Write a letter. I’ll take it. If he says anything, I’ll deal with him,” Dick said shortly.

    “Very well. Dick, we still want Tara to come down and stay. She might even want to help us with our work, if you will permit that?”

    “It might be good for her. Yes, I'll suggest it to her.”
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  13. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Sunday, 4 April 1779

    Once again dawn found Sapphire engulfed in a thick sea mist. But even as the ship's bell chimed out six bells in the morning watch it was beginning to clear a bit. I could clearly see the deck below through the mist as I descended from the mizzen crosstrees.

    As was my habit at sea I was taking my exercise by climbing the masts. Starting with the larboard side I would climb the shrouds of each mast up to the tops making the difficult outward climb up the futtock shrouds, hanging by fingers and toes over the deck, then on to the crosstrees before descending by the backstays. Then moving on to the next mast. Up the larboard side of the ship and then down the starboard until I had climbed each mast twice. The whole exercise took about half an hour and I found it superior to merely pacing the quarterdeck as most other captains did. Perhaps that was why even though I was but five months away from my 44th birthday and enjoyed a good table, I had still not developed the corpulent bulge about my middle that most other senior officers had.

    As I reached the deck I nodded to Jones who was Officer of the Watch and proceeded below. I was breathing a bit heavily but felt quite invigorated by my exercise. Stepping into the cabin I saw that Bailey had laid out a fresh uniform for me to put on following my bath and that Jamison had laid out the ship's books for my examination later this morning. My prayer book was there as well for there would be Divine Services at seven bells. I stripped off my sweat-soaked clothing and stepped into the starboard quarter gallery.

    Inside Bailey was pouring seawater into the brass bath that had been installed there at my direction. The bath complete with a tiny stone hearth beneath was one of Sir David’s inventions. The hearth’s small fire heated the brass of the tub, which in turn heated the water inside it. An excellent caoutchouc-lined cork stopper held the water in but when pulled would allow the tub to drain into the sea below. A simple enough thing really but it took someone of Sir David’s vivid imagination to think of it. He had taken out a patent on his Sea-Bath as he called it and they were being manufactured at Thornbury by my people at our company Sea-Baths, Ltd. Sales were quite brisk for most sea officers knew that the quaint superstition about bathing being unhealthy was just so much nonsense.

    “Water’s just right, sir.” Bailey said as he doused the hearth. I could see that he had already placed my bath towel on its hook near the door to the day cabin and that my washcloth, mirror, razor and soap were within easy reach from the tub.

    “Thank you, Andrew, that’ll be all. I’ll call you when I need you.”

    “Aye aye, sir,” he said and left. I stepped over and lowered myself into the warm waters.


    ***


    Suitably cleaned, shaved and attired in my sea-going dress uniform, presentation sword at my side I climbed the quarterdeck gangway, prayer book in hand, and made my way to the quarterdeck rail. The crew had been assembled below on the maindeck, all those who could be spared from duty at least, in preparation for the Sunday services.

    I opened the book to the page of today’s service and opened my mouth to speak when I heard a low rumble off in the distance. I had heard it far to often in my thirty years at sea not to recognize it at once. I looked over to Jones standing at my right. Yes, he had heard it too.

    “Gunfire.” He said. I nodded.

    “No more than a mile off if I’m any judge. Sounds like twelve pounders.” A sharper bark came back answering the first discharge.

    “Fours.” Jones said. “Off to the South East. A merchantman or dispatch vessel and a frigate I’d guess, sir.”

    “Beat to Quarters, Mr. Jones.” I said slapping the prayer book closed. “Clear for Action!”

    “Aye aye, sir.”

    The marine drummer rapped out his staccato beat and ordered pandemonium erupted onboard as men dashed about. The thud of hammers could be heard as bulkheads were knocked down and struck below the waterline. Ship’s boys dashed with buckets of sand to spread on the gun-deck, while others stacked flannel wrapped ready charges near the guns. Below in his Sickbay I knew that Fred would be setting up his operating table atop the Midshipmen’s sea chests. And setting out the cask of rum laced with opium used to drug patients before they went under the knife. Now my cabin furniture was going below as well, everything that could have impeded access on the maindeck that held the twenty-six 18-pounders of Sapphire’s main battery was removed to storage in the ship’s hold below.

    “Mr. Cutler, signal Windsor to follow us.” I wasn’t completely happy with that but dare not leave her here in case another enemy vessel lurked nearby.

    Now here was George at my side looking immaculate in his Army uniform.

    “Well, John, what can I do?” I understood well what he was saying. It was difficult to stand by and do nothing. Then I saw Courtenay coming up the gangway toward me and whispered fiercely at my friend.

    “Keep him out of my way George. Take him back to the wardroom and see that he says there.” He smiled and moved quickly to intercept Courtenay at the gangway and lead him back down.

    “You mean we are to stay in the wardroom, sir.” I heard him say before they disappeared below. Courtenay sounded almost relieved, it seemed that George had been right about his lack of courage.

    “Ship cleared for action, sir.” Jones reported with a smile of satisfaction. “Nine minutes and fifty-eight seconds.” So that was it. The ship’s company had achieved that standard and with four days to spare too.

    “Very good, Mr. Jones. Reduce to fighting sail if you please.” I said as a shaft of sunlight broke through the mist and bathed the deck in its glow.

    “We shan’t be blind much longer it seems.” I remarked, then the cry came from the masthead.

    “Deck there! Two ships, fine on the larboard beam! Brig wearin’ English colours and a French sixth rate!” I turned to Dunne at the wheel.

    “Alter course, Mr. Dunne. Make your course South East by South. Mr. Talbot, load and run out your guns. I’ll want the larboard battery double-shotted with canister for good fortune. Load the starboard battery with chain-shot.” We would take away the Frenchman’s advantage of manueverability with the chain and then give him a proper pounding with double-shot. Talbot touched his hat in response and moved to carry out my orders. Now here was MacGregor standing beside me the great claymore that he used in place of a regular cutlass in his right hand while he carried a brace of pistols in his left.

    “Me an’ Andrew got these loaded afore yur cabin was struck below, Cap’n.” He said as he handed me the pistols.

    “Thank you, old friend, that was thoughtful of you.” I said as I hung the brace across my chest. Then slipped the powder flask into my coat pocket.

    At that moment Sapphire broke free of the fog bank and into the clear and the scene of battle was finally revealed. The brig had lost her fore topmast and her spanker was hanging in shreds. Great gouges had been torn into her side by the Frenchman’s iron and blood ran from the scuppers in thin tendrils as though the ship herself were bleeding. The frigate had grappled and as I watched there was a ripple of flashes from her rail followed by the sharp, whip-like cracks of her swivel-guns. Their packed charges of musket balls clearing the brig’s deck as the Frenchman prepared to board. So intent was he on his conquest that he had yet to notice our approach although we had emerged from the fogbank a bare four cables off.

    “Well, Lads!” I called from the quarterdeck rail. “Shall we sail into New York with a French frigate under our lee?” A cheer came up from the gun-deck as one of the new hands cried out “Us’ll give they buggers a quiltin’, Cap’n!” and the rest joined in.

    “Then it’ll be prize money for all, m’ lads!” I cried. As they sent up another cheer I turned my attention back to the enemy.

    The French crew was desperately cutting the grapples that bound them immobile to the shattered brig. But we were too close for them to escape in time. Down we swept toward her unengaged larboard side. At two cables a broadside rippled out from the Frenchman but it was badly aimed and although the sea creamed around us few of the balls found a target. Then we were up to her, less than a cable away.

    “Starboard battery!” I cried holding my sword high and gauging the moment of Sapphire’s uproll. My blade flashed downward.

    “Fire!”

    As one the broadside crashed out in a single blast of thunder, its charges of whirling chain-shot ripping through the enemy's sails and rigging and leaving a hanging ruin in their wake.

    “Stop your vents!” Zachery called out. “Sponge out! Load!” But our rapid rush had carried us past the Frenchman before the starboard battery’s guns were reloaded.

    “Larboard your helm, Mr. Jones.” I ordered. “Bring her as close to the wind as she’ll lie.”

    Sapphire slowly came about onto the larboard tack with her bow pointing North West By North and the Frenchie a bare one hundred and fifty yards abaft the larboard beam.

    “As you bear, Mr. Talbot. Fire!”

    Gun by gun the larboard battery fired. It’s double-shotted charges and packed canister pounding the Frenchman’s side. We heard a great crack and the foremast came down in a mighty crash, splashing into the sea alongside.

    Huge sections of the frigate’s bulwarks had simply been torn away by the savage fury of Sapphire’s thunderous broadside. A sixth rate’s comparatively frail timbers had never been meant to withstand this kind of pounding and much as the little brig before, they had simply given way. The Frenchman’s guns were silent now and I passed the command to hold fire.

    Moments later the Royal Fleur-de-Lis fluttered down as she struck her colours. A cry went up from the people, not just ours but also the crew of the little brig that we had saved and Windsor’s as well.

    “Secure the guns, Mr. Jones.” I said. “Then you may secure from actions stations. Mr. Dunne, heave to if you please. Mr. Helstrom, have my gig hoisted out. I shall go across to the brig.”

    I looked over at the battered little brig, her ensign still flying defiantly, and something else occurred to me. I called young Cutler over from the signal halyards.

    “Mr. Cutler, my compliments to Doctor Bassingford. Ask if he would find it convenient to accompany me to the brig and attend their wounded.”

    “Aye aye, sir” He said and walked across to the quarterdeck ladder.

    I looked across at the defeated frigate. A victory, not a large one of course but still a first victory for a new ship and a new crew. It was a good beginning.



    Interlude – Halifax, Canada

    Sunday 4 April 1779

    Miss Tara Mason woke up early, even before the upstairs maid brought her morning tea. Tara’s father had had a very difficult week, becoming increasingly more querulous and demanding each day until Tara was at her wit’s end. Mr. Mason refused to believe that his beloved Vanessa had died of a heart condition nearly two months before and had been laid to rest in the churchyard in Annapolis, Maryland, so far away. He accused his daughter of lying to him, of keeping his wife from him, and eventually the doctor had to be called to give him a sleeping draught. Tara’s youngest brother Stephen had disappeared three weeks before without a trace, and Richard, the oldest brother and the mainstay of the family, had gone to New York to try to find him. All in all, not the best situation for a lovely young woman to be in on this, her nineteenth birthday, but with the optimism of youth, Tara had wakened with the hopes that somehow this day would be different. Today should have been one of hilarity and celebration, and even six months before it would have been. When the Mason family left England in January Tara’s life had seemed well-nigh perfect: she was the much loved - if too often teased - only sister in a family of six brothers, she had a good friend in the person of Jennifer Willis, who was married to Tara’s favourite brother, William, and that friend was to accompany her to North America to be her particular friend during a Spring season that promised all sorts of joys and entertainments for a startlingly beautiful blonde with sparkling violet eyes. Just in the last six months Tara had noticed further changes in her body - she had begun to develop at thirteen and had been quite a lovely miss two years earlier when her body had shown the promise of great beauty that hadn’t quite been realized before the tragedies had struck, but now when she stood in her shift and looked in the mirror she saw not a girl’s figure, but a fully developed woman’s.

    And then it all seemed to fall apart once more. Mrs. Mason, never strong since the family had been forced to leave Maryland in 1776 and move their shipping business to Canada because of their allegiance to the Crown, had begun to fail almost as soon as the family ship left England. By the end of February, she was gone and Tara’s father had slipped into the dream world where he now lived. And then Stephen, who was to go to school in England and then take an Oxford degree, announced that what he really wanted to do was go to sea as a midshipman. When his brother asked him to wait until the family situation was more stable, he ran away from home. The servants were good, but the housekeeper expected to be told what to do, the groom needed to be told what horses and carriages would be needed, and the cook what meals to prepare, and they all looked to Tara as the ‘lady of the house’. It was a crushing load of responsibility for a girl still dealing with the loss herself and only just nineteen, and as a result Tara had grown paler and more quiet each day. The severe Canadian winter had made outdoor exercise very difficult, and Tara, who loved to get on her spirited little mare, Polly, and ride for hours with only a groom for company, had hardly even seen her horse in days. Something had to be done, that much was certain, but what?

    Richard was still gone, William was on his way to England with his ship, perhaps had even arrived, Stephen had disappeared, David was serving with his regiment in the West Indies - even Robert, at twenty-one the closest in age but also the most annoying of her brothers, was somewhere in the North Atlantic with his ship as a junior lieutenant. Only James was left, and these days he was either at his office or with his Miss Mackenzie.

    And so the day passed, and although the cook prepared a special meal and an iced cake - the servants had not forgotten, it seemed - James was not there to eat it with her. He did not mean to be inconsiderate, there was just a lot on his mind, she knew, but still it hurt. The Mason family had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, among them the most prominent members of Halifax society. They were very prosperous, wealthy if the truth be told, and before her mother’s death plunged them all into mourning Tara had been much sought after as a guest at parties, musical evenings and picnics. Attracted by her beauty, the young men of Halifax flocked around her like flies to a honeypot, hoping for more than the friendly smile she gave everyone, but they all seemed so - foolishly youthful, so frivolous, so concerned with the cut of their waistcoats and the bloodlines of their dogs and horses to really listen to her. She knew she looked like a Dresden china figurine, but she did not want to be treated as if she had all the brains of one. She read extensively and enjoyed a spirited discussion of literature, the arts or politics. ‘Somewhere out there is a man who will admire me for my intellect as well as my beauty, who will talk to me like an equal, but protect me from all harm, who will cherish me and love me for myself, not my name or my family’s money or my face.’

    She fell asleep that night, sadly convinced it was only a dream - and that dreams almost never come true.


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Monday 5 April 1779

    It is late on Monday night and we are finally back in Portsmouth. We dropped anchor early this morning and the round of official business began. I called on the Port Admiral – Vice-Admiral Sir Edmund Halliwell, KB – to report the successful completion of our mission and to give him a letter from St. John – the same letter that convinced Commodore Hyde Parker to let us leave Annapolis – ordering him to render all necessary assistance in the matter of Leveque.

    Sir Edmund read it carefully, then reached over to shake my hand warmly. “Got him, did you? By God, that's good news. We've been looking for the damned scoundral for years. You know there’s a reward for his capture and execution? John Sinclair set it up years ago after the cur murdered Mrs. Sinclair, his own half-sister, too. Five thousand, I believe.”

    “Aye, sir, I had the privilege of meeting Captain Sinclair on the way home and heard the story. He was most gratified that we had caught Leveque.”

    “That’s an understatement, I am sure. Well, I’ll speak to the garrison commander and we’ll make the necessary preparations to move him overland to London. Between the soldiers, the Marines and the shackles, he should be safe enough, although we won’t take any chances, of course. I’d like to be there when His Lordship questions him, by God I would. At any rate, the kingdom will be a bit safer with him gone. No doubt we’ll hear of his execution at Tyburn before the month is out. Even if there weren’t ample evidence to execute him as a spy, he’s still wanted for Mrs. Sinclair’s murder.”

    I returned to the ship to report our progress to Major Scarboro, and within the hour watched him take an angry and defiant Leveque off my ship forever. As he left, Scarboro came over to shake my hand and say, “Don’t worry, Mason, I shan’t lose him. I shouldn’t want Captain Sinclair hunting me! The man makes the very best possible friend – and the worst possible enemy.” With a wry grin and a jaunty salute he was gone. With him went letters to St. John from Sinclair; I am sure they had much to do with Leveque.

    Dunkin and his friend Georgia have become great favorites among our company. The lady sleeps most of the time – Harmon assures me that this is ‘consistent with the early stages of pregnancy’ – but Dunkin spends much of his time on my shoulder, although he will lead his lady on hunting expeditions into the hold on a regular basis.

    After the chill of the near-arctic air we encountered on the voyage over, Hampshire seems almost balmy, even on an early spring night, so I have kept the skylight open just a bit. Through the creaks and groans of a ship at anchor I heard a challenge, “Boat ahoy?” and the reply that told me the boat was coming our way. At this hour? Footsteps on the companionway, then a knock, “First Lieutenant, SAH!” heralded Jack Robertson – and my brother Stephen.

    “Stephen! What the hell are you doing in Portsmouth!”

    “Ah, so ‘e is one o’ yourn, sir,” the grizzled petty officer who had followed them in with one of his mates said as he knuckled his forehead. “Found ‘im down to the Sailor’s Rest just now. Carter, sir, bosun’s mate o’ the Avenger, 74, anchored just down a piece in the roads. We was lookin’ for volunteers’, sir, me and Taylor ‘ere, and this fine young man took our eye. When we tried to enlist ‘im ‘e said ‘e was cap’n’s servant on the Paladin, sloop o’war. Well, I din’t bleeve ‘im, acause I din’t know you’d anchored, sir, but Taylor said you ‘ad, so out we come wiv ‘im. Sorry for the trouble, sir." He and his friend paid their respects and left, leaving me alone with my youngest brother, a lad of thirteen who is supposed to be in school in Halifax.

    “Hello, Will,” he said as casually as he could, although I could see he was sweating – as well he should be.

    “Hello, Will,” I said mildly while slowly drumming my fingers on the desk. “You turn up here, without warning, within spitting distance of getting yourself pressed onto a ship of the line, and you say, ‘Hello, Will’.”

    He looked uncomfortable. He was meant to. He looked tired, and despite the fact that he has grown half a foot since I saw him last and now looks more like fifteen or sixteen than thirteen, he still looked very young. His eyes shot toward a chair, but he was smart enough not to sit down until told to do so, and I was damned if I was going to tell him to take his ease until I had heard an explanation for his presence so far from home.

    “I talked to Dick less than three weeks ago. He said nothing about you coming to England, just that you were mad to go to sea.” I stated flatly.

    “He didn’t know. I slipped out of the house as soon as he weighed on that run down to New York, the one where I guess he met you. There was a ship bound for England in port, Dartmouth Lass, so I signed on.”

    “You signed on. A Halifax captain took a son of Richard Mason as an ordinary seaman without blinking an eyelash or asking questions?”

    “He’s a new master, a Loyalist from Rhode Island, he didn’t recognize me. And I used mother’s maiden name anyway. I told him my name was Stephen Quinn and that I was fifteen.”

    “And when you got here?”

    “I told him I wanted to pay off, and he didn’t have much choice but to give me my wages.”

    “How long have you been here?”

    “Two days. I didn’t realize England would be so expensive. I’m out of money, well, I sort of bought some things and there was a girl I met in one of the taverns…”

    I exploded. “Those ‘girls’ as you put it, are poxed up to the eyebrows! You didn't…”

    He looked very embarrassed. To have his brother quizzing him about such matters was certainly not what he would have liked, but he was thirteen, for God’s sake.

    “No. I do have some common sense, Will,” he said in an aggrieved tone. “I listen when you and Dick and Robert talk, you know. I just wanted to see if the girls would be, well, you know, interested.”

    “Oh, they’re interested, all right, interested in your money. Common sense? Not so I can tell, half-pint. Do you have any idea how frantic Father and Dick and Tara must be?”

    “Father lives in a dream world, Will. He sits and stares into the distance all day long, and we daren’t tell him Mother’s gone, he becomes hysterical. Once he tried to hurt himself with a knife he found. Dick’s busy trying to run the business, James is too, and Tara hardly leaves Father alone for a minute. I had to get away, Will, don’t you see?” he pleaded for understanding.

    “Without telling anyone? Thing’s have been hard enough on Tara without you making them worse. Why not wait until Dick could find you a proper midshipman's appointment?"

    “I’m sorry about Tara, Will, really I am. But who knows how long that would take? I wanted to go to sea now. I don't care about school, or university, I just want to go to sea."

    “And what would have happened if Paladin hadn’t been here? How did you know, anyway? We just anchored today.”
    “I heard some of the men in the pub talking about it, saying you had come in, and I was on my way to find a boat and come out here when Carter and his friend stopped me.”

    “And if I’d been delayed by even a day?”

    “I would have headed for our office in Southampton, or ended up on the Avenger I guess.” He shrugged.

    I could see he was about to drop. “Steve, when did you last eat?”

    “This evening, I had a pork pie and a tankard. That was the last of my money.”

    “And you’re hungry again.” It was not a question.

    “Yes, sir.”

    I called for Oakley and had him bring Steve the remains of my own dinner. He tore into the cold roasted chicken and buttered bread as if he was starving – and in his own mind he probably was. The one thing I remember most about being thirteen was being hungry all the time. When he drained the last of the tankard of ale Oakley had brought his head started to nod. It was obvious that he was asleep on his feet.

    “Do you have any dunnage?”

    He shook his head. “I couldn’t pack a bag when I left home. I've been living in these clothes for three weeks. Are you going to put me ashore, Will?”

    “So the press can get you? And how would I explain that to Tara, eh? No, you’re staying right here until I decide what to do with you. Sentry! Pass the word for the midshipman of the watch.”

    Kennedy appeared shortly. “Mr. Kennedy, this is my brother Stephen. He’s just arrived from Canada. He’ll be berthing with you and Mr. O’Connor for the time being.”

    Kennedy, too well trained to do more than carry out orders, saluted and turned to Stephen.

    “This way, Mr. Mason, if you please.”

    With a sigh, I sat down to write a letter to my brother Richard. As soon as that boy wakes up tomorrow – no, today – I am going to give him such a thrashing.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  14. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Monday 5 April 1779

    As arranged, Colonel Jenkinson sent his carriage at nine this morning, with Hollis on the box and a private to drive. Maisie came too, of course. We heard horses in the street outside our building, and when we went to look out from the first-floor windows we were just in time to see Coleman go to the horses heads to hold them while Hollis jumped down and then lifted Maisie off the box in a swirl of skirts. About the same time, Dick Mason arrived.

    “I’ve come to say goodbye, ladies. I see your coach has arrived, so I won’t keep you long. I need to get back to Halifax and see if Stephen has come home, and I realized late last night that I totally forgot Tara’s nineteenth birthday yesterday.”

    “Oh, Dick, how disappointing for her! Well, surely James remembered.”

    “James is like most men, he doesn’t remember birthdays unless you remind him several times over. No, I need to go back and make it up to her somehow. I’ll suggest that she come down here just after Easter, though. I think the change will do her a world of good.”

    He made his farewells and was on the way out the door when he stopped and pulled a folded newssheet out of his coat pocket.

    “I thought you might like to see this.” He commented briefly, then took his leave.

    “What is it, Miss Jennifer?” Mary asked, as she came into the sitting room with Maisie and Sergeant Hollis behind her.

    “Good morning, Maisie, Sarn’t Hollis. Thank you for coming so promptly. I’m eager to start my new job for Colonel Jenkinson, and I know I won’t know who to talk to or where to go unless you help me. Mary will go with us too. She's feeling much better this morning, and she has experience as a healer and herb woman, even some midwife
    experience.” As we were walking to the carriage I remembered Mary’s question and looked down at the smudgy paper in my hand. “Oh, the paper- why it’s the Loyal Leader. Why would Dick give me this? He knows I despise Ravenwood and his scurrilous rag.”

    A glance down at the headlines caught my eye. ‘Publisher set upon by street ruffians’ it read. It went on to tell how Ravenwood had been attacked by ‘street ruffians’ late Saturday night and had sustained fairly serious injuries, including several broken ribs and a broken nose. He was expected to be incapacitated for several weeks at least. The authorities had no leads as to the identity of his assailants, according to the paper.

    Obviously Dick had not let Ravenwood’s insults go unpunished.


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Tuesday 6 April 1779

    Stephen took his caning like a man, without a whimper. It bodes well for his sea career, since an imp of mischief like him is bound to be invited to ‘kiss the gunner’s daughter’ over the breech of a gun more than once as a midshipman. I honestly think he would have been disappointed in me if I had not caned him. For the moment I have taken him on as a captain’s servant until I have a chance to decide about his fate. He spends much of his time with Kennedy and O’Connor and seems to get along well with them, and of course he is consuming enormous quantities of food, as befits a growing boy of thirteen. I have been at sea since he was a babe in arms, so I do not know him really well, but I am beginning to rectify that situation and I find that I quite like him.

    Stephen brought a stack of mail to me late this afternoon. “These just came for you, sir,” he said politely. He has quickly aped Kennedy and O’Connor in his manners – I may be his brother, but I am also his superior officer, and while I call him Steve, he never calls me Will.

    The fouled anchor seal of the Admiralty was obviously my first priority. I hoped there would be news that Leveque had been transferred to a prison cell safely, and I was not disappointed. The letter, from His Lordship, thanked me for my efforts in effecting the capture and asked that the men also be told and thanked for their part in the action.

    “I have read your report of the incident, have spoken at great length to Major Scarboro about the operation, and of course I have Captain Sinclair’s letter as well,” he wrote. “As you know, he has a vested interest in seeing justice done in this case, and he was not stinting with his praise of your actions and those of Scarboro and your coxswain, Stewart. However, he also enclosed a letter from Doctor Alfred Bassingford, whom I believe you met while aboard HMS Sapphire. Bassingford gives it as his opinion that the wound you sustained in action against the French last month has not been given sufficient time to heal, duty having required you to remain active. After consideration of his recommendation, Mason, I am placing you on convalescent leave for a period of three weeks, during which time your senior can oversee all shipboard operations.”

    There was more to the letter, but that was the sense of it. Bassingford, the meddler, had struck again. Somehow, he had managed to pull the strings necessary to make sure that I rested, whether I wanted to or not. Muttering imprecations against interfering doctors, I went on to the rest of the letters. There was one from Michael Gilmore, written only a day before, and one from my prize agent in London.

    My prize agent wrote to inform me that the ships Captain Gosnell and I had captured off the coast of Sardinia last fall had been bought in, and my share of the prize and head money came to over thirty-one hundred pounds, which had been deposited to my account. Added to my previous prize money, my income from Mason Shipping, of which I am a shareholder, and the prospect of a reward for Leveque, Jennifer and I can live comfortably even if I lost my ship and went on half-pay tomorrow. I resolved to go to Cirencester and tell Jennifer’s cousin Benjamin that our marriage was none of his business and to keep his long nose out of it. If he raised objections and threatened to withhold Jennifer’s legacy, I would tell him to keep his damned money and that I am well able to support my wife in comfort for the rest of her life. In fact, I also resolved to do my utmost to convince my wife that the spy business is too dangerous for a woman. Captain Sinclair had expressed some considerable concern about Jennifer during the course of our time together aboard HMS Sapphire, and the more I thought about it, the more sense he made.

    Next, I opened the letter from Michael Gilmore, written only yesterday. What I saw there shocked and surprised me. First, he told me that he had been forced to take extensive convalescent leave beginning in March following a crippling bout of fever contracted in Antigua. He arrived home to find his wife’s parents dead and the estate in the hands of her cousin, Benjamin Willis. “I understand that Willis and my brother in law, William Rolland, both wrote to Canada to tell Jennifer of her loss and the terms of her late father’s will,” he went on. “I have written to her again with the latest news, but as her husband I confide it to you as well. I am sending this to Portsmouth, as I have word from the secretaries at Admiralty House that HMS Paladin had been sighted off St. George Channel and should arrive in Portsmouth any day.

    “I have bad news, unfortunately. I regret to say that Benjamin Willis has disappeared without a trace, leaving behind his wife, who is my sister Alice, and three small children. Examination of his papers and discussions with bankers and moneylenders who have since contacted us has revealed that in the past several months Willis had been systematically bleeding the family business of funds, and when that proved insufficient took out mortgages on his own home and even the family home, which he only inherited from his uncle two months ago. You were here in December, so perhaps you will recall that Mr. Willis announced his intention to turn the day-to-day business of the firm over to his nephew shortly after the first of the year. When he fell ill and subsequently died, Willis’s hold was complete.

    “We do not know where Willis has gone, but we do know with whom he has gone. We have found several letters of a very intimate nature from a woman in Swindon whom we have identified as a Mrs. Sally Hill. The receipted bills we have found in a secret drawer of his desk prove that he spent thousands of pounds on this woman, providing her with a house, furnishings, silver, servants, a carriage and pair, gowns, jewels, and so on, all the while he was emphasizing the need for economy and thrift to Alice. Needless to say, Alice is devastated. She is a good wife and a good mother who had no inkling of her husband’s perfidy.

    “William Rolland and I are taking what steps we can to solve the problems we have encountered. Bill has some money, but the major portion of his income came from Willis Woolen Mills, and that source of income is of course gone. I have some considerable prize money from our recent voyage, enough to cover the most pressing of the debts incurred by the firm, including those owed to Mason Shipping as a result of our joint venture into Canada, but the houses are more problematical. Alice says she cares nothing for the house Willis bought for her when they were married, nor for its furnishings, for they hold too many bitter memories. The money we realize from the sale of these will pay the mortgage on that house and give Alice some money to live on. In addition, we are hopeful of saving the family home and most of the family heirlooms as well, although we will have to retrench severely. Currently the plan is to find a tenant for the house who will pay enough in rent to allow us to make payments on the mortgage. We are hopeful of finding a buyer for one house and tenant for the other in the very near future. At present Alice and the children are living with us at Fosse Cottage, which although not enormous is comfortable enough for our two families if we make a few adjustments. Winifred and my sister have always been good friends, and they are company for one another while I am gone so much of the time trying to sort this mess out.

    “As Jennifer’s husband, I should tell you that the money Mr. Willis set aside for her in his will has been embezzled by her cousin. Unfortunately for all of us, Mr. Willis, as good and honest a man as ever lived, believed that his nephew’s character was equally noble. He did not think it necessary to require a second trustee or executor for the estate, although Rolland asked him to engage one, preferably a disinterested party with no family connections. Saying that Benjamin understood what he wanted to do, Mr. Willis refused to consider this, and Rolland could not persuade him otherwise. Right up until Benjamin left in the middle of the night last week, all seemed fair and legal. He had paid the first installment of Jennifer’s legacy, although Rolland has disclosed that he did so only after pressure from Rolland himself. We believe that he was attempting to allay suspicion about his actions by doing so. In addition, he had complied with the terms of his uncle’s will and had purchased commissions in a fashionable cavalry regiment for Richard and James, as was their desire, using what can only have been Jennifer’s legacy to do so. Bill has given it as his opinion, somewhat cynically, that Richard and James knew about the existence of the woman in Swindon, although certainly not the extent of his involvement with her, and that he wished to have them out of the area lest they betray his evil deeds to the family. We are at a loss to understand his motivation; we can only assume that the temptations of the flesh so overwhelmed him that he simply refused to turn from his wicked ways, no matter how much he hurt his family. For my part, if I ever see the man again I will call him out without a moment’s hesitation for the pain he has caused my wife and my sister.

    “My good friend, I know this has not been an easy letter to read, nor was it an easy one to write, but you are a man of honor who deserves to know the facts. I know that you love Jennifer and that her legacy is of little import to you, but the true state of affairs must be told.

    “Winifred continues as well as can be expected, given the devastation of her parents’ deaths and now this recent betrayal. Our unborn child continues to grow and flourish; in fact he is the only thing that brightens Winifred’s day at times. The new doctor who took old Doctor Harmon’s place seems competent enough, and we are hopeful for a mid-July delivery.

    “Give our best to Jennifer when next you write. We have had one letter from her since she reached North America, and although Winifred would like more, we know that the mail service is uncertain at best in these troubled times. If you are able to take leave while you are in England and come to visit us, we will offer you what hospitality we can, for the price of a complete report on Jennifer’s health and activities with your family in Canada.”

    With the usual polite courtesies, he ended his letter. Somehow, the news about Benjamin Willis didn’t surprise me. I had not liked him ever since we’d met, and since then he had proven himself both pompous and meddling. Jennifer had mentioned the mistress in Swindon in a conversation some time before, so perhaps it was not as great a shock to me as it was to the rest of his family – I knew him for the hypocrite he was. Well, I was ordered to take three weeks’ leave – I would take them in Gloucestershire. Only a serious illness would make my friend Michael Gilmore quit the sea for an extended period of time, particularly as he had so recently been posted to the 28-gun HMS Nightingale – perhaps there was a way I could help, if only by reassuring him on my brother’s behalf that Mason Shipping was willing to wait for the money owed us so that more pressing debts could be paid, and that I certainly do not care about Jennifer’s inheritance.
    I passed the word for Harmon intending to tell him that I would be spending my leave in Cirencester, not at his home in London. He arrived, but right behind him came Steve with another letter that had just come in. This one was from John Sinclair, and had obviously been put aboard an inbound mail packet very shortly after we parted company. I excused myself for a moment to read it while Harmon waited patiently.

    “Thank you for waiting, Harmon. I wanted to see what was so urgent that Captain Sinclair would find a homebound mail packet to send me a letter. This is a request to take our friend Dunkin to an estate the Captain owns near Thornbury, in county Gloustershire, and to stay there as long as necessary while I recover. As the estate is very near Cirencester, I find this most convenient. If you wish to come with me, I will welcome your company.”

    “I will certainly accompany you, Captain. Just as you have your orders from His Lordship, so I have mine from Doctor Bassingford.”

    “I have no doubt that you do, Harmon, and I will do my best to thwart you at every turn,” I joked.

    “No more than I would expect, sir, but I daresay we shall muddle along quite well, really.”

    “No doubt.”


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Wednesday 7 April 1779

    “…and Connors should be able to return to duty in a fortnight or so. We were very fortunate to get off so easily, John.”

    I nodded at Fred and thought back on all that had transpired over the last four days. Taking our leave from Sapphire Fred and I had gone first to the little brig Two Sisters. The scene that had greeted us as we climbed through shattered remains of her entry port was terrible. The French frigate’s broadsides had torn through the little merchant vessel and her company like some demon from hell. The bulwarks had been battered away, her guns smashed and rigging shredded. Blood ran from her decks and into the sea around her. Of her company of twenty-eight men, nine had been killed outright and five more had died despite Fred’s best efforts. Of her remaining crew four were too badly wounded to return to duty. In what seemed like the blink of an eye she had lost nearly seventy percent of her crew. But worst of all the Mate and Bosun had been among those to fall, leaving the wounded Captain Vickery the only surviving officer.

    With no other option open to me I had sent five of the French prisoners across to her to help work the ship; a Bosun’s Mate from Windsor and my junior Master’s Mate, Andrew Cross, had gone as well. I was sorry to lose Cross for he was one of my old hands from Goshawk and I had rated him master’s mate myself two years ago, having cherished hopes that he would one day stand for a commission. Knowing that it was likely that William Mason would need a good master’s mate if the Admiralty posted him and gave him Vanessa I instructed Cross to report to him with a letter of introduction that I had written for him in the hopes that Mason might take him on. In any case a voyage as 1st Mate of Two Sisters would serve him in good stead and I knew I could count upon Captain Vickery to make the best use of him.

    While Fred had been tending to Two Sisters’ wounded MacGregor had taken me over to the French sixth rate. The scene that greeted me there was very nearly identical to that aboard the brig. In particular I noted the fearsome damage wrought by Sapphire’s carronades, the weapons were every bit as effective as Mason had described when he'd told us of Captain Gosnell’s action against Quare in the Mediterannean last autumn. I had accepted the sword of Capitaine de Vaisseau Henri-Albere Montaigne, a sullen young man with eyes like a snake, as soon as I’d reached the quarterdeck and signaled a prize crew across from Sapphire. Fortunately the surgeon aboard the prize Enchanté of 28 guns had survived otherwise I fear that poor Fred would have been overwhelmed. Of Enchanté’s crew of 197 sixty-eight had been killed in those two terrible broadsides and fifty-two more had been wounded of whom twenty-three had thus far died.

    By comparison Sapphire had a mere two killed and seven wounded, of which the most serious was young Connors. Fred was right we had been fortunate. Had Capitaine Montaigne not been so intent upon Two Sisters his Enchanté could have given us a serious fight and considerably more damage than the little we took from her single broadside and few straggling shots after.

    It had taken us nearly thirty-four hours to repair the damage that the three vessels had suffered and it was only Monday evening that we had at last parted company as Two Sisters departed to continue her voyage to Bristol; and Sapphire, Windsor and Enchanté had raised sail once more for New York. Looking out the stern galleries I could see Enchanté following behind us at a distance of about a cable. I had placed Lieutenant Talbot in command of her at first but I intended to rotate her prize crew every three days. Now it was Mr. Zachery’s turn aboard the prize. I’d sent the Bosun across with him to give a little additional weight to the youngster's command. In addition half of our marines were there to keep the prisoners in line.

    I thought of the twenty-two year old Nathan Zachery, a Welshman from the coastal town of Swansea, still in the very early stages of his climb up the ladder to eventual flag rank while I had nearly finished my own climb. What would it be like, I wondered, to be at the beginning all over again. The Navy had changed so much over the past twenty-two years and yet in many ways it was still the same. What would the Navy be like twenty-two years from now when Zachery was the experienced Captain and I was an Admiral or worse retired to White Oaks. Something that had been said days ago forced its way into my consciousness and I looked over to Fred who was about to leave.

    “Fred?” He stopped and turned back to me.

    “Do really think I have a death wish?” It took him a moment to place the statement that he’d made to me in the Sickbay after examining William Mason. ‘You two ought to get along just fine. You’ve both got a death wish!’ He closed the door and sat back down facing me in as serious a manner as I’d ever seen from him.

    “Consciously, no. But, unconsciously...”

    “Then you do think so?” I found the idea troubling.

    “Look, John. I have been your physician for more than nineteen years and your friend for longer than either of us cares to remember. That gives me privileges that other people do not have.”

    “Go on.” I said looking him in the eye. He waited a moment before continuing.

    “You’ve never gotten over Angelique’s murder. It is sixteen years in the past; her murderer is quite likely dancing on a gibbet as we speak or soon will be and yet you still have not come to terms with it.” I broke the eye contact and stared at the pendant that was somehow in my hand.

    “How can I, Fred? A day does not go by that I do not miss her.”

    “That is why you keep trying to kill yourself. To be with her again, even if it is only in death.” I was shocked to my core to hear Fred say this for, even though I did not want to believe it, I knew in my heart that he was right.

    “You take mission after mission, leading your people into the cannon’s mouth over and over and disregarding my medical instructions when their sole purpose is to safeguard the life that your unconscious is determined to end by leading you into peril time and again. Hoping that the enemy’s iron will do what you cannot. The fact that you’ve asked me this gives me some hope that you’re ready to break the cycle.”

    “I’ll never forget my Angelique, Fred.”

    “I’m not suggesting that you should. But you’ve been alone for so long. It is not good for you. Angelique would not want you to spend your life alone. It would sadden her to see you tormenting yourself this way. You know that it would.” I nodded sadly, he was right again.

    “Just think about it alright. And try to be open to the idea of romance.” He held up a hand forestalling my retort. “I’m not suggesting that anyone should take Angelique’s place in your heart. Just do not slam the door on the possibility of a new love. The woman you find may well need you as much as you need her.”

    I slumped in my chair as Fred quietly closed the door. Somewhere deep inside me, the stone barricade that protected my heart was slowly being chipped away.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  15. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Wednesday 7 April 1779

    Stephen, Harmon, Stewart and the two cats in their baskets boarded the chaise I had hired, I stepped aboard and we were off. Our first destination north of Portsmouth would be Salisbury, where I intended to call upon Canon and Mrs. Lindsey, Jennifer’s beloved Uncle and Aunt.

    This was Stephen’s first sight of England in the Spring, and even he was impressed by the swathes of green and all the flowers as we drove deeper and deeper into the countryside, crossing into Wiltshire and continuing on until we reached the lovely old city of Salisbury, dominated by the towering Gothic spire of the Cathedral. Stephen was born in Annapolis, where the only churches are basic wooden structures; even St. Paul’s in Halifax is very simple compared to this monument to medieval engineering and craftsmanship. I think he was rather overwhelmed in spite of himself. A passerby directed us to the Canon’s home in the Close, where Mrs. Lindsey welcomed us cordially.

    “Don’t be silly, William, of course I remember you. I am pleased to see you so well. And have you news of my niece, then? Come in, come in. My husband is just getting ready to leave to take evensong, but I’ll order tea and we’ll just chat until he returns.”

    “Will, if we go to the service we’ll be able to see the inside of the cathedral. May we?”

    I had never seen the boy so enthusiastic about church before; usually he had to be chivied into going. But then, this was a real English cathedral, and that made all the difference I suppose.

    “I am sure the Canon will be pleased to escort you over and give you a tour of the building, Stephen,” Mrs. Lindsey said with a smile.”I will bring your brother and his men over later.”

    The idea was a rousing success. Stephen, who has a real ear and talent for music, confessed that if he had been able to attend a cathedral choir school such as this one he might not have yearned so much for the sea, but his voice was already changing and his mind was set on the Navy. Over dinner, Mrs. Lindsey and I discussed her perceptions
    of the situation in Cirencester. Although she naturally deplored her nephew Benjamin Willis’s conduct, she had nothing but praise for the way that William Rolland and Michael Gilmore had stepped into the breach.

    “And I know you will do your part as well. I believe that if anyone can save the situation, the three of you can, Commander.”

    “William, please, Mrs. Lindsey.”

    “Then I am Aunt Joan, or Aunt Lindsey. I am very glad my niece married you, William.”

    “Thank you, Aunt Joan. So am I.”

    We spent a pleasant night in their home, breakfasted heartily the next morning, and set off again on our journey. Canon Lindsey, like many of his fellows, has real interest in antiquities, so he had told Stephen all about Old Sarum and the monoliths at Stonehenge, as well as other sites on the Salisbury Plain. As we were in no hurry to reach Thornbury, we accepted the map the Canon - by now Stephen was calling him ‘Uncle Lindsey’- offered us and off we went. The rain held off long enough to allow Stephen to climb to the top of the hill fort at Old Sarum, clamber over Stonehenge, and gaze at Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow. I had planned to reach Thornbury that night, but Stephen’s enjoyment was much more important than keeping to a set schedule, so we stopped at a coaching inn in Malborough and resolved to finish our journey the next day.


    Interlude – Halifax, Canada

    Wednesday 7 April 1779

    It was nearly midnight when Dick Mason let himself into the darkened house in Halifax. He stumbled into a table in the hallway – he knew it was there, but weariness had made him clumsy. Muttering an inelegant curse, he hoped he had not woken the household, especially either his father or his sister. He need not have worried about the latter – she was already awake.

    “Well, if you walk into the house in the dark, you have to expect to bump into things, Dick. Welcome home,” she said, as she came out of the nearby library with a lighted candle.

    “Tara, what the he…” he began before catching himself and starting again, “what are you doing awake at this hour?”

    “I’m awake most hours, Dick. I don’t sleep very well these days, only when I just collapse from exhaustion. There’s too much on my mind. Did you find Stephen?”

    “No. He’s not in New York, I looked everywhere. I’m going to have to go England, Tara. It’s the only place left to look.”

    “Well, maybe he found Will somehow.”

    “That would be a miracle, poppet. The chances of him getting to Portsmouth while Will is there and before he sails again …” He hoped he didn’t sound as discouraged as he felt.

    “I’m sorry I forgot your birthday, Taree.”

    “It’s all right.”

    “No, it’s not. I want to make it up to you somehow. Come on, let’s go back into the library. I need a drink.”

    He poured himself a generous measure of brandy and bolted it down, then poured another. Since he was normally a light drinker, Tara watched in concern.

    “Sit down, Tara. I have to tell you some things. You’re nineteen and you have a right to know, even if you hadn’t been carrying all of us for the last few months since Mother fell ill. I have to go back to England, and I need to leave almost immediately.”

    “To look for Stephen, yes, you said that.” She obviously thought weariness was making him repeat himself.

    “Yes, that, but also something else. There’s something you need to know, two things really. First, about Jennifer and why she was in New York.”

    “She told me she wanted to do intelligence work.”

    “Then you understand why. That has changed. She is no longer doing that work, and the reason why is the second thing I need to tell you. Tara, when we were in London, do you remember reading about a famous actress named Lucinda Graydon?”

    “Yes, I remember thinking that you had gone to one of her performances in hopes that you might meet the lady and…” she paused delicately.

    “Win her affections? Well, you were partly right, in a way. You see, Lucinda Graydon was a stage name for a beautiful young blacksmith’s daughter from Dulwich, Lucy Gillis, and I met her the first time in 1773 when I first went to work for St. John. She trained me. She started working for him almost as soon as she went on the stage at fourteen. In May 1775 we were married, but the news was kept secret. When I got to New York last week there was a letter waiting for me from St. John. It said she’d been killed, supposedly by ‘footpads’, but we both knew it was French agents. I told Jennifer right then and there she was out of the spy business. Now I’m going to England to resign also. I’ve lost my wife to this filthy business, and I’ve no heart for it anymore.”

    Tara sat, speechless. Condolences seemed so trite, so pointless. Her oldest brother, the one they all depended on so much, was suffering, and she was powerless to help. There were nearly nine years difference in their ages, she just now nineteen and Dick just a few months short of his twenty-eighth birthday. He had picked her up when she had fallen and hurt herself more times than she could remember, dried her tears and kissed her hurts all better – but this was no scraped knee or cut finger – it was deep and potentially devastating. She started to move over to where he stood by the fireplace to offer comfort, but something stopped her. This wasn’t the time. He had given her the time and space she’d needed when she’d lost Tim maybe that was what he needed now. Silence seemed the best thing she could offer, and it was the right thing, because he sighed and turned a tormented face to her.

    “Thank you for that, Tara.”

    “It seemed what you needed.”

    “Yes. I’ve heard all the condolences, had people try to comfort me, and I know they mean well, but right now I just want to find whoever did this to Lucy and take them apart very slowly and painfully. Does that shock you?”

    “No. There would be something wrong with you if you didn’t feel anger, Dick. Dick, may I go with you? I’m doing no good here, Father needs full time nursing care and I can’t be with him all day and all night.”

    “Not with me, poppet, not this time. I don’t know where I will have to go or what I will have to do, and I couldn’t guarantee your safety. But I agree with you about Father – we must have trained help. I’ll have Doctor Edwards arrange something before I leave. Would you agree to go down to New York, though, for a change of scenery? Jennifer and Mary would love to have you, they’ve said so already. You can stay until I get back from England, that will be several months, if you’d like that?”

    “Dick, that’s the best invitation I’ve had in months. I want to help Father, but I’m doing no good. I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I – well, I fainted on Monday. Doctor Edwards said I have to get more rest and eat more, but you see what it’s like – I can’t sleep, I can hardly eat anything, look at me!” she finished, gesturing to the way her clothes hung on her like sacks and the dark circles under her eyes.

    “It’s been a hard time for all of us, hasn’t it? Well, can you be ready to sail on Friday? I’ll take you to New York and then head out for England as fast as Resolute Star can carry me.”

    “I can be ready sail by noon tomorrow – today,” she corrected.

    “I can’t. I need at least twelve hours’ sleep. You’re not the only one who’s been pacing the floors at night, Taree. And then I’ve still got to talk to the doctor about father’s care.”

    “Friday, on the morning tide, then. I’ll be ready.” She dropped a kiss on his brow and left him to his brandy and his memories. With a sigh, he climbed the stairs to his room and blessed oblivion.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  16. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Thursday 8 April 1779

    We stopped in Thornbury itself to ask directions of the publican at the local coaching inn, the Crown and Castle, so named because it sits in the shadow of Thornbury Castle. The first order of business was to let the cats out of their traveling baskets to explore the garden beside the inn. When they were finished, Dunkin came up to me and meowed to be set on my shoulder, while Stephen picked up Georgia, with whom he had struck up a friendship. We stepped into the dim interior of the inn as a stout, cheerful middle-aged man, obviously a devotee of his good wife’s excellent cooking, came forward to greet us.

    “How de do, sirs. Welcome to the Crown and Castle. Sommersby, sir, at your service. A nice pint of old and mild to cut the dust of the road, perhaps? It’s locally brewed and very good.”

    “We’ll have four, thank you, Sommersby.”

    We found seats at the table, Dunkin still on my shoulder and Georgia now perched on Steve’s. Sommersby came over to serve the pints and remarked on the cats.

    “Yon black and white one looks just like Captain Sinclair’s Dunkin, sir. Captain Sinclair is the local squire hereabouts – been Sinclairs at White Oaks time out of mind, there have.”

    “He looks like Dunkin because he is Dunkin. He stowed away on my ship and I’m bringing him home. Not only that, he found a lady friend in my cable tier, so now we have two cats and are expecting more,” I finished, gesturing to the tortoiseshell cat Georgia.

    The man chuckled. “Right little rascal, that one. Last time he went missin’ took the Cap’n nigh on a sixmonth to get ‘im back. He knows where all the loveliest lady cats are, to be sure. Oh, yes, I knows him well, I used to live on the estate when I were head groom there, and m’ brother still does – he’s butler and his wife is housekeeper. So you’re a King’s officer, then, sir?”

    “William Mason, HMS Paladin. My coxswain, Stewart, my surgeon, Harmon, and my brother Stephen,” I said in response to his question.

    “Welcome to Thornbury, Captain. Any friend of the Sinclair family is always welcome in these parts. So did you see him, sir, recent-like?”

    “Yes, our ships met in the North Atlantic ten days ago. He’s well.”

    “Good news, there, sir, we was a mite worried about him there for a while, he were hurt terrible bad in that fight last year, you know. Don’t seem right, a good man like that having so much trouble – all started back toward the end of the last war, when that Frenchie bastard Leveque killed Mrs. Sinclair acause she wouldn’t betray her husband or her new country. Terrible shame, it were. Never caught the man, though they tried him and convicted him on the Captain’s evidence. If ever he’s caught he’ll hang for it.”

    “Oh, perhaps you haven’t heard, then. Leveque was taken in America and brought back to England for punishment. I expect we will hear that he has swung at Tyburn any day now.” I informed him.

    “ ‘Deed so, sir? Well, it’s high time. They done a good job what took him, and so says Will Sommersby.”

    “What this man is too modest to tell you, Sommersby, is that he and his friend Stewart here, along with a marine major, tracked the man down and captured him at considerable risk to themselves.” Harmon commented dryly.

    “You make it sound like one of the labours of Hercules, Harmon. We couldn’t have done it without you and rest of the company.”

    “What did you say your name was again, Captain?” Sommersby asked.

    “William Mason.”

    “May I shake your hand, Captain Mason, your’s and your friend’s? We all owes you a debt of gratitude for bringing that bastard to justice. Just let me get the boy in here to watch the taproom and I’ll hitch up the chaise and take you out to White Oaks meself. Been promising Jack and Ida a visit this fortnight anyway. You came in yon chaise? Well, you won’t be needing that no more. Once you’re at White Oaks Jack will see that the coachman takes you anywhere you wants to go.”

    Sommersby proved to be an excellent, if somewhat garrulous, tour guide. He turned in through the massive gates of White Oaks and set the horses down a tree-lined avenue that curved, seemingly for miles, through the park until he pulled up in front of a very impressive redbrick building whose classically balanced architecture proclaimed that it had been built in the early years of the century. Ivy covered the walls and climbed up to the leaded roof three storeys above ground level. Stephen was visibly awed, revealing that for all his attempts at sophistication, he is still only thirteen.

    “Your friend owns this? It’s a palace, Will!”

    “Not really, it’s just a comfortably – sized stately home, built for a man with a large family and an equally large household staff.”

    By this time Sommersby had gotten off the box – Stewart had climbed up to chat with him during the ride in from the village - and had opened the door and let down the steps.

    “Here we are, sir. Just go right up them steps, you and your party, and Ida will have you taken care of in two shakes. I’ll just drop by the kitchens to say hullo and have a cuppa an’ then I’ll be on my way. You comin’ with me, Stewart?”

    The liveried servant who opened the door looked enough like Sommersby to be his brother; this, then, was Captain Sinclair’s butler. He noticed Dunkin immediately, and the sight of his employer’s cat sitting on another sea officer’s shoulder so startled him that he said, “Oh, sir, you have Dunkin. But how is this? He was with the Captain on a ship bound for America only a few weeks ago. But I beg your pardon, sir. I am Sommersby, the Captain’s butler.” His duty done, he waited for an explanation of this strange turn of events.

    “Good afternoon, Sommersby. My name is William Mason, HMS Paladin, and I have come at the Captain’s request to bring his cat back. I have a letter for you and your wife from Captain Sinclair. Your brother Will brought us out from town, where we stopped to ask directions. He and my coxswain have gone round to the stable yard with our dunnage.”

    “Welcome, Captain. Won’t you please come in, you and your party?”

    “Thank you. My ship’s surgeon, Eric Harmon, and my brother, Stephen Mason.”

    “You are also welcome, gentlemen. You came up from Portsmouth, then, sir?”

    At this point, Dunkin, obviously pleased to be home, jumped down from my shoulder, meowed a feline, ‘Well, come on then, there’s such lot to see, woman!’ at Georgia, then led her off down the hallway as if he owned the place – which, in a sense, I suppose he does. Sommersby watched them with a smile. “Another cat too, sir?”

    “This one was already living in the cable tier of my ship when Dunkin stowed away a few weeks ago. It seems it was love at first sight. Her name is Georgia because we think she came aboard while we were anchored there for some weeks last year. But to answer your question, we dropped anchor on Monday. We saw Captain Sinclair near Iceland on the 31st of March, and shortly thereafter, we discovered that Dunkin had gone roaming again – to my ship. Captain Sinclair caught an inbound mail packet and told us to bring him here to you and Mrs. Sommersby. I understand he’s done this before.”

    “Indeed he has, sir, and we are quite grateful that you have brought him back so quickly. Mrs. Sommersby is quite fond of the little fellow, for all the trouble he causes, and she will be pleased to welcome Dunkin’s lady friend as well.”

    As if to give credence to his words, the door opened and a plump, cheerful woman in an enormous frilled muslin cap bustled into the room, with Dunkin on one shoulder of her severe black bombazine gown and Georgia in her arms. She dropped us a curtsey and said, “Welcome to White Oaks, Captain Mason. Sommersby’s brother has told us all about you, and we are most pleased to have you with us, and not just because you brought our Dunkin home – and with a special friend too! Sommersby, this young officer is the man who captured Gerard Leveque and brought him back to England for execution.”

    Sommersby’s smile became a wide grin. “Then you are doubly welcome, sir. We have served the Sinclair family, Ida and I, since his old father’s time, and it was a terrible tragedy that befell this house those many years ago. Now Miss Angelique can rest in peace. There’s an excellent portrait of them in the Great Hall, just through there. If you’ll come with us, Mrs. Sommersby will be pleased to show you to your rooms upstairs.”

    The cats asked to be let down – well, Dunkin just jumped, really - and disappeared again. Sommersby watched them go and remarked, “They have the run of the place, of course.”

    He led the way up a short flight of marble steps and into a very impressive Great Hall. In the distance to our right we could see a magnificent double staircase ascending to the first floor.

    “The portrait is just here, sir. It’s a perfect likeness of the Captain, I think you’ll agree, though of course he was younger then.”

    He stopped in front of an enormous painting – a Gainsborough, judging by the style, and we stared in amazement.

    “Will, it’s…” Stephen began.

    “Yes, I see.”

    “Marvelous work, isn’t it, sir?” Sommersby asked. “A Gainsborough, and one of his best, I understand. You can see just how lovely Miss Angelique was. There are portraits of her throughout the house – the Captain keeps the last one in his bedroom - but this is the largest and the best of them all.”

    At this point, Stewart joined us. “Captain, there’s a portrait of Captain Sinclair’s late wife in the library, one of her as a small girl, and it looks just like…”

    “Yes, I know. We’re all still trying to take it in, Stewart.”

    “Is there a problem, sir?” Sommersby asked in concern.

    “No, Sommersby, it’s only that Miss Angelique bears a most uncanny resemblance to my younger sister Tara, who is only just now nineteen, right down to the hair and eyes. We were much struck by the similarity, that's all.”

    “I understand, sir. Miss Angelique was a French lady, sir. Is there perhaps a French strain in your family, sir?”

    “Not since one of my ancestors fled the continent after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, no. He came to Williamsburg, in the Virginia colony, because he was a Huguenot and he felt he might find acceptance there. We’ve been colonials ever since, though our family was forced to move to Halifax in Canada at the beginning of the present hostilities.”

    “How interesting, sir. Not your father’s family, obviously.”

    “No, the Masons are as English as they come, for a colonial, that is. No, it was my maternal grandmother who was of French extraction – her name was Martise.”

    “Well, they do say that everyone in the world has a double somewhere,” Mrs. Sommersby commented. “Imagine coming all the way to England to find a portrait of a dead lady that is your own sister to the life. Heavenly days! Well, I know you are all tired from your journey, so if you’ll follow me upstairs, gentlemen?”

    We ascended the double staircase and followed Mrs. Sommersby towards the rear of the magnificent house. “I’ve put you all in the rooms overlooking the lake, sir. I hope you’ll like them. There are rooms overlooking the front, of course, but the prospect down to the lake is so lovely in the Spring. If you wish to move, though, it can be arranged very easily.”
    “I’m sure they will be fine, Mrs. Sommersby. Lead the way.”

    She opened the second door on her left off the staircase. “This is for you, Mr. Harmon. I think you’ll find it quite comfortable.”

    “Ma’am, it’s wonderful, and I thank you.” Harmon smiled and excused himself.

    “Now, for the young gentleman, the next room, what we call the Yellow Room,” she opened the door and showed Stephen in, to his immediate approval.

    “Captain, you’re at the end of the corridor, in the White Room. If you’d like to have your man with you, there’s an antechamber, just here, where we can fit up a divan bed.”

    “Stewart?”

    “Suits me right down to the ground, Captain. I’m used to fourteen inches of hammock space, after all,” Stewart grinned.

    “Well, if you’re satisfied, sir, I’ll be on my way. Please make use of all the rooms on this floor except that one.” She pointed to a door in the front corner on our right. “That’s the master’s bedroom, sir. But there’s a study, a drawing room, and a large bath-room just here. If you need anything you’ve only to ring. Dinner will be at seven in the main dining room. I’ll send my son Tom, he’s one of our footmen, up to take you down there.”

    She bustled off down the back stairs and left us to our explorations.


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Friday 9 April 1779

    There’s only one problem with traveling with a thirteen-year-old boy. They have too much energy for an old man of twenty-four to keep up with. I am used to rising well before dawn while we are sea, but we are not at sea, and Harmon says I must rest my leg – and the rest of me as well. Stephen seems to have forgotten this. At any rate, he was in my room at some unholy hour of the morning today, interrupting a very pleasant dream in which Jennifer figured largely.

    “Will, are you going to sleep all day?” he demanded to know.

    I swam to the surface, reluctantly leaving my dream lover behind. My dear youngest brother was standing at the foot of the bed, almost dancing in his impatience to be out and about. With him were both cats – or at least I assume they came in with him. They were sitting on the foot of the massive four-poster that dominates my room, staring at me, and they were not there when I went to bed last night. What a contrast, to go from my beautiful – and passionate – twenty-year-old wife to my brother and a pair of cats.

    “Mr. Mason, is the ship under attack? Sinking? On Fire? Have we been dismasted in a gale? Are the men on the brink of mutiny? Have we just crashed our bowsprit into the Admiral’s quarter gallery?”

    “No, Will, er – Captain.”

    “Then what the bloody blazes are you doing waking me up at this hour of the morning!?”

    “But Will, the house, it’s wonderful. You have to see. There’s a room downstairs under the library where you can practice fencing, it has all the equipment, and the library has thousands of books, and I’ve been in all the bedrooms, well not the Captain’s bedroom or ones that people are sleeping in, of course.”

    “Except this one.” I pointed out dryly.

    “Well, I can’t talk to you if I’m out there and you’re in here, can I? Oh, and I think the downstairs maid likes me. There’s this spiral stairway that goes down to the Sports room from the library – well, it comes up to this floor too, in the library’s upper gallery over there,” he pointed to the other side of the house. “So anyway I was coming up into the library and she was there to dust the books and I almost knocked her over. When I apologized she just giggled, but then she said her name is Betty and she made a very saucy comment. I think she likes me,” he said again. He turned just faintly pink at the memory.

    I made a mental note to mention the matter to Stewart so he could speak a word in Mrs. Sommersby’s ear. Betty and the other girls were her responsibility. I can keep my brother from tumbling the maids, but another man might not be so scrupulous, especially when offered that sort of invitation.

    “Stephen Mason, you are not here to dally with the servants! Downstairs maids, upstairs maids, kitchen maids, chambermaids, milkmaids, scullery maids – ALL female servants are off limits, no matter how much they like you. Besides, you’re thirteen, for God’s sake!”

    “But Will, she’s really cute and …” he sketched a form in the air.

    “Is there a lake here, Stephen?” I said dangerously. I can’t believe I’m having this talk with my brother who is thirteen, even if he looks fifteen or more. Two years ago he thought girls were on a par with spiders and snakes – no, they rated lower, he liked spiders and snakes. I began to understand why our medieval ancestors married their children off at twelve or thirteen. Too bad the practice has fallen out of favour.

    “Yes,” he said, puzzled, knowing Mrs. Sommersby had pointed it out through the windows the previous evening.

    “Then I suggest you go jump into it each morning until your ardor cools, my lad.”

    “In April? It’s freezing in that water!”

    “Exactly my point. Now get out of my room, I’m getting up. You’re so anxious for fencing lessons, I’ll give you fencing lessons till your arms drop off – and then I’ll drop you in the lake. Maybe that will take your mind off the buxom Betty! It’s under the library, you said?”

    “That’s right, Will - sir. It has all the swords we could ever need. Can I try your sword out, Will? The one great-grandfather used?”

    “Eventually, maybe. Is Stewart up, do you know?”

    “I think so.”

    As if summoned by some magic incantation, Stewart appeared through door of the anteroom that served as his bedroom.

    “Here, Captain. Are you ready for your shaving water?”

    “I will be as soon as this rapscallion here gets out of my room. Stewart, Steve wants to start fencing lessons. Does the armament downstairs include a cutlass or two, Steve?”

    “It has everything, just everything.”

    “Good. Stewart, I’ll do foils and rapiers, you do the cutlass lessons. You’re better at it than I am.”

    “Only because I’ve had more years to practice, Captain.”

    “Steve, give me half an hour to wash and dress and meet me downstairs.”

    “Without breakfast?”

    “Haven’t you had breakfast?”

    “Yes, but, I was going to keep you company while you ate.”

    “Half an hour, Mr. Mason. Don’t be late.”

    “Aye, aye, sir. Half an hour.”

    The lesson went well, considering it was his first. For all his size – he is almost as tall as I am and more solidly built - he is really quite light on his feet. More importantly, he thinks, he doesn’t just act. Fencing is like chess, in many ways; one has to anticipate one’s opponent’s next two or three moves and try to counter them. I said as much to him.

    “I like chess, Will. I used to play all the time with the Reverend Mr. Scarboro,” he named his tutor, the curate of St. Paul’s in Halifax and a fellow of Balliol College, Oxford.

    “Good. It will stand you in good stead. Now, I’ll have Harmon down here fussing at me and threatening to tell Doctor Bassingford if I don’t get off this leg, so it’s Stewart’s turn. He’s going to show you how to use that cutlass in a boarding action, and there’s nothing refined about it – it’s sheer brute strength and the ability to kill before the other man kills you. You’ve got the strength, lad, and after a few months on board ship you'll have even more. What you have to have is the ability to be ruthless, to seize any advantage that’s offered you. You can’t afford to hesitate, or you’ll lose your head - literally. Stewart?”

    For a man of forty-six, Stewart has more endurance than many men of twenty. By the time the lesson was over, Stephen was visibly flagging. Well, maybe it would take his mind off girls for five minutes together.

    “That’s good for the first day, Steve. Go up and wash and change” - we had outfitted him with a basic wardrobe before we left Portsmouth – “and let’s go see what else we can find on this estate.”

    “After breakfast?”

    “After breakfast.”
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  17. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Saturday 10 April 1779

    As I predicted, Harmon did a certain amount of fussing about Stephen’s fencing lesson yesterday. He finally agreed on a compromise between what he wants me to do – what Doctor Bassingford advised him to tell me to do, really – and what I want to do. He wants to keep me in a Bath chair like some superannuated invalid barely able to stand up long enough to walk over and draw a glass of water at the pump room – I want to behave like a sea officer in good physical condition, but for the wound, who detests inactivity. The compromise solution is that Stephen will have lessons three times a week with me, and that I am to stop the moment my leg begins to feel weak or unsteady. At other times I am to rest often, avoid hiking over hill and dale and clambering over rocks, and spend a certain amount of time in the Turkish bath just down the corridor from my room.

    This facility is outfitted with a remarkable invention that I am told is the product of Captain Sinclair’s friend Sir David’s fertile imagination. It is a brass tub with a small hearth underneath to heat the metal – and thus the water inside it – to a very warm 100 degrees or so. There are pipes inset all the way around the sides of the tub, and when a small coal–fired steam engine is turned on in the room next door the steam pressure sends jets of air rushing into the water on all sides, which stirs the water into a veritable witches’ cauldron. The massaging effect of the roiling hot waters is most relaxing. I was sitting in the bath, nearly half asleep, when my dear brother came in to investigate.

    “Steve, I know our parents taught you to knock before entering a room,” I growled.

    “I did knock, Will, you didn’t answer. I thought you might have passed out or something. Lord, but it’s steamy in here! What is that thing?”

    “One of Sir David’s inventions, according to Sommersby. It whirls the water around with these jets of air. Very relaxing and good for sore muscles, I find.”

    “My muscles are sore, with all these lessons I’ve been having. Stewart is tough for an old guy!”

    “That Old Guy, as you put it, can fight just about anyone I know to a standstill, including me. Probably the only person who could beat him in a fair fight would be the man who owns this house, Captain Sinclair. Another Old Guy, by the way. And you may try this out after I am finished. Now, if you will be so kind as to make yourself scarce?”

    The day we arrived, Thursday, I sent an express over to my friend Michael Gilmore in Cirencester, informing him of my arrival in the area and explaining my presence here. I had just gotten dressed again after my relaxing hot bath early this afternoon when Sommersby arrived to tell me I had a visitor.

    “A Captain Gilmore, sir. He said he’s not expected but he hopes you’ll see him.”

    “Of course, Sommersby. Where have you put him?”

    “The library, sir. He says he hasn’t eaten yet, and since we were holding your lunch until you were ready…”

    “An excellent idea, lay for one more and I’ll ask him to join us.”

    “I believe Mr. Harmon, Stewart and young Mr. Stephen have gone off for a ride, sir. They asked the cook to pack them a basket so they can eat along the way.”

    “Then there’s little point in using the dining room, we’ll have the covers laid in the library for a working lunch. Captain Gilmore is my brother-in-law and we have family business matters to discuss.”

    I shrugged into my second-best uniform coat and went down the spiral steps to see my old friend. He looked surprised to see me appear out of the ceiling as it were, but came over to shake my hand warmly.

    “I hope I’m not imposing, Will?”

    “Not at all. This house belongs to a good friend who gave me the use of it while I am in England, and any friend of mine is welcome here as well. Sommersby will be serving lunch in just a few minutes – ah, there he is.”

    Over the meal we caught up on what had been going on in our lives. I heard more details of Benjamin Willis’s perfidy, told him more about my last voyage and the events surrounding it, and questioned him closely on the situation in Cirencester. He looked pale and weary – the combination of his serious illness and this crisis had not done him any good at all, I could see. On impulse, I excused myself and went in search of Sommersby.

    “Is all well with the food, sir?”

    “Excellent as always, my compliments to the cook. No, I need to ask you a question as Captain Sinclair’s majordomo, Sommersby.” I explained why Gilmore was here, then broached my idea.

    Sommersby heard me out and said, “Captain Mason, I have orders from Captain Sinclair that you are to treat this house as if it were your own. He owes you a great debt of gratitude for what you did in bringing Leveque to justice. Incidentally, sir, the London papers just arrived in the second post. Leveque was executed at Tyburn day before yesterday. The long nightmare is finally over. Mrs. Sommersby has gone down to the gravesite to put fresh flowers on the grave and tell Miss Angelique the news, as it were. But by all means, sir, invite your wife’s family to come and stay as long as they like, and bring the children. We’ll open up the guesthouse, the children can run and play in the garden, and Mrs. Sommersby will be in her element with a large party to do for. We have a few ponies for the children in the stable and I believe there are more to be hired in the village as well.”

    I thanked him and went back to a puzzled Michael Gilmore. “Sorry for that, Michael, I had to ask my host’s majordomo a question. Now that I have the answer, I would like to offer all of you – all of the family, especially Alice and her children - a holiday here at White Oaks. There are rooms upstairs and in the old Tudor Manor you passed on the way here, there are stables and a fishing pond, and we’ll open up the old nurseries upstairs for the littlest ones. I want a chance to talk business with you and Bill without worrying about anything but what’s best for the family. I have a large sum of prize money I am prepared to invest in the business on Jennifer’s behalf – we need only work out the details.”

    He sat in silence for a moment, stunned.

    “My God, Will, it’s incredible – only last night Bill and I were afraid we were going to lose the house, the mill, everything. And now this – and to give the wives a holiday in this lovely home - I can scarce take it in! Alice is so pale and drawn, she cries all the time, and the stress is not good for Winifred or for the baby.”

    “I am sure it isn’t. We will send carriages over to pick you all up, and a carter for the dunnage. I’m sure with all those children there will be plenty of it. Winifred is able to travel, her pregnancy is not too far advanced?”

    “She feels better now than she ever has, but for the stress. And it’s an easy morning’s ride, Will, especially in a well-built coach.”

    “Well, then, would you like to go back after lunch and perhaps a short rest, then return with the family on, say, Tuesday? That will give you time to make any preparations necessary and get everything packed.”

    “Tuesday it is, Will. I’m glad I took you with me to Cirencester all those years ago.”

    “So am I, Michael, so am I.”


    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Saturday 10 April 1779

    We were just sitting down to supper, Mary and I, when Prewitt, who serves as a ‘clerk’ for the Mason Shipping offices downstairs but is really a security guard, came up the stairs to announce that our guests had arrived. Right behind him were Dick Mason, still looking tense and preoccupied, and his sister Tara. Mary and I looked at each other in dismay. Was this pale, thin scarecrow of a girl the friend we had said goodbye to only a few weeks before? There was no sparkle to the violet eyes, her gorgeous blonde curls had no lustre, and the black mourning gown she wore hung on her like a sack. She has always been slim, of course, but now she seemed emaciated, her figure as flat and straight as a young boy’s. Indeed, in a pair of breeches and a shirt she could probably pass for her brother Stephen, who had caused us all so much concern with his disappearance.

    “Thank you for inviting me, Jennifer. I…” it seemed that having gotten from Halifax to New York she was at the end of her strength; she fainted as Dick ran to catch her.

    “Put her in my bed, Dick. I’ll share it with her, we’ve done that before as girls together.”

    “Should I go for a doctor? She was fine - well, not fine, but at least she didn’t faint – on the way down here, I…”

    Mary stepped in. “You just leave her to me, Mr. Dick. What that child needs is good food, lots of it, love and care and rest. Why, her body’s just gone and shut right down to make her rest. Give us two weeks and we’ll have her right as rain. Ain’t much I can’t do in a sickroom, given time and a bit of luck.”

    “Mary’s right, Dick. Go on to England and find Stephen –she’ll be better knowing you are doing something to find him.”

    “Do you have enough money for food? I know it’s damned expensive in this town. I’ll be gone for over two months, possibly closer to three depending on what I find in England.”

    “We have plenty. In fact I owe you money, Dick, you gave me a quarter’s allowance for spying on Ravenwood and I only worked there a few weeks. I owe someone money, at least.”

    “That wasn’t government money, it was mine. It takes too long to get payment out of London. Keep it, and add this to it,” he said, dropping another thirty guineas into my hands.

    “Spare no expense – fresh meats, lots of eggs, milk and cheese, fresh fruits and vegetables, everything. For yourselves as well, of course. Don’t feed her roast chicken and live on gruel yourselves.”

    “We won’t. I won’t let Mary do that, to be sure. Dick, we sent a letter on the packet boat a few weeks ago, but in case it doesn't make it, here are letters to Stewart and of course one from me to Will.” I hesitated a moment looking at Mary, she gave a tiny almost imperceptible nod. “Mary’s letter tells Stewart that she is with child, due about the first of December.”

    He actually smiled. “Well, I’m glad to hear someone has good news to deliver. After all the suffering and loss we’ve all been through, a new life is what we need right now. I’ll be sure to congratulate the prospective father, Mary, the old rascal. He’s forty-six now, you know. I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t part of the family; he’s been very near a younger brother to Papa. Why my grandfather practically raised him after renegades killed his parents. Well, I sail on the early tide and I need to see to a few items of business before I leave. Goodbye, ladies, and look for me again in the summer. I know I’m leaving Tara in the best possible hands.” He kissed us all and saw himself out.

    “It’s a pity and a shame that he should be so bowed under a load of care at his age, Miss Jennifer. A good man like that, he deserves a bit of happiness, and instead he meets only sorrow. That man needs a miracle.”

    “It’s the season for miracles, Mary, for new life and new hope. Let’s pray that Dick finds both of them soon.”


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Tuesday 13 April 1779

    Stephen had been watching for the arrival of the coaches carrying Jennifer’s family since long before they could reasonably be expected, but finally, late this afternoon, they were seen coming up the drive. Forgetting that he was a dignified young man who wants to be a King’s officer, he reverted to being thirteen again and rushed into the library to bring the glad tidings.

    It was a royal progress of sorts – Captain Sinclair’s biggest carriage held Alice Willis, her three children and their Nanny, while Bill and Helen Rolland, their little William junior and his Nanny shared a somewhat smaller coach from White Oaks with Michael and Winifred Gilmore. The Gilmores’ little berlin followed with a few more servants, and behind them was the baggage cart. By the time they drew up in front of the house we were all out to greet them – the Sommersbys, of course, but also Stewart, Harmon, Steve and I. Sommersby himself let down the steps of the big coach and helped Alice Willis down, then lifted down her children – William, a sturdy boy of four and little Alice Anne, aged three. Young Peter, not quite a year, was dozing in Nanny’s arms. At the same time, the doors of the second coach opened and Michael stepped down and then lifted Winifred out. Her pregnancy is obvious at six months, but she looked happy and well. Finally, we saw Bill Rolland and his wife Helen, Winifred and Jennifer's older sister, along with Nanny and her charge.
    There was much kissing, bowing and shaking of hands, while our guests stood in amazement at the grandeur of the estate. Somehow little Alice Anne broke free of her nurse and ran straight for Stephen, looking up at him with open curiosity.

    “Who you?” she said inquisitively. The nanny started to intervene but Stephen forestalled her. Dropping down to her level, he said gently, “I am Stephen Mason. I am pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am. Might I know your name?”

    “Awice Anne. I’s this many,” she held up three fingers, then popped one of them into her mouth.

    “A grown up lady, to be sure, Miss Alice Anne. Should you like a ride on my shoulders?”

    “Wide?”

    “Yes.”

    “Up!”

    In a flash she was on his broad shoulders, her fingers clutched in his blonde locks.

    “Mama, lookee me. Man give me wide.”

    Stephen seemed to grow another inch. He was a man, at least as far as this tiny miss was concerned.

    Alice - the mother - laughed, and some of the tension in her face seemed to ease. What had she expected, that I would cut her dead because her husband had embezzled my wife’s inheritance? I was pleased to see her begin to relax.
    Sommersby welcomed everyone to the estate on Captain Sinclair’s behalf and then asked them to follow him into the house. Little William Willis took one look at the grand staircase and pulled away from his mother, dashing to climb the steps. Before we knew it he was on the balustrade, ready to slide down to the newel post at the end.

    “Will – Master William - ” his mother and his nurse protested at once.

    “Please, ma’am, let him slide,” Sommersby said. “I can’t remember the last time someone slid down that balustrade, and this house has been the poorer for it.”

    He walked to the end and said firmly, “Now, young sir, you must only slide when there is someone to catch you. You may slide now.”

    With a chortle of glee, Will sailed down the polished railing, landing firmly in Sommersby's arms.

    “Want to go again,” he said.

    “Another time. Now, then, ladies and gentlemen, if you will follow me, refreshments will be served in the small drawing room. We have lemonade for the children, and tea or wine for the adults. Afterwards we will take you up to your rooms. The nursery floor has been opened and aired and all is in readiness for our young guests, who might wish to seek their beds early after a long day of travel,” he said with a smile at the drowsy Peter and the visibly flagging little William Rolland.

    Mrs. Sommersby had prepared the Red, Blue, and Rose Rooms for the adults, so while one of the maids led the two nurses and the children upstairs to the nurseries, she conducted our guests to their lodgings and assured them that that household staff was available to see to their every need.

    Half an hour later everyone was settled in their rooms and resting before dinner. The children were to be served nursery tea and put to bed upstairs, but not before little Alice Anne insisted that ‘Stev’n’ come up and have tea with her and then tell her ‘stowy’ before bed.

    He complied readily.

    “Oh, Mr. Mason, you’ll spoil the child,” his nurse protested.

    “Maybe it’s time she had someone to spoil her, Nanny,” he said with remarkable maturity and perception. “I’m the youngest of seven, so I’ve always been the little brother. Let me be the big brother for a change.”

    Dinner was a light-hearted meal. My guests are not unaccustomed to wealth and privilege, at least until very recently, but their surroundings overawed them for a time until they began to relax as Michael, Harmon, and I took turns telling amusing stories of our days at sea. We agreed to forgo the usual ritual of brandy and pipes and adjourned to the drawing room, where Winifred soon opened the harpsichord and began to play a lively air. Once the ladies discovered that Stephen loves to sing and has a fine baritone voice – unusually deep in one so young – they prevailed upon him to join with them in a number of ballads and popular songs. While they were thus engaged, Michael Gilmore moved over to me and said, “Thank you, Will. From the bottom of all of our hearts, thank you.”
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  18. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Wednesday 14 April 1779

    The party from Cirencester only arrived last evening but already the house is beginning to settle into something of a routine. This morning the ladies had their tea delivered to them in bed while the men met downstairs for a stroll in the grounds. It would have been an early morning ride, but Harmon is still a bit leery of allowing me to do so, although I am hopeful of getting his permission get back on a horse within the week. I had a chance to get to know Bill Rolland a bit better while Michael talked with Eric Harmon, who devoted most of his time last night to drawing Alice Willis out and making her feel more relaxed in company. Stephen was nowhere in evidence; we suspected that he had gone up to the nurseries to see his new friend Alice Anne.

    “I have never seen a child take to a young man so quickly. It is as if she were drawn to him by some invisible cord,” Bill said when I made a remark to that effect. “Willis was not much of a father even when he was at home, which was seldom. He always told Alice it was ‘business’ but I knew he was not spending all those hours at the mill. I should have said more, I suppose.”

    “None of us feel comfortable interfering in private matters between a man and his wife,” I pointed out.

    “No. Still and all… But now I just wish for closure. I presume the scoundrel is dead, but until we know, Alice will always be in that limbo between marriage and widowhood – unable to marry, yet too principled to live with a man without marriage. She is still a very beautiful woman, too, not yet six and twenty. She was married to Willis when she was barely nineteen, and we all thought it a great match – Michael’s beautiful sister and the nephew and partner of a well-respected wool merchant. You know that was what brought Michael and Winifred together, do you not? Alice asked her sister Mary Catherine and Winifred to be bridesmaids – they were both fifteen at the time. Even then Winnie was a stunner - Michael was twenty-two; he took one look at her and he was lost.”

    “I remember. We were both in HMS Ardent then, it was less than a year after I’d joined her company. He came back from his leave and he told me, ‘Will, I’ve met the girl I’m going to marry. All I have to do is stay alive until she’s old enough to wed.’”

    He nodded. “I was not in the family then, of course. I joined my father in the practice that same year and then took it over when he died in 1775. Rolland and Sons have done the Willis family legal work for generations. Helen and I were married in 1776, and you complete the circle – the last of the men who won the hearts of the beautiful Willis sisters.” We walked on in silence for a time, until hunger reminded us that breakfast was waiting for us. Once we regained the house, we found that the ladies were up and dressed and waiting for us; all looked refreshed and well rested. They greeted us with the news that they had consulted with Mrs. Sommersby and had planned an al fresco luncheon near the ruins of the old castle keep, and that we were not to be allowed to talk business all day every day.

    “Ho ho – petticoat government is in force, I see,” Michael said as he went over to kiss his wife and pat the mound that is his child tenderly.

    “Indeed it is.” This was Alice, looking remarkably spirited. “And for support we appeal to Mr. Harmon, as our medical advisor.”

    “I heartily concur, ma’am. I am sure Captain Gilmore’s surgeon prescribed rest, and I know Doctor Bassingford and I did. Rest periods will be strictly enforced.”

    Harmon fixed a plate for Alice and one for himself and sat down to keep her company. Michael shot me a quizzical glance, but I only nodded; Eric Harmon has been my surgeon for many months and I know him to be an honorable man who will not toy with a vulnerable woman’s emotions, instead providing friendship and support when it is needed. At thirty, he is still unmarried, though he is comfortably situated thanks to his godfather’s legacy and could easily leave the sea for a city practice. I am grateful to whatever yearning or impulse keeps him with me for he has saved my life more than once.

    “Well, if we are to get anything done at all before we are dragooned into this picnic of yours,” - Winifred knew Michael was teasing, so she only smiled – “we’d best get down to business. Where would you like us to work, Will?”

    “Sommersby has everything ready for us in the library, so if you ladies will excuse us.”

    Our first day of negotiations had begun.


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Wednesday 14 April 1779 (continued)

    A glance at his watch had Michael Gilmore remarking, “Well, gentlemen, we’ve made good progress just in a few hours, but much longer and we will have the ladies after us. It’s almost time for their al fresco meal, after all.”

    We adjourned for the day just in time - Winifred was on her way to the library even as we came out.

    “There you are. I was beginning to think you had all forgotten that this was to be a working holiday, after all.”

    “Never, my love. We are at your service, as you see.”

    We loaded up in the carriages and were driven to a far corner of the estate, where the old Norman keep lies partially ruined. A sturdy stone structure some sixty feet square, it stands as a monument to the Norman advance westward toward Wales; just across the water in Monmouthshire is Chepstow Castle, whose origins date to the year after the Conquest. Built on the site of the old motte and bailey, White Oaks’ keep towers nearly seventy feet into the air, its forbidding walls pierced only by occasional narrow slits, obviously for arrows.

    It was all we could do to contain young William Willis’s enthusiasm – I am sure he fancied himself the noble young knight, defending his keep against some rival lord. His mother and his nurse between them managed to get him to sit still long enough to eat a few bites, but then he was begging to be allowed to climb on the fallen stone blocks and explore the walls.

    “Wanna come too, Willy.” Alice Anne said.

    “Don’t call me that. You can’t come, you’re a girl. You’ll just get dirty or tear your frock or something.”

    “Will not. Pwease mama, can I cwimb?”

    “You’re not dressed for it, Alice Anne. William has breeches. Your skirts will be in the way.”

    Alice Anne looked so disappointed that Stephen stepped into the breach. “Mrs. Willis, if I carry her and set her on the blocks she can see, without tearing her frock.”

    “That’s very kind of you, Stephen, but we didn’t come here for you to spend all your time watching my children.”

    “I don’t mind, really. I’ll make sure William doesn’t go too high, also.”

    “Oh, very well, but Alice Anne must finish eating first, and then you may all go and climb.”

    The tiny girl fell to with a will, finished her lunch and had her face and hands wiped clean and then climbed onto Stephen’s back for a ride to the walls, her chubby little legs in their white lisle stockings holding tightly to his back.

    “Giddup horsey,” She said imperiously, and off they went on their travels.

    When Stephen and I first came here, he stuck to me like glue – now I hardly see him except at meals. He eats three meals a day in the nursery, then comes down afterwards to eat again with us. The cook has learned to send up more food than two infants and two young children can possibly eat, because ‘Stev’n’ will be there to make a game of getting Alice Anne to eat more by suggesting that she match him bite for bite. Of course, he can consume enormous quantities of food, so his success is limited only by the size of her appetite.

    But it is not all eating, not by any means. Stephen has always loved the outdoors, so he has been more than willing to accompany the children and their nurses on outings into the garden, walks in the grounds, and visits to the barn to see the kittens that live there. Dunkin and Georgia are great favorites too, of course. Dunkin rides on Steve’s shoulder most of the time, except when he gets down to allow the children to stroke him. Georgia is more sedentary as she grows more heavy with her kits, but she is friendly enough.

    As we all sat chatting in the shadow of the old keep, we could hear the sounds of childish giggles and William’s shouts as he engaged in imaginary battles. Occasionally a dark head would appear for a moment in an opening in the walls, but then it would be gone.

    The weather was perfect – clear and unusually warm for this time of year, or so my English relatives tell me. Eventually, though, the trio was seen to be returning, William running ahead to report his many exploits to his mother and his nurse. Stephen followed with a giggling Alice Anne, who seemed to feel that her horse needed to be spurred on to greater speed, but eventually the steed revolted and simply sat down on the ground. Alice Anne plumped herself down in his lap and promptly fell asleep from the fresh air and the exertion.

    “I’ll take her, Mr. Mason,” Nanny Bates offered.

    “No need. She’s fine.” He held the sleeping child cradled against his broad shoulders, seemingly content to let her doze the lazy afternoon away in his arms.

    “You really have a gift for dealing with little ones, Stephen,” Michael Gilmore complimented.

    “Thank you, sir. I like them.” Stephen said simply.

    “I’m not your commanding officer, Stephen, I’m your brother-in-law. Please call me Michael.”

    “You’re very kind, sir, but I’ll stick to Captain. It’s good training for me. Sir, I understand from Will that you are quite an excellent swordsman.”

    “I do well enough,” Michael said modestly.

    “I heard a more glowing report. The thing is, sir, Will has orders to stay off the leg as much as possible, at least for another few weeks. I realize you were very ill earlier this year, sir, so I hesitate to even ask, but…”

    “I’ve been resting since the first of March when we anchored in Portsmouth, Stephen. I think I’m well enough to cross blades with you for an hour or so.”

    “Capital, sir. There’s a sports room downstairs that has everything we need.”

    Steve had found himself a new fencing coach, and with no help at all from me.
     
    StarCruiser likes this.
  19. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2002
    Location:
    Houston, we have a problem...
    It's a shame this isn't in print now...
     
  20. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Thank you. I'm very glad that you're enjoying it.