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
    Third Week


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Friday, 16 April 1779

    “Stop your vents!” cried Lieutenant Liam Talbot. “Sponge out! Load! Run out! Prime! Cock your Locks! Fire!” Sapphire’s starboard broadside crashed out on a thunderous roar.

    “Again!” Talbot yelled as the sweating men worked swiftly to reload the battery. I was watching from the quarterdeck rail as the crew went through the gun drill once again. They had been at it since early morning with only a short break at noontime. None the less they were up to the challenge. For the last week our concentration had been on gun drill and the reload time was steadily dropping. The gun crews were becoming more experienced and with that experience had come speed. On the 12th we had reached two broadsides in two minutes and were now rapidly closing on three.

    The third broadside in the series thundered out. As the gun smoke swirled about them the crews turned expectantly aft where Jones stood with his watch. The first lieutenant looked over to me, his eyes told me what I needed to know and I nodded to him. He stepped up to the rail and pronounced.

    “One minute and fifty-nine seconds!” The decks erupted in cheering. I waited for it to die down and then turned to the Purser.

    “Mr. Ford,” I called loudly enough for all to hear. “A tot of rum to these fine lads, they have more than earned it!” Whatever Ford said in reply was drowned out be the fresh eruption of cheering. Again I waited for it to die down.

    “Tomorrow we shall start drilling for accuracy, Lads. It is not nearly as much heavy work but rather a more exacting skill. Enchanté will drop empty casks overboard for us to shoot at as we pass. It shall be the larboard battery competing against the starboard with the losers providing the night’s entertainment.”

    “Secure the guns, Mr. Jones.” I said turning to the first lieutenant. “Then dismiss the hands below.”

    “Aye aye, sir.” He hesitated a moment before continuing. “Do you think Mr. Cross has reached England yet, sir?”

    “More than likely.” I answered. “Why do you ask?”

    “With him gone we’re short a master’s mate. With your permission I’d like to examine some of the senior hands to see about filling the vacancy, sir?”

    I had hoped to make due until an experienced man could be assigned in New York but Jones was right. We were too short-handed with the prize-crew aboard Enchanté.

    “Very well, Mr. Jones.” I nodded. “See to it. Have a list ready for me by tomorrow noon.”

    He touched his hat to me and I went below.



    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Friday 16 April 1779

    In and amongst all the al fresco picnics, walks in the grounds, musical evenings after dinner, fencing lessons downstairs, nursery teas, visits to the barn, and today a tour of the old Tudor Manor house nearby, we have managed to get some work done towards solving the financial mess that Benjamin Willis left behind. It is still a mystery to me how he was able to do so much damage in such a short time – when I left England after Christmas the firm was one of the most prosperous in the West Country, I can only imagine that he began his perfidity far earlier than any of us suspected. In any case, the deed is done and now we must repair the damage. Bill’s legal training has been invaluable, since we still do not know if Benjamin Willis is alive or dead. All of us wish that we would hear reports of his death by fair means or foul simply so we can get on with our lives. Certainly Willis has lost all claim to ownership of the business by his many crimes, including embezzlement and fraud, and we have all lodged formal complaints against him with the local magistrate on behalf of our wives, who were really the injured parties. In the meantime, we have set plans in motion to ensure that the family and the business will both survive and eventually even flourish.

    Bill brought a clear summary of the situation with him when he came, as well as the firm's books – the real ones, not the false set that Willis had been showing him to conceal his crimes. These were found in a secret drawer of Willis’s desk, along with the incriminating letters and bills. Over the course of the week we have looked at where we are – deeply in debt on all sides - where we would like to be – free of all debt – and what resources we have to get from one to the other.
    “We owe you thousands of pounds, Will.” Bill said ruefully. “The remainder of Jennifer’s dowry, to start with, plus her inheritance and the money owed Mason Shipping. Helen and Winifred’s dowries were paid when they married, so they were to receive only a token sum, hardly enough to be reckoned with in the grand scheme of things – Willis actually paid it, at least Helen’s share.”

    “Winifred’s too.” Michael said.

    “To cover his tracks, no doubt. He paid two installments of Jennifer’s legacy, so you owe me five hundred pounds less than this figure.” I made a quick correction. “And the money is owed to Mason Shipping, not to me personally, but I will be responsible for that debt as part of the partnership agreement. I will square that with my brother.”

    When they first arrived, I had explained how my Father had been so deeply shocked by Mother’s death that he could no longer function in the real world, so that my oldest brother Richard was now in charge of the business and doing a very good job of it.

    “Then your family is more fortunate than ours,” Bill had remarked bitterly. “It is a shame that Mr. Willis could not even trust his own nephew, a man he had taken in as a child and raised as his own, to do the right thing.”

    The negotiations continued. “Now this is the figure we need, are we agreed on that?” They nodded. “This is what you can afford to spend, Michael, and this is yours, Bill. Here’s what I propose: Michael, would you be willing to sell the cottage and move into the town house and share it with Alice at least for the next few years?”

    “Of course, it’s a big house and we get along well. She and the children will be company for Winifred once I go back to sea.”

    “Good. Then I suggest that the firm buy the house from the bankers, and you lease it back from the firm. Use the proceeds of the sale of your cottage to invest in the firm, along with what prize money you can spare. Bill, I understand your resources are limited. Can you contribute this much?” I wrote down a figure, and he agreed.

    “Then what Michael can spend, plus what Bill can spend subtracted from what we need leaves just under two thousand pounds left. I will cover that.” I said calmly. This would leave me with fifteen hundred pounds of my current prize and reward money left, plus my income as a shareholder of Mason Shipping – enough to buy a small estate here in England when one became available. Once the mill began turning a profit again I would have money from that as well, of course.
    “If you invest two thousand and we add what we owe you as the representative of Mason Shipping plus what we owe Jennifer your share of the business will be fifty-two percent, Will, and Michael and I will split the other forty-eight percent proportionately. It looks like you are in the wool business, brother-in-law!”

    “Why not? I think it will be a good investment for the future. At least if I’m ever stuck on the beach on half-pay I’ll have a job waiting for me as a wool merchant,” I joked.

    There were details to be worked out, of course, but that was the essence of the agreement. “If all goes well, sometime in the next month or so we should be able inaugurate the new Mason-Gilmore-Rolland Mill.”

    “I don’t see why we should change the name, Bill. Willis Woolens is an old and respected firm.” I protested.

    “It was,” Michael interjected. “It's under a cloud now. Best start afresh. You’re the majority partner, the managing director if you will. Mason-Gilmore-Rolland is best.”

    “You know, for a sea officer, you’re a damned fine businessman, Michael.”

    “You know, for a sea officer, you are too, Will.”

    Bill just looked at the two of us, shook his head, and grinned.



    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Friday 16 April 1779

    William’s sister Tara has been with us here in New York for most of a week. When Dick Mason brought her on Sunday night we were shocked at how thin and pale she was; she fainted and then slept for the better part of two days, with Mary Stewart to watch over her. Given Mary’s age – mid-thirties - and her history of miscarriage, I am determined that she not do anything to compromise this pregnancy, so I have given Tara entirely into her care and made other arrangements for the cooking and cleaning. We have Maisie Hollis, of course, but her advancing pregnancy makes doing the ‘rough’ unwise, although when I told her so she looked at me in some considerable surprise.

    “I done all that right up until the last one were born, mum. Weren’t no choice.”

    “Well now you have one, and I want this baby to be as healthy as possible. Do you have a friend – someone who isn’t expecting, at least not at the moment - who could help you with the rough?”

    As a result of this conversation we acquired the services of Lucy Mays, whose husband is also a sergeant in the North Gloucestershires. Between the two of them, they see that our home is clean, our food well prepared, and our fires maintained. As to wood, once a week a regimental supply wagon appears with another load. No payment is every accepted and Hollis will say only, “Colonel’s orders, mum.”

    Dick left us plenty of money to buy food, so Mary has not stinted us on good things to eat, although she can still make a pound stretch farther than anyone else I have ever met. Maisie and Lucy take turns seeing what culinary delights they can produce to tempt ‘Miss Tara’ to eat, and they are beginning to see some results, if only because Mary gently coaxes, cajoles and even dragoons her charge into eating. She is starting to put on some flesh and look less pale, but there is still a long way to go. Dick will be gone for several months to England, so we have set as our goal having her healthy and hearty by the time he returns.

    Last night, after she had gone to bed with one of Maisie’s good suppers in her, thanks to Mary’s persuasive efforts, Mary came back into the sitting room and took up her mending. Her hands are never idle – mending, knitting, or some other sedentary task, she is always busy. I am just glad that she is content to do those things and not insist on chopping wood or scrubbing floors.

    “Tara is eating better, don’t you think?”

    “Yes’m. That she is. Takes a bit of doing, but she eats. No, I think I can put the flesh back on her bones right enough, though it will be a slow road. I'm more worried about her mental state. That child has had so much to bear, it’s like she shut herself off from all feeling because it hurts too much. She’s like a doll, she’ll do what you ask, but there's no life in her, no spark, and no wonder. You and me, Miss Jen, we’ve had to bear a lot, but we had our men to hold us up. Since Tim Atwood was lost two years ago she’s had nobody. Her brothers love her, but it ain’t the same as having a man of her own to love her and care for her – and give her someone to care for in return.”

    “She’s barely nineteen.”

    “Makes no difference. She’s been carrying a woman’s responsibilities for years, maybe it’s time she found a woman’s love. Besides I was fifteen when I married Daniel Morgan, and he was twenty years older. It was the makin’ of me. I wouldn’t be what I am today but for Daniel, and Nicolas knows it.”

    “You think Tara would be better with an older man, someone even twenty years her senior?”

    “Yes’m, I do. Be the makin’ of her, I think, like it were for me. With the right man, mind you, not some dried-up old stick or some old reprobate looking for a young wife to get a son on. Someone who would love her for herself, who knows how to cherish a woman like these young tearaway officers we see around here never could understand.”

    She glanced at the clock above the mantel. “Bedtime for all of us, Miss Jen. You go on ahead, I’ll lock up and bank up the fire.”

    I went into the room where Tara was already deeply asleep and began to prepare for bed. Mary had given me a lot to think about.



    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Saturday 17 April 1779

    It has been exactly two months since my injury, and nearly two weeks since we arrived back in England. Much has happened; Leveque has been executed for his crimes, I have got to know my wife’s family very well and found that I like them immensely, and I have even bought a controlling interest in a woolen mill into the bargain. Thanks to approved exercise, plenty of rest and Mrs. Sommersby’s good food, and the special ‘whirling water’ tub Sir David invented, I feel better than I have in months, and so I told Harmon.

    “Very well, sir, I release you from care, but with the proviso that you not go to sea for at least another week and that you cut back if the leg starts to give you the slightest bit of trouble,” he said.

    “As I have no orders, I hardly think going to sea is likely, Harmon. Have I your approval to go for a horseback ride?”

    “A ride, yes. A steeplechase, no.”

    “No fear, Harmon. It’s not foxhunting season for months yet.”

    I chose one of the fine blooded horses in Captain Sinclair’s stables and off we went, Michael, Stephen, Bill and I. Harmon volunteered to stay and keep the ladies - read Alice Willis - company, and Stewart, who makes friends wherever he goes, was elsewhere on the estate. We had a wonderful ride, invigorating but not too tiring, and we came home with heightened appetites and cheerful faces. I was just getting off the horse in the stableyard when Stewart appeared as if from nowhere – something he does so often I have learned not to start when he does so.

    “Visitor for you, Captain.”

    “Oh? Anyone I know?”

    “You might recognize him, sir. It’s young Andrew Cross, used to be in Sapphire. You might have seen him when we visited aboard last month.”

    “Indeed? He’s a long way from his ship. How does he come to be here?”

    “He told me the story, Captain, but it’s really his to tell. He has a letter for you from Captain Sinclair. He’s in the library.”

    “Tell him I’ll be with him in ten minutes time, as soon as I get the worst of the dirt off myself.”

    “Aye, aye, sir.”

    Andrew Cross is a fine, well-set up young man a year or two older than I, a native of Wiltshire, he tells me, and a veteran of Sinclair’s former command, Goshawk. He had proven his worth to his captain in more than one action, so much so that Sinclair had promoted him to master’s mate two years before. Despite the difference in their ages, it was obvious that he and Stewart had got on like a house afire. He rose when I descended the library stairs from the upper floor gallery and knuckled his forehead.

    “Cross, sir, formerly of HMS Sapphire. I’m to give you this letter, sir.”

    I scanned it briefly. “You come very highly recommended, Cross. It’s a bit of a step down, going from a fast frigate like Sapphire to a sloop of war, but if you'd like to cast your lot in with us, there’s a berth for you aboard Paladin. My master, Mr. Boyd, is one of the best in His Majesty’s Navy, so I’m sure you’ll find the experience beneficial.”

    “I’m certain I will, sir, and thank you. What are your orders, Captain?”

    “Well, no point in traveling to Portsmouth over the weekend, especially not Easter weekend. Stay here, I’m sure we can put you up for a few days, unless you’d rather go home to your family? Wiltshire is just the next county over, after all.”
    He declined the offer with a smile, saying he had seen his family in February and it would be just as easy to visit them on the way down to Hampshire as not.

    “Very well, then, I’ll have Stewart see to it. Now, I want to hear all about this battle you had with the French frigate and how you brought this little brig into Bristol. At least you hadn’t far to travel to get here, much easier than coming overland from Portsmouth…”
     
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  2. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Sunday 18 April 1779

    Easter Sunday morning, and a more perfect day could not be imagined. Our little party from White Oaks had attended matins the previous Sunday in the lovely old church of St. Mary’s, Thornbury, hard by the Tudor castle that dominates the old market town. The church dates from the reign of Edward IV, but portions of it are Norman. Once again, to Stephen and I, products of the new land that is America, it seemed incredibly old. We had a chance to meet the vicar after service last week. When Stephen complimented him on the choir, he offered to introduce the boy to the organist/choirmaster, who doubles as the schoolmaster at Thornbury Grammar during the week. Soon they were deep in discussions of chorales and alleluias, so much so that we had to remind Stephen that Mrs. Sommersby was waiting to serve us lunch.

    As we boarded the coach to take us the few miles back to White Oaks, Stephen said, “Mr. Nunnally gave me a quick tryout just now, Will. He says they are short on baritones for the Choral Evensong on Easter and asked if I could come and help them out. When he found out I can read music he was almost beside himself. The rehearsals are to be held in here each night this week, at eight. We should be finished with dinner by then, don't you think?”

    “You will be finished with nursery tea, for certain. You don’t have to eat six meals a day, Steve.”

    He grinned. “I get hungry if I don’t. I’ll just ask the cook to send up more for nursery tea, if you don’t mind my missing dinner? Most of the people in the village eat early, he says.”

    Each night he took a saddle horse and rode over, returning later in the evening to report that the people were very friendly, that they had accepted him because of Paladin’s actions in apprehending Leveque “Even though I told them I had nothing to do with it and deserved none of the credit, they said it was all in the family and that the folk around here owe all the Masons a great debt. Captain Sinclair’s family has been here for centuries, it seems, and they all respect and admire him very much. The family gave the money to rebuild the church way back in the 1400’s and several of them are buried there. Did you know that they used to own all the land hereabouts? They lost most of it after the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. There’s no love for the Tudors around here - they see Henry VII as the usurper, and to hear them talk the Wars of the Roses happened thirty years ago, not three hundred. Why, the Sinclair family even had a title. The Captain’s ancestor - Joseph Sinclair - was Earl of Thornbury, but he lost it, along with his head, for supporting the losing side. And of course they were on the Royalist side in the last civil war, so Cromwell came through here too. They talk about that war as if it were yesterday.”

    This morning we all loaded up in the coaches, all but the infants and the nurses, who stayed behind to look after them. Stephen and I rode with Alice and her family, with Alice Anne perched securely on Stephen’s lap and my namesake on mine. Harmon sat with Alice and Stewart was on the box with the coachman. Once we reached the church,
    Steve excused himself to speak to Mr. Nunnally, then came back to report that he had been pressed into service this morning as well, one of the other men having fallen ill the previous night.

    “Alice Anne, I am going to go and sing in the choir. You sit with Mama and watch for me, and if you are very quiet in church I will give you a special treat this afternoon.”

    Alice Anne, her eyes as big as saucers at being allowed to attend Easter service for the first time, nodded and clutched her mother's skirts. She put her little face up to be kissed, Stephen brushed her cheek, and he was gone into the vestry.
    The service was lovely, the singing enthusiastic, the people smiling and happy. If this were a ship of war I would say that she was well officered and well run, judging by the singing. I glanced over at Michael and could see he was thinking the same thing. Alice was good as gold, and even her “Dere Stev’n!” when the choir came in produced only indulgent smiles from those that heard her.

    Stephen did very well during the Evensong service, as I had expected. Much of the music he had learned as a boy in Annapolis or Halifax, so it was only a matter of reading the lower part instead of the treble line he had been taught before. As the Alleluias and Glorias soared into the rafters of the old church, I realized again that I have much to be grateful for, despite the trials and sorrows of the past few months.



    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Tuesday 20 April 1779

    The family is still in residence, still enjoying the holiday. With the details of the partnership agreement worked out, all that remains is to make it official – and that will take time, as with any legal proceedings. Thus, we are free to enjoy the lovely spring weather. Although there are sights to see within a few miles’ drive in the coach, we love this estate so much that we hardly want to leave it. Eventually we all know we will have to go back to the cares of the world – commanding a King’s ship, running a woolen mill, running a household, dealing with a growing legal practice, and so on, but for now this is a green oasis of calm in a war-torn world. We get the London papers in the post and read the war news and it all seems so far away, yet we know that we cannot escape it for long. Bill has gone back and forth to Cirencester on legal business a couple of times this week, but he has left Helen and the boy here – they are having too much fun to go before they must. I suppose I might convince them to stay another week, but no more than that, and then real life will intervene again.

    Late this afternoon, Sommersby appeared with a letter from Jennifer, and he mentioned that Stewart had received one from his Mary as well. I was still savoring mine when Stewart appeared with a very dazed look on his face.

    “It’s great to have mail, isn’t it, Stewart? I’m well on the way to memorizing Jennifer’s letter.” He nodded almost absently, which in itself was enough to raise an alarm.

    “Stewart, it’s not bad news? Jennifer said nothing about anything unusual.”

    “No, sir, she left that to Mary.”

    “Well, what is it, man, she’s not ill, is she? Spit it out.”

    “You’d best read it, Captain, I can’t quite take it all in.”

    I protested, but he insisted. It was short and simple:

    Dear Nicolas,

    I am well I hope you are well also. Nicolas I am writing this because for the past days I have been sick each morning and today Miss Jennifer and I began to think and count and I must tell you that there is a baby coming we think in early December. Oh Nicolas I hope you are happy, for I am very happy about this baby. Write back soon.

    Love,
    Mary


    “Stewart, this is wonderful news! Just wait ‘til I tell the others! Congratulations, man, that was fast work!”

    “What was fast work?” Michael asked as he came into the library with Winifred, her hand resting lightly on the child in her womb, on his arm.

    “Stewart here just got a letter from America. It seems that his Mary is to present him with a proof of her affection by early December, when they were only married in February.”

    Congratulations were once again offered, including a kiss from Winifred that I believe actually made Stewart blush. She smiled at us all. “I know you are longing to splice the mainbrace just now, gentlemen, so I will go and see if I can find Helen and Alice and give them the news. Congratulations again, Stewart.”

    “Spoken like a true Navy wife, Michael. You’ve done well.”

    “I had five years to train her,” he quipped. “But the suggestion is good. Shall we get the others in here and just make the announcement once?”

    Bill and Harmon were nearby, and Steve came in a few moments later, without his ‘shadows’, who had obviously been handed over to their mother or Nanny. “You wanted to see me, Will? Is there news of some sort? We saw the post rider coming up the drive when we were out walking just now.”

    “Yes, and it seems that Stewart is too stupefied to say anything, so I’ll speak on his behalf. He’s just received a letter from home to tell him that his Mary is to bear him a child in early December.”

    More handshakes, then the ritual of the drinks – rum for Stewart, claret for Harmon, Michael and Bill, Madeira for Steve and me. We toasted the happy parents, wished the baby a long and happy life, and engaged in the sort of ribaldry that Winifred knew would be coming when she left us alone.

    After several minutes we finished our drinks but before he turned to leave with the other men Stephen said. “Thanks for including me, Will.”

    “You’re going to be taking on adult responsibilities very soon, I think, Steve. You may as well have some of the privileges as well as the pains. But no chambermaids, are we understood?”

    “Aye, aye, sir.” I waited until he’d left before facing my oldest friend.

    “Stewart, you wanted to talk to me.” It was not a question.

    “Captain, I just don’t understand how this happened,” he said in obvious confusion.

    “Don’t you? But Stewart, you were the one who explained all that to me after you caught me kissing Sally Morton in the gazebo when I was ten years old – but only after you’d given me the caning of my life. I could hardly sit down for a week!”

    “Not that, Captain,” he said almost impatiently. “I’m forty-six, Mary is thirty-five and for most of her first marriage she was barren – only conceived once, and then lost the babe. And now this!”

    “So? She was barren with Morgan. You are a much more vigorous man, obviously.”

    He digested this. “Captain, I don’t know the first thing about raising children. What do I do?”

    “You don’t? Who raised me, effectively, while my father was at sea or at his office, hmmm?”

    “Well, yes, there’s that. I can do that again – Captain, what if it’s a girl?”

    “Then you’re on your own, Stewart. Best pray for a boy.”
     
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  3. StarCruiser

    StarCruiser Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2002
    Location:
    Houston, we have a problem...
    Another too bad - it seems no one else is paying much attention!

    I do like the 'different' approach you've taken. While it's technically Naval Fiction - there's a lot more of the human side of life involved rather than just focusing on war and destruction. More like things really were even during the later Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

    Long periods of boredom (and normal life) punctuated by moments of sheer terror...
     
  4. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Not so. I've been keeping track of the views. It seems there are a good 20 + readers. And really that's all I wanted at this stage. Just that people read and enjoy. Yesterday we had 62 views. I'm quite happy with that.
     
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  5. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Thursday 22 April 1779

    I have not been slow to take advantage of Harmon’s permission to get back on a horse. Unlike many of my fellow officers, I learned to ride almost before I could walk without falling, thanks to Stewart. Indeed, it would have been impossible to explore my grandfather’s old tobacco plantation in Virginia on foot, given its size. Stephen is also a very good horseman, so we have taken to going out for rides on the mornings that he is not committed to his fencing lessons with Michael Gilmore. This morning we chose to ride out towards the lovely little town of Thornbury, some three miles distant from White Oaks. While on the way, we were met by an express rider, who pulled up upon seeing us and inquired, “Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but I see ye be a naval gentleman. Be ye from yon estate at White Oaks?”

    “We are guests, there, yes. Could I be of service, man?”

    “Express letter from Lunnon, sir, to a Captain William Mason. Is he in residence?”

    “I am Mason.” I fished in my waistcoat pocket for a coin for the man, took my letter and watched him ride off in the opposite direction.

    “Admiralty business?” Stephen asked, noticing the fouled anchor seal.

    “Yes, probably my recall orders and instructions for the next mission. Well, my leave is up on the 27th, after all, and I knew this was coming. As much as I enjoy the setting here, I will not be sorry to be back in action – and there might even be a place for you, my lad.”

    I broke the seal and began to read. The opening lines were standard and expected - what followed was certainly not! The time-honored phrases came leaping off the page – ‘Frigate of 26-guns HMS Vanessa… take upon you Charge and Command of Captain of her… willing and requiring… and for so doing this shall be your order.’

    I sat for a few moments, stunned, until Stephen could stand the suspense no longer and said, “Will? William? It’s not – well, they aren’t angry?”

    I could see visions of courts-martial running through his head and I passed the document to him, much as Stewart had given me his letter from Mary with its amazing news.

    “Why, this is wonderful! A 26-gun frigate, that’s huge! I think Captain Sinclair must have recommended you for this promotion, Will, not that you don’t deserve it, but…”

    “But without someone to put in a good word for me I would be unlikely to be posted this early in my career,” I finished for him. “Yes, you are very correct. I had no idea the Captain’s gratitude would extend this far.”

    “Well, you did catch the man who killed his wife and child, Will.”

    “I never told you she was with child, Steve. He mentioned it to us, but I never told you.”

    “I sort of… well, peeked into the master bedroom, Will. I know I wasn’t supposed to, but… Anyway, there’s a portrait of his wife in there, facing the bed, probably the last one that he had painted. It’s amazing how much she looks like Tara, but that’s always the first thing any of us notice, I suppose. She is obviously very pregnant; she looks like Mrs. Gilmore does now.”

    “It was supposed to be off-limits, Steve.”

    “I know. I’m sorry, and if I ever meet him I’ll apologize for going in there. I was looking for Dunkin and Georgia.”

    “I think we’ll forgive you this time. But this is a startling turn of events! I need to get over to London and see what I can find out, then go on to Portsmouth to talk to Robertson and Mr. Boyd before I go on to Plymouth. Get ready to do some traveling, little brother. And, by the way, a frigate that size needs at least three midshipmen, and Paladin only has two, if His Lordship lets me transfer most of my crew. We’ll have your uniforms tailored in London at the same time we order mine.”

    Somehow we had turned around and had started back towards the main house.

    “And you are to have a ship named after Mother,” he remarked, bemused.

    “I doubt they were thinking of that, but it is a nice touch. I don’t think I’ve heard of her - no, wait, I know exactly who she is – it’s that French frigate Captain Gosnell and I took in the Med last November, right before we captured Quare. She was called Vergennes, and we can hardly have an English ship named after a French minister, can we?”

    Michael and Bill, and Harmon were at breakfast, shortly to be joined by the ladies.

    “That was a short ride, Will,” Michael remarked. “Did your leg start to complain?” I noticed Harmon’s ears perk up.

    “No, we were interrupted by a post rider, on Admiralty business.”

    “Your recall orders?”

    “In a manner of speaking. Perhaps if you read them they will seem more real.” I handed them over and before I knew it, he was on his feet, shaking my hand as if he intended to detach it from my arm.

    “Is it too early to splice the mainbrace, do you think, Will?”

    “Michael?” Winifred had arrived just in time to hear this. Knowing that her husband was an abstemious man, this talk of drinking even before breakfast must have been startling.

    “Our William here just got himself posted – and to a former French twenty-six, my love. At the tender age of 24, no less!”

    “It’s that good training I had aboard HMS Ardent with Lieutenant Gilmore, sir,” I teased.

    “Sir? My commission is all of two years older than yours, Will, not even actually. Which makes us both junior post captains. I think we can drop the ‘sir’!”

    This scene was repeated several times over in the next few minutes. Stewart, who learns everything as if by magic, appeared to add his congratulations, and very shortly Sommersby arrived as well.

    “Captain Mason, on behalf of the staff here, our warmest congratulations. Captain Sinclair anticipated this event and sent word that, should you be posted while in residence here, we should make preparations for a promotion party. Mrs. Sommersby is already planning the menu. Would Saturday night be acceptable, sir? And of course you must invite whomever you wish.”

    “All the people who could attend are right here, Sommersby, and yes, we will be pleased to accept the Captain’s gracious offer.”



    Interlude – Thornbury, England

    Saturday 24 April 1779

    Stephen Mason, aged just thirteen, raised his foil in salute, dropped it and then bowed to his fencing ‘coach’, Captain Michael Gilmore. Stephen’s brother Will had received orders promoting him to Junior Post Captain on Thursday, and on Monday everyone would go their separate ways – Will and Steve first to London and then to Plymouth to begin the chore of getting Will’s new ship, HMS Vanessa, manned and ready for sea, and the others to their home in Cirencester. A party to celebrate the promotion and the successful rescue of the Willis Woolen Mill by old Mr. Willis’s three sons-in-law – Mason, Rolland, and Gilmore, was planned for the evening, and the house was en fete, with servants bustling everywhere.

    “Thank you, sir. I’ve learned a great deal in these past few days.” He snapped off a very creditable salute, then accepted his brother-in-law’s outstretched hand.

    “Good luck, Steve, and thank you for helping me keep my hand in. It will be several more months before I’m ready to go back to sea, so it was good practice for me, too. I know you will do well in your new career as a midshipman, and you couldn’t ask for a better captain than your own brother.”

    Once Gilmore was gone, Steve turned to putting the equipment away. Captain John Sinclair had given his brother and the family the run of this wonderful old estate; all the more reason to take good care of the finest quality foils, rapiers and epees that were available for his use. In stocking feet and with his shirt open to the waist because of the exertion, he slotted each weapon into its place. A giggle behind him made him turn in surprise. It was Betty, the downstairs maid he had met on his first full day in the house some two weeks before. Since then he had seen her only when she had been under Sommersby’s eagle eye or that of his wife, the housekeeper. This morning, though, she was alone.

    “I just come to tidy up, sir.’ She said plausibly.

    “I’m finished, I’ll be out of your way in just a minute.”

    “Oh, no need to rush off, sir.” She came closer, to where Stephen was staring at her in stunned fascination. Somehow one shoulder of her gown had slipped, revealing a rounded bare shoulder and the top of her full bosom. She got within a few inches of him and lifted one finger to run it down the centre of his bare chest, now beaded with sweat from his lesson. “I do like a man what looks and smells like a man, I do. How old be you, sir?”

    “Thir- thirteen,” Stephen croaked, the last syllable cracking. It was at times like this that he hated his voice and wished it would just hurry up and finish changing, once and for all.

    “Only thirteen? My, you looks like eighteen at least,” she flattered. “Well, thirteen’s not too young, not if you look as old as you do.”

    “Too young for – for what?”

    She giggled again. “I think you know, sir. How old do you think I am, then?”

    “I…” the voice cracked again and he cleared his throat. “I don’t know. Fifteen? Sixteen?”

    “Oh, sir, you are a card, so you are. Why I’m only a year older than you, fourteen. Less’n that if you’re having a birthday soon.”

    “November.”

    “See, we’s almost the same age, ain’t we? But we ain’t too young to have a bit o’ fun, are we? I saw how you looked at me when I run into you back when you first got here. Like what you saw, eh? Ever had a woman before?”

    “N- no.”

    “Go on with you, love, I don’t bleeve you. A fine strapping lad like you, why you’d have to be fightin’ the girls off, I wager.” She wriggled up against him, managing to dislodge the other sleeve so that most of her bosom was now on display to Stephen's incredulous eyes. “You mean to tell me you 'aven't even kissed a girl?”

    “N- no. I haven’t.”

    “It ain’t nice to deceive a poor girl so, telling whoppers like that. Why, I can tell from one kiss whether a man’s hexperienced or not. Just you give it a try, sir, and you’ll find Betty is more’n a match for your talents, as they say.” She tiptoed up and brushed a kiss against the corner of his mouth, sure that he would follow through immediately.

    From behind the two a voice that Stephen barely recognized as his brother's cracked like a whip. “Get your filthy hands off my brother, you bloody slut! You were warned about this two weeks ago.”

    Startled, the girl Betty jumped back as Will Mason stalked into the sports room, his face like a thundercloud. A jerk of his head had Steve almost scurrying for a safe corner. He had only seen his brother this angry once or twice in his life, and he intended to lay low until the storm had passed, lest it break on his own head. He had been warned about dallying with the servants, after all.

    Betty went on the offensive. “Wot, you mad because I made up to ‘im rather than you? Well, he ain’t but a kid. Now you, you’re a real man who can show a girl a good time. They said your wife be in America. Don’t you get lonely in that great bed at night?”

    By now the argument had brought Mrs. Sommersby running.

    “That’s enough, girl. Shut your mouth this instant. Captain Mason, Mr. Stephen, I apologize for this. This is not the standard we maintain at White Oaks. This girl came to me just last month with a hard luck story, said she’d lost her situation in Swindon because the old lady she worked for died. She had a good character from the woman’s heirs so I took her on. Obviously, I was in error in doing so. I shouldn’t be surprised if the references were forged too. You were warned about this, girl, and you did not heed that warning. You’re discharged, and without a character, and I’ll have the one you gave me checked out. I should have done that more carefully a few weeks ago. You’re to pack your things and leave the house within the hour, but first we’ll search your room, as we do with all servants who are dismissed. Captain Mason, could I trouble you to keep an eye on the girl while Sommersby and I do that?”

    “Certainly, Mrs. Sommersby. Girl, sit on the floor, there.”

    She shot him a glance of pure malice, but there was a note of fear in it. What was she trying to hide? She opened her mouth but a quelling glance made her think better of it and she subsiding into sulky silence. Stephen continued to watch, fascinated.

    A short time later, Sommersby was back. “I've sent to Thornbury for the constable, sir. We found this in her room, hidden under the mattress. She’ll be taken up and charged, and probably imprisoned.” He held up a brooch set in semiprecious stones. “This belonged to the late Mrs. Sinclair, the Captain’s mother, sir. It’s not a particularly expensive piece, as you can see, but it has sentimental value. You’re a disgrace, girl, taking a position that Mrs. Sommersby gave you out of the kindness of her heart and using it to steal and indulge your wanton desires. What do you have to say for yourself?”

    “Ain’t much point in sayin’ anythin’ is there?” She said defiantly. “So I’m goin’ to prison, am I? Well, I’ll do all right. Won’t be any worse than what I has to live wif at ‘ome, what wif ‘im sniffin’ after me all the time. Old goat, he is – tuppin’ me mum every night and then coming after me.” She said it with a note of resignation that was almost relief.

    “What are you talking about, girl? Who is he?”

    “Fine fancy gent from over to Cirencester, ‘e is. Mum’s knowd ‘im for years. Me dad run out on us when I were just a squeaker, see, and Mum had to make a livin’ somehow, din’t she? So she took up wif this fancy gent, but she weren’t enough for ‘im, he said he wanted ‘a change’ ‘e said. She sent me ‘ere to get away from ‘im, and she told me I’d better not come back wifout I had somethin’ to show for it. I was to take what I could, or find some likely young man ‘d take me under his protection, like. An’ I might have, too, cept for this interferin’ bastard,” she said in Will's direction.

    “SILENCE!” Sommersby roared. “You’ve lost your situation, you’ve been discovered as a thief, don’t add insult to injury.”
    By now the constable had arrived from the village. After a short consultation with Sommersby, he turned to the girl and said, “On your feet. What is your full legal name?”

    “Elizabeth Hill”

    “Then, Elizabeth Hill, I arrest you in the King’s name and charge you with the theft of a brooch valued at … twenty guineas. Have you anything to say for yourself?”

    “I done said it, ain’t I?” She said wearily, as she started to cry.

    She was led off, manacled, with the Sommersbys following behind.

    Will sank down to the floor and stared at this brother. Something the girl had said was niggling at the back of his mind. Hill? Where had he heard that name before? Stephen watched his brother in apprehension. Will managed a weary smile.

    “I’m not angry with you, Steve, don’t worry, but I do need to tell you something. Can you survive without food for another hour or so?”

    “Certainly, sir. Where would you like to talk? Here?”

    “No, outside. This is very painful and personal for me and I need the peace and quiet of the gardens to help me get it right. Follow me.”

    They were well away from the house on a perfect English spring morning when Will began to speak. “In August of 1771 I had just turned sixteen. I was the senior midshipman in HMS Syren, a 32-gun frigate. It was a good assignment and I had a good captain and first lieutenant over me. Steve, you know I went to sea when I was twelve, like so many others. I wasn’t as solidly built as you are, but I was tall. I grew up fast, a boy has to in the Navy. I would listen to my fellows talk about the girls they’d had and I wanted to be like them – to have a girl love me. I was used to seeing men die, but in many ways I was very naïve.

    “Well, you know we have always had an office up in Halifax, correct? That’s what made it possible for us to move north at the beginning of this war. We dropped anchor up there that summer, a perfect cool Canadian summer, heaven after the West Indies where we’d been before. We were invited to a ball at the home of one of the leading citizens – I won’t say his name but you’d recognize it. There was a girl there, the wife’s niece, just out from England. What I didn’t know is that she had been sent out because she had misbehaved so badly that no one in her home city would receive her, so her parents talked the aunt and uncle into taking her for a time. She was a bit older than I was, already seventeen, and she dazzled me. She was beautiful, attractive, alluring, all those things that a young man likes to see. I danced with her twice that night – more fool I, I wouldn’t ask her a third time because I wanted to save her reputation. Little did I know!

    “We started seeing each other quite a bit – the ship was in port for several weeks for a partial refit and we were very much sought after to make up the numbers at parties and balls – especially me, because people knew I was a son of Richard Mason and they knew how wealthy we were. Well, I fell in love, I thought. I had no business doing it at sixteen, but I asked her to marry me. I was too honorable to just sleep with her; I thought I was in love and that meant marriage. She agreed, but because I was underage I had to write back and get Father’s permission before we could announce our engagement.” He stopped for a moment and then went on, his voice flat as if suppressing great emotional pain: “There was a summer house on her uncle’s property. She invited me there one afternoon and threw herself into my arms. Before I knew it we were naked on the floor together and I was having my first sexual encounter. Dimly, through the recesses of my mind and in the throes of passion, I remember registering that this was no naïve miss thinking the world well lost for love.” He paused again.

    “She was - experienced.” Stephen said tactfully.

    “Very much so. That was why her parents sent her out. She had a fondness for handsome footmen and grooms, it seems. They could dismiss them, but the girl had to be dealt with too. Her goal was to force me into marriage, to make sure of me, because I had compromised her. She wanted to get her hands on Mason Shipping’s money. After it was over, she began to pressure me into immediate marriage. Well, by now I was starting to smell a rat, so I went to her uncle and demanded to know the truth. He admitted he had kept her - past - from me, apologized, and said he would deal with her. She left on the next ship out to England.”

    “Was she already with child by another man and planning to pass it off as yours?” Stephen asked perceptively.

    “Perhaps, I don’t know but I wouldn’t be surprised. You see now why I reacted the way I did?”

    “Of course, you saw the same thing that happened to you happening to me, and you wanted to protect me. Thank you, Will. I don’t know if I would have gone to bed with her, but I’m glad you didn’t give me the chance. If what she says is true, she’s probably poxed anyway."

    “So you don’t think I spoiled all your fun?”

    “No. I don’t condone what she did, but from what she said she’s had a tough time of it. Whoever the man she was talking about is, he ought to be shot.”

    “I agree. And the name, Hill, it sounds familiar, but I don’t know why. From Swindon, too, and he was from Cirencester. Oh, well, it will come back to me eventually, I suppose. Well, go in and bathe and change, lad, and get some breakfast down you. By now your young lady is surely at her wit’s end that you’ve not shown up for breakfast in the nurseries.”

    “Will, you know there’s nothing – well, indecent or improper about what I feel about Alice Anne, don’t you? I know there are men who prey on tiny girls like that, it makes my blood run cold to hear the stories, but she’s just a sweet little girl. I don’t ever go there when she’s being bathed or dressed or anything.”

    “I know, and so do her other uncles. Go on, Steve, and thanks for listening.”

    “Thanks for telling me, Will. I want to grow up – yes, I admit I’m not grown up yet - and find someone as wonderful as your Jennifer or Mrs. Gilmore to marry. The fewer unpleasant ghosts surrounding me, the better it will be.”

    He waved a cheery salute and left his older brother shaking his head at the lad’s unexpected maturity.
     
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  6. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Wednesday 28 April 1779

    Early on Monday morning, with many farewells and waves – and a few tears on the part of Alice Anne, who could not understand why she had to go back to Cirencester while her best friend ‘Stev’n’ went to London – the party at White Oaks broke up and went their separate ways.

    Stephen, Harmon and I waved the others off and then boarded one of Captain Sinclair’s smaller coaches while Stewart climbed onto the box with the groom who would be acting as our driver. We were bound for London via Swindon and Reading, and with luck and fast roads we hoped to make the journey in one day. As we paused in Swindon to change horses and grab a quick bite to eat, Steve said idly, “That girl Betty said she was from Swindon. I wonder what’s to become of her?”

    Something that had been niggling at me for days worked its way to the front of my mind.

    “Hill – that’s where I’ve seen the name before! Sally Hill was the woman Benjamin Willis kept as his mistress here in Swindon, the one he spent all that money on! It must be her daughter. God, I wish I’d thought of it before, I feel like such a fool. We could have asked her where her mother and that bastard Willis had got to!”

    “Doubt she’d know, Captain,” Stewart said briefly. “Sounds to me like they left her high and dry. I’m not denying the girl was a thief, but they that set her to it was worse.”

    “I agree. Well, somewhere out there is Benjamin Willis – and if I can I intend to find him and see him charged and punished for all the wrong he’s done.”

    By late evening we were in the city and installed in Harmon’s house on Brook Street. Harmon’s housekeeper was there to welcome us with hot baths and a hot meal, which after a very long day jolting in the coach were most welcome. My leg hurts just a little, but not enough to remark on and even Harmon was satisfied that I had done it no harm after he examined me briefly just before dinner. I did agree, though, that it would be best to spend the next day resting, as there is no reason to hurry about our business. We expect to be in London for at least a week and probably closer to two.

    Our first stop today was at the tailors’ in Saville Row. Eighteen months ago I was in this same shop being measured for a commander’s uniform – now I am to wear the facings and buttons of a junior post captain. Stokes himself came out to wait on us when we called, and even remembered me!

    “May I offer my congratulations on your posting, Captain? And this young man, he must be related, I can see the family likeness.”

    “My brother, Stephen. He is to be fitted for a midshipman’s uniform, Stokes.”

    “Very good, sir.”

    He snapped his fingers and his assistants were soon scurrying here and there with tapes and pins and chalk.

    “A very fine lightweight wool for the summer, sir, product of the Willis Woolen Mills up in Cirencester. So sad, the trouble they’ve had. I hope they will be able to resume production soon - they were one of our best suppliers.”

    “Within the month, I think. You see, Stokes, I married one of Mr. Willis’s daughters, and I now own controlling interest in that same mill.”

    “Oh, that is excellent news, sir. You’ll never lack for uniforms, then!”

    “Indeed not. Now for Stephen here…”

    Stokes promised that all would be ready within a se’enight and we went off to Admiralty House.

    Milton, the secretary, came out to meet us, saying that St. John was indisposed, “A little matter of a confrontation with some Spaniards last week, sir.”

    “Indeed? I hope he is recovering well?”

    “Oh, quite so, sir, quite so. Now, you have your orders, of course, but I’m sure you want more detailed instructions. We are sending your old Paladin into drydock for a refit and possible rearmament, so you are to take your entire ship’s company with you to Plymouth and the Vanessa. You’ll have to make up the difference in complement, of course, but you’ll have your core of officers and petty officers to assist you. His Lordship has given orders that your ship be outfitted with twenty-two twelve-pounders and four nine-pounders to replace the French eights that were in her, normally we only mount nines in a sixth rate frigate of this size but as the French like to build them larger there was room for the twelves. And we had them on hand in Plymouth in any case; we also mounted two of the new smashers, twenty-four pounders, on the fo’c’sle. We’ve had to have her strengthened to carry those of course, but I know you are familiar with how effective they are.”

    “Yes, the fact that Vanessa is no longer called Vergennes is a tribute to those same smashers.”

    A few more minutes and our business was concluded, then it was on to the sword cutler’s for Stephen’s dirk, the gunsmith for a pair of pistols for him, and finally, our business done, a chance to let him be a thirteen year old boy again and view the Menagerie at the Tower. This is his first trip to the metropolis and it is great fun to see the sights through his eyes. We plan to take several short excursions into the countryside as well over the course of the next few days.
     
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  7. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Friday 30 April 1779

    With the gun smoke from her salute swirling about her, HMS Sapphire glided forward under jib and spanker as she approached her allotted place off the New York City shoreline. From the quarterdeck I could see the busy waterfront a mere three cables off. We had already parted company with Windsor and the two-decker had moved closer inshore to facilitate the business of off-loading the troops she carried. Behind us Jones had closed Enchanté up to about half a cable as she also ghosted forward under minimal sail.

    It was forty-two days since we had up anchored at Portsmouth, just six weeks, but what a difference those six weeks had made. With the victory against Enchanté under their belts my people had gained in confidence and their skill had improved as well. In the last round of gun drills their marksmanship had become quite good indeed and it had become necessary to hold the fire of the foremost guns to give every crew a chance at the targets which now seldom escaped destruction for more than seven shots or so.

    I glanced over at the ship’s wheel where stood the Master and Donald Sims the newly appointed junior master’s mate. Although he was but twenty-three years of age Sims was a man of wide experience having first gone to sea as a powder monkey at the age of eight. He had worked his way up from there, finally reaching bosun’s mate a year and a half ago. I would be watching him closely over the coming months as I had always viewed the position of master’s mate as one leading to a commission if the man had what it took and desired it. With a bit of fortune and plenty of hard work Sims just might leave Sapphire as a lieutenant, at least I was determined to give him the opportunity to. His previous post had been filled by an older able seaman named Peters who had been my second choice for master's mate, a good man to be sure but more tied to the fo’c’sle and thus less able to make the leap to the quarterdeck.

    We had come to within a cable and a half of the shoreline by this time and I turned to the second lieutenant.

    “This will do, Mr. Talbot.”

    At Talbot’s command the anchor splashed into the waters of New York Harbour, found purchase on the bottom and brought us to a gentle halt as above the decks the jib and spanker were furled. A hundred yards to starboard Enchanté also came to rest almost exactly on parallel.

    Across the anchorage there was no sign of Vice-Admiral Victor Eisenbeck’s flagship the stately three-decker HMS St. George of 98 guns, however the 74-gun Pharaoh wearing the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Avery Canning and several ships from his Inshore Squadron were present. Within moments of our dropping anchor the signal flags raced up Pharaoh’s halyards.

    “Mr. Cutler!” Talbot’s voice cracked out. Cutler’s face snapped away from the nearby shore as he turned to the second lieutenant. “The flagship’s signaling, sir. Perhaps ye could attend yer duties now an’ moon over the shoreline later, if ye please.”

    The reprimand was sharp but not excessive and delivered with just a hint of tolerant humor in Talbot’s Irish lilt. I smiled; I was developing considerable respect for my second lieutenant from the Emerald Isle.

    “Flag to Sapphire, sir. ‘Captain repair onboard in one hour.’”

    “Acknowledge, Mr. Cutler.” I glanced at my watch. It was just a few minutes shy of four bells in the 1st dogwatch, 6 pm as they measured time ashore, doubtless the Admiral had been about to sit down for his evening meal.

    “Well, John, I suppose this is goodbye for a bit.” I turned to George Therrien who had been standing near the bulwarks and now strode over to where I stood. He was looking immaculate as usual, uniform freshly pressed, boots gleaming with polish and sword hilt shining brightly. He looked every inch a highly competent, professional officer of His Majesty’s Army.

    “It seems so, George.” I replied. “It’s been good having you aboard, old friend. You made the voyage a pleasant one. And thank you again for keeping Courtenay out of my hair.”

    “Be careful, Johnny.” He said, his voice very serious without a hint of banter. “You’ve made an enemy there. He’ll not soon forget how you humbled and, in his eyes, humiliated him.” I brushed a hand through the air as though shooing away a fly.

    “Oh I’ve little doubt that there will be some petty attempt at revenge but I don't think it will amount to much more than a minor inconvenience. Assuming that he lives long enough. The Yanks like to go for senior officers. You remember that and keep your fool head down, eh. These aren’t the Frenchies you know, Yanks are damned fine shots with those long rifles of theirs.”

    George smiled, we shook hands and then he was down the ladder to the entry port and climbing into the big launch that had been sent out from the dock. I silently offered a prayer for my friend’s safety as the launch pulled away from Sapphire’s side and made for shore.
     
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  8. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    First Week


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Saturday 1 May 1779

    “Stalemate. That is what we have here. Have had here for the past month or more.” The words had been spoken last night by Sir Avery Canning, Rear-Admiral of the Red commanding New York’s Inshore Squadron. A thick-set officer with frosty grey eyes, Canning was nearly as tall as I although it was hardly noticeable as he’d sat behind his desk in Pharaoh’s Great Cabin. Through the seventy-four’s stern galleries the anchorage had been coloured a violet hue by the setting sun’s final rays. The darkening skies seemed to match the admiral’s mood.

    “This morning Sir George Collier and his squadron sailed with a number of transports destined for Hampton Roads. Reports indicate that the enemy has several important supply depots in the area. Sir George has two thousand men under Brigadier Matthews and hopes to capture those supplies and destroy what he cannot take back to New York.”

    “And the Rebel outpost at Fort Nelson, sir?” I had asked. Canning’s eyebrows had risen slightly in surprise.

    “Know about that do you?”

    “I’ve been out here before, sir.” A small smile had creased the corner of his mouth.

    “So you have, I’d forgotten.” The Admiral sighed heavily. “Sir George expects to destroy it. With the squadron’s artillery and Matthews’ regiments I expect he’ll be able to. But with him there and several ships recently sent home with our previous commander-in-chief out here; my Inshore Squadron is all that we have to defend New York. After you’ve replenished your stores I’m sending you to patrol the approaches to Newport.”

    “I have my orders, Sir Avery.” I had interjected politely. He had seemed to brush it aside.

    “And now you have mine, Captain Sinclair.” I shook my head.

    “No, sir. I’m afraid not.” His brows had drawn together and his face had darkened. “With respect, Admiral. My instructions from Earl St. John are quite specific. I am to report to Vice-Admiral Eisenbeck for further orders. I understand that Sapphire was sent out for some specific task here. Therefore she will have to remain in New York until the Vice-Admiral’s return or until fresh orders come out from His Lordship.” Canning frowned fiercely but said nothing.

    “Truthfully, sir, I should rather be on patrol but my orders do not give me that option. Still I shall help all I can, Sapphire’s presence in New York Harbour will free up one of your core ships for the patrols.” His expression lightened somewhat.

    “True enough.” He grunted. “I could send Isis, 50 guns and less than five years old. A good sailer for a 4th rate as well. Very well, Captain Sinclair it seems to be the best course under the circumstances. I expect Vice-Admiral Eisenbeck back in New York within a month or two until then you'll have to remain at anchor I suppose. I’ll issue a warrant allowing you to draw supplies from the New York authorities. And a prize court will examine Enchanté within the week. Although I must tell you frankly that she will most likely be sent back to England for repairs; from Pharaoh’s deck her damage looks quite extensive and Plymouth will be able to do a better job on her than we can here.”

    We had exchanged a few more pleasantries and then I had taken my leave to return to Sapphire. An hour ago the warrant had been sent over and I had packed Ford off with instructions to obtain as much fresh fruit as possible, not that there was likely to be much this early in the growing season. Some cranberries left over from autumn and dried for storage; allowed to soak in water a bit and with a bit of sugar added they were surprisingly good.

    Out on deck I could hear the sounds of the water casks being swayed up from the hold. As was my custom whenever we touched land for more than a few hours I had ordered the casks emptied, scoured and refilled with fresh water. Before we sailed we would do so again in an effort to insure the freshest possible drinking water.

    I glanced over at the packet of letters on my desk. This afternoon I would call upon Captain Mason’s wife and deliver those letters that he had entrusted to my care a month ago. But it would not do to call upon her and her companion Mrs. Stewart alone. Jones was a logical choice to take with me as he and William had served together as Midshipmen, but his duties in dealing with Sapphire’s paperwork would keep him quite busy through tomorrow. Thinking on it some I decided to take Fred with me this afternoon. Afterwards I would see to the house before returning aboard by nightfall.



    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Saturday 1 May 1779 (continued)

    Fred and I had left MacGregor and the gig’s crew at the dock and made our way on foot up the cobbled New York streets. The waterfront was a jumble of warehouses, dockyards and shipping offices; some in pristine condition and some that were falling apart even as we walked past. Most however were in reasonably good condition for a city that had been under siege in one way or another for three years.

    “Is the wound bothering you at all?” Fred asked as we walked.

    “Not a bit.” I answered truthfully. “I do wish you'd stop harping on it, Fred. It was ten months ago, I’m fine now.” Fred snorted at me.

    “You took five splinters. The shallowest of which dug over an inch and a half into your body! Not to mention a piece of French iron nearly half the size of your fist. It’s a miracle you were not killed outright.”

    “So you’ve told me.” I sighed knowing that he was just getting started.

    “But not satisfied with that, you refused to leave the deck! You stood there, clutching the backstays to hold yourself upright, and barking orders as though nothing had happened. All the while bleeding like a stuck pig! No, worse than that; pigs only get stuck in one spot; you had been stuck in six!”

    “Well there was the matter of these two French frigates you know.”

    “Folderol!” He spat out. “Bart and Sir What’s-His-Name could have dealt with it.”

    “Sir Malcolm.”

    “Yes him. Damned fool desk Admirals ought to be good for something anyway.”

    “That was the exact reason that I couldn’t quit the deck. Don’t you see? We would have been taken if I had. Sir Malcolm could never have fought off even one of them. He had never held a field command. He’d always gone from one staff position to another. His one command of a ship had been a fifty-four that acted as a Port Admiral’s flagship. His worth was as a strategist.”

    “And Bart?” He asked. I shook my head.

    “Bart could have fought off one of them, but not two. They had us cold, Fred. We survived because I knew some tricks that they didn’t and because we were lucky. But I had to be on the deck to manage it. Not spread out in your sickbay.”

    “Perhaps, but do you have any idea how close you came? By all rights you should have died. And I honestly have no idea why you did not.”

    Our arrival at the Mason Shipping office called a halt to the conversation but I knew that it would be picked up again when we left. The three storey building at 13 Broad Street was very well kept up and obviously the site of a prosperous business. As we entered a bell rang and a clerk greeted us.

    “Good Afternoon, Sirs. Welcome to the New York offices of Mason Shipping. My name is Coleman; I’m the head clerk here. How may I be of service to you?”

    “Good Afternoon, Mr. Coleman. I am Captain John Sinclair; this is my friend Doctor Alfred Bassingford. We’re here to see Mrs. Jennifer Longley.” He looked confused for a moment but then asked.

    “Oh, would that be Mrs. Jennifer Mason that you’re looking for, sir?”

    “That’s correct. We’re here at the behest of Mrs. Mason’s husband,” I replied without missing a beat. He smiled and asked us to wait here for a moment before disappearing up the stairs to the upper floors.

    Fred and I looked at each other. Mason had told me that his wife was working as one of St. John’s undercover operatives and that in the Americas their marriage had been kept secret from all but a very few people. Obviously the circumstances had changed and Mrs. Mason was no longer maintaining the masquerade. I hoped that it meant the she was no longer acting as a spy for I had my own reasons for detesting the very notion of a woman in that line of country.


    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Saturday 1 May 1779

    Tara has been with us for nearly three weeks now and we are already seeing a notable change in her. She has put on much-needed weight, her face is much less pale, and she has been able to accompany me on my visits to the soldiers’ wives on two occasions, as long as she did not have to stay on her feet too long. Our rooms above the Mason Shipping offices are cramped with three women, but we do well enough, and we are all good friends. This afternoon we had just returned from one of our visits to Canvas Town when we had two unexpected visitors. Tara is still not as strong as I would like, so she was resting when Prewitt came up to announce our guests.

    “A naval gentleman, ma’am, Captain John Sinclair, and his friend Doctor Alfred Bassingford. They say they’ve come at the behest of your husband, ma’am.”

    “Very well, show them up, Prewitt.”

    A few moments later two men in their late thirties or early forties came up the stairs and bowed courteously. Sinclair wore the uniform of a Senior Post Captain; his friend was in a conservatively cut suit of dark brown. Both men are tall and muscular, with Bassingford somewhat more spare than his friend. Sinclair has the build of a man who has worked hard at keeping fit, unlike so many of his contemporaries who have let fine food and wine turn them to fat. He is rather swarthy, with a pencil-thin mustache and a full head of dark hair, barely touched with the smallest bit of grey at the temples – just enough to make him look dashing and distinguished instead of ageing.

    “Gentlemen, I am Mrs. William Mason, and this is my friend and companion, Mrs. Nicolas Stewart. Prewitt said that William asked you to call?”

    “Indeed, ma’am,” Sinclair said as he crossed the room to bow over my hand and shake Mary’s vigorously, his friend following suit.

    “We had occasion to meet Paladin at the end of March, and may I say, ma’am, that I was very favorably impressed with your husband. He is a superior young officer to whom I have good reason to be thankful, for reasons I will explain at greater length another time. We will not impose on your hospitality for long, ladies, but I wanted to take this opportunity to deliver some letters your husbands wrote and sent along with us.”

    “You are most kind, sir, both in your compliments to my husband and in your actions,” I said as I took the thick packet of letters that he held out to me.

    From the bedroom I heard a rustling of skirts that indicated that Tara was coming our way, and a moment later she walked into the room.

    “Jennifer, I heard voices…” She stopped abruptly at the sight of the two men, blushing a bit in her confusion. Sinclair stood as if thunderstruck, and beside him Bassingford murmured a shocked, “Oh, my God…”
    For a moment, the players stood frozen in tableau. Unsure of what was happening, I hastily made the necessary introductions.

    “Miss Tara Mason is William’s sister. She’s staying with us for a few weeks. Tara, may I present Captain John Sinclair of His Majesty's Ship Sapphire and his friend, Doctor Alfred Bassingford. They have come with letters from William and Nicolas.”

    Bassingford recovered first, stepping forward to bow over Tara’s outstretched hand. “Miss Mason, a pleasure to make your acquaintance, ma’am. You and your brother are very alike, very alike indeed. John?” He prompted his friend quietly, his voice concerned.

    “Miss Mason.” Sinclair’s deep, resonant voice had what in any other person would have been described as a breathless quality, as if he was struggling to speak. Almost mechanically, he bowed over Tara’s hand, studying her face as if memorizing it.

    Tara was clearly puzzled by his distrait manner, but good breeding came to the fore and she tried to put the situation back on a solid footing by making polite small talk. “You met my brother recently, then, gentlemen?”

    Again, Sinclair seemed unable to speak, and Bassingford stepped into the breach. “Yes, indeed, ma’am, at the end of March, near Iceland. They were of course bound for England, and we in the opposite direction. He is recovering well from his wound, you will be pleased to learn. May I offer my condolences on the recent passing of your mother, Miss Mason?”

    “Thank you, Doctor. You are very kind.”

    An awkward pause followed. All of us knew something was amiss, but only Bassingford seemed to understand why. With an effort, Sinclair came back to himself. Forcing a smile, he said, “You must think me very poor company indeed, Miss Mason, to be staring so, but I was simply surprised. You bear an uncanny resemblance to a young lady I knew many years ago, a lady I love very much. You could be sisters, even twins.”

    “I am sorry if I brought back painful memories, sir,” Tara said with a maturity beyond her years.

    “No, no, you couldn’t have known. Ladies, I fear you must excuse us. Mrs. Mason, your servant, ma’am. Mrs. Stewart, a pleasure. Miss Mason, forgive me my boorish behavior.” Abruptly, he bowed himself out of the room, uncaring if Bassingford followed or not.

    “Ladies, I cannot explain, it is his story to tell, but I assure you that only a shock of this magnitude would make John Sinclair forget himself so completely. When he is recovered we hope to be able to call on you again, if we may?”

    “Of course, Doctor Bassingford. Our door is always open to any friends of William’s,” I assured him quietly.

    “Thank you, Mrs. Mason. You are most gracious. Ladies, I give you good day.” He bowed again and was gone, and Tara almost immediately excused herself as well.

    At dinner that night, Tara was livelier than she had been since her arrival, and it soon became apparent what had brought her out of her lethargy. She began asking questions about our visitors – who were they, how had they come to be here, and so on. I told her what I had heard from Bassingford and Sinclair, before he stopped talking, and what William had said in his letters.

    “He’s a very senior post-captain, recently assigned to this area from England. I recall reading that he’d fought a battle last year against two French ships that nearly killed him. Bassingford is both his personal physician and his oldest friend. He’s from Thornbury, Gloustershire, which is really not far at all from Cirencester.”

    “How old would you say he is, Jen? ”

    “I’d say between thirty-five and forty, certainly no more than forty-two or three. Why do you ask?”

    “Just wondering. Do you know if he’s married?”

    “There was a marriage, because William said he was widowed under tragic circumstances, but didn’t give details. I’ve heard nothing about a remarriage.”

    “Oh. I wonder what happened to her? He’s probably about forty, don’t you think? I like him. He’s, well, mature, not like the young men I know in Halifax who always seem so frivolous. I hope he’ll call again.”

    “It’s unlikely, Tara. They have done their duty, indeed they could have sent the letters by one of their lieutenants just as easily as not. Captains of his standing are very busy.”


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Saturday 1 May 1779 (continued)

    Barely able to stand upright I stumbled down the steps leading from the upper floors of the Mason Shipping office. I think that Coleman the chief clerk may have said something to me as I moved like a sleepwalker through the office and out the door but I have no idea what it might have been. I know that tears are filling my eyes for my vision is blurred and yet at the same time it is not for in my mind I see her.

    It is Angelique and yet it is not Angelique. The image is a perfect mirror even down to the shade of her hair and the violet hue of her eyes. It could be my beloved brought back to me by the grace of God but it is not. For she is her own woman and whatever desires I might have to be with my beloved again I would never, could never, take that from her.

    I can feel the warm tears running down my cheeks as I lean back against the building and try to regain some measure of my composure, the composure that was torn from me but moments ago when impossibly the woman that I love more than life itself seemed to appear in a doorway. If the Gates of Heaven had opened and Angelique had descended from on High I could not have been more shocked. The stone bastion protecting my heart for lo these sixteen years shattered like a poorly cut diamond. It’s razor sharp slivers slicing into my soul. All my life I have tried to be prepared for every eventuality but how could I have prepared for Miss Tara Mason?
     
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  9. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Sunday 2 May 1779

    A ghost lies in my arms. I can hear her voice, feel her touch. The gentle caress of her cheek against mine. The smell of the lilac scent that she preferred to heavier perfumes. But when my eyes open to the sun she is not there and in her place is a heaviness in my heart that tells me that this was a final farewell. She is gone. After all these years she has gone on to her rest at last. Her murderer finally punished and knowing that I will not be alone. Soft as a whisper and gentle as a newborn dove I feel her lips touch mine one last time before she fades away to naught but a distant presence far far away.

    “I shall always love you, my Angel.” I whisper. And then I can sense her no longer.

    “John?”

    I opened my eyes to see Fred bending over me. His face is drawn and haggard just as it was when I awakened after having been wounded last July and I know that he has not slept this night.

    “Fred, where?”

    “The house.” He answered. “I sent word to Bart that you were spending the night ashore and brought you here. I knew you would not want the people to see you… er… not in control of yourself.” Good old Fred always such a mother hen.

    “Thank you, Fred. I’m all right now.” I said getting out of the bed slowly. Fred examined me with a critical eye and asked.

    “Are you? I mean are you really?”

    “I think so.” I replied. “It was… a shock. That’s all. I shall be able to deal with it now. Did I make too great of a fool of myself?”

    “I think not. How much do you remember?”

    “All of it. But only through a kind of haze, as if I were watching the scene through a heavy fog.”

    “I said that we would call upon them again. When you were more yourself.” I smiled at him.

    “And so we shall.” I looked about the room as an idea came to me, then faced Fred squarely. “What do you think of a dinner here, say the day after tomorrow?”

    He though it over for a few moments then replied with a smile.

    “Why not.”

    “Splendid,” I said. “I’ll pen a note and run a few errands while you get some rest.” He started to object but I held him off with a finger. “You know that you got none last night. Join me aboard Sapphire at two bells in the afternoon watch. I’ll send MacGregor for you.”



    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Sunday 2 May 1779

    Yesterday Captain John Sinclair and his good friend Doctor Alfred Bassingford came to call, bringing letters from William and Nicolas and an account of how their ship, HMS Sapphire, had met William's Paladin in the North Atlantic in late March. Sinclair seemed thunderstruck by Tara, but he would say only that she resembles someone he loves very much. Tara was very much intrigued by this tall, handsome man, and the fact that he is about forty seemed to be a point in his favour - unusual for a girl of only nineteen, but then Tara is an unusual young woman. She had expressed some hope that Sinclair would call again, but I told her that I thought it was quite unlikely, given his busy schedule. Imagine my surprise, then, when we had another visitor this afternoon - a giant Scot named MacGregor, Captain Sinclair’s cox’n and good friend. He came bearing a note, written in a bold, slashing hand that was as forceful as the man himself.

    Ladies:

    I must once again ask your pardon for my behavior of yesterday. I fear you will have formed no very good opinion of me and I regret this deeply. I would like to have an opportunity to make amends, if you will grant me that indulgence. Would you all be so kind as to join me and some of my officers for dinner at a small house I own here in the city on the evening of the 4th? If you can attend, please send a reply with the bearer of this note, my trusted friend and cox’n MacGregor.

    I remain, ladies, your very obedient, etc,
    John Sinclair


    I read the note, then passed it to Tara, who broke into a smile so breathtakingly beautiful that it left the tough old sea-dog speechless – a rare occasion, I am sure.

    “Of course we must accept the Captain’s kind invitation, else he will feel we have not forgiven him for yesterday, when there was really nothing to forgive. Jen, write and tell him, will you, please?”

    I penned a hasty reply, and with a cryptic, “Bless ye, ma’am. I‘ll be here to collect ye on the morrow,” MacGregor took his leave.

    Tara began chattering excitedly about the dinner to Mary Stewart, then drew her off into the bedroom to help choose a dress to wear – not that there is much choice for a girl who is still in mourning for her mother. Through the open window, I heard voices at the foot of the stairs. One I recognized as that of Sinclair, the other was MacGregor’s.

    “Well? Are they coming?” Sinclair demanded to know.

    “Oh, aye, Cap’n, they’re cooming. Yon lassie made verra sure o’ that. A fine bonny lassie she is, too. If ye’d gone on your ain errand ye’d have seen her smile, the most beautiful smile I’ve seen in many a day.”

    “And instead she smiled at you? Why would any woman want to smile at you, you great Hebridean Mountain?”

    “Ah, dinna fash yersel’, Cap’n. The green eyed monster takes us all in his turn,” MacGregor said outrageously, as they set off down the street. So Sinclair cared whether or not Tara came to dinner, did he? Very interesting.


    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Tuesday 4 May 1779

    On Saturday, we met Captain John Sinclair for the first time when he came to call with letters from William and Mary’s Nicolas. As I watched my best friend and sister-in-law, Tara Mason, react and respond to Sinclair, a man perhaps a quarter of a century her senior, I wondered if my thoughts were the same as my older sister Winifred’s were when she watched me meet William for the first time in Cirencester - the thoughts of a sister watching someone she loves dearly literally fall in love at first sight. Tara has come alive for the first time since her mother died so tragically earlier this year, and I can think of no possible cause but this remarkable man.

    For dinner at the home Captain Sinclair owns here in New York, we began our preparations early. Tara asked Mary to wash her hair and dress it in lovely upswept style that bared just the tips of her delicate ears, and we all dressed in our best. Because of our recent bereavements, Tara and I are still in black, but far from making her look old or sallow, the black silk she had made up to wear to family parties in Halifax set off her fair coloring and brought out the remarkable violet shade of her eyes. They are unique in her family, a legacy from a French ancestor on her mother’s side – the rest of the family has blue, grey or even brown eyes, she says. When she first arrived three weeks ago the gown would have hung on her like a sack, but Mary has been patiently coaxing her into eating and sleeping and there has been much improvement.

    Mary wore the deep green sprigged muslin that Nicolas bought for her shortly after their wedding – at thirty-five, she is still a very handsome woman, her auburn hair untouched with grey.

    MacGregor came to call for us at the appointed time, but he did not come alone. With him were Sinclair, Bassingford, and a young man in his late twenties who introduced himself as Lieutenant Bartholomew Jones, senior aboard HMS Sapphire.

    “Mrs. Mason, Miss Mason, I had the honor of serving with Captain Mason when we were both midshipmen together ten years ago. I am very pleased to meet his two favorite ladies,” he finished.

    “That would have been the Chimera, then?” Tara asked.

    “Yes, Miss Mason. I left in 1769 to take up my first post with Captain Sinclair. You would have been a very young lady then.”

    “Nine years old, but William has always been my favorite brother and he wrote such long, exciting letters, all about the men and the ships, even the battles, though I doubt he told me much of those for fear of frightening me. I still have them all at home. He drew pictures, too. I think if I were to go home and get them out I would find a letter that talks about you - wait, does he call you Bart?”

    “Guilty as charged, ma’am.”

    “Yes, now I remember, you are from Kent.”

    She slipped a hand into the crook of his arm and they walked the rest of the way together, happily chattering about old times and old friends.

    Sinclair, his face a polite mask, offered me an arm and we set off behind them, while Mary followed with the dual escort of MacGregor and Bassingford.

    “She’s so vital, so alive,” Sinclair said almost to himself. “She sparkles like a diamond in the sun, every facet a bit different, but at its heart pure fire. But nineteen…”

    Obviously he had not missed a word of the conversation between his trusted subordinate and Tara. He seemed almost wistful, like a child taken to a confectioner’s and then told that he could only stand with his nose against the glass while other children went in for a treat.

    “She looks like your late wife, doesn’t she?” I asked quietly, sympathetically.

    “Almost a perfect twin.” He stopped just long enough to pull a locket out from under his shirt and opened it. It could have been Tara.

    “That was Angelique. Someday I’ll tell you about her.” He said briefly.

    “You will find me an attentive listener, sir.”

    He was not a man to wear his heart on his sleeve, that much I could see, so even the comments he had made almost to himself had been the product of some strong emotion. I think I know Tara Mason rather well, so I sought to reassure him.

    “She was engaged once, to a young lieutenant, but he was lost at sea two years ago. She has many young men friends, but she treats them all like she treats William, or Richard, or even Stephen, the youngest. She said yesterday that they are great fun but most of them are ‘too frivolous’, as she puts it.”

    It seemed to reassure him a bit, and he seemed to make a decision, because he spoke again. “Mrs. Mason, I know you only a little, but I know your husband and I respect him as a good man and a good commander. By your leave, I will speak frankly. In another four months or so I will be forty-four years of age. She is nineteen, and she resembles my dear Angelique dramatically, as you have seen.”

    I understood all that he didn’t say. Had he fallen in love with a ghost, in a sense? Was the age difference too great? His face was not the one of a man who has paternal feelings for a young woman, yet for all that his feelings were decent and honorable; there was nothing immoral or lustful about them.

    “As William would say, permission to speak freely also, Captain?”

    “Always, ma’am,” he answered with a brief but very real smile.

    “I understand your concerns, sir, and the fact that you want to do what is best for Tara does you great credit. I cannot speak for Tara, of course, but I will tell you this – she is more lively now than I have seen her since before her mother became so very ill and even before that if half of what William has told me is correct.”

    He glanced at Jones, a well-built, handsome young man in his late twenties.

    “You see her with a young officer like that, and think that he is the cause, perhaps? It’s no more than friendliness and the chance to talk to someone who knows William well. I might have the same sort of conversation with him, old married woman that I am. In fact, I intend to do so, at dinner, if you can arrange to sit with her. She was very favorably impressed when you called two days ago, Captain. She positively grilled me for information about you. That is an encouraging sign, I hope?”

    “Very encouraging. Her life has not been easy.”

    “You are very perceptive, sir. No, she has had much to bear these past few years, but she has shown herself to be strong and wise beyond her years. She is my best friend, as well as my sister-in-law, and I love her dearly. I think you will soon understand why.”

    We walked on in companionable silence, until we came to a small but well-kept house in a quiet neighborhood not far from St. Paul's Church. “This is your house, Captain?” He nodded. “You were fortunate that it was spared in the fires of the past few years, then.”

    “Indeed. I bought this house for Angelique. It was our honeymoon cottage, if you will.”

    Dinner was delightful, the house was a small gem of a place, complete with a huge brass bathtub, and Sinclair made sure he was placed next to Tara at dinner. She sparkled, and once I saw him throw back his head and give a great shout of laughter. By the end of the evening they were ‘Miss Tara’ and ‘Captain John’, already fast friends and well on their way to becoming much more.

    Sinclair, Bassingford and MacGregor escorted us back to our rooms, Jones having excused himself to return to the ship. Tara walked with Sinclair, Mary with MacGregor, which left me with my dinner partner, Doctor Bassingford.

    “I must thank you, ma’am, for whatever it is you said to my friend. I have not seen him in such good spirits in quite some time. As your husband may have told you, he was badly wounded last July and recovered very slowly, partly because he would not take the time to recover. Like another very good officer that you and I know, you much better than I.”

    “William, of course.”

    “Indeed, ma’am. I first met him when he almost re-injured the leg when he caught his toe on a ringbolt aboard Sapphire. At the same time that John recommended him for promotion to Post Captain, I recommended that he be ordered to take at least three weeks’ convalescent leave, and John put the estate he owns near Bristol at your husband’s disposal. I hope he heeded my advice, ma’am, for he will never recover full use of the leg unless he allows the muscles to heal, and that takes time. If you could enquire as to his progress in your next letter, ma’am? “

    “Thank you, Doctor, I will do what I can.”

    “If anyone can make him behave it will be you, Mrs. Mason. Now, unless I miss my guess, your friend Mrs. Stewart up there is anticipating a happy event, is she not?”

    I must have looked startled; the pregnancy certainly did not show at this early stage.

    “She has that contented glow about her, Mrs. Mason. Do you have a physician here in town?”

    “No, sir, we have met none that we feel are trustworthy.”

    “I understand. Army and Navy surgeons are often a rum lot, literally. Your husband’s surgeon Harmon is a rare exception.”

    “Yes, he saved William’s life, and I will be forever grateful. But as to Mary, I think she would be most happy to have your assurances, sir. And there is a young soldier’s wife who cooks for us, Maisie Hollis, who is also increasing. If I might impose on your kindness for her?”

    “Certainly, ma’am. And for yourself? You also are married and have recently spent time with your husband. Have you noticed any symptoms? I would feel better if you would allow me to also examine you.”

    “I have noticed no symptoms, sir, and do not expect to do so.” I went on to explain about the riding accident and the earlier doctor’s diagnosis.

    “All the more reason to have an examination, ma’am.”

    We had reached Broad Street by now. Prewitt came out as soon as he saw us, and recognizing authority when he saw it, reported briefly to Sinclair.

    “Nothing unusual to report, Captain. All quiet.”

    Sinclair thanked him and the men escorted us upstairs.

    Just before he made his farewell, Sinclair turned to me. “Mrs. Mason, I would like to offer you and your friends the use of my house whilst you are in New York. These rooms are adequate, and I see that your husband’s brother has engaged a watchman, but there will be much more room for all of you at the house. I will be gone much of the time and living on my ship while I am here, so you will not be putting me out at all.”

    I looked at Mary and Tara. Live in that lovely little house, with a bit of garden in the back? Mary could grow vegetables and flowers and we could have baths in that lovely great tub, and of course Colonel Jenkinson would send his carriage for us wherever we lived, he merely had to be informed of our change of residence. They nodded.

    “Captain, we would be pleased to accept your offer, and thank you.”

    “Excellent. I will send MacGregor over with some men to carry your dunnage tomorrow.”

    They made their farewells and were gone.
     
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  10. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Tuesday 4 May 1779

    As MacGregor, Fred and I walked back to the dock from the Mason Shipping offices I could not help but to think back on all that had occurred this evening. At his request I had included Bart Jones in the small dinner party for he had been more than curious to meet Will’s wife now that it became clear to him that the two had in fact married.

    Looking back on it it had been a good decision although at the time I hadn’t been sure. My doubts had seemed justified at first. He and Tara had walked to the house arm-in-arm and I had been left to look on in fear and dismay. It was odd that re-assurance had come not from Fred or MacGregor as I might have expected but from Mrs. Mason.

    She is but a few months beyond her twentieth year and yet immediately pierced to the heart of the matter. Settling many of my doubts and indeed my fears with a wisdom that belies the calendar. As we walked she told me something of the hardships that Tara had gone through in the past years and how she had seemed to come alive again after our visit Saturday. It was then that I realized that the girl I was seeing up ahead, gaily chatting about her brother with Jones had truly not been there for some time.

    When Jennifer had told me how she believed that it was my presence that had brought this lovely woman back to herself a lightness had come to my heart that hadn’t been there in so long that I scarcely remembered what it felt like. I resolved then to do all that I could to help them. And perhaps, just perhaps there would be a future for Tara and I, someday.

    We sat next to one another at dinner and throughout it all said barely more than a few words to anyone else. She told me of her life both before and after her parents had relocated to Halifax. Of how her father had initially engaged a proper Governess for her but that she had soon learned more than the poor woman who had been hired to teach her. Soon after she had been allowed to take lessons with her older brothers David and Robert, much to their chagrin. She told me of her love of literature and riding, of her keen interest in mathematics and other practical matters as opposed to the needlepoint and music that were more typical of gently bred ladies.

    Once she learned of my grandfather, Sir Thomas, she’d peppered me with questions. The idea that my grandfather had been a pirate during the War of the Spanish Succession had fascinated her. I told her the tale of how he’d poured all the family’s remaining fortune into a single 40-gun Man o’ War and gone to sea with her vowing to come back with a fortune in Spanish gold. And there was the story of Sir Joseph Sinclair, then the Earl of Thornbury, who’d lost his title and his head as a Yorkist during the War of the Roses. But how his sacrifice had saved the people of the town from reprisals after Bosworth Field and the family lands as well.

    And I’d told her of Angelique. She had been far too well mannered to ask of course; but I would not hide it from her. I am proud to have been Angelique’s husband and I wanted Tara to know of the love that we had shared. She’d grown quiet at that and I had changed the subject to how she and Jennifer had renewed their friendship this past winter when the family had visited London with the dual purpose of preparing for her long delayed coming out and consulting with a knowledgeable London physician regarding her mother’s illness. Unfortunately the news regarding Tara’s mother had not been good and she had passed away of congestive heart failure in February.

    One of the few good things to come of it had been her even closer friendship with Jennifer who had followed her across the Atlantic, ostensibly to help with Tara’s coming out but actually to become one of St. John’s agents. I was very glad to learn that that was over and done with now as it had been that business that taken Angelique from me. Although the fact that it had taken the murder of another fine woman to drive the point home had deeply saddened me. Still Tara’s own actions when French agents had attacked her brother William after he and Major Scarboro had been given the mission that had led to Gerard Leveque’s capture showed a courage and determination that was to be admired.

    Although these were three extraordinary women, well able to handle most situations, I felt that the quarters above the Mason offices were not suitable for a number of reasons, not the least of which had been their proximity to the warehouses and the sort of riff-raff that they attracted. When we reached their quarters I had offered them the use of the house for as long as they desired it. I had been most pleased when they had accepted and they would still have Prewitt, the man that Richard Mason had hired as a watchman, to keep an eye on them. Now I need have fewer fears for their safety.

    Ahead of us lay the dock and the gig ready to return us to Sapphire. As MacGregor collected his boat’s crew from the tavern that they had been given leave to stay at Fred turned to me.

    “Well, John, I shall have to return tomorrow at two.” I looked a question at him and he smiled back at me. “I have a patient to look after. Mrs. Stewart is with child and I promised to be her physician as long as we are in New York. They have also got a young soldier’s wife who works there and is also increasing. And I wish to give Mrs. Mason a check as well. You have no objections I trust.”

    “None at all.” I replied. “Provided you examine Miss Tara as well. She’s had a very rough time of it these past few months and I’m concerned about any lingering effects.”

    “Of course.” He said and after a few moments. “What do you think of her?” I knew that he was referring to Tara.

    “You remember a few weeks ago you told me to be open to the idea of love?” He nodded. “Let’s just say that the future’s looking brighter these days.”


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Wednesday 5 May 1779

    I have sent word to Robertson, my first lieutenant – at this point my only lieutenant, but that is something I will be changing in the next few weeks as I interview prospective officers and arrange to get Mr. Cross to a promotion board – to begin the process of getting Vanessa ready for sea. He and Mr. Elijah Boyd, my sailing master, are eminently qualified to do this task and need very little supervision, although I will be going down to Plymouth sometime early next week, assuming the Earl’s grand strategist Sir Malcolm Parker doesn’t keep me longer with his briefings, to make sure that the dockyard superintendent knows that I expect him to cooperate with Robertson in refitting my ship.

    This morning Stephen and I went back to Admiralty House to see if there was any mail or messages for me. Milton and his assistants had nothing for us, though the word that I have a frigate has gotten out, of course, because several times young – and some not so young – lieutenants stopped me in the hallway to ask about possible jobs. I told them all to give their names to Milton and that I would be conducting interviews within the next two weeks at White Oaks. The distance from London to Thornbury is considerable, but if they are anxious enough for the job, they will make the trip.

    We were on our way out of the building when we almost passed someone on the way in. We were talking and he was looking directly ahead, so it was only by chance that Stephen looked over and said, “Dick?”

    My brother Richard came to a stop, turned around, saw Stephen and me, and stood for a moment, stunned. He then walked up to Stephen and said bluntly, “You can thank your lucky stars that we’re on the steps of a public building in London, because if we weren’t I’d draw your cork right here and now.”

    “I know, and I apologize, Dick,” Stephen said quietly. “I was wrong to leave without a word. I - no excuse, sir.”

    Dick looked startled, then smiled, and some of the lines of worry on his face began to fade. “Well, well – when did you grow up, Stephen?”

    “The first two days aboard that merchantman I signed onto out of Halifax, Dick. And then when I got to Portsmouth and Will saved me from the press gang just in the nick of time then caned me for disobeying you. Dick, Will’s got a new command, a frigate, and he says I can be a midshipman!”

    My oldest brother turned to me with an outstretched hand. “Congratulations, little brother. Posted, at twenty-four. That is good news. How did this come to be?”

    Before I answered his question, I had a request to make. “Dick, can we move this to somewhere else? My leg is still a bit iffy at times. We have rooms at Eric Harmon’s house in Brook Street, if you’d like to join us there after you finish here? Why are you here, anyway?”

    “It’s a long story, and I need to see St. John to get the end of it,” he replied.

    “He’s not here, Dick, he took part in an action against some Spanish agents down in Portsmouth last month and was wounded slightly. He’s still down there, I believe.” I told him.

    “I just came from there,” Dick said in disgust. “Now I’ll have to turn around and go back again, but not today. I’m too tired. But that can wait. What number in Brook Street?”

    “Number 23. Our coach is just there.” I pointed.

    “Your coach? Since when do you have a coach?” he said in surprise.

    “Well, not mine, really, it belongs to Captain John Sinclair, but we have the use of it while we’re in England.”

    “Captain John Sinclair, as in the hero of the Battle of the Ladies?” he asked.

    By this time we had reached the coach, Dick shook hands with Stewart, who was waiting with the coachman from White Oaks, and we boarded the vehicle for our journey back to Brook Street. Once we were settled against the squabs I answered his question.

    “The very same. You remember that Frog we caught on Eastern Bay, Leveque?” He nodded. “Well, it turns out Leveque was wanted for murder here in England because back in 1763 he shot and killed his own half-sister, who just happened to be Sinclair’s wife and the mother of his unborn child. We met him by chance up near Iceland on the way home as he was outbound to New York and when he asked us why we were so far off the beaten track we had to explain about Leveque. I thought he was going to break my wrists, he grasped them so hard when I said ‘Leveque’. The upshot of it was, he gave us free run of his estate near Bristol, Leveque was executed for murder and espionage, and he wrote a letter to St. John that got me posted to a 26-gun frigate named HMS Vanessa. And the crew of Paladin split a five-thousand pound reward.”

    “Incredible. I’ve heard of him of course, who hasn’t, but I never expected to ever meet him. The man’s a legend in the Navy, at least among those of us who respect professionalism, fair play and good old-fashioned seamanship. And he just gave you the run of his estate – amazing.” Dick shook his head in wonder.

    “And you won’t believe it, Dick, but the first thing you see when you go into the house is a portrait of his wife, painted by Gainsborough.” Stephen said excitedly.

    “What’s so unusual about that, Steve? Most men have their wives’ portraits painted, although very few can afford Sir Thomas’s fees.” Dick said, a bit puzzled.

    “Not that, it’s the lady, she was French and her name was Angelique. She looks like Tara, Dick, enough to be her twin sister. Same hair, same eyes, a bit shorter maybe, but it's the same face. Imagine what a shock it would be if he went to Halifax sometime and saw Tara, looking just like his dead wife!” Steve answered.

    “He’s going to New York?” Dick said slowly.

    “Yes, I said that, Dick.” I repeated, puzzled that my normally very astute brother seemed so slow to understand. I went on: “He’s got letters for Mary and Jennifer and he promised to call and make sure they’re doing well. Stewart is especially anxious to hear because Mary just told him a few weeks ago that she is with child.”

    “Stop, let me get this straight. He is going to New York, and his dead wife looked like Tara.” He said precisely.

    “Dick, what's the matter? You usually don’t have to have things repeated like this.”

    “Will. Tara is in New York. She was so pale and ill, she wouldn’t eat, I was afraid she would just kill herself with worry and overwork, so I took her to New York to rest, because I knew Mary and Jennifer would take care of her. She’s in New York. If he calls on them at their rooms he will meet her – the very image of his dead wife.”

    “Oh, my God.” I said slowly. “He may already have met her, Dick. He should be in New York by now, and he promised to deliver our letters as soon as possible. Oh, my God.”

    “Exactly.” He said shortly. “I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like for a man to walk into a room on a routine courtesy call and discover that his dead wife – or someone who looks just like her – is standing there. He’s a strong man, by all accounts, but this…”

    We sat in silence for a few moments, thinking about what might be happening even as we spoke. After a time Dick said, “So you say Stewart got Mary’s letter about the baby?”

    “Yes, Stewart got the word about two weeks ago. She says probably late November or early December. But how did you know?”

    “I saw them when I brought Tara down. Jennifer gave me a second letter in case the first got lost.”

    “And Jennifer? Is she well? I worry about her, working in counterintelligence. After what happened to Mrs. Sinclair, I’m beginning to think it’s no job for a woman.”

    “I know it’s no job for a woman, and she’s not doing it, not for the last month. I ordered her to stop. Will, I didn’t just come here looking for Steve. I came to see St. John because I want answers to some very important questions.”

    By now we were at the house. We got out, Dick congratulated Stewart on his coming child, and then he asked me, “Is your surgeon here? I don’t want to exclude him, but I need talk to you in strict confidence, Will. And Steve, I’m afraid even you are out of this one.”

    “It’s not a problem, Dick. I’ll find Mr. Harmon and see if he wants to go for a walk or something. I’ll tell him you and Will need to discuss family business.” He waved a cheery farewell and disappeared, leaving Dick shaking his head in amazement.

    “What happened to my little brother? He acts twenty-three, not thirteen!”

    “Get him to tell you sometime. It’s quite a story. Oh, and he has a young lady friend.”

    “What! At his age?”

    “Yes, Miss Alice Anne Willis, and she is three years old. He’s going to have to wait fifteen years for her to grow up, but if I know Alice Anne, she’ll have him in the end. They were inseparable the whole time the family was with us at White Oaks,” I remarked.

    “And that's another story – the whole business of Jennifer’s family and the mill. It will take some time, but I want to hear your story first, Dick.”

    We had reached the library. I poured wine for myself and Dick, measured out a tot of rum for Stewart, and we sat down.
    “You know I was involved in espionage work,” Dick began. I noticed the past tense but said nothing. “I say was because I came here to resign,” he explained. “I’ve been in the business since 1770, when I was a lad of 19. You met a young lady named Lucinda Graydon last December, didn’t you?”

    “Yes, I even kissed her,” I recalled with a bit of grin. The famous actress and I had played the parts of lovers out for a routine assignation as part of the ruse that had let me meet St. John in secret last December.

    “Yes, she told me, she thought it was rather amusing. Lucinda Graydon was born Lucy Gillis, in Dulwich, across the river. She was one of St. J’s top operatives – and in May 1775 she became my wife.”

    “Your wife!”

    “My wife. We couldn’t tell anyone, we were too deeply involved in espionage, but we got married secretly and I tried to get over to see her as often as I could. Early in April I got a letter from St. J, delivered through his special ‘channels’. It told me that she had been seen to fall into the Thames on February 21st, that she had not been seen since and was presumed dead, but that all attempts to find her body had proved fruitless. I came here to find some answers – how had this happened, when she was supposed to be guarded constantly? I was prepared to shake them out of St. J. today if I had to. I’ve had four weeks to think about this and I’m ready to kill someone. So I’m glad I saw you first, or some poor underling would be missing a few teeth just now.

    “As soon as I got the word, I went back to the apartment and told Jennifer she was out of the spy business. She already knew about Lucy and me, she had guessed some weeks before, which is more than I can say for you, little brother, but then she has woman’s intuition on her side – so she made no objections. They are working with the families of the soldiers of one of the regiments of foot now – under constant military escort, I might add, I made sure of that - doing charitable work. They seem to like it.”

    “And you are here to find out how your wife died and make sure that whoever did it pays for his crime.”

    “Yes. I hope it doesn’t take me sixteen years, like it did for Captain Sinclair, but if it does, so be it.” Dick said resolutely.

    “I understand. If anyone dared lay a hand on Jennifer I wouldn’t rest until he was punished, even if it cost me every penny I had.”

    “Odd how my case and Sinclair’s parallel each other. I’d like to meet him someday.”

    “I think perhaps you might – and sooner than any of us expect.”

    “And his wife, she really did look like Tara?”

    “You’ll see for yourself. We’ll go down to White Oaks in a few days. You look worn out, Dick.”

    He nodded then as if to confirm my words, he fell asleep right in his chair. Stewart found a quilt to cover him and we left him to his rest.
     
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  11. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Wednesday 5 May 1779

    Early this morning the redoubtable MacGregor appeared as promised, and with him eight men, whom he identified as the ‘crew o’ the Cap’n’s gig, ma’am.’ They were uniformly dressed in white trousers and blue shirts, with red neckerchiefs and tarred hats. MacGregor introduced them as the nodded their heads and knuckled the foreheads respectfully.

    “We really haven’t much to move, Mr. MacGregor. I doubt there’s work for eight men, and I feel bad that all of them came all this way,” I apologized.

    “Just MacGregor, ma’am, or Ian, if ye choose. Nay, they all wanted to coom, ma’am. Ye’re not puttin’ us out, not in the least.”

    “Well, if you’re sure. We’ve all packed our trunks, that’s really all we have. The flat here came furnished, you see.”

    “Lead the way, ma’am”.

    My trunk was the largest; my parents had outfitted me for six months with my friend Tara what seemed like a lifetime ago, though it was less than six months. Tara had a smaller trunk of the things she had brought from Halifax, and Mary’s dunnage was still lighter.

    “This be it, ma’am?” MacGregor asked in disbelief. “No mair?”

    “This is all. Just our clothes and a few personal effects.”

    He gave a quick order and the trunks, even my large one, were lifted onto brawny shoulders as if they were filled with feathers. Off they went down the stairs. I made a last check of the rooms that had been my home since early March and followed them down, returning the keys to Coleman, the new head clerk.

    “And you have the forwarding address, Mr. Coleman?”

    “Indeed I do, ma’am, and may I say how glad I am that you have been offered safer accommodation. Of course Prewitt will be going with you.”

    “But he’s your deputy clerk, Mr. Coleman.”

    “A legal fiction, ma’am. He has his orders from Mr. Richard Mason. He’s to keep watch over all you ladies, wherever you might be. Good luck and we hope to see you again sometime, Mrs. Mason.”

    We shook hands and started off for our new home.

    Unpacking was a simple matter after MacGregor and his men left. Mary settled into the maid’s room off the kitchen and Tara and I took the downstairs bedroom with its big four-poster. We had just enough time to have a quick luncheon before our appointment with Doctor Bassingford, who arrived at the same time as Maisie.

    “I got your note, mum,” She said. “And I could read it, too, thanks to you, Mrs. Stewart.”

    Mary had been practicing her new literacy skills in the best way possible – by teaching someone else to read. This way both of them benefited. “An’ I met Doctor Bassingford on the doorstep. Is it true he’s to examine me, too, to be sure the nipper’s all right?”

    “Very true, Mrs. Hollis,” he said as politely as if she had been a wealthy society matron.

    “Cor, I couldn’t hardly bleeve it, but Hollis, he said, ‘If Mrs. Mason says there’s a doctor come to examine you and the nipper, my girl, then there is, and just you go and don’t keep quality waiting.’ So here I am.”

    One by one Bassingford examined us - Maisie first, over her protests, with Mary as her chaperone, then Mary. Both pregnancies were pronounced to be progressing well, and the due dates confirmed. “Though you need to stay off your feet as much as possible, Mrs. Stewart. I’m seeing a bit more swelling around the ankles than I like. Now, Mrs. Mason, if Mrs. Stewart would sit here as your chaperone, I should like to examine you.”

    He was gentle, but very thorough. “You can get dressed now,” He told me, as he went into the next room tactfully. A few minutes later he returned. “I know you were told that the injuries you suffered to the pelvic region as a young girl would prevent you from ever having a child, ma’am, but the body has a marvelous ability to heal itself. I think that I can safely say that you can expect to conceive within the year – provided your husband is ever on the correct side of the Atlantic, that is!”

    The news so stunned me that I hardly heard him turn to Tara. “Miss Tara, when was the last time you were examined by a doctor? Would you permit me? You have had a very traumatic few months and the years before were not kind to you either, and I believe you are still underweight. Not the sort of examination I gave your friends, of course, as you are a maiden lady, but just a general check of your heart, lungs and so on.”

    He saw her starting to protest then played his trump card. “All of your friends would like to hear that you are well – including your new friends.”

    With a smile she consented. I stayed with her as a chaperone as he gently listened and tapped, asked a few pertinent – and personal – questions, and then turned his back so she could rearrange her clothing. “Now, missy. What you have told me is all very well and good, but if you want to stay healthy – and keep your body functioning as it ought - you must eat. You are still too thin.”

    “I promise, Doctor. I feel better now than I have in months.”

    “I’m pleased to hear it.” He bade us all farewell and went off toward the harbour, whistling.


    Interlude – London, England

    Thursday 6 May 1779

    While his brothers William and Stephen were taking care of all the odds and ends of business involved in getting themselves ready to go to sea in Will’s new command, HMS Vanessa of 26 guns, Richard Mason set about getting some answers about what had happened to his beloved Lucy over two months before. He called in at the Admiralty and spoke to the secretary, telling him that he knew St. John was in Portsmouth and that he intended to go down and speak to him personally, but the man told him it would do no good – His Lordship had been invited to the country home of a friend for a short holiday and even Milton did not know where he was. Furious, Dick stalked out of the Admiralty, his dark visage clearing a path for him as he went.

    He went to the townhouse she had called home in her role as the reigning star of the London stage, the lovely Miss Lucinda Graydon, but the knocker was off the door and the house empty. He let himself into the building with his key, but the house, although still furnished, had an abandoned feel to it. There was not even a caretaker on site – nothing. Someone must have come in at least once or twice, though, since the furniture was draped in Holland covers against the dust and the rooms, though somewhat dusty, were in fairly good order. He climbed the stairs to what had been Lucy’s bedroom and moved around the room, picking up a hairbrush here and a fallen earring there. It seemed as if the room was waiting for its owner to return, but Dick had given up hope of that ever happening. He supposed he ought to make arrangements for the house to be cleaned out, the furniture sold and Lucy’s clothes given to charity, but he knew he hadn’t the heart, at least not yet. To do so made it all seem so final, somehow.

    He went through the drawers of her dressing table and found little things that would have meaning only to Lucy and himself - the program for the performance she gave on the night they first met in 1770, a pressed flower bought from a street vendor that had been part of her bouquet when they married, a packet of letters hidden in a secret drawer. It was the history of a relationship, of an abiding and passionate love, and now thanks to someone’s treachery - and Dick was convinced that someone in St. John’s organization had betrayed her - it was over. From the same secret drawer he drew their marriage lines. With them, he could prove that he, Richard Mason, had the right to settle her estate - and even more, to find and punish her killers.


    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Thursday 6 May 1779

    Jennifer and Mary have left to do their ‘rounds’ among the soldiers’ wives with Maisie and the ever-reliable Hollis as escorts. Prewitt is downstairs to keep an eye on things, and I am supposed to be resting after our busy moving day yesterday. I don’t feel like resting, so I am going to explore the attic storage area across the short hallway from the unused upstairs bedroom of this lovely little house Captain John has loaned us.

    As in most storage areas, there are plenty of trunks and boxes, the usual collection of old furniture, and a fair amount of dust. Most of these things belonged to Angelique Sinclair, who was so happy here with her dashing sea captain so many years ago. I chose a trunk at random and began to sift through its contents. It seemed to be mostly books and papers, bearing the name of Louis-Phillipe Leveque – her father, perhaps? Most of them were account books, business letters, legal documents, and so on, but at the bottom of the trunk was a very old book, whose title proclaimed it to be – in French of course - “The History of the Town of Caen and Its Surrounding Area”. Blessing the French Huguenot grandmother who taught me French almost as soon as I learned my first words of English, I began to read, but the French was old and the print difficult to read and I soon lost interest. I was about to put it down when I noticed a piece of paper protruding from the back. A quick check showed that it had been slipped inside the rear endpaper at some point, no doubt to conceal it, but the glue had dried with age and the secret hiding place was revealed. Curious, I unfolded the closely written sheets. They seemed to be pages from a diary, dated 1685 – the year the book was printed in Paris. With some difficulty I deciphered the spidery handwriting, misspelled words, and odd abbreviations. It was like looking for the clues to a buried treasure, in some ways. Entries began to make sense:

    Jean-Marc here last night while Papa was at the inn, drinking. We fear discovery constantly, but he is a passionate lover whom I cannot resist.

    The King has revoked the Edict of Nantes. All Huguenots must adopt the Catholic faith or leave the country on pain of imprisonment or death.

    J-M here last night, late, after Papa was asleep. He says he must leave. He begged me to go with him, saying we will be married before we go. I cannot leave Papa, he is too ill. We quarreled.

    Jean-Marc has gone. I cannot stop crying, but I could not go with him.

    A few weeks later, this entry: ‘I fear that I am with child. Papa will be destroyed by the shame. I do not know what to do. I fear that I must go to the sea, I see no other solution.’ And a few days later, ‘M. Leveque, a widower twenty years older, came to visit tonight. He is a gruff, boisterous man, but he looks at me with desire in his eyes. Papa says he has made an offer of marriage. I cannot abide the thought of his thick lips or rough hands on my body, but the alternatives are disgrace or eternal punishment as a suicide. What choice have I? None.

    Three weeks later: ‘Today at noon I will marry M. Leveque. May God have mercy on me,’ and after that there were no more entries.

    I vaguely recalled that my mother had said her grandfather came from Normandy, so I began to look through the old history book again. Tucked into its pages was a short note to one Aristide Langlois – this must have been the diarist’s father – from Jean-Marc Martise, asking him to accept the book as a token of the giver’s esteem on the occasion of his birthday, 1685.

    Suddenly it all began to make sense. Jean-Marc Martise was my great-grandfather, who had immigrated to Virginia in 1685. He was also, it seemed, Angelique’s ancestor as well, although no one knew it because his young mistress married and gave her baby by Martise another man’s name, that of Leveque. Excited, I began to sort through the papers, searching birth and death records, a family Bible, anything. I was not disappointed. Louis-Philippe had written as much of his family history as he could trace, all the way back to the time of the Hundred Years’ War - or at least the history of the Leveque family, which he believed to be his history as well. It was all there in fading black ink - Angelique and I were cousins, having shared a common great-grandfather, I legitimately and she by less conventional means. I continued to read and and to sort. At the very bottom of the trunk was a faded pencil sketch of a tiny girl dressed for her first communion in a white dress and veil. It said, ‘Angelique, aged 7 years’ and was dated 1750.

    I sat for a long time on another trunk, just thinking. No wonder we looked so much alike - we were cousins. And how happy she must have been in this house with her John, who had saved her from rape and possible murder in France, found her again in America, and brought her here to this little gem of a house as a bride.

    There was the sound of voices and footsteps below. “Tara, where are you? We have a visitors, dear,” Jennifer called.

    “Up here, Jennifer. I’m coming down.” I started to stand and brush the dust from my black gown when I heard footsteps and the top of John Sinclair’s head appeared through the hall door as he came up the stairway.

    “Miss Tara, your servant, ma’am. I haven’t been up here since… well for a very long time. It’s quite dusty, though, surely this can’t be good for your lungs?”

    “Perhaps not, but I found an old diary page in a book and I couldn’t put it down. Do you read French, Captain?”
    “Not well at all, I’m afraid. Angelique tried to teach me, but there was never the time. I take it you do?”
    “Yes, my mother’s family was of good Huguenot stock. Did you know this was here, Captain?” I produced the sketch of Angelique in her white dress.

    “No, no I didn’t.” He stood for long moments and looked down at the smiling face of the lovely girl who had become his wife a decade or so later, only to be brutally murdered by her own half-brother.

    “Captain John, may I introduce my cousin Angelique?”

    “Your cousin, Miss Tara?”

    “My cousin. This diary proves that my great-grandfather and Angelique’s were one and the same, a man named Jean-Marc Martise.”

    There were several moments of puzzled silence as he looked from the sketch to me and back, and then I saw the puzzle pieces begin to slot into their places.

    “So that explains the remarkable resemblance, then, it’s a family trait.”

    “So it would seem. Well, I am hardly fit to receive guests, Captain, so if you will excuse me, I will tidy my hair and wash some of the dust away.”

    He smiled down at me. “Perhaps that would be best. You have a smudge on the end of your nose, just here.” A light touch with one finger pointed to the offending spot.

    “No, don’t rub it, you’ll be all over dust, my dear. Stand still.” A white handkerchief and some careful wiping took care of the smudge.

    “You can open your eyes, now, my dear, the smudge is gone,” he said gently, his voice only a few inches above my ear.

    He was standing very close to me. His gaze was intent, his eyes searching. It seemed only natural that I should walk into his arms, feeling their strength enfold me in a tender embrace even as I lay my head against his chest. One large hand came up to smooth my hair, and a kiss brushed my forehead.

    “Oh, my dear Miss Tara,” he whispered. “Welcome to the Sinclair family.”
     
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  12. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Saturday 8 May 1779

    “Miss Tara, if you will allow me the indulgence.” I asked. Tara, Jennifer, Mary Stewart and I were sitting in the house’s sitting room this pleasant evening. As had become habit since they had moved here I had stopped in to assure myself that all was well with them. It was now nearly four bells in the first watch and well past the time that I would normally have taken my leave. But the company and conversation had been so pleasant that the time had slipped by all but un-noticed until I had happened to glance at the clock on the mantle a moment ago. Tara nodded her agreement.

    “I understand that you recently celebrated your nineteenth birthday.” I reached into my breast pocket and drew out a slim box tied with a red ribbon. “I hope that you will accept this small token of my esteem.”

    “Captain John, truly you shouldn’t have.”

    “I am only sorry that I was too late to give it to you on your actual birthday.” She took the box and carefully untied the ribbon before opening it.

    “Oh, My!” She exclaimed looking inside. A gold necklace with three large stones lay on a bed of velvet inside the box. The large stone in the center was a diamond and the flanking stones were blue sapphires, the chain that they hung upon was a fine filigree. The jeweler had just managed to have it ready this afternoon.

    “If you will permit me.” I said and then took the necklace and draped it about her neck, making sure that the clasp was securely fastened. “It should go well with the gowns that you bought in London.” Then raised her hand to my lips and gently kissed it. Tara seemed unable to respond as I picked up my cocked hat and tucked it under my arm.

    “Well, ladies, I will take my leave, and thank you for your hospitality.”

    “It is we who should be thanking you, Captain Sinclair.” Jennifer Mason replied stepping into the breach. “And it is your house after all.” I smiled at that.

    “I am just glad that someone can make use of it, Mrs. Mason. Angelique and I were very happy here, all those years ago. Now that your husband, and yours, Mary, have seen her murderer to the gallows, she can finally rest in peace.” I said then kissed her hand as well. Proceeding to Mrs. Stewart I shook her hand in the fashion that I knew she favoured before moving on to Tara. I took both her hands in mine and bowed low over them.

    “Miss Tara, your servant always.”

    Then setting my hat upon my head I took my leave. Darkness had long since fallen and deep shadows reached out from the corners of every building. I stood on the porch for several minutes breathing in the crisp night air while I waited for my eyes to adjust to moonlight. Once I was able to see reasonably well I started toward the docks where MacGregor and the gig’s crew were waiting in one of the numerous taverns. I knew that I could count upon MacGregor to make certain that none drank too much. In any case he would be carrying the money.

    Making my way from the house I hadn’t gone far when I heard a cry off to my left. “Death to the English!” And a maddened horse seemed to kick my side, knocking me into a nearby rail post. Looking over to my left I saw a man in the tatters of what once might have been a respectable suit and holding a smoking horse pistol. Our eyes locked momentarily as the fighting madness came upon me, forcing the pain of the pistol shot into the background. My face clouding over with fury I pulled my sword from its scabbard and growled.

    “I don’t die that easily. Shall we see if you can say the same?” Then strode forth across the twenty yards that separated us only to have him turn tail and run between two buildings. I followed rapidly but as I turned the corner two figures lunged out of the darkness at me. Knocking the blade from my hand they grabbed me by both arms and held me fast. This was no spur of the moment attack but a carefully planned ambush.

    Up ahead my original attacker had stopped. He stuck his empty pistol into his belt and drew out a wide-bladed double-edged knife that I recognized as a Scottish dirk. Advancing on me he smiled a mirthless smile.

    “Now I’ll do for you, Cap’n!” He said as he prepared to thrust the blade into my heart. Letting his two compatriots take my weight I kicked up with my left leg. The dirk slid along my leg sending a shaft of fire shooting up it as the tip of the blade slid along my breeches cutting a long wound that immediately turned the white material red with my blood. But the heel of my shoe had struck him full in the face with much of my near fifteen stone behind it. Spitting out teeth, blood streaming from his pulped lips and nose he reeled away dropping the dirk in the process, which thankfully had not struck home.

    As his compatriots realized that their tight grips upon my arms had helped me to deal with him they relaxed them and I was able to wrench free of their hands. Snatching up the fallen knife I buried the blade into the belly of the man on my right, then wrenched it out cutting his stomach wide open and drenching myself further on his blood in the process. However as I had been dealing with him the last man drew out his own knife and brought it down on my right shoulder. A stab of white-hot pain flared across it as the blade easily sliced through my uniform and cut a deep gash into the shoulder itself. Rolling away I took the dirk by the blade and flung it with all the strength that I had in my left arm. The blade sunk into my assailant’s chest nearly to the hilt and he fell to the ground without so much as a sound.

    Snatching up my fallen sword I made to deal with the original attacker but as I looked about he was nowhere to be seen. The fighting madness was leaving me now and the pain of my wounds was becoming greater. My right arm hung down at my side, any attempt to move it resulting in severe pain. I could feel hot, sticky blood soaking my shirt, waistcoat, and the coat of my uniform from the pistol shot and knife thrust, while looking down at my left leg it seemed to have been painted red with my blood. The sight blurred suddenly as I lost more and more blood. I needed help and did not have much time in which to get it.

    With a supreme force of will and using my sword partly as a cane I managed to stagger back toward the house. I was becoming more and more light-headed as the life-blood ran from my body and it was all I could do to reach the house before collapsing against the door. Everything was fuzzy now as I slipped into and out of consciousness. I heard voices but could not make out what they were saying. Then a face framed by blonde curls swam into focus. “Angelique?” I thought “No, Tara.” Then the darkness swept over me.


    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Saturday 8 May 1779

    Captain John Sinclair bowed himself out of the little house he had loaned us, leaving Tara looking at the door as if caught in a sort of trance. Her fingers lightly touched the exquisite diamond and sapphire necklace Sinclair had brought as a belated birthday present, almost certainly the most valuable gift she had ever received, and from a man she had met only days before.

    “Tara, love, it’s very late,” I reminded her gently.

    “Yes, of course. I’m coming.” She seemed to come back to the present and started toward the bedroom we share, but before she could get there we heard a sharp pop in the distance.

    Mary Stewart held up a hand for quiet. “Gunshot, and close by,” she said just as Albert Prewitt, the watchman Will’s brother Dick hired to keep an eye on us, knocked on the door.

    “Mrs. Mason, it’s me, Prewitt.” Mary opened the door. He came in, all business. He wasted no time with unnecessary questions or explanations, saying only, “Mrs. Stewart, you know what to do. Take the ladies into the back bedroom and stay there until I call you.” Mary picked up her Kentucky long rifle and led us toward the back of the house.

    “Probably some drunken soldier out on a spree is all. No need to be alarmed, I don’t think,” she said reassuringly. Long minutes passed before we heard Prewitt shout again, his voice alarmed.

    “Ladies, come quick! It’s Captain Sinclair and he’s been hurt bad!”

    A horrific sight awaited us in the front hallway – John Sinclair, bleeding profusely from what seemed like a dozen wounds, his body half in and half out of the house. Tara screamed, then clapped her hand over her mouth before rushing to fall to her knees beside his horribly wounded body, uncaring that blood was smearing all over the black silk gown she was wearing. She picked up one bloodstained hand and felt frantically for a pulse.

    “Oh, thank God, he’s still alive, there’s a pulse. It’s weak and thready, but he’s alive! John, it’s Tara. Can you hear me? You’re safe now. We’ll get Doctor Bassingford to help you. You’re going to be all right. You’re safe. JOHN!

    The last was almost a scream of hysterical panic even as tears rolled freely down her face.

    There was a slight movement and he began to try to speak. His voice was almost inaudible, but we could just make out the words, “Angelique? No, Tara,” before he passed out again.

    “He knew it was me. He didn’t mistake me for Angelique. He knows who I am,” Tara murmured, almost as if she were repeating a litany to comfort herself.

    At this point, Mary took charge.

    “Prewitt, go to HMS Sapphire and tell Doctor Bassingford what happened. Tell him to come double quick. Don’t come back without him,” she ordered toughly.

    “Yes, ma’am. Double quick.”
    “Miss Jen, you and Miss Tara help me get him onto the kitchen table. If Bassingford needs to operate it will be easier for him there. He’s a big man but if all three of us lift him… ”

    “Mary, should you be lifting at all? Your baby… ” I interupted, concerned.

    “Don’t have much choice, ma’am, not unless you want me to treat him on the floor.”

    “No, of course not, you’re right,” I admitted, as she knelt beside Sinclair's inert body.

    “Now, Miss Tara, I know you’ve been ill, but you’re a big girl, tall and strong. You’re going to have to help me do most of the lifting. He outweighs Miss Jen by a hundred pounds, easy,” Mary said calmly.

    “I will, Mary. I’m not as tall or as strong as you are, but I’ll do my best.” Tara said with a faint smile. I am sure that at that point she was blessing the fact that at five feet eight inches she towered over most women and even some men, and that she has always loved the outdoors and athletic pursuits. She was no match for Mary’s six feet of rawboned backcountry strength, of course, but together they would do what had to be done. Certainly I, at only five foot three inches and barely one hundred pounds, could do very little when faced with Sinclair’s fifteen stone of muscle and sinew.

    Together, we managed to lift Captain John and carry him the short distance into the house’s little kitchen. The scrubbed worktable took up most of the space in the room, but its length would accommodate the captain’s six-foot form, if only just barely.

    “Stoke up the fire and set the kettle on, Miss Tara. We’re going to need plenty of hot water. Both of you better put on aprons – your gowns will be ruined otherwise.” Mary directed.

    “Mine already is, who cares about that?” Tara said bluntly, but she donned an apron obediently and then helped me with mine.

    “I need bandages, plenty of them. Get a clean sheet from the cupboard and tear it into strips.” Mary ordered. I was closest to the door, so at her word I disappeared and came back shortly with the sheet and two pairs of sharp scissors.

    “Good girl, thank you, Miss Jen. You two hold him while I cut this uniform off. It won’t be pretty, Miss Tara. You’d better leave now if you think you’re going to faint. You’ll be no use to him if you do.”

    “No. I’m not leaving. I won’t faint,” Tara said, slightly indignant at the suggestion.

    I am sure Mary said what she did intentionally. Insulted at the suggestion that she would give in to feminine hysteria, Tara had strengthened her resolve not to do so.

    “All right, then, child. Get that washtub over there and bring it to catch the rags.”

    In Mary’s sure, deft hands, the scissors did their work, revealing the naked torso of a badly wounded man. Mary reached over and took off the locket that Sinclair always wears - the one that holds the picture of his beloved Angelique.

    “Miss Tara, wash the blood off this, very carefully, and put it somewhere safe. He’ll be wanting it again soon, I’m thinking.” I watched Tara wipe the locket clean and drop it down the front of her gown for safekeeping. It wasn’t the best solution, perhaps, but it would do for now.

    “Now, let’s see what the damage is. Gunshot to the left side, there. Clean entry wound, no exit wound, it’s still in there. Put a clean pad on it and hold it, Miss Jen. Now for this one - there’s been a knife here, pushed straight down and in, and it’s deep. Miss Tara, we have to stop the bleeding there. Hold this pad and press down, as hard as you can.”

    At Mary’s command, she stood over Sinclair's recumbent form, pressing with all the strength she could muster. The chest continued to rise and fall – breathing was shallow, but regular. I could see her eyes widen as she took in what was most likely her first sight of a man’s naked chest - whorls of dark hair, arrowing down into his waistband. Like most gently bred young ladies, it was unlikely that any of Tara’s brothers had ever appeared less than fully dressed around her and her engagement to Timothy Atwood had been brutally short, so this was bound to be a bit of shock. But there was more of a shock to come, because having dealt with the coat and shirt, Mary turned to the ruins of Sinclair’s breeches.

    “Miss Tara, I’m going to cut the breeches off next. If you’d prefer to leave, you being a maiden lady and all… ”

    “I’ll stay. I want to help. Somehow my delicate sensibilities don’t matter when John’s life is in danger. Jennifer, it’s all right, isn’t it?” She asked me.

    “It’s all right, Tara. Just be aware that men look different.” I told her gently, remembering the horrible day in February when I had gone aboard HMS Paladin, only to find that my beloved William had been seriously wounded by a flying splinter. It hadn’t been my first sight of a naked man, we had been married for over a year after all, but it had definitely been skirting the ragged edge of propriety. In these circumstances, I felt that Tara’s presence was important both to her and to our patient, and the proprieties could just go hang.

    While we had been talking, Mary had been cutting away at the breeches, now stained dark red with blood. They and the smallclothes beneath them came off together, to reveal a long, angry gash reaching from mid-calf to mid-thigh on the outside of the left leg.

    “Keep the sponges coming, Miss Jennifer. Miss Tara, how are you holding up?”

    “Fine, Mary. I won’t faint. Is it… bad?”

    “Give me a minute, child. I won’t know until I clean some of this blood off.” She sponged carefully. “No, thank God. No damage to veins or arteries, it’s actually pretty shallow. I think he must have deflected a knife blow with his leg and the tip just ran up the side of this leg. It will need stitching, but it’s not too deep. How’s that shoulder wound?”

    “The bleeding has stopped, Mary.”

    “Good. Here, take this sponge and wipe it clean, so the doctor can see to work there. Good girl. Now, come over here and help me bandage this leg, at least until he gets here. Miss Jen, you hold him steady. Miss Tara, you take the bandage and wrap it loosely, that’s right, just like that.”

    Tara looked ready to scream, and I knew exactly how she felt. I had almost fainted at the sight of the horrible wound William had suffered. Certainly this was much worse than the pistol ball that had creased William’s skull last December. I saw her bite her lips until she drew blood and I knew they would be swollen and bruised for many days to come, but she said nothing. Around and around the hair-roughened leg her hands wrapped the bandage, until the job was done and Mary was satisfied.

    “Good girls, now it’s a matter for the doctor.” Mary said.

    As if he were an actor listening for a cue, Fred Bassingford came into the kitchen at that moment. He greeted us courteously and set to work, his mind set only on his patient. After a quick examination, he said admiringly, “You should have been a surgeon, Mary. You are certainly the best nurse I have ever met. Miss Tara, are you well? You have had to endure sights that few gently-bred ladies ever see.”

    “I am well, Doctor. A bit tired, perhaps.”

    “Mrs. Mason, a cup of tea for all of us, please? And a bit of brandy in Miss Tara’s, I think, but only a tablespoon or so. Now, let us get this ball out.”

    By the time he finished and dropped the spent ball into the basin Mary was holding, Tara was much less pale. The hot, sweet tea, with its medicinal brandy added, had restored her.

    “Mary, your job is done. Get off your feet, for the baby’s sake. Jennifer and Tara” – somehow in the course of the evening the titles had gone by the boards – “can take over from here,” Bassingford directed.

    He finished suturing and bandaging and then straightened his long back wearily.

    “Patched up to fight another day. The story of my life, it seems, patching up this man. God knows why I keep doing it. He shall pull through, he always does, though how he does it, I do not know. Thank you, ladies. Now, we need to get him into the bedroom. Prewitt, take that door off the hinges and bring it here. We will use it as a litter.”

    The two men transferred Captain John to the biggest bed in the house, the one he had bought for himself and Angelique so many years ago. It had been our bedroom, mine and Tara’s, but that had all changed. Once his patient was settled, Bassingford turned to me.

    “He will need to be watched constantly. I shall stay here until I’m sure he is out of danger, although I do not expect any problems,” he hastened to assure the others.

    “May I sit with him, Doctor?” Tara asked.

    “Are you well enough, missy? Put out your hand. Good, warm and steady. Yes, you can take the first watch, if you like. You have done well, precious girl.” He brushed a paternal kiss across her forehead and motioned me out of the room.


    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Saturday 8 May 1779

    Jennifer and Doctor Fred are gone, and I bless them for their tact. They know that just in a few short days this man lying so horribly wounded on the bed has become as important to me as my own life. I don’t know how it happened; I never expected to walk into a room in a little flat in New York and fall headlong into love with a man more than twice my age, but that is what I have done. John is deeply unconscious, his body weakened by loss of blood and by the shock of his injuries. His big body lies covered only by bandages, a clean sheet and a light woollen blanket, and I know that there are those who would say that even seeing him unclothed would compromise me beyond redemption, but I don’t care. He is so strong, so virile, even in this weakened state. His big hands lie relaxed on the sheet and I pick one of them up and hold the hand between the two of mine and contrast them – mine delicate and long-fingered, his large and very strong. There are scars on his hands – there are scars everywhere on his big body, and I find myself wondering how he could have survived so many wounds. In so many ways a simple, ordinary thing like a hand epitomizes all that John Sinclair is – tough, battle-scared, strong – and yet I know these hands held his Angelique in their bed at night, made love to her, kept her safe – from all but her own treacherous half-brother. I pressed a kiss into the palm, folded the fingers over it, and then the tears came.

    How long I wept for this good, honorable man and all the pain he had suffered I do not know – it could have been a few minutes, or perhaps it was hours. Time ceased to have any meaning. Mary came to check on me at one point and found me on my knees beside the bed with John’s hand clutched in both of mine, sobbing uncontrollably.

    “Come, child, you‘ll make yourself ill. He’s strong, he’ll pull through, you know what the doctor said about how many times he’s done this before.”

    I could only nod. “Now, come to bed. You need your rest. I’ve made a bed up for you in the other room.” Mary said gently.

    “In a minute, Mary. I just want to make sure he’s all right.”

    “He’s unconscious, poppet, he’s lost too much blood and his body needs time to rest. It shuts down all but the most basic functions to allow him to do that. I’ll sit with him in case there’s any change, and the doctor is still here.”

    “No, Mary. Let me, please. I want to help him. He’s been so good to us, and to William – why he even said he’d go to Halifax and help Father if he could, to try to bring him out of his depression. Let me, please, just for a little while longer? I promise I’ll sleep all day if you want me to!”

    “Very well then, but only for another hour, and then you must go lie down. I’ve made up the bed upstairs for you and Miss Jen.”

    “One more hour. I promise.” I said steadily, and Mary left the room with a doubtful backward glance.

    There was a chair beside the bed, but somehow it just seemed better to sit on the floor beside the bed. As tall as I am, leaning down would soon be very uncomfortable, and this way I could put my head on the bed beside John’s shoulder. Lacing my fingers with his, I began to talk, to tell him about my life, to describe happy childhood memories, to quote snatches of songs, verses of old hymns, prayers I had learned from childhood, anything to communicate with him. The hour went by, and soon Mary would come and insist that I seek my own bed. Smoothing a hand across his brow, I began quoting a poem Papa had first taught me years before. Line by line the stanzas rolled, until I came to the last:

    Yes this inconstancy is such,
    As you too shall adore;
    I could not love thee, dear, so much,”


    I reached the last line and I could not go on. Overcome with tears, I was unable to speak for a few seconds. From the bed came a thread of sound, so low as to be almost inaudible:

    “ “Loved I not honor more.” Richard Lovelace, ‘To Lucasta on Going to the Wars’,” he murmured. “Thank you, Miss Tara.”

    Almost unable to believe my ears, I raised my head. John was awake and trying to smile, the shadow of a day’s growth of beard giving him a slightly rakish look

    “John. Oh, thank God, thank God – we were so worried!” Overcome with emotion, I began to cover his face almost feverishly with little butterfly–soft kisses, even as he slipped into unconsciousness again.
     
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  13. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    Interlude – Swindon, England

    Sunday 9 May 1779

    For three days Dick Mason scoured London for clues to the mystery of his wife Lucy’s sudden death. He found someone who had seen her fall into the Thames, but no one could tell him anything about her assailant. He sought out every operative he knew, but either they knew nothing or they weren’t talking, and appeals, pressure and even angry words availed him very little. The man who had been assigned to protect her, primarily because he bore a remarkable physical resemblance to Dick himself and could pass for him if not too closely scrutinized, was an operative known only as ‘Lloyd’. He, too, was gone, supposedly on some mysterious assignment, but nobody knew where or for how long.

    No, Lucy was simply gone. There was a marker in a church near the townhouse, but no body – it had never been recovered, and even the marker was wrong. It gave her name as Lucinda Graydon, not surprisingly, but listed her date of birth as 1755 when Dick knew she was actually a year older than he was, having been born in 1749. It was ironic, really- Lucy had gone on the stage at fourteen pretending to be eighteen, and now that she was nearly thirty, everyone thought she was still under twenty-five. Each day he went back to the townhouse where his brothers were staying a bit more frustrated and angry – and despairing of ever finding out the truth. Finally, on Friday, his brother Will said quietly,

    “Dick, I know you don’t want to hear this, but maybe it’s time for a rest. Give yourself a chance to step back and think about it. Maybe something will come to you. White Oaks is wonderfully restful. Will you come with us today? There’s plenty of room and we’d love to have you. I want you to meet the family in Cirencester again too. I need your advice about this mill, big brother.”

    Thus convinced, Dick agreed to leave London for Thornbury and they set off. A late start on Sunday meant that they would not be able to make the journey in one day, so they stopped once more in Swindon and took rooms for the night.

    “I want to make some enquiries while we are here. We learned from his secret papers that Benjamin Willis spent most of the family fortune on a woman called Sally Hill. She lived here. I don’t expect to find her, or him, that would be too much to ask, but I would like to know as much as I can about her,” Will explained.

    “Then let me do the talking, brother. I have more experience at asking questions of people who won’t want to talk than you do.” Dick suggested.


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Monday 10 May 1779

    Slowly consciousness crept back into me as the light pierced through the veil of darkness in my mind. I had no idea how much time had passed since the attack and only later learned that it had been nearly two full days. Through the filtering haze that engulfed me I slowly gathered my wits about me. I remembered the attack and making my way back to the house before collapsing from blood loss on the front stoop. I could see Tara’s face looking down at me, her deep violet eyes framed by the wreath of softly flowing golden curls.

    With a shock I remembered that she had been crying, I had very distinct memories of her tears on my face as I lay semi-conscious after having spoken one of my favourite passages from Lovelace and more she had been kissing me as a woman would kiss a fallen lover as she prayed that he live. But was it real or just the dream of a man who longed for her love even as a man dying of thirst longs for water?

    I tried to call up more memories but they were too fuzzy and indistinct to make anything of, just the impression of comfort and peace. Knowing that I could not remain in this state forever I slowly opened my eyes.

    I was lying on the bed that I had bought for Angelique and I all those years ago. The sunshine that was streaming in through the windows had a pronounced slant to it indicating that it was late afternoon and its golden rays bathed the room in light. I was naked under the clean sheets but for the bandages that covered my wounds and I knew from past experiences, ‘and the pain’, I thought wryly; that I had to be a mass of bruises.

    But far more important than that was what I saw as I looked down to my right hand. For there sleeping like an angel, her fingers laced up in mine and her golden hair spread across the blanket as her head rested on my chest lay Miss Tara Mason. On her face I could see the faint tracts of countless tears wiped hastily away as well as the puffiness about her eyes so well remember from my mother’s face after my brother Robert had died of pneumonia more than thirty years ago. And I knew that it hadn’t been a dream, that my dear Tara loved me as much as I did her. Without realizing that I was doing it I tightened my grip upon her hand, heedless of the pain in my shoulder.

    Tara awakened with a start, her eyes snapping open and fixing upon me as I smiled down at her. I tried to say ‘Good Morning’ to her but all that came out of my bone-dry throat was a hoarse croak.

    “No. Don’t speak, John.” She said. “Everything’s going to be fine. Doctor Fred got here in time. But you need to rest.”

    Trying once more I managed to get out the one important word – “Water.” Realizing what I needed Tara went to the pitcher on the dresser and poured a shallow glass then brought it over to me. Balancing on my left arm I managed to right myself enough to let her put the glass to my lips. Taking a sip I let the water explore the dry tissues of my mouth before swallowing it down, then doing the same with the second and third sips of the cool liquid. Now able to do so I drank down the remainder of the water and felt it explore my stomach before lying back down.

    As Tara returned the glass to the dresser I watched her. She resembled my dear Angelique in so many ways it was uncanny. Even having learned that they were both descended from the same man several days ago hadn’t changed that. Indeed if the two had been put side-by-side the only physical difference was that Tara was just a bit taller by no more than an inch or two. Reaching up to my chest I felt for the locket that contained Angelique’s portrait but it was not there. The concern must have showed on my face for Tara picked it up off the dresser and brought it to me.

    “We had to take it off when you were being treated.” She said. I took the locket and opened it. How long I lay gazing down at my Angelique I’m not sure. Some minutes at least but I could feel Tara’s eyes on me and still looking I began to speak.

    “I have worn this about my neck for more than eighteen years, Tara. It was right here in New York that I had it painted just before Angelique and I were married. And since her death it has been my special talisman, protecting me from all harm. And a symbol of the task that I swore to perform. Now, thanks to your brother Will, Nicolas Stewart and Major Scarboro that task is completed. Perhaps I should set this down.”

    “If you’re doing this because of me, John.” She interrupted. “You needn’t do it. Ever since I learned that Angelique and I are cousins I feel far less… intimidated… by the love you and she shared.”

    “I know. But I want there to be no doubts in your mind. I owe you my life, Tara. If not for you I fear this last attack would have finished me.” She started to object but I forestalled her. “No, let me explain. Last month Fred finally said something that he’d been thinking for a very long time. He said that I was unconsciously trying to kill myself so that I could be with Angelique again. And the worst part was that I realized that in a way he was right. But I also knew that as long as Leveque had been free I would not let myself die no matter what my unconscious wanted.

    “But now Leveque is dead and that burning need to see him pay for his crimes is gone. And with it the well of determination to live that countered my unconscious wish to die. When I realized that I knew that the next time I was wounded as badly as I have been in the past, that I would not survive it.

    “Then a week ago I met you. Don’t you see, Tara? You’ve given me a reason to live that is stronger than my unconscious desire for death. Once the initial shock of your appearance had worn off I realized that I had the same feelings when I first looked at you as I’d had when I saw Angelique descend the stairs at her father’s home all those years ago. Not the feelings that came later once we were married, but the lightning bolt that struck me when we first met. I know that we have only known each other for a very few days but that is the way it is with me. I knew that I was in love with Angelique within a few days of our meeting, just as I know that I’m in love with you. I want you never to have any doubts about that. I love you, Tara.”

    Abandoning any show of restraint Tara threw herself across my chest. My shoulder screamed in pain but I was able to ignore it easily for the sweetness of her touch drowned it out and filled my heart with joy.

    “And I love you, my darling John.” She said as she turned tear-filled eyes to me. “I think that I knew I did from the moment that I first saw you.” I smiled down at her.

    “Then I think that it is your portrait that I should be wearing about my neck, my sweet. The artist who first did Angelique’s miniature still lives in New York. Will you sit for him? I can have a new locket made for it easily.”

    “Of course I will, my dearest. How could you doubt it? But when you are well enough you must sit for one as well. For I too want to wear your portrait.”

    I nodded and then let my head lay back on the pillow as the haze of sleep began to gather about me once more. After long minutes the haze grew and as I began to drift off again I felt Tara's lips lightly press on my forehead as she murmured.

    “Sleep well, my dearest.” And as a feeling of peace and contentment engulfed me, I slept.


    Interlude – Thornbury, England

    Monday 10 May 1779

    For all Dick’s expertise at questioning reluctant witnesses, his efforts yielded little. Yes, Sally Hill had lived at a certain house in Swindon, but she had left in February and had not returned, and nobody knew where she had gone. It was apparent that none of her neighbors or the shopkeepers she had dealt with liked her, but however much they might have wished to blacken her name, they really knew almost nothing. Yes, they knew she had a gentleman visitor, they thought he was from Cirencester, but in their world it paid not to ask too many probing questions. The house and carriage had been sold through an agent some weeks before – an agent who also refused to talk, despite Dick’s pressure. It seemed that the Masons were at an impasse. But just as they were leaving the inn to resume their journey the next morning, the hostess came out to intercept them.

    “Sir, I just remembered somethin’ about that Sally Hill. About three months ago, a man come asking directions to her house. He spoke wit’ a queer accent – foreign like – and there were another man wit’ him. This other fellow, he said something in some outlandish tongue and the first man like to drew his cork, he were so mad. He said, ‘Speak English, you fool, do you want give the ‘ole game away?’ and then they left.”

    “Would you recognize the words if you heard them again, then?”

    “I think so, sir.”

    Dick switched into fluent French to ask, “Where do we find this house? What did she say?

    “No, sir, that weren’t it. It were different than that.”

    The men looked at each other. “Spanish, perhaps? I know we’re not at war with the Dons, but treachery and intrigue are a way of life with them. Think of what happened in Portsmouth only a few weeks ago,” Will reminded them.

    “Possibly. Stewart, you speak better Spanish than any of us.” Dick stated.

    Will’s cox’n turned to the hostess and said, in Spanish, “Madam, did the men you saw speak a language that sounded like this?

    “That’s it, that’s what it sounded like! Like they was lisping – couldn’t say ‘S’ right!” She confirmed. “Was they Spanish, do you think, sir?”

    “Very likely. You have given us invaluable help, ma’am.” Dick took a coin out of his waistcoat pocket and gave it to her. She dropped him a curtsey and thanked him, slipping the coin into her bosom. This would be one half-crown her husband would never see.

    “So a pair of Dons were asking the way to the Hill place. Interesting… ” Dick said as they boarded the coach.
    The party made the rest of the journey to the Sinclair estate near Thornbury and settled once more into the house at White Oaks. Mr. and Mrs. Sommersby were there to welcome them, a welcome they extended to Dick when they were introduced.

    “I can see you are Captain Mason’s brother, sir, right enough,” Mrs. Sommersby said with a jolly laugh as she led them into the house and across the Great Hall. Dick stopped just under the magnificent Gainsborough portrait and stared for long moments.

    “See, Dick, doesn’t it look like Tara, especially in the face?” Stephen asked.

    “Indeed it does, Steve. Our Tara is a bit taller, a bit more statuesque, but otherwise it could be the same girl. Truly incredible.” Dick admitted.


    Interlude – Thornbury, England

    Tuesday 11 May 1779

    On Tuesday morning Richard Mason III asked that his brothers excuse him from the morning’s activities as he had some thinking to do. He sought out the head groom, had a horse saddled and got directions to a little-known back road bordering the Sinclair estate. “Ain’t nuthin’ there but an old ‘bandoned cottage, sir, but it’s a pleasant ride for all that, nice and quiet-like.” the groom said.

    “That’s precisely what I’m looking for, peace and quiet. Thank you.” Dick said as he swung his lithe form into the saddle of one of Captain Sinclair’s big geldings.

    By the time he reached the old cottage Dick was hot and thirsty. Spying a well in the run-down yard, he dismounted, hoping that the bucket was not gone or the well too deep. He was in luck – the creaking windlass brought up a bucket of clear, cold water, and he tipped it up to drink right from it in the absence of any sort of dipper. A cold voice and the sound of a pistol being cocked startled him so much that he drenched himself in icy cold water.

    “Put the bucket down and turn around, very slowly, with your hands up,” the speaker said implacably.

    Cursing at the unexpected dousing, he obeyed. In the shadow of a ruined arbor near the door stood a woman he knew very well: Lucy’s dresser and friend, an ageless woman named Reese. No one knew what her first name was, or even if she had ever had one. She was anywhere between forty and sixty, but her age, like her name, were not a subject of discussion. She was small and wiry and downright ugly, with a pockmarked face and several missing teeth, but she had been devoted to her mistress and was one of the few people privileged to know the truth about Lucy’s marriage to Richard Mason.

    Recognition dawned for both of them at the same instant.

    “Reese? What are you doing so far from London? Did St. John send you here to hide after she died?” Dick said at the same time she exclaimed, “Mr. Mason! They said you were in America! How come you’re here?”

    They stared at each other for several moments, then Reese seemed to register his comment. “Then they didn’t tell you, sir?”

    “Tell me what? That my wife is dead, perhaps betrayed by one of our own agents? That no one has done anything toward finding her murderer, that there’s a conspiracy of silence over this case that balks me at every turn?” he asked bitterly. “Oh, I know all about that.”

    “No, sir, not that. Then you don’t know,” she said slowly.

    “Reese, you’re talking in riddles. Speak plainly,” he ordered curtly.

    At this point a voice Dick never expected to hear again except in his lonely dreams said, “Reese, what’s taking so long? Who’s there?” as a tiny woman in a loosely fitting gown came around the corner of the house. Dick stood, transfixed, as if he were seeing a ghost. Lucy, for indeed it was she, gave a choked cry of joy and promptly fainted, falling to the ground in an untidy heap. In an instant her husband was on his knees beside her, scooping her up into his arms and holding her as if he would never let her go again.

    He rained frantic kisses all over her face, tears streaming down his lean cheeks as giant sobs wracked his big body. For long moments they remained like that, until Lucy began to stir. She slipped one hand behind his neck and brought his head down for a breathtakingly passionate kiss that embodied everything they had ever meant to one

    another, and then another and another. Finally, Reese broke in.

    “Mr. Mason, Miss Lucy’s been very ill. This cold ground isn’t good for her. Can you take her back into the house?”

    Recalled to the present, Dick rose easily, grasping his wife as if she weighed no more than a bag of feathers. He followed Reese into the house and up the steep steps to a bedroom. With a nod of thanks, he carried his weeping wife into the room and kicked the door closed behind them. As she watched them disappear, Reese, whom one of Lucinda Graydon’s colleagues once described as ‘the woman with no feelings and no heart’, wiped away a tear.
     
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  14. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Tuesday 11 May 1779

    My brother Dick went out riding this morning, saying that he needed time to think and clear his head. When he had not returned by four this afternoon, I became worried. Stewart and I went down to the stables, where we found the groom who had saddled Dick's horse and then directed him onto a little-used back road bordering the estate. We had horses saddled and went out in search of him, our goal an abandoned cottage the groom had mentioned.

    We found the cottage easily enough, and a horse tied to a tree near the old well. Dismounting, we drew the pistols we had brought and walked toward the ivy-covered building. A cold, hard voice stopped us before we had taken more than a dozen steps.

    “That’s far enough. Who are you and why are you here?”

    “My name is William Mason, and this is my cox’n, Nicolas Stewart. We are looking for my brother Richard. That’s his horse by the well. Is he here? Is he well?”

    “Maybe. If you’re his brother, tell me this – who is the youngest child in your family?”

    “My brother Stephen. He’s thirteen. He’s at the White Oaks estate right now. Who are you?”

    “Never mind that. Come on in.”

    We walked into the gloom of the tiny cottage, to be faced with a short, wiry woman of indeterminate middle age, her face horribly pockmarked.

    “Reese. I’m Miss Lucy’s dresser and her companion. Your brother is upstairs with her, but I hope you don’t plan on disturbing them. It may be the first good rest she’s had since the attack nearly three months ago.”

    We stood, stunned. Dick said his wife Lucy was dead, drowned in the Thames. Now this woman said she was not only alive, she was in this very house, upstairs with my brother.

    “Don’t know either, do you? Damned spies, always keeping things secret, even when they don’t have to. I told Miss Lucy it was no business for a young woman, but she wanted to serve her country, and look where it got her – coshed on the head and pushed into the Thames, well nigh drowned. It’s a miracle she survived.”

    “Mrs. Reese…”

    “Just Reese. Ain’t never been married, who’d marry me with this face? Listen, I know you come looking for him, but now you’ve found him, leave him be, will you? Come back tomorrow – or the next day.”

    “It’s all right, Reese,” my brother said from the stairs. He was wearing only his breeches and his hair was mussed and out of its neat queue, but he looked more relaxed than I had seen him in months. He smiled down at us. “Hello, Will, Stewart. Thought I’d gone missing, eh? Well, I imagine Reese has filled you in on the amazing news. I can hardly believe it myself. Lucy is upstairs, she is alive, though hardly well. She almost died in February, and she lost the child she was to bear. It’s been a long road to recovery, and there’s still a ways to go.”

    Stewart and I expressed our sympathies at the loss of his unborn child and he only nodded, I knew that he was thinking of the tiny boy who was to be named Benjamin Mason, born dead when I had been but eight years old, coming further into the room and speaking softly lest the voices disturb Lucy.

    “I’ve got her to sleep now, but she’s still very thin and pale. This cottage was all right as a temporary refuge, but I need to get her to a good doctor and a better place to stay."

    “There’s an old Tudor manor on the grounds at the estate, Dick. It’s hardly ever used anymore, but fully furnished. We could have it ready in a matter of hours, and Harmon will be happy to examine Lucy, if you like.”

    “Thank you, little brother. I’ll take you up on all of that. Send a coach for us tomorrow at noon, will you?” With a wink and a grin, he went back up the stairs to his wife. Stewart and I watched him go and then made our farewells to Reese before leaving the cottage to return to White Oaks.

    “I do love a happy ending, Captain,” Stewart said with a smile.

    “So do I. But do you know what? My brother is even now in the loving arms of his gorgeous wife, and our wives are in New York, dammit all.”

    He grunted in reply and we rode on in frankly envious silence.


    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Tuesday 11 May 1779

    Doctor Fred came to check on John today, as he has several times each day since at least two unknown assailants attacked John in the street outside the house on Thursday night. We know there were at least two of them because he was able to kill two of the men; the watch found their bodies the next morning.

    Doctor Fred greeted Mary, made sure she was taking good care of herself and her unborn baby, then came into the bedroom where I was sitting with John.

    “Good afternoon, my dear. Mary tells me he is doing better today.”

    “Yes, he is.” I told him. “We’ve got him to take some water and some broth and his kidneys are functioning again. Mary says that’s a good sign. The urine was clear, with no sign of blood.”

    “Excellent news. It means there are no hidden internal injuries we need worry about. I shall change the bandages now, if you would assist me? I know it was not exactly what you were trained for as a young lady in Annapolis, was it, my dear?” he asked as he removed soiled bandages, check the wounds and put out his hand for fresh dressings.

    “No, but most of what I’ve done in the past six months I wasn’t trained for. I’ve learned to adapt.”

    “Good girl.” Bassingford checked each wound, changed the soiled bandages for clean ones, and pronounced himself satisfied.

    “No sign of fever?”

    “A little, not much. I’ve been sponging him down when he feels warm.”

    At this point, John groaned and began to move restlessly. Concerned that he might reopen his wounds, Bassingford moved immediately to restrain his friend.

    “It’s all right, Doctor, I know what to do.” As I had done countless times in the past three days or so, I dropped to my knees beside the bed, brushed a kiss across John’s forehead, and whispered a few gentle words into his ear. He relaxed, murmured, “Tara”, and returned to sleep, his fingers still laced with mine.

    “I see I am leaving my friend in the best possible hands, my dear. Call me if there is any change for the worse – otherwise I will be back early tomorrow morning. You have everything you need?”

    “Yes. The moment he heard of the attack Colonel Jenkinson came over to see that we were well. He’s assigned a squad to watch the house, under our friend Sergeant Hollis. We feel very safe.”

    “Yes, the sentry challenged me on the way in. That’s good. Prewitt is a good man, but he cannot be alert all hours of the day or night. Goodbye for the present, Miss Tara.” He kissed my hand and left the room.

    John was feeling a bit warm, so I disengaged my hand and crossed the room to pour cool water into a basin, then began to sponge his face with a clean flannel wrung out in the water. After a few minutes, his eyes fluttered open. “Tara?”

    “Ssshh. Don’t try to talk, John, just rest. Doctor Fred was just here. Do you want me to see if I can call him back?”

    “No. Yes. I need… ”

    “I understand, John. If he’s not still here, Prewitt will help you. I know you’d rather I didn’t.”

    Doctor Fred was still in the house. After a few minutes, he came back to report himself satisfied with John’s progress. “He’s asking for you again, Miss Tara. See if you can get him to take something to eat, even just some broth.”

    “Of course, Doctor.”

    I took the broth Mary had made only this morning into the room. “Time to eat, John.” With his right arm immobilized and weak from the blood loss feeding himself was difficult, so I began to spoon the broth into his mouth. I noticed he was looking at my face very intently, so I asked him,

    “John? Is there something wrong?”

    “Your mouth. It’s all swollen, like – like someone hit you. Did someone hurt you, Tara? Tell me!” he demanded, grasping my wrist.

    “No, it’s all right, I did it to myself. When you were hurt the other night I wanted to help take care of you but it was so horrific I just wanted to scream at what they’d done to you. I knew if I did Mary would say I had to leave, and I couldn’t leave, I just couldn’t. So I just bit my lips until the pain steadied me.”

    “Oh, my dear Tara.” He whispered, struggling to raise himself onto his left elbow.

    “John, no, you must rest.”

    “Let me up.” He said doggedly, and I could only comply, slipping an arm behind his bare shoulders to steady him, then propping him up with pillows.

    “Better. Now I can see you. Yes, I know Fred will fuss, but it’s only for a few minutes.” One hand reached up to touch my swollen, bruised lips with careful fingertips.

    “When you were a tiny girl, did you ever fall and hurt yourself - skin your knee or cut your finger?”

    “All the time. I spent more time in trees than in my room. My governess despaired of me.”

    “And when you did hurt yourself, did someone kiss the hurt all better?”

    “Yes,” I whispered, sensing what was coming.

    “Lean your head down, Tara. It’s not the way I envisioned this as happening, but still.”

    It was a whisper touch of his lips, warm and healing. I had heard my friends talk about how they had felt when young men kissed them and of course I had been kissed by Tim, but it had never before made me feel all warm and liquid inside. Nor had any of my friends ever mentioned it. Perhaps they didn’t know, just as I hadn’t.

    “All better now?” he asked tenderly.

    “All better now. Now, lie back down before you get us both in trouble.” He grimaced, but complied, but he made sure kept hold of my hand. I watched him drift off to sleep again as tiredness took over. Just before he slipped into a deep, restful slumber, the thoughts that were running through my head elicited a sigh of complete contentment. Over the past few days we have been almost inseparable; as a result we are sensitive to even the slightest chances in voice or expression.

    “What is it? You sounded so happy,” he asked drowsily, as he began to play with my fingers again, a frequent pastime.

    “I was just thinking, John, that what you just did cancelled out something that happened nearly four years ago. Then it was a kiss too, but it wasn’t meant to make me feel better. In fact, it made me feel awful.”

    “Who?” he said, his mind immediately alert. “Who hurt you? Tell me, Tara, I need to know.”

    “It’s not important, I shouldn’t have said anything. Go back to sleep, John.”

    “No. I won’t rest until you tell me. Please, Tara.”

    “Very well. You know my next older brother Robert is in the Navy also? His ship called in at Annapolis the summer I was fifteen. He had a friend, another midshipman, with him when he came home. I didn’t know it, but he had bet the other boy that he wouldn’t kiss me. You see, when Rob left two years before I was skinny and awkward. I’ve always been tall, and for so long I just towered over the boys my age. In fact, I’m as tall as Robert is, even now. Tall, gawky, and well, flat-chested; that was what he remembered. What he didn’t know was that while he’d been away my figure started to develop. Of course then I wasn’t as, um…”

    “I believe the term is voluptuous, my dear.” He supplied with a grin, and I know I must have blushed beet red, to his obvious delight. I hurried on with my story.

    “Yes, that. Not as much as I am now, I was only fifteen, but I certainly wasn’t flat as a board either.

    The boys invited me to go for a walk in the woods near our house. Once we got into the trees where we couldn’t be seen from the house, Robert’s friend, Reginald, grabbed me and gave me the most disgusting, slobbery kiss. He tried to force my lips apart so he could put his tongue in my mouth, too, and when I struggled he squeezed my breast so hard he left a bruise. Thank God for my brother Will - he had taught me how to deal with men like that, so I kneed Reginald in the groin, hard. He was on the ground for a while, and I was glad. Rob came up and said something about why did I hurt his friend and I slapped him so hard his nose bled, and then I ran away.” I finished. I had blurted the story out almost in a single breath because I knew that if I ever stopped, I would never be able to start again, so deep was the shame and revulsion I felt at what had happened.

    As the story unfolded, John’s face grew darker, his grip on my hand tightened, and he struggled to control his anger. He bit out a terse, “Bloody hell! Your brother stood by and let him maul you and did nothing, even blamed you?”

    “Yes.”

    “And he never apologized?”

    “No.”

    “What did your father say when you told him? Surely he thrashed both of them?”

    “I didn’t tell him. You’re the first person I’ve ever told.”

    “For God’s sake, why not, Tara? They assaulted you! Your own brother stood by while his friend assaulted you!”

    “I felt so dirty - so stupid, for going into the woods with them. I thought it meant I was – well, bad, a loose woman.”

    “Listen to me. There is never any excuse for attacking a woman, none. What they did was wrong and they will be made to pay for it. I’m a patient man. I don’t give up easily when there’s a wrong to be redressed. It took me sixteen years to find the man who killed my Angelique, and thanks to your brother he is burning in hell right now. Tell me the other boy’s name.”
    “He’s a lieutenant now. Reginald Trent. He’s with Rob on HMS Invincible.”

    I began to cry silently. Alarmed, he said, “Tara, what is it? Have you remembered something else? Tell me!”

    “No. I’m just so – I feel all better and clean now that I’ve told you. It’s been festering inside me like an open wound for all these years. Thank you, John.”

    “Oh, my sweet love, I should be thanking you. You’ve entrusted me with so much by telling me that story. I swear I will never betray that trust, and I’ll seal the promise with a kiss. Bend over so I can reach you.”

    The first kiss had been meant to heal – this one was a promise of the future, longer and incredibly sweet. The warm liquid feeling rushed through my body again.

    “Stay with me,” he murmured as our lips parted.

    “You know I will, at least until you fall asleep.”

    Slowly his grip on my hand relaxed and his breathing became measured and regular. With a final glance, I left the room to seek my own bed. Somehow I knew that the nightmares that had plagued me for years would no longer trouble me.


    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Wednesday 12 May 1779

    For the first time since the attack, John has been able to take solid food. We started slowly, with soft foods, but his stomach seems to be accepting them. He must have been talking to Fred, the old busybody, because when I took his tray in this afternoon he said, “I will eat on one condition. That you match me, bite for bite. How much do you weigh, Tara?”

    “Isn’t that rather personal, Captain John?” I asked impishly, knowing I would tell him eventually.

    "So is seeing a man in his underdrawers, Miss Tara, and you’ve been doing that for days, so just you answer my question. You’re blushing again.” He commented in delight.

    “You delight in embarrassing me, John Sinclair.”

    “I enjoy seeing you blush, yes. I won’t ever do anything to humiliate you, you know that, don’t you?” he asked a bit anxiously.

    “I know, John. I trust you. Why do you enjoying seeing me blush, anyway?”

    “You’re such a delightful combination of naivete and level-headed pragmatism, my dear,” he said with a smile. “I got the story of how you pitched in and helped when I was wounded out of Mary yesterday while you were sleeping. You dealt with wounds that would have had almost any other young lady screaming in horror as if you had been doing it all your life, yet you blush when I mention underdrawers. But this red herring will avail you little. Answer my question, if you please.”

    “Ideally, I should weigh nine stone.” I hedged.

    “I know damn well you don’t. How much do you weigh, right now?”

    “A bit more than eight.”

    “So you need to gain about twelve pounds.”

    “So Doctor Fred says,” I admitted.

    “All right, starting now, here’s the arrangement: if you don’t eat, I don’t eat.”

    “John, that’s blackmail!”

    “I prefer to think of it as friendly persuasion,” he said with a satiric grin.

    “You can call it anything you like but it’s still blackmail.”

    “So? It will get both of us to eat, and it will get your weight back up. I don’t even want to think about what you looked like when you came here a month ago, Tara. How much did you weigh then?”

    I hung my head and mumbled.

    “What was that? I didn’t hear you,”

    “You’re a great bully, John Sinclair,” I snapped out with feigned indignation, “and why I love you I do not know!”

    “It’s my charming face and my winning personality. How much?”

    “Seven.”

    “Seven stone? Less than a hundred pounds? What in hell were you trying to do, starve yourself to death?” he demanded, outraged.

    “I just didn’t eat. It wasn’t important. I had no appetite, nothing looked good.”

    “Does this look good?” He waved to the tray I had brought him.

    “Yes, it does. Mary’s a good cook, and so is Maisie.”

    “Then you are going to eat every bit of it, if I have to spoon feed you myself. Tell Mary to fix another tray for me.”

    The idea of being fed like a baby galvanized me into action and I began to eat, and for the first time in weeks food tasted good. I had been eating to please Mary, but it was duty, not pleasure. With John watching me like a hawk this should have been duty too, but somehow it became a sort of game to pretend I was full, knowing he would not rest until everything was gone. As I finished the last bite and drank the enormous glass of cold milk that John had ordered for me, he beckoned me over. “You have a milk mustache,” he murmured softly.

    “Do you think if I let it dry it will look like yours?” I teased, running the tip of one finger along the thin mustache that made him look so dashing.

    “Probably not. Wrong colour, even for a blonde. Come here.” He pulled my head down and kissed the mustache away, holding my mouth with his for long and tender moments. “There, no more mustache, and that was your reward for eating your dinner so you can gain your weight back.”

    “Fred suggested another benefit to that, gaining weight I mean.” I said without thinking.

    “Oh, and what was that?”

    At the thought of what I had almost told him, I blushed beet red. Which of course only served to make John more determined to have the truth out of me.

    “Are you going to tell me, or do I get it out of Fred? You know he’ll use any trick he can to make sure his patients are well.”

    Knowing how right he was, I took my courage in hand and leaned over to whisper in his ear, still blushing furiously. His response was a huge smile and a kiss on the tip of my nose.

    “Then, Miss Tara, I say that the sooner you follow doctor’s orders and gain that weight back, the happier we will both be!”
     
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  15. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Thursday 13 May 1779

    John continues to recover, remarkably well given the severity of his injuries, or so Doctor Fred tells me. The leg wound was the least of his worries, much of the knife’s force having been absorbed by the fabric of his breeches. Since his legs work fine, according to him, he is already champing at the bit to be allowed up, which Fred has absolutely forbidden at least for the present. The only thing that seems to keep him from chafing at the enforced inactivity is my presence. We don’t even have to be doing or saying anything, really, although we have played chess once or twice and we spend hours talking. Yesterday I had Prewitt move the dainty little writing desk that John bought for Angelique out of the sitting room and into the bedroom, so I could write letters and still be within earshot.

    “Still no word about your brother Stephen, my dear?” He asked.

    “None. I try not to worry too much, John, but he is only thirteen. Still, he has a good head on his shoulders and he’s big for his age. He could pass for sixteen, easily. He’s not tall, like Dick is, but he’s stocky and well-built.”

    “If either of your brothers find him, what do you think will happen?”

    “He’ll get the caning of his life for scaring us all, that’s what.”

    He nodded in approval, and I went back to my writing.

    Mary Stewart knocked and entered the room. “Your pardon, Captain, but there’s a man from the Provost Marshal’s office, a Major Collins, here to see you. He said Colonel Jenkinson sent him.”

    “About what, Mary?”

    “The attack, sir.”

    “Is it a matter for the Provost now? Very well, then.”

    Collins came in to introduce himself, he was a well-built man of moderate height and carrying bit more weight than was perhaps good for him about his middle. I would guess him to be in his mid-thirties, he had intelligent brown eyes that seemed to miss little and wore a formal powdered wig of the type that was in fashion among army officers. Following the formal introductions he said, “If you will indulge me, Captain, I’d like to interview the other residents first?”

    “Go right ahead. With whom do you wish to begin?”

    “There is a gardener and odd job man, I believe? Prewitt?”

    “Yes. Mary, will you call Prewitt in so he can talk to Major Collins? Thank you.”

    One by one Collins interviewed us all, beginning with Prewitt and followed by Jennifer, Mary, then me. Jennifer came in to sit with John a few minutes before Mary actually finished talking to the Major. “If you’d like to get some fresh air, love, I’ll sit here. I think he’ll be ready for you soon.” Bless Jennifer, she knew I needed a break, if only to visit the privy. My business done out back, I went back into the house, heading for the sitting room where Major Collins was conducting his interviews. I could hear him talking to Mary, and obviously the subject in question was her Kentucky long rifle, a legacy from her first husband, Daniel Morgan.

    “A superb weapon, ma’am, and I am sure like most frontier women you are expert at its use.”

    “Had to be, if I wanted to eat and keep my scalp, Major,” she said succinctly.

    “Just so, ma’am. Well, as a woman experienced in the use of firearms, what is your opinion about the attack on Captain Sinclair last week?’

    “Somebody was in a rush, or didn’t know what he was doing, not if he wanted the captain dead on the spot. The shot was underpowered, not enough powder to the charge. If he’d done it right – and we can all thank God he didn’t – the ball wouldn’t have just nicked a rib and buried itself in the muscles on the left side. It would have gone through the top of the large gut, spleen, stomach and liver, and he would be dead.”

    Try as I might, I could not stifle a gasp of horror. I thought that the events of the past few days had inured me to shock, but a terse statement of just how close John came to dying showed me that this was not the case. I stood frozen in the doorway, unable to move, or cry, or do anything, as my mind absorbed the information and a horrible sick feeling rose in my stomach. Mary jumped up, her face concerned.

    “Oh, child, I’m sorry you had to hear that. It’s always worse, hearing it said. Major Collins, Miss Mason hasn’t been well, and she has been doing most of the nursing for the past few days. Surely she can’t tell you anything more?” Mary appealed.

    “No, no, of course I won’t burden her with this, Mrs. Stewart. My sincere apologies for upsetting you, Miss Mason,” he said contritely as he bowed over my hand. “I’ll just interview the Captain and then I’ll leave you ladies in peace.”

    “It’s all right, Major. It was just a shock, is all. I know Mary would like for me to lie down for a bit, but when you finish, will you call me? He gets… restless when I’m gone for very long.”

    “Indeed I will ma’am. And may I say that he is a fortunate man indeed.”

    He smiled and went toward the bedroom and John.


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Thursday 13 May 1779

    “And you have nothing more to add, Captain Sinclair?”

    “I’m afraid not, Major. At the time I was rather more concerned with survival than gathering clues.”

    The officer from the Provost Marshal’s office had arrived a few hours ago to conduct his investigation into the attack against me. He had spoken to everyone in the house and I was the last person that he had interviewed.

    “At first glance it might have seemed just a random attack.” Major Collins remarked. “But the two men that he had waiting in case the pistol was insufficient has put paid to that idea. I hope that you realize how fortunate you were, sir. It sounds to me, and Mrs. Stewart concurs by the way, as though he didn’t use a proper powder charge in that pistol. If he had I’ve little doubt that you would be dead right now.”

    “I believe that you are correct.” I agreed. “The sound of the shot was wrong as I said earlier. Probably a one third charge, perhaps even one quarter. So he would have been unfamiliar with pistols or perhaps was rushed in loading it.”

    “In either case, Captain as this was in fact an ambush I must ask you if you have any enemies in New York who might wish you dead?”

    “I take it you mean besides the rebels?” I asked with a twinkle of amusement in my eye. Collins allowed himself a brief grin back.

    “Yes, besides them.”

    “The only man that I know who would be capable of such an act would be the French agent - Gerard Leveque. But he was captured some months ago, taken to England and I have no doubt we shall hear of his hanging in a couple of weeks. In any case he could never have gotten back to America this quickly even if he had escaped.” Collins nodded thoughtfully.

    “I’m familiar with Leveque, of course. We’ve played Cat and Mouse against one another a time or two. Given your history together, sir, do you think it possible that he might have set up something ahead of time? A final revenge as it were in the event of his death.”

    “I think not.” I replied shaking my head. “Leveque’s biggest weakness as an agent was that he believed himself invincible. He could not even admit the possibility that he might be stopped or have need of a fallback plan. It’s tripped him up in the past. In fact I believe it’s what resulted in his capture.”

    “And you have no other personal enemies in New York at this time?”

    “Well, there is one other.” I replied slowly. “The replacement commander of the 70th Regiment of Foot, Colonel the Honourable Charles Courtenay, took passage here on my ship, he and I had … words on the voyage.”

    “If you would, Captain Sinclair, please tell me everything that you can remember of your dealings with Colonel Courtenay.” It didn’t take very long and when I was finished Collins was looking quite thoughtful.

    “Hmmm. He didn’t go through with his challenge. Now that is interesting.”

    “Major Collins.” I said. “I think that you’re reading too much into this. I’ve had dealings with his type before. Doubtless he’ll use his influence to cause me some annoyances along the way, but murder? Courtenay hasn’t the intestinal fortitude for such a thing any more than he had for a duel.”

    “It requires very little in the way of intestinal fortitude to hire three ruffians, Captain.” Collins replied. “Merely a certain degree of ruthlessness and sufficient funds. I suspect that the Colonel has both so I shall be looking into this quietly but quite thoroughly I assure you, sir.”

    Collins picked up his hat from the dresser as he prepared to take his leave.

    “I shall endeavour to keep you informed as to my progress, Captain, and this investigation shall have a top priority. Colonel Jenkinson would skin me alive if I allowed an attack on the hero of Erris Head to go unpunished.”

    “Erris Head?” I said startled. “You mean that they’ve actually given that fight last year a name?” Collins grinned at my dumbstruck expression.

    “They have around here, sir. I’ll send Miss Mason in when I leave.” Then he was gone.


    From the Diary of Jennifer Mason

    Thursday 13 May 1779

    “ …So I told MacGregor not to let on that I was on board Sapphire because I wanted to surprise John – and surprise him I certainly did. He had just had a very unpleasant interview with that arrogant coxcomb Courtenay when I decided to make my entrance. I’d heard what Courtenay had said, of course, and John’s replies. He’s made an enemy there, I’m afraid. Colonel Jenkinson – an old friend from the last war, by the way - agrees with me. We’re keeping an eye on Courtenay, because we both know him to be a petty, vicious man who is a coward at heart.” Colonel George Therrien, commanding the 16th Foot, had stopped by to visit John Sinclair and had been persuaded to stay for dinner. As dinner was rare roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, ably prepared by Mary and Maisie, it was not difficult to convince him. He kept a weather eye on the bedroom where Tara and John were enjoying their meal, the door slightly ajar as a concession to the proprieties, and his normally booming voice was lowered considerably when he spoke.

    “I’ve known John Sinclair since 1759, when he risked court-martial by deliberately disobeying an order so he could rescue me from a French attack. He’s had my unwavering support ever since. The man marched into the jaws of Hell to save me – I’d do the same for him in a heartbeat.”

    “Then you must have known Angelique.”

    “Indeed, ma’am. A vision of loveliness, sweet and gentle, and perfect for the man John Sinclair was then. You are concerned for your sister-in-law, I think.”

    “She is also my best friend, and would be so even were we not related by marriage. I know John Sinclair is an honorable man, and I believe that even at her young age Tara knows her own heart… ”

    But. All the words you didn’t say are wrapped up in that, Mrs. Mason. But. But what about the age difference? What will they do when petty minds like Courtenay’s say that she is selling her youth in return for money and social position, or that John’s motives are also suspect? I understand. I will tell you this - I knew Angelique, and I know that in a way John will never stop loving her, though she is gone. But it was the love of a young man for a sweet, gentle girl whom he rescued from ravishment and possible murder. Had she lived, I do not doubt they would have been very happy even now, but only because I believe their relationship would have matured over time. At this stage of his life, John no longer needs the adoring girl who agrees with his every word and lives only to make him happy – he needs a strong woman who can stand up to him if necessary, who can match him word for word, who can challenge him to a chess match – and win. It may be her beautiful face that first attracted him to your friend, but it will be her keen mind that will keep him coming back to see her again and again.”

    “She’s hardly left him alone for more than a few minutes at a time since he was wounded, except to sleep, and then only when he insists.”

    “And I can tell you from my own experience and my conversations with Doctor Bassingford that it is doing him a world of good. The last set of injuries disabled him for nearly six months - he is recovering from these considerably more quickly. I attribute that directly to his desire to heal so he can look forward to the future with Miss Mason. For the first time in years, he has a positive reason to go on living. For all that we pretend to be strong and invulnerable, Mrs. Mason, we men are really very dependent on you ladies for our stability in many ways.”

    “Are you a married man, Colonel?”

    “Widowed, ma’am, like my friend in there. Amelia and I met at a country house party about ten years ago. I sold out at the end of the last war and went back to being a country squire, with no real intention of ever marrying, really. I have several younger brothers so I’d no worries about an heir, but Amelia changed all that.”

    “When did - how long has she been gone?”

    “Just a year. She was thirty-five. It was a long illness, very painful for both of us, and when it was over I just needed to get away. I left my children with my sister and her husband, who treat them like their own, and I bought back in. My brother has the family estate now, and he’s doing a good job of managing it. Perhaps I’ll come back from this war – perhaps I won’t. I don’t know,” he finished, but his words were not fatalistic or self-pitying, simply those of a man who has set his face to do his duty.

    “But enough of this. I had occasion to meet your husbands when we met Paladin in the North Atlantic a few months past and I found them quite fascinating to talk to, especially the story of how they came to the Navy from their Mid-Atlantic roots. And Stewart told me a bit about your earlier life in the backcountry, Mrs. Stewart, and how you almost shot him on several different occasions when he arrived unexpectedly.”

    The evening passed congenially, but eventually good manners indicated that he take his leave, and with a stop off to bid farewell to Sinclair and Tara, who were engrossed in yet another chess match, with kisses and bragging rights as the stakes, he took himself off.
     
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  16. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Friday 14 May 1779

    On Wednesday we moved my brother Richard and his wife Lucy, whom we had all given up for dead, into the old Tudor manor on the White Oaks estate. Mrs. Sommersby herself went over to oversee the move and came back clucking at how thin and pale Lucy was. An undercook was dispatched to make sure that Lucy was tempted to eat with all manner of delicious foods, and the Sommersby’s son and daughter were sent over to wait on the guests’ every need.

    Although Stephen is eager to meet the legendary former actress, we have dissuaded him, and even I have spent only a few minutes with her when I accompanied Harmon over late in the afternoon. I was shocked at how unwell she looked, and not at all surprised when Dick told me that the journey to the safe house where he found her had put her in bed for a week. Harmon is optimistic, though, that with rest and good food – ‘And tender loving care,’ he added, looking at my brother as he sat by the bed with her hand clasped in both of his - she can be well enough to travel in easy stages by the end of the month. Dick has said that she will be returning to Halifax with him, her old life as a famous actress forgotten.

    Yesterday I began the process of interviewing new lieutenants. I could have waited for the Admiralty to assign officers, that is the usual procedure, but I prefer to have more say in who will serve as officers on my ship if at all possible. I am receiving regular reports from Robertson and Boyd that indicate that the refit is going well, although the dockyard is not always very cooperative, but when is it ever? Mr. Boyd has been in His Majesty’s Navy long enough to know all the tricks, though, and most minor functionaries and timeservers find that he is not a person to be crossed with impunity. A devoutly spiritual nonconformist, he has never been heard to use an oath, but with his long white beard and bushy eyebrows he looks like an Old Testament patriarch, and the sheer force of his personality will get things done that no amount of blustering or profanity will. What dockyard underling wants to argue with Moses or Abraham, after all?

    I have two slots to fill, and one of them I am tentatively holding open for young Andrew Cross, Captain Sinclair’s former master’s mate. The Captain’s letter had informed me that he believed that Cross should take the examination for lieutenant so when I learned that an examination board would be meeting in Portsmouth soon I had sent him off to it. He has written back that he is to appear before the board today and he hopes to have good news for me very soon.

    One never knows how many unemployed lieutenants there are in His Majesty’s Navy until one passes that word that a new frigate is outfitting and the Captain is looking to fill his wardroom. They came from all over Britain, in a steady stream – Cornishmen, Yorkshiremen, men from the Fens of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, Kentish men with
    smuggler’s blood in their veins, Glaswegians and Highlanders, Welshmen from the rugged mountains of Cardiganshire, and Irishmen with their lilting brogues. Most of them were older than I am, as a matter of fact. I could almost see the wheels turning in their minds. ‘Who does this man know, that he’s got a 26-gun frigate at his age? Has he got several Gazettes? Should I recognize his name?’ The ones who had done their preps knew that I had half a dozen Gazettes over the years, the latest after the action against Quare, and again following the matter of Leveque. From the dozens of men who made the journey, I pared the list down slowly. Some were easy to eliminate – ageing officers whose faces belied a fondness for drink, angry embittered men who would use the lash first and ask questions later, nervous young men newly promoted from midshipman whose lack of seamanship skills, when questioned, made me wonder how they ever made it past an examination board. There were others who would have served well enough, but none who stood out head and shoulders above the rest, until today, when Lieutenant Nathaniel Valdez walked into the room. His uniform was crisp, his linen spotless, his sword polished. He moved with the grace of one of the big mountain cats we’ve seen in the Georgia backcountry, his bearing erect, his black eyes and black hair evidence of the Spanish ancestor who had given him his surname. He came to attention in front of the library table, snapped off a crisp salute, and reported.

    “Lieutenant Nathaniel Valdez, sir, formerly fifth aboard HMS Triumph, 74.”

    “Where is she now?”

    “Refitting in Plymouth, sir. She’d been out for three years in the East Indies. They scraped weed six feet long off her hull. She needs to be coppered, and she’s suffering from dry rot. Actually, sir, that’s how we heard you were interviewing for your wardroom. Mr. Bascombe, my senior in Triumph, is a friend of your Mr. Robertson, and when we arrived in Plymouth Mr. Robertson arranged the transfer of twelve of our best hands, topmen mostly.”

    “So Mr. Robertson tells me. Mr. Bascombe has written you a glowing reference, as well.”

    “He does me great honour, sir.”

    “Your captain?”

    “He was stricken with fever in the Indies and died the day before we dropped anchor in Plymouth, sir. Mr. Bascombe was acting captain most of the way home.”

    “I see. Well, Valdez, tell me about yourself. Not the usual name for a young man in His Majesty’s Navy. I’m sure there’s a story behind it.”

    “Indeed so, sir. My father is of Spanish extraction, though we have lived in England since before the time of the Armada. When the Calvinist movement first came to Spain in the early days of the Reformation, the Valdez family, who had been Jewish, were all baptized into the Protestant faith.”

    “So they went from one proscribed group to another. How did they manage to escape the Inquisition?”

    “Only by fleeing the country, sir. My ancestor was a jeweller and goldsmith, and thankfully gems and gold are both very portable and very widely accepted as a medium of payment. With only the gold from his shop, a few small gems and the clothes on his back, he sought refuge in England. Queen Elizabeth was pleased to grant him political asylum – as a slap in the face to King Philip II, no doubt - and English citizenship, on the condition that he join the Church of England. Well, one Protestant community seemed very much like another to him, sir, though I think our Scots friends would disagree, and he complied happily.”

    “Paris is well worth a Mass,” I murmured, quoting Henry IV of France.

    “Precisely, sir. The tiny shop in Maiden Lane is now a large jewellers’ in Kensington High Street with a Royal Warrant over the door. England has been good to us.”

    “And yet you chose the Navy.”

    “I’m sure there must have been some seafaring ancestor, either on the Spanish or the English side, sir. I’ve always loved the sea, and jewellery is nothing more to me than pretty baubles to make women happy, though it has allowed my parents to live in ease and comfort.”

    He had been standing all this time; I offered him a seat and spent over an hour talking to him about his naval career, asking questions about navigation, leadership, seamanship, and so on. I was very favorably impressed.

    “Well, Valdez, I have a few more interviews to conduct before I make a decision, but I would suggest that you stay in this area for another day or so, perhaps in Bristol? This is my young brother Stephen, who is going to be a midshipman. He is acting as my temporary secretary just now. Leave your direction with him, if you please.”

    “Aye aye, sir. Thank you, sir.” He saluted again and bowed himself out of the room after a short conversation with Stephen.

    The next person – persons, for there were two - to walk into the room were my brother Robert and another young man I did not recognize. In sharp contrast to Valdez’s military bearing and professional manner, they almost sauntered into the room. In fact, I think Robert would not even have bothered to salute if I had not cleared my throat rather ominously. He saluted casually, his companion did as well, and then he said,

    “Great news, Will, a frigate of your own. Looks like you pulled some strings, eh? Make some powerful friends in high places, that’s the ticket. Like to introduce m’ friend Reginald Trent, best friend since we were younkers together donkey’s years ago. Heard you were inverviewin’ for lieutenants so I said to Reginald, let’s go on over and tell m’ brother we’re available, what? So here we are.”

    He had lost every bit of the soft drawl that marked him as a colonial and had adopted the perfect pronunciation of the English upper class – and that in itself made me angry. I am not ashamed of my colonial roots and I saw no reason that he should be either. His manner was casual in the extreme, and the implication that I had gotten my posting only by influence, not as a result of hard work and action against the enemy – actions in which I had been wounded on several occasions - also rankled. This was not the Robert I had known as a child – he had changed out of all recognition since I had seen him last some four years before. I suspected the supercilious young man with him had something to do with it. But because he was my brother, I decided to grant him an interview.

    “If you would wait outside, Mr. Trent?” Trent sent a look at Robert that said, ‘What is this? You said we had only to appear and your brother would take us on,’ but he left the room somewhat sulkily.

    “I say, Will, what’s the formality all about? You need two lieutenants, Reg and I are two lieutenants, problem solved. Keep it all in the family and all that.”

    “You and your - friend - will go through the interview process like everyone else, Robert. Now. You were sixth aboard HMS Invincible, and she is now refitting, correct?"

    “S’right.” A sharp glance changed that to “Aye aye, sir.”

    “Better. Now, according to my senior, Mr. Robertson, who arranged for the transfer of a dozen of your prime hands, Invincible has been in drydock for over a week now, yet you waited until the last day of interviews to come here. Have you been interviewing with other captains, perhaps?”

    “Didn’t seem much point, once we heard you had a frigate, Will.” Another sharp glance. “Sir.”

    “So you have made no efforts to gain employment?”

    “Just said so, didn’t I? Um – No, sir. I haven’t.”

    “I see. Very well, that will be all.”

    “So I’ve got the post, eh?”

    “No, Mr. Mason, you have not. If I decide in your favor I will be in touch with you. Leave your direction with Stephen, who is acting as my secretary.”

    “Hullo, Steve. Escaped from the toils of academia, eh? Well, well, it’s good that you have a brother who will take you on as midshipman,” he said condescendingly, forgetting that he was asking me to do exactly the same thing for him, and considerably less politely.

    “So do I send in old Reg?”

    “That won’t be necessary, thank you. You will be notified.”

    He left, with another sloppy salute, no doubt sure that I didn’t need to interview Trent because he already had an appointment. In fact, I didn’t interview him because I would promote the most unlearned bosun’s mate to the wardroom before I would put a supercilious snob like Trent in charge of any of my ship’s company.

    Stephen looked up from his place in the corner, where he had been waiting to take dictation and hand over papers.
    “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

    “Granted, Mr. Mason.”

    “Mr. Trent, sir, I’m glad you didn’t interview him. I remember him from when he came with Rob to Annapolis four years ago. He was rude to Mama and Papa and I didn’t like the way he looked at Tara. It was… ”

    “Indecent? Disrespectful? Lustful?”

    “Yes, sir, and she was only fifteen. Nothing I could put my finger on, but I did notice that after the first day she was very careful to avoid him.”

    “Trent is the sort of fellow who thinks that women are put on the earth to satisfy his carnal lusts, Steve, not to be cherished, protected, and honored. You’ve only confirmed my reactions, and I thank you for your contribution. Well, let’s see if there are any more of them waiting, shall we?”

    There were not. The long process was finally at an end.


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Friday 14 May 1779

    I had a problem. As usually happens after I’ve been wounded, yesterday I developed a great craving for rare roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

    This was what we’d had at the dinner the night of the 4th, to everyone’s great satisfaction. Andrew Bailey had come ashore and prepared the dinner for us here at the house while Old Turner, Sapphire’s cook, had set up a vast fire pit at the waterfront to roast the five bullocks that I’d bought as a special meal for the crew that night. Some might have called it a terrible extravagance but after six weeks of salt beef and salt pork I felt that they had earnt it. Besides it just felt wrong for me to dine well, and ashore no less, while my people had to make due with hard tack, pea soup and salt meat. I made up the difference in the cost of the victualling yard’s standard rations out of my own pocket so that the Admiralty would have no reason to complain about the money. I still heard grumblings on occasion but I paid them no mind; after all the bean-counters were not doing the fighting.

    Mary Stewart and Maisie Hollis did a wonderful job preparing the dinner last night and we all enjoyed it thoroughly, in particular Maisie’s husband - Sergeant Hollis for whom it is a favourite dish. I made certain to ask that a large slab be sent out to him and the fine lads that Colonel Jenkinson had assigned to keep watch over the house. As it turns out it was quite unnecessary for Mary had already done so. The dinner was excellent and of course we had company. George Therrien had stopped by to visit, it seems that he and Jenkinson are old friends from the last war. He was pleased to keep Mrs. Mason and Mrs. Stewart company, while Tara and I ate together in my room and played our usual game of matching one another bite for bite.

    Unfortunately when I awoke this morning it was with a severe need to visit the head. Which in my current condition is to mean the never to be sufficiently damned bedpan, which I despise with all my soul.

    “Tara, would you please ask Prewitt to come in here?” I said to the vision of loveliness that never seems to leave my bedside. I know that what I’m about to do will give Fred fits but faced with the alternative of the bedpan I don’t care.

    “Certainly, John.” She answered knowing the reason that I needed him. Within a moment Prewitt entered the bedroom carrying the object of my disgust.

    “Prewitt, put that damned thing down and help me out of this bed.” I snapped at him. He started for a moment, as Tara looked at me aghast.

    “John, you’re not planning to go outside?”

    “No, dear heart, I’m not.” I said gently.

    “Then why do you want to get up?”

    “I need to use the head, but don’t worry, Tara. I’ll use the one indoors. But I need Albert to work the pump and help me out of the bed.”

    “What do you mean ‘the one indoors’?”

    “I didn’t want Angelique to have trudge through snowdrifts and frigid temperatures to have to use the outhouse. You know what winters are like here. So I designed one for the inside and Sir David built it for me. He insists on calling it a water closet or WC for short. Don’t ask me why, Love; sometimes I have difficulty following him.”

    “Even if you do have an ‘Indoor Outhouse’ you shouldn’t be walking on that leg.” She protested. But by now curiosity had got the better of Prewitt and he was carefully helping out me of the bed. As I sat on the edge of the bed I sought to re-assure Tara.

    “The leg is fine, Tara. Honestly, I wouldn’t lie to you. The wound is really quite minor. Little more than a long, deep scratch. It was messy but not very serious, and I’m only walking into the next room.”

    “Well… if you're sure?” She said hesitantly before snapping out. “But if you hurt yourself, John Sinclair then I shall never kiss you again!”

    “My Dear Miss Tara, that sounds very like blackmail.” I said with feigned shock.

    “I prefer to think of it as friendly persuasion.” She said, blushing most charmingly.

    “You can think of it how you like, my love. But it’s still blackmail. And damned effective blackmail at that.” I laughed as her blush deepened.

    Prewitt carefully helped me stand for the first time in nearly a week. I stood there for a moment waiting for the momentary wave of dizziness that passed over me to fade before slowly walking toward the door next to the bed’s headboard. As I walked I was silently thankful that Bailey had sent over several pairs of the underdrawers that I favoured for sleeping, as that was all that I had on.

    “Well, come along, Love.” I said turning to where Tara stood by the dresser. “I can’t very well show you how it works if you stay out here.” Then waited for her to join me by my side before continuing on.

    As we entered the small room the first thing that anyone saw was the great brass tub that dominated the room. It was no wonder therefore that few ever noticed large wooden cabinet hidden off in an alcove nearby. I opened the cabinet’s tall door and we were confronted with the device itself. Consisting of a water pump that filled a large three gallon reservoir above and was in turn connected by pipes to the inverted porcelain cone set in a wooden chair on the bottom, it was an odd looking contraption indeed.

    “Prewitt, eight strokes of the pump if you please.” I ordered, then as he did so I explained. “That should charge the reservoir with about half to three quarters of a gallon. Before using it you should fill the reservoir completely, about thirty strokes should be enough. Then you sit in the chair just as you would in the outhouse and … well attend what ever business you have.” Tara blushed again and I must confess that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the discussion myself. Prewitt had finished pumping and now stepped away from the device.

    “Once you’re finished you simply pull and hold this chain.” I continued grasping the slim iron links of the chain that hung from the reservoir. “Like so.” As I pulled the chain and water emptied into the pipes and then sluiced into the cone in a spiral before running out the pipe at the bottom. “The water washes the wastes away and a pipe carries them out to the outhouse where they’re deposited in the pit.” Both Tara and Prewitt looked impressed with the simple functionality of the device.

    “Now Prewitt if I might trouble you to fill the reservoir.” He stepped up and began to pump again as I turned to Tara. “Of course I hope you’ll all feel free to make use of it, my sweet. It’s far more convenient than going to the outhouse in back, particularly during inclement weather.”

    “I can see that it would be. But what do you do about the smell?” She asked. I was indeed pleased to see that she had such a good practical head on her shoulders.

    “Simplicity itself, my love, first we flush it daily with soap and warm water, second we leave a small bottle of scent open on the table near the door, lastly there is a V-shaped bend in the pipe leading out to the pit that remains full of water and acts as a barrier to the odors from there.” She smiled at the simple explanation.

    “Now if you’ll be kind enough to wait in the bedroom, I think I can manage things from here.” As they left I looked longingly at the bathtub for a moment. It had been over a week since I’d last bathed and I was quite unused to going this long without one. However I dare not get water into my wounds at this stage, as they hadn’t healed sufficiently for that yet. At least not to the extent that I was ready to challenge Fred on. Of course I fully expected Fred to raise a fuss when he found out what I’d done. But it was nothing I couldn’t handle. That I was certain of.
     
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  17. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Saturday 15 May 1779

    Early this morning Sommersby came to me while I was working in Captain Sinclair’s library, which I have converted into a study, and told me that I had a visitor – Andrew Cross.

    “He must have ridden like the wind, to get here from Portsmouth, then. Show him in.”

    Cross came in, and as a token of his new position, he saluted.

    “Sir, Lieutenant Andrew Cross reporting as ordered.”

    I returned the salute and strode across the room to shake his hand warmly.

    “Congratulations, Mr. Cross. This is good news indeed, although hardly unexpected, not for a young man who was trained by John Sinclair. What will you have? Rum, Madeira, claret?”

    “At the risk of betraying my lower deck origins, sir, a double tot would suit me just fine to cut the dust of the road.”

    “Rum it shall be. Let me get the others in here and we’ll splice the mainbrace together.”

    Steve, Stewart, and Harmon joined us shortly and we toasted Cross’s success before the board. “Well, Mr. Cross, I am pleased to formally offer you the position of third lieutenant in HMS Vanessa. I will write out a letter to Mr. Robertson for you and send you on your way. I know you will be very useful to him and Mr. Boyd in the coming weeks.”

    “Aye aye, sir, and thank you. I have already written Captain Sinclair a letter to thank him for his support and for giving me this chance.”

    “We all like to see good young people succeed, Andrew,” I said using his given name for the first time. “When Captain Sinclair is an Admiral, he will need good young officers he can rely on to do their duty.”

    “Aye, sir. If you will excuse me, sir? I haven’t given my parents the good news yet. My father is a village tailor, sir, so he should be just about finished with my dress coat. My mother was sure I would pass.”

    “I am sure that her support gave you confidence, then. Go, by all means.”

    “Well, that’s the third slot taken care of, sir,” Harmon said with satisfaction once Cross had taken his leave. “What about our second?”

    “Stephen, would you dispatch a letter to Lieutenant Valdez at his lodgings? I wish to see him again as soon as possible.”

    “He’s right here in Thornbury, sir, at Sommersby’s inn. I don’t think he wanted to go too far until you’d made your decision.”

    “Then send a groom for him, if you please. Gentlemen, we have our wardroom.”

    “Captain, I noticed Mr. Robert was here,” Stewart remarked. “With one of his friends.”

    “Yes. I fear he is to be disappointed, Stewart. I can offer him a position as a master’s mate, no more. And I will not have Trent aboard my ship.” Stewart spoke not a word; his nod said everything.

    Valdez took the news with dignity and just the right amount of gratitude, without being toadying. “By your leave, sir, I will report to Mr. Robertson in Plymouth immediately and make myself useful. It will be good to be working again.” He saluted and strode out.

    Robert was a different story. He blustered and complained and came very close to outright insolence.

    “Enough! I have told you what I can do for you, take it or leave it. If you perform well as a master’s mate I will raise you to the wardroom when a vacancy occurs. Otherwise, you go your own way and take the consequences. What is it to be?”

    “I will accept your offer of employment, sir.” He said stiffly.

    “Very well. The ship is outfitting in Plymouth, as you know. Get the stage out of Bristol and report to Mr. Robertson, the first lieutenant, with this letter. And get yourself a plain coat, too. You’re Mr. Mason, master’s mate, so you won’t be needing that lieutenant’s uniform for awhile. You’ll be working with the sailing master, Mr. Elijah Boyd, and I will be asking him for a full accounting of your actions. You will do as he says, in all things, do I make myself clear?”

    “The sailing master? Why, he’s only a warrant officer! I…”

    “Mr. Mason, as of this moment you are also a warrant officer, and a junior one at that. Therefore, he outranks you. But another word from you and you will find yourself without a position on my ship. You are welcome to take your chances of a berth in another ship, along with your friend Trent, if you think you can do better. That is your choice, of course.”

    “Aye, aye, sir. I will leave immediately for Plymouth,” he said stonily, his face a careful mask. He saluted precisely, resentment exuding from every pore, and left the room.

    Stewart had appeared, as he always does, when Robert was at his most belligerent. One sign from me and he would have knocked my brother senseless with no more effort than if he were swatting a fly. He watched my newest master’s mate leave the room and then said mildly, “In for a bit of a shock, is our Mr. Mason, once Mr. Boyd gets hold of him.”

    “It could be the making of him, Stewart. Only time will tell.”


    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Saturday 15 May 1779

    I knew we were ‘in for a blow’ as the old salts say, when I came out of the bathroom this afternoon to find Doctor Fred Bassingford examining John’s wounds. No doubt John had told him I had excused myself for a few minutes and Fred had assumed that I had gone out back, so when the distinctive gurgling of water down the pipes heralded the flushing of the mechanical water closet and I reappeared shortly thereafter, he rapidly drew the correct conclusion – that we were using the indoor facility only because John had told us it existed, and that meant that he also was using it instead of the despised bedpan.

    Retribution was swift and sure. “You’re completely, bloody deranged! Crackers! Absolutely, positively ‘round the bloody bend!” Fred roared at John.

    “Fred, I would remind you that there is a lady present, and you have used the word ‘bloody’ twice in the last minute or so.”

    “It is only because there is a lady present that I did not use it – or worse – a dozen times in the last minute or so. So answer my question, John.”

    “What question was that, Fred? I don’t recall any questions. Statements, rather profane ones, yes, but no questions.”

    “Very well, I shall make it a question. Are you completely, bloody deranged?”

    “Oh, that question. No, I don’t think so. Why do you ask?”

    “You almost bloody died, John Sinclair, and only a week ago! You lost more blood than most people have in their entire bodies, that ball almost blew your insides to smithereens, and you’re lucky you have any feeling in your right arm at all, as deep as that blade went in! What if it had severed a nerve? And as for the leg …”

    “The leg is the least of the injuries and you know it, you old ghoul. And don’t go on so about my injuries, you’ll frighten Tara.” He said it in banter, but I knew he could see that my face was pale, and his eyes warned Fred not to go any further.

    “My apologies, Miss Tara.” Fred said sincerely.

    “It’s all right, Doctor. I know intellectually about what happened - and almost happened – last week, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with emotionally. But I won’t faint, I promise.”

    “No, you won’t, because Fred is going to stop talking about it, aren’t you, Fred?” John said quietly, a note of tempered steel in his voice, as he put out a hand to beckon me to his side. I sank down onto the bed in a rustle of skirts and he slipped one muscular arm around my waist as I leaned my cheek against the top of his head.

    “Yes, I am. I’m sorry for upsetting you, my dear. But John, the leg will not heal if you do not stay off of it.”

    “The leg will heal fine. I will walk the short distance to the WC a few times a day. I am not proposing to dance a jig or climb the masts, Fred.”

    “Next thing you know you shall be wanting to take a bath in that tub,” Fred accused.

    “The thought has crossed my mind and no, I have not done it, and you know it, Fred.”

    “Well, let’s be grateful for small miracles,” Fred said sarcastically. “And how do I know what you do and do not do?”

    “Because you have spies all over this house, all very much concerned with my welfare, and all with my best interests at heart, but spies all the same.”

    “I use what weapons I have, John,” Fred said tiredly, his face showing the strain of endless days of worry for his best friend.

    Impulsively, I slipped out of John’s embrace and went over to drop a quick kiss on Fred’s surprised cheek.

    “He knows, Fred. And you wouldn’t have him any other way, would you, truly?”

    “I suppose not, precious girl. I have been taking care of him for so long, because there was no one else to do it. It’s been – difficult – at times.”

    I could see that he was looking back in horror at the battered wreck John had been after the battle of Erris Head. Only a man who cares deeply for his friends would feel the pain so profoundly; his blustering and fussing was only his way of trying to keep from coming apart at the seams.

    “And he still needs you to do that, Fred, to take care of him.”

    “Not like you do, precious girl. No one can do that. Bless you for that. I’m getting too old for this.”

    “Stuff and nonsense. You’re no older than he is.”

    “Ah, but there is the rub, precious girl. He has you to keep him young. I have… no one.”

    “Dear Doctor Fred. When was the last time you got a full night’s sleep, and without a brandy to smooth the way?”

    “I really do not know. Last week? The week before?”

    “Go see Mr. Coleman at 13 Broad Street. Tell him Miss Mason said to let you into the flat upstairs. The bed is still made up, and there’s no brandy in the house. Come back tomorrow when you’ve slept the clock around.”

    There was a moment of silence, then he nodded. “Bless you,” he said again. “John, if you let this woman slip through your fingers I shall marry her myself!” He kissed my cheek, waved tiredly to John, and was gone.

    “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” I said as he left.

    “Amen to that, my love.”


    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Sunday 16 May 1779

    Fred looked much better when he returned today. The tired lines in his face were eased a bit and he looked well rested, for the first time since John was hurt.

    “I see you followed my orders, Doctor Fred,” I said as he came into the room where John was dozing this afternoon.

    “I did, and why I let a little slip of girl order me about I do not know.”

    “I’d hardly describe myself as a slip of a girl,” I said, referring to my above-average height and athletic build.

    “All a matter of perspective. But yes, I went to the old flat, I got the keys from Coleman, and I think I was asleep within five minutes. I barely remembered to take off my shoes. I woke up this morning at about ten – so although I did not quite sleep the clock around, as you said, I certainly slept better than I have in weeks. How is our patient today?”

    “Our patient is fine, Fred,” John rumbled from across the room.

    “John, eavesdropping is very rude, did you not know that?”

    “But very educational,” he quipped with a grin.

    Fred laughed, genuinely laughed, and went over to examine John as is his custom.

    It has been just over a week since the attempt on John’s life outside our front door. He is recovering very well, eating well, and Fred says he is very pleased with his patient’s progress.

    “Although I do wish you would not insist on walking to the WC, but knowing how much you hate the bedpan I suppose that is a battle I cannot win. But stay out of the bathtub!” he cautioned. “I would say you have made a very rapid recovery, John. If you want, I think we could transport you very carefully to Sapphire.” He offered. To his surprise – and secret joy, I suspect - John said no.

    “I have work to do here. I’m needed to encourage Tara to eat so she can gain her weight back.”

    “You mean bully, don’t you?” I shot back, continuing the argument we had had several days before.

    “Call it what you will, my sweet, but I will see you well and hearty before I move from this house. I’ll have a camp bed brought in and sleep in the dining room so you can have this bed back, but stay I will. You can hone your chess skills on me while I’m here.”

    “John, you could be laid up for another three weeks with that shoulder wound.” Fred cautioned.

    “My wounds aren’t the question. I can recover from those aboard Sapphire. Tara’s weight is the question, and right now she needs to gain more of it. So I stay.”

    “And when will you be satisfied that I weigh enough?” I said, pretending exasperation. Fred stood by and watched this interchange like a spectator at a tennis match, trying unsuccessfully to hide his utter delight at the spirited exchange.

    John grinned at me and I could almost see the thoughts going through his mind – thoughts connected with our first conversation about my weight a few days before. A warning glance told him to spare my blushes, literally, on that subject. He winked outrageously and replied, “How did you measure your weight before? I could order a scale, I suppose...”

    “I’m basing it on the way my clothes fit. By the time I got back to Halifax and had the mourning gowns made up I was down to near eight stone. Then Papa didn’t get any better, Stephen ran away, and I stopped eating, so I dropped to seven. These gowns fit well, so I’m back up to over eight stone, now that you’ve been cracking the whip over me to eat.”

    “And if you gain the other twelve pounds you need and maybe a bit more?”

    “Then these dresses will have to be let out. They won’t fit, especially in the bodice.”

    “This is getting much too personal for my delicate sensibilities,” Fred remarked. “I shall just be running along now. Your servant, Miss Tara. John, remember what I said about the bathtub, do you hear me?” He waved a cheery salute and was gone.

    “Delicate sensibilities, my...” John started to grumble, then stopped at a level glance from me and grinned as if to say, ‘See, I didn’t actually say it!’

    “Well, do you have any gowns that will fit if you gain all your weight? With you, I mean?” He went on.

    “Only one, and I’m still not sure why I put it in the trunk. It’s a sprigged muslin, very light and summery, with a little straw hat to match. It was one of the gowns we had made up in London, but I can’t wear it while I’m in mourning.”

    “Tara, my sweet, I know you loved your mother very dearly. I know you want to do what’s right and proper, but would she want you to bury yourself in black, even as striking as you are in that colour?”

    I thought about it for a moment. “No, I don’t think she would. And all the gloom around the house didn’t help Papa, either. He’s still no closer to accepting that she’s gone, and he’s just fading away.”

    “It comes when a man knows a great love, my dear. She’ll never truly leave him, not as long as he is alive. We might be able to bring him back to life a bit, though. So if your father didn’t care if you were in mourning, was it just a concession to what your neighbours would think?”

    “Probably. There was some pressure from my brother James’ betrothed, Miss MacKenzie, and her parents. Mrs. MacKenzie came over several times and offered to advise me. I was so tired and so worried about Papa that I just went along with her.”

    “Is she a good friend, this Mrs. MacKenzie?”

    “I hardly know her. James is betrothed to her daughter, as I said, and there’s a son, Chauncey, who is one of the young fashionables in town, but they are social acquaintances only.”

    “Then she has a damned cheek coming and telling you what to do,” he said tightly. “Tara, at the risk of scandalizing your neighbours, would you put away the blacks? Send for your other gowns from Halifax and let’s see how long it takes until they fit again. And you did promise me a portrait, after all, preferably not in black. In fact, can you try on the gown you do have? Let’s see how much you have to gain.”

    Mary and Jennifer, called to assist, whisked the gown – and me – away to get us ready. Mary pressed out the worst of the wrinkles and Jennifer helped me adjust my stays, remarking, “You know, the Captain is right. I loved my parents dearly, but I don’t think William wants to see me in everlasting black either. It’s been three months since they were taken – I’m going back into colours. Today. Will you help me?”

    Like two girls getting ready for their coming-out ball, we went through the trunk and found the dress Jennifer had worn this past Christmas. “It’s a winter gown, really, but it’s still fairly cool outside and it just seems right to wear it on this occasion. Oh, here’s Mary with your muslin, Tara.”

    As I suspected, the twelve missing pounds made the bodice quite loose. Mary took a few temporary tucks, though, and it fit well enough. “When you get your weight back, Miss Tara, this will look even better. These fashions are perfect for you – a full bosom and a tiny waist. Don’t even need much lacing, not really.”

    “Well, Tara, your public awaits. Shall we?” Jennifer said with a grin. I linked arms with her and we swept into the bedroom in a rustle of muslin and starched petticoats, complete to the straw trifle that was perched on top of my head and tied under the chin with a wide ribbon bow.

    “Captain John Sinclair, I have the honour to present this season’s reigning belle, Miss Tara Mason,” Jennifer said in her best ‘society matron’ voice, as I dipped into a low curtsey.

    The look on John’s face was everything I could have hoped for.
     
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  18. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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

    Tuesday 18 May 1779

    “Check.” Tara said with a mischievous grin on her face. She had moved Angelique’s old writing table over and set up the chessboard on it nearly an hour ago. Her game has been rapidly improving over the past several days and she had managed to put me onto the defensive early on in this one. At one point about twenty minutes ago I thought that I’d maneuvered her into a losing position with a bishop that I’d left untouched almost since the game had begun. It had turned out, however, that I’d outfoxed myself royally as she had been quite aware of the bishop whilst I had lost track of a lowly pawn that had seized my queen and undermined my entire strategy. Then Tara had gone on the offensive and had run me all over the board, snatching pieces away as she went, with seeming impunity.

    I studied the board closely for nearly five minutes playing out moves and countermoves in my head. Then I reached out and tipped over my king in the traditional sign of capitulation.

    “Congratulations, my love.” I said smiling over at her. “You’ve certainly surpassed my expectations. I hadn’t expected you to defeat me until tomorrow at the earliest.”

    Tara smiled that incredibly beautiful smile back at me. The same smile that had thoroughly captivated MacGregor in an instant and I could readily understand why. It made the whole world seem brighter.

    “I have been playing since I was six years old you know, dearest. And over the past week I’ve learned your game well enough to recognize some of the strategies that you like to use. You’re frightfully easy to read sometimes.” She teased with a bright twinkle in her eyes.

    “Am I now?” I said rising to the occasion. Tara nodded at me still smiling. “Well I’ll have to do something about that then.”

    “Took you did she?” I heard Fred say from the doorway. Tara and I both turned to look at him as he stood there grinning at us.

    “And a very good morning to you too, Fred.” I replied but he was having none of it.

    “Do not change the subject. I asked you a question. Are you going to answer it or should I ask Miss Tara?”

    “Oh she did at that, old friend. And made me feel like quite the fool doing it too.” I admitted with a wry grin.

    “Wonderful, my dear girl!” Fred laughed. “It’s about time someone did. Maybe now he shall stop taking so many chances.”

    “Thank you, Doctor Fred.” Tara replied with a grin. “Now I have a question for you, how is it that a fine man like you isn’t married?”

    “What?!” He said the shock quite evident on his face.

    “The other day you said that John has me and you have no one. I’d like to know why?”

    “Yes, Fred, why is that?” I chimed in drawing a deep frown from my old chum. “You’ve been bed-hopping for over twenty years now.”

    “John!” Fred exclaimed looking quickly at Tara.

    “Oh, Tara knows Fred. I won’t keep anything from her. I’ve told her all about your escapades.”

    JOHN!” He exclaimed even more stridently his eyes popping and brows flying up his forehead.

    “You made Tara blush you know.”

    “Me! You were the one who told her about it!”

    “A man does not keep secrets from the woman he loves, Doctor Fred.” Tara put in. “I was quite shocked. Particularly by that business with Lady... What was her name, John?”

    “Lady Rotheringham, my dear. Wife of an MP too, it was quite scandalous really. Fred was lucky that he didn’t have fight a duel over it.”

    “Well we’ll do something about that I think. John, Jennifer and I will find you a nice widow to take care of you.”

    I could see the light dawn in Fred’s eyes as he looked at us incredulously.

    “You are in on this together! The two of you planned this whole thing!”

    “And all sorts of other things as well.” I said. Then Tara and I could hold it in no longer and began to laugh. Fred drew himself up primly

    “I am going to go and examine Mrs. Stewart. Hopefully by the time I get back all this ribaldry will have petered out.”

    “I wouldn't count on it, Fred.” I said through the laughter as he beat a dignified retreat. As the laughter finally died down Tara turned to me with a devilish glint in her eye.

    “And now Captain John, I believe there is the matter of a wager.” She said her face hovering over mine.

    “My lips are yours, my love.” I answered. “For however long you want them.”

    “I may never let you go.” Tara replied breathily. Then the time for words was past.


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Tuesday 18 May 1779

    Today is a day of great celebration for our family. Almost three months ago, my sister-in-law Lucy, then performing as the noted actress Lucinda Graydon, was brutally abducted, knocked unconscious and pushed into the Thames to drown. She almost did not survive, and the child she was carrying did not. She and my brother Dick have spent the last week or so honeymooning, as it were, in the three hundred year-old Tudor Manor on the White Oaks estate, but yesterday Dick sent a note saying that Lucy would like to meet the family. A letter dispatched to Cirencester brought back an eager reply from Jennifer’s sister Winifred on behalf of the family, and this morning the coaches set out to collect them all.
    Mrs. Sommersby is in her element just now. There is nothing she likes better than having a houseful of people, especially when there are children involved, and the story of Lucy’s return from the grave touched her deeply. All day the servants have been airing rooms and making up beds, preparing meals and laying fires to guard against the early morning chill. We do not know how long the family can stay – perhaps only a day or two – but we plan a grand dinner tonight with music and dancing afterwards.

    The carriages arrived and out spilled Jennifer’s family with Alice Anne in the lead, running as fast as her plump little legs would carry her to throw herself into Stephen’s arms and be raised high above his head, then give him a great smacking kiss right on his mouth.

    Dick watched all this with amusement, his arm firmly around Lucy’s waist. “He reminds me of me. The girls chase him, not the other way around,” he said with a chuckle.

    “Not any more, they don’t,” Lucy shot back, playfully punching his stomach with a delicate fist. Since he is six feet tall and muscular and she is barely more than five feet and weighs less than one hundred pounds, she could hardly do any damage. He forestalled any further violence with a long, lingering kiss, coming up for air to the sound of spontaneous and delighted applause from the assembled crowd.

    Michael Gilmore stepped forward and extended a hand. “Mr. Mason, a pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir. When last you were in Cirencester I was at sea, bound for the Cape Colony. Mrs. Mason, Michael Gilmore, at your service. I had the honour to see you perform as Beatrice two years ago whilst I was home on leave. My wife, Winifred, who is of course your sister-in-law, as Jennifer Mason is her youngest sister.” The two women sized each other up, liked what they saw, and kissed affectionately.

    “Come and meet my sister-in-law, Alice Willis, and my other sister, Helen. That’s Bill, her husband, with her. Alice was married to my cousin Benjamin. He… left.”

    “Yes, Will told us. It must have been hard for all of you, Mrs. Gilmore.”

    “Oh, please, we are to be sisters, in a way. Winifred, or even Winnie.”

    “And I’m just Lucy. On the stage I was Lucinda, but that was never really me, just a part I played.”

    Soon the women were clustered around Lucy in the Great Drawing Room, while next door in the library the men were getting to know Dick over glasses of wine and brandy. The children had been taken upstairs to the nurseries, and I was not surprised to see Steve slip out after his first glass with the men – he had an appointment with his friend Alice Anne, no doubt.

    “I must congratulate you again on your very early promotion, Will,” Michael said. “You and my former senior, Pat Franklin, have that in common, although he is actually a few months older, I believe. He has my old Predator now.”

    “Yes, I recall. Where is he now?”

    “Ireland, or at least he was the last I time I heard from him, looking for a renegade colonel named McKearny who’s believed to be in league with the Frogs. Of course that was several weeks ago, so he could have caught the blighter by now for all I know. He had a bit of a scare last month when some Spaniards seized one of our brigs, sailed her into Portsmouth, and under cover of English uniforms, attacked the house where his aunt and his lady were staying. Fortunately, St. John himself got wind of the plot and posted down from London just in time to foil the attack, with help from the marines from HMS Vanguard. His lady was shaken, but unharmed. She expects to be confined in late September, so there was some concern.”

    Briefly, Michael explained the history behind Pat Franklin’s relationship with his beloved Cristina, how he had come to rescue her from her elderly and abusive husband.

    “And the scoundrels dared to attack her right here on English soil?” Dick said, outraged.

    “Doesn’t surprise me,” I said cynically. “The Dons want war. They’ve hated England ever since we took Gibraltar away from them. They’ll declare on us before the summer is out, mark my words. You’ll need to get back to sea, then, Michael. We’ll need all our captains then, to fight them and the Frogs and the Rebels.”

    “I feel better now than I have in months, but I’m not going to ask their Lordships for another ship until after my child is born in July. And there’s the mill, of course. I can’t leave Bill with all of it.” Michael said quietly but firmly.

    This led to a discussion of the arrangements we had made the purchase of the mill, which Dick listened to and approved wholeheartedly. At this point the dressing bell rang and we dispersed to our various rooms to prepare for dinner.
    Mrs. Sommersby outdid herself with the dinner. I looked down the long table and thought how good it was to see so many happy people – certainly the past few months have not been easy for any of us. We have seen more than our fair share of death, heartache and betrayal. The ladies left us to our port, but we soon joined them, and then the evening really began. There were songs – Stephen was prevailed upon to sing, of course – and dancing, while Winifred played, and then the highlight of the evening – Dick was seen to whisper to his wife, who smiled and nodded.

    “Dear friends and family, Lucy has agreed to give us a treat,” he announced, “and I will be privileged to assist her. We will leave it to you to guess the scene.”

    Dick stalked onto the ‘stage’ where Lucy was standing and demanded to know, “Which is Beatrice?”

    “I answer to that name,” his costar replied, “What is your will?”

    “Do not you love me?” he asked

    “Why, no, no more than reason.” Lucy shot back, already in character as the strong-willed Beatrice confronting her beloved Benedick. On and on the scene from Much Ado About Nothing rolled, to the delight of the audience, until the two lovers came to Benedick’s famous line:

    “Peace! I will stop your mouth!” and Dick suited action to words. The kiss was long, lingering, and finished to tremendous applause. As they broke apart to take their bows, we saw him mouth, ‘Truly, I do love you, with all my heart.’

    Afterwards, I caught my brother alone while the others surrounded Lucy to embrace and kiss her.

    “Hidden talents, Dick?”

    “I know more than that scene, little brother. We almost did the love scene from Henry V, but it’s too long, even in the cut version she learned for the London stage. I used to help her learn her lines, even before we were married. I’ve always been a quick study.”

    “Well, it was a treat these people will be talking about for years, you can be sure. And that kiss at the end – it raised my temperature a notch or two, I can tell you.”

    They adjourned to their various rooms and I went for a very long walk in the grounds; the ornamental lake, with its cold water, looked very good right about then.


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Wednesday 19 May 1779

    Yesterday was a time for laughter and good fellowship – today we turned our minds to a grimmer purpose. Dick asked me to assemble Michael, Bill, and Stewart in the library and he got down to business immediately.

    “Gentlemen, I think we are on the trail of the same treacherous villain. While Lucy was recovering, she told me the story of how she was almost killed in February. She was betrayed by the operative who was supposed to be her bodyguard, a man who has also disappeared, She mentioned that her attacker was a man she knew slightly as one of
    her many ‘admirers’, a man who gave the name of Bert Waltham. The night that she was struck unconscious and almost drowned, she saw this man again, but she also saw and heard a female accomplice. That woman, a low, common creature who reeked of cheap perfume, urged her lover on to do the deed so they could be paid and live in high style in Paris. She said then that no one would ever look down on Sally Hill again. If this was the same Sally Hill who was Benjamin Willis’s clandestine lover, then I think we can say that Bert Waltham was actually Benjamin Willis in disguise, and now we all have a reason for seeing him brought to justice. The Bow Street runners would find him, perhaps, but they are overloaded and he may even now be preparing to flee to France or Spain. In fact, he may already be gone. Will here has told me the story of how the owner of this house, Captain Sinclair, waited sixteen years to see his wife’s murderer brought to justice. I trust none of us will have to wait that long. Who is with me?”

    Bill said, “If we all go the ladies will become alarmed. I have no reason to go to London, so I will stay here. Michael, you can say you are going to London in search of news of Captain Franklin or give some other excuse - Winifred will believe that easily enough, especially now that she has Lucy to cosset.”

    “Agreed, Bill. I’m in, Dick. He almost destroyed our family. He must be brought to book for that.”

    “You know Stewart and I are always with you, Dick.” I said. “Stephen will want to go, but this is no job for a thirteen year old boy.”

    From behind me came a voice I hardly recognized.

    “That miserable bastard abandoned his own daughter for a cheap whore.” Stephen ground out. “Alice Anne thinks it’s her fault he went away, that he left because she was bad somehow. Nothing her mother or I say seems to convince her otherwise. I want him punished for the harm he has caused. Will, in the coming weeks, you’ll be asking me to do a man’s job. Let me start now.”

    “He’s right, Will,” Michael said, looking at his young fencing pupil with approval.

    “Very well, then, Stephen goes.” Dick said with a nod at our little brother.


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Friday 21 May 1779

    We used every avenue of inquiry we know, and with the years of experience in intelligence work and covert operations that Dick and Stewart have between them, plus the information about Benjamin Willis’s preferences and habits supplied by Michael, who knew him well as his sister Alice's husband, plus some generous greasing of palms with funds provided by Dick, we finally got on the trail of our killers. We tracked them to a low dive in St. Giles. The bully-boy who had been set to discourage unwanted visitors was no match for five very determined men, four expert in the use of both pistol and blade and the fifth able to acquit himself well enough. With a single powerful kick Stewart broke the door down and we stormed into the room, surprising Willis in bed with a blowsy, overblown female who shrieked and tried to cover her bare breasts with her hands. I have never seen Michael Gilmore so murderously angry.

    He stormed over to the filthy bed and seized Willis by his hair, pulling his head back and placing a pistol at his temple, even as Willis, literally caught with his pants down, froze into frightened immobility. The smell of urine told us that he had lost control of his bodily functions, and the tart on the bed spewed a stream of vile abuse at him in a cockney dialect so thick we could barely understand it. Just then, there was a scream of rage from the doorway and Sally Hill – for it was not she on the bed, it seemed - launched herself at the other woman, clawing, biting, scratching and pulling hair.

    Stewart used the flat of his cutlass to knock both women out, while Michael ordered Willis to pull his breeches – now stained and reeking of urine – up and button them. Dully, he complied. It was obvious that he was more than a little drunk. Quickly Stewart and I rifled through his belongings, coming up with a sizable sum of cash which we would give to Alice upon returning to White Oaks. Forming a square around him, we frog-marched him down the stairs and past the slovenly innkeeper.

    “ ‘Ere naow, where you takin’ ‘im? ‘Oos to pay ‘is shot, I’d loike to know?” he protested.

    Dick walked over to him and with a few very succinct, very ominous words told him to take whatever was left in Willis’ room and to be thankful he was getting that. The man quickly subsided.

    The patrons of the inn were conveniently blind and deaf as we left the building, with Sally Hill unconscious over Stewart’s shoulder like so much unwanted dunnage, and Willis, barely able to stand upright for fear, stumbling along with a pistol at his back.

    “God, but he stinks,” Dick said disgustedly. “Worse than the bilges of one of my ships. I’m not sure I can ride in a closed carriage with him. Change of plans, gentlemen. No duel. Mr. Bloody Stinking Bastard Willis here is going to show us just where on the river he killed my wife” - we had agreed that only the family would know that Lucy is still alive – “and then we’re going to give him a taste of his own medicine. I seem to recall it was right about here on the embankment, wasn’t it, Willis?”

    Willis was terrified, his face a sickly shade of green. He turned aside and spewed up the contents of his stomach into the gutter, then passed out.

    “Now he smells worse than ever.” Dick said relentlessly.

    Stewart dumped the unconscious Sally on the ground and handed a pistol to Steve with instructions to watch her, disappeared and returned a short time later to slosh a bucket of noisome river water over Willis. He sputtered and came around.

    “Raw sewage, rather appropriate, I think, Stewart,” Dick remarked. “That’s what this cur reminds me of, raw sewage. Now, Willis, up on your feet. You’re going to lead us to the scene of the crime and if you make one false move I will cheerfully shoot you in the gut. That way you can take three or four days to die – like some of our British tars and soldiers that you betrayed to the Frogs will die because of your lust for money and that blowsy whore over there. Too bad we aren’t in America. We have Indian allies there, you know. They can take almost a week to kill a man. They take a sharp knife, you see, and then they begin to skin a man alive – slowly, a bit at a time."

    From inside his boot he produced a hunting knife that would have done any backwoodsman proud. “They start with the hands, you know – they hold them out, so you can see the knife very clearly as it starts to cut into your skin – like this.” He moved to run the razor-sharp blade over Willis’s hands and the man shrieked in terror.

    “Shut your filthy mouth,” Dick ground out, and he drove a fist into Willis’s face, breaking his nose and knocking out a few teeth. “Well, perhaps we won’t do that. We really haven’t the time. Nor do we have the time to roast you alive over a slow fire. That’s the other favourite Indian tactic, did you know that? So we’ll just beat you senseless, and then we’ll throw you into the river. Bound and gagged of course.”

    “Murthy, murthy…” Willis begged, crying pitifully, his words almost unintelligible because of the blow to his mouth.

    “Mercy? Did you show my wife and my child mercy? Did you show your wife mercy when you exposed her to disgrace and the malicious gossip of her neighbors? Did you show your children mercy when you disgraced the family name? You have no right to ask for mercy,” Dick ground out, then cursed Willis fluently. “Now. Who helped you betray Lucinda Graydon, and where is he now?”

    “Don’th know,” Willis mumbled.

    “You don’t know? Well, perhaps we can refresh your memory. Stewart?” Stewart leveled a pistol at Willis’s knees.

    “How would you like to lose your kneecaps, Willis? One at a time?” Dick asked harshly.

    “No, no. I'll thalk, I'll thalk. Whath thoo you wanth?” Willis whimpered.

    “I want names. Who was the man who betrayed Lucinda Graydon to you?” Dick demanded.

    “Lloyd.” Willis gave the name of a top operative, a man I remembered as having been my ‘double’ when I met Lucinda Graydon for the first time in December. If possible, Dick’s face grew even more murderous.

    “Is he in French pay, like you?”

    “Yeth. No. Thanish. Double agenth.”

    “Why kill her when you did?”

    “He wath afwaid she knew thoo muth. Couldn’th thake thances. Paid me and Thally thoo thoo the theed.”

    “How much?” Dick asked, and Willis mumbled a figure.

    “You sold your soul to the devil for that? You’re even stupider than I thought.” Dick said scornfully.

    On and on the questions went, with Willis becoming more and more pitiful each passing moment. Finally, like a cornered animal, he made one last desperate move, and threw himself into the river, but he’d misjudged the distance just as he’d misjudged everything else in his miserable life. There was a sickening thud and in a moment his corpulent body floated to the surface, his skull crushed on impact with a rocky outcrop.

    “Let’s get him on shore, I want to make sure he’s dead.” Dick said shortly. We were in the process of doing this when a Bow Street Runner came up to us. He eyed us with something of a jaundiced eye. What were two sea officers - three, counting Stephen - a navy petty officer, and man dressed like the prosperous merchant captain that he is doing in this rough part of town, he must have been thinking. Then he saw Sally Hill on the ground.

    “ ‘Ere now, what’s this?” He asked suspiciously.

    Dick moved over and spoke a few words, the man asked a question or two, and then he nodded. “Right then, sir, I’ll be takin’ this mort ‘ere into custody, and sendin’ the meat wagon for yon toff.”

    He took out his Occurrences Book and a stub of pencil, licked the point and poised to write. “The felon hin question is charged as a haccessory to murder, and with extortion, kidnapping and felony theft. That about do it, sir? An’ the toff, do you know ‘oo ‘e is?”

    He listened again. “Well, the magistrate will ‘ave to rule on ‘im, but I’m thinkin’ ‘death by misadventure’, ‘e just fell an struck ‘is ‘ead whilst hunder the hinfluence of hintoxicatin’ liquors. Do you think the fam’ly will be claimin’ the remains, sir?”

    “No.” Michael Gilmore said shortly. “They won’t.”

    “As you wish, Cap’n. Well, hit’s the Potter’s Field for ‘im, to be sure. That’s all I need.”

    He shook Sally Hill, who was by now beginning to come around - it had been necessary to clout her several times to keep her quiet- and hauled her to her feet.

    “Sally Hill, I harrest you in the King’s name. Come along.”

    When she started to protest, Stewart simply knocked her out again.

    “Thank you, sir, saved me the trouble.”

    With the situation well in Bow Street’s capable hands, we were at liberty to go home – or at least back to the townhouse Dick and Lucy had shared in happier days.

    When we reached the townhouse, we looked at one another. What we had just done, though necessary, was the sort of sordid business none of us likes.

    “I’ll take a boarding action over that any day,” Michael Gilmore said tiredly. “I’m glad to know he’s dead and that my sister is free of him, but it all leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

    “I agree, Michael. I don’t think I’m cut out for espionage work, either,” I said. “Though I know it has to be done, Dick.”

    “You won’t get any arguments from me, little brother. That’s why I wanted out of it too. But I’m in the same position your friend Sinclair was for so many years – I won’t rest until I find Lloyd and bring him to book. Willis was just a cheap pawn. Lloyd – and his Spanish masters – are the real villains.” He waved a tired farewell and went to his room.
     
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  19. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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


    Excerpt from the Diary of William Mason

    Saturday 22 May 1779

    With Willis dead and Sally condemned for her crimes, we could leave London knowing that we had done what we came to do. Michael had Willis’s death certificate in his hands; now his beloved sister Alice would be free to remarry should a likely suitor come along. On the way back home, Dick offered Michael Gilmore a job.

    “The head of my Southampton office is retiring, and I want to shift operations to Bristol anyway.” He said. “I’m offering you a position as director of European operations for Mason Shipping. You report only to me, as the managing director. I need a man with your skills in my organization. Talk to your wife and let me know in a week or so.”

    “I can tell you right now, Dick. Winifred and I have talked about this before. Right now that sounds just about perfect, as long as you understand that I am a sea officer first and foremost. If the Navy needs me, I will go.”

    “I wouldn’t want it any other way, Michael. I’ll take whatever months you can give me, because I know you’ll be training your successor all along, just like you trained my little brother here when he was a junior lieutenant.”

    “Then we are agreed, sir. My hand on it,” Michael said with a smile. “I’ll tell Winifred the news as soon as we reach White Oaks. Your hospitality has been a real boon, Will – or should I say Captain Sinclair’s hospitality. We’ve all written to him in America to thank him for his kindness to us. I suppose we need to be getting back to Cirencester, though. You will come for the opening of the new MGR Mill, though, won’t you? After all, the ‘M’ does stand for Mason, and how likely are we to ever get three of the Mason brothers in Gloucestershire at one time again?”

    We agreed that we would postpone our departure for Plymouth, where Vanessa is anchored, and Portsmouth, where Dick left Resolute Star, until Wednesday to allow for the celebration.


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Tuesday 25 May 1779

    The grass was soft beneath my feet as I walked slowly over to the little garden that Angelique used to tend in back of the house. It was the first time I’d been outdoors since the attack more than two weeks ago. I was wearing a simple cotton shirt and loose seaman’s trousers so as not to aggravate my wounds, which, though healing rapidly, are not ready for me to resume my usual activities yet. I feel well enough, if still somewhat tired most of the time. Fred tells me that this is due to the blood loss and that once my body rebuilds its supply it shall go away. It will not come soon enough for already I chafe at the inactivity, which is made tolerable only by having Tara at my side.

    “What did Major Collins have to say this morning?” she asked. Collins had come over to keep me informed as to the state of the investigation.

    “He said that it was rather slow going. The body of the third man was found in an abandoned house in the northern part of the city.”

    “But I thought you said you didn’t kill that one?”

    “I didn’t, my love, some else did. They found him with a pistol ball in his belly and another through his brain. The last was fired from less than three feet away so they tell me. Someone wanted to make sure he’d do no talking. Still sometimes even dead men can tell tales. Major Collins considers himself to be a pioneer in the art and science of detection. He believes that he may yet get something useful out of the man’s clothing.”

    “How so?” She asked curiously.

    “A person’s clothes carry traces of the places he’s been. If one can match those traces to their locations we can build a fairly accurate picture of his travels in the recent past. Which would then give Collins a number of people to talk to and hopefully more clues as to the identity of the man behind it all.”

    We had reached the garden now. Mary Stewart had already started planting row after row of vegetables; sweet peas, lettuce, green beans, cucumber, squash and more. In England it would have been a flower garden but here in America it was almost always vegetables.

    “Did he say anything else? Jen told me he was here for quite a while.” I smiled at her. It had been one of the very few times that Tara had been away from my side in the last two weeks. She and Prewitt had made the trip to the market so that Mary Stewart wouldn’t have to walk the distance. I had offered some days ago to get them a carriage but Mary had refused.

    “He also told me what’s been going on for the past weeks. Sir Henry Clinton is finally preparing to take the army out of winter quarters. He should have done it six weeks ago if you ask me but that’s Sir Henry for you. He’ll probably stay in New York and leave the actual campaign to one of his subordinates, heaven forbid he should have to do any work after all.” I said with disgust.

    Clinton was another of those gutless wonders like that self-important little pipsqueak at Sir Edmund’s ball last March. A lot of nasty talk and certainly he’d be vindictive enough if the enemy were to fall into his lap but without the brains or the intestinal fortitude to actually go out and fight on his own.

    “John, do you think any thing will ever be the same after this war? I mean I’ve seen so much hatred at times it quite frightens me.”

    “I wish I could say that I did, Tara, but in truth, no I don’t. Too much blood has been spilled, too many atrocities committed, on both sides for us to ever go back. Even if England were free to concentrate solely on the rebels without interference from the French or Spanish, what would we do after, eh? Treat it as a conquered province, have every suspected rebel rounded up and hanged? That would just invite a far larger and infinitely more destructive rebellion back in Britain. You know a great many of our officers have chosen to sit out the war or have taken positions limited by the provision that they not be sent to America.”

    “I didn’t know that.” She said in astonishment.

    “Oh yes, my love. You see they feel that the rebels are justified in their complaints. And truth to tell so do I. All they wanted were the same rights that any Englishman enjoys. It is Lord North and his cronies that wanted to treat them as virtual slaves. If the government were to start hanging them wholesale the tide of rebellion would sweep across Britain. The Irish would use it to break away as would the Scots, maybe even the Welsh. And let’s not forget the French and Spanish. By the time it was over Great Britain would have effectively ceased to exist. Not even Frederick North is foolish enough to risk that.

    “In my judgment the rebel colonies are lost to us already although I believe that we shall be able to hold onto Canada. Campaigns will still be mounted and skirmishes, even battles, still fought but in the grand scheme of things that part of the war has already been decided. Oh a miracle may happen, the French may show their true colours and attack their allies in an attempt to seize everything. The King may throw North’s government out and direct the new government to offer the rebels the rights that they wanted. But I doubt it. No, now the war is about the French and soon the Spanish. The scene of action will shift from North America to European waters and the rich islands of the Caribbean in a year, two at the most.”

    “So we shall never be friends again.” She said with sadness.

    “I didn’t say that, Tara.” I interjected. “I believe that someday we will. But there has been too much bad blood for that to happen quickly. It will take a generation or two, perhaps even longer but eventually we will be friends again. And it will be men like your father and your brother Dick that help bring it to pass. America is England’s biggest trading partner, and I suspect will be for a very long time. Taxes and Representation may have driven us apart but Trade and a common Heritage will bring us back together again, even though it will take many years. I’m sorry if it’s cold comfort.”

    “Don’t be Dearest. It gives some hope for the future at least.”

    As we walked slowly back to the house I thought of the other piece of news that Collins had brought. The big French frigate Arronbourge had made another daring capture in Long Island Sound. A pair of merchantmen loaded with supplies had been captured and their escorting Brig sent to the bottom in a fast action two nights ago. This made the third capture within sight of the coast for the big Frenchman, reported to mount 40 guns. Sir Avery Canning was said to be beside himself with rage at his frigate captains for not capturing or sinking her. Indeed they hadn’t even been able to find her. Arronbourge seemed to appear and disappear at will. Once Fred certified me fit to return to duty I knew that she would be Sapphire’s problem. Until then I had asked Major Collins to get me all the reports he could on her. When the time came I would be ready.


    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Wednesday, 26 May 1779

    Today was one of the hottest days I can ever remember, even accustomed as I am to the heat and humidity of an Annapolis summer. John and I had gone out for another of our walks in the back garden, walks that are becoming longer and more frequent as his strength returns. We both know that very soon he will be well enough to return to his ship, even if not to full duty, but we are trying not to think about that too much, choosing instead to cherish each moment we have together.

    “This heat is becoming too much for you, my dear, even with that hat on. I think we should go back inside,” he said when we had been out for a shorter time than usual.

    “I should be used to the heat, I grew up in Maryland, where it gets not only hot, but also very humid in summer, but it still saps my strength,” I agreed, as we walked back into the house. We arrived just in time to find a bit of a ‘stramash’, as John’s cox’n Ian MacGregor would say, going on.

    The man himself was standing in the kitchen, his great arms crossed and an expression I could only describe as outraged on his face. “An’ when the Cap’n has offered time an’ time again tae gi’ ye the use of a carrij, sae this doesna happen, wat do ye do bu’ go out in the heat o’ the day, puttin’ yersel’ and the bairn at risk. It wilna answer, Mary Drummond, it willna do at a’. Glaikit, tis wha’ ye air, to be goin’ aboot wen there’s Lucy to do the marketin’ for ye!” He scolded, his body almost quivering with indignation.

    “MacGregor? What’s the problem?” Sinclair asked.

    His cox’n knuckled his forehead, bowed to me and then explained, “I found Miss Mary here by the side o’ the road, near swoonin’ frae the heat. It isna richt that she should be oot, not in her condition. I hae a mind to speak to Doctor Fred aboot it. He’ll order her to take guid care, on medical grounds.”

    Mary had obviously had enough of being talked to, and talked about. She is normally the calmest, mildest person I have met in a very long time, but obviously she does not have red hair for nothing, because she jumped out of her chair and drew herself up to her full six feet of height. Even then the giant Scot dwarfed her by half a foot of stature and easily outweighed her by a hundred pounds. To our surprise, she fired a return broadside in the same broad Scots he had used to her – a dialect I did not even know she spoke.

    “Ye’ve seid enough, Ian MacGregor. I’ fact, ye hae seid ower muckle. I dinna hae tae beg your lave tae gang aboot ma business. I am a free wumman an’ answer tae no mon.”

    “I gie ma word to your guidman, Mary, that I would look after ye, as he isna here an’ ye are of the Grigalach.”

    “I am no chiel tae be lookit after, nae mair than ye air, MacGregor.” She said stubbornly.

    “Nay, ye are worse than a chiel, for ye dinna pay any mind to yer elders,” He shot back.

    “Three year doesna mak ye ma elder” she insisted.

    “Canna ye count, then? It does, ye glaikit kimmer. Awa’ wi’ yer havers and listen tae me. If ye dinna tak’ care ye’ll lose the bairn, and how will ye explain tha’ tae ma frien’ Nicolas? Afore I left him tae come here he said, “Tak’ care o’ ma Mary, MacGregor. She’s strong, bu’ sometimes she maun admit she canna do everythin’” An’ tae find out that ye are of the Grigalach, weel, it maks it e’en mair important that I do as he askit. Nou, sit doon afore ye fa’ doon!” He thundered.

    She sat down. By this time the scene had attracted something of a crowd, but the two were oblivious to the rest of us. John was translating sotto voce as the drama unfolded.

    “He said she was very foolish to go out in this heat. She said she was her own woman and answered to no man. He said he promised Stewart he’d look after her, since Stewart isn’t here and she is of the Clan MacGregor. She said she isn’t a child and doesn’t need looking after. He said she was worse, because she pays her elders no mind. She said being three years older doesn’t make him her elder. He said it does, and called her a foolish young girl. Then he told her to stop her nonsense and listen to him. If she doesn’t take care she will lose the baby, and besides he promised Stewart he would look after her, and repeated what he said about being part of his clan. Then he told her to sit down.”

    “Cap’n, do ye expect yon Doctor the day?” MacGregor asked John.

    “I do. Very shortly, as it happens.”

    “Guid. Then, lassie, tae bed wi’ ye, and bide there ‘till he says ye havna suffered onie ill effects fra’ this morn’s wark.”
    Mary went. She went grudgingly, but she went. When he moved to pick her up, she rebuffed him firmly.

    “I am no chiel to be carrit, Ian MacGregor. I’ll gang on mae ain, thank ye verra much.”

    She stalked into the bedroom, and he turned to Jennifer to indicate that he would like for her to sit with Mary for a while to make sure she would rest.

    “Miss Jennifer, I ask ye as a frien’ tae keep her there.”

    “Yes, of course, MacGregor.” Jennifer said, trying to hide a grin.

    “Miss Tara, a wee drap woudna come amiss, if ye hae sich a thing aboot the hoose?”

    “Yes, of course, MacGregor,” I said, repeating Jennifer’s words as I went for the bottle of whiskey John’s steward Bailey had brought over for those who enjoy it.

    I handed him the bottle and a glass and he poured himself a not over-generous measure, then drank it down in one gulp.
    “Thank ye, dear lady.”

    “Now, MacGregor, what was that all about?” John asked.

    “I foun’ yon lassie down the way, Cap’n, near swoonin’ frae the heat. When I stoppit to askit after her, she seid she was bonny, an’ a’ was well. Well, I cuid see wi’ ma own eyes that it wasna’ so. I hailed a passin’ carrij and begged a ride here for her, and ye sa’ the rest.”

    “You called her Mary Drummond, and said she was Clan MacGregor,” John said.

    “Ay, so she is. She’s the guidwife of Nicolas Stewart, bu’ she was born to Jamie Drummond a’ the foot o’ Ben Lomond, tho’ they left Scotland to come to America when she was naught bu’ a wee tiny lassie. She tol’ me that the nicht we a’ had dinner here a month syne. Wenn the MacGregor name was banned, years ago, some settled in other parts o’ Scotland where the MacGregors had frien’s, bu’ mony of oor men stayed where they be an’ took the name o’ Drummond. So she’s of ma clan, and I hae a duty to look oot for her.”

    “And she speaks fluent Scots, that’s obvious.”

    “Ay, tho’ there’s been no call to speir the words since her father died twintie year and more syne. I promised Stewart I’d look after her, but she doesna tak’ kindly to it, it seems.”

    “It’s just that she’s had to care for herself for so long, MacGregor,” Jennifer said from the doorway. “Don’t worry, I've sponged her with cool water and she’s sleeping now. Just before she fell asleep she said something rather strange: ‘Tell ma brither Ian that he’s won, this time.’ Do you know what she meant?”

    “Oh ay. Wenn Jamie Drummond took his guidwife and his bairns and fled to America in ‘45 he left his eldest son, Ian, deid on the fiel’ at Culloden. The lad was bu’ saxteen, but braw and bonny for a’ that. Yon lassie was twa year old, an’ Ian’s pet. I think she’s put me in his stead, and that’s just fine, if it means she’ll heed ma words.”

    “Well, I will say this, MacGregor – you certainly brought out a side of Mary Stewart that none of us have ever seen before.” John said, shaking his head in amazement. “And here’s Fred, right on time. And on the subject of the carriage – go and hire one, MacGregor, and bring it here for the ladies to use. I’ll solve this problem once and for all.”
     
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  20. Duncan MacLeod

    Duncan MacLeod Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2002
    Location:
    New England
    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Friday 28 May 1779

    It was like Christmas all over again today – Coleman arrived this afternoon with my big trunk, which had come down from Halifax on White Star, one of our smaller ships engaged primarily in the coastal trade.

    “There’s a letter for you too, Mrs. Mason,” he told Jennifer as he carried the big trunk into the large bedroom of the house on John Street. John is up and about more and more these days, preferring to sit in the sitting room and read, talk or play chess to lying in bed, though he does rest for part of the day. Doctor Fred took the stitches out on Monday and has given grudging permission for John to walk about more, as long as he does not over-exert himself. “And stay out of the damned bathtub, John. Those wounds have healed very quickly, more thanks to Miss Tara’s devoted nursing than to you, you old rascal, but give it another few days before you soak yourself, much as you would like to.” He had warned.

    “Well, the day of reckoning is at hand, my love,” John said as he got up from his chair and followed the trunk – and me – towards the bedroom. “Let’s leave Jen alone to savour her letter from your brother. She’s been wonderfully strong about being away from him for so long, but I know she is missing him terribly. Perhaps he has news that he is headed back this way, or news of your brother Stephen.”

    He turned out to be prophetic. We were still in the hallway when we heard her give a glad cry of relief and come running out to speak to us.

    “Tara, love, it’s all right – Stephen is with him. He says the lad lied about his age and shipped out on a merchantman out of Halifax. He arrived in Portsmouth just a day or so before Will did. He was almost pressed onto a seventy-four but Will saved him.”

    “And gave him a proper caning for scaring everyone, I hope,” John said.

    “Yes, of course, but Stephen seemed to expect it, even welcome it. He wants to be a midshipman. Will already has two, but he says he will take him on as captain’s servant if necessary.”

    “If your husband gets the frigate I recommended him for, Jennifer, he will need another midshipman. I’m glad you have such good news, though. Now then, Miss Tara my love, about those gowns?”

    We left the door open so Jennifer could ‘chaperone’ us, but only because John insists that no one be given any reason to question my good name or defame my reputation. I found the keys and John unlocked the trunk, opening it to reveal all the gowns I had shopped so carefully for in London last December – a lifetime ago, it seemed. There were morning gowns, afternoon gowns, walking gowns, a riding habit, and then the most glorious of all – the blue silk ball gown that was to have been the star of my come-out ball. On the other side of the trunk, in sliding drawers, were the delicate chemises, stockings, and fine lawn nightgowns that we had also ordered. Another sliding drawer contained accessories – the silk and lace trifle that went with the ball gown, hats, plumes, and gloves.

    “You and your mother have good taste. These are lovely,” he said approvingly. “But I like this one the best, I think. The blue silk brings out the colour of your eyes and it will go perfectly with the necklace I gave you. If it looks as good as I think it will, I think I would like for you to wear this for your portrait sitting. So now comes the fun part – you must try it on. Much as I would like to stay here and play ladies’ maid, I’d better make myself scarce and send Mary to you. She can lace you into your stays.”

    I coloured faintly – not as much as I would have even a week ago, though. John and I love each other very deeply and there are times that we are hard pressed to remind ourselves that the physical expression of that love must only go so far, lest my reputation be damaged. This was one of those instances. He took himself off and shortly thereafter Mary and Jennifer came in to help me into the chemise, the delicate clocked stockings, the stays, the petticoats, and finally the gown itself. Mary arranged my hair and pinned in the silk and lace headdress and found the matching kid slippers, and Jennifer produced the lovely necklace John had given me as a belated birthday present the night he was so viciously attacked. It hung, sparkling, at my throat as I looked at myself in the glass. The gown was lower in the front than I remembered, and I started to tug it up.

    “No, love, leave it where it is. It’s not too low. It’s quite respectable, really. I’ve seen some of the women here wearing gowns so low that one wonders how their bosoms stay covered at all.” Jennifer remarked. “Your mother wouldn’t have let you buy it if it were not the thing, you know.”

    “You’re right, Jen. It is beautiful, isn’t it?”

    “It’s a very nice gown. You are beautiful. And for all that it is very respectable, I think that very virile man in there is going to like what he sees very much.”

    Mary, watching all this go by, chuckled and said something quite earthy. It took me a bit to catch her meaning and when I did I blushed. Jen laughed. “Mary, you’re embarrassing the girl,” she scolded in mock severity.

    “No girl anymore, Miss Jen. When I was her age, and younger, I was a woman with a woman’s understanding of the ‘way of a man with a maid’ as the Good Book says. She’s learning – and I can’t think of a better teacher than that man in there.”

    “I agree. Well, off you go to your presentation, my dear. Mary and I will stay here. This moment is for the two of you alone.” She gave me a slight shove and I took a deep breath, which seemed to emphasize my full bosom even more. That had been the test of whether I had gained back the weight I had lost through worrying about my parents and my brothers – that the gowns would fit perfectly in the bodice. They did.

    I swept into the sitting room as John’s jaw dropped and then he smiled – a slow, appreciative smile with a pronounced gleam in his eye to accompany it.

    “Worth every bite, every bit of trouble you gave me, my love. Turn around and let me see the full effect. No, I like the front better. Come and get your kiss for winning the wager.”

    “You don’t think it’s too low in the front?”

    “My love, I think it’s wonderful. You have a lovely bosom and you may as well show it off. Besides, any man who looks too closely will answer to me.” He said the words lightly, but I knew that in reality he was deadly serious.

    “Now about that kiss – you still haven't claimed it, Miss Tara.” Long minutes passed as we corrected the oversight. As I came up for air, flushed and I am sure dreamy-eyed, I thought of Mary’s comment and chuckled.

    “What is it, my love?”

    “Just something Mary said before I came in here. It was - rather - um - earthy.”

    “Mary Stewart is as down-to-earth as they come, my sweet, so I’m not surprised. What did she say?”

    “I’m not going to tell you. It made me blush – after I realized what she was saying, that is!”

    He threw back his handsome head and laughed. “Well, if I know the redoubtable Mrs. Stewart, I can almost guess what it was. Did she say… " the rest was murmured against my lips, and of course, I blushed again.

    “John, how did you know?” I said with a giggle.

    “Because she was right, my love. Well, my work here is done. Time to move back to the ship and give you the house back.”

    My face must have reflected my disappointment.

    “Tara, love, think. I can’t stay here, not any longer. So far the severity of my wounds have prevented anyone from questioning the amount of time we spend alone together, but that won’t always be the case. For the sake of your good name, I need to leave. Besides, I have a ship to run.”

    The idyll had come to an end.


    From the Personal Log of John Sinclair

    Friday 28 May 1779

    “Boat Ahoy!” Came the challenge from Sapphire’s quarterdeck.

    Sapphire!” MacGregor called back telling one and all aboard that I was returning. I had recognized Jones’ voice and could picture the ordered pandemonium on deck as the side party made ready to pipe me aboard once more. Not that they been unprepared, the message that had brought MacGregor, Fred and the gig would have seen to that. At a command from MacGregor the crew boated their oars smartly and Barkley hooked onto the main chains.

    From above I saw a Bosun’s chair descend to the gig as Fred glared at me.

    “No, Fred.” I said looking at him very directly. “I will not be hoisted from this gig like a drunken Portsmouth doxie.”

    “It is not like that, John. Everyone aboard knows that you are wounded.” He responded. “You will pull out your stitches if you insist on climbing up the side.”

    “You took the stitches out four days ago, Fred. Did you put them back while I was asleep?”

    Fred said nothing but continued to frown disapprovingly at me. I turned and ignoring both him and the chair addressed myself to timing my leap correctly. Grasping the side ropes firmly I sprang onto the steps and climbed quickly through the entry port as the Swede’s pipe twittered in greeting and the Marine’s snapped to at Calhoun’s shouted command.

    “Welcome home, sir.” Jones said touching his hat. “Sorry about the chair, sir, the Doctor insisted.” I made a depreciating gesture and the matter was dropped.

    The side party was dismissed and we went into my day cabin. Bailey was waiting for us and carefully removed my coat. I’d felt a few twinges in my shoulder during the climb but otherwise all seemed well enough.

    “Will you be wanting a bite, sir?” Bailey asked after he’d hung up my coat. “Or perhaps some coffee?”

    “Coffee will be fine, Andrew. Bart?”

    “Yes, thank you, sir.” Bailey nodded and was off.

    Walking over to the great stern galleries I gazed through the glass and out at the anchorage.

    “I see that Enchanté is still here.”

    “The board decided that her damage wasn’t extensive enough to require her return to England, sir. She was bought into the service for eleven thousand two hundred pounds on the 16th and given over to the dockyard the next day. Word is they hope to have her ready within another five or six weeks.”

    I nodded. What Bart didn’t know was that the letter from St. John that he’d sent over to me yesterday had given me the authority to make whatever use of her I deemed necessary and prudent. I fully intended to appoint him to command her once she was out of the dockyard. I considered telling him but decided against it, until she was ready to be commissioned anything could happen and I didn’t want to get his hopes up only to dash them later.

    “And there are quite a number of letters waiting for you, sir. None of them official or I would have sent them over.”

    “I’ll get to them later.” I said absently. It was strange. I’d only left the house a half hour ago and already I was missing Tara. I could taste her last kiss on my lips. I stood there gazing toward the shore for several minutes when something that Jones said brought me back.

    “While you were recovering, sir, we had several letters from Capitaine Montaigne. It seems that, as he is great nephew to Comte Vergennes, Sir Henry Clinton has decided that he will not be exchanged. I went to see him and explained that you had been wounded but he became quite abusive and it was necessary for the guard to restrain him rather forcibly. He seems to hold you responsible, I tried to explain that as soon as you were well enough you would see what could be done but he was having none of it and insisted that he be exchanged at once. There was nothing more I could do, sir, so I left and returned to the ship.”

    “You did correctly, Bart. Some of these Frenchies have an overly high opinion of themselves. Is he still in New York?” Jones nodded.

    “To the best of my knowledge, he is, sir.”

    “Alright, I’ll see what can be done to get him out of our hair and send him home on parole. But if Clinton is set on keeping him here then there’s little that I’ll be able to do to change is mind.

    “Speaking of the French, have we heard anything new of Arronbourge?” I asked changing the subject.

    “We know that she’s been operating in these waters since very late last year. Sometimes alone and sometimes in the company of other ships, both French and American. She’s piled up an extensive list of captures from as far south as the Delaware and as far north as Newfoundland. No word on who her Captain is. I’ve made further inquiries but so far they’ve all come up empty, sir.”

    “Keep trying. She has to slip up sooner or later. In the meantime let’s have a look at the ship’s books shall we.” We set to work.



    Fifth Week


    From the Remembrances of Tara Mason

    Saturday 29 May 1779

    Almost as soon as my ‘fashion show’ was over, John sent word to the ship that he would be returning immediately. Bailey had sent over his uniform a few days previously, so he was able to dress in a manner befitting his rank as a senior post captain. I had changed into another of the gowns in the trunk – an afternoon dress in embroidered linen – and was waiting when he came out of his room, his ensemble complete but for the coat and the hat.

    “I’m going to need a bit of help with this coat, my love. The shoulder still twinges just a bit at times.”

    I helped him into that garment and tugged the lapels into place, smoothing them with a pat.

    “There. You look quite the picture of the distinguished naval gentleman.”

    “Distinguished? Is that a polite way of saying ‘ageing’, Miss Tara?”

    “No, it is not, John. I mean exactly what I say,” I started to deny hotly, then realized he was teasing. John can say the most outrageous things with a perfectly straight face, and sometimes I don’t always catch his hidden meanings right away.

    “Oh, you take delight in tormenting me, you wretch!” I railed, trying to suppress a giggle – nay, an outright laugh - at his antics. I shook a delicate fist at him and frowned as ferociously as I could manage, but the giggles betrayed me. I was pulled unceremoniously into his arms and kissed breathless - not a difficult task, since I was already nearly breathless from laughter.

    “Madam, when I kiss a woman I do not expect laughter to be the result. It’s very insulting to the masculine ego you know?”

    “Oh, dear. I’ve hurt his feelings. Oh, I don’t know how to atone for my transgressions, I really don’t.”

    “I can think of a few things,” he’d murmured outrageously, before his head came down again.

    But all of this had to come to an end, and after one last, slow, lingering kiss, off he went.

    This morning Fred Bassingford knocked on our door just before noon.

    “Good morning, Miss Tara,” he said as I admitted him and he bowed over my outstretched hand. “You see before you Mercury, the winged messenger. I have come, not from Mount Olympus, but from His Majesty's Ship Sapphire with a missive from a certain sea officer who was regretfully parted from you not twenty-four hours since. Your letter, dear lady, and I am to wait for a reply, if there is one.”

    His smile was jocular, but his eyes told me that John was missing me as much as I miss him, and begged me not to disappoint his best friend by not sending some sort of letter.

    “I have a letter that I wrote last night, but let me see if there is anything I need to add, Doctor Fred.”

    “Excellent. I shall just go enjoy a cup of Mrs. Stewart’s excellent coffee and return in - half an hour?”

    “That should be quite sufficient, thank you.”

    Half an hour later, fortified with coffee and the thin molasses cookies - biscuits, the English call them - that Mary makes almost every day, he came to collect his letter.

    “Ah, a nice thick one. He will be pleased. Thank you, my dear. I will be here each day about this time, give or take an hour or so each way, to perform my appointed duties.”

    “Thank you, Doctor Fred. Take care of him, please?”
    “I do my best, dear girl. Not as well as you do, but I do my best. When I can get him to listen, that is.”

    He kissed me on the top of my head and waved a jaunty farewell.
     
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