READ A SAMPLE


SeaHorse

by

Michael Aye


Prologue

“Shh…What’s ’at mate?”

“Shut yer trap, Luke, I ’ears somthin.”

“Awe, it’s probably the master blowing ’is innards at the ’ead.”

“Hush! I ’ears it again. It’s like water lapping against the hull and loose riggings aloft.”

“I don’t see nuthin.”

“Course you don’t you bugger. The fogs to ’eavy but I ’ears it jus the same.”

“Mr Kemp, sir.”

“What is it, Forester?”

“I ’ears somthin out there sir,” the seaman said, pointing into the heavy fog that filled Carlisle Bay. Even the lights from nearby Bridgetown were not visible, as the fog was so dense. “It sounds like a ship coming in, only trying to be quiet like, sir.”

Edward Kemp was the third lieutenant aboard HMS Prudent of sixty-four guns. The ship had been in commission for three years now and he knew his men well. Forester was a good topman with no nonsense about him. If he was concerned enough to alert the officer of the watch, then there was something out there.

“Mr Richards,” Kemp called to his midshipman.

“Aye, sir.”

“I think the captain and first lieutenant are dining together. Would you be so kind as to relay my compliments and tell the captain we’ve picked up the noise of an…” Kemp thought for a moment before finishing. “¼from an unidentified approaching vessel.”

“Aye, sir,” the youth replied as he hurried off to do his bidding. I didn’t see any vessel, he thought, but he’d been in the Navy long enough to do as ordered without question.

Once sending for the captain, Kemp approached the starboard rail where Forester stood, his head cocked so he could better pick up the sounds coming from the dark. Wiping the fog from his face and beard the topman spoke, “I ’ears it regular like now, sir. No doubt it be a vessel o’ some sort or tother; ’ear that,” Forester spoke in a whisper. “…Voices.”

Kemp had heard enough. Without waiting further, he called for all hands. The captain would rather him do that than jeopardize the ship.

“Look sir,” Forester cried, alarm in his voice.

A red glow could be seen…growing, becoming brighter in the fog. Slowly the eerie, shadowy form began to take shape, lit up by the flames blazing aboard the approaching menace. The captain was now on deck and had witnessed the burning ship appear as a demon out of the misty fog that enshrouded the anchored ships.

The captain swallowed hard, suddenly nervous about the prospect of losing his ship to the approaching inferno. He turned to his first lieutenant. “Beat to quarters, Mr Duncan, and blast yonder ship to Hades where she belongs.”

“Mr Kemp, set up the deck pumps. The fog has the ship fairly dripping but I want to be ready for every possibility.”

“Sir.” This from Forester again. “I ’ear gunfire from over at the convoy. See sir…see the flash? That be musket or pistol shots I’m thinking.”

“I see them,” Kemp replied, touching the man on the shoulder. “But I can’t worry about that now. We’ll check it out after we deal with this one,” he said, pointing to the burning vessel.

Turning back toward the captain, Kemp heard Duncan say, “She’s a small vessel.”

“I could care less about her size, sir; I want the damn thing sunk,” the captain retorted.

Kemp could now see, as the flames had increased and climbed to the vessel’s mast and riggings, that it was a small ship indeed. The size of a cutter, he thought.

The night was suddenly shattered as Prudent’s guns roared out in defiance. Old the ship may be but she still spoke with authority as the ship heaved under the force of its broadside. The vessel, whatever type it had been, was nothing more now than a semi-floating wreck. The mast was by the side and sizzled as smoke and steam from its hot timber drifted upward. A brief gust of wind caused a torrent of sparks to fill the air then fade away into the fog.

Smoke from Prudent’s guns, mixed with that of the burning vessel, drifted across the crowded deck of the warship as men watched the last ember of the fireship succumb to the dark waters. Men coughed and rubbed their eyes, but otherwise stood silent, not fully understanding what had taken place. The fireship had had no chance.

“Look!” someone called out.

Red flares now filled the night above the anchored merchantmen that were to sail in convoy on the morrow.

Kemp suddenly recalled the recent conversation with Forester and quickly informed the captain of flashes of small arms fire among the merchantmen.

“A ruse, Lieutenant, a ruse…the fireship was nothing but a decoy, something to occupy our attention. The real target was the convoy,” the captain responded.

“Mr Dover.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Send a couple of boats with a squad of marines over to the convoy. We’re probably too late to be of much help, but see what can be done.”

“Aye, Captain.”

BOOM!…A blinding flash and a deafening explosion filled the bay. The force of the explosion sent shockwaves across the anchorage and rocked HMS Prudent, throwing men against the rails and onto the deck. A few were thrown against the cannons they’d just fired. Cries of pain filled the air.

Lieutenant Duncan, with the help of a seaman, lifted their captain to his feet. His arm was dangling at an odd angle, obviously broken. Grimacing from the pain, the captain spoke. “A cunning soul, Mr Duncan, a cruel, devious, and cunning soul planned this. I’d not like to think what else lies in store.”


Chapter One

The closest thing to heaven is a child. The first person to ever coin that phrase must have had a child, probably a little girl, Admiral Lord Gilbert Anthony thought as he watched his daughter not only laugh but cackle at Bart’s goo-goos, funny faces, bounces and jiggles. Damme. If I ain’t laughing at him myself, Anthony realized.

No one who knew Bart would ever picture him down on the floor playing with a baby. But it was true. This rough and weathered old salt was playing with a child, not just a child but a baby girl.

Bart had been many things to Lord Anthony over the years: trusted and loyal seaman, lifesaver, captain’s cox’n, admiral’s cox’n, friend, and now uncle. Uncle Bart, well why not. He was as close to Anthony as anybody…except Gabe…yet closer in different ways.

Watching Uncle Bart play and jostle his daughter, Anthony saw alarm quickly spread over the man’s face as an unmistakable rumble came forth. When no further eruptions followed Bart smiled and said, “Sounds like a bosun’s mate already, don’t she?”

Anthony was beside himself with Bart’s analogy and couldn’t contain his laughter. Bart’s big grin quickly faded and a frown suddenly took its place as Macayla Rose emitted more noises, but this time the noise was accompanied with a foul odour and substance. Bart held the child in an attempt to pass her to Anthony, who shook his head.

“Don’t give her to me,” he exclaimed.

“Yews her father,” Bart said, his eyes watering and a green pallor spreading over his face.

“You’re the one who shook her up, Uncle Bart,” Anthony replied, enjoying Bart’s discomfort. “You never changed a diaper?” he asked with feigned dismay.

“Yews knows I ain’t, and I ain’t going to start. Sides this poor child needs a woman’s ’tention. Where’s her mama?”

“She’s out horseback riding.”

“Then unless yews ready to swab decks I speck yews better find her…her nurse or somebody.”

“Some uncle you turned out to be,” Anthony stated as he rose from his chair.

“No worse than her daddy I’m thinking.”

Anthony walked toward the long hall, leaving Bart holding Macayla still at arm’s length. Looking back, he called, “Well fetch her along, Bart, let’s see if we can find the nurse. Maybe she’ll be able to give you instructions on how to minister to a child’s needs.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’d be glad to right after she teaches yew. A man ought to take care o’ his own git.”

***

Arm in arm Anthony walked with Lady Deborah across the flagstones in the little garden behind Deerfield manor. Her laughter had filled the air as he retold the story of Bart’s ordeal when Macayla’s diaper needed changing. The couple approached a small goldfish pond and sat on the little wooden bench. The sun was setting and this cast their shadows across the small pool.

Turning toward his wife, Anthony found he was still amazed at how beautiful she was. My God, he thought, how blessed can a man be. No matter how much they were together he never tired of watching her…or wanting her. She roused in him desires that were unexplainable. It was beyond sexual. He enjoyed the sound of her voice, her laughter, and her lovemaking. He enjoyed her company. She made him comfortable.

As Anthony looked back toward the big gray stone house, he realized she had made it seem like a home. Her presence had added warmth he didn’t recall as a child. He quickly realized that while it was his home as a child he had few memories of it as a childhood home. He remembered fishing in the Downs off Walmer and Deal. He also remembered riding to Walmer Castle for a holiday and getting a pony one birthday. It was sad, he thought, to have so few memories attached to the family home.

Most of his memories seemed to be related to the Navy. He was a wet behind the ears midshipman who was a worldly sailor by the time he’d reached his teens. Then after one cruise his father no longer resided at Deerfield. His mother was silent when he asked about his father. She remained silent but was obviously very angry and became scornful. It hadn’t been long before his sister, Becky, would write describing sudden changes in their mother’s moods and personality. She related how their mother had turned to drink. The problems had increased as years went by.

Becky got married and her husband, Hugh, whose family had large holdings at Sandwich, took over things. He had hired a good overseer, employed good tenants and generally put Deerfield in good working order. It should be his and Becky’s, not mine, Anthony thought. Something he needed to bring up later.

When he had returned home this time, Becky had tried to warn him of their mother’s deterioration. However, no amount of warning could have prepared him for what he’d found. Mother, who’d always been a large woman, barely weighed ninety pounds. She called him by his father’s name and cursed him for being away so much. She then surprised all by saying they would dine together that evening to celebrate his return. Anthony wasn’t sure if she meant him or still had him confused with his father. Mother had rarely left her own room in the past three years. Once dressed and at the dinner table she continued to call Anthony by his father’s name.

Midway through the meal she pointed toward the door, insisting it had been left open. Pigs had come in the house, and someone needed to run them out. When no one moved she began to shout and curse, “The damn pigs are now under the table.”

Bart surprised everyone when he quickly rose, grabbed a broom, and made a show of running the pigs out, then slammed the door shut. This calmed Anthony’s mother down and the meal was finished.

Anthony talked with the doctor, who came from Deal. The doctor explained that Anthony’s mother had become demented. He related that she had lost all her mental faculties and needed to be kept sedated so as to not injure herself or discommode those around her. The doctor had told of families who could not afford the cost of medication or servants to tend to those similarly affected and they would live the rest of their lives in a place like Billingsgate. Anthony was not comfortable with the doctor’s unconcerned attitude but didn’t know what else to do for now. Something he’d discuss with Caleb when the opportunity next arose.

The sound of horse hooves and the creaking of the carriage wheels on the cobblestones broke Anthony’s reverie. Deborah smiled and asked, “Were you thinking of some island with naked ladies?”

“Sadly no, I was thinking of mother and her madness; of how you’ve made this place feel like a home…oh and the thought of a naked lady did cross my mind.”

“Bet it was some island girl.”

“No, most definitely not.”

“Who was she?”

“We’ll discuss that later after dinner, after Becky and Hugh have left.”

“Hummm! Are you going to try to take advantage of me tonight, sir?”

“Most assuredly, my darling.”

“Tell me,” Deborah asked just before they entered their home, “do you think Becky and Hugh will mind if we skip dessert?”


END OF SAMPLE

This book is also in print

www.bosonbooks.com
You can purchase the complete book at the Bitingduckpress Online Store