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Book 3 of the Fighting Anthony Series
“Damme, Mr. Decker, what’s that?”
“We’re being attacked, sir,” a trembling wild-eyed midshipman answered the fourth lieutenant of HMS Diamond 64.
CRASH!…”Watch out, zur, the foremast ’as been hit,” a scrambling seaman shouted out as he ran by, looking back at the wild-eyed midshipman.
Brown, the fourth lieutenant snarled, “Aye, we’re being attacked, Mr. Decker, but by whom and how in God’s name did they get this close without being sighted?”
Dozen’s of shadowy figures came up from below decks. Among the half-crazed men, Mr. Knight, the ship’s first lieutenant, was still dressing as he made his way on deck.
Flames came spurting up like a bonfire from a nearby vessel.
“That’s the mail packet, sir, the HMS Mosquito.”
“Well, I hope to hell all the mails off,” Knight answered sarcastically, then stared at Brown. “Beat to quarters, Mr. Brown.”
“Aye, sir. Bosun!”
“Aye, Mr. Brown.”
“Beat to quarters.”
“Aye, aye, sir.”
The assault continued… then another explosion.
“Damned if we aren’t being attacked by a fleet, Mr. Brown. I believe a cannon fires about every time I take a breath,” Lieutenant Knight exclaimed.
Then as if to emphasize his remarks the whole ship seem to shudder as another ball had found its target.
“Where’s Captain Stafford?” Knight asked.
“He…ah…sent a note aboard with his cox’n, sir, and said he’d be ashore tonight, but I’m sure he’s heard the cannons so he’s bound to be on his way back,” the frightened Decker stammered.
“No doubt our captain is awake,” Knight responded, “But what about those fools in the fort? They’ve not fired a shot.”
“Mr. Knight!” It was Williams, the carpenter, “We’re sinking sir. We’ve got over three feet in the well and it’s gaining.” Then as an after thought he continued, “The pumps have either been destroyed or what’s left can’t keep up.”
“Well, hell’s fire, we’ve been attacked by God knows who, the fort is yet to fire a shot and Commodore Meriwether’s flagship is going to sink right here at the entrance of Saint Augustine Harbour.”
Another ball had scored a hit and overturned a cannon. Wounded men were crying out in agony while others were cursing. Then another explosion as the schooner, HMS Amsterdam, was hit and immediately engulfed in flames.
“Does anyone know where the Commodore is?” Knight asked the group in front of him, a group that had increased in numbers, as the men came forward looking for direction.
“Ah…,” this again from the midshipman Decker, “Sir Percival is being entertained ashore this evening as well, sir.”
“Well, it better be a hellish fine entertainment to make up for what’s in store when he faces the Admiral.”
“Sir!” a pleading Williams cried. “What about all these men?” gesturing to the wounded that lay about.
Knight could see four sets of sails rounding the bend from the south. Had they even gotten off a shot, he wondered. Was this to end his career? Surely there would be a court martial and he’d been in the Navy long enough to know “shat ran downhill”.
Diamond shook as she was hit again with splashes all around indicating several near misses.
“Prepare to abandon ship. Make sure the wounded are carried off first and send for the gunner and any of his mates still left alive. I want every gun still usable made ready to fire.”
Bewildered Brown asked, “To what purpose, sir?”
“Honour!” Knight roared back. “Damn your soul. Honour! Now get moving!”
This way Lord Anthony, Admiral Howe will see you now.”
Anthony thanked the flag lieutenant as he was ushered into the admiral’s stateroom. After thanking the lieutenant, Anthony turned and was face to face with Vice Admiral Richard (Black Dick) Howe, commander of His Majesty’s Naval Forces in North America.
Anthony knew the meeting would be short. It was getting late and the temperature was dropping. There had already been snow flurries across New York’s harbour.
“Well, Gil, it’s a fine show you put on for those damnable privateers trying to take Nova Scotia. Had they succeeded, the war would have been over before it started. You’re to be commended, sir. I read your report and you’ve a fine bunch of officers. I like it when a commander recognizes his men for their efforts. Now, have a glass of hot brandy, sir. It will warm you as there’s precious little heat on board this ship.”
As the two sat down a silence filled the admiral’s quarters until the brandy was poured.
“Would you care for a stick of cinnamon in your drink, Gil? It’s something the Colonials do.”
“No, my Lord, I take it plain.”
“Fine, now shoo…shoo…Walters, go find a warm spot.” It was the admiral’s way of sending off the servant.
“Hard to find a good servant that doesn’t talk,” Howe said as the servant departed.
When the door was closed Howe started again, “Have you heard about that business in Saint Augustine?”
“Only bits and pieces, my Lord.”
“Well it was a shame. A damned utter shame, I tell you. Four ships lost, one the commodore’s own flagship, while he and the ship’s captain were being entertained for the evening. Entertained, huh! Dipping their wicks I’d wager. Sir Percival is near sixty. I can just see that flabby fat arse of his being entertained. Cost him; cost him a guinea or more I’d wager. Well, I’ve sent him home. Hopefully we’ll not hear from him again but his kind always seems to pop up, usually in Parliament. I’m giving you his job, not that he did anything with it, but I’ve different expectations of you. I’ve read your record, Gil. You’re destined, sir, and damme if I don’t envy you. ’Course Lord James was destined too,” Lord Howe said speaking of Anthony’s father. “That being said you mind yourself.”
Anthony took a deep breath but said nothing, allowing Admiral Howe to continue.
“Now let’s get down to business. Privateers are costing us this war. I know it and you know it, I just wished Lord North would realize it. The south is a haven for the rouges. We control the east coast of Florida as you know but some think she’s ripe for the picking.”
“Privateers roam with impunity from the Carolina’s down along the coast of Florida, through the keys to Cuba, even into the Gulf of Mexico. Florida’s governor, Patrick Tonyn, has requested help. He says he’ll have it; else the damn Spaniards and Rebels will have Florida before we know it. He’s a steady man so I believe him. Hell, just this fall the damn privateers took the brig, HMS Betsy, within site of Saint Augustine. She was full of gunpowder when she was taken and not a damnable thing could Tonyn do but watch. In his letter for help he states he’s only got four hundred muskets to defend the entire border of Florida. Not much of a force would you say?”
But before Anthony could reply, Howe continued without hardly pausing.
“You are going to change that. Not only are you going to make a presence, your going to make it felt.”
“Aye,” Anthony acknowledged. It was somewhat humorous how Lord Howe had gotten his temper up talking about the privateers and Lord North. Which stirred him the most? Anthony wondered. Lord Howe had risen from his chair and paced the deck as he ranted. He now sat down behind his desk and took out a document.
Handing it to Anthony, he continued, “You’re going to lose Moffett.”
Surprised Anthony stared directly at Lord Howe. A smile crept across Howe’s face. “Moffett has made admiral. He will sail back with Pope on HMS Drakkar to England for his orders.” Raising his hand to fend off Lord Anthony’s objections Howe continued, “I know you don’t want to lose Drakkar but she’s been out here for over three years and it’s time she returns for an overhaul. I thought Moffett would like to hear about his promotion from you.”
“Thank you, my Lord.” Anthony regained his composure and asked, “Is there a replacement named?”
“Aye, I thought you might want Captain Buck.”
A frown creased Anthony’s brow.
“You don’t want him?” Howe questioned.
“Oh no, my Lord, I mean yes, my Lord, I do, but who’ll command HMS Merlin?”
“I thought you might have someone in mind,” Lord Howe responded.
“I do sir, but I’ve just given him command…ere… temporary command of a captured French corvette.”
“Yes, I read that in your report. Is she seaworthy?”
“Aye, my Lord, she’s had repairs and is ready.”
“Fine then,” Howe answered. “I’ll make Earl captain on Merlin and I’m going to promote Knight and give him command of your captured corvette.”
“Yes. He was the first lieutenant on Diamond. Were it not for him we’d not fired a shot during the attack at Saint Augustine. He and a volunteer gun crew fired on the hellish privateers until they no longer had a gun left to fire. The decks were awash as the ship was sinking. Had it not been for a gun captain lashing him to a grate he would have gone down with the ship. As it is now he’s mending from burns to his arms and chest. I’ll not let his bravery go unrewarded. Not by a damn site.”
Anthony took a deep breath then asked, “Would it be possible sir…for him to be part of my squadron? I could use a man who has experience in the area.”
“Yes, I see your point, though knowing Sir Percival as I do I’m not sure how much local experience he’s obtained outside of Saint Augustine’s Harbour. However, it would do him good to be attached to a good commander. Very well, he and the ship are yours.”
As Anthony made his way back to his barge he felt a pang of jealousy. Damn Pope, lucky sod that he was, returning to England while Anthony had to stay in the Colonies. Anthony thought of his last letter from Deborah. “Heavy with your child” was how she put it. The last time he saw her she didn’t even know she was pregnant. However, if she hadn’t been it would not have been from a lack of trying. She had never had a child and being pregnant at age thirty was considered risky by Anthony’s family physician. Deborah’s last letter had assured him her pregnancy was going well. Slow as the mail is she will have had the baby and it’ll be weaned from the tit before I know anything, Anthony thought.
Seeing the smile on Lord Anthony’s face Bart, the admiral’s cox’n, volunteered, “Peers ’is Lordship ’as pleased yew. We going home?”
“No, but to a warmer climate,” Anthony answered.
“Well, hits bout time, way yews timbers be cracking when yews walking about causes me to shiver.”
“My timbers!” Anthony exclaimed. “How could you hear me when you crack and pop worse than a sprung mast in a heavy gale. My timbers…humph.”
“Well, I’m guessing the warm airs could do us-uns both a bit o’ good,” Bart said as he turned to climb down into the admiral’s barge leaving Anthony nothing but open sky and water to reply to.
By noon the wind was near a half gale, lusty but not as bitter as it had been the month before. Still it came fierce and bellowing out of the northeast creating snarling gray waves, rising higher and higher, beating at HMS SeaWolf’s hull before rushing on to attack the nearby Halifax shoreline.
Lieutenant “Gabe” Anthony, captain of SeaWolf stood at the lee rail taking it all in as the ship was being made ready for sea. Since the recent battle with privateers off Nova Scotia, the ship had been newly rigged and painted. Fresh water had been lightered out along with casks of beef, pork and wine as well as countless other supplies.
The new first lieutenant seemed to be everywhere at once. He was old for his age and wizened as he had risen from the lower deck. It was said Admiral “Black Dick” Howe had promoted him on the spot for extraordinary bravery in battle. Lieutenant Jem Jackson may never make admiral, but he was an outstanding first lieutenant.
Thinking of this made Gabe wonder how his last first lieutenant was doing. Everette Hazard had also risen from the ranks. After he had been seriously wounded in the recent battle with privateers, Lord Anthony had taken him on as flag lieutenant.
A loud resonant voice attracted Gabe’s attention Andrew “Andy” Gunnells. The new master was a smallish, premature gray-haired man. His face was leathery and tanned by the sun and wind from countless voyages. He gave an immediate impression of great competence. He had small twinkling eyes and the crow’s feet that appeared with his quick grin gave an equal impression of a ready sense of humor. Gabe thought he would probably keep the wardroom on its toes.
Dawkins, Gabe’s newly appointed secretary, a man who had been with him from the time he was a midshipman, was approaching. He was bent forward with a scarf over his head trying to keep the wind out of his aching ear. He was sniffling and snorting in spite of the mixture of honey, lemon and brandy Lum had concocted.
Lum was a former slave on a plantation in South Carolina. He had killed the plantation overseer to prevent Faith from being raped. She had begged Gabe to take Lum with him, “else he’ll be hanged” she pleaded. So here he was. A giant of a man, loose limbed, almost ungainly, a baldpate with salt and pepper colored hair on the sides. He was solid as a ship’s timber with big calloused hands. He was like a demon in battle but like magic could turn to something almost delicate as he played a soulful melody on his lotz.
As Dawkins got close he sounded very nasal as he tried to speak above the wind. “You going to wait on Dagan and Caleb to return before your ready to eat or do you want Lum to fix you something now?”
Realizing that he was indeed hungry and just as important realizing he was creating more of a hindrance by being on deck, Gabe decided to go below then thought to ask, “Did Caleb take his damn ape with him?”
“Aye,” Dawkins replied. “There’s naught on board to look after the bugger since Lum ’as sworn off him.”
Caleb’s ape, Mr. Jewells, had tried to pick the gray hairs out of Lum’s scalp one night after he had fallen asleep in one of the cabin’s chairs. It was dark in the cabin but the pulling sensation caused Lum to wake up and immediately felt a heavy weight upon his lap. The ape was face to face with him so that when he opened his eyes all he could see was the ape’s teeth as it rolled its lips. He could feel the hot breath on his face, with two tiny beady eyes staring at him.
Lum let out a scream that startled the ape causing it to let out a blood-curdling scream, which was made worse when Lum’s chair fell back hitting the deck and jarring the two apart. The sentry hearing the screams rushed into the cabin only to be run over by the ape trying to escape.
As the two collided, the sentry’s musket was knocked from his grip causing it to go off as it hit the deck. The loud shot rang out adding to the confusion. The officer on watch alerted the master-at-arms and sentries were put around the ship fearing attack. By the time Lum, who had been either knocked unconscious falling with the chair or fainted from his fright was able to speak, everything had quieted down.
When asked if the ape had scared him Lum replied, “How’d you like to wake up wid sumthin’ plucking at yo’ head? Then when you opens yo’ eyes all you sees is dem big ole teevies shining at you in da moonlight, and feels dat hot breath blowing on yo’s face. Yas suh! I was scared and I ain’t shame to say it. No suh! I didn’t know if it was a ghost or a sea devil or what, but I knowed it didn’t belong in old Lum’s lap. No suh, not in a hundred years it didn’t.”
It was a sleepy-eyed Gabe who made his way on deck. Dagan, as always was at his side. He watched every morning as Gabe dressed and wondered if he’d ever be a good riser. Dagan was not only Gabe’s uncle but also his protector, a rite he had assumed upon the death of Gabe’s gypsy grandfather.
“Mr. Jackson, Mr. Gunnells.” The habitual greeting.
“Morning, captain.” The habitual reply.
Damn I’m getting cantankerous, Dagan thought.
“The anchor’s hove short, sir, and the men are at their stations prepared to get underway,” Jackson volunteered.
“Very well,” Gabe replied then turned his attention to the master.
“Winds from the north-nor-east. Not as fresh as she be yesterday but it’ll be a brisk one by any man’s thinking.”
Nodding his understanding to Gunnells, Gabe directed his attention back to his first lieutenant. “Well, Mr. Jackson, you’ve worked wonders putting SeaWolf back to rights. Now sir, you may have the privilege of putting us to sea.”
“Aye! Aye! Captain.” A smile on Jackson’s face as he turned to go about his duties, pleased the captain had so quickly placed his confidence in him.
Pipes shrilled and the deck came alive. New replacement seamen were urged on by curses from the petty officers. Gabe could feel SeaWolf tugging on the cable as the wind freshened. The fiddler plucked out an Irish shantyattempts to please its new master no doubt.
“Now me little sweethearts, let’s give the ladies in Halifax a final wave to remember us by.” This from the bosun, Graf.
“Hands aloft. Prepare to make sail,” Jackson bellowed as seamen scrambled to do his bidding.
“Loosen mainsails! Lively now, lads. You heard the lieutenant,” Graf shouted.
The sails suddenly filled with the wind giving a thunderous flap.
From forward, Nathan Lavery, the second lieutenant cried out, “Anchors aweigh.”
Gabe could hear the clank, clank, clank as the capstan continued to reel in the anchor. Looking over at the compass, the helmsman volunteered, “South by sou’east, sir.”
Glancing forward Gabe could see the men had the anchor hauled towards the cathead. Jackson was ordering Lavery to have the yards braced around to take full advantage of the wind. The headland and most of the shoreline seemed to be disappearing very quickly as the wind held steady. SeaWolf plunged through the cresting waves cascading spray over the bow.
Approaching Gabe, Jackson stated, “I’d like to see how she behaves under full canvas if you don’t mind, sir.”
“Very well, Mr. Jackson, put her through her courses, and then get some food in the men.” Looking at Dagan and giving a slight motion with his head Gabe turned back to Jackson, “I’m going to my cabin. I’m sure you have control of the ship and can do without my presence for a time.” Then, before Jackson could respond, Gabe headed down the ladder to his cabin.
“Seems to be ready to head south, don’t he?” Dagan said as he closed the cabin door.
“Aye, and so am I,” Gabe said. “I wish we had been able to sail with Gil and the squadron when they left. I’ve had enough of this cold. I’m ready for some warm weather.”
Dagan watched as Gabe unconsciously clutched the empty pouch around his neck. Aye, Dagan thought, warm weather and closer to the pretty little rebel girl who held his heart and his ruby. Feeling the stiffness between his shoulder, Dagan thought maybe a little warm weather would do some good. Either that or drink some of Caleb’s willow bark tea he prescribes for the agues.
END OF SAMPLE
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