It is early February, 1799, a year of war.
Sailing in the Caribbean, Captain Alan Lewrie, Royal Navy, is once again pursuing a chimera.
A rich French prize ship he'd left at anchor at Dominica has gone missing, along with six of his sailors.
What starts as a straightforward search for it, and them, from Hispaniola to Barbados, far down the Antilles, leads Lewrie to a gruesome discovery on the Dry Tortugas and to a vile cabal of the most pitiless and depraved pirates ever to sail under the "Jolly Roger" . . . and the suspicion that one of his trusted hands just may be the worst of them all!
Against his will-again-the usually irrepressible Lewrie is made his superiors' "cat's-paw" once more, and his covert mission this time is to go up the Mississippi in enemy-held Spanish Louisiana to the romantic but sordid port of New Orleans in search of pirates and prize, where one false step could betray Lewrie and his small party as spies. Beguilements, betrayal, and death lurk 'round every corner of the Vieux Carré, and it's up to Lewrie's quick but cynical wits to win the day for their survival and wreak a very personal vengeance on his foes!
The Captain's Vengeance is another rollicking, fast-paced naval adventure from Dewey Lambdin.
About the Author
Dewey Lambdin is the author of eleven previous Alan Lewrie novels and an omnibus volume, For King and Country. A member of the U.S. Naval Institute and a Friend of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, he spends his free time working and sailing on a rather tatty old sloop, Wind Dancer. He makes his home in Nashville, Tennessee, but would much prefer Margaritaville or Murrell's Inlet.
Read an Excerpt
The Captain's Vengeance
An Alan Lewrie Naval Adventure
By Dewey Lambdin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Dewey Lambdin
All rights reserved.
Hoy, the boat!" Mr. Midshipman Larkin cried his challenge to the approaching civilian cutter, though he had known who its passengers were as soon as they had stepped down into it on the distant quay ten minutes earlier; had been awaiting those passengers' return for at least the last two hours past.
"Proteus!" the Mulatto bow man shouted back, seated on the very tip of the cutter's bows, legs dangling to either side with a brass-fitted gaff staff across his lap with which to hook onto the chains. He shot one hand in the air for a moment, showing four fingers, proving that a captain was aboard.
"Come alongside, aye!" Mr. Larkin shouted back, then paced over to join the others of the side-party assembled to salute that officer's arrival back aboard. Larkin was a thatch-haired, ill-featured lout of a lad, all out at elbows and knees in his secondhand uniform, and that didn't even take into consideration the growing he'd done since signing ship's articles over a year before. Though it was a useless endeavour, he twitched and tugged his coat, waist-coat, and neck-stock into better order, shifted the hang of his shoddy dirk, and took a second to remove his battered, cocked hat and swipe his unruly hair with a "Welsh comb," that is to say, with his fingers.
Marine Lieutenant Devereux fiddled with his own immaculate neckstock, harumphed to clear his throat, and cocked a brow as he regarded his short line of Marines under arms, in a last-instant inspection.
Though ships' officers did not usually stand harbour watches, the First Officer, Mr. Anthony Langlie, was present, as was the Second Officer, the ever-cynical and recently wakened and yawning Lieutenant Catterall. The younger and cleverer Scot, Lt. Adair, also "toed the line" of a tar-paid seam in the starboard gangway planking, his sword loose and ready to present. Mr. Winwood, the Sailing Master, and Mr. Grace, the ship's other midshipman, also stood nearby, stiff-backed and chin-up with curiosity.
Thud! went the shabby cutter against the hull; a clatter of untidily "boated" oars. More, softer thuds as the cutter shouldered the proper captain's gig, and a grunt or two, some mumbles, as money changed hands for the short passage. Midshipman Larkin dared a peek outboard and downwards from his position at the opening of the entry-port, nodded to the neat-uniformed sailors in the side-party, and stiffened.
The Bosun, Mr. Pendarves, began his long, elaborate call as the dog's vane of the arriving officer's gilt-laced cocked hat peeked over the top step. At a whispered word, officers' swords were drawn, then presented before their faces; well-blacked Marine boots stamped on the creamy-pale, fresh-sanded planking; hands slapped glossy-oiled walnut musket buttstocks and fore-ends. At a word of command from Lt. Langlie, all hands present on deck stood erect and doffed their hats.
The arriving officer leaned back a little, gripping the tautly strung man-ropes for the last step of his ascent up the shelflike boarding battens that began level, and a bit aft, of the main chains. A visitor, unused to such ceremony, might have deemed the officer nonplussed to stillness by the elaborateness of his welcome. But it was simply his way ... to seize the man-ropes just below their terminations set below the cap-rail of the entry-port's bulwarks, and jerk himself into the last step, instead of groping and fumbling the cap-rails like some stout "trullibubs" or senior dodderer more in need of hoisting aboard in a bosun's chair. He had barely turned his thirty-sixth year, this January of 1799, and was still almost boyishly spry.
That jerk was accompanied by a nearly playful hop or skip from the last batten to the snowy planks of the starboard gangway. When the officer doffed his hat, though, he did so with solemn gravity, so an uninitiated observer might have doubted his first, playful theory.
Said new-come "lubber" would have seen a slim man in his early thirties, who stood three inches shy of six feet tall, one who might weigh twelve or thirteen stone; still wider in the shoulders than the waist, a man whose snow-white breeches and waist-coat lay trimly flat, still.
He wore a good, hard-finished blue wool shoregoing coat, laced with butter-yellow gilt trim on the lapels, the stand-up blue collar, the side-pocket flaps, and cuffs, with nine real gilt buttons on each wide turn-back blue lapel. A fringed gilt-lace epaulet sat upon the officer's right shoulder, too, denoting him a Post-Captain, though one of less than three years' seniority.
Under that expensive coat lay a white leather baldric on which to hang his sword. A discerning observer would have appreciated that sword, a twenty-four-inch hanger, though he would have been puzzled by the scabbard, for it was of dark blue leather, not black, and both throat and drag were of plain brass, not gilded. The hilt, though, was gilded and most ornate; the typical lion's-head pommel that swallowed the back handguard, but the front guard that swelled to protect the user's fist was pierced-steel, like a scallop shell, with a smaller second shell at the hilt's forefront.
A discriminating man with a taste for blades would appreciate that the hanger was a Gill's and, when drawn, was nearly straight on the back edge, the first eight inches honed razor-sharp, while the lower edge was upswept to the point, so that it gave the impression of a curved-blade hanger.
A discriminating gentleman would have further "Ah-hummed" over the cut-steel square links of the officer's watch chain and fob, deeming him a man of good taste, too.
With the officer's beaver cocked hat doffed, an outsider would have seen a full head of hair atop his pate, still thick and all his own, of a middle, almost light brown, a tad wavy at his temples, over his ears, and loosely gathered into a trim nautical sprig of a queue atop his coat collar, bound with a bow-knotted black silk ribbon.
The officer was much too sun-or wind-burned for Fashion in the better sorts' salons, though. Not completely a gentleman, perhaps, the lofty observer would have sniffed; too much the "sea dog" after all!
The salute done, Lewrie clapped his hat back on his head and smiled at his First Officer, his darkly, romantically handsome Mr. Anthony Langlie. "Everything's in order, Mister Langlie?" he asked. "Nothing gone smash since I left the ship?" he gently teased.
"No, sir, praise God," Lt. Langlie reported. "The working sail set hung slack and allowed to dry, wood and watering done, and Mister Coote's requirements stowed below, sir. Did you, ah ... find out ..."
"I'll be below and aft, Mr. Langlie," Capt. Lewrie told him in a mystifying way. "Give me ten minutes, then do attend me, and I shall tell you all I have learned. Dismiss the hands back to their seeming drowsiness for now, sir."
"Aye, aye, sir," Lt. Langlie crisply replied, with a hand to his hat and a short sketch of a bow from the waist as Capt. Lewrie went down the starboard ladderway to the gun-deck, then aft past the bulkhead door and the Marine sentry, to his great-cabins.
"Cool tea, sir?" his cabin servant, Aspinall, enquired after he had helped him out of his coat, sword and baldric, and hat.
"That'd be handsome, Aspinall, aye," Lewrie replied, tearing at his neckstock and opening his shirt collar. "Why, hello, catlins ... my littles! And what've you two imps been up to, hey?"
There were many glad trills and meows of welcome, much butting of heads on his Hessian boots; perhaps a tad too much standing on hind legs and whetting claws in bienvenue at his white canvas breeches. Those mischievous looks from both Toulon, the stout and well-muscled black-and-white ram-cat, and Chalky, the grey-smudged white yearling tom only half Toulon's heft, warned Lewrie that they'd be scaling up his thin shirt in their need to be newly adored.
"Miss me, did you?" Lewrie cooed to them, a hand for each, once he attained the chair behind his desk. "Damn my eyes, ye don't nip at me, Chalky! Hand that feeds, and all that? You'll get your 'wubbies,' no fear o' not."
"Yer tea, sir," Aspinall announced after several long minutes of discrete observation, as he sensed the cats' enthusiasms begin to flag. "Bridgetown didn't have no ice, though, sir. All used up for the season, I reckon. Cool from th' orlop, though, sir."
"Massachusetts Yankee ice never gets this far south" was Lewrie's surmise as he accepted the coin-silver commemorative tankard that the crew of his previous ship, the Sloop of War Jester, had given him just before they'd paid off at Portsmouth, and paced aft.
"Er ... no luck, then, sir?" Aspinall dared to ask, when ship's officers would not. Lewrie flung himself onto the hard settee lashed to the starboard side, almost sprawled with one leg up.
"Not the answers I was looking for, Aspinall, no," Lewrie said, busying himself with taking another sip. The rob of lemons and sugar were dirt cheap in the Caribbean and the Sugar Isles, and tea was one of the most popular exports from England, so Aspinall brewed it by the gallon, every day or so, and kept it tepid, at least, in a pewter pitcher. Some days it was fresh, some days it was leftovers, clouded and so stout that it could rouse the deathly ill and make them prance hornpipes. Today it was fresh, and merely refreshing.
"No fear, though, sir ... we'll find 'em, sooner'r later."
"I begin to wonder, Aspinall," Lewrie wearily said with a sigh, running his free hand over his hair and leaning his head back upon the oak of the hull's inner scantling and decorative panelling. "'Pon my soul, I do."
Not only physically tired from his shore travels, from riding a hired horse far out into the countryside and back, Lewrie was starting to feel spiritually tired. No wonder, since he had done everything he could conceive of, had pursued every possibility no matter how tenuous, and it had all seemingly resulted in a titanic ... nullity!
Toulon and Chalky, now that he'd alit, hopped up for a return bout of "pets" for the duration of the first mug of cold tea. By the refill, Toulon stalked off to claim his master's chair behind the desk, leaving Chalky to sling himself against Lewrie's thigh, wriggle and yawn, then stretch out half on his back with his paws in the air and "caulk" down, instantly don't-feel-a-thing asleep.
A forceful knock on the great-cabin door, the sharp thud of a brass musket butt on the deck, and the cry of "First Awf'cer, sah!" didn't even stir Chalky. "Come!" Lewrie responded.
"Sir," Langlie said, hat under his arm.
"You'll pardon me, Mister Langlie, do I not get up, hey?" Lewrie said, with a helpless shrug and a cock of his head in the direction of the fur-bag at his hip. "Take a pew, do. Aspinall, refreshments for Mister Langlie."
"Thankee, sir," Langlie answered, plunking down into a leather-and-wood chair that was ensembled with the settee, his hat in his lap, and fidgeting with expectation, not of the cool tea decoction, but of news, at last.
"Well, we found the mort known as Mistress Jugg," Lewrie told him, once he'd gotten his tea and had had a liberal draught of it. "Her, and the reputed girl-child that Jugg spoke of."
"Capital, sir!" Langlie enthused.
"No, no it ain't," Lewrie gloomed.
Two months before, Lewrie's frigate had taken an easy, and rich, French prize near the enemy-held island of Guadeloupe, in the midst of confounding and capturing Lewrie's old nemesis, the fearsome Guillaume Choundas. Proteus had sailed as an "independent ship" with Admiralty Orders fetched out by Foreign Office secret agents; the Honourable Mr. Grenville Pelham, an officious, over-vaunting twit, and his much abler aide, ex-Captain of Household Cavalry Mr. James Peel. Their mission, which everyone but Pelham could charitably call a "right cock-up" of a scheme, had been to discomfit Choundas and the French, first off; find a way to regain possession of the vast wealth of the French colony of Saint Domingue on Hispaniola from the victorious slave rebellion led by Toussaint L'Ouverture, second; then drag the Americans and their spanking-new Navy hooting and hollering into a declared war with the French. Or, run the Yankees out of the Caribbean if they didn't jump through the right hoops. The prize had been icing on the cake.
Lewrie had left their prize safely at anchor in Prince Rupert Bay, in the hands of the local Admiralty Court, with six crewmembers off Proteus for her Harbour Watch. Not two weeks later, though, their prize had vanished! The dimwits of the Dominica Prize Court had flung up their shoulders and mumbled, "Well, it's a myst'ry!" but the prize, her bonded cargo, and his five sailors and one midshipman were missing with her. Lost, absconded ...
Had she been left at Antigua and auctioned off, she might have fetched them all over £15,000, and would still have safely been there!
The eternally sozzled incompetents of the Dominica Court admitted that a man claiming to be the prize's Quartermaster's Mate had come ashore at the sleepy port of Roseau, sculling a boat by himself, saying that, if a certain time period had elapsed without Proteus's return to Dominica, his captain had left verbal orders to sail her to the court at Antiqua, to which Roseau's court was ancillary. They'd been so lax in their dealings, they couldn't even adequately describe him, but ... they'd let him sail, anyway, the thoughtless clods!
Lewrie had left Midshipman Burns, his Bosun's Mate Mr. Towpenny, three other hands, and Quartermaster's Mate Toby Jugg aboard the prize.
And Toby Jugg was a man to be leery of.
After all, they'd pressed him off a Yankee brig engaged in smuggling arms to the French, and rebel slaves on Saint-Domingue, in the Danish Virgins the year before. American certificates of citizenship — either forged, false, or merely purchased from Yankee consuls — bedamned, Jugg had appeared as British as John Bull, and liable to the press, no matter where he was found. Jugg's plaint of an impoverished wife and daughter on Barbados had prompted Lewrie to suggest Jugg take the guinea Joining Bounty, to forward on to support his wife and child. He'd even promoted the man to Able Seaman, then Quartermaster's Mate, but ... if Toby Jugg had found a way to overpower, or beguile, the rest of the hands, been glib enough to get them to desert with the prize to an enemy port, where they'd be safe from capture in the future for the crime ... sell her off for half her potential value, and "go shares" so each would be rich and idle for life, well!
Had Jugg been aided by former "associates" who'd slunk into the bay to wood and water, or look for an easy capture; had he encountered criminal "jetsam" loafing ashore on Dominica, who'd put him up to it?
Dammit, Jugg had been the only Royal Navy Quartermaster's Mate in port, hadn't he? The court officers said the man had worn a Navy man's uniform, had an easy, gruff air of command about him as a Mate should, and sounded fluent in his English, so who else could it have been?
Waving his Admiralty Orders as an "independent ship" as a license to steal, Lewrie had taken Proteus in search of his missing men (and the value of the prize and her cargo!) with a vengeance. It had been a blow to his pride, to his offered trust, a slap in the face as bad as if his whole crew had mutinied! In point of fact, the missing Toby Jugg was becoming about as huge a bête noire to him as Guillaume Choundas had ever been!
Now, after weeks and weeks of searching, of quartering the sea, it appeared that the trail had gone completely cold, and any hope Lewrie had of rescuing his missing people was completely dashed. His last, best, hope had been here on Barbados, in the hills.
Excerpted from The Captain's Vengeance by Dewey Lambdin. Copyright © 2004 Dewey Lambdin. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A good nautical read with the more high seas fun. I liked this one better than his last one (11). He's getting back to more tongue in cheek humor, the scamp we know Lewrie to be. If you've read the series up to this point you wont be disappointed.