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The French Admiral
The Alan Lewrie Naval Adventures #2
By Dewey Lambdin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1990 Dewey Lambdin
All rights reserved.
"Thank God we are back aboard," David said as they gained the entry port to Desperate. "If we run into more assailants, at least out here we outgun them."
"Will you be quiet?" Alan said, sure of what was coming from their captain. "One would think your blow to the head had made you raving!"
"Mister Lewrie? Mister Avery?" Lieutenant Railsford called from the quarterdeck aft. "Come here, please."
Their youngish first lieutenant did not look his usual self; of course, he was stern as always. The life of a first lieutenant for even the most slovenly captain was a continual trial. What could go wrong to upset the usual ordered pace of Navy life kept most first officers biting their nails. In port, Railsford should have found a few moments of peace from the unending anxiety of what would go smash next. Now there they stood, disturbers of the lieutenant's only serene spell in days.
"Damn you to hell, Avery," Railsford snapped, his mouth screwed up as though he were chewing the words. "Damn your black soul to hell."
"Aye, aye, sir," David replied, thoroughly abashed and realizing just how bad it was if Railsford, normally the most forgiving and understanding officer he had, was vexed at him.
"And you, Mister Lewrie." Railsford spun on him. "Very stupid, I must say, Mister Lewrie!"
"Aye, aye, sir," Alan said, ready to be bent over a gun and given a dozen of the bosun's best as punishment. "But we did ..."
"Silence!" Railsford roared. He stroked his lean jaws, perhaps to keep from turning his hands into fists. "I heard from the sergeant of the watch what happened. I have told the captain about the particulars, but he is ... remarkably exercised about this. Whatever I could say to you shall most likely pale in comparison to what Captain Treghues shall say. Get you aft to his cabins at once, gentlemen!"
"Aye, aye, sir."
They followed Railsford below to the private companion-way to their lord and master's chambers. A marine sentry in red uniform and white crossbelts was there, and was it Alan's imagination, or did he glare at them a little more evilly than most marines regarded midshipmen, and did he bang his musket butt on the deck with a little more enthusiasm and bellow their names to the waiting captain behind the door more loudly than usual?
"Enter!" Treghues yelled back.
They entered the captain's quarters, a fairly spacious stretch of deck in the stern of the upper gun deck, went past the coach where their captain dined, past the chart room and the berth space, and met their judge and jury seated at his desk in the day cabin. He had on his best uniform, and a black expression — a devilish black expression.
He's so purple in the face he looks already hanged, Alan marveled as he came to attention before the desk. He had no sense of guilt for following his baser nature and had not provoked the fight with their assailants, but he was trembling with unease to be facing his captain in such a mood.
"So," Treghues said. Their captain was young and handsome, slim and manly and noble looking, as an aristocrat should be. In better times, he might have made a jolly companion, as long as one preferred hymn-singing and tea instead of caterwauling in the streets. But in the light of the swaying coin-silver lamps, he looked the very Devil incarnate, the sort of man one should rightly fear.
"That will be all, Mister Railsford," Treghues said, as though a curtain had fallen on his anger. "The tide shall slack four hours from now, and you shall stand ready to get the ship under way at that time. I shall inform you as to their punishment."
"Aye, aye, sir," Railsford said, departing, evidently hoping to be allowed to stay to partake of their chastisement, if only to savor the sharper bits.
"So, my two prize wretches have decided to return to us," he said after Railsford had gone. "After they had slaked their vile lusts to the full. Stuffed yourselves to bursting with food, did you?"
"Aye, sir," David ventured in a small voice. "It was my birthday ..."
"Gluttony!" Treghues roared, back in his original demeanor, as when they had first entered. "Pigs-at-trough Gluttony, rolling about in your slops like Babylonian Pagans!"
We're going to catch Old Testament Hell, thought Alan.
"Washed it down with oceans of beer and wine, too, did you?" the captain continued, sitting prim behind his glossy desk with his hands on the surface, folded as in supplication for their salvation, even if he did privately consider them demon-spawn. "Got rolling drunk like some godless wretches in Gin Lane! Visited a house of prostitution, I'm told! Spent hours spending, weakening yourselves forever, risking the vilest diseases in the perfumed arms of ... of ... the Devil himself in disguise!"
"Uh, we did not get drunk, sir," Alan offered, considering that charge at least to be baseless; he could own up to the rest with pleasure.
"Did you not, sir!" Treghues said, slapping a hand on the mahogany with the crash of a six-pounder cannon. "You stand there swaying back and forth, barely in control of yourselves, reduced to the level of animals ... reeking of putrefaction and ... and ... you dare to sass me?"
"No, sir!" Alan said quickly.
"The moment my back was turned, you gulled the first lieutenant to allow you to go ashore, knowing I would have not permitted it under any circumstances, inveigled your way into the purser's working party and took as your shield your own compatriot, used Mister Avery as an excuse to take all the pleasure you could gather!"
"It was my birthday, sir," David said, but not with much hope.
"And is that a reason to fall into the gutter with this poor example of a miscreant, vile, swaggering, crowing cock? I had better hopes for you, Mister Avery. I thought you were a God-fearing young man from a good family, and the moment I withdrew my gaze from you, you let Lewrie lead you astray into the swine pen as though you wished to join the Prodigal Son in his depravity and debauchery."
Try making an answer to that, why don't you, David, Alan thought to himself, amazed at Treghues's speech. Damme if David ain't going to get off with a tongue-lashing, and the real thunder'll be saved for me.
"Well?" Treghues demanded.
"Sir, I asked to go ashore, and I requested Mister Lewrie to go as my companion because he is my friend," David finally said, after gnawing on the inside of his mouth for a long moment. "It was my idea, all of it."
"You take as a friend a caterwauling dissembler who would force himself on his own blood? Then I tell you truly, Mister Avery, you are damned to eternal perdition unless you change your ways, and that right smartly! Well, that is the last time I shall allow either of you ashore for any reason except the good of our Service until I have decided that you have mended your ways and become the sort of Christian Englishmen I would like to have as midshipmen under me."
Treghues stopped, took a deep breath, and sipped at a pewter mug of something. Tea, most like, Alan decided. Whatever it was, it seemed to calm him down, for he leaned back in his chair and almost, but not quite, made a smile — which was more frightening to them than anything they had seen as of yet.
"You both wanted shore leave. You both wanted to partake in all the sordidness this miserable town has to offer," he told them, and found no disagreement from either midshipman. "Then, on your way back, you fought with a party of men and killed two of them and wounded another. You both brought discredit on our Service, our uniform, and our ship. Ten days' salt meat and ship's rations — no duffs, no spirits, no rum issue, no tobacco. Ten days' watch and watch duty. And a dozen each from the bosun."
"Aye, aye, sir," David said, letting out a sigh of relief. It could have been a lot worse.
"Aye, aye, sir," Alan said. He had spent nearly two years being deprived and degraded in the Navy; he could do ten days' minor deprivation standing on his head in the crosstrees.
"And, to improve your souls, you shall, when off watch, come to my cabins and read aloud a chapter of the Holy Bible each day. That, you shall continue to perform until this ship pays off her commission." Treghues spoke with finality.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Now get out of here and give my compliments to the bosun as soon as you can find him. I shall be listening." Treghues pointed to the open skylight over his cabins.
Once on deck, David gave a little groan.
"Go in peace, the service is ended," Alan whispered, removing his hat and mopping his brow. "Christ, what an asylum this ship is!"
"Well, the more we cry, the less we'll piss," David said.
"Speaking of." Alan sighed. "Bosun! Passing the word for the bosun!"
Two hours later the tide began to ebb from slack water. The crew were summoned from below, where they had been napping, and began to let out on the bower cable to drift down on the kedge off the stern. Once at short stays, the kedge was tripped and brought in, the still night air having no chance to carry off the muddy tidal effluvia that the cable brought up as the damp thigh-thick cable was led below to the tiers to dry. They hauled back up to the bower and drew her in to short stays as well.
"Hove short, sir," came the call from the blackness up forward.
"Touch of land breeze, Mister Monk?" Treghues asked by the wheel, once more seemingly sane and rational, the very picture of an Officer of the King.
"Aye, sir, a light 'un, but it's there," Monk said.
"Hands aloft, then, Mister Monk. Hoist tops'ls, jibs, spanker, and forecourse."
"Aye, aye, sir."
The first freed canvas began to fill from the softly soughing land breeze, heated during the day and now warmer than the sea breeze which had cooled to stillness. As that gentle wind found her, Desperate began to make a slight way, beginning to stir dark waters.
"Weigh anchor, Mister Railsford."
The hands spit on their fists, breasted to the capstan bars and put a strain on them. The pawls began to clank as they marched about in a circle, and the anchor cable came in rapidly.
"Up an' down!" a bowman shouted. If the bower did not break free of the mud, if it was snagged on an old wreck or sucked deep into silt, a moment more could have the Desperate sailing over her own cable, bringing her to an inglorious halt, swinging her broadside and tearing the sticks right out of her.
"Anchor's free!" a bosun's mate called as the capstan pawls clanked rapidly, like a drummer's tattoo. In the feeble candles by the fo'c's'le belfry, one could see the puddened ring and upper stock of the bower and hands already over the side to cat it down. Raving, certifiable and leaping mad Treghues could sometimes appear, but no one could ever find a fault with his ship-handling. It was certainly a pity that their departure had taken place so near midnight that the town could not have turned out to gawk and marvel.
Steering carefully for the light, with the church spire squarely dead astern, they crossed the bar as the ebb began to gather strength but still had enough depth to carry them over in perfect safety. Once Railsford, the bosun and his mates, and the ship's master-at-arms and corporal had made their rounds, the hands were allowed to go below to their hammocks, and Desperate became once again merely one more ship on a dark sea, lit up at taffrail, binnacle, and belfry, but otherwise as black as a boot.
Alan and David were given the middle watch to stand together, from midnight to four, when the ship's usual day would begin, so they would get no rest until after the hands had scrubbed down the decks, stood dawn quarters, had brought up their hammocks, and been released to breakfast. Across the bar, the sea was as restless as Alan's nerves. The quick phosphorous flash of cat's-paws broke all about them, though the air was still as steady as a night wind could be and showed no evidence of kicking up. A visit to the master's chart cuddy showed that their barometer indicated peaceful weather. There was a slice of moon ghosting through scattered clouds thin as tobacco smoke, and far out beyond them the trough glinted silver-blue when the clouds did not partially occlude that distant orb. If there was chop enough for cat's-paws, it held no malevolence, for the horizon was ruler-straight instead of jagged by clashing rollers. The wind sighed in the miles of rigging, the sails and masts quivered to the hinted power of the breeze, vibrated down through the chain-wales, and set the hull to a soft quiver, as though an engine of some kind were operating below decks, an engine of the most benign aspect. Alan sometimes thought that the ship was breathing and purring like a contented cat by a warm hearth, rising and falling and slightly rolling with a deep and somnolent breath.
By God, that bastard hedge-priest can't take this away from me, Alan told himself, peeling off his short midshipman's coat and waistcoat. The day had been hot, and the area below decks before sailing had been stifling. He spread his arms to let the cool night wind explore every inch of his body that he could expose and still preserve modesty. He undid his neck-stock, unlaced his shirt and held it away from his skin for a moment. He felt a bit of breeze where one normally did not feel breezes and inspected his breeches.
My God, I came back aboard with my prick damn near hanging out, he groaned. After those men attacked us, I never did up all my buttons. No wonder Treghues was thundering at me like he was.
Bad as the captain's opinion of him was at that moment, bad as it could get in the future (and Alan wondered if such a thing were possible), he could not restrain a peal of laughter at the picture he must have made.
"If you have discovered a reason for glee, by God I'd appreciate you letting me share it," David said from the darkness of the quarterdeck, almost invisible except for the whiteness of his breeches, shirt, and coat facings.
"Did you notice that I was a bit out of uniform when we were aft?"
"Had my breeches up with one bloody button, that's what!"
David broke into a hearty laugh as well. "You mean to tell me you went in there looking like something out of The Rake's Progress and you didn't know?"
"Me and my crotch exposed, you and your head bandaged — we must have seemed like the worst Jack Nasty-Faces Treghues had ever laid eyes on!"
They went forward to inspect the lookouts and to get away from their captain's open skylight, in case he was still awake and now busily inscribing their names in his book of the eternally damned.
"God, I am laughing so hard my ribs ache," Alan said, stumbling about the deck over ring-bolts and gun tackle and damned near howling, which upset the watch since they weren't in on the joke.
"I have tears in my eyes, I swear I do," David chimed in, pulling his bloody handkerchief out of his pocket and applying it to his face.
"Ah!" Alan heaved a great breath to calm down. He stopped laughing. "I would suppose we had better savor this. It's the last laugh we shall have for a long time."
"Worth it though, stap we if it wasn't. Here now, Lewrie, next leave is on me, my treat."
"Good. And I shall let you go first in the morning. In the beginning, the ..."
"No, no, you'd be so much better at the Bible than me," David said, calming himself. "You've probably already violated half of it. Besides, why get us into more trouble by a report of blaspheming?"
"You're right," Alan agreed, leading them back aft.
"Um, Alan, what did the captain mean about you forcing yourself on your own blood back there?" David asked.
"Just raving, I expect. Think nothing on it."
"Did that have anything to do with the way he turned against you so quickly after Commodore Sinclair took over the squadron?" David asked. "I mean you've never been really all that forthcoming about your past before the Navy. As your friend, it would make no difference to me, but ..."
"Sir George knows my father, and like me thinks about as much of him as cowshit on his best shoes. And there's Forrester sneaking behind our backs to his uncle Sir George," Alan said quickly. "Put those two together and you get Treghues trimming his sails to suit Sir George."
"My father caught me with the cook's daughter," David confessed in a soft voice. "She was fourteen, I was eleven. I already knew I was down for the sea, but I thought I had another year before they sent me."
"You precocious young bastard!" Alan laughed. "Well, did you get into her mutton?"
Excerpted from The French Admiral by Dewey Lambdin. Copyright © 1990 Dewey Lambdin. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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
Is it that the book is that good or merely that so few can measure up to CS Forester? I'm just so delighted to find the first works of a series that can stand proudly next to Hornblower or Aubry. Lambdin's prose is good if not terribly insightful, action is well executed and the pacing spot on. Might be a passage or two that drones a bit, but nothing that weighs. The mix of Aubry with Sharpe in the main character is a delight! I can't wait to get on to the next! NOTE: I count 17 books in the series, but gaps in the ebooks. Specifically numbers 1, 3, and 4 at least are not available as Nookbooks. Hopefully, this will change as the Nook becomes more popular.
For some reason which I don't understand the capital letters at the beginning of each chapter are dropped down and in the way of the rest of the text. Other than that I have no problems with the book and I think it is some of Dewey Lambdin's best work
After O'Brien and Kent, Alan Lewrie is a more balanced character--scoundrel and good guy. Enjoyable series so far.
Cannot tell you what a pleasure it is to read the Dewey Lambdin books. Such an adventure that you can feel the bordom of shipboard life and fear and sweet during action of battle. I love the historical inserts for that period of naval history!