Following the footsteps of Horatio Hornblower and Jack Aubrey, whose ripping adventures capture thousands of new readers each year, comes the heir apparent to the mantle of Forester and O'Brian: Dewey Lambdin, and his acclaimed Alan Lewrie series.
In this latest adventure Lewrie is promoted for his quick action in the Battle of Cape St. Vincent, but before he's even had a chance to settle into his new role, a mutiny rages through the fleet, and the sudden reappearance of an old enemy has Lewrie fighting not just for his command, but for his life.
"A rip-roaring sea yarn brimming with riveting action and lusty diversions." - Booklist
About the Author
Dewey Lambdin is the author of eight previous Alan Lewrie novels. A member of the U.S. Naval Institute and a Friend of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, he lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Dewey Lambdin is the author of the Alan Lewrie novels. 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. He makes his home in Nashville, Tennessee.
Read an Excerpt
An Alan Lewrie Naval Adventure
By Dewey Lambdin
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2000 Dewey Lambdin
All rights reserved.
It should have been a glad day. Yet to Lewrie it seemed to be one of infinite sadness. Though the harbour waters were sparkling and glittering, the skies were fresh-washed blue, stippled with benign and pristine brush-stroked clouds; the sun was bright; and the day was just warm enough to be mild, yet not hot enough to be oppressive; and gulls and other seabirds swooped and dove and hovered with springtime delight ... it was his last day. The morning he surrendered command of HMS Jester.
Admiral Sir John Jervis's Valentine's Day "present," following the Battle of Cape Saint Vincent, was a quick dash into Lisbon for two days Out-of-Discipline, an aboard-ship revel with the Portugee whores and something approaching a monumental drunk for all hands. And once the last doxy had been chivvied ashore, the last smuggled wine bottle tipped overside, and the last thick head had returned to normal use, they had stripped Jester of top-masts, stores, and artillery for her first careenage since Leghorn, the middle of '95. Tons of weed, slime, and barnacles had been sluiced, swabbed, chipped, or fired off her hull; and what little they could do to replace missing copper sheets, or tar over and paint over, had been performed before re-floating her, giving her that long-delayed "lick and a promise" above the waterline, before re-stocking her, re-arming her, and setting her masts up anew.
It was only then that Lewrie could announce to his men that they were off for Portsmouth to de-commission; off for Home and England! And Jester 's decks had rung with whooping cheers and tears of joy!
He'd wished he'd known sooner; four hands had trickled off from the working parties, entered on ship's books as "Run." Had they known earlier that Jester was bound for England, they might have stayed on to see their families again and collect the pay owed them, which was nearly eighteen months overdue, which, given the times and the Navy's slack accounting system, was actually a little better-than-normal delay.
Then again, two of them had been Italian volunteers, or some of those Maltese seamen who'd been hired-out by the Grand Masters of Malta in '93, after Hood had taken, then lost, the French naval base at Toulon.
Lewrie was certain that their "fly" Purser—the young, bespectacled Mr. Giles—was cackling in glee somewhere aft in a stores room over their departure. Not only had they decamped without their meagre pay, but their shares in the prize-money whichJester had accumulated since '94. Finding a way to make absent men "chew tobacco"—purchase slop-clothing, hats, tinware, and such on a two-year spending spree as profligate as ... as drunken sailors—to help make his books balance, Lewrie was mortal-certain! Or sign their pay over to him in total? Forge documents that he was their executor selected to hold any share of prize-money for them? Their only bloody heir? Lewrie had scoffed.
There was little he could do to their benefit. And, after all, they'd "Run"; taken "leg-bail" from the Fleet, from shipmates, and from his command. Now they were most-likely dead-broke and desperate for a berth in any merchant ship that'd have them, throwing away sums that for a poor sailorman were damn'-near princely! The Devil with 'em ... damn' fools!
So he'd demurred and hadn't cocked a wary brow at Giles, letting him have his unofficial "due." He needed him too badly to anger the smug little "Captain Sharp," not at the last moments of a commission when his own accountings and financial records were to be scrutinised by a platoon of petti-fogging Admiralty clerks! Not if he didn't want to have some beartrap snap shut on his arse, all unsuspecting, years later!
His cabins were stripped bare, but for guns, carriages, and the black-and-white chequer painted on the sailcloth deck covering. Ragged and scuffed, the paint scrubbed half off beneath the gun-trucks. The many light canvas and deal partitions were stacked to one corner like a set of abandoned doors or used-up stage-sets. His chests were now in a hired boat alongside. Toulon, strenuously objecting to it, was caged in a wicker basket which Aspinall held—rather carefully, he noted, for Toulon was hissing, spitting, hunkering, and licking chops like he wished to nip the fool who'd ordered him in there. Or whichever fleshy idiot got within slashing distance.
Lewrie huffed a huge sigh of finality. Even after they'd come in, there'd been nigh on ten days' worth of nattering with Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Parker's staff, in charge at Portsmouth, with the criminals at HM Dockyards, with the bewildered twits at Gun Wharf, who'd given him permission to keep his French 8-pounders (which equalled British Long-Nines) instead of waiting to exchange for the proper 6-pounders his vessel rated ... and now vowed they had never known a thing about it, and who the deuce did he think he was playing fast and loose with their records? Didn't he know there was a war on?
There'd been a blizzard of paperwork; all the forms, ledgers, and logs, the fill-in-the-blanks documents for Sick & Hurt Board, Victualling Board, Ordnance Board, powder and shot expended, in action or for gundrill, with many "tsk-tsks" and mournful shakings of heads over wasting precious munitions without good reason. Backstays shifted; spars lost or cracked; lumber, nails, and screws used for repairs—how necessary were the repairs to ship's boats or bulwarks, and had the Carpenter or Bosun allotted too many board feet, too many bloody screws! to restore a shot-through cutter. Marines, accused of using too little boot-black or pipe clay, whilst using too many flints, expending too much powder and ball, and losing one whole musket and two bayonets! Having to explain, in triplicate, every lack or loss, with the replacement cost held over each unfortunate respondent's head until a plausible compromise could be reached!
Every lack was Lewrie's final responsibility as captain after all, every loss or condemnation of rotten stores. Department heads were liable for lack of accountability, certainly, but in the end there were some things he could be dunned for. After a final, prissy, and unsatisfied harumph! that no outright fraud had occurred, no sin of omission or commission which might lead to pay stoppage or court-martial, the senior clerk had written Lewrie a form which deducted from the pay due him, a copy of said form to be forwarded to Admiralty for the clerks there, who could tally up his pay for three years' service, another to go into his personnel file, one for the Portsmouth records, and one to be handed over to Lewrie for his own keeping.
With another huge sigh, Lewrie turned his back on those great-cabins and went out the forrud passageway 'twixt the sadly empty dining coach and the still-usable chart space, to the gun-deck to face his crew.
He had never de-commissioned a ship in wartime. Shrike, back in '83, after the American Revolution was over; as a junior officer intoTelesto in '86; or sweet little Alacrity, a converted bomb-ketch he'd had, his first official lieutenant's command, when she'd come home from the Bahamas in '89. Those were all done in time of peace and were relatively joyous occasions, for the hands had mostly been freed from the Navy, going off to civilian pursuits and the pleasures of their homes, their families, with the Fleet much reduced. Now, though ...
The Royal Navy was gigantic, with nearly one hundred line-of battle ships and another hundred frigates, even more lesser ships in commission out fighting their foes, worldwide. Nearly half the hands were impressed or culled from debtors' prisons to man those fleets, and there would be no freedom, even a brief tantalising spree, for most of his Jesters. At that moment she lay far offshore to prevent desertions, daunted by the many guard-boats which rowed Portsmouth's inner harbour with armed Marines aboard with orders to shoot or apprehend; with truncheon-bearing Press Gangs patrolling the docks to deter anyone who'd swum ashore in spite of the guard-boats; or the vigilance of a ship's own Marines, who stood harbour-watch with loaded muskets.
With the Navy so hungry for trained, experienced men who could hand, reef, and steer, this well-shaken-down crew of his could end up scattered in a heartbeat, sent off in dribs and drabs as need dictated to the foul receiving ships to idle for weeks 'til a sufficient number was mustered to draught aboard another ship newly commissioning, or one come in with casualities, desertions, and deaths from battle, accidents, or sickness in need of quick re-manning.
With any luck at all—though Lewrie rather doubted his Jesters would find any; he'd seen lips smacking, greedy hands clapped together from other ships' bulwarks, or the Impress Service—theymight allow the crew to turn over, entire, into a new ship. With agreat deal of luck, they might be allowed to remain aboard, intact, under the newest captain! Yet Jester would be going alongside at Gun Wharf to remove her artillery, along a stone quay to empty her of every last movable item to lighten her, including her very last ballast-stone, her masts and spars taken away, perhaps the lower masts drawn out like bad teeth. And she'd be weeks, perhaps as much as three months, in the hands of the dockyards being partially rebuilt. Except for those choice few holding Admiralty Warrant who were pretty-much assigned to her for life, the Fleet could not let valuable seamen sit idle.
What to say to them? Lewrie puzzled sadly.
He'd most hopefully made himself a list, assuming that some word might come down from London before this moment arrived offering him future employment. As a confirmed Commander he might go into another sloop of war like Jester, and the Admiralty would then allow him some few of his most trusted hands to ease his transition. Should they actually promote him (pray Jesus!) and make him "post" into a 5th or 6th Rate frigate, then they'd allow him even more of his favorites along to form the nucleus of a new and unfamiliar crew. Less than a dozen all told, even as a Post-Captain, but aboard that wished-for frigate, confronted with a sea of nigh two hundred strange faces, he'd need every salt he knew by sight or smell.
But there had been no word from the Lords Commissioners, from the new First Secretary, Mr. Evan Nepean; no word of future employment or promotion. He'd been "required and directed" to dot the last i and cross the last t ... unlooked for and unloved (or so it seemed).
He smiled a sad, grim-lipped smile for the seamen and inferior petty officers gathered on the gun-deck, nodding and acknowledging the shy, lost, and inarticulate expressions from the ship's "people," whilst on his way to the quarterdeck. God help 'em, he thought; they're just as hung on tenterhooks as I! And with a perfect right too! Lewrie thought, clapping a few on the arm on his way. Many ratings aboard a warship were the whims of her captain, those informal positions aloft as yard-captains, top-mast captains, forecastle captains, the quarter gunners, and such ... places of trust and seniority, marks of personal merit and authority which got them but a few more pence per month ... Yeoman of the Powder, Yeomen of the Sheets, Bosun's Mate, Carpenter's Mate, members of a captain's boat-crew ...
In a new ship, their qualities unknown to a new captain and his officers—who already had their coterie of favorites or protgs— they'd lose their preferential rates, their pride and esteem, and the slim pay which went with them. A valued man, elevated to petty officer in one ship, would be just another Able Seaman in another. Even if they stayed aboard Jester, her new captain would be bringing along his own tight little clique, and would demote and replace according to his own lights.
Lewrie went up the starboard gangway ladder to say his goodbyes to his waiting officers, to share a last, quick remembrance or two with them. They, at least, were officially looked after and would be going off to finer things. Though, considering the capricious whims of Admiralty, it'd be just as stressful and worrisome to see where each might alight.
Lieutenant Ralph Knolles, such an elegant, able, and cheerful young officer, sure to rise even higher and do great things. Mr. Edward Buchanon, the Sailing Master, that young-old seer and West Country mystic ... Midshipmen Martin Hyde and Clarence Spendlove, who'd turned into salt-stained, tarry-handed young men in their late teens; Spendlove, whose voice had broken and gone deep this commission—almost ready to face examining boards and earn their own lieutenants' commissions had they any fortune, patronage beyond his own, or "interest" with senior men.
Almost pleasurable it was, the first time this commission, Lewrie thought, to say his goodbyes to the gloomy, sarcastically bitter Mr. Howse, their Surgeon, that laconic critic who'd set his teeth on edge with his eternal disgust with the world in general and Lewrie's place in it in specific. And his built-in chorus of one, his mate LeGoff.
Peter Giles, the Purser—'twas relief Lewrie felt when taking leave of him; that he hadn't yet been caught, and Lewrie implicated as well, in guilt by association in some vaulting scheme which exceeded even the jaded tolerance of a corrupt Victualling Board.Was ever a dog born t'be hung sooner or later ...! Lewrie thought, glad to see the back of him!
Giles, though, and his Jack-In-The-Breadroom, were as safe as houses, for he held Warrant and would continue on in her should he wish it. Mr. Crewe, her Master Gunner; Mr. Reese, her Carpenter; Mr. Paschal, the Sailmaker; Mr. Meggs, Jester's Armourer; her Cooper; and a few such others would remain aboard in the yards right into her next commission.
As would Will Cony, unfortunately. Making this day even worse, making him wish he'd never tried to promote Will to Bosun. Cony had been his "man" since '81, back in the days of the siege of Yorktown, with him throughout all his adventures....
"Well, then," Lewrie said at last, from his familiar "pulpit" by the middle of the quarterdeck rail overlooking the waist. "Damned if we haven't had a rare run of luck aboard, right, lads? Seen wonders ... done wonders! Met some right bastards too, but we fought 'em and beat 'em all hollow too. And now come home ... the most of us ... safe and sound. You oldest hands, off Cockerel, you who came from Windsor Castle,Agamemnon, since Toulon ... those who come aboard in early '94, right here in Portsmouth ... all thrown together in the pot and stewed, 'til you became—shipmates. Bitter and the sweet, spicy and bland—and you'd know best which you are, hey?"
That got him a semblance of a laugh, which made it easier.
"A ship's company ... and a damn' good'un! God bless you all for there'll never be another like you. Not for me! Where'er I go in the Fleet, I'll always have my Jesters ... as the ring-measure for any other crew to fit through, to try and equal. I'm ..."
Damme, I am not goin'ta tear up and blub! he told himself; give me one more minute o' manhood! Besides, there's surely an Article of War against it!
He looked to the side, where stood a party of clerks from Vice-Admiral Sir Peter Parker's staff, eager to get down to their business of paying off the hands. Beyond, there lurked a suspicious, hovering tender which he imagined must contain the Impress Service, ready with a list of ships needing hands. So part of his farewell speech seemed to be right out, that bit about taking joy of being home!
"Well, then ..." he reiterated. "You know what they say 'bout changing ships. The best men you serve with once, honour them as examples the rest of yer life, and never see again. The dross show up like creditors ... one commission after the other. I'd be proud to be with you, every last man-jack o' you! I'm as proud o' you as a captain can be! So you take pride, wherever you light! In what you did together ... proud of her, our ship. Proud that for a wondrous three years, you were Jesters! Goodbye, you rogues. G ... goodbye, Jesters. Now give us three cheers for the best ship in the Fleet! And the best crew in the Fleet! A ship and crew any captain'd be glad to command!" He added, for the benefit of that impatient spectre waiting overside, "Hip, hip ... !"
A quick bustle, a final shake of hands, a last formal "leg" to the senior officers who had had enough human decency to not peer at their watchfaces to spur him to hurry (and who were most-like familiar with the pain he was experiencing in losing a ship), and he was at the gangway entry-port, while cheers still resounded from the crew.
He doffed his hat in salute, shared a nod with Marine Sergeant Bootheby and his elegantly turned out side-party, then turned to go ... down those fresh-sanded and tarred boarding battens, gripping virgin-white new man-ropes strung through the battens' outer ends, so brightly served with ornate Turk's-Head knots and bound with colourful red spun-yarn trim. Then into the waiting barge and step aft to take a seat on a thwart near the tillerman, among all his chests, kegs, crated cabin furnishings, and canvasbound goodies.
A matching barge stood nearby, idling "off-and-on" under oars in slack water, also piled high with possessions; a barge in which stood a young man in a Commander's uniform, his boat-cloak thrown back to show his epaulet. Glowering at Lewrie for taking so long, making him wait to claim his new ship; a grim "thanks for nothing, you bastard," grimace on his phyz for making his leave-taking too personal, poisoning his arrival in the afterglow of that intensely emotional farewell. A purse-mouthed, mean-lookin' "git," Lewrie thought, resenting the hell out of him for replacing him. For "stealing" Jester from him!
Were you smart, you'd have waited 'til this evening after I was long gone, Lewrie glowered back just as stonily, as his Coxswain, Andrews, and his servant, Aspinall, clambered into the barge.
"Shove off then," Lewrie pronounced. And the new captain was stroking forward to take his barge's place below the entry-port in an eyeblink. As he drew close though, as they passed, Lewrie thought he saw the new man begin to beam in appreciation, his face turned upwards, bearing that ineffable look of a man gone "arse over tit" in love ... that wide-eyed crinkle of joy that all sailors bestow upon only those loveliest of vessels. The new man, most likely less-senior, had the presence of mind to doff Lewrie a cautious salute with his hat before clawing eagerly at the man-ropes.
Eager to claim the hands, Lewrie smirked to himself; lay hold of 'em before the vultures from the dockyard did! With the new captain in his barge were a half-dozen seamen, just as eager to board her and continue their favouritism and seniority under their patron.
"Portsmouth Point, sir?" the tillerman enquired.
"Aye, Portsmouth Point," Lewrie glumly agreed, facing the town, unable to bear the tweetle of bosun's calls welcoming her new captain.
"Ain't gonna like dot new cap'um, sah," Andrews commented. "'E didn't give 'em time t'give ya yer presents proper-like."
"What presents?" Lewrie gloomed as the barge turned, the older waterman by her mast beginning to hoist her single lugsail.
"Dere's a letter, sah," Andrews told him, untying a canvas packet and handing it over. "Model o' de ship ... and d'is, sah."
Lewrie read the letter quickly, coughing to cover his chagrin. Every man-jack had signed it or X'd his mark (except for Mr. Howse and LeGoff, of course), thanking him for being a tolerant, firm-but-fair captain; vowing, should they have the chance, they'd be glad to ship with him again; wishing that he didn't have to leaveJester....
Lewrie squinted over that, feeling his eyes mist up as the barge sailed out of Jester's shadow into bright sunlight. "Ah, hummm!" was all he could manage to say, clearing a prodigious lump in his throat.
"Ain' often po' sailormen git a good cap'um, sah," Andrews told him, showing him the ship model. It was about two feet long, as fine a rendering as any Admiralty model run up to present to the King himself, with Jester' s every detail precisely and meticulously reproduced, every line, brace, clew, slab, or buntline strung spider-thin aloft. Months, it'd taken, he thought ... started before Lisbon and his glad news?
"Dey's 'is too, sah," Andrews offered.
A coin-silver tankard, pint-sized, engraved with a scroll of seashells and chain round its base and upper lip, with a profile sail-plan of a sloop of war in all her bounding glory, and a scroll-board claiming her to be HMS Jester engraved below her. There was a suggestion of the waves, a boisterously erose dash at her waterline, inverted Vees about one side ... and a pair of leaping dolphins, the enigmatic heads of two smiling seals, and a forearm stretched forth from the deeps ahead of her bows, wielding a sword as if pointing her way onward. Seals and a seagod—a cryptic meaning known only to one who'd been there, 'board that ship, in that crew, and only during that commission.
"My, God, it's beautiful, it's ..." Lewrie mumbled in appreciation.
"T'other side, sir." Aspinall winked. "Read t'other side."
He turned the tankard, so the handle was to the drinker's right, discovering a dedication which would ever face the drinker:
Presented To Commander Alan Lewrie, R.N. Lucky Captain of a Lucky Ship From a Grateful & Appreciative Ship's Crew of HMS Jester 1794–1797
"Model got done aboard, sir," Aspinall revealed eagerly. "Cup, well ...' member Bosun Cony's runs ashore once we anchored? Took up a donation from ev'ry hand, he did."
"And I spoiled the moment for 'em," Lewrie groaned. "Too hot t'flee 'fore I ..."
He'd vowed he'd not look back, but he did, even while the other new man was reading himself in, shouting his orders so everyone would hear and understand, from taffrail to jib-boom tip.
"... directly charging and commanding the officers and company belonging to the said sloop of war subordinate to you to behave themselves jointly and severally in their respective employments with all due respect and obedience unto you, their said captain ...!"
The crew's attention was bound inboard, yet he stood, his head bare, raised the letter high in one hand, the silver tankard high in the other. A few men upon the starboard gangway spotted him, nudged each other, and attracted the surreptitious attention of more. They waved hats and hands below the bulwark, smiling fit to bust, so the new captain would not spot them.
And when the new man finished reading himself in, there came a thunderous—undeserved—cheer.
Ruined it for him, Lewrie thought, a silly ass's smile plastered on his phyz, but with tears coursing down his cheeks at last; well, what of it? Just bugger him! And he'd better treat 'em right!CHAPTER 2
There came a second hard leave-taking for a sailor; standing atop Portsdown Hill as the overloaded diligence coach toiled up to the crest and the passengers, as usual, got down to walk the muddy track to ease the horse teams ... to gaze back and down at the wide sweep of Spithead and the Solent, past the Isle of Wight, outwards to the flood of the Channel as the tide turned. The harbours, so full of warships, a forest of masts ... and savouring his last noseful of kelp, fish, and salt breezes ... as if saying farewell forever to a dying lover!
Andrews and his clerk, Padgett, went one direction for Anglesgreen aboard a stout dray laden with his possessions. Lewrie and his manservant, Aspinall, went another, for London in the thrice-daily "dilly" ... for Admiralty and word of future employment. The wind, now a land breeze, heavy with springtime growth, with nurturing rains and turned-earth smells, stole the sea-scent and whistled cool over the crest of the hill ... almost foreboding, he could conjure?
Lewrie marvelled, though, how much England had changed during his absence; roads, where before there had been foot paths, branching from the main London route and teeming with waggon traffic. The main road now become a congested highway, with cottages, row-houses, shops, and inns lining the sides, where cows or sheep had grazed before! Mysterious, fuming, bustling manufacturies crammed with workers, amidst the clank and hiss of new-fangled steam machines that drove belts, pumped water and spun looms and lathes, reeking of burning coal and the musty wet-laundry odour of the steam itself!
Tiny crossroads hamlets had blossomed into villages, villages into towns, and London had sprawled even further afield, absorbing a host of settlements and farmland into its industrial, residential conurbations as though it had leapt southward, almost to Guildford, in the span of a single Dog Watch! Like an oil stain, progress had spread.
They passed through new suburbs of London, looking just as seedy as the old ones, Lewrie took wry note. Bricks and windowpanes were already soot-blackened, the gutters filled with cast-off trash, horse droppings, and the scurrying carters and street vendors, artificers or mechanics, children or housewives, looked pinched and off their feed; careworn, driven urgent to their business. Or, a tad vexed, Lewrie wondered? As good and warm as the people were dressed, there was little colour to them, as if the gods of war-driven industry were just a tad too demanding. And despite the evident signs of wealth, London proper struck him as dowdy, fretful, and gloomy. Even the ornate gardens and parks were tinged, the swans noticeably off-white, for all the fume of coal smoke, which he had not thought quite so thick the last time he had come up to the city of his birth in '93.
And once alit from the "rumble-tumble" coach, it began to rain, of course, a sooty, pelting drizzle that brought the garbage-middens to life, as redolent as the old Fleet Ditch before it had been paved over and filled, ages before. The rain only whipped the crowds to greater speed, not indoors, and he and Aspinall had almost been run over half a dozen times by carts or coaches, by trotting vendors shouting cursory "'Ave care, sir!" or "By yer leave ... damn ye!" as Lewrie tried to regain his "land legs," his former canny knack for city navigation, and to stay somewhat clean whilst they searched for lodgings for himself, his servant, and the wickercaged Toulon.
"No rooms, sir," the inn-keeper at Willis's Rooms, his favourite lodgings, told him sadly, "not even for an old customer."
"Nothing lavish, sir," Lewrie wheedled, after spending the last two hours of a late, wet afternoon plodding from one inn to another. This was the most expensive place he could recall, but it set a good table, and it was growing dark. "My man could even sleep rough on a settee if we have to." No matter what Aspinall had to say about it!
"Well, there is a second-floor chamber, sir, but ..." The owner frowned, raising his eyebrows at the thought of a gentleman and a common body-servant sharing that chamber. He gave Aspinall a once-over, frowning even deeper. "Dear Lord, sir. Is that a cat you have with you? Bless me, sir ... never take animals, no, sir. It's not ..."
"Sir Whosis, back in '93, sir," Lewrie countered, "brought his favourite hounds ... kept 'em in his rooms. Fed 'em at-table too, as I recall. No fuss, then. What would that single room be worth, sir?"
Lewrie set his purse on the counter of the bar in the public rooms, aching for an excuse to get off his feet, to sidle over to the cheery fire and dry off a bit, over a mulled rum or a brandy. That purse gave off a promising chinking sound of solid coin.
"Coin, sir?" the inn-keeper gasped of a sudden, his brows going skyward. "But of course, sir ... just paid off your ship, did ye tell me? Well ... that'd be silver ... or guineas, sir? Not merchant-issue shoddy?"
"Fortunate in prize-money, sir," Lewrie boasted, loosening the drawstrings and spilling out an assortment. "Austrian Maria Theresas ... silver dollars. Some Italian 'tin.' Looks insubstantial, but it's silver. Shillings ... and aye, gold guineas."
"Bless me, sir. You should see what I'm offered these days." The innkeeper smiled. "Like this'un, sir. Spanish piece of eight ... but with the King's profile over-stamped. Four shillings, nine pence, or five shillings tuppence, no one knows exactly. They say, sir"—the inn-keeper dropped into a very confidential whisper—"that 'the Bank of England, to make its dollars pass, stamped the head of a fool 'pon the neck of an ass,' ha, ha! Good silver and gold, well, it's a rare commodity these days, I assure you. Be the ruin of commerce."
Sure enough, the piece of eight he'd produced had over-struck a portly George III over the latest slack-jawed Bourbon King of the Dons! To speak that way 'bout the King, though ...!
"Now, sir ... shall we say, uhm ... guinea the day for you and your man ... and, uhmm, your cat yonder, sir?" the inn-keeper proposed. "Lodgings and food all found, Commander Lewrie."
Yikes, Lewrie thought, it's bald-faced rape!
"Decent room, is it?" Lewrie sighed, laying out two guineas for two days. "I've hopes to complete my business with Admiralty by Saturday ... and depart for home, so we can be there for Easter Sunday services at the least."
"First-floor front, with a good fireplace and a window, sir," the innkeeper assured him, now jovial as anything as he swept those precious gold guineas off the counter and into a pocket. "Bedchamber and small parlour in one, but there's a screen I could put up ... and a cot I could fetch down from the garret for your man."
"That'd right fine, thankee, sir," Lewrie told him.
"I'll see your things up to the room, Commander Lewrie, and once you've settled in, do avail yourself of the public rooms, a drink or two before mealtime. And would puss there like a dish o' cream?"
Sponged clean of most of the street smuts, feet up in one chair and slouched in another, Lewrie did avail himself of the public rooms, near enough to the roaring fire to take the chill off, as the lodgers came back from their rounds of the city for the night. A large glass of warmed brandy lay between his paws, from which he sipped, pleased as all getout that he'd found shelter. Right down to "heel-taps," at last, and waving for the serving girl to fetch him another.
"Here ye go, sir ... four pence," she said, dropping him a wee curtsy and scraping up a shilling from the table-top. She returned a few coppers. Four pence? For a lone glass o' brandy ...?
"Wait a bit ... what in Hades are these?" Lewrie puzzled. They were no copper coins he'd ever seen. Better made, actually, than most pennies, truer-round, and with sharp-milled edges. But claiming to be from an assortment of private firms.
"Merchant shoddy, sir ..." the girl explained. "Tokens, really, is wot they calls 'em, but any sort o' coins is so dear these days ... most folk accept 'em. I've half me wages in 'em, an' there's nought turn up their noses. Honest, sir. Willis's does th' best 'e can, but times is hard."
"She speaks true, sir ... no fraud," an older gentleman informed him from closer to the fire. "This bloody war's the fault. The Chinee trade, and all our silver going to India and China?" He sneered.
"Very well," Lewrie nodded to the girl, accepting the imitations for real currency and slipping her a true ha'penny for service rendered.
"Been away too long, sir," Lewrie commented, cocking a brow at his interlocutor. "Fightin' this ... bloody war."
"No business of ours, sir, what happens on the Continent, or what happens to Frogs, Dons, and Dagoes. Mean t'say, sir, what's our good English Channel for, hmm?"
"Long as those Frogs, Dons—perhaps even some of those Dagoes—have navies, sir"—Lewrie bristled—"it is our business! What do you think we did at Saint Vincent? Broke up one part of a combination with an eye for our invasion, sir. If not of England, then of Ireland...."
"Ah, to defend ourselves, aye, sir!" the older fellow chirped most happily. "Ain't that right, Douglas?" he asked his partner at their table, a cherubic old country squire-ish sort. "I'd not be averse to a million pounds being spent on our defence, sir. But not a groat more should go to Austria, Prussia.... It's their problem, isn't it? So they should spend their treasure if they think they need a war against the French. Blockade the French, keep their navy reined back. Keep their armies from overseas adventure, aye, sir. But ... that's as far as we ought go before the country's bankrupt. Emulate the words of Washington ... first president of the United States, sir ... when he warned, 'Beware of foreign entanglements.'"
"All very fine, sir"—Lewrie sniffed archly—"for a powerless and isolated nation 'cross the seas ... too impoverished to aspire to an empire. But lookee here, sir ... no matter which government France has, they've always hated us; we've always hated them. Give 'em licence to conquer the rest of Europe? Dragoon all Europe into their fold and they'll be across that Channel of ours and at our throats. And what's the eventual cost of that, hey?"
Damme, never heard the like, and from an Englishman too! Lewrie fumed. Was the man a bloody Quaker, too meek to raise a hand to guard his own throat? Or one of those "Rights of Man" Levellers?
"You're new-come, sir, I'll warrant," the cherubic-looking old fellow who went by Douglas pooh-poohed. "Back from our most expensive 'wooden walls,' hmm? You've not seen the suffering, sir. Nor felt it yourself. Thousands more Enclosure Acts, farmers thrown out of work or off the land ... industry," he sneered, "dragooning thousands into the mines and mills, sir. High wages, aye, but high taxes too, so that no one may make the living one made three years past. Price of grains gone through the roof, yet farmers such as myself barely breaking even e'en in a bumper year! Taxed to death, we are...."
"Hear, hear!" several other gentlemen growled in agreement.
"You'd trust to a French occupation ... to lower your taxes!" Lewrie sneered aloud and was gratified to hear an even larger, more vociferous chorus of "Hear! Hears!" from those of the opposing camp.
"You malign me, sir!" the angelically white-maned Douglas said, rearing back and suddenly looking as fierce as an old but game Viking Berserker. "Never the French! Rather, a reforming of our ..."
The first older gentleman laid a restraining, cautioning hand on his friend's coat sleeve. "You mistake our motive, sir."
"Nay, sir," Lewrie snickered. "I meant to malign you actually."
Which won him a rowdy round of cheers, the thumping of tankards or fists on the tables from the more patriotic topers. Lewrie had himself a deep draught from his fresh brandy in celebration, knowing that the old fellow could glare fierce but would never press to cross steel with him or "blaze" with pistols. He could be as nasty as he wished to be! It looked to be hellish-good sport to berate the pair of them as un-patriotic.
I'm off duty—an half-pay "civilian," for the nonce, he reminded himself; no more "firm but fair"! Damme, I ain't been free to be me malicious old self in a month of Sundays!
"You have your opinion, sir," the first man said, much subdued. "We have ours. Do you spend time ashore, you may change yours."
"I very much doubt it," Lewrie began. But they were leaving, the first gentleman almost shaking "Douglas" to force him to keep mum. They gathered their capes and hats from the "Abigail" by the door and departed for cheerier taverns.
His shot at amusement over, Lewrie took another sip, heaved up a shrug, and reached over to their table to snag the newspaper they'd abandoned in their haste to depart.
Now this'll be a rare treat, he thought; reading a newspaper which hadn't been smudged nigh-illegible by an hundred previous hands, one which wasn't water-stained, rat-gnawed, folded and crinkled to the fragility of a yellow onion peel. And containing information newer than a month past!
"Ahem, gentlemen," one of the inn-keeper's assistants announced from the double-doors to the dining room. "We are now serving." Those doors were thrown open, and a heady steam wafted out, so tempting that Lewrie's mouth began to water. A first shot at home-cooking, a proper English meal—course after course of his old favourites, he hoped as he rose quickly. A glutton's delight to welcome him back to all which he'd fought for—a glad repast worthy of the Prodigal Son's return!
He crammed the newspaper into a side pocket of his coat, sprang into action, and beat several slower feeders into the dining room! At the first sight of that groaning sideboard, laden with roasts, steaks, chops, savoury fowl—and a pudding the size of a capstan head—Alan consigned the pleasures of political nattering quite out of his mind!
Excerpted from King's Captain by Dewey Lambdin. Copyright © 2000 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
OK, as far as the novel itself, it's very good - couldn't put it down, really, though the very beginning, Chapter One, seemed a bit abrupt. Any fan of the series will be more than entertained. Turns out there's a reason for that early abruptness. The text for the prolog comes at the very END of the book in the afterward! Came upon it and thought I was maybe reading a teaser for the next book in the series before realizing what I was stumbling into. So out of curiosity I immediately downloaded the next book in the series, AND IT'S THE SAME THING! In this case, though, the prolog text seems to be missing entirely, or at least I couldn't find it after a quick search. We're still trying to figure out how to produce ebooks, aren't we!
Killick appears to be correct; the 19-page "prologue" appears immediately following the afterward at page 367. There's really no excuse for this on the publisher's part...simply sloppy work with little to no attention to a simple detail such as putting the pages in sequential order. Disappointing. I'll continue slogging through the series, even so, as I enjoy the period setting and (generally) have liked the author's other work. On the weird off chance that Mr. Lambdin ever cruises by here: please, for the love of God, sir, stop writing foreign accented English in phonetic pidgeon. I can only take so much stuff like, "He egsblains vhy de big ships vit rich gargoes do not appear...", before I start skipping whole sections of dialogue. All his foreign characters remind me of Fabio hawking margerine: "I conned beleev id snot bawtter". Gee, maybe I can be a professional writer too...
This is Horatio Hornblower meets Harry Flashman. Going to get more of these