Alan Lewrie is now commander of HMS Jester, an 18-gun sloop. Lewrie sails into Corsica only to receive astonishing orders: he must lure his archenemy, French commander Guillaume Choundas, into battle and personally strike the malevolent spymaster dead. With Horatio Nelson as his squadron commander on one hand and a luscious courtesan who spies for the French on the other, Lewrie must pull out all the stops if he's going to live up to his own reputation and bring glory to the British Royal Navy.
About the Author
Dewey Lambdin is a sailor, a director, a writer, and a producer for television and advertising. He is the author of the Alan Lewrie Naval Adventures series and What Lies Buried: A Novel of Old Cape Fear. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
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A King's Commander
By Dewey Lambdin
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 1997 Dewey Lambdin
All rights reserved.
Dearest!" Lewrie whispered into her sweet-smelling hair. "Oh, dearest God, Alan ...!" Caroline responded in a like whisper. Though they could have shouted, for all the clamor of a sloop of war readying to set sail. "My only love."
A few more minutes, Lewrie squirmed in rising impatience; just a few minutes more, and I'm safe — I think. Mostly, anyway!
There were limits on how even the fondest captain and his wife could behave in public; quite unlike the open bawling of "wives" — the real helpmates, or the feigned for profit — had made when HMS Jester had at last lowered the "easy" pendant and put herself back into Discipline, and the men of the lower deck had bade farewell to their loved ones, perhaps forever. Squealing, mewling brats, snuffly seamen, and howling harridans, appearing far older and weathered than their years, cursed by Fate they'd wed with sailors. Saying their own good-byes — also perhaps forever; left with a new babe-to-be, a dubious pay certificate that would go for a quarter of its value with some agate-eyed jobber, a portion of their man's pay signed over with the Councillor of the Cheque, and always, and purposely, six months in arrears. A handful of solid coin, perhaps, since Jester had been formally commissioned in a home port. Paid just before sailing, so they'd not desert.
And, of course, the drunken shrieks of those harpies who'd come aboard as "wives," as they would every vessel Out of Discipline that they could reach, too drunk to know their tour of duty was over, and shoveled back into the bumboats, complaining loudly that they'd been shorted their due fee from their temporary "husbands."
Yesterday had been the hands' turn for partings; today it was the gunroom's. Unseemly weepings, wailings, and gnashing of teeth was not their way, not in public, at least.
"'Tis been so good to have you home, even for a few scant ..." Caroline shuddered. "I thought 'twould have been longer. I wished!"
"I know, dearest!" Alan sighed, shuddering himself as he used the wide brims of her stylish bonnet to screen them from the men in the waist — to kiss her soft, sweet lips just one more time, though they'd sworn to settle for last-minute affection in his great-cabins. "But things went so hellish good, so quickly, I ..."
From the corner of his eye, Lewrie espied their new charge, young Sophie, Vicomtesse de Maubeuge, that unfortunate frail orphan of the Terror, and the evacuation of Toulon. Wan, pale ... well not that wan any longer. In fact, she was eyeing him with a suspicious — yet sad — well, call it a leer, damme if he couldn't!
He gulped down his terror of her. Should she ever reveal to Caroline his carousing in the Mediterranean with Phoebe ... ! Quick turn, hugging Caroline harder, turning her so her back was to Sophie and her almost-mocking brow. And to escape that lifted brow as well!
A few more minutes, pray God! he thought fervently. Off and away, then! And if it comes out, I'm a thousand miles alee!
"I'd hoped to be in port longer, as well, love. Get back to Anglesgreen. Let you show me off, hmm?" Lewrie said, essaying his most fetching grin; to tease and dandle his way free. And leave his lovely wife laughing. "Get everything settled before ... Damme, sir! Down! Get down, this instant! What the bloody hell you think you're playing at, young sir?"
"Mon Dieu, merde alors!" Sophie gasped.
"Hugh!" Caroline shrieked. "Baby, don't move!"
Lewrie's youngest son had gotten away from his watchers once more, and had scaled the starboard mizzenmast ratlines. Again! This time, he was halfway to the fighting top!
Alan sprang to the bulwarks, getting a foot up on a carronade slide-carriage, then the blunt iron barrel, to swing into the shrouds and go aloft. "Hang on, lad. Don't go an inch higher, hear me?"
Taut as the mizzen stays were set up, as tensioned as they were through the deadeye blocks, the shrouds thrummed and juddered as Alan fearfully climbed, ratlines quivering with each rushed step.
"But, Daddy ...!" Hugh protested. Aye, he did have a good grip on stays and ratlines, leaning into them; his pudgy little fists were a pink pair of vises on the tarred ropes, yet ...!
Lewrie reached him, came eye level with his son.
"I told you," he panted, fuming. "I told you, you will never do this. It's for seamen, grown men ..."
"But, Daddy, t'other boys ...!" Hugh whined, gesturing briefly to the clutch of snot-nosed ship's boys, the usual mob of Beau-Nasties carried on ship's books as servants; some of whom were only double the total of Hugh Lewrie's precocious, and terrifying, four years.
"Down, I say!" Lewrie barked. "Now! And, carefully!"
"Aww ..." Hugh grumbled, casting one more wistful glance aloft to the topmast truck, which had been his intent. Well, at least the cross-trees, if truth be told.
On deck at last, smudged with tar and slushes, Caroline knelt at his side in a twinkling, to coo and fret, wondering whether Hugh needed cosseting, or another sound thrashing. For foolishness; and for smutting his best suit of clothing, if nothing else.
"M'sieur, pardon!" Sophie reddened. "Ah tak' ma eye off 'eem jus' une moment, et ... forgeev, plais. "
Hmm, I could use this, Lewrie thought, though wishing to tear a strip off her hide, as he would the merest menial. No, he decided; jape his way out. Tug at her heartstrings. And her remorse.
"A thousand pardons, Captain," Lieutenant Ralph Knolles said, doffing his hat in concern that he might be found remiss. "I should have assigned a hand to shepherd the lads. A topman, it appears."
"A topman, indeed, Mister Knolles." Lewrie grinned. "Damme ... he's a little terror, isn't he? Now we know where the next sailor in the family's to come from, hey?"
" Indeed, sir." Knolles smiled in return, with infinite relief.
"Mademoiselle Sophie," Lewrie said, turning to the girl. "Of course, you're forgiven. Nothing to forgive, really. As you become more familiar with us, you'll learn that Hugh will ever be our mischievous little imp. And a prankster. You must watch out for that, so he doesn't use you ill, as boys are wont to do — with sisters. From Sewallis, well ... he's the quiet sort. I'm hoping you'll be a civilizing influence upon Hugh. And an edifying one 'pon Sewallis. As one more beloved member of our house. Dear as an elder sister."
"Merci, m'sieur," Sophie replied meekly, all but chewing her lip in contriteness.
"Well, then ..." Lewrie concluded heartily. "My dear, perhaps we should bundle everyone into the buoy-tender before Hugh discovers the powder room, and erects a sand castle out of cartridges."
It was the perfect note to strike, Lewrie thought; if he did say so himself. Dear as he loved his wife and children — and he did in spite of his dalliances — sweet as it had been to have them down from the country to Portsmouth while Jester had recruited and manned, and as tender and passionate as Alan and Caroline's reunion had been — well, damme if I'm not glad to see the back of 'em, he thought, a touch rueful.
"Hugh!" he called, picking up the lad to bring him eye level again. "You be as good a boy as you can be ... consid'rin'. And, I promise you, when you're older ... next time I'm home, hey? There'll be all the climbing aloft you want. But not before I say, hear me?"
"I promise, Daddy," Hugh replied. And thank God he'd finally learned how to pronounce his R's. "An' then I'll be a sea officer, just like you!" the boy cried, wriggling with delight.
"That you will," he agreed, setting him down. God's teeth, what'd the boy expect, anyway? Second son, and all? It was naval or military service for him. "And Sewallis?"
"Yes, Father?" his eldest replied, ignored in all the confusion, and almost shrugging into himself as the hands of the afterguard trudged by to stations, as sailors and marines prepared to breast to the capstan bars to hoist anchor. Eyes darting constantly, not out of boyish curiosity, Lewrie was certain, but to see if he would be in the way! There'd been moments of folderol, of high cockalorum between them — but only a few — since he'd been "breeched."
Such a grave li'l man, Lewrie thought, with a trace of sadness, as he knelt by his side. "You make us proud at your school, now, hear me? Mind your mother ..."
"I will, sir." Sewallis gulped, tearing up.
"Help make Sophie feel welcome and one of us."
"I will, sir."
"And keep an eye on Hugh. God knows, it takes more than one pair, now, don't it," Alan joshed.
"Good-bye, Father!" Sewallis suddenly wailed, tears flowing for real, and his solemn little face screwed up in pain. He flung himself at Lewrie, who hugged him close. "Wish you didn't have to go!"
"Growl you may, but go ye must, Sewallis," Lewrie told him as he patted his back. "Hush, now. Young gentlemen don't cry! Not in public, at any rate. Talk to your puppies, mayhap, when things are dreadful. They'll always cock an ear to you. That's why I have that damned Toulon. He's a good listener, in the main."
Sewallis, perhaps with good reason, had an abiding fear of cats. Old William Pitt, sensing his shy nature, had taken a perverse delight in tormenting him before he'd passed over. Sewallis's happiest words, all during Lewrie's too-short spell in harbor, had been about dogs; specifically the litter of setter pups a stray bitch had whelped in their barn. Toulon, not to be outdone by his noble predecessor aft in the great-cabins, had spent half of Sewallis's times aboard playing panther-about-to-pounce from any convenient high place, or edging in close to stare at him when the family had dined aboard.
"Daddy ...!" Sewallis shivered, trying to form a thought that simmered in his little head, some last meaningful declaration.
"There, there, little lad," Alan said without listening as he let him go and stood up. "Mind your way down the battens, into the tender. You're big enough, now, not to need a bosun's sling."
"I'll see to 'em, sir," Maggie Cony suggested, with a knowing wink. "Will an' me c'n cosset 'em inta th' boat."
"Aye, thankee kindly, Ma ... Mistress Cony," Lewrie amended.
Her and Cony's own git birthed, and back on her pins nigh on a year, she was a handsome young wench; thatchy-haired like her new husband, blue-eyed, with a face never meant for true beauty, but a strong, open and honest, and pretty, face after all.
"And I'll keep a weather-eye on 'em, sir," Maggie promised. "As Will is wont t'say."
"And I on your man, mistress," Lewrie promised in turn. "Get him back to you, a warranted bosun someday, safe and sound."
That had been a proud and happy moment, to stand up for Cony in a dockside chapel as he took his bride, at last, four-square in his best rig as boatswain's mate, a petty officer, now. Though his swaddled son, born during their last cruise aboard Cockerel, had not taken well to the festivities, and had wailed through half of it.
"Adieu, m'sieur," Sophie said, wan and weepy once again, her green eyes brimming. "Bonne chance."
"Adieu, mademoiselle ... adieu, Sophie," Alan replied, giving her a hug, too. "I trust you'll fall in love with little Anglesgreen. And find peace and contentment there. Fall in love with our family, too. As they already have with you," he stressed, hoping to get one last hint driven home.
"Bonne chance," she said again, stepping back and dropping him an aristocratic curtsy in congé. "An', merci beaucoup for aw' you do pour moi, m'sieur. "
She rose, and fixed him with a curious, hard stare for a trice, her fine reddish-auburn hair flickering about her face and the shroud of her traveling cloak's hood, her green eyes intent in her slim and gamin face. "Poonish ze Republicains zat tuer ... zat keel ma Charles, m'sieur Lewrie. Ah pray fo' you' success."
"Merci." He nodded. "Merci, beaucoup. Caroline ...?"
He gave her his arm to walk her to the starboard entry port, and a waiting bosun's chair slung from aloft on the main-course yard.
"Alan, should the wind not serve ..." she hinted desperately.
"Beat down to Saint Helen's Road, my dear, a few miles, and layto, till one comes fair," he said, a touch of severity in his voice. "Admiral Howe was lucky he had a favorable slant, t'other day. And then, off for Gibraltar, quick as dammit."
Out of long habit, he cast his eyes aloft to the impossibly long and curling coach whip of a commissioning pendant atop the mainmast truck. Then aft, to the Red Ensign that flew over the taffrail on the flagstaff. Red, for an independent ship, one sailing free of fleet or squadron, under Admiralty Orders. A few days before, Portsmouth Harbor had teemed with warships; stately 1st-Rate one hundred-gunners, 2nd Rates, 3rd-Rate seventy-fours, and frigates, from the mouth of Southampton Water down into Spithead, west into the Solent as far as Buckler's Hard. Now, it yawned vast and empty. The French were out. And so was the Channel Fleet, under elderly Admiral Howe.
"But, if ..."
"Admiralty Orders, dearest." He sighed. "With dispatches aboard. 'Make the best of my way, with all dispatch' ... Should the wind come useful, we'd cut cables, instanter, and scud out under jibs and spanker, and no one'd mind us losing our anchors, long as the dispatches were on their way. I'm sorry. I truly am."
Didn't mean t'sound harsh, he told himself; mean ev'ry word of it, swear I do. But, there it is.
"I'm sorry, Alan," Caroline replied weakly, her lips atremble. "'Tis just that I'm selfish for one more hour, half a day ..."
"'Tis just as hard for me, Caroline," he said with some heat. Meaning that, too. "God help women who marry sailors. Even in time o' peace, we're an undependable lot."
God help sailors six months from home, too, Lewrie told himself ruefully; them that can't keep their breeches' flap buttoned! Or their hearts content with what waits for 'em at home.
He'd played up bluff, hearty and cheerful, from his first sight of her, praying he wouldn't give the game away some night in his sleep. By muttering the wrong name in a moment of ecstasy, or those first few muzzy moments 'pon waking. Why, a man'd be a fool, who ...!
Right, then, I'm a fool, he thought; always have been, probably always will be! A proper wife, the mother of three fine children (and thank God for small mercies that little Charlotte was left ashore today at their lodgings — the squally, squawly chub!).
He took Caroline's hands in his, looked deep into her beautiful hazel eyes; those merry loving eyes with the riant laugh-folds beneath which reflected her warmth, her caring, giving cheerfulness. In a face as slim and patrician as anyone at Court. For a year over the dreaded thirty, Caroline was as graceful, as lithe and lovely as a swan, sweet as swan's-down to touch. No, this was no frumpy matron he'd married; not one to surrender easily to hearty country cooking and stoutness.
Caroline ran the farm better than most men, presented him with a clean, orderly, well-run household as gracious, as stylish, as any great-house in England. Though there had not been time to see it, she swore that the gardens, the new furnishings, the finally finished salon and bedchambers for guests, were marvels. Everything Caroline turned her hand to was marvelous; everyone said so! Since their first tumbledown gatehouse home on New Providence, she'd been a wonder when it came to housewifery, at hosting — a spectacular blend of practical frugality when called for, a commonsensical North Carolina plantation domesticity, allied with a rich planter's, a rich squire's, easy and noble airs.
A sensible woman, well-read and so easy to talk to, about silly things, about matters of import beyond the stillroom, nursery, and bloody fashion! Tongue-in-cheek waggish, she could be, too; a grown woman's wry and witty waggishness, not the prattlings of some girlish chit fresh in her first Season in Society, still redolent of milk-pap and primer-level humor.
Excerpted from A King's Commander by Dewey Lambdin. Copyright © 1997 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
A funny thing happens a little past halfway in this story - the narrative shifts. There we are, following Ram Cat Lewrie with every word, when suddenly we're instead looking through the eyes of his arch nemesis. It's a little awkward, even disconcerting, though it switches back to Lewrie in the next chapter. But it mars the author's otherwise fine prose. Granted, it helps the story unfold, but it is most ineloquent. Not that it's serious enough to give up on the series - I'm hooked!