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Captain Nathaniel Drinkwater hauled himself up the companionway against the heel of the ship and stepped on to the quarterdeck. Clapping one hand to his hat he took a quick reef in his billowing cloak with the other and made his way into the partial shelter of the mizzen rigging. 'Morning, sir.' The third lieutenant approached, touched the fore-cock of his hat and added, quite unnecessarily, 'A stiff breeze, sir.' 'Indeed, Mr Frey.' Drinkwater stared aloft, at the whip of the topgallant masts and the flexing of the yards. The wind had veered a touch during the night and had hauled round into the north-west quarter. He knew from the tell-tale compass in his cabin that they were making a good course, but he knew also that the shift of wind would bring bright, squally weather. The first rays of the sun breaking above the cloud banks astern of them promised just such a day. 'Let's hope we've seen the last of that damned rain and sea fret,' Drinkwater said, turning his attention forward again, where the bow swooped, courtseying to the oncoming grey seas. Two days west of the Scillies, clear of soundings and with a fine easterly wind giving them the prospect of a quick passage, the weather had turned sour on them, closed in and assailed them with a head wind and sleeting rain. 'Treacherous month, August,' Mr Wyatt the master had said obscurely. In the breaks between the rain, a thick mist permeated the ship, filling the gun and berth decks with the unmistakable stink of damp timber, bilge, fungus and human misery. The landsmen, yokels and town labourers, petty felons and vagrants swept up by either the press or the corruption of the quota system which allowed substitutes to be bought and sold like slaves, spewed up their guts and were bullied and beaten into the stations where even their puny weight was necessary to work the heavy frigate to windward. In his desperation to man the ship, Drinkwater had written to his old friend, Vice-Admiral Sir Richard White, bemoaning his situation. You have no idea the Extremities ot which we are driven in Manning the Fleet Nowadays. It matches the worst Excesses of the American War. We have every Class of Person, with hardly a Seaman amongst them and a large proportion of Men straight from Gaol. . . Sir Richard, quietly farming his Norfolk acres and making the occasional appearance in the House of Commons on behalf of a pocket borough, had written in reply, My Dear Nathaniel, I send you Two Men whom you may find useful. Though both should be in Gaol, the one for Poaching, the other for Something Worse. I received your Letter the Morning they came before the Bench. Knowing you to be a confirmed Democrat you can attempt their Reformation. I thus console my Guilt and Dereliction of Duty in not having them Punished Properly according to the due forms etc, etc, in sending them to Serve their King and Country. . . Drinkwater grinned at the recollection. One of the men, Thurston, a former cobbler and of whom White had insinuated guilt of a great crime, was just then helping to hang a heavy coil of rope on a fife-rail pin at the base of the main mast. About thirty, the man had a lively and intelligent face. He must have felt Drinkwater's scrutiny, for he looked up, regarding Drinkwater unobsequiously but without a trace of boldness. He smiled, and Drinkwater felt a compulsion to smile back. Thurston touched his forelock respectfully and moved away. Drinkwater was left with the clear conviction that, in other circumstances, they might have been friends. As to the crime for which Thurston had been condemned, it was said to be sedition. Drinkwater's enquiries had elicited no more information beyond the fact that Thurston had been taken in a tavern in Fakenham, reading aloud from a Paineite broadsheet. Sir Richard, not otherwise noted for his leniency, had not regarded the offence as meriting a prison sentence, though conditions in the berth deck were, Drinkwater knew, currently little better than those in a gaol house. Thurston's natural charm and the charge imputed to him would earn the man a certain esteem from his messmates. Prudence dictated Drinkwater keep a weather eye on him. Drinkwater watched the bow of his ship rise and shrug aside a breaking wave. The impact made Patrician shudder and throw spray high into the air where the wind caught it and drove it across the deck to form a dark patch, drenching Thurston and the party of men with whom he went forward. Frey crossed the deck to check the course at the binnacle then returned to Drinkwater's side. 'She's holding sou'west three-quarters west, sir, and I think another haul on the fore and main tacks will give us a further quarter point to the westward.' 'Very well, Mr Frey, see to it.'