As I See Fit: Leavetaking
We're back in 1773, Edward and Amanda are about to end their
honeymoon, and Edwards going back to sea, but first, I think that we should look in
on where we left the contemporaries, in Gibraltar, at the beginnings of
"Fireships". (My favorite, and perhaps the best, chapter of the series.)
"Yes, we're all here now." He muttered, this time
out loud. Turning from the
stern windows he reached for the coffee pot that had been left on the end of
the dinner table. Testing for it's heat by placing the flat of his hand on the
belly of the pot he poured a cup of the weak brew. The silver sugar bowl was
full and he added a teaspoon of the rough refined stuff to the water. He sat
back down at the desk, his worn journal open across a new stack of pristine
white fine writing paper.
A light charged gun boomed across the harbor, a salute! He
jumped back up,
something to break into this dark reverie. Grabbing for his hat on it's peg, he
missed, knocking it to the deck, in a second he'd scooped it up and was out
He reached the waist in time to hear Bracegirdle call to the
Before an answer could come back, the answering salute from
the sloop began.
She was coming in to the harbor head on, a lithe thing, almost alive. An
instant of remembrance for the little Aurilie, his first command. He saw the sails
begin to disappear smartly as the ship hove to, a bright red, white and blue
flag with white stars fluttering in the slight breeze. An American, by God!
Bracegirdle and Bowles stood at the sternpost, long glasses
at their eyes, so
intent on their inspection they had not heard him step up behind them. "Smart
handled ain't she?" Bracegirdle exclaimed.
"Yes!" Bowles answered, still concentrating. "Eighteen
guns, eight to a side
and two stern chasers. A pretty set of heels I will bet she can show too."
"I should think so. Volunteers aren't they?"
"Yes, every man jack of 'em."
"I don't even see a ropes end among the warrants."
"I wish we could recruit like that. Imagine a crew who
wanted to sail for
"Gig's pulling away."
Pellew had heard enough. "Report, Mr. Bracegirdle!"
"Sorry, sir," that officer replied, "United
States ship Argus, eighteen,
"Your glass, Mr. Bracegirdle!" Anthony handed it
over. Pellew quickly put the
telescope to his eye. "Damn my eyes, Nate!" he muttered. "Now we really are
"Nothing, Mr. Bracegirdle, just ghosts out to haunt us."
Pellew slammed the
glass shut and held it out to his first officer, who took it nonplussed. The
captain strode away from the two men.
Bracegirdle, a concerned look on his cherubic face, started
after him. The
master stopped him with a hand to his arm and a shake of the head. "Leave him
alone, Anthony. He has to work through this on his own."
"Mr. Bowles, I think you know more than you are telling."
"I've known the man for a very long time, Tony. I wish
to God we weren't in
this place." Bowles turned back to his duties, Bracegirdle did the same.
Hanging his hat on it's accustomed peg, he pulled out his watch,
the dark haired woman in the case. A memory that was both as clear as the
diamonds he had brought back to her from the south seas and as clouded as the
skies had been that morning when they coached into Portsmouth after that too brief
"Amanda, if I didn't have this picture, would I even remember
your face?" His
finger gingerly touched the timeworn miniature. It was beginning to flake
away, the years of seawater and continuous use taking it's toll. "Should I just
let you go, my hearts love? Should I just let you go? I did once before, and my
heart was torn asunder." He sat back down at his desk, an idle hand picked up
his pen, ready to sign off on some paperwork. His eye caught the Argus and
the pen hit the desk, making no sound at all. The ticking of his watch the only
sound in his ears, to his mind it became the clop of horses hooves on
The sea was strong in his nostrils, they had been on the road
morning. The inn where they had spent the night far behind them. The two months
and some weeks had passed like a flash of gunpowder down into the touch hole of
an eighteen pounder. There were so many things that they had not done, tasks,
some important ones, were skipped as they closeted themselves in the hunting
lodge that was to be her home while their house, if you could call the pocket
castle that, was being built for them. He had not introduced her into society,
she had assured him that she would be fine. They had not acquired a full
staff, she had no maid to tend to her, she assured him that she would procure a
steady woman immediately on her return.
She had paid attention to business affairs though, he vividly
sitting in the middle of Lord Scargrove's parlor. Lady Scargrove and her three
daughters were playing and singing for him. They were truly accomplished and he
was enjoying it outwardly, but inside he was fuming. Amanda and Jack Flower,
the business manager for the mills were shut up with Lord Scargrove going over
accounts and taking care of other business that now required her attention.
Every minute he had been away from her was almost unbearable.
seven days remained of his official leave, and they still had not made it to
their own property near Teignmouth. Amanda had the plans for their new house in
her trunk, drawn from her own sketches by a draughtsman in Boston.
He had been invited to sit in on the meeting earlier in the
day, but it had
very quickly gone over his head, as much as ships business had confounded her
at first. She still did not understand trestletrees and he had no idea of what
warp and weft were and the intricate workings of a water powered loom,
something that she found as simple as a set of stays, confused him. He only knew that
he could wear the final product, and indeed, at that moment his linen was
The difference between Amanda now and Amanda in Boston was
startling. She had
grown up on that trip across the North Atlantic. Pregnancy had smoothed the
rough edges. Having men and boys die under her ministrations had aged her
quickly. He was not sure he was happy with the changes - he missed the spontaneity.
His love had grown too. She had become a piece of him, flesh of his flesh,
bone of his bone. He counted the moments away from her as a deep loss. He
wondered how he could take being separated from her at the end of their twenty seven
Lord Scargrove had put them into two separate rooms on their
arrival, it was
customary and Edward understood it, but it had lasted about an hour after they
had retired. She quietly tapped on his door, and he quickly admitted her, her
dressing gown and night clothing on the floor before the door was closed.
When she emerged from his room to run directly into Lady Scargrove the living
arrangements were immediately changed. Dear Lord, he loved waking up next to her.
He looked over at her, now seated in the coach next to him,
her bonnet in her
lap, the white matrons cap, a fanciful, light thing covering her pinned up
braids. A proper married lady. Her hand snaked to his thigh. 'Proper my arse!'
he thought, a grin spreading across his face, his hand covered hers, guiding
her fingers where he would. A glint of sunshine flashed in his eye. The sea!
He craned his head around the post of the carriage door, he
had to see. There
spread before him was the harbor, alive with ships, boats coming and going
between them and the hard. He searched for the golden serpent that he knew would
be there awaiting his every whim. He never noticed when she took back her
Finally, there in mid harbor, two lighters tied along side,
swayed up. No commissioning pennant at her mizzen, that was stowed away in the
dispatch case on the other seat. He couldn't tear his eyes away from that gold
painted serpent. Dimly he was aware that they had stopped in the congestion of
drays and handcarts that was before the hard. He touched her knee, "Is it all
right with you?"
"Of course!" He could hear the laughter in her voice
as he grabbed his case
and bolted from the coach. "Teddy!" he was already half way across the crowded
"Yes?" He shouted back.
"Remember to take a boat! Don't swim!"
"Of course, m'dear." He looked back once more but
O'Hearn had been able to
move the coach and they were gone from his view. He had not noticed that he had
run halfway down the hard and his shoes were being nibbled at by the lapping
of the wavelets He only had eyes for his mistress, her shining gold painted
figurehead pulling forward in answer to the rocking of the sea against her
anchor. She seemed to be straining to meet him.
She was just as handsome as she was the first time he had seen
her. Not as
fleet of foot as the little Aurilie had been, but then the Aurilie could not
boast the hefty broadside of the Altimira either.
"A boat!" Mandy was right, he was ready to wade out
to her. Waving his arms
he got the attention of a four oared dingy, not even big enough to carry an
officer and his sea chest, but definitely big enough to carry a single captain to
his command. It seemed only a moment before he was close enough to touch her
coppering. "Pull me around her."
"It'll cost you extra."
"That is fine, just do it!"
The man was a little taken aback, "Aye aye, Captain."
'Civilians.' He thought as the dingy rounded the port quarter,
the stern, so
very high from this view point, loomed over them as his inspection proceeded.
The wood was freshly painted and the copper repairs were nearly undetectable,
The Plymouth dockyard had done her proud.
"What side, sur?"
"Larbord. If you please." No ceremony this time,
no that was for later. That
was for tomorrow. The challenge hailed from the deck.
"Altimira!" The stroke oar thrust four fingers straight
up. Pipes began to
shrill, not as many as if he was coming up starboard, but enough to bring Baines
to the side.
"Captain Pellew, sir!" a grin split the first officers face.
"Mister Baines!" Standing, he lunged for the ladder and began the climb.
They walked the ship together, still not fully crewed, the
remainder of the
sea going men would be coming aboard in the next few days. The spaces below
seemed wide, no jumble of men and tackle to hamper their stride. He ran his
fingers along the railings that were in splinters the last time he had seen her.
The smoothness was almost sensual, he turned away before his first officer
could see his face. This truly was his mistress. Amanda need not fear a human
female, only this wooden thing, alive under his feet. This ship could not bear his
children, or keep him warm in the early morning, but she still held sway over
him as surely as the woman who waited for him in town.
It was wonderful to feel the sea, the pitch and roll, even
tethered as she
was, as she worked at her anchor. He had almost pitched over the gangway into
the sea when a swell lifted the ship. His sea legs wouldn't be back until he had
been out of harbor and into the open water for a few days. Until
then....well, he had to be careful when he put his feet down and where. He had seen the
veiled laughter of Baines as he lunged toward the ladder rope and hung on for
dear life. At least his admiral hadn't seen him.
Life in the King's service. A hard life sometimes, but rich
in it's own way,
Edward Pellew stood in his own cabin. Steward bustling around him, tidying
quarters with a feather brush. He heard his gig being lowered into the water.
It's crew would be dressed in their very best for his return to the shore. All
new rigs for the men. Sent to Plymouth before the Altamira sailed for
Portsmouth. A last minute decision and a gift from his wife. The trappings of rank. He
stopped just inside the door, Baines just behind him, hat in hand.
His quarters were different, broken into three divisions, a
sleeping nook to
his left and his quarter gallery to the right, both doors open and their
furnishings, the porcelain washbowl on one side and the single hanging cot on the
other were visible. Single. It struck him immediately, he'd grown so used to
her beside him that he hadn't really realized that he'd be sleeping alone.
The thought only lasted a moment before his eyes fell on his
writing desk. A
long pendant, his commissioning pendant, and an admiralty seal on a canvas
envelope, his orders.
"Wine, sir?" The steward started to reach toward the spirit chest.
"A moment, sir." The man, new to him and assigned
the post by Baines, bowed
and made his exit. Edward seated himself, dismissing Baines as well. A few
quiet moments before officially putting his mistress back into active service. He
heard, over his head, (a comforting sound indeed) the scuffle of feet as the
divisions formed. He broke the admiralty seal and opened the pouch.
His orders, an invitation and a pair of letters, one from Charlie
were inside. He opened the invitation first. Tomorrow he and Amanda would join
Montague and other officers at the theater for a performance of an adaptation
of "Pamela". That novel had traveled throughout the south of England with them
at Amanda's fingertips. He wasn't thrilled with the expectation that he would
enjoy it, even with the young Miss Siddons in the leading role.
The minute chores of taking command held him late, the church
completed ten rings as his own crew pulled him ashore. He walked to the hotel and
was shown to their rooms. The bed-sitter was dark, the only light was from the
fire in the small grate. He could hear her soft snore as he shed his clothing,
and slipped in beside her.
Turning to him and rolling into his arms she snaked a hand
around his waist.
They assumed what had become their familiar intimate repose. "You are late."
Not an accusation or even a question, but a simple statement.
"Yes, I told you that you should have stayed in Teignmouth."
She nuzzled his
cheek, he responded in kind.
"I know, but I couldn't, I just could not." He didn't
answer, but tightened
his grasp around her.
The child was apparent now, he could see, even when she was
swathed in the
saque gowns she favored and that looked so good on her even when she was not
with child. He was sure, very sure, that he did not care for the fashions of the
day. Voluminous skirts and hard as a board bodices. Those bodices did show a
good bit of breast though, a good bit more of his wife shown off to others,
than he thought proper. She wasn't going to be pregnant forever.
He slid his hands down, cradling his child between his interlaced
"Baby Pellew," he whispered, not to disturb his sleeping wife, "Your papa loves
you very much." How often had he thought those words since she had finally
told him of her pregnancy. In a few days they would be separated, she would bear
the child while he was gone, that was a surety, things did go wrong in
childbed. That he knew, her own mother...that memory had been banished from his mind
till now, he fought to thrust it away again.
Amanda had assured him that she would be fine. The child would
be healthy and
they both would be waiting for him whenever he could come home. He felt that
she probably was right, but here, in the dark of night, red glow from the
coals, like that of hell itself, flickering on the ceiling, black thoughts reared
their ugly heads. He might never see her again. 'Is my mistress worth that?'
He questioned silently. He was not sure of the answer.
He could feel the cords which had so lately bound them together
part, one by one, each stinging like the bite of the lash. He lay awake, listening
to her even breaths, not able to sleep, his mind busy with a thousand things,
none of which had anything to do with her. He heard the bells all around them
begin to clang, tolling the eight bells that ended the first watch. Tomorrow,
or rather today, he would report formally to the port admiral, and their
honeymoon would be over.