As I See Fit - Part 4
At Edward's command the Altamira spread her normal sails and her bow nosed southwest away from Kingston, Port Royal and Spanish Town. He turned from the land and toward the sea. The bow plunged as she flew toward the headland. Her bottom was clean new copper and with no hamper to slow her down, her way under plain sail was all he could ask of any ship. Rimble caught his attention, pointing back at the Emerald. The first was laughing, and Edward did too, the Emerald was having to spread her royals and studding sails to keep up with Altamira.
"You know, Captain, we'll have to shorten sail to keep in station."
"I know, but not yet. Let the lady have her head for awhile. Let's let our senior captain be the one to call us back!" While he did not grin he did smile, the Captain of the Altamira was very pleased with himself and his ship. "Have someone keep an eye out for signals from the august Captain Gainesborough."
"Very well, sir." From the sound of Rimble's voice he was just as pleased as his commander.
Pellew saw the top of Amanda's planter's hat, held solidly in place by her left hand, her wedding ring glinting in the sunlight. Her other hand was in Charlie Hammond's elbow. He was leading her forward, probably to watch the waves cleaved in two by the Altamira's bow. He was sobered seeing them together, the smile went from his face to be replaced by a mask of non-emotion, the men around him did not need to know that he was jealous of his best friend doing what he could not.
As he looked away, he met the third lieutenant's eyes, eyes which turned from his captain to Amanda and Charlie Hammond, who were loudly enjoying the topsy turvy ride the Altamira was giving to Amanda, who did not have her sea legs. Lieutenant Josiah Baines was new to the ship, one of the last aboard with his papers in his hand with the last contingent of men from the admiral. He had been exchanged out of another ship and Edward did not have time to refuse him. There was something about the fellow that Pellew did not like, a deadness around the man's eyes and a sulleness in his manner.
He turned his attention back to the ship, and in glancing forward saw Hammond steady Amanda by a hand in the small of her back as she climbed the ladder to the forecastle.
Hammond had watched Amanda's face as she had seen the sails begin to spread and the bow begin to bite into the waves. Pure delight! How fortunate was Edward Pellew to have a woman who loved the sea. She stumbled into him as the deck fell from beneath her feet, he stood her up and made her sit on the bowchasers carriage. "Be careful until you get your sea legs, Amanda. Edward would never forgive me if you staggered over the side. You don't get seasick do you?"
"Never before, Charlie. I don't think I will now." She said as she held onto the gun tackle for dear life as the deck rose with the swell.
"War ships are a bit lively Amanda. If you start to feel sick, let me know so I can get you below so you can throw up in peace."
"Thank you, Charlie, I will remember that."
Sometime during the night, they had turned north, and shortened sail to let the Emerald remain in company.
At breakfast, Amanda ate with enjoyment, proving her prediction about sea sickness, she had no problems. When they finished eating, Edward dug out a pair of trousers from his sea chest. Handing them to her, he asked her to take them in so she might wear them comfortably, then report on deck.
"In trousers? Report?"
He picked up the hem of her dress. "Yes, there are some things you can't do on deck in all these draperies. I want to show you something."
"Very well, Captain."
"Wear that hat, too, but tie it on, and pin it, it needs to stay on your head."
The trousers were loose through the thighs, for Edward was a powerfully built man. However, when Mrs. Grimes had let them out a bit around the hips and when the buckle at the back was adjusted and she had got all the buttons fastened on both flys, they fit fairly well.
When she appeared on deck in them, she was a bit apprehensive, but Edward, seeing her, handed his coat to Grimes and took the telescope that was held out to him. He led her to the foremast. She had gained her sea legs and changed her balance as the ship rolled. He boosted her up into the shrouds, imploring her to hold to the shrouds, not the ratlines and asking for her to wait for him to place her feet before she moved upwards.
He stopped her, her head and shoulders poking through the lubbers hole, while he came up the futtock shrouds, then he pulled her the rest of the way into the fighting top. "This is as high as we go today." He shouted at her, above the wind, that filled the course below and the fore top above them. "We're sixty feet up from the fore deck and swinging through about a thirty five degree arc." He made the arc with his hands. He sat her down cross-legged and he dangled his feet over the edge.
"You can see twelve miles out up here. I like to go higher," He pointed upward to the cross trees. "But not today." The sun was beginning to die in the west. "Rimble's going to clear for action in a few minutes. We sit still, they will go around us."
She opened the telescope and looked to the east, where the sky was edging into night. "I thought I saw something." She dropped the lens from her eye and re-sighted. "Edward, there's a ship out there." He took the glass from her, standing braced against the mast, he saw the topsails of another vessel pacing them, but too far out to determine who or what it was.
"Deck there!" He yelled down to the quarter deck, "Mr. Pengarth!" To the midshipman in the main top, "Keep an eye on that ship and signal the Emerald."
He sat back down, and stared forward, past the bowsprit and the jibs. She followed his gaze. "What do you see Edward?"
"I'm trying to see the future, Amanda. All I see is an empty ocean and a dying day." He took her hand as the top men and Marines poured up from the deck below to man the main and upper yards.
"The future is what we make it, Edward." She laced her fingers through his. "Together."
"How do you like this life? Here on the ship, I mean."
She looked down, watching the seamen stand to their guns, then aft to the spar deck where the ship's boats were being hoisted out and into the sea. "It's almost like a dance, isn't it?. The way they go to the guns and ready them, and sending the ship's boats over the side.
"I'm not sure what I expected. I had heard tales of keelhauling and a marlinspike gag, I've not seen them used, nor.." and she stopped, he realized she thought better of what she was going to say.
"No, not on my ship. If punishment is merited, believe me, Amanda, I am equal to administering it. But, it will fit the crime. That's not what I meant. Do you think you would like to go with me? Not stay ashore I mean."
"But, what about children, Edward, we haven't taken any pre.." He interrupted her.
"Shh, not in front of the men. If children come, they come. But I'd rather they not come all that soon."
She tightened her fingers on his. "I'm not sure we have a lot of control over that, Captain." The men were recalled from their action stations and they were left alone. "I don't ever want to be separated from you. I will go wherever you want me to go." He looked at her face, there was something else there, but it was lost in the twilight. She leaned back against him. "The stars, Teddy, they are so bright!"
"We are away from any other light, only the stern lantern and the running lights. There's nothing to block them out or dim them. Here." He pulled over a folded up t'gallant sail and laid his head and shoulders on it. He motioned her down to lie head to head, she using his shoulder for a pillow. They watched the night sky and the crosstrees swinging above them. He began to point out constellations and navigation stars. She answered him at first. He didn't notice the answers getting further and further apart. Something blew across his face and he wiped at it. Hair! He looked to his right and saw her face in the light of the rising moon, she was sound asleep, head nestled into his neck, her nose almost in his ear.
This was the second night she had fallen asleep while he was talking to her, was he that boring? He turned on his side, fingers drawing her hair from her face. "Mandy, wake up. Is there anything wrong? Are you sick?" She sat up, he restrained her movement. "Remember where you are. It's a good size drop to the deck. Let's get you down."
"Edward, I love it up here." She said as she stood, holding to crosstree shrouds. He drew his glass open and gazed at the speck of light off to the east. "She's still there?" Amanda asked.
"Yes. I can see her stern lantern. She wants us to know she's still with us." The answer trailed off. He could feel himself biting into his lower lip, he stopped, dropping the telescope from his eye and turning to her. The moon was rising behind her and the hat hung from around her neck, her hair flying free. "Let's get you down and in bed, m'dear. We are in the trade routes and it could be anything." She looked hard into his face. What was it betraying?
"Mr. Rimble," Edward said as they sat in the coach
the next morning, "It's taking us too long to clear."
"We don't have enough men to take care of all the guns at once, sir."
"I have an idea, do not hesitate to let me have your thoughts. We will load every third gun, seal the tompions and plug the vents. Put some kind of marker on them, a piece of red cloth, or something to make sure that everyone knows which cannon are ready to fire. Every week we draw the charges and check the guns. That will keep us from having to load every one from scratch. When we clear, the gun crews next to these guns will draw the plugs and run out the gun. Will that work?"
"We could do the same with some of the unused spaces sir, clear them and just leave them cleared. Since we're not fully crewed, we have open spaces below."
"Let's do it. Bennington, Rimble, make it so." A knock was heard at the coach door. "Come!"
It was the signal midshipman, "Emerald has signaled sir, they are going to challenge the following ship and request that you shorten sail to keep in general company."
"I'll come." Moments later all three stood on the quarter deck watching the Emerald veer off to starboard to challenge the strange sail. "Grimes!"
"Aye sir." His servant was always where he needed to be, 'Bless you Amanda for finding this man.'
"Bring me the come up glass." He returned his gaze through his regular telescope. "She looks like she is moving away from the Emerald. I know she has packed on some sail. What the hell is going on? A merchantman would have heaved to." He said to no one in particular.
"Here, sir." Edward traded glasses with his steward.
"Thank you, Grimes." He said meeting the mans eyes. He clapped the glass to his eye, steadying it against the shrouds of the mizzen. The images divided in the eyepiece. "They are running away from Emerald, Mr. Bennington. It's going to take Gainesborough a while to beat back, shorten sail again, if you please."
It had taken the Emerald a good hour to beat back to the Altamira. There was no notice given for the second shortening of sail that kept a better station. Edward expected none. Every glass was trained off to the east, and they looked for the reappearance of that ship.
The ship did not reappear that day. However, at daybreak on the next the sail appeared, still keeping station on the Emerald and Altamira. An idea had been scratching at his mind all night. With a couple of signal hoists and an answer, the Altamira shortened sail and came under the Emeralds lee. Edward was pulled across to Gainsborough's ship.
The older captain received Pellew in his cabin. No refreshment was offered, Edward laid out his plan and waited for a response.
"So, what you would do is have us drop back, let the Altamira pack on all regular sail and see if that ship will take the bait and come after you? Is that right? You would not engage if they fired on you?"
"I would not engage without reason sir. My orders are no offensive actions. They don't say I cannot fight back if necessary. The Emerald would be up with us quickly if the need arose. At least we would be able to determine who they are and why they are following us." Edward stood motionless, holding his hat in his hand.
"I do not know, Pellew, I do not know."
"It would be better, at least for Altamira, if we faced them now with both ships in company, instead of between Boston and Portsmouth." 'I don't dare add 'alone'' he thought, 'That will smack of cowardice instead of prudence.'
"My orders say escort, Captain Pellew. I cannot support an offensive action." Pellew knew he had said too much. He should have worded it so that it seemed to be Gainesborough's idea. "We will make the fastest passage to Boston that we can. And we will let that ship alone as long as she makes no offensive action." Gainesborough continued.
"Yes, sir." Edward felt his face freeze in position, he was sure that the following ship would be waiting outside Boston harbor when they took passage for England; with no escort and a not much bigger crew. He did not have a good feeling about this, not a good feeling at all.
As soon as the door slammed shut on the coach, he let the scowl descend. In the past hour he had felt all kinds of emotions, from indignance that Gainesborough was not far thinking enough to take action, anger at himself for not pushing the point and terror that in the near future he would be pulled into an action not of his making with his wife and best friend aboard, an action that was almost doomed to failure.
He dumped his coat and hat on the bench seat and dumped himself in the only armchair in the small cabin. He held his forehead in his left hand, elbow balanced on the arm of the chair and his right draped across his thigh. Mandy's light knock sounded on the door. He was tempted to turn her away, but she was not a crewman, she was his wife, "Come".
She carried the cocoa pot she had taken from Grimes. She sat it down in front of him. "Edward, do you know that when you frown like that you have a little upside down Y on your forehead?" She drew it on her own face, smiled at him and poured him a cup of the hot brew. His face relaxed, leaving a blank expression, devoid of any feeling. He reached for her hand across the table, she sat on the bench seat and they drank their cocoa without talking.
Twelve days of repetition, Their walk in the morning, followed by breakfast, noon sightings, tending the youngsters lessons, Mandy helped there, he had a good head for the mathematics and navigation, but language and classics? Going to sea so young and no formal education, hampered him in being able to assist with the finer arts. But this day, two days out from Boston was different.
"Mandy, you need to go below today after your lessons. And I would prefer you stay until I come or Charlie comes to get you." He didn't let her ask the question. "I have had insubordination to one of the officers. I must deal with it. You don't need to see." He took her elbow and led her forward to where the youngsters waited.
"Does the man deserve to be whipped?"
"Yes, I told you I would not order punishment if it were not needed. This is. The man had been warned by his officer, and by myself not to repeat the offense. He did, this is warranted. Grimes will be coming to the main cabin this afternoon to set up for the officers and some of the mids. We drop anchor day after tomorrow and I have invited them to dinner." They ducked into the companion way to the forecastle where the youngsters were assembled. His arm slipped around her waist and down her hip. "Would you care for company after our dinner?"
"If I can stay awake for it." They walked into the midshipmen's berth. "Millie found me face down at table, fast asleep yesterday afternoon. The minute I stop moving, I'm gone."
He turned a worried face to her. "Are you sure you're all right?
"Yes perfectly fine." He tightened his arm around her, her step was light enough and her color high, and her hands were warm, he had no reason to disbelieve her.
With Amanda at the end of his table, it seemed more like a family gathering with Rimble, Pengarth, Buckland and three of the younger midshipmen than a captains table. Pengarth, who was to Amanda's right, poured her wine and Buckland was presented with the lobscouse to dish out. After the first glass of wine, Grimes discreetly took away the glass and returned with a cup and saucer. Edward caught her look of puzzlement as the pot of tea was brought. Grimes lingered a moment at her elbow. "Mrs. Grimes said to bring it to you."
"I shall speak to her later." Amanda said and returned to the conversation. The wine glass was returned with the last course, a big lump of whitish brown pudding in the middle of a platter with a bowl of yellow colored brandy scented sauce. Amanda leaned around in her chair to get a different look at it.
"It's a drowned baby!" Exclaimed Pengarth with joy. "How wonderful!"
"Well, Mr. Pengarth, why don't you serve it up!" Pellew said from the end of the table, he had not had to keep the conversation going, he had gotten them started and he had just eaten and watched his young officers keep his wife entertained. Now Amanda was fully taken up by the white slimed pudding slice that Rimble was spooning a crème sauce over. When the plate was placed in front of her, she pushed at the pudding with her fork. "It's like your New England bread pudding, Mrs. Pellew, except it's got a half pound of beef fat and it's boiled forever. It's one of my favorites."
"Well, if its your favorite, Sir, would you like a double slice?" Pengarth asked without apologizing for breaking in on his Captain's words. Edward had to smile and laugh at his eagerness.
"Young man, of course, get it on the plate so we can eat it while it's hot!" He could tell Mandy wasn't quite sure what to do with the slab of pudding. She tried to cut it with the edge of her fork. That didn't work, she finally cut it with her knife and tasted a piece with a little white rind about it. He could tell she was not impressed. "Try it with the sauce." He added.
That was better, her eyes brightened a little as she cut off another bite. He smiled as she started to make inroads on her serving, the little laugh lines crinkling around his eyes. His own serving disappeared with frightening swiftness.
The watch was called, and the group broke up, half of them reporting on deck the others vanishing below decks. He wrapped her in his boat cloak and they walked the ship. His eyes kept glancing eastward, the light still followed the Emerald and the Altamira. The air was growing colder, they were out of the southern trades, this was winter setting in. A change of seasons. "It will be Christmas in a couple of weeks, Mandy."
"Our first, as husband and wife, Edward." They mounted the quarter deck ladder and moved to the starboard rail close to the stern. They stood in the light of the lantern. He turned around, his back against the rail, deliberately shutting off the view of the vessel he could not do anything about. He slipped his hand beneath the boat cloak, pulling her close.
"I will have to tend to the ship while we are in Boston, but I should have time to meet most of those in-law cousins you've brought me." She wrapped her left arm across his and caressed his shoulder with the other.
"Do you have regular clothes, Captain? I have never seen you in anything except your u-nee-forms. I fear that I may put you in a bad position. These people are involved with the "Sons of Liberty", Edward, I don't think wearing your uniform would be a good thing."
"Are you embarrassed of me, Mandy?"
"No, I'm thinking about your comfort in this situation. Among my cousins, you will have no problems, no matter what you wear, but amid the other colonists? You might be treated with ill respect."
"Well, I have none. I have not needed them. Until now."
"Maybe a suit of father's would fit?" He doubted it. Lawrence was taller and broader across the shoulders than he.
"I don't know, maybe Millie and you could do something to take them up?"
"Edward, I'm not that good with a needle, if we need to take it in or let it out, we need to start tomorrow morning. Can we go to see if father is still up?"
Stanfield, Rimble and Hammond were in the ward room when Edward had knocked and made sure that it was clear for a woman to enter. Now all three of them were perusing the four suits that Lawrence had dug from his chest. Edward stood in shirt and small clothes trying on each one in turn. They all agreed on a suit the color of burgundy wine, the breeches were too big, but Mrs. Grimes, who was called in after he was dressed, said that they could be taken in, but the coat, she was not sure, although the other coats would not do at all, the rejected coats had full cuffed sleeves. The cuffs and lower sleeves would have to be picked apart before they could be shortened.
Edward, therefore stood in a frock coat with plain, slashed sleeves that hit his hands around the first knuckle. Millie, her sewing basket open, chalked the tucks that would have to be taken across his shoulders, waist and arms.
"Captain," Amanda said, looking up from the pincushion she held for Millie, "If we have time, you really should get a suit of your own in Boston. This one is almost too big to take up."
"Mrs. Pellew," Edward replied, "I'm not as big a man as you think I am, in most respects." Her critical look at him caused Hammond and Rimble to get up and stand beside him. Both of them bested him by three or four inches at the shoulder. Lawrence couldn't keep himself from adding to the trio, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Rimble. No wonder the clothes did not fit. He tugged up the breeches, waiting for Millie to make her marks on them too.
Pengarth rushed in the door, "Excuse me, sir, ohh ha, ha!" He said on seeing the quartet with his august captain, his too large clothes hanging about his frame.
"Mis-tar Pengarth!" Pellew roared, the laughing stopped.
"Oh yes, Mr. Buckland's respects, he would like to shorten sail, the Emerald is falling behind."
"That should have been the first thing out of your mouth, Mr. Pengarth. Very well, I'll come." He shrugged off the coat, leaving the gray weskit and burgundy breeches in place. He brushed Mandy's hand as he walked by, exchanging a promising touch with her, the other hand holding on to his trousers.
Why was the Emerald lagging? Her headway had fallen off and she was turning to larboard. "We will have to catch her up, Mr. Buckland, prepare come about." His eye was glued to his night glass, the Emerald's stern lantern did not shed much light, but he could see that the quarter deck had twice as many people on it than was normal. Damn these winds, they had been coming from the southwest all day, but now, now they almost had died away. Maybe the Emerald couldn't make any way at all. If that was the case, she should have just gone dead in the water, not slewed off to one side.
"Call the off watch, Mr. Rimble." The first had joined him, his own telescope up to his eye. "Quietly, no pipes, word of mouth only, and have the armourer pass out boarding weapons, also, get someone to hang a lantern in the bow rigging and douse this one. Let's make every effort to seem to be continuing north. Man the guns on the starboard side. We will come up on the port tack, that will give you a good broadside if we need it."
"Aye sir." Rimble walked briskly from the deck. The quartermaster doused the light beside him. He put the telescope down between his feet and reached back for the buckle over his buttocks, maybe he could tighten these things up a bit. 'I can't go into battle like this! This is ridiculous.'
"Mr. Pengarth, get the passengers to action stations, don't let my wife give you any problems, tell her "the captain" say it's an order." The boy quietly went below, Edward watched him, the middy was serious about his duty, then his eyes returned to watching the Emerald, coming up slowly before him. "Thank goodness there's no moon to speak of tonight." He muttered to himself.
"I want to go around them to the east, to appear out of their stern to anyone on the other side, I do not want to be in boarding distance until I know with some certainty what is going on. Can I leave this in your hands? We will have to come up against the wind if we need to board."
"Of course, sir."
Pellew thanked the master. There was no need of the glass now, he could see plainly into the Emerald. Nothing seemed amiss, only too many people on deck. His crew, as the tension lessened, was beginning to relax and talk amongst themselves. Rimble called out for quiet.
The men in the launch in the Emerald's lee, shouted when they saw the Altamira glide around the stern. Edward grabbed the shrouds of the mizzen and hoisted himself atop the rail. Gainsborough stood in the stern sheets of the launch. Pellew felt the buckle on the back of the breeches that he had twisted and tried to knot together give way
"Are you safe, Captain Gainesborough?" He shouted as Mr. Bennington let fly the sheets and got the way off her. He stuck his hand in one of the fly pockets and grabbed the waistband.
"Perfectly fine, Captain Pellew, if you are Captain Pellew in those clothes! And why are you addressing me with your hand in your pocket sir?"
'I am a post captain, not a midshipman, how dare he say that to me!' He thought as he descended to the deck. "Very well, Captain Gainesborough." He turned back to his own ship. "Get us back on station, Mr. Bennington, then await the Emerald's getting under way, before following suite." 'Damn, I won't let that old codger see he's pissed me off.' He thought. 'I come around to support him and all he can do is think about what I'm wearing.'
As he stood, glowering, by the helmsman, he could hear the captain of the Emerald as Gainesborough regained the deck of his own ship. "Damn your eyes, you were to hail me if the Altamira turned back, were you not watching! Not attentive to your duty, I see you never forget your orders again!" The man's words were harsh and Amanda, who had been summoned from the orlop, overheard the last of them.
"Should they have seen us, Edward? You had darkened the ship and there was no noise."
"Yes, they should have, I would be ordering floggings on my own ship if it had happened to us. Look forward into the foretop, what do you see?"
"A man looking west and another north."
"Are there ships that way?"
"None that I can see."
"If there were, those men would see them. At sea, Amanda, preparedness is everything. A commander has to know what will happen before it occurs. Lack of discipline and order causes lives to be lost. I will not have it." The off watch was returning below, low conversations starting between some of the seamen. Buckland started to call for silence, Pellew shook his head. "Not now, Mr. Buckland, a little talking won't hurt them, or us."
He turned back to Amanda, "I wanted to tell that old sod that I was trying to hold up my pants so he would not see a dishonorable part of me." She went down the ladder ahead of him, he followed her to the main cabin. "Is Millie still up? Can she mark these breeches tonight? Then would you like to see a still more dishonorable part of me?" They were past the sentry and into more private quarters.
"I think the question is, husband, do you want Millie to see you tonight?" She laughed as she gently pushed him against the still closed door of the main cabin, her hands snaking about his waist and under the very loose waistband. "You don't need to have these altered at this moment, they are staying up quite nicely by themselves. Come to bed, Edward.
Buckland stood across the table in the coach from Pellew, who was seated on the bench. Buckland's certificates between them on the table. "Why did not you tell me this before? I could have used a full watch keeper!" Pellew's voice was just under a roar. "Now you expect me to put you up for examination in Boston?"
"I..I don't know, I did not expect to be.." The man's words trailed off.
"Expect to be what? When I took you into this ship it was as a volunteer! I knew that you have some sea time and had been a middy, but why didn't you bring these to me when we mustered in Jamaica?"
"Expect to be accepted."
"Accepted? Accepted! Good God man, you can not wait for someone to accept you! You must put yourself forward. No one will ever take you seriously until you can do that!" Pellew slapped a hand down on the papers before him, almost jumping up from his seat. 'I would have rated you an 'acting' from the start. Then you would have sat for your examination in Boston as soon as I could have arranged it. And.." He turned, facing the bulkhead. "And you would have had some time already credited to you."
Buckland stared at a point somewhere on the same bulkhead. He did not speak.
"Well, you have cost me at least a man on this voyage. I have had to keep a master's mate on deck when you have stood watch when I did not have to. I could have used that man somewhere else."
"I am sorry for that circumstance."
"I dare say you are." He pushed the papers back to Buckland. "I'll let you know about your examination when we reach Boston. Between now and then, you will be a watch keeper, taking my middle watch. I will have Rimble readjust the watch bill. You may go."
"Thank you, sir."
His only answer was a throaty growl from his captain as he closed the coach door behind him. 'What had the man been thinking of?' Pellew thought, 'Maybe a better question is what was I thinking of? I should have asked for those papers when he first came on board. I knew where he came from, I should have looked out for him.'
It was later when the answer to that question occurred to him. Amanda had come on deck with Lawrence. They were going to watch for the Boston Light, the first sign of home. 'She's blinded me. I love her, but my addiction to her has kept me from seeing things I should have. What else have I missed?' He turned away, looking in vain for the sail that had followed him from Jamaica.
He fully expected to see that sail again in a fortnight, when
they started for home.