As I See Fit - Part 6
"A moment, let me get my breeches." Edward shut the door to find Mandy, her gown loose and no dressing gown, holding out his clothing to him. She must have come out of the bed right behind him. She instinctively knew that this was not some minor interruption.
"What's the matter, Edward? You look like you are terrified." Her voice was calm, it forced his to come under control and he fought to bend his face into something resembling normality. He pulled on his breeches.
"I don't know. Just get dressed, and get Millie dressed too!"
"Yes, Edward." She ran to the port cabin and pounded on the door.
He slipped into his shoes, grabbing his dressing gown, he left the cabin, slamming the door behind him.
A ship afire was a terrifying thing. A warship afire was a true horror. Stuffed to the gills with flammables: tarred cordage, sail cloth, all the wood that made up the hull, bulkheads and decks, then the gunpowder in the magazine. If the Altamira went up in flames, the admiral would not have to worry about the tea ships. They would not be left in one piece.
Rimble preceded him, leading him below decks into the fore gun deck. The Altamira was so short of crew that no hammocks were slung here. Only the four guns, two on each side, occupied the space, all hung with red flannel strips. These guns were ready for action.
The fire was out. The deck was wet under his feet from the water used to drown the flames. His eyes followed the scorching up the bulkhead to the overhead deck timbers. The fire had taken a good start.
"How did it get discovered?" Pellew asked.
"Sentry on his rounds." Rimble answered.
The captain was satisfied; he had ordered the sentry's tour extended to all unused areas of the ship. Since they were not at full complement he had been wary of such a problem. Rimble held out an almost unrecognizable object, a bucket. Edward took it from him.
"That's where the fire started sir." The fire had been very hot; the iron rings were sagging from their rivets.
"Full of combustibles. From the way it flared it probably included some material from the signal rockets." The first officer said. "It had to be someone who has not been on the ship long enough to know about the sentries or it was meant it to be found."
"So we have an arsonist."
"It appears so." Rimble said, "What about your guests?"
Pellew did not take offense; he would have been more concerned if the question was not asked. "Both Nate and Em stayed with Charlie or myself the entire time they were aboard. It was not them. The ship's been secure?"
"Yes, sir, just as you ordered, with guard boats."
"Then it has to be one of the crew."
There was not a great deal of need to rouse the ship when the watch was called; Most of the crew was already awake and working. The galley fires had been lit and the odor of their smoke began to drive the smell of the arson fire out of the air.
After a consultation with the carpenter there had been no major damage done the repair crews had been assigned. Pellew decided to have the charges drawn from any gun in an unused space. They would reload later if it were needed. If the flames had reached the guns he would have been responsible for firing into those damn tea transports.
He caught sight, on one of his trips from the foredeck, of the lightening sky. He went below, to the coach to find Grimes laying out his uniform with clean breeches and shirt.
"Breakfast is laid out in the main cabin sir. Mrs. Pellew has asked if you might eat with her, however brief a time you might have." Grimes said.
The women, yes, of course, he had forgotten them. Amanda was seated at the table, not in her usual spot, at the other end, but to his right at the head of the table. Her smile of genuine pleasure, and possibly a little relief indicated she was not angry at being left alone earlier. She served his plate herself, Grimes setting the platters on the table. She poured his coffee also.
She was making him feel as if they were courting again. He liked this attention, but why was she doing it? If felt odd to be able to hold her hand above the table. The night before, at Hitchbourne's they had used the tablecloth to hide their touch.
"Is everything all right?" She asked.
"Yes, we had a fire, some minor damage, the carpenter is dealing with it." He wanted to talk out his thoughts but he was not sure of her yet. He did not want her to talk to Charlie or Millie about his problems. She did not seem to be open to repeating their intimate things, but ships business was another matter.
"Captain, Charlie told Em about me sleeping in the fore top." She said her hand warm on his.
"I didn't know it was a secret." He replied.
"It was not, but I thought it was not something you would say to him. How much do you tell him?"
"Nothing in the future." He would have to be more circumspect about his conversations with his friend. 'Oh, Charlie, can't you keep your mouth shut?' He thought.
Later that morning Pellew was surprised to see Gainesborough linger a moment after the admiral's briefing. There had been no new information, but several new people had attended, including a number of army officers.
"Have you eaten yet, Pellew?"
"Yes, but I could handle another cup of coffee." He really did not want even that, but he was loath to turn away Gainesborough's invitation. Moments later they were seated at a table in an ordinary.
"We have not had a minute, Pellew, I wanted to thank you for turning back to find out what was wrong that night." Their coffee was served along with a rasher of bacon and toast for the older captain.
"What were you doing? I never did find out." Pellew asked.
"Picking up a man who had fallen overboard." There was special emphasis on the word fallen.
"Fallen you say?"
"Thrown might be a better way to term it. Man fell from the yard." Gainesborough wiped his mouth, seeming to think a moment before going on. "Understand, Pellew, I was not in favor of such a young man being jumped up to post rank." Edward knew Gainesborough was referring to himself. "But, you've done well and I owe you." The man stopped to sip his coffee.
"Captain Gainesborough, I did not ask for the Altamira. There are times I feel I'm not quite ready for her."
"Be careful who you say that to, young man. Like I said, I owe you. The fact that you are so inexperienced is what the admiralty is using."
"I figured that out. That's why my ship is where she is."
"But that's not all, Pellew. I can't tell you everything, but they are counting on you to lose your temper and fight the Altamira, regardless of the circumstances." Another drink of coffee, Pellew stayed silent. "Think before you act, young man, prove them wrong." Gainesborough continued, "And you'll die an admiral and your good woman a knight's lady.
"Another thing," the man went on. "You have a new lieutenant from the Emerald, a man named Baines."
"Yes, he seems to be competent." Edward answered.
"Competent, indeed, but be careful of him. He's Simpson's man, and he is decadent. You have women aboard?"
"My wife and her servant." Edward said, taking a stronger hold on his cup.
"I heard the stories in Kingston, about you and Simpson's wife. I don't know whether to tell you to warn them about him, or not. Observe the man and make your own decision."
Edward's mind was stuck on the mention of Wyndham. Was this never going to go away? "I did not do anything with Wyndham!" He protested.
"I've seen you with your wife. I disbelieved the story." It was obvious that Gainesborough thought Edward had missed his comment. "I'll take my leave, Captain Pellew." Gainesborough nodded toward the door and picked up his hat.
Edward turned to see Mandy entering the ordinary with Pengarth in her wake, both of them with armloads of packages. Rising he named Amanda and Pengarth to Gainesborough. The older captain made a polite exit. Edward relieved his wife of the packages and drew out a chair for her, motioning Pengarth to one of the others.
"Captain, I did not know you were here." Amanda said, slightly out of breath, "I found Mr. Pengarth wandering around the shops so I put him to work. I promised him that I would provide his dinner for his assisting me with these parcels."
"What are these things?" Edward asked picking up one of the boxes, a slim, flat box marked with the tradesman's name: John Singleton Copley, Portraits. Amanda grabbed it from his hand.
"You'll have to wait, Captain, only a couple of weeks." Amanda said, putting it in one of her net bags. Edward's eyes followed it until it disappeared. She patted the bag with a smirk on her face.
'I can wait,' He thought, 'Like hell I can wait. I'll get it out of her yet today.' He turned to Pengarth. "Well, Mr. Pengarth, it appears it's time to pay up. What do you want?"
The midshipman looked from his captain to Amanda. "Mrs. Pellew, can I really?"
Her mouth turned into a funny grimace, with her eyebrows trying to frown through her grin. "Yes, go ahead. It's all right. I promised, and the Captain pays for my promises."
"I would like a beef steak sir, with fried potatoes and fresh bread. And, a piece of that pie." The lad said his eyes on the high crowned pastry that sat on a sideboard near the kitchen door.
"Very well, Mr. Pengarth, if I can request that you stay with us for a little more shopping, I know that will be difficult, and then make sure Mrs. Pellew gets back to the ship safely?"
"I would be very happy to do that sir!" Pengarth almost shouted, several patrons in the ordinary turned to see what was going on at their table.
"Mr. Pengarth, really, it is only food." Edward said, then, relayed their order to the servant.
Edward's shopping did not take very long. He purchased a heavy burgundy travelling cloak for Mandy, shorter than floor length, with a removable fur pelisse and hood liner, and three pairs of fur lined kid gloves for himself. She looked at him with the question in her eyes. "My hands do get cold on watch and the salt water ruins the leather." He answered. "We're going into the north Atlantic, Mandy, if you don't have warm things, you should make arrangements to get them here in Boston."
"Yes, Captain, Millie and I know much better what to keep out now." Was that a snub? He searched her face. No.
"And keep your riding boots out this time. You need more substantial shoes than what I have seen you wear."
"Is there anything else?" She questioned, this time there was a little exasperation in her answer.
"Not right now, but if I think of something else, I will be sure to tell you." His retort, in the same tone of voice she used, was met with a soft snort of laughter from Pengarth who, along with Edward was still loaded down with packages. "Mis-ter Pen-garth!" Edward couldn't find anything stronger to say to the middy. 'After all, I owe my life to the boy.' He thought.
It took them far longer, weighted down by their purchases as they were, than it should have. Pellew checked his watch as he handed her down into his launch. A provisioning hoy was tied up and taking on livestock. Grimes stood next to the herdsman with a list and quill in his hand, Pellew, disposing of his parcels, came over to check on the bill of lading. He watched as a very gravid cow was driven onto the hoy, her udders swollen, so much so that he wondered how she could walk.
Grimes leaned toward him, but his eyes returned to Amanda settling herself in the sternsheets. She did not look like she was with child. He saw her squint up at the quickly clouding skies. Grimes voice brought him back to reality. "Mrs. Pellew's cow, sir. She'll have to be milked on reaching the ship."
"I can see that, tell Bennington, he'll assign someone." Pellew said. He had never owned livestock that he was not going to slaughter and eat. What would he do with it in Portsmouth? "Have you made arrangements for the rest of the cabin stores?"
"They will be delivered just before we sail, Captain, do you know when?"
"No, Grimes. I have not been given that order yet." He said, turning back to the launch, now filled with its crew and Amanda's boxes and bags. Some spatters of rain began to fall, the snow of a couple of nights before was being erased by the warming weather. She adjusted her bonnet to try to keep the drops off her head. "Mrs. Pellew?"
Amanda looked up, shading her eyes against the glare of the sunlight through the clouds with a hand. "Captain?"
"I bet you wish you had that new cloak on now." He said with a smile, "I have to go back to the port admirals, I'll be along later."
"Very well, Captain." He waved a hand to her, the cox'n ordered the launch about before she could wave back. He watched the boat as it was pulled to the Altamira and waited till she vanished through the entry port before turning away.
It was late afternoon before Pellew could return to the Altamira. He found the main cabin deserted and Charlie Hammond gone as well. With an inkling of an idea that she might have gone to Richard Hitchbourne's house or to Emmies, he sent Pengarth with a message. An hour later the midshipman returned empty handed, neither Amanda nor Hammond had been at home. Young Nate had walked Pengarth back to the wharf and persuaded the middy to take him aboard.
Pellew came on deck to welcome the young man to his ship for the second time. The winter wind whipped their cloaks around their legs and the misting rain seemed to soak through to the skin. He urged the boys below, guiding them toward the coach. Nate, in the lead, started for the main cabin. Pellew stopped him with a word. "Those are Amanda's quarters, she's not aboard, come on in here." Pellew said as he threw open the door to the coach. Pengarth, bringing up the rear, ushered Nate in.
"Then you and Amanda don't.umlive together?" Nate asked. Pellew had to grin, was this all young men had on their mind?
"Of course we do." Edward said with a cough of embarrassment. "It's just somewhat inconvenient at sea. I have to be available to the crew at all hours. Have you seen Amanda this afternoon?"
"No, sir. That is what I wanted to talk to you about." Nate fell silent.
"Well?" Pellew asked.
Nate turned to Pengarth, with an apprehensive look.
Edward spoke, "You can speak in front of Mr. Pengarth. He is one of my most trusted officers." Edward met the midshipman's eyes, the young officer colored slightly, with a self-conscious half smile.
"Sir, I'm not a fool. I know where this ship is and why she is here, and believe me, if Cousin Amanda had not married you and you seeming to be such a good man, and loving of her, we wouldn't be having this talk.
"There's to be a meeting tonight at Old South, and I believe that Cousin Em is going to take Captain Hammond and maybe Amanda too. You know how Amanda and Emmie feel about the Crown's oppression in regards the tea tax?"
Edward opened his mouth slightly and closed it, almost as if chewing on something. "Yes, I'm aware." He said. Hammond would go anywhere Emily asked him to go, but Amanda? Surely she had more sense.
"I think," Nate went on, "That something is going to go on after that meeting. I don't know what, because they, remember Tom and Amos?" Pellew nodded, her remembered Tom all too well, Amanda's rejected suitor. "They know that I was with you and Hammond and they have kept me away from 'the Body'"
"What is that? The Body?" Edward asked.
"That's what the big meetings are called. They are starting to gather now at the church, usually they meet at some tavern, but tonight the leaders."
Edward started to interrupt. Nate, in a show of impudence to the captain, held up a hand. But his soft smile, so like Amanda's, caused Pellew to hesitate, allowing Nate to go on.
"I know most of them, but I won't tell you. Some of them are tied closer than you, by blood.
"Tonight, they are planning to do something with those ships." Nate gestured toward the three tea transports, then continued: "I don't know what, though I am pretty sure that it's not meant to be anything violent, they just want to make a point of the tea tax, not start a war right now. They aren't organized enough for that."
Edward waited some seconds, giving Nate a chance to continue, but he did not. Edward considered his answer. He finally leaned back in his chair and answered the young man. "You know that I must do something with this information. I just cannot ignore what you have said."
"I understand, Captain. I took that risk when I came here." Nate said.
"I hope that this does not cause you problems ashore, young man." Pellew was truly concerned. This news must be passed on to the Port Admiral as quickly as possible. "Mr. Hitchbourne, Nate, if you have problems, of any kind, come back here. I will leave orders for you to be allowed aboard. Mr. Pengarth, please escort Nate through the ship. All of the ship, except the main cabin. He was unable to see it all the other night. And, Nate, if you see Mrs. Pellew, ask her to come back to the ship."
"I will, sir." Pengarth ushered the young Hitchbourne out of the cabin.
Edward slipped into the main cabin. The packages were still piled on the window seat and her old cloak was still hanging from its peg on the bulkhead, she must have worn the new one. He touched the faded green wool of the cape. "Mandy, where are you?" He whispered softly into the gathering darkness of the evening.