As I See Fit - Part 8
by Mebbieb10


The marine came to attention as Charles Hammond entered the hold. The word had spread through the ship that he had command. He was used to command, but not to the deference that the crew was giving him. It was a bit humblingand exhilarating.

Baines led him downward again. Each step on a rung of the ladder sent a zing of ache through his legs, his wounds of a week before making themselves known again. The hatch to the lady hole was opened before him and he stuck his head in.

"My God. What happened here?" He said. His mind raced back over the hours between the last time he had seen Millie and the midshipman. Millie and Younger Kirkland had come down into the hold and then they had passed through this small hatch to the lady hole. The lady hole, the deepest and supposedly the safest part of the ship, was well below the waterline, fairly dry unless the ship was swamped and away from any guns or danger.

The lady hole was awash with about a half foot of water, deeper in the forward end, almost dry at the stern. A lantern, hung on a beam overhead and Banes' lamp did little to dispel the gloom and darkness. The sloshing of the water was the only sound as Hammond took in the situation.

Millie's body lay huddled in the most aft part of the lady hole, one of Pellew's silver mounted pistols at her side, discharged. Her throat was bruised and her clothing was in disarray. She was laid open to their view. Hammond turned away, sickened. Buetow lay spread-eagled, his breeches loosened, a bloody hole in his side and his brains dashed from his broken skull.

"Get Jacobs down here to make a record of thisthis scene. Then have one of the doctors come down to make his report. After that have someone remove the bodies and clean up this mess. And Baines"

"Yes, Sir."

"I'll keep Grimes from coming down here when he returns from the Montezuma. He shouldn't have to see this." Hammond knew that he was becoming angry as he reviewed the act that had taken place here. His voice was beginning to betray that sentiment. "Where is Younger Kirkland? He was with Millie! I want that lad found!" He roared into the confined space. He was shocked at the vehemence that echoed back at him. Baines took a step away in surprise.

"Aye, sir."

Charlie turned from the lady hole, stomach still rolling with the memories of what was contained there. He emerged on deck after a slow climb out of the hold.

"Sail ho!" His attention was drawn to the masthead of the Montezuma. The Altamira's lookouts would never have seen the newcomer ship. They were confined to the forecastle; the Altamira had no masts or tops.

"Where away?" Both he and Rimble sang out at the same time. His eyes followed the pointing arm of the lookout. Three sail were silhouetted against the setting sun. If they continued their course, they would be up to the Altamira and Montezuma in a few hours.

"Sing out as soon as you can make out who or what they are!"

"Aye aye, Captain Hammond!" The lookout called back. Charlie completed the trek to the quarterdeck and leaned over the hammock nettings to speak as normally as possible to Rimble, who was standing on the quarterdeck of the Montezuma not thirty feet away.

It was time to find out what had happened on the Montezuma. "Report, Mr. Rimble. From the time the boarding parties left the Altamira."

"From what I understand, sir, Mr. Baines parties boarded on the larboard side, the side away from the Alta's guns. They came on with a great shout and yell, which we heard, sir. There were only two or three skirmishes before the ship was taken. The officers and some of the crew had gone over the side to the Alta. The slaves outnumbered the other men left aboard and captives, who turned against their officers and helped us, take the ship. It was an easy capture, thank God. We have only two deaths and a few minor wounds here. It seems that the crew is made up mostly of captured hands and slaves." Rimble paused a moment. "How is the Captain? I saw your fight, we were coming as fast as we could."

"I don't know. I haven't been to the cabin-"

"They are Royal Navy, Sir!" the lookout interrupted, "Two from the Boston command, flagship Nemesis and a frigate. Also a fourth rate. I don't know her."

Charlie leaned back, both hands on the hammock nettings and looking westward across the Altamira's ruined deck to the three ships. "Where the hell have they been? We could have used them a week ago." He turned back to Rimble. "Thank you, Mr. Rimble, we can still use some hands over here."

"I'll send another two launches, Captain Hammond."

"Thank you, Mr. Rimble, as always." His attention was drawn to the marine guard at the foot of the quarterdeck ladder. The man was forcibly restraining a sailor with dirty hair and filthy clothes from ascending to the deck. The sailor looked up at Hammond.

"Captain?"

"'Ere, you, you wait on the captain!" the rifle in the marine's hands shoved the sailor back.

Hammond leaned over the rail. "What is it?"

"This man insists on coming up, sir." The marine answered.

Blast it all, the man did look familiar, "I know you." Hammond said with a puzzled frown gracing his face. "I remember you from Kingston. Your name is James Sawman, Sawer, no, Sawyer. You had the Centurion!"

"Do you think I might come up now, Captain Hammond?"

"Oh yes. By all means, yes! Captain Sawyer, come up." With those words Hammond thought he had ended his short-lived career as the commander of the Altamira. Sawyer was senior to both he and Edward Pellew and very well could relieve either of them of command. Charlie began to tick off on his fingers the ship's problems.

Sawyer stood smiling at him with arms crossed. His red hair was streaming around his shoulders; shoulders that were shaking with silent laughter his dark blue eyes were alive with humor. Charlie's list trailed off and he came to a halt halfway through an account of Pellew's battle.

"Aren't you interested in this command, sir?" Charlie was truly nonplussed.

"I came up here, young man," Charlie thought that was ludicrous, Sawyer couldn't be more than ten years older then himself and Pellew. "To turn myself over to your custody. I did lose my ship, sir. I do have to stand a court martial.

'Oh hell,' Charlie thought, 'I still have to deal with all this mess.'

Charlie had the logs of the Altamira under his arm as he made his way slowly down into the boat to be pulled across to the Montezuma. He had taken the time to read the entries from their departure from Kingston to the present. The last entries were in his own hand and they were not happy ones. Millie Grimes' murder, the apparent murder of a senior midshipman, the disappearance of Younger Kirkland, who should have been in the lady hole with Millie, and the wounding and subsequent unconsciousness of the Altamira's captain.

He had decided to go across to confer with Lieutenant Rimble, who was in command of their prize. Rimble had always been in Edward Pellew's confidence and Hammond hoped that he could shed some light on the mystery aboard the Altamira.

As the launch was pulled away he could see that the Altamira herself was in sad shape. The hole in the forepeak had been opened to the sea from the inside. Mr. Bennington had brought up the bracing timbers himself to show as proof. The master pointed out the marks of a maul where the wood had splintered and the patch failed. The pumps, manned by the few prisoners from the Montezuma and a full complement of hands from both ships were beginning to lower the water in the hold and lower decks.

The Montezuma had the Altamira in tow and they were making very, very slow headway to the east, the Altamira going stern first. Making Land's End ass before head would not be Edwards's choice, but for now it kept the coming swell from pressing on the bow. The deck still was canted to larboard, but the ship was riding higher in the water.

Charlie was halfway up the ladder to the Montezuma's quarterdeck when he turned his gaze to the west. The sun was beginning to set behind the three ships that were steadily gaining way toward the crippled ship and her consort.

The Nemesis would carry the admiral. Charlie, failing Edward's arising from his bunk, would be responsible to report the ships condition and actions since they left Boston. Edward. He had heard that Amanda had lain across her husband's legs helping to hold him down as the surgeon cauterized and dressed the wound. It had not been necessary. The man had not regained consciousness even when the hot iron was touched to his chest. As far as Hammond knew, Pellew was still dead to the world in his bunk in the coach and Amanda had not left his side.

'I'll have to talk to her as well.' Charlie thought. 'She did run away from me toward the lady hole. I don't remember seeing her from that moment until she skewered Edward's attacker. Spoiled girl! Women shouldn't know how to even do such things! She handled that sword as if she was born to it. Should have been a man! I do have to admit that she was as much a warrior at that moment as Edward or I am.'

Rimble showed Hammond into the main cabin. Stunned at the opulence there, Charlie was silent for a few moments. Silver and gold plate littered the table and cupboards. The stern window cushions and drapes were crimson silk with gilt fittings. A wide oriental carpet, more lush and deep than the one that Amanda had brought aboard the Altamira stretched from bulkhead to bulkhead, it's deep colors unstained by gunpowder or blood. Even here, though, ships business had been done. The log, written in Spanish, was open across the ornate ebony desk a pile of paper with neat writing stacked beside it.

"I've had one of their officers who speaks English in to translate it." Rimble said as Hammond flipped through the pages.

"So you must know what happened with this Captain Sawyer?" Charlie said absently, as he laid the papers back beside the log.

"From what I can tell, his ship met up with the Altamira and the Montezuma. He was outgunned and if he had fought.well, he would have." Rimble stopped, unwilling to go further. That was business for the court martial. "The Centurion, sir, still remains in the islands, under another Ortega. But without these two capital ships she won't be able to wreak much havoc."

"Yes. But I didn't come across for that. You've heard about the situation on the Altamira?"

"T'would be hard to miss, Captain, when the message came across to hold Grimes over here. I have added him to one of the cleaning parties below decks. She's like a slaver down there. These prisoners were in squalid conditions. I understand that the crew hid Sawyer among them to protect him. They must have a great respect for him."

"Evidently. I want you to fill me in on what you and Edward, since he's unable, know about these acts of vandalism. Captain Pellew alludes to a cut sail and the fire in Boston." Hammond sat in one of the velvet-cushioned chairs that surrounded the desk. Rimble sank, with a stifled groan, into another. "You are well?" Hammond asked, a small frown crossing his face. The Altamira's first officer had become a friend in the few months they had been together.

"Yes. A little weak still, but command, Captain Hammond, what a heady brew!"

January nights fall fast. Hammond was pulled back to the Altamira at dusk. The following ships would be up to them within the hour. A sheaf of notes now swelled the sides of the Altamira's log and a troubled look was now upon his face. Charlie was as ready as he would ever be to answer the admiral's questions. On reaching the deck he quietly called Pengarth and Baines from their duties to meet with him in the main cabin.

"Gentlemen, I have a hard task to ask of you. Amanda Pellew must be put under a loose arrest. She is the person who probably killed Midshipman Buetow. She must not be left alone at any time when she is out of the coach until the admiral arrives and takes over the situation."

Baines spoke, "What about her time with the Captain?" It was the question that had to be answered, although Charlie didn't want to ask it.

"No, I think that she will be safe with her husband. I don't believe that she killed Buetow out of malice but I would be shirking my duty if I did not take some action. Don't hinder her in any way; she still has freedom of the ship, just keep her under watch. With Edward down, I don't think she will leave the quarterdeck and coach."

That was that. Charlie dismissed the officers and sat down heavily in Edward's desk chair, cradling his forehead in his hands. "Amanda, why do you plague me so?" He whispered into his fingers as he drew his hands over his face.

***

With no need for silence, the pounding of hammers and the sound of saws cutting through wood echoed through the last dog and the first midnight watch. Admiral Montague had come across from Nemesis and had received Hammond's perfunctory report, deferring a full report until morning. Montague has also looked in on the motionless Pellew. Montague had conferred with Reed and had not removed Pellew from command, but had left Charlie still in temporary charge of the Altamira.

Montague had also closeted himself with James Sawyer for an hour. Hammond had then seen Sawyer go forward to continue working with Pengarth in repairing the ship and the Admiral, putting on his hat, climbed the ladder to the quarterdeck, where Charlie was standing with the master, Bennington.

"I will be going back to Nemesis, Captain Hammond. We will convene an inquest at four bells in the afternoon watch and get this question of Buetow taken care of. We have Soames and Simpson will be up before first light."

Charlie felt his face change and Montague noticed it. "Captain Hammond, what is wrong? Are you ill?"

"No, sir. Commodore Edgar Simpson?"

"Admiral now. Made a month ago, he's on his way to London for a new posting. Do you know him?"

All Charles Hammond could do was to nod and say: "Slightly, sir. I've met him socially, but never served with him."

"Ahem. I see. Well, best be going. Call up my gig."

"Aye, sir."

Edgar Simpson. Poor Edward, what else could befall him? Hammond shook his head and began to pace the deck. The ship was quieting around him, the thunder of repair work that had come from the forecastle all day and evening had stopped. The pumps still splashed water over the side, but the deck was riding almost even. He had also watched Sawyer and young Pengarth emerge from the upper deck with a lantern and a roll of paper open between them. Both had been totally absorbed in whatever they were doing, Pengarth listening and nodding, Sawyer pointing to something on the paper. They disappeared over the side by what would have been the bowsprit.

He pulled his boat cloak tighter around his shoulders, involuntarily giving shudder at the cold. The night air seemed to seep right through the wool and sink to his skin. Since he had taken the deck after sending Baines to his dinner, the inactivity had added to the chill. His hands stuck under his arms he considered the Altamira. The wind had begun to blow from the south, a gentle wind, not the gales that had struck from the north not so long ago. He sniffed at it; perhaps it was a little warmer.

The moon had risen, almost full, casting it's light almost harshly on the injured ship. The litter had been cleaned up and the dead had been buried, both done during the day watches and at his order. Jagged stumps of the masts cast strange jagged shadows. Coils of cables looked like serpent's nests. The sentry stepped wide around them as if they were alive on his forward tour. He turned to the sound of footsteps on the quarterdeck ladder, light steps not an officer or a midshipman. Amanda had come up; he knew the sound of her footfalls. He had not seen her face before she turned to look away from him at the three ships that rode at sea anchor to the west. He touched his hat in answer to Baines salute as he passed from the captain's quarters to the gun deck (ck this) ladder.

The hood of the cape covered her hair, and Hammond supposed, the white cap, that she had begun wearing after that night in Boston, was beneath it too. It was bad enough that a woman had to wear her wedding ring, but to have to cover her head to her husband, what a terrible thing for Edward to force her to do. He shook his head as he started across the deck, coming up behind her. He would not make his wife wear that symbol. He put his hands on the rail. His fingers rested only inches from hers.

"It's a beautiful night. I think it's warmer." She said without looking at him.

"Yes. The wind has changed. A little tropical air, up from the West Indies. We're drawing closer to England by the hour. Perhaps only inches but we are moving to the East." He did not cast a gaze in her direction.

"What's going on, Charlie?" Her tone was a little exasperated, "Why am I escorted everywhere?"

"I ordered it, Amanda. I had to."

Her eyes dropped to gaze at the sea; the moonbeams made it appear as if there was a fabric of sheer silver waving in the light breeze. "I understand." Her fingers tightened on the wood. "Under arrest then."

"After a fashion. You still have the freedom of the ship."

"But never alone."

"No, not outside your quarters until tomorrow when all this horrible mess will be straightened out."

Her shoulders rose with a drawn breath, when she exhaled a tiny sob came along. 'This woman killed a man to save her husband. I'll not let her break now.' He thought. He covered her fingers with his, a gesture of support. He was surprised at the warmth. He was also surprised that she didn't draw away. He could not stop his eyes from looking at their fingers entwined together on the rail. "Tell me, Amanda, tell me what happened when you left me to go below. I need to know if I am to protect you at the inquest."

Slowly, and still not looking at him, but not shaking off his grasp either, she began to speak.

Her voice had died away and suddenly she seemed to realize that Hammond held his fingers interlaced with hers. She pulled her hand from under his fingers and brushed away a tear. "I knelt down beside her, Charlie, but I could not do anything! Nothing! It was too late. Then I heard all the yelling and came up." More tears welled up in her eyes.

Hammond put an arm around her shoulders. He felt a shake, just one sob. Then nothing, her head came up and she looked out over the four ships at rest. Hammond let out a long breath. Simpson had joined with Montague within the last bell.

"I've heard the news, Charlie, Edgar Simpson. Tell me Charlie, what happens to someone who kills an officer?"

"I don't know. Seamen have been hung for the offense." He felt her tense under his arm, he hurried on, "An officer, a court martial I would think. A civilian, Amanda, I'm just not sure. I would say it would depend on the circumstances." He knew she had not heard anything other than the word hung. He closed his eyes in regret, would he never learn to hold his tongue. 'Change the subject,' he thought, 'I have to change the subject.'

"How is Edward?" He asked.

She took another breath. "There's been no change. Doctor Reed is with him now that is why I left for a few minutes. I had to get out of that cabin. The smell from the coals, it reminds me of the hot iron. Charlie" Her voice trailed off and she finally turned under his arm into his shoulder. He tightened his grasp. "I've lost my best friend and now I'm losing my husband."

"Amanda, no, Edward will be well again. You haven't lost him."

"I'm terrified, Charlie, Simpson, the inquest, Edward, the baby. It's all too much! I was afraid before, but now with Edgar Simpson here, and sitting on the inquest. Edward says he will try to get back through me for what Edward did. Charlie, will they let me have my baby before they hang me?"

"God, Amanda, where did that thought come from?" He turned her face up to the moonlight. Her gaze was so plain, so open, vulnerable and so beautiful. This time his inward gasp was not for her, but for himself. His touch lingered on her cheek, tucking a strand of dark hair back under her hood. "No, this is just an inquest. You are a civilian, if the court finds you at fault, you will have a regular trial in port, with a proper judge. Amanda, you did nothing wrong! If I'd been there I would have done the same myself. You have nothing to worry about."

He heard the trudge of the sentry below the quarterdeck but didn't take his gaze from her face. Neither did he move away from her, her closeness was maddening, but he could not break his hold.

"Why can I talk to you and I can't talk to Edward?" She whispered.

"What do you mean?" He was not really curious, but asking the question kept her within his arms.

"I'm afraid of him."

"Afraid? Does he treat you badly? Threaten you?" Never in all the years he had served with Pellew did he ever know the man to treat a woman harshly. Except with Wyndham, but that was different, she had pushed him to the edge, but he had dragged the woman through the streets of Kingston. Could he treat his wife the same way? A niggle of doubt began to stir in Charlie's mind.

"No. He would never hurt me deliberately. I fear that if I speak the wrong word or do the wrong thing I will drive him away, that I will lose his love. Love is a fragile thing, Charlie, a wonderful and fragile thing. Why don't I feel that way with you? We talk about everything. I can say anything to you."

"I do not know. I do know, and this for a surety, that marrying for love is sometimes the wrong thing to do." The moonlight transferred the silver of the sea into her eyes, he was drawn in, he bent to her, the hand that had caressed her cheek found it's way behind her head and he did what he knew he should not. His lips tasted hers, soft, pliable, inviting. Her eyes closed and for a moment, just a fragment of time, she responded, her hand moving to touch his face. In that second, he saw the same moonlight glint off of her new wedding ring. With a groan of physical pain, he drew back.

'Damn you, Edward Pellew!' His mind cried out, 'Damn you for getting yourself wounded. Damn you for putting me in this position.' He drew a hand across his chest, placing it between him and her body; he was suffocating, fighting for breath. Finally he was able to draw a little wind. 'If you die, Pellew, and damn you I almost hope you will, I will marry her and bring up your child.'

Amanda had pulled away, her fingers rubbing her mouth that ring almost glowing in the harsh lunar light. "I must go, Charlie." She pushed by him; he stood dumbly not turning to her as she moved across the deck to the ladder.

"Amanda."

"Charlie." He heard her steps hesitate.

"Sometimes people marry the wrong people."

She didn't answer and he knew she was gone.



It was a good thing that Charles Hammond was the officer of the watch. Walking the decks did not make him feel any better about his actions, but it gave him something to do. He leaned out far over the stern, trying to make out the motionless shape of the rudder, now lashed into "midships" and doing its best imitation of the bow. Seven rings of the bell, a half-hour more and Pengarth would be up to relieve him. Pengarth, a mere lad, it seemed in Kingston, was maturing in this short year into a competent young gentleman. How far they had all come, and to what end?

Balancing both hands on the taffrail he stretched his back, sleeplessness was beginning to take it's toll. He needed to rest before the admiral and the other officers came aboard. Coming erect again, he touched the rail where her hand had been. 'This was all Pellew's fault. Forcing me to escort her all over the ship, taking his place because of his duty kept him from it. No, not all the blame was Edward's. I could have refused, but I didn't, I welcomed her company and she did make the idle hours fly.' He thought. Unending games of dominos and cards, watching the handwork flow from her fingers, looking over her shoulder as she drew some of the crew at work, no he had enjoyed her presence. But it hadn't been him that escorted her behind the closed door of the great cabin, or him that held her tightly in the coach and it was not him that had given her a child.

She had acted as if he were an old friend, Pellew the same, and all that time it had been a sham, Hammond knew. Had known ever since that first night in Kingston when he tried to keep her attention from Edward Pellew and Wyndham Marnies. He had walked back to his rooms in the dockyard and had looked through the inn's window to see Pellew tear at Wyndham's dress before the curtain had suddenly been pulled closed, cutting off the view. Pellew had told him nothing had happened that night. That he had been unable to do anything. Pellew had not lied to him before as far as he knew. But what was the truth?

It didn't matter, not one whit. Amanda was married to Edward Pellew and nothing short of God should come between them. 'I can never be alone with her again,' he realized, 'I can't trust myself.'

Pengarth took the deck looking every bit as tired as Hammond felt. After exchanging the vital information, and a touch of hats to each other, Hammond went down the ladder, but instead of turning right to the companionway to the gun deck, he went left toward the great cabin and the coach.

He nodded at O'Hearn, who had indeed returned to guard the Pellew's door, and turned the knob. Inside, closing the door, he leaned back, resting with his hands behind him flat on the smooth wood. She sat in one spindly-legged chair beside Edward's cot, her skirt falling like a soft, well-worn sail that had been lowered to the deck. Her hands held her crochet hook and her workbag fed the thread up from beside her left foot. She didn't turn around. Edward still lay prone in the hanging box, his face deathly pale in the dim lantern light. Hammond could see his chest rising and falling with maddening regularity, the only sign that the captain of the Altamira was still alive.

Her hands fell into her lap, quiet now, with the hook in one hand and the thread still wound around the fingers of the other. She still had not turned to face him, but gazed at a point on the bulkhead in front of her.

"Amanda, I'm sorry for what happened on deck. I should never have taken advantage of the situation. I truly am ashamed. Please forgive me."

"There is nothing to forgive, Captain Hammond." She replied.

The words were right, but the tenor of her voice was shaky and hesitant.

"I can't be alone with you again. I could not trust myself. But, Amanda, when you need me, and you will for he will forsake you for his first love, just call and I will come. He will never leave the sea for you."

She drew in a long breath before answering. "I know, Charlie." There was something of the old friend there, something of the hidden lover.

"I love you, Sarah Amanda, I have since before I met you."

Moments passed, her mouth opened, then partially closed, and opened again. "I love my husband, Captain Hammond."

Charlie could not say anything more. His argument lost, he opened the door and silently left the cabin.

"He's wrong." The whisper seemed to echo through to coach. Amanda's crochet hook clattered to the floor as she fell to her knees beside the cot. "All you have to do is ask."


His dream had been vivid and he was not sure when he returned to consciousness. He realized sometime during the dream that the conversation was taking place in reality and that he was a listener. Amanda was sitting near what looked like a fireplace with a bright light instead of fire in its center. That bright light had come to him several times in the blackness. Never beckoning, never retreating in intensity but just there. A light in the darkness.

The first time he had moved toward the light he had felt an almost physical push back, and for some reason he was in despair of being rejected. Then his own voice had come to him with the single word: remember. Time passed after that, he did not know how much, it could have been hours, and it could have been days.

Then the dream had come. Amanda, sitting in the rocking chair that was stored in the hold a last minute present from Lawrence Endicott, a Yankee rocker in a colonial bentwood pattern. In her arms a bundle of coverings, his view moved closer, a baby, quietly sleeping, face nestled against her shoulder, one tiny hand resting on her breast. This is what he was to remember, wife and child. The family lately longed for and that he cherished. She was crying, silently, as to not disturb the child's slumber. He started to whisper to her to ask why she was crying. Then Charles Hammond's voice insinuated itself and brought him back to reality in a hurry. No, he would not leave his family to another man. Never.

"He's wrong." The croak had come from his own throat, "All you have to do is ask." He struggled to open his eyes, they seemed to be closed with glue. He heard the sound of metal hitting the deck and the 'slush' of her full skirts as she came closer to his cot. Her sweet soft fingers surrounded his right hand. She was brushing back the sweat soaked hair from his forehead. "Kiss me, Mandy." Yes, this was real. Her lips touched his, then the bridge of his nose, then his forehead, where her hand still rested. He was still alive.

***

She had fed him a thick gruel and the doctor checked his wound. Everyone that entered the cabin whispered and moved around him quietly. His steward had not come to him at all, had he been killed on the Montezuma? Grimes had always been competent in his duties, always waiting on him at all hours. Amanda had taken care of his bodily needs today and he hated that. His wife should not soil her hands caring for him in that manner. Clean and hunger eased, he drifted off to sleep with Mandy once again seated by his bed.

The raspy scratching of a pen on paper awakened him. Peering through slitted eyes he could see the winter sun was streaming in through the quarter gallery window. A man sat at the desk in the coach, an expanse of blue back with dark red hair in a queue. Not Rimble, he should have been aboard the Montezuma, nor was it Baines. From somewhere deep inside him he started his voice up.

"Who are you?"

The man turned around, quill still in hand. "Sawyer, late of the Centurion." He said with a smile. "Thank you for lending me a uniform, so I could stand before my court martial without shame."

"Glad I could help." He croaked. "Some water?"

"Of course, old man. Here."

The man called Sawyer turned in the chair, poured water from a pitcher, sloshing it into a pewter cup, then bent to hold the cup to his lips, Pellew raised up a hand to take the cup. As he brought the cup to his lips, he could see the liquid trembling in rhythm to the shake of his fingers. "AmaMrs. Pellew, where is she?"

"A break, that's why I'm here, her relief you might say."

"Hammond?"

"He's busy as well. He has had command for the last couple of days. You have been out awhile, old man."

"Quit calling me that. I can't be older than you are."

The man smiled again, a gentle good-natured lift of the lips. "Very well, young man, I'll do that." Sawyer still sat, his arms draped over the back of the wooden chair, the same one that Amanda had been in last night.

"Court martial? Where?"

"Great cabin, seems that we have a quorum of captains, so Montague--"

"Montague here?"

"Yes. He was enroute to Portsmouth, although it doesn't look like we will be landing there now. Plymouth will be the first dockyard we encounter and this ship won't go further."

"How badly hurt are we? Wait, help me up, I need to see."

Sawyer stopped his movement with a gentle hand to his shoulder. It felt as if he'd been hit with an arrow with a brick tied to it. "Feel that?"

"Of course, you id-. Yes. I felt that."

"Surgeon says you are to stay quiet. Another day and you can get out of that box. Says you lost a bucket of blood, and that's the worst. He doesn't want to pick you up off the deck again." Sawyer sat back, elbow resting behind him on the edge of the table, one knobby knee peeking over the edge of the hanging cot, Pellew's breeches were too short for his bony legs, and had ridden up over the kneecap. "The ships in good hands, Hammond has done a credible job, and your middie, Pengarth, is a good man."

"Baines?"

"He has the deck."

"Rimble still have the Montezuma?"

"Yes." Sawyer dropped the pen to the tabletop and closed the book he had been scribbling in. "He has us in tow." Silence dropped between them for a few moments. Pellew's eyes were drawn to the coach door. "Waiting on Mrs. Pellew? She can't be here all the time."

It took a moment to get his voice started again. "A board? Who else is here?"

Sawyer considered his answer. "She's in the main cabin. We have Soames, Montague, Rimble from Montezuma, nice thing you gave him his command, Clark from Montague's flag, and Simpson."

"Simpson you say! Damn." Pellew struggled to sit up in the cot. "Where is my wife? She's in the great cabin! That's where you were tried, where is she!"

Sawyer stood up in his concern. "It's an inquest. About your young gentleman, Buetow, he and Mrs. Grimes, your wife's servant I believe, were found dead in the lady hole."

Pellew's mind raced back to before he lost consciousness. Amanda had been sitting on the ladder with him. "Teddy," She had said, "I might as well tell you now. This was not the first man I killed today, and it was one of your officers." And Simpson was here!

"Help me up! Damn it! I have to get in there!" He flung back the comforter with his right and pulled himself upright, sticking a leg over the cot's edge. Sawyer, seeing that Pellew was going to get up no matter what he said or did, gave in and helped him from the bed.

***

Charles Hammond had not gone into the coach when he had called for Amanda. James Sawyer had been with him and would take her place beside the sleeping Pellew. He had not offered her his arm either as they had walked the few steps to the great cabin. Charlie restrained the impulse to touch her hand in support, only what he hoped was a reassuring smile crossed between them.

Now, she sat in a wooden armchair from the wardroom, off to his left just barely within his sight. He stood at almost rigid attention before the three-captain panel. The other two chairs that were filled by himself and Rimble at Sawyer's court martial earlier in the day were empty. Only Montague, in the center, Soames to his left and Simpson to his right sat behind Edward Pellew's dark stained oak dining table. Hammond fingered the log of the Altamira, which was held under his arm, and waited for the next question. He had been in the dock for what he reckoned had been twenty minutes. That was confirmed by the ringing of the five bells in the afternoon watch, half past two. Montague waited for that fifth bell before asking the next question.

"So, Captain Hammond, you and Mrs. Pellew were alone in the magazine?"

"Yes, sir, we had taken the gunner's place, relieving him for duty at the guns."

"You had done this before? Isn't that rather odd for a woman?"

"Yes, we served the guns an at earlier action. I had been wounded, and not able to stand to my place and Mrs. Pellew, well, she was sick in the surgery and needed to get out of there. She did very well in that post, in the magazine, sir."

"That's dangerous work, Hammond. Fit for a woman?" Simpson spoke up for the first time.

"If the magazine went up so would the ship, sir. I deem it no more dangerous than any other duty below decks."

"Very well, Captain Hammond. Now, what happened after you went into the magazine." Montague took over the questioning again.

"We prepared what we thought would be the next charges needed, then we waited. When there was no demand for further charges, nor further firing. I decided to go on deck."

"You were taking Mrs. Pellew with you?" Montague asked.

"No, sir. But she declined to stay in the magazine, sir. If I was going on deck, she was as well."

"Did she make it to the upper deck with you?"

"No, sir. We had just come out of the magazine when she said she heard a shout from below."

"Was there anyone else below with you?"

"Not that we knew of sir, to my knowledge we were alone below decks, except for Mrs. Grimes and Younger Kirkland."

Soames spoke for the first time. "Younger Kirkland?"

"One of the ships boys, he is little more than a toddler, Edward, Captain Pellew, gave him to Mrs. Pellew as a sort of servant."

"Carried on the ships books?" Simpson asked.

"Yes, Admiral. As a ships boy."

"I see." Came Simpson's reply, a huff and a sideways look at Montague, who completely disregarded him.

"And you saw nothing more of her until she came on deck to, shall we say, take care of Captain Pellew's assailant?" Montague asked.

"That is true, sir."

Montague looked at his fellow officers, "Any more questions for Captain Hammond?" both officer shook their heads. Simpson turned to a blank sheet of paper and dipped his quill again. Montague drew a breath. "Mrs. Pellew-" He was interrupted by the opening of the door and a rush of muted comments from the officers and men seated around the perimeter of the cabin.

Edward Pellew stood outlined by the setting sun, James Sawyer beside him. Pellew shook Sawyers hand away from his elbow. He walked with tentative steps into the cabin, coming to a stop behind Amanda, placing his hands on her shoulders. The room began to spin and he held to her tighter.

Montague was on his feet immediately, a hand gesturing at one of the empty chairs, "Soames." The senior captain was up in an instant to place the chair to the left and just behind Amanda's seat. Pellew nodded to Soames, but did not sit down. He seemed to take a couple of minutes to decide on his words.

"Gentlemen, my wife is with-"

"Yes, Captain." Montague's words were gentle. "We are aware of your circumstances." Simpson sat up from his sprawled position, Montague's look at him caused his next words to die in his throat. Montague continued, "I am glad to see that you are up. Now, please sit down Captain, before you fall."

Pellew was only too glad to obey and sat heavily in the chair, fingers gripping the arms until they were totally bloodless.

"Mrs. Pellew." Montague picked up where he had been interrupted moments earlier. "Do you understand that this is only an inquest, and that if we find charges should be levied we will turn over the evidence to the magistrate in Plymouth?"

"I do, Admiral."

"Then tell us, Mrs. Pellew, what happened after you left Captain Hammond."

She covered her eyes as if to wipe out the sight that arose in her mind and began to speak.

"As I left Captain Hammond I went down into the hold, then into the lady hole. In this ship, it is a low, lightless place. I had been confined there and as soon as I could find a way to leave it I did. Perhaps if I had stayed this time, this horrible thing would not have happened." Her words stopped, eyes on the oriental carpet that now rested across the checkered canvas deck covering.

"Be that as it may, Mrs. Pellew, please, go on." Soames prodded.

"The hatch was closed when I crept through the orlop, no light was showing. I knew that we normally left that hatch open, that there would be a ships boy come to us if there was a reason to close and lock it down. I crawled, brushing the deck before me to where I thought the hatch was. I could not see in the blackness." She closed her eyes and remembered three days hence.

***

"Millie? Millie?" She found the ringbolt and lifted it as quietly as possible. The candle lantern's light flickered, mixing the shadows and light in a hellish way, as if flames were leaping from the ballast stones. She could feel her eyes adjust to the dim light. "Millie?" Sticking her head into the hatch she saw a dark coated figure bending over something, dropping feet first the three feet to the rock. The man in a uniform turned toward her, leaving Millie prone, skirts turned up, her head lying in the stones, a thin line of red running from a cut in her forehead.

"You! You are the one I came down her for!" The man yelled.

'One of the midshipmen - Buetow!' She thought as he slowly crawled toward her. She looked around for some weapon, but nothing came to hand. Behind the midshipman she could see Millie turning over, reaching toward the pistol case that lay ten feet away on a ledge of timber.

"Why me? What are you doing down here, Mr. Buetow? Why are you not with your division?" She had to keep his attention from what Millie was doing.

"Division, with what's left of a crew on this ship? Why should I? No it's better here with you, darlin'" He had almost reached her, she let him put a hand on her neck. Fighting the impulse to look at what Millie was doing. His other hand encircled her waist and now she could see her servant aiming one of the brace of pistols at the midshipman. If Millie fired at this range, the ball would go through him! No! She had to fight, to get away. In the first panic reaction, her knee came up, but in the close confines between ballast and the deck head above, the blow landed high, just below his waist, not enough for the disabling blow she had hoped, but enough to break his hold.

 

Millie fired, the explosion in the tiny area seemed as loud as one of the twelve pounders. The ball went high, splintering a hundred shards of wood from a timber. Buetow threw her away from him, his greater strength hurling her into the hull timbers. Stars seemed to rain in the darkness. From so far away, a second explosion then a scream from her friend, a scream that was cut off suddenly.

'I have to get up, I have to move!' She told herself, 'I have to get to Millie!' Rolling over she got to her knees, tearing her trousers and her leg on a sharp edged rock. Her vision was clearing, her head came round and she peered through the fleeing grayness to see the midshipman, his hulk bowed up over Millie.

"You bitch! Shoot at me would you! Hit me too you whore!" He wiped at his face. Amanda could see dark streaks come away on his hand. He wiped the hand on his trousers and his fingers undid the buttons of the fall fly. "No, you look at me!" His other hand was across Millie's mouth; her eyes were wide with terror. "Your mistress won't bother us, she's out cold and I'll have her later conscious or not!"

Millie must have bit his fingers for he reared back with a yell, his hands going around her throat, picking her up like a doll and slamming her back into the ballast. Amanda found a stone under her palms and crabbing up behind the midshipman, she raised it as high as she could and brought it down on the back of his skull.

She felt the bone shatter and fell on top of him, her hands and the sharp stone sinking into the back of his ruined head. He jerked under her, in spasms as his life fought its way out of him.

It took a long minute before she was able to crawl toward her dear friend and companion. "Millie?" She whispered, touching the older woman's cheek. "Millie?" This time more of a plaintive cry. There was no answer. Gently turning Millie Grimes head toward her, she closed the lifeless eyes, shutting out, if Millie could see in the afterlife, the horror of this place. Amanda laid her head on the older woman's shoulder, encircling her with an arm, and cried into the softness of Millie's shawl.

Not sure how long she had lain there, she was roused by the sound of men shouting and what must have been a skirmish on deck. On the Altamira? Were they being taken?

'I have to get topside!' She yelled at her unresponsive body. Drawing her knees up, she crawled to the hatch and pulled herself through.

***

"And then I came up as quickly as I could." The tears were pooling in her eyes as the memory of the hellish scene faded away. Sometime during her recital, Edward's fingers had wound themselves around her arm. She placed a hand on his and looked back at the panel of officers.

"You confirm that you did kill this officer?" Simpson said, leaning forward in his chair, one eyebrow cocked upward, the feather of the quill pointed directly at her.

"In self defense and defense of my friend. Yes. And I would do it again if I must." She answered, the tracks of the two silent tears still wet on her face. Simpson sat back with a satisfied huff and gave Montague a smile of triumph.

"This is not the time to discuss that, Admiral Simpson." Montague's words were harsh. Ten years seniority between him and Simpson made a distinct difference. "Mrs. Pellew," His words were gentle but insistent. "Is there anyone who can confirm your story? Saw what happened?"

Amanda shook her head from side to side very slowly. "No. No one. We were alone in the lady hole."

A slightly worried look crossed the older man's face, and Edward's hand tightened on her arm. Montague reached for the gavel before him. "This inquest is in recess, to reconvene at four bells in the forenoon watch in the morning."

Simpson leaned over to Montague and Soames turned his head to listen to whatever was being said. The door to the cabin slammed open, pulled from the outside. Amanda, who was standing, Edward's hands holding both of hers, drawing from each other mutual support, and Edward turned to the door. The officers of the court stood up to try to see over the heads of the crowd.

O'Hearn, musket in hand, pushed through the throng, making way for Lieutenant Baines who held a little boy in his arms. A mewling sound came from the three figures and a ball of gray fur bounded from the little boy's arms.

"Order! Order!" Montague shouted, beating his mallet into its wooden block. A couple of hits scarred the fine surface of the dining table. "Order!" The voices died down and Baines stood before the tribunal. "What is this?" Montague demanded.

"Sir, this is Younger Kirkland, and he has something to tell you."

The board sat back in their places, Edward and Amanda resumed their seats. The gray kitten leaped into Pellew's lap and began to rub against the cuff of his jacket, then started the climb up an arm, Edward grabbed it by the scruff of it's neck and securely replaced it in his lap where the animal started to mewl again. "Shhh, Admiral, be quiet." He whispered as he held the little cat in place.

Montague looked through his eyebrows at the boy. "Let the lad down, Mr. Baines." The boy was lowered to his feet and stood leaning against Baines' legs, the lieutenant's hands still on his shoulders. "Do you have something to tell us? Were you in the hold?"

"Yes." Tiny and shaky, the lad's voice confirmed that he was there. The boy looked up at Baines who nodded for him to turn back to the admiral.

"And did you see what happened to Mr. Buetow?"

"Yes."

"Did Mrs. Pellew hit Mr. Buetow?"

"Mr. Buetow was a bad man. He hurt Auntie Grimes."

Baines crouched down bringing his lips to the boy's ear. "You have to answer the Admiral's question, Younger. Did you see Mrs. Pellew hit Mr. Buetow?"

"Auntie Pellew hit Mr. Buetow. Mr. Buetow had his, you know," The lad stopped again, looking back at Baines, who had not stood up again, Baines nodded for him to go on. "Thing out and was going to hurt Auntie Grimes again." Younger hid his face in Baines' coat; the lieutenant's arms went around the child.

Montague stood and came around the table, going to one knee before the tiny lad. Soames followed him, leaning over to hear what was said. Simpson remained in place, scowling at the discarded quill before him.

"Mr. Kirkland, why are you just now telling us about this?" Montague asked, his voice pitched carefully to urge the boy to turn to him to speak.

"I hid, sir."

"Why? Come now, no harm will come to you." Montague's hand stroked the boy's hair.

"I was afraid sir. I hid in the high part of the stern. It was dark."

"You saw Mr. Buetow, why didn't he see you?"

"I chase the Admiral in to the hidey hole then the bad man came. I saw him hit Auntie Grimes. Kitty was so quiet, he was 'fraid too. I loved Auntie Grimes! She was good to me!" The boy turned to Baines again and began to cry.

Soames and Montague stood up; Baines picked the lad up again and held him close. "I found him, sir, still hiding in the highest part of the stern, there is a little screened off place back there, below the bread room. He's been there for almost two days sir. Kitten there with him. I would not have found him if the little thing hadn't been hungry. He saw the whole thing sir. It was self-defense on Mrs. Pellew's part."

Montague looked at Soames, who nodded and then over to Simpson who pursed his lips and nodded assent. Simpson's gaze went to Pellew with a hard look, one that told Pellew that he still bore ill will and that they were still not finished with each other. Montague, seeing the look, but saying nothing, turned back to the table.

Rapping sharply with his gavel again, he gained the attention of the people in the cabin.

"This inquest finds nothing to bind Mrs. Amanda Pellew over to the magistrate. This inquest is dismissed."

'Lieutenant Baines does not seem to be surprised that he's been called to the captain's quarters.' Charles Hammond thought as he took over the watch from that officer. 'Not long now and we'll pass Land's End. Then Plymouth and a long coach ride to Portsmouth.' Portsmouth, was where the Falcon lay in harbor waiting for him to take her as master and commander. Whatever misgivings he may have had before about becoming a commanding officer were gone. Three days as the acting captain of the Altamira removed all doubts. If he could captain this sinking tub, he could captain anything.

The Altamira was headed for dry dock for permanent repair of the hole in her forepeak. Jury repairs had been made and the water was stopped from flooding the ship. The three master carpenters from Altamira, Nemesis and Simpson's ship, that man had been given with a grudge at Montague's request, assembled a foremast that would at least hoist a topsail and course and the Altamira could be cast off from her sister ship. She would still be slow and the Montezuma would keep company, as would the Nemesis till they were warped into the dry dock at Plymouth.

As it was the master, Bennington, was supervising the grappling of the Montezuma to the Altamira. Four divisions of hands, two on each ship were steadily and slowly drawing the two ships together, another division on each ship setting fenders to cushion the sides. It was slow tedious work that would allow the Montezuma to act as a sheer hulk to raise the foremast. Topmen were working the lines and spars that would be used as a rude crane. Hammond knew if things went well, the Montezuma would be under her own sail by sundown. It was a dangerous job, but these professionals made it look easy, each person with a job to do and all orchestrated by the master, the carpenter and the bosun.

Hammond turned away from the crews and walked to the stern, seating himself on the flag locker as if he didn't have a care in the world. He hoped that was the way it appeared to those around him. He considered his situation. At Portsmouth his command waited, the Falcon, a sloop of war, his first step to post rank. Here in the Altamira he had fallen deeply in love with his best friend's wife. He had committed the sin; at least he considered it a sin, of making his feelings known to her. One slip from him or a careless word from her and his oldest friend in the navy would find a reason to challenge him. There were still two days with fair wind or more with foul weather to landfall at Plymouth.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Baines cross the deck and disappear toward the main cabin. Hammond did smile at that. At least he didn't have to stand in front of Edward Pellew and report what he knew about the midshipman, Buetow.

***

Edward Pellew has feasted on steak, fresh steak cut from Mrs. Pellew's cow. Tough, yes, stringy certainly, but fresh! The empty plate sat on the long table, with a napkin draped across the remains. A half filled tankard of red wine was at his elbow. This was the surgeon's idea of how to build up his blood. The Altamira's log was propped on the fat bottomed decanter. He was trying to catch up on the last three days of ship's activities.

Grimes had not returned to his service, preferring to stay on the Montezuma. The carpenters had removed the partitions that had screened off the Grimes quarters from Edward and Amanda's. Amanda was going through the Grimes' meager belongings and packed them away. Edward saw her fight back the tears as she carefully placed the well-used sewing case in the rough box the carpenters had knocked together. Edward had insisted on reading the service over her himself, swaying in the pale sunshine, Amanda holding tightly to him to keep him from staggering. There was a moment when he blinked back the water from his own eyes, and the body was gone. Draped in a flag, as were his officers and men, the last casualty from the long January war.

The knock came softly, Amanda laid down the yellow gown that Millie had worn the day she came aboard the Altamira and went to open it. Pellew looked up from his reading with a bit of a shock, Baines, so youthful at the turn of the year looked ten years older than his age. Now, his third lieutenant was his first, Rimble gone to the Montezuma and Stanhope dead. Edward motioned to one of the chairs on the opposite side of the table. Amanda, without a word from him, placed a glass on the table and reached for the decanter. He intercepted her hand; his fingers were cold compared to the gentle warmth that radiated from hers. He smiled at her, receiving a gentle upturning of the lips, but her eyes were still somber.

"Captain, should I not detail off one of the hands for a servant?" Stanhope asked.

Pellew looked askance of his wife.

"No, Captain. Our arrangement suits me fine. Keeping busy will make the time pass more quickly." She answered.

"Very well, m'dear." Pellew answered, his eyes not leaving her face, nor his hand falling from her fingers.

"Do you wish me to withdraw, Captain? You have ship's business?" She asked.

"You may if you wish." He answered, unclosing his grasp and letting her go.

"Captain Hammond has the deck. Ma'am. I'm sure he would welcome your company." Baines said. "And, they are about to step in the jury foremast. You might wish to watch. It's not often you see that done at sea."

"Thank you, Mr. Baines. Perhaps I shall go up." Tying the ends of her shawl together and taking her cloak from the peg behind the door, she stepped out into the waning sunshine.

"It's hard on her, loosing her friend. I fear that she still hasn't made peace with it yet." Edward said as he turned back to his officer. "That's what I wanted to talk to you about. You and Buetow came aboard at the same time and from the same ship. I can't bring myself to call him mister. What a terrible thing. Tell me what you know of him. I sense that you know more than you have entered in the log or have related to Captain Hammond. I also remember the night before Christmas, you were watching him with especial attention, more than you paid to the other young gentlemen."

Baines seemed to take a few seconds to consider his answer. "Thaddeus Buetow was my brother in law's son by a previous marriage. My sister begged me to get him a place, provided his equipage and bought his place in the Emerald. For the money that was asked and the price agreed upon and paid, Gainesborough took him in. When I heard that there was a post in this ship, I asked to be transferred and that request was granted. I think I wanted to be away from Emerald and from Thaddeus. But there was an opening for a senior midshipman as well and he was sent over. I'm sorry, sir, I should have made his, uh, proclivities known to you. Put you on your guard, so to speak."

"You certainly should have, but I also am at fault for not taking action and making my own enquiries." Pellew played with the quill, not meeting Baines' eyes. "I was told once by Philemon Pownoll that there was nothing, NOTHING that is outside a captain's control. I had forgotten that. I bear as much fault as you."

"I sent Mr. Pengarth after him that day. To find him and bring him with us, but he was already hiding below decks-"

"And I stopped you."

"As you say, sir."

"Well, nothing's to be done about that now. But, I have a report here from Reed, the surgeon, that he saw Buetow with Commodore Simpson in Kingston, and there was this found in his effects by the bosun." Pellew reached behind him with a grunt and threw a small bag of coins on the table, several gold sovereigns spun into the light.

"Oh my dear-" Baines stopped, then carried on, "I knew that Thad knew Simpson's boy Jack. I didn't think anything about it at the time.

"Indeed. Do you think that Buetow may have been our saboteur? Tried to burn us in Boston, dismast us in that storm and knock out the patch?"

"It is possible, but I didn't think that he would go that far."

"Money, or the love of it, makes us all fools at some time, Mr. Baines." Pellew shifted in the chair again, with a short groan and his hand going to his shoulder.

"Should I go, sir? So you can rest? Shall I call Mrs. Pellew?"

"No, just stiff. Let's go over the log and I'll add what's needed." Baines smiled at this and pulled his chair closer to the table. Their heads close together they began to work.

***

Charles Hammond was aware of her even before he saw the deep maroon of her cloak. Studiously and deliberately he moved to the opposite side of the deck. His resolution was to ignore her, nod at her if she recognized him, but that was all. He even went so far as to put the wheel, with both the quartermaster and his mate between them. Even so, he could not avoid casting an eye in her direction.

Occasionally he could see quartermaster following his gaze, but the man said nothing. For fifteen minutes, until the turning of the glass next to the belfry, he stood his ground, but there was nothing for it. She was no longer walking, but leaning on the railing, looking over at the Nemesis with and empty stare. 'Drawn to her,' he thought, 'Like a moth to a flame. I can't look away and I can't stand here.' He turned and with halting steps crossed the deck. He came to a stop, almost standing at attention a few feet from her.

He drew breath. "Mrs. Pellew."

Her answer was tardy, almost as if she didn't trust herself to answer. "Captain Hammond."

He turned to her, one half step taken in her direction. "Amanda I - "

"Charlie!" She cut him off with a harsh whisper. "He was awake." Her head had still not turned toward him. "Awake!"

"Oh my God." One hand flung out to the railing, he turned to the sea, eyes away from her and the quartermasters. "He will kill me."

***

The Pellew's dinner had been a quiet affair. One of the wardroom stewards delivered the meal from the galley and Amanda served him in silence. He watched her carefully. She ordered the hanging cot from the coach moved into the sleeping cabin. It swung there gently with the rocking of the ship. The candles were snuffed out and the lanterns extinguished until only one in the main cabin and one in the sleeping space were lit.

Drawing the curtains across the stern windows, she brought his night things from a trunk and he began to undo the buttons of his weskit. She took his shirt, laying it on one of the dining chairs and picking up his nightshirt she eased it over his shoulder, then his head and let it drop so he was covered. She stopped, waiting.

He stood looking at her stupidly. She had always removed his small clothes and trunk hose, why wasn't she moving toward him. She turned away, back toward him. "Captain, if you will undo your self I will help you remove your stockings."

He wasn't quite sure how to answer. Raising an eyebrow, he turned his back to her and raised his nightshirt, unbuttoning his full trunk hose and letting them fall to his knees. With a grunt he sat on the stern seat, and worked the heavy cotton stockings off his feet. "Very well, here." He held them out to her standing as he did so and beginning to walk toward the sleeping cabin. "This is a single cot, Amanda." He said as she held it stead for him to ease himself in. "Where are you going to sleep?"

"I'm moving the pillows from the stern seat and I have covers enough for a pallet. I will be fine, Captain."

"I thought we'd left this 'Captain' thing in Boston." He said as she drew the down comforter over his shoulders. The cords in her neck were tight with held back emotion. He reached for her hand and she moved away from his reach, blowing out the lantern that hung at the head of his cot. "Amanda." He said into the darkness. "What is wrong with you? Are you well? The baby?"

"I am well." He heard the rustle of her clothing as she removed her outer gown, and the clink of her pocket as it was laid on the table.

'The scissors must still be in it.' He thought. He heard her settle her coverlets around her. "Goodnight Amanda."

"Sleep well, Edward." The reply was as listless as she had seemed since his awakening

He listened into the night. With a two-day rest before he awakened, sleeplessness haunted him. Four bells, then five into the midnight watch, the tramp of the marine sentry, creaking of the tiller as it sawed against its chains and ropes. But she did not sleep. Sometime before six bells he heard her breathing break into a light rhythm.

Throwing back the covers he eased himself from his resting place. She had drawn back one of the curtains before retiring and the moon cast it's beams into the cabin. It was light enough for him to see. It was almost as bright as it had been on their wedding night. As weak and bloodless as he was, the memory of that torrid night in Kingston stirred him. He lowered himself to the window seat; it's bare boards hard against his buttocks and considered his wife.

"Briar Rose." He whispered, the name he had given her weeks, was it only three? ago as she slept in his cot in the coach. Now, she lay on her side, one arm flung out, the white cap that normally encased her hair, mahogany hair that looked black in the stark moonlight, under her fingers. Locks of hair streamed wildly over her shoulders, across her face and over the pallet onto the deck. Her breasts strained at the fabric of her nightgown, they had changed since marriage, become rounder, softer. Blankets covered the rest of her figure. A figure that was still slim and still youthful.

'Two or three more months and I will begin to see my child growing in you.' He thought, a smile passed across his face, then a pensive look took its place. 'And perhaps I will not be there to see it. Briar Rose, I don't want to leave you.' He leaned forward, his shadow touching hers. 'Ask me to stay. Ask me to stay with you.' He reached out a hand just to touch her fingers, not to rouse her from sleep.

"Briar Rose." He whispered aloud. She stirred and turned onto her back, never breaking the even breaths that marked her rest. With a soft groan he slipped from the seat to kneel beside her. His long hair, uncased from its ribbon fell over his shoulder and curtained her from the moonlight as he brushed his lips across hers. "Oh Briar Rose, be my wife." He sighed into the night.

"Edward, my love!" Was her desperate whisper back as she came from the deck to meet his embrace. In the still sharp shadowed moonlight, he saw all of the love of that wedding night reflected back to him; his heart soared as he saw the woman he had married. But the joy was fleeting as she pulled back and the anxious strained face fell back into place across her visage.

"Amanda, it seems as if all I do is ask you what is wrong. Can't you talk to me?" He touched her face with his cold fingers. The fire in the brazier was dying and chill was descending with it. She drew away from his grasp. "I want you to talk to me. Come here, let me hold you." With his good arm he reached for her again catching her arm. She looked full into his face, it seem to him as if she were trying to read his thoughts.

"You don't resent me? You don't hate me?"

The dimple formed between his eyes, a puzzled frown followed it. "Why would I be angry with you? You saved my life! I love you!"

"Edward!" She cried and came to him in a rush, leaving covers empty on the cushions. He encircled her as best he could, his left arm and hand, still stubborn and stiff unable to wrap itself around her, brushed the wild curls from her face as he nuzzled at her cheeks and eyes, his day grown stubble of dark beard abrading her mouth as his lips found their way to hers again and again.

All the tears that she had held in for the past few days fell freely from her lashes, wetting them both. Crossing his legs he formed a nest for her to snuggle into and she formed herself to him. Breaking away for a moment, she pulled the coverlets around their shoulders, making a kind of tent around them to keep them warm. He leaned back against the cabinetry of the stern window seat, still keeping her securely tucked against him.

"Now, Amanda Pellew, you will tell me what is wrong. You will do so instantly and without hesitation."

"Now, Amanda Pellew, you will tell me what is wrong. You will do so instantly and without hesitation." He said.

She pulled back, turning her head away from him. He had learned that this was her way of saying 'I'm thinking.' Something he didn't want her to do. Gently but insistently he turned her face back to him with a thumb on her chin. "I said no hesitation. That's an order, one you are duty bound to obey." He kissed her gently and drew her head back to his shoulder.

"I kissed Charlie Hammond."

The harrumph of a suborned laugh tore through his chest turning into a lightning shot of pain through his injured shoulder. "Owwww. Is that all that's bothering you?"

She was sitting back from him now, still captured within the nest of his lap. Her gaze was incredulous and almost grotesque in the waning moonlight. "Are you not angry?"

"That's all you did? Kiss him?" The laughter was still bubbling up from somewhere inside him. The first time he'd felt like laughing for what seemed like weeks. She nodded vigorously. "Well, that's all right. There have been a few times on this trip that I wanted to kiss him too! Amanda," He said as he shook his head at her, "I love you." The smile broke across his face, then immediately died away.

"Mandy, there are a lot of things that I don't remember about the past few days. From the time I passed out till you kissed me awake, there are things that were real, like the doctor telling me to grasp his hand to find out if my arm would work, I remember that, but then there were my brothers with me, as young as if we were still children. They pushed me around, just like they used to. That was not real. Charlie was even there in some kind of unreal dream with you and our, our child." He touched her belly, his hand splaying over her still flat stomach. "How much of what I remember is real I will never know. I don't think I want to know." He slipped down in the mass of pillows that were serving as her mattress, straightening out and taking her down with him.

She broke away to gather the bed coverings from his hanging cot, laying the padding on the deck and spreading the down cover over hers to keep them warm. Wadding one of her pillows up she cushioned his left shoulder and snuggled back into their nest.

"Charlie Hammond is the best friend, except for you, that I have on this earth." He whispered to her. "I have trusted him with you far more than I should. If all that happened was a kiss, and no further, then I can't honestly say that I would not have done the same thing if our positions were reversed. But, Amanda, I told you once I was a jealous man where you are concerned."

"Then you are not angry with me?"

"No, and not with Charlie either." He nuzzled the top of her head. "But don't tell him that." He drew her close, and she molded herself tighter to him. Smiling into the darkness, holding his family as near as he could, they both finally drifted off for what was left of the night.

***

The morning saw the Altamira under her own power. The jury foremast was drawing with a course and topsail spread. Her captain was walking the quarterdeck his lady on his arm. Charlie Hammond disappeared instantly from his watch when Pellew climbed the ladder and took over the deck.

"Not long now Amanda. Tomorrow we will pass Lands End, a few hours more and Plymouth." They made the practiced turn toward the stern.

"I'm not sure I want this trip to end. Captain, I am glad that the battle is done and I mourn those of our friends who are gone. Millie especially, but when we get to Plymouth the world will intrude on us."

"Don't you want a home, Mandy, I would think - "

"Yes, but I will be losing you." The bitterness was not hidden from him.

"Why do you think that? I will still be your husband - "

"You will not be with me." A simple statement, he covered her hand with his and squeezed her fingers. He didn't have an answer or a hope for her. Unless she asked him to stay with her, he would remain a serving officer. He squinted out at the sea. The sunshine bright on the water his brown eyes contracting to dim the glare, heavens, he loved this life! The smell of the sea, the alive deck under his feet. He knew that this is where he belonged. He dreaded seeing the land as much as he hated the thought of leaving her.

He was going to have to make a choice.

***

"Land ho!" The lookout sang from the fighting top of the Montezuma. Rimble's ship led the flotilla, with the Altamira next to her and just a little behind, followed by the Nemesis and trailed by Simpson's ship. Simpson was lagging, Pellew had seen the signal flags soar up on the Nemesis' mizzen: "Make more sail."

Rimble held the dispatches and was to land in Portsmouth and have the honor, if it could be called that, of delivering them to the Admiralty in London. In would be only a short time now before he sailed off, leaving the other two ships to shepherd the Altamira through Cawsand Bay, the sound and into the Hamoaze.

Pellew had said his farewells to Rimble the night before, a quiet dinner, only himself, Amanda, James Sawyer and the commander of the Montezuma. Pellew knew that the man would not return to his service. Montague had almost guaranteed that in retaining Rimble in command. When Rimble had returned to his ship, James Sawyer had gone with him; he was to report to the Admiralty as well and would assist Rimble in any way possible.

Sawyer had made himself useful anywhere he could. Whatever Montague or Pellew asked of him, he did gladly. Pellew watched him with young Pengarth, almost with jealousy; the lad took to the former captain of the Centurion like flies to syrup. The young man was learning from the senior captain, and Sawyer seemed to have no sense of position, he was enjoying the time spent with the midshipman without the cares of command. It was a good situation for both of them.

His wife was watching Penlee Point and the Adder rocks grow as they gained sight of the land. Her cape was molded to her figure by the wind. The hem was actually flapping against the Altamira's side with loud cracks. She struggled to keep it quiet but to no avail. His lips turned up in a small smile. Turning to anchor the wildly flapping cloth she caught sight of him and answered with an unselfconscious grin. She had awakened him at the calling of the morning watch, running her fingers over his stomach lightly, disturbing the soft down and causing his breath to come ragged out of his chest. Gentle kisses with gentle touches and they celebrated their last night together on the Altamira. Pregnant or not, she could still entice him and excite him as no other woman had yet been able to do.

He turned away to consider his ship. Hours now and perhaps she would not remain in his command. The dockyard's schooner had already taken station and passed the information that the dry dock was ready to receive the Altamira. It was time. The working of the ship against the waves under the pressure of the jury courses caused the pumps to come back into use. Their noise was constant and had become so familiar that they were background noise.

Charles Hammond had not spent any more time that absolutely necessary in the Pellew's presence. Edward's invitation to dine with them on the night before was politely declined with an explanation that he was too tired from his watch keeping duties. Pellew had let that pass with no notice.

"Sir, the Montezuma is withdrawing from station." The signal midshipman informed him, drawing him from his reverie. Raising his hat to Rimble and Sawyer he watched, not without some emotion, the Montezuma make the long turn to starboard that would begin their passage to Portsmouth.

***

 

The going had been tough the jury foremast was not able to supply the pulling power to bring the Altamira through the sound. Cables from the Nemesis ahead and from Simpson's ship astern helped her through the rough water. They finally released their charge as the dockyard's crews came aboard and began to warp her into the dry dock's basin. There she would be unloaded, made naked down to the kelson. Guns removed, all casks and furnishings taken away and her men paid off, then she would be towed by cables wound round the bollards into the dry dock to have timbers wedge her upright and the gates shut behind her and the water pumped away. Then the shipwrights could assess the damage and give the Admiralty advice on scrapping her or making her like new.

Edward Pellew touched her railings, running his fingers over the worn and wounded places. She was his first major command. Would he retain her? Would he be banished into another sloop of war, or turned out on half pay? 'It's better I don't worry about that now.' He thought. 'I still have a few more hours of possessing her.'

"Captain Pellew?" Amanda's voice intruded from below the quarterdeck railing.

"Yes, m'dear?" He leaned on both elbows and smiled down on her.

"Should I order our trunks up? You said you wanted me ready to disembark as soon as we were tied up."

"Jacob's will see to them. Just pack your cabin things."

"Yes, Captain." Her hand was shielding her eyes from the sunshine. "What a beautiful day!"

"Indeed." He hoped she remembered that days like this were far and few between in England in January. "Mrs. Pellew?"

"Yes?"

"Jacobs will be going into Dock with you to find lodgings. I'll be with the ship for some time. I'll come to you later."

"I understand." She disappeared from his view, going back into the main cabin. He heard the door close behind her.

'She shut that a little too hard.' He thought, with a grimace. 'I said the wrong thing again. I should have had her wait for me.' He shook his head and walked aft to the flag locker to see the Nemesis drop her anchors and furl her sails. Almost instantly the admiral's barge was swung over, crewed, the admiral himself into it and the oars flashing in the sunlight as they took Montague to the port admiral's quarters. The truth was he didn't know when he would be able to leave the ship and the dockyard. If he was lucky in a few hours, if he was not, it could be nightfall or after before he could plant his knees under her table in whatever quarters she and Jacobs procured for them. He smiled at the double entendre of that thought.

Snugged into the basin an hour later and drawn up tight to the bollards in front of the Officers' Offices, Edward Pellew saw his personal belongings swung over the side, once again, he counted off all twelve of Amanda's trunks, some a little worse for wear. With a lifted eyebrow he hoped that everything was safe. The trunks had been soaked when the hold flooded. 'Oh well, it's part of a sea voyage. She will understand.' He shrugged, and walked toward the main cabin. He could at least escort her to the side.

They had come back out on deck in time to meet Charlie Hammond, his own dunnage carried by a couple of hands, heading for the gangway. Edward could tell that Hammond had been startled to see them and was all-aback. "Charlie! We missed you at dinner. Sorry you weren't able to attend." He said, a broad grin on his face. He held out his hand.

Hammond hesitated for a moment before taking it, looking to Amanda before extending his own and shaking Edward's firmly. "Edward, it's been - well - an experience." He turned to Amanda, taking her fingers and bringing them to his lips. "Mrs. Pellew." It was almost a whisper.

Edward Pellew saw something pass between Charlie and Amanda, something he was not sure he liked. But whatever it was disappeared like smoke. Charles released his hold on her and quickly crossed the planks to the wharf.

Jacobs was waiting on the wharf and was exchanging a few words with Hammond as Edward assisted his wife onto the planking, with a word of caution he let go of her arm. She picked up her skirts and walked quick and sure footed across the springy boards. A few more steps and she stopped, just short of the two men. Suddenly as she began to take a step, she stumbled falling forward.

Charles Hammond reached her in one step, his arms outstretched and catching her before even a knee could hit the pavement. Pellew found himself on the gangplank and started across before he was aware that he was moving to her.

At her side in a moment, he took her from Charlie's grasp, Hammond backed away quickly. "Amanda?" Edward questioned, "Are you all right?"

"Of course I am." She answered. "I just stumbled. I don't know why!"

"Sea legs." Hammond said, "She hasn't got her land legs. Be careful Mrs. Pellew. After as much time at sea as you have had, you will find that the ground doesn't move. Even I have to be careful about that."

Edward Pellew looked up from tending to his wife to thank Hammond, but he was gone. He had melted into the crowd of officers and seamen working around the Altamira.

***

His latter estimation was correct. It was well after nightfall when he saw the great water casks hauled out of the lowest hold and the shot garlands after them. The powder would come off in the early morning hours, with the less people around the better. The stern lantern was lit, just as if they were at sea and he walked in the dim shadows of the poop, his boat cloak flapping at his ankles, and the breeze plucking at his hat.

A midshipman ran across the pavement waving a piece of paper in his hand. "Captain Pellew!"

"Come aboard." It was the order he had been waiting on all afternoon. Unfolding the note he turned it toward the stern lantern. "Mr. Baines!"

"Aye, Sir." The man came out of the shadows.

"You have the deck, sir. Seems I have been summoned to the Port Admiral." Without ceremony he gained the pavement and with careful steps he crossed the ten yards to the Officer's Offices.

In the anteroom a very sleepy clerk barely looked up at him as he entered. "Pellew, reporting as requested."

"Have a seat sir." The man said with one glance up the clerk dipped a quill and marked off his name. "It will be just a few moments."

The Captain did as requested, balancing his hat across his knees. He could not help but hear the conversation in the inner office. The door was not a good fit and the words leaked out under it.

"If you had not have pleaded that you were not ready for sea we would have left Boston a good twenty four hours earlier. Sir! I have it on authority that you were ready for sea! In all respects!"

That was Montague's voice. Pellew closed his eyes, as if that would help him hear well.

"SIR! I protest!"

'My God,' Pellew thought, 'That is Simpson!'

"You almost cost us a fine ship and some of the best warrant officers from the Kingston command." This was a milder voice, but with the same tenor as Montague. "I believe I must support Admiral Montague, Admiral Simpson. The stores and shops of this dockyard are at your disposal. I believe that your orders state to make ready for sea, report to the Portsmouth yard, take on your supernumeries and depart as quickly as possible for the East Indian command. I'm sure that further orders will await you there. Is there anything else, Montague?"

"Nothing, sir." Montague's voice again.

"It's that damn Pellew whelp! He's done this to me. What kind of in-"

"Admiral Simpson!" The Port Admiral. "You forget yourself, sir"

Pellew heard the scrape of a chair on the rough flooring. "Perhaps I do sir. I beg your pardon." Simpson replied. Footsteps were coming to the portal. Pellew did his best to appear dumb to the conference he'd just been a party to. The clerk was on his feet and grabbing for Simpson's cloak and hat before the door opened.

"Ohhhgg." Was the only notice that Pellew received as Simpson strode from the port admirals offices. His face was red and his eyes were alive with fire. Pellew pitied his boats crew if they were not there to receive their officer promptly.

'Poor Wyndham, even she does not deserve this.' He thought as he sat back in the chair. The clerk stepped into the office at the request of his officer. This time whatever conversation took place was well out of his hearing. He picked up a newspaper and pretended to read. The clerk scuttled like a beetle surprised by the light out of the office, searched through a drawer, took out a sailcloth packet with a red admiralty seal and returned behind the closed door.

'Make haste and wait, the Navy's curse.' Edward thought returning to the column before his eyes.

A few minutes passed before the clerk returned. "The admiral will see you now."

Pellew stood, straightened his uniform, wondering for the twenty fifth time why he had sent his best uniforms into town with Amanda, and made his way to the tall double doors.

Montague sat, just as the governor in Kingston had, off to one side of the port admiral's chair. They had both lit cigars and the room was beginning to fill with the heady smoke. A couple of glasses sat on the edge of the desk, both half filled.

He drew himself to attention on the rich carpet. "Edward Pellew, reporting as requested, sir."

"Yes, yes. I know who you are. Have a seat young man." The port admiral said.

Montague held up the decanter and shook it at him. "A drink, Pellew?"

"Thank you, sir, yes, sir."

Taking the goblet he folded himself in an armchair.

"Everything you touch must turn to gold, Pellew." The port admiral leaned forward, his hands coming together and fingers laced together. Just as with his old captain on the Nautilus, there was the packet under his palms. "Montague says that you have no patronage, but there must be someone in the Admiralty who is looking out for you. There are other captains senior to you that would beg for a command like the Altamira."

Was he going to be able to keep her? He could feel his mouth open in expectation. Captains senior to him! He was going to be confirmed!

"Glad you are sitting down, eh?" The admiral's hands came apart and his pudgy fingers wrapped themselves around the sailcloth.

"Go on, Samuel, don't keep him on tenterhooks. Let the poor lad know what he's getting into." Montague said, leaning forward into the light.

"Oh very well." The port admiral must have had a sense of the dramatic and was a bit peeved that he had to go to the point. "Here you are." He passed the envelope to Pellew. "Take your time to read them later. Montague says you want to get home to your handsome lady. Saw her earlier today, a prize for sure; little problem standing up, but that other officer was there to help her up."

"Thank you, sir, she is-" Pellew began.

"Yes, yes, yes. Here's what they say: You have some leave time coming. Take two months of it. Come back here on the first of April. The master shipwright says that she'll be ready for final fitting out then. Settle your lady, take some time with her, find her a place away from here, please. Then when you come back, you will be headed back to Boston. Seems Montague here has a soft spot for you and wants you on his station. Can't say I blame him much."

The rest of the interview passed in a blur. Confirmed in post rank, confirmed into the Altamira. He could ask for nothing more. Far to early and he was far too young. Three more stiff glasses of port and his head was beginning to swim, for he had no supper. He sat up in the chair, cigar burned down to his fingers. Amanda! 'What if she asks me to stay? Thank goodness I never voice my offer to her! Did she hear me? Was she really asleep? Oh dear, what have I gotten myself into?' He thought.

"Pellew, Montague, I've forgotten the time! My wife doesn't hold dinner for me, Monty, come on home with me; we'll have my man make up something. Pellew, you'd better let your first know you are sleeping in the town and go home as well. Tell your wife the good news."

"Aye sir." He struggled to his feet and staggered just a bit.

"Be careful there, boy. Get out of here. I want to go home."

"Aye, sir." He fled from the room, his stomach rolling with each staggering step he took.

***
With merriment in his eyes and a barely suppressed laugh, Jacobs led his unsteady, lurching captain to an inn, certainly not one of the largest in the town of Dock, then up to the top floor where Amanda had engaged a suite of rooms for them. He thanked Jacobs and the matron of the place let him in.

"Mandy!" He called, looking about him at the same time. Comfortable furnishings, a settee and armchair a small table with two dining chairs, china laid on for both of them. He could see through the door, the bed covers move as she slipped out of them and then the flare of her dressing gown as she pulled it around her shoulders.

"Edward! Let me ring for some supper for you!" She tied the loose garment around her waist.

"Housekeeper is sending up something." Forgetting that he didn't have his land legs either and with a grin on his face, he picked her up, dancing around the room tickling her ribs and kissing at her face at the same time.

"Teddy! What's wrong with you! You have never acted this way before!" She exclaimed between the peels of laughter

"I'm confirmed, Mandy! This is no temporary commission! I've got her!"

Her smile died away. He stopped dancing but did not set her down, his own mirth skidding to a stop. "Aren't you happy for me, Mandy? We've two months for a proper honeymoon now. I have been granted leave."

"I had hoped-" A slight catch in her voice, "Teddy, I am happy for you!"

"It means advancement, I'll be an admiral for sure and you a titled lady! I promise you. It will all come true!" He could feel the grin take wing again, his happiness bubbling up. She smiled back and encircled him with her arms, squeezing him as tightly as he held her.

"Edward," she whispered into his ear, "I don't ever want to let you go."