Chapter 14 - The Plan
For the second time in as many days, a carriage carrying Captain Sir Edward Pellew slowed to a stop in front of the Admiralty Office at Whitehall in London. Once again, a fierce and formal Captain Pellew disembarked and made his way up the steps to the main door.
His thoughts on the ride in were of the previous night and day, of Katharine, and of his renewed sense of his complete self. Even the routine of reporting to Admiral Lord Hood, not that it was ever taken for granted, just that it was a regular occurrence, was different now. But then again, everything was different now. Everything that mattered to him was now painted with the broad brushstrokes of warm color known only by those whose lives were shared with another in the truest love. He felt a renewed commitment to his ship, his men, and his King. And, he hoped, a renewed patience with the likes of Hood and Lord Grenville, whose orders he must follow, but most likely, would be tainted by the odor of self-importance and gamesmanship. He had seen it before.
After a tedious wait, which Edward had always believed to be part of the master plan to unnerve a waiting officer, all the better to intimidate him in the presence of a higher-ranking, but most likely a less well-informed officer, Edward was directed up the stairs to the great conference room where just two days before, they had listened to Katharine's tale of intrigue.
"Ah, Captain Pellew, sir," Hood's booming voice intoned as Pellew entered the great room. "How good of you to come on such short notice ." As if I had a choice. the captain thought, as he saluted Hood.
"Yes, Captain," another voice spoke, "quite an expeditious journey. I do believe you will soon see the need for this hurried report." It was Lord Grenville, seated at the conference table with a slew of maps spread before him that were being carefully perused by another gentleman, in fine civilian clothing. The man did not look up as Pellew was addressed by the lords.
Pellew nodded acknowledgement to Grenville and was ushered by Hood to the table.
"Captain Pellew, sir, allow me to introduce Geoffrey Thaxton." The gentleman finally turned at the mention of his name and seemed to notice Pellew's presence for the first time. He offered his hand for Pellew to shake and the two men seemed to study and sum up each other in the course of that one handshake. Thaxton was tall, yet not overly imposing, and of a medium, yet firm and muscular build. Pellew guessed his age at around thirty by the ruddy tone and texture of his complexion, making him far beyond boyishness, yet not too far advanced into manhood. The still-smooth skin around his mouth and eyes appeared to have been not yet graced by the inevitable wrinkles and lines of maturity. His eyes were of a blue-green color unlike anything Pellew had seen before, and were deep set and penetrating. He had a head of thick wavy hair, not blonde, not brown, but somewhere in between, and worn long, tied in the familiar queue, that, Edward thought, looked a tad provincial, considering the fine nature of his most stylish clothing.
Pellew felt his strong gaze upon this Thaxton returned as Thaxton studied Pellew just as succinctly. For a brief moment, Pellew felt a wave of unease wash over him, as it appeared that Thaxton was assessing him as an adversary, or at the least, judging him worthy of complicity. He was. Thaxton knew what lay ahead and he wanted to be certain that the captain who would be his collaborator would hold all the necessary qualifications.
"Gentleman, let us get started with this briefing, for time is truly of the essence. You shall need to return to Indefatigable swiftly to make sail by sunrise tomorrow, and while Thaxton here can fill you in on details as you travel, it is critical that we lay the groundwork here and now." Hood walked to the opposite side of the table and spread the maps about.
"Of course, my lord," Pellew said with a nod of his head. So Thaxton will be sailing with us, and it appears that he is quite in the know about these orders, despite his civilian status. A spy. Another bloody spy!
Grenville began by confirming Pellew's suspicions.
"Mr. Thaxton is in the employ of the Admiralty as an agent of the King in matters of espionage," Grenville said bluntly. I asked him to consult with our document experts in evaluating the validity of the letters and seals which were presented the other day to us by Miss Cobham. We knew the documents were valuable, and would someday present an opportunity to challenge our enemies, but to what degree and how soon, were unknown. Now, after careful evaluation by both the Navy and the Army, it appears that the lady acquired documents which have the potential to stave off a major offensive surge by both the French and the Spanish, and that measures to do so must be put into place immediately. Mr. Thaxton, would you elaborate, please, for the captain?"
"Certainly. To put it simply, Captain, although it is anything but, these documents have the power to mislead our enemies and foil what we believe to be a planned surge toward a possible invasion of England."
Hood could not resist adding his own tuppence to the explanation. "You see, Captain Pellew, Mr. Thaxton here is going to put an end to their plans for invasion, and you're going to help him."
All three men looked to Pellew for his reaction, which was not forthcoming. Pellew's outward demeanor did nothing to betray his inner turmoil over this talk. He did not like the vagaries of espionage, and was uneasy with civilians aboard his ship. After his latest voyage home with a spy, albeit a reluctant spy with whom he had fallen in love, he wished to simply get back to the more predictable matters of war such as blockades and battles.
Thaxton pulled a map from the sheaf them on the table and spread it before them.
"The Army's Intelligence sources have indicated that there are major troop movements by the French away from Paris and north from Rochefort, toward the ports of Brest, St. Malo and Le Havre. Thaxton indicated these areas on the map with a quick jab of his index finger, and moved swiftly through the geography of his theory. He knew that Pellew's experience on the sea and with these areas afforded him brevity and common knowledge.
"We have learned also that troops are massing in Spain, again near port cities, La Caruna and Bilbao." His finger jabbed at each of the marks on the map, and it was clear to see that the logistics of this intelligence pointed to one conclusion. "All are logical locations for launching an invasion of England. And the massing of these troops would appear to indicate that together, France and Spain would have sufficient forces to make such an invasion more than just a bother to His Majesty's forces"
Pellew studied the maps, his eyes wandering westward from the continent to the sea. He reached out to uncover another map and his eyes followed an imaginary line further westward. Anticipating his question, Hood spoke.
"Naval sources confirm that squadrons under the commands of Rousseau and duRonde for the French as well as Martinez, Castillo and Escobar for the Spanish have been recalled from their usual blockades and routes of patrol and most likely will be converging along the northern coasts by February. If allowed to do so, these ships will comprise a fleet of more than ninety strong."
Pellew's unspoken question was answered, in part. " And what of our efforts to deflect or destroy their ships as they make their way back? Surely His Majesty's Navy can reduce on the high seas the number of ships that make it to the coasts."
"Of course. Of course," Grenville said with growing impatience. "But that is a gamble supported by little more than chance. Their ships are careful and circuitous in their routes, and not giving us the benefit of convoys to attack, but rather, they are traveling as single ships. They are sacrificing expeditious routes for guarded methods of return. Better to amass more ships over a longer time than risk failure by hasty planning."
Thaxton spoke up again. "Captain Pellew, the convergence of their fleets is advantageous to us. It buys us valuable time in plotting a ruse that, we trust, will drive the fleets out to sea en masse, where we will be waiting for them, engaging them in battle and leaving the troops stranded on the wrong side of the Channel."
"Forged orders, then." Pellew caught on.
"Yes. We shall use the style of the documents and seals here to provide the French and Spanish commanders with orders to put to sea, driving them right to us, and removing them from any possible invasion tactics."
"A sound plan, sir, to be certain. Am I to trust that it is the *Indefatigable* that will be delivering you to French or Spanish shores to deliver such orders?"
Hood and Grenville exchanged glances. Thaxton's eyes remained intently on Sir Edward.
"That, and more." Thaxton returned his gaze to the map. "There is a man, a Spanish duke, precisely, who, though he professes little interest in the outcome of Spain's conflict so long as it does not adversely affect his amassed fortunes, is actually actively involved in directing espionage activities for the Spanish-French alliance. His estate is in Valencia, far from the conflict, but we have learned that he is now in Vigo, under what we believe to be the guise of a business venture concerning the rich vineyards and wineries of the region. Once again, however, there appears to be an inordinate amount of military presence surrounding the duke and this venture for his appearance in Vigo to be merely a coincidence.
The familiar circumstances rang in Pellew's head. "Armero Castel-Moncayo."
"Yes, Captain. His Most Excellent Lord, the Duke. He appears to be quite the gentleman squire, yet our sources report that it is he who directs much of the intelligence matters of the alliance. He may prove to be a thorn in our side as we attempt to present the forged orders via courier. It is uncertain yet if we shall attempt to replace the orders of the usual couriers with the forgeries or if it shall be necessary to pose as the couriers in order to present them, but in either case, there is one constant. It appears it will be necessary to remove the duke from the picture."
Pellew nodded. It was a logical element of the plan.
"Gentlemen, we haven't much time. It is essential that Indefatigable weigh anchor at sunrise tomorrow to make significant progress before there is a possibility that actual orders are issued to the squadron commanders. Mr. Thaxton, you shall continue to brief Captain Pellew aboard his ship." Hood paused, reaching into his inner coat pocket and retrieving an oilcoth-wrapped packet with a wax seal bearing the crown and anchor imprint.
"These orders are to be opened only after you are under sail and out of the Channel tomorrow. Locations and codes used by the couriers are contained therein, however, it is necessary to leave the most appropriate approach to this task to Mr. Thaxton's discretion once the circumstances are actually surveyed. Captain Pellew sir, direction of this mission is under the command of Mr. Thaxton, save for the operation of your ship and anything encountered before you make land. Is that understood?"
"Perfectly, my lord, but . . ."
"And Captain Pellew," Grenville added off-handedly, "inform only those of your officers you feel are critical to the operation, especially in light of the possibility of your demise should things not go according to plan."
Pellew's eyes glazed at the casualness on Grenville's comment. He now suspected that his would be a far more involved role than simply captaining the ship that would deposit this spy . . .somewhere. He took the packet of orders from Hood.
"Of course, my lord, but might I inquire . . ."
"Let me just say at this time, that should this plan meet with the success anticipated, you, sir, shall be afforded the King's glory in having aided such a bold and daring attempt to turn back the invaders. It will indeed bode well for all of us," Hood said with a pointed look at Sir Edward. Hood was well acquainted with Pellew's concern for the good of his men above all else, seemingly not willing to sacrifice the lives of a few for the lives and livelihoods of many, and certainly not to improve his career prospects.
Sir Edward felt the flush of his indignation at Hood's inference that advancement was such an attractive prospect to him that he would forego settling the issues that would protect the men of his command. He gave voice to words formed in anger and spoken through a jaw tightly clenched by the effort of controlling his indignation.
"Sir, I really must ask . . ."
"Captain Pellew, SIR!" Grenville raised his voice in impatient ire. "Time is of the essence. Mr. Thaxton shall brief you further as he feels necessary, once you are onboard Indefatigable. You are dismissed, gentlemen."
His instincts told Pellew that the lords' reluctance to discuss details had less to do with time constraints and more to do with being able to deny responsibility or complicity should the plan not be successful. This, to Sir Edward, was leadership at its most deplorable.
Pellew noted that Thaxton looked at Hood for a moment longer than seemed appropriate. *It would seem that Thaxton here is also vexed by Hood's dismissal. Is there more to this story than even he knows?*
Pellew tucked the orders into his coat and saluted Hood as Thaxton gathered up his maps and documents and placed them in a large leather satchel. Edward waited for him to ready his papers and shake hands with the lords before turning toward the door. His mind raced with what these orders would mean. He barely heard Hood speak. He turned only after the second time he was hailed by Hood.
"Captain Pellew, by the by, I received word of something that might interest you. Word came yesterday through Spanish diplomatic channels that your Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy and the seamen they were imprisoned with have been set at liberty. Apparently something to do with gratitude for their noble efforts on behalf of the crew of that Spanish vessel at the Devil's Teeth.
Edward's heart missed a beat as he digested what Hood related. Hornblower and Kennedy alive! And the crew - Matthews, Styles, Oldroyd, Chase and Bishop. I must remember to thank the Almighty for the guardian angels that seem to follow those men. And for the old-world sense of honor that is still retained by the dons, despite the aggressiveness and brutal fervor employed by the new leaders of Spain.
Pellew could not hide the slight smile that crossed his lips as he thought of these men returning to his ship, but the manner of Hood announcement left him cold. "By the by," he says? "Might interest me," he says? As if he were telling me what he had for dinner this afternoon! Are the lives of men under his command so trivial?
"Well, my lord, that certainly is good news. It is a credit to the dons that they respect the honor which saved the lives of their countrymen. How soon will the men be able to rejoin us, sir?" Pellew fought to control a measure of distance, lest Hood discover that he thought on Hornblower certainly, and Kennedy to some degree, as sons and that their loss was a personal blow almost beyond repair.
"I understand that they are bound for Oporto, then it will be on to England. Once here, they shall make report to me, then they shall enjoy leave until such time they can be temporarily reassigned before rejoining Indefatigable.
"That will be a welcome occurrence, my lord."
"Yes, well, not as welcome as the success of you and Mr. Thaxton. Good luck and Godspeed, gentlemen."
* * * * * * * *
Captain Pellew came aboard *Indefatigable* to the shrill pipe of the bosun's whistle, sounding its familiar cadence for the Captain's arrival. With a salute to the quarterdeck, and a nod to Mr. Bracegirdle, Pellew paused for a moment and surveyed the horizon. Dusk had settled heavily over the Indefatigable like a purplish bruise growing darker and more injurious by the minute. Most evenings, Sir Edward had a decidedly more poetic outlook on sunset and the approaching darkness, but this night was different. It was a sense of foreboding that darkened his mood as the retreating sun darkened the sky.
He and Thaxton had not said much on the trip back to Portsmouth, or in the gig out to the ship. Pellew had stewed about Hood and Grenville more than he thought about Thaxton's plan. Thaxton studied Pellew for his strengths and weaknesses. He had already witnessed the captain's righteous approach to command - lives first, glory and reward second or not at all, as well as his disdain for Lords Hood and Grenville. In Thaxton's book, this made Pellew a worthy man indeed.
"Mr. Bracegirdle," the captain said, turning to see his First Lieutenant at his side and just a step behind, "we shall have a passenger on this voyage. He is coming aboard now, and is a representative of . . . the Admiralty." Please see that he is made comfortable in Mr. Hornblower's vacant cabin and that all courtesies are afforded him. I wish to meet with him in my quarters in one hour."
"Aye, aye, sir." Bracegirdle kept his reply short. He was in quite a fair mood this evening, as the re-supplying of the ship had gone more smoothly than expected. When word came from the Admiralty this morning that the captain would be back aboard this evening and they would be putting out to sea at sunrise, Bracegirdle was quite proud that he had the ship ready to make sail at almost a moment's notice. One look at his captain's face, however, and he was certain that too many pleasantries would not be appreciated. He knew how to read the captain's moods and this one was like a storm brewing. He couldn't help but wonder what had happened to the blessedly fair disposition that the captain sported just two days ago when they arrived and he headed home to Rosecliff.
"A fine ship, to be certain, Captain Pellew." Geoffrey Thaxton had made his way across the deck to join the two officers.
"Ah, Mr. Thaxton. Welcome aboard sir. Mr. Bracegirdle, may I present Mr. Geoffrey Thaxton. He will be sailing with us on this voyage. Mr. Thaxton, my First Lieutenant, Mr. Bracegirdle. He shall see to your needs while you get settled in your quarters. I must tend to the ship's business for the next hour or so, then you and I shall meet in my cabin to continue our discussion from earlier this afternoon."
"Of course, Captain." Thaxton watched as the captain turned and made his way to his quarters. All that he had heard about the fabled Captain Sir Edward Pellew was beginning to gel in his mind. The man seemed one with his ship the moment he set foot on her decks, and the respectful calling out of the crew to see the captain aboard seemed more than just formality. Thaxton sensed that not only was Pellew a great captain of his ship, but a great captain of his men. He had heard that Pellew was revered and respected in all quarters of the Navy for his skill on the sea and in battle, but also for his leadership. He was reputed to be tough but fair above all else, and worked hard to instill a sense of pride and achievement in all of his men. Thaxton knew he had chosen the right man for the task that lay ahead.
* * * * * * * *
A knock on his cabin door interrupted Sir Edward's thoughts as he stared out the stern windows at the dark harbor. He had let his mind wander back to this place a few days ago, and he could have sworn that for just a moment that the air contained a hint of lavender and roses. While the silent, vacant space of the cabin had lent itself to the more pleasant thoughts of his personal life, such idle wanderings would not serve him well in the days and months ahead.
"Captain, sir," Mr. Bracegirdle began as he entered the cabin, "Mr. Thaxton is becoming acquainted with his surroundings. Shall we review the logs now, sir?"
"In a moment, Mr. Bracegirdle, in just a moment. Please, have a seat. And, Anthony, a glass of port?"
The lieutenant smiled in relief at the use by the captain of his Christian name. It was only in the most personal of times that the two would speak as the friends that they were, and Bracegirdle always took his cue from the captain as to when those times were.
"Yes, thank you. That would be much appreciated."
Pellew poured a glass for each of them and handed one to his friend and trusted officer. He sat heavily in one of the armchairs by the windows, and motioned for Bracegirdle to take the other. The two men sipped their wine in silence, Pellew chewing over in his mind just what he needed to say to his first officer, and what he wanted to say to his friend. Experience and protocol dictated Bracegirdle's silence; it was always best for the captain to begin.
"Anthony, it has been an eventful few weeks, has it not?" Pellew finally said with a wry smile.
"One could say that," Bracegirdle replied with a chuckle, and a look to the captain to gauge his humor. Seeing a spark of promise, he inquired, "So, Ned, how is Miss Cobham?"
Pellew's eyes snapped alive and he turned an honest look toward his friend. "She is quite well. She . . . um . . .well, she returned with me to Rosecliff, you know." Seeing the smile on his friend's face, he added, "But, of course, you know that. Even the captain is afforded no secrets, I suppose."
"Have not a care, it is not widely known, only hoped for. Dr. Hilliard shared the knowledge with me only because he was so pleased to see you pursuing happiness in your personal life. But to be honest with you, I have heard rumors that the crew have been taking wagers on the outcome of your leave - whether or not you would spend
it . . .alone, for example."
"Oh really?" Pellew asked with a raised eyebrow, amused and, mercifully for Bracegirdle, not angered. "I suppose they were not entirely immune to the change in me while Katharine was aboard. Their natural curiosity and penchant for wagering on, well, anything does not come as a surprise to me." After a pause, his own curiosity got the best of him.
"And how were the wagers running?"
Bracegirdle gave a wide smile. "You were an odds-on favorite to return with a spring in your step and a song in your heart!"
Pellew laughed out loud at this. "And those that took the wager - I suppose I should have them at the gratings for doubting the passion and fervor of their good captain? No, it would appear that having to pay off their wager shall be lesson enough!"
Bracegirdle, too, could barely suppress raucous laughter, so pleased was he that Pellew was in good humor about all this. Surely there was no doubt as to the way he spent his time while home at Rosecliff!
"True enough, Ned, but there is the rather delicate matter of conveying the ëresult' of their wager, is there not? I mean, how shall the men be certain of who won?"
Pellew considered this. It was true that he did not mind a bit of playfulness over his disposition, but it would not do to have the details of his personal life become fodder for anyone's gossip.
"Hmmm . . . a predicament to be sure." Pellew pursed his lips and thought.
"Let the men know that the captain has doubled their spirit ration for the next two days. Certainly something I would not normally do in my "fierce" temperament. Let them infer from that what they will. If it becomes a disputed issue, you have my permission, Anthony, to discreetly let them know that the captain and Miss Cobham intend to share a life together just as soon as time and duty shall permit."
This was quite a statement from his friend, his captain! Anthony Bracegirdle drew a measure of satisfaction and happiness that his friend had finally found something in his personal life to fulfill him as his professional life had always done.
"Ned, this is indeed good and welcome news! I am most happy for you, and for Miss Cobham, surely a worthy woman for a man such as you!"
Pellew almost blushed, as he was not of a familiar mind to be discussing affairs of his heart - or anyone's heart, for that matter.
"Speaking of welcome news, Anthony, it should also be known among the crew, at the earliest possible moment, that Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy and the rest have been released by pardon from El Ferrol and shall be rejoining us as soon as it can be arranged."
"Mother of God!" he exclaimed. "I swear that boy has more lives than a cat! And better luck too!"
"It does appear so. At the risk of sounding like a sentimental fool, and you had best not breathe word of this," Pellew said with a warning smile and wagging finger, "I truly feel that with a fine woman in my life, and the prospect of Mr. Hornblower and his division returning, there will soon come a day when all is right with my world."
Anthony Bracegirdle smiled and raised his glass. "Amen to that, sir."
Edward raised his glass in acknowledgement, then drained it.
"Now, Mr. Bracegirdle, about the ship's logs . . ."