by Emily Regent
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_CHAPTER ONE: WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE_
Kennedy looked towards /Foaming Wake/, which sat under their
lee, with a small sigh of satisfaction. It was a small command
- a crew of twelve, but he didn't have the burden of prisoners,
or the problem of perishable cargo. It would take a month or
so to get back to England; so long as they didn't meet anything
too much larger or meaner than /Foaming Wake/, it should be an
She was an unusually small cargo vessel, used for dispatches, and sometimes to ferry dignitaries to and from their assignments, or perhaps larger ships to complete their journeys in more comfort than /Foaming Wake/ could provide. Designed for short runs, (Kennedy speculated that she may have once belonged to the merchant navy), rather than long hauls, /Foaming Wake/ had been taken by the Spanish last year, and re-taken by Captain Pellew last week, but the Spanish had been using her for carrying valuable cargo, and indeed the total sum of raw gems and gold was probably worth more than the ship herself.
She had been refitted with more guns than she had previously carried; and designed to fire those evil little shells (of which there was a good supply) which could singularly obliterate a small ship, and she was now meant to spend longer periods at sea. Even if she were handed back to the merchant navy, the cargo alone brought in enough prize money to have made her re-capture worthwhile.
Kennedy smiled to himself. Since he had so badly used his cousin's name, the real Earl of Cassillis had to put up with the secret services going through his mail and knowing all his business (some of which was rather embarrassing, considering the state Culzean was in and the debts his father had failed to settle). His response to Kennedy's profuse apologies was considerably more generous than the Lieutenant had any right to expect, and ironically, seemed to herald the start of closer, more familiarly-orientated relations. They certainly shared a sense of humour, and Cassillis had finally asked him to write more of his seafaring life; ill health had prevented his cousin from ever seeking Navy employment, but he had longed for it at one time. The rebuilding of Culzean was a true desire of Lord Cassillis, however, despite his notable lack of success, and Kennedy felt it only fair that he contribute to the effort. He had already determined that three-quarters of his
total prize-money should be welcome compensation for the inconvenience he had caused his cousin. And if Cpt. Pellew continued to be successful with his prizes, he should be able to give Cassillis a goodly, if irregular, sum.
Although careful as a Midshipman, his promotion to Lieutenant had brought out a more reckless streak and now Kennedy was too used to spending any money he received and finishing shore-leave utterly destitute; first he would purchase anything he needed at sea (new shirts was always a priority), lodgings and any other items of uniform to be replaced. He would contribute to the wardroom stores, perhaps part-exchange a few books, go to a few plays and recitals, and he wasn't sure where the rest went, but he had always returned to sea with only a few shillings to his name, and this occasion had been especially pressing he had to lodge on /Seawitch/, unable to even afford quarters ashore.
However, the expected prize money on this voyage was going to be more than he had ever had before, and he could think of nothing better to do with it all than heal the rift his own father had with his brother, by making amends with his cousin.
"Sir?" The heavy, pleasant Irish accent burst into his thoughts.
"Yes, Mr. Orrock?" he asked, looking down to the deck of the small ship.
"Reporting on the stores, sir - we've enough food to get back to England I think they must have been at the start of their voyage but the water's all spoiled."
"All of it?" Kennedy asked. Of all the problems they could have, it wasn't an insurmountable one.
"Aye, sir," Orrock confirmed.
"Well, dump it overboard and start cleaning and repairing the casks. We'll put into the bay tomorrow. /Seawitch/ restocked at a spring close to the shore; we'll use the same one."
"Aye-aye, sir," Orrock acknowledged, and went to attend to the duty.
It was a pleasant evening, but was now darkening; there was no chance of restocking, now - it would have to wait until morning. But there was no hurry; /Seawitch/ could leave before them - it was no great alteration to the Captain's plans to escort /Foaming Wake/ some of the way out to sea.
Kennedy paced the deck in his final watch before he left /Seawitch/. The experience of being prize-master was not new enough for him to be nervous about it, or old enough for it to be a chore it was pleasant to have some command to himself for a while. He would have Midshipman Orrock with him, whose company he enjoyed, and perhaps, while he was gone, Horatio would come to realise that he was not an enemy. Especially if Bush could work on him a little in his absence. The stilted civility that existed between them was beginning to fray his nerves and half a dozen times in the last week, Kennedy had wanted to shake Hornblower until his teeth rattled.
He watched his little crew bustle about the /Foaming Wake/ and smiled to himself; Orrock was passing on his instructions in an efficient way, and the crew responded well to him. Kennedy suspected that it wouldn't be long before he made Acting Lieutenant.
He couldn't remember his first meeting with Charles Orrock without smiling to himself. /Seawitch/ had been all but ready to leave port when he arrived, and he was one of the last men to come aboard. News of his assignment as /Seawitch/'s Third Lieutenant had preceded him, and there had been something of a welcoming committee waiting for him at the ladder. Naturally, since the details of his mission in France and aboard /Renown/ was considered a matter of utmost secrecy, the entire ship knew something about it.
Hands who had served in the old /Indie/ were glad to be back under Cpt. Pellew's command; men serving in /Hotspur/ were grateful not to be abandoned after she had sunk and the mood aboard the vessel had been jubilant.
Styles had offered a hand to help him aboard, and instantly demanded his attention by clapping his shoulder hard, and adjusting his crushing grip on his hand to shake it hard; the large man grinning helplessly, and choking on whatever greeting he had planned to make. Matthews had pulled him away, saying "privilege of rank, Styles" and Kennedy had been too glad to see the fatherly old seaman to object to the unusual practise of the bosun hugging a Lieutenant on the deck of a frigate. His hand was shaken by other familiar men, apparently glad to see him.
He had been positively frightened to come aboard /Seawitch/, with a crew who knew about his former disgrace, and had fallen back on the long act in France to pretend a confidence he didn't feel. However, the genuine pleasure of his return shown by the men he had formerly commanded meant he could abandon all play-acting and truly enjoy the welcome he received. They, as everyone else, had believed him to be dying, and Hornblower destined for the gallows: that Kennedy's last act (notwithstanding his death being postponed) had been to spare their beloved Commander from that fate was sufficient to secure him in their affections.
His next surprise had been young Wellard. He had heard the boy was shot defending Cpt. Sawyer, but with his own injury being so serious had heard nothing of Wellard since. The Midshipman had been on /Hotspur/ when Kennedy was pulled from the water about three months ago, but with the light shining in his eyes and the immanent attack due by a French pirate, he had not seen his old shipmate, immediately. He had been informed of Mr. Wellard's recovery later, but there had been no opportunity for reacquainting himself with the young man.
"It's good to see you, Mr. Kennedy, sir. Welcome back!" There was a lot unspoken in his open, grinning face; after all he had been suspected of pushing Sawyer into the hold of the ship and sparking off the mutiny aboard /Renown/ along with Hornblower and Kennedy. Although Kennedy had been thinking of Hornblower, his actions had spared Wellard, too.
"No less good to see you, Mr. Wellard," he returned.
"Welcome back, sir, welcome back!" enthused the next man, and Kennedy thanked him just as profusely, while his hand was pumped unmercifully. In the same instant, both men realised that they were addressing a complete stranger, and Orrock had simply got caught up in the atmosphere of the situation and was responding to it with all his natural, over-exuberance. He was spared any awkwardness when the Midshipman shrugged and continued; "I have no idea who you are, sir, but welcome back indeed!"
From that instant, Kennedy had been unexpectedly taken with Mr. Orrock. There was something in his boyish enthusiasm that reminded Kennedy of his own days as Midshipman, although he had been both younger than Orrock, and had a little more self-possession. Perhaps without Jack Simpson, this was how he would have been.
"I didn't know you knew Mr. Orrock, Archie," Bush remarked when he took his place on the quarter deck for the Captain to address his crew.
"He's unforgettable," Kennedy had replied, unable to resist teasing the senior Lieutenant.
"When did you meet?"
"Just now, Mr. Bush - as you saw," Kennedy grinned.
"Maybe it's not too late for me to transfer," Bush had retorted, heavily.
He couldn't answer before the Captain took his own place and began to speak to the hands.
He wouldn't allow Hornblower's cool acknowledgement of his presence (in lieu of any sort of greeting) to spoil the happy memory.
"He's a good man, sir," Matthews said from behind him, interrupting the memory.
"Indeed, Matthews - I've seen a lot to recommend Mr. Orrock, so far."
It was not a seaman's place to make recommendations or offer opinions about superiors to /their/ superiors, but Matthews deserved attention, Kennedy felt; he didn't know a fairer man. "He can be a bit...enthusiastic, sir, but I expect he'll grow out of it."
Kennedy smiled. "I hope not, Matthews; there are enough dour officers in the service."
Matthews laughed. "Aye, sir. He knows how to keep order, but I don't think you'll be bored just yet. Your trip back to England should be good for him."
"Thank you, Matthews," Kennedy replied, with another smile, reassured that the reliable old man confirmed his own assessment, but feeling enough had been said.
He took the majority of his crew to the spring where /Seawitch/
had replenished their water supply to do likewise. The work was
slow with only ten men, even when he helped out rather than standing
around and giving orders. Beneath the warm sun, it was also uncomfortable,
and not long before the men were naked to the waists and himself
less than pristine, having abandoned neckcloth, waistcoat and
jacket. He retained his shirt, however, still somewhat self-conscious
about the scar that marred the centre of his chest; ridiculous,
really, as he had rolled the sleeves up to reveal the scar acquired
from a vitriol-dressed blade, courtesy of a British spy, without
a second thought.
"Sir! Mr. Kennedy, sir!" It was Orrock, pelting down the hill as though an entire regiment of French infantry pursued him.
"What is it, Mr. Orrock?"
"/Seawitch/, sir!" He seemed unsure how to proceed. Kennedy remembered enough occasions as a Midshipman when he wasn't sure whether to pass a message to an officer, or give him information within the hearing of others. He decided to be easy on Orrock, and telling his chief petty officer to carry on, separated himself from the men.
"Is she signalling?" he asked.
"No, sir but she hasn't moved. She was due to leave on the tide, sir, and when I put my glass up to see why she hadn't gone with it, I saw another sail. Enemy sail, I think, sir, and right around the cliff. She would be in /Seawitch/'s sight, though."
Kennedy frowned. "Are you sure it was enemy sail, Mr. Orrock. A British ship carrying dispatches could have delayed her? Or did you hear gunfire?"
"No, sir I didn't hear anything; and I can't be sure it's an enemy," Orrock said. "But /Seawitch/ is too quiet she hasn't beat to quarters, or cleared for action. I know Cpt. Pellew might have chosen to pretend not to be ready for attack, sir, but I know the drills, and I-I think something's wrong, sir."
Kennedy looked at the lie of the land. /Foaming Wake/ was standing as far inshore as she could safely go without hitting the reef at the bottom; unfortunately she lay low in the water because of her cargo and the increased number of guns. The water spring was, as may be expected, right against a rising, grassy hill, making the beach and land perfectly quiet and idyllic. It would be a better spot from which to observe /Seawitch/ and confirm Orrock's suspicions or lay them to rest.
Enthusiastic Orrock may be, but he wasn't foolish, and wouldn't trouble the officer with some wild fantasy about the possible causes of /Seawitch/'s delay. Or if he had, he would learn never to do it again, and learn that Kennedy could be as effective a disciplinarian as Bush or Hornblower. (He knew he was thought to be rather soft among the crew a few of the brighter ones had realised that he wasn't exactly softer, he was just different; and perhaps not as inclined towards simple physical punishment as his colleagues).
He picked up his abandoned uniform and gave instructions for the men to carry on with the water while he accompanied Orrock up to the better vantage point. Orrock had brought his own telescope (since Kennedy left his aboard /Foaming Wake/) and handed it to the Lieutenant. There were indeed two ships in clear line of sight to each other; /Seawitch/ and a Spanish vessel, although he couldn't make out the name of the latter. Neither had a flag of truce up, and neither looked to be in the least bit damaged. Kennedy had left /Seawitch/ as soon as his watch was over, and taken sleep aboard the prize, but still, if any canon fire had been exchanged, he couldn't have failed to notice it.
He trained the glass on /Seawitch/ first.
There was the Captain on the quarter-deck; men worked in the rigging two of her Lieutenant's were talking by the fo'c'sleat a cursory glance, all was well. But his training as a spy, and his use of the skills it required, meant that he no longer took matters at such face value; and /Renown/ taught him additional caution. Perhaps Orrock thought he was crazy, trying to get a good view of the Captain's hair, but Pellew always wore a neat queue and his hat; although the man's features were too blurred to make out, even with the telescope; the hair was tied back with a thin ribbon and his head was bare. So that couldn't be Cpt. Pellew on the quarter-deck.
He shifted his attention to the two Lieutenants. Hornblower didn't stand a watch (although he would do so as a favour or if another were indisposed), and Kennedy had been relieved by Lt. Potter last night, which meant Bush should be on watch, now. With the sails all furled, he could see the deck clearly, and there were only those two for'ard neither had the right colour hair for Bush and neither had his wild curls or those of Hornblower, or even Potter's distinctive blonde locks. They were none of /Seawitch/'s Lieutenants.
The men he couldn't distinguish, anyway, but the way they moved in the rigging seemed wrong, somehow. They had done sail drill after sail drill with the hands, and now every operation was a study in good seamanship. This crew looked competent, as though they were well drilled, but handling unfamiliar canvas.
Kennedy took the glass away from his eye, and double checked that he had been looking at /Seawitch/ and not the other ship.
"Sir?" Orrock asked.
"One moment, Mr. Orrock. Do you know which Midshipman should be on watch?"
"Mr. Wellard it should be me, but he's taken it since I was needed here," Orrock responded.
"And Mr. Wellard is not tardy," Kennedy murmured, more to himself than his companion.
"Mr. Wellard is not on deck," Kennedy said. "And neither is any officer of my acquaintance!"
"The other ship, sir!" The note of alarm in Orrock's voice made Kennedy respond instinctively and train the glass towards the Spanish vessel. She was called /Hijo del Sol/ and had swung round on her anchor to reveal her colours. She was flying the blue ensign.
_CHAPTER TWO: THE SPANISH DECEPTION_
"Oh," said Orrock, much relieved. "She must
be bringing an Admiral."
"I think not, Mr. Orrock," Kennedy answered. "Firstly, no Admiral but Halliwell would dare to give /Seawitch/ orders, and Admiral Halliwell is a Admiral of the White not the Blue. Secondly, if he was in conference with Captain Pellew and all the other officers, why is there another man in Captain's uniform on the Quarter-deck of /Seawitch/, and two Lieutenants by the fo'c'sle? And if the Admiral is aboard /Seawitch/, then she would be flying the Ensign, now. Besides all that, we would have heard the salute as he came aboard."
He handed the glass to Orrock, who looked abashed. Kennedy tried not to regret his rapid-fire conclusions, but the feelings of the Midshipman could not be a priority.
"It looks like Cpt. Pellew" At least the Irishman had not said 'it /is/ Cpt. Pellew'. "And that's probably Lt. Bush andno he's not tall enough to be Commander Hornblower. An officer from the other ship, sir?"
"Doesn't Cpt. Pellew habitually wear a hat on deck? And where is his queue? Why would Bush spend all this time at the fo'c'sle with another Lieutenant?" He didn't mention the way the sails were being handled.
Orrock looked again, and then at Kennedy, apparently admiring his eye for detail. Poor Orrock he would probably lose that honest streak with increased service, and there was something charming about the remaining shred of naivety that had not yet been drummed out of him.
"Then something /is/ wrong, sir!"
"Indeed, Mr. Orrock, I'm afraid there is."
Kennedy concentrated on the other ship. It was a blessing that the Spaniards had never learned greater efficiency, or the lessons the British canon balls had tried to pound into them. A man came up on the deck of the /Hijo/, in full Spanish uniform (save his own hat), and shared some brief conversation with another officer wearing a British Midshipman's uniform. He went back below with a wave and a swagger. It was all Kennedy needed to see.
"Damn," he swore. He may have an accurate picture of events or at least the chances of being correct in his surmise. The blue flag had probably fooled /Seawitch/ into allowing a party aboard, believing they were to receive instructions from an admiral. The uniforms had fooled them for long enough to get sufficient men aboard to take /Seawitch/ without much of a fight. There was every chance, if it was during Potter's watch, that the young man had not had time to think of some action he might take, or had gone down so quickly, nothing could be done. A mixture of deception, and their own tactics when /Papillon/ was taken, presumably. With an officer's attention on a boat that was expected at the lee side would divert his attention from any other boats creeping around to weather.
Kennedy indicated for the telescope again. The focus wasn't quite clear enough to make out any ropes from which a boat might be moored at /Seawitch/'s starboard, but there was a single boat bobbing cheerfully beside the larboard; not one of her own, and probably the one that had been expected and received by the officer of the watch, and the Captain, besides.
"She's in Spanish hands," he sighed to Orrock, who was beside himself with impatience for the news.
"Are you sure, sir?" he asked, then remembered himself. "Of course you are, sir sorry."
"All right, Mr. Orrock." Kennedy had absolutely no idea of what to do next. "Let's go see how the men are doing with the water and I see no reason to worry them with this, as yet. I shall consider the options."
In order to buy himself some time, Kennedy ordered a break
for the men before they resumed work and reported back to the
/Foaming Wake/ and his cabin. It was a tiny space, not large
enough to be extravagantly different from his berth in /Seawitch/,
since most of it was taken up with a table of charts, compass,
log and other paraphernalia of a captain. /Or Prizemaster/, he
thought to himself. He needed to think.
Activity aboard both large ships indicated that they intended to stay for a while before leaving. Officers had behaved in a languid way (if he was right in assuming that Spanish officers were pretending to be British officers and had not simply left the deception to crewmen), and with the sails of both ships taken in, entirely and mooring anchors, they looked settled for the time being. However, he could not assume that it would last. He /could/ assume that /Foaming Wake/ remained unobserved, otherwise the ship would have come around the cliffs and fired upon them. There was no way this little vessel could stand up to such a pounding, and he would have no choice but to surrender.
He had to think. If he left tonight, he might sneak past /Seawitch/ and her conqueror unobserved, and find a larger vessel to aid, or report. Dumping the cargo would make them lighter and faster; a little imaginative sail added and a favourable wind might increase their chances of finding an ally even greater. But he had no clue as to where the Spanish intended to go from here (to Spain or one of her colonies), or of the fate of his shipmates.
A sick fear burned in his chest at the thought of the /Seawitch/ crew's fate. Had they murdered the officers? Had they been forced to kill them in combat below decks? None would surrender unless they were already caught and the crew in danger; or if a valuable enough hostage was taken to them (such as Lt. Potter, and perhaps the Midshipman of the watch). And Kennedy knew that he had to find out. Leaving wasn't an option for him; he had to know whether his friends were alive: he didn't want to leave things as they were with Hornblower, and he wanted to prove himself as able an officer to Pellew as he was a spy. There was too much still undone for them to be dead and himself deprived of the opportunities.
But how was he supposed to come to /Seawitch/'s assistance with that great Spanish vessel within sight? He had a dozen men, whereas there must be at least thirty aboard /Seawitch/, which was odds of more than two to one; and one careless move could lose him every man to shells and musket fire before they got to /Seawitch/. Sneak attack would be best, but there was always some difficulty making the men see it's value; they preferred honest, open battle, and while he agreed in practise, and sentiment called for honour, life was not always so co-operative. At least, life at sea wasn't. And there was that damn Spaniard!
/Huh Horatio would know how it could be done/, he thought, not hiding a bitter tone from himself. /He would find a way to get rid of the bastard/.
And yet, to retake /Seawitch/ was his only choice. The only possible solution for him, and it left the problem of how he was supposed to accomplish that. He had a tiny vessel burdened with gold and raw gems, sitting heavily in the water, against a well-armed Spanish warship, amidst shallow bays and a seabed that would tear the hull from a careless vessel; not to mention the teeth with which the coast was defended. Literally teeth great pointed tors of rock that jutted upwards, leaving only the slimmest gap between a large ship had to go all the way around them to get into a bay, and while a smaller ship with a good leadsman might sneak through them
Kennedy pulled a chart towards him. It was part of the package presented by Cpt. Pellew, since the Spanish captain who had once been master of his vessel had flung himself overboard with his charts and log and accounts. Foolishly, he had left compass, cargo and ship to /Seawitch/, and Kennedy would much rather wager his life on a British chart than a Spanish one any day (with the possible exception of a chart of Spain herself).
The picture brightened a little as he examined their position. The bay was an awkward piece of coast; the shallows on one side, and the teeth on the other meant that if he were to lure the /Hijo del Sol/ into it, he might just get /Foaming Wake/ through the gap in the teeth while she had to sail all the way around. That would give him time to retake /Seawitch/ and have her ready for action before the Spaniard got around the bay.
So, assuming that the Spaniard fell for whatever lure he could contrive, how did he take thirty or more men with only a dozen or so? None, besides himself, would have any hope of carrying out a slow assassination; picking them off one by one, and he couldn't get through thirty himself!
/What would Horatio do?/
Kennedy took a steadying breath, realising that he had made the decision to try rescue, already. It seemed a nerve-wracking moment; his first real command decision. Was this how Pellew felt when he decided to go after a prize, or chase down an enemy ship? He thought he might have a moment of insight into him indeed into any Captain, even Sawyer given orders by the Admiralty to find and engage an enemy was one thing; it was duty and requirement and held little responsibility if the captain knew his business. To make an independent decision to engage; to take it upon oneselfit was /different/. Everything he was about to attempt fell well outside any orders he had been given. No wonder Sawyer had gone mad when faced with this kind of pressure! He smiled grimly as he realised that Pellew's self-assurance as he gave orders that revealed his intentions may not be too much different from the acts he had engaged in as Lord Cassillis, after all.
However there was something attractive in the thrill he felt as he considered these actions. They were entirely his! Kennedy was making the important decisions, here, and he couldn't deny that the prospect of carrying out a successful action by his own merit was irresistible, now that he had opportunity of it. More than prove himself useful as a spy and agent, he really had a chance to show that he could make a good officer; a good seaman; a good /commander/!
Trying to focus on the problems of the plans, rather than the anticipated success, Kennedy looked again at the chart. He had to lure the vessel into that bay and for that he would need a good leadsman and a good man at the wheel. He had neither. Taking back /Seawitch/ would require more men or luck than he had or could afford to rely on.
/What would Horatio do?/
/Think logically, he told himself; if I haven't enough people, then I need more and the only place I'm likely to get them is *Seawitch*/.
Putting the lure of the Spaniard to one side, Kennedy considered how he might get men from /Seawitch/. There wasn't enough room in the brig for all of them; in fact, the Spanish had probably reserved the brig for the officers. /If they haven't thrown them overboard/, Kennedy didn't allow himself to pursue that thought Hornblower, at least, was a good swimmer and he would have found his way ashore and towards the /Foaming Wake/. Besides; with the present tides and weather, corpses would have drifted ashore. No it was not likely they were dead; to take Cpt. Sir Edward Pellew and the famous Horatio Hornblower prisoner would be too great a victory for the Spanish to pass up the opportunity to gloat over them.
The men were probably bunched into the mess or gun deck along with the marines; Spaniards knew something of how to break a prisoner (that he had found out for himself) and to keep them tightly packed, under guard, in cramped and awkward conditions was a good start. Keeping the threat of harm to their absent superiors as a deterrent to trouble was another common method. To put the marines with them, who had a duty to the ship's officers, as well as their own, would set them on different sides if the men talked about causing trouble.
Kennedy pushed the chart away from him in frustration. He had been glaring at it, as though the inspiration it gave him over the bay would also answer this question of people. He simply needed more information he needed to know how things stood on /Seawitch/. He /assumed/ there were thirty of the enemy; he /assumed/ the officers were alive and in the brig; he /assumed/ the men were kept together on the gun deck or mess. Hell he /assumed/ the Spanish hadn't seen /Foaming Wake/.
A knock on the door was no interruption, but he was snappish as he called "come in!"
"Sir." It was Orrock. "I hope you don't mind, but I was keeping an eye on /Seawitch/ and our other friend."
"If you tell me they saw you, then I'll run your shirt up the mast as our flag of surrender, Mr. Orrock; while you're still wearing it," he warned.
Orrock grinned, which was immediately reassuring. "No, sir it's just they're too late to go out on the tide, and I saw the Spanish making some repairs to their mizzen; I think they're staying for longer than we thought."
"Thank you, Mr. Orrock," he replied, more gently. Although it was a dismissal, the young man remained. "Is something wrong?"
"Sir might I ask what we're going to do? The water's all aboard, now, and the men are wondering why we aren't preparing to get underway, since we've near missed the tide ourselves."
"I see," Kennedy answered. Damn he was so busy thinking of how to acquire more men, he was forgetting the ones he had. "I'll have to address our crew and tell them the truth, if you would kindly gather them on deck. And my intentions are to retake /Seawitch/."
That was clearly a surprise to Orrock, but the midshipman kept any opinions to himself, and replied "Aye-aye, sir," quickly enough that Kennedy had no reason to ask whether he agreed or disagreed with the decision. He allowed himself a private smile; Orrock was a little prone to take liberties with the Third Lieutenant that Kennedy had let slide so far. However, he couldn't afford to do so, now, but Orrock seemed to sense that, and was not engaging in the freedom he had previously enjoyed.
The men's muttering immediately silenced when he appeared on the deck of /Foaming Wake/. He didn't have Pellew's fine ability to stir grand feelings of loyalty and duty in the men; nor did he engage their affections and fealty as Hornblower did he was going to have to find his own way, here, and hadn't once thought how he might accomplish that. /I am completely unprepared for command/, he thought, fatalistically, and had to push forwards the confident act to cover his sudden nervousness. It may only be twelve men, but he was effectively addressing an entire crew.
"This afternoon, Mr. Orrock brought an alarming situation to my attention," he said. He had learned to project his voice without actually shouting from his days as a would-be-actor, before joining the Navy. "It seems that /Seawitch/ was taken prize by a Spaniard, who still lingers with her in the next bay. We will now have to retake her." He didn't allow for any other choice; phrasing it as though this was a standard procedure, rather than a decision he had taken himself.
Kennedy allowed for some muttering amongst them. Pellew or Hornblower would have called for silence (or had Bush do so, with that commanding I-will-be-obeyed voice that made Kennedy think he should have joined the marines instead). However; he could not pretend to be Pellew or Hornblower, and they would settle better for him if they had got their immediate thoughts voiced. "I'm aware," he continued, and was pleased to hear them quiet without him having to demand it, "that we don't know how many of the enemy are aboard /Seawitch/; we can't engage in a fair fight with the odds so much against us, but I intend to even those odds, and find out what we need to know. And I am going to have to give some unusual and perhaps unpopular orders. I hope you will understand why they are necessary."
Kennedy credited them with intelligence; and if they knew he didn't like it, either, then he might inspire some camaraderie. "While I try to discover more of /Seawitch/'s misfortune, you will jettison the cargo and the guns, under Mr. Orrock's guidance, if you please."
"Sir," Orrock addressed. Kennedy looked towards him, keeping his expression neutral. "There's a kind of shallow cave just over there-" he pointed towards a dark patch on the white cliff "-where we could dump the cargo and retrieve it later."
"Thank you, Mr. Orrock; a good suggestion." With that, he decided to reveal the first piece of his plan only part-formed thought it was to justify the measure. "You'll also jettison the food stores and any unnecessary weight in the same place. /Foaming Wake/ sits heavily in the water, and she needs to be light. To take /Seawitch/, we need to draw off the enemy vessel. I intend to lure her into the bay over the shallows. If she doesn't run aground, we'll trap her in the bay, and go through the teeth to get to /Seawitch/. We retake /Seawitch/ while the Spaniard tries to go around the bay, and we'll be ready for when she reappears.
"I know she will have a larger prize crew than just ourselves, but with stealth, and Mr. Orrock's information that she is undergoing repairs, we can assume we have some time, and I intend to put that to use. Mr. Clarke; please see that the boat is given a good coat of tar this action will be carried out at night, and depends on me not being seen."
"Aye-aye, sir," the petty officer answered immediately. Kennedy was grateful for Clarke he was somewhere between middle age and old, but had proved a reliable man and positively swelled with pride over being rated as the petty officer within the prize crew. It was a glow that had not quite left him, and while Kennedy didn't like to play on any man's feelings, he didn't think he could stand up to opposition; not when more than half his plans were unformed and he was giving the men bluff, rather than leadership.
He was also grateful that he had brought along less formal navy trousers as well as the white ones; with a small crew and a long trip, Kennedy had resigned himself to more physical work than might be demanded aboard /Seawitch/, and much of the officer's uniform was not suited to it. Not if he didn't want to spend a small fortune on a new uniform when he got back to England; that was if he had time to visit the tailor!
Clarke was approaching him now that the hands were getting to work under the instructions of Orrock. "Sir I don' like to say, but you's gonna need better 'ands than you got to get through 'em teeth, sir. An' more 'ands to takes back the //'Witch//."
"I know, Mr Clarke; that's partly why I'm going to visit /Seawitch/ tonight; I hope to smuggle a few men off," he said. "However, you're a good enough leadsman; and I /think/ I can manage to steer the ship without crashing her, thank you." The words and his tone were arrogant, but Kennedy knew better than to confide his own weaknesses to the men. Neither did he divulge his hope of getting that better leadsman and helmsman off with them; if he couldn't manage it, they were going to have to rely on himself and Clarke to carry out his plan, and Clarke shouldn't have the burden of an officer's lack of confidence in his ability to do that.
"You's goin' yersel', sir?"
Kennedy glared at him with an irritation he didn't really feel. It was one thing to be popular with the crew because you were thought to be fair, but another to allow them to question your decisions. "If I want to return with a boatful of men, Mr. Clarke, then there is no point in me /taking/ a boatful of men!"
"Aye-aye, sir," Clarke answered, with a salute and left to carry out Kennedy's instructions. Kennedy let himself sigh. He hadn't given the real reason, which was that he didn't trust anybody else to do the task. He had learned such stealth aboard /Swiftsure/; his teacher having him steal the jolly boat and row three times around the ship without being seen by the men on watch, then get aboard equally unobserved, on one occasion. He smiled as he remembered the exercise coming to a successful end, then being unable to get the jollyboat back aboard /Swiftsure/ by himself.
Of course, his teaching was a private matter; not disclosed to the officers or crew, only the captain who had helped Pellew arrange for the lessons in the first place. His teacher had thought his assumption that he was supposed to sneak the boat back up very funny, since it had not been part of the plan. The resulting chaos had seen him on a 48-hour watch, and then watch-and-watch for a week as 'punishment', since the crew needed to see one carried out. He must have had a ludicrous reputation aboard /Swiftsure/, Kennedy thought. He had endured more false reprimands than his pride would have allowed real ones, because whenever the crew or officers saw some inconsistency or 'eccentric' behaviour from him, it needed to be answered if he were not to be known as a spy-in-training.
Those lessons were paying off very nicely, now.
_CHAPTER THREE: Mr. STYLES AND Mr. MATTHEWS HAVE A CONVERSATION_
With the little boat covered in tar, and himself in dark
clothing to the extent of abandoning his shirt altogether
Kennedy was able to row with muffled oars to the Spaniard.
There was even tar in his fair hair to darken it. /Seawitch/'s
lanterns guided him to the ship, and he knew her well enough,
and the water was calm enough, for him to be able to choose where
he went. The men were being held on the gun deck, in cramped
quarters which were too full to allow them to lie down properly
and deprive them of comfortable sleep they would be leaning
on fellows and any movement while they slumbered was likely to
/Wake/ their neighbour. Oh yes the Spanish knew something
of how to keep a prisoner in captivity.
Kennedy resisted the urge to grin or let the surge of pleasure turn into overconfidence. There were Styles and Matthews, together, by one of the gun ports. It was not so surprising, in a way; they were always together, and had managed to get themselves a spot by the gun-ports, and the little relief the tiny window of air would give from the heat. Matthews was dozing, while Styles was a/Wake/ they would trade when Styles couldn't keep from sleep any longer; at least one of them always alert.
He picked up one of his little stones, and tossed it at the big man's head. Styles didn't make a sound, but turned, eyes going automatically to the angle from which the projectile was launched, and Kennedy waved to him; hoping his dark get-up didn't tell against him, this time. The seaman let his arm hang out of the gun port and waved his hand back in acknowledgement, while pretending to shift uncomfortably. Kennedy frowned. He was right beneath /Seawitch/; the men on deck would have to lean over the side to see any sign of him, and even then there was a chance he'd be missed in the dark, but how was he supposed to talk to Matthews and Styles?
His answer came a few moments later. Styles had woken the bosun and a thick breeching rope slithered down to him. Kennedy tied /Foaming Wake/'s little boat to it before climbing as quietly as he could to the gun port.
"It's right good to see ye, sir," Matthews hissed, softly.
"You, too, Mr. Matthews," Kennedy assured, quickly. "I have a plan, but first I need some information." He could hear muttering from the men on the deck. Apparently the Spanish didn't mind them talking amongst themselves and encouraging mutual misery over their situation. They would only be silenced if talk of resistance started up. He ducked as a guard walked past the gun port, and Styles shifted again, to conceal the rope hanging out. Another idea struck him as he waited for Styles to nod that it was safe.
"Don't turn around, but listen carefully," he instructed. "You are going to have a conversation about your situation; there are certain things I need to know, and I'll tell you try to discuss it as naturally as you can between yourselves. Understand?"
"Aye," Matthews whispered.
"Where are they holding the officers?" It was not the question he had intended to ask first, but Kennedy found he couldn't bear not knowing Hornblower's fate; or those of Bush and the Captain.
There was a long pause, although the older opened his mouth, then frowned and closed it again a couple of times. "Reckon Captain's all right, Styles?" Matthews started, finally.
"Dunno," the big man said. "Can' be much more comfortable in t'brig, can it?"
"Guess not; wi' all of 'em in there, 's probably as crowded as in 'ere."
"The Marines?" Kennedy hissed.
"An' us 'avin' t'share with Marines," Styles continued to grouse. " 'Cept Captain Fellows in t'sick-berth. Nasty knife-wound that. Stuck 'im like a pig. Don't rate 'is chances."
"Damn. How many prize crew?" There was another long pause as the men tried to think of a way to work it into the conversation without sounding as though they were talking trouble. "Pretend to be talking about /Seawitch/'s prize crews, but don't mention our names."
Then Matthews came through. "Y'know, if we 'ad a full crew; wi'out them /twenny-five/ people away as prize-crews, we mightn't 'ave been caught unawares, like. That Lt. Smith wouldn't let Spanish sneak up. Got t'ears of a dog, 'ee 'as, and knows more tricks than these bastards."
/Lt. Smith indeed,/ Kennedy thought, unable to suppress the smile, this time. That there were five less people aboard than he had been thinking was a bonus.
"An' their filthy drunk bastard o'a lieutenant goin' through Captain Pellew's papers like tha'. T'ain't right!"
"It ain't, Styles," agreed Matthews.
So they had information, too, did they? There was the chance that Pellew had omitted /Foaming Wake/'s need to stay for longer from the log; but there was an equal chance that he had noted it down and they could know she was still here. He wondered whether Styles had thought about it when he mentioned the logs and papers.
"How many on guard here?" he asked.
"Well, I guess wi' /six/ prizes, we gotta lose crew," Matthews remarked, in a philosophical tone of voice. He was getting into the right frame of mind for this conversation. They had taken only one prize this voyage, and she and her anxious crew were still waiting out of sight. Kennedy had told Orrock to expect him when he saw him, but if it got to daylight, he was to leave aboard /Foaming Wake/ and seek what help he might out in the open sea, and follow his own original orders.
"Any chance of overpowering them?" he said.
"/Naw/," Styles said. "Tha' last 'un only needed a couple o'men reckon we sent too many."
"Nicely done, Styles, but try not to smile like a purser with new stores," Kennedy warned as the big seaman warmed to the deception. He exhaled as Styles wiped the grin from his face he had not realised just how tense he was. "Can you get down here unseen? Will any other men cover for you?"
"/Maybe/ yer right," Matthews said, with emphasis on the 'maybe' that left Kennedy little better off. "There's always a chance, y'know."
"See if you can pass it along I want to try and take several men back to /Foaming Wake/; if any by the gun-ports can slide out unseen, we have a better chance when it comes to boarding action."
"Aye," Styles acknowledged. Kennedy was forced to swing to one side, behind the man's broad back as footsteps sounded past them. He hadn't /seen/ any sign of the guard, only heard him, and supposed that if he had not seen the guard, then the guard couldn't have seen him, either. Suddenly, Matthews was clinging to the gun-port outside the ship, and Kennedy realised why it had taken them so short a time to get the rope to him: they had been planning an escape already.
He began to climb back into the boat so Matthews could follow him down it, and he guided the bosun's feet to the bench. "We sort o'shifted so them 'oo can swim were near ports. Styles is passin' it along that boat'll be comin' to them, so they can do it as we planned, only come in 'ere instead o'swimmin' t'shore. Sorry if that were out o'order, sir."
"No, Matthews, that's fine," Kennedy assured. "But I want Styles, as well."
" 'Ee can't swim, sir."
"No but he's a good leadsman, which is what I need!" Without waiting for Matthews to find any other objections, Kennedy clambered back up the rope. He hadn't noticed how much strain had lain across his shoulders as he hung on, which was only telling now that he had rested. He tried to push the discomfort aside, but knew he wouldn't be able to hang on for long. "You, too, Styles I'm going to need you," he said. He didn't let Styles have any time to object, either, and slid down the rope again, almost immediately to make room.
Styles didn't disappoint him, and /Seawitch/'s crew did themselves as proudly as ever, coming down the rope in orderly, if cautious, fashion. Kennedy ordered Styles to help him row back to the /Foaming Wake/, since he was probably their strongest man and his dark hair and tanned features didn't make him very visible. "There's tar over this 'ere tarpaulin!" Matthews griped as he pulled the cover over himself and the ten extra men they had managed to smuggle off the frigate.
"Well, Mr. Matthews if you'd prefer white canvas that can be seen a mile off, feel free to clean it."
"Oh I see, sir," Matthews answered with a sheepish smile. "Jolly Jack Tar it is, then, sir!"
Kennedy afforded a brief, quiet laugh. "Just make sure you don't all suffocate under there," he warned.
"Aye we don' wanna 'ave to come back fer more!" Styles added with a grin. Matthews delayed only long enough to pull an ugly face at his mate, who was heaving at the oars. Kennedy would have found it back-breaking work with the boat loaded and rowing alone; Styles was a powerful man, and his own aid seemed pale in comparison to what the bigger man must be achieving.
The Lieutenant couldn't help but look back at /Seawitch/, a dull anger at the thought of the officers crowded into the brig with such indignity, and the men kept idle in the stuffy atmosphere of the gun deck. And yet she looked so peaceful, despite the hated Spanish flag at her mizzen. It made him feel doubly triumphant at the capture of /Foaming Wake/ and her cargo of Spanish wealth, only recently unloaded and safe in Mr. Orrock's little cave. Then he grinned to himself he knew how to draw off /Hijo del Sol/! Nothing was so damnably simple, he only wondered that he had not thought of it before.
They managed to reach /Foaming Wake/ without incident, and Orrock had presence of mind enough to belay any cheer his small crew might indulge in with this increase of numbers.
" 'Ave ye somethin' in mind, sir?" Matthews asked him, quietly.
"I have, Mr. Matthews," Kennedy confirmed. "We're going to draw off the /Hijo del Sol/ and trap her in the next bay, then head for /Seawitch/ and retake her." Matthews looked doubtful and he continued. "Since she'll have seen /Hijo del Sol/ following, when /Foaming Wake/ heads for /Seawitch/, they won't question the Spanish flag, will they? If we can board quickly, with few casualties, then we should be able to overwhelm the prize crew on deck, and take out the guards beneath more easily. The men will strive to free their shipmates, so we'll have a larger fighting force ourselves even unarmed, we should be able to take twenty-five prize crew."
"What about Captain Pellew?" the old sailor asked.
Kennedy winced. "If we get through to the brig, then it will all be over. I'm afraid Cpt. Pellew and the others will have to wait until we've retaken the ship; we'll need men to fight, and preferably quickly, not officers to give directions: we already know what we're doing."
Matthews didn't look convinced, but he didn't put up an argument, thankfully.
There was very little point in Kennedy drawing himself up
to full height, but he found himself doing it anyway. He did
not have the presence of Captain Pellew, nor Hornblower's tall
dignity, or even the Navy-through-and-through bearing of Lt. Bush.
What he did have was a very small quarter-deck manned by Matthews
at the wheel, an exuberant Irishman standing to untidy attention
behind him and a proudly posing Mr. Clarke, who had developed
the habit of staring sternly at the crew, and the remnants of
the Stockholm tar in his hair that no power of soap and seawater
"If we're going to succeed in retaking the /Seawitch/, then every man jack of you is going to have to play his part with precision and instant response to orders. Once the /Hijo/ has been drawn off, /Foaming Wake/ is to be startled into quick action. Mr. Clarke has selected the best topmen to set sail, and in order to make our 'quick escape' as the Spaniard follows us, the anchor will be cut away, rather than weighed."
He took a deep breath. "We want to remain out of firing range of /Hijo/, but not so far out that she despairs of catching us, so we expect to maintain a good chase. /Foaming Wake/ is light, manoeuvrable and well-suited to such, so long as she is competently handled. Sails will need to be set or reefed rapidly to control our speed; Mr. Matthews may be forced to make rapid alterations in course. I wish I could offer some idea of how long this process will take to those of you hiding beneath the tarpaulin, but if the ship makes it through the reef, then we will have to negotiate our way through the teeth.
"Our numbers are evenly matched with the prize-crew aboard /Seawitch/; retaking the ship is our priority, and therefore freeing the marines and men must come before any other consideration. Hopefully, this will be a surprise to them, since we will be flying the Spanish flag." There was a murmur of disapproval at this point, but Kennedy had already given Orrock his orders to hoist it, and Orrock understood the necessity of the deception. "After all they used an Admiral's flag to take /Seawitch/," he reminded them.
Kennedy knew better than to offer them the courtesy of asking questions at this point, and fished about for some rousing way to end his speech after the unrest their own deception would cause. The result sounded half-hearted to his ears, but raised a grin from his little crew. "Mr. Orrock begin calculating how much prize money should go to each man from the sale of the /Seawitch/ after we take her back to England as prize."
_CHAPTER FOUR: THE PLAN_
They dragged Pellew roughly by the arms and out of the brig
before he felt properly awake. This crew of Spaniards knew what
they were doing, and the way their plans had been carried out
indicated that this was a well practised ruse. However, as he
was forcibly separated from the other officers, he had the idea
that they were angry about something. Hornblower earned himself
a bright bruise as he attempted an attack on one of the guards
as Pellew was manhandled away.
"Stand off, Mr. Hornblower!" he ordered, unnecessarily as the Commander was smashed to the deck, taking the master and Bush down with him. The Spaniards had packed the little cell with all officers, midshipmen, idlers and other warrant officers, and a man couldn't fall without others joining him. Only the bosun, Matthews, had time and opportunity to hide his rank when it became clear they were not encountering a British vessel, and Dr. Sebastian was allowed to remain in the Sick-berth (under guard) provided he agreed to treat Spaniards and British wounded alike.
Pellew refused to show any sign of trepidation. They had taken young Wellard and given him a good beating, just outside the brig, where they could all watch as the midshipman was questioned. He had borne it well; first pretending he couldn't speak Spanish, then just gritting his teeth against whatever they threatened or inflicted. They had been helpless to do more than call encouragement or comfort to him. Pellew was proud of him - very proud. He hoped he could stand up to it as well as the boy had, but he worried that some over-loyal man break over seeing others harmed. Ironically, he saw Hornblower as the greatest weakness there, and wished he had sent Hornblower instead of Kennedy with the prize vessel. Although Pellew did not have the details, he was aware that Kennedy had instructions concerning how to handle torture, in case he had been caught as a spy in France.
However, they were taking him much further than just out of the cell. He was hauled along faster than he could order his cramped leg muscles to move - through the crowded deck of prisoners and up to the main deck. The light was blinding after the dark interior of the ship, and he was given no reprieve, but thrust forrard and onto the foc's'le, tripping over steps he couldn't see in the blinding daylight.
Now they gave him time for his eyes to adjust. He could make out that the Spaniards were dressed in British uniform, and there was a ship just off to larboard. It was /Foaming Wake/, and he groaned inwardly. He should not have wished for Kennedy - it seemed as though it was about to be granted.
A glass was thrust into his hand and his captor pointed towards /Foaming Wake/. "She signals," he said. "You will read it!"
That was because the signal midshipman had written his signal book out in his own code, on Halliwell's recommendation. Pellew didn't know whether the rest of the Navy had followed suit, but he was glad Midshipman Eriksson had taken Halliwell's advice, since there had been no opportunity to dispose of any paperwork at all.
Pellew put the glass to his eye, scanning the whole vessel and ignoring the flags for a moment. The dark-haired man on deck saluted, and he realised it was Kennedy, despite the odd colouring in his hair. And there was Matthews! He distinctly recalled Styles reaction to the old sailor being taken prisoner, and sure enough, Styles was busy with some rope not far off. It was reassuring that the Third Lieutenant had some sort of plan, and wasn't just improvising. Removing Matthews and Styles showed forethought (and some ingenuity).
Kennedy looked pointedly towards the signal flags. 'Ready to transfer cargo, 50,000 pounds sterling gold & gems.' Pellew frowned. Kennedy was supposed to take the cargo to England himself, and certainly not start to signal its value! He looked again; the value wasn't even correct, and there was something he couldn't quite put his finger on...
She was sitting higher in the water. The rope Styles had was a leadline...Kennedy was trying to lure one of these ships away from the other, if he was any judge.
"What does it say?" snarled his captor.
Pellew hesitated, waiting for the blow as captain he should not give in easily, or they might suspect some subterfuge. He was going to have to take a few bruises it seemed; the strike came, as he knew it must, but only after one more ringing thump, which drove him to his knees on the deck, did he repeat the flag signal.
"What flags do we raise for her to stay there?" More hesitancy. "What flag?"
"Acknowledge." He said, pretending to ward off another blow, although his dignity screamed against flinching, and told them which flag, for good measure. He felt forced to try and follow Kennedy's plan; unless he missed his guess, he was trying to separate /Seawitch/ and the /Hijo del Sol/, and lure one or other over the shallows to try and run her aground. There was a good chance they would abandon their prize if /Seawitch/ was so badly damaged; there was an equally good chance the Spanish would execute at least some of his officers before abandoning the rest of the men, and no doubt he and Hornblower would be made to stand trial in Spain.
Unless Kennedy hoped to lure the other vessel, but then /Foaming Wake/ would be trapped in the bay with them; even better armed, she couldn't take on such a superior craft! Pellew hoped he wasn't counting on just giving them a window of opportunity to escape their captors - from what Pellew had seen, they were too well guarded to make the attempt; at least a third of the Spanish crew had taken /Seawitch/, and the same guards followed rotation outside the brig so it was impossible to tell how many prize crew remained aboard his ship.
/Foaming Wake/ acknowledged the reply, and apparently sat docile, swinging placidly on the anchor. There was Spanish being shouted across the two ships; agreeing a course of action. Pellew took the opportunity to look again, and had time to see Kennedy repeat his respectful salute him before the telescope was torn from his grip and he was pushed aft again. He saw /Hijo/ making sail and had time to congratulate his legs on recovering from the cramps just in time to be thrust back into the dark, little cell.
He was greeted with flattering relief. "How is your face, Mr. Hornblower?" he asked.
"Colourful, I'm told, sir: it matches your own," he replied.
"Are /you/ well, Captain?" asked Bush, solicitously.
"I am, Mr. Bush, thank you. And I believe Mr. Kennedy to be in excellent health himself."
"He was supposed to leave once he had water!" Hornblower hissed, his temper rising as it often did, these days, whenever Kennedy's name was mentioned.
"So he was; but then so were we - I believe he is attempting a rescue."
"The /Wake/ is no match for either /Seawitch/, or /Hijo/," Bush pointed out worriedly. "She'll be blown to pieces."
"Let us hope she doesn't live up to her nickname, Mr. Bush," Pellew responded dourly, but neither officer seemed to understand the grim jest.
" 'Ere she comes, sir," Matthews reported, voice
rising in either excitement or concern.
Kennedy felt the same emotions intrude on his own fragile calm, and hoped the sudden acceleration of heart-rate or desire to hyperventilate did not show too obviously in his own voice. It was not helped by the fact that he was giving orders that kept them on this tense course, rather than being able to turn and run, as his instinct wanted. "Come about slowly," he said. "We don't want her to think she may lose us; Mr. Clarke make it look panicked, as though we've been taken aback to account for our lubberly start. Mr. Orrock, get those signals down and out of the way; don't bother stowing them for now."
His orders were obeyed upon the instant, but even through the anxiety, he managed to note that he should not recommend Clarke for bosun's mate authority was making him a bully. Perhaps extra spirit rations would be better reward for his service, here, although Kennedy had wished to make it more. A pity with routine work, Clarke had kept the men in order without becoming a tyrant, but Kennedy could too easily envision first battle, and then drill becoming Clarke's excuse to be oppress the crew.
"She's preparing to fire, sir."
"Thank you, Mr. Orrock keep at it, men; Mr. Clarke, find a musket and try to pick off someone on their deck."
/Ranging shot/, he considered. If it went over them, they would need more speed in their attempt to turn and flee, if it fell short, then he would have to continue and hope they didn't have the accurate range for the next one. If it hit, then their comparative sizes meant it would all be over.
It fell short.
Orrock had left the flags in an untidy heap across the deck and had the telescope ranged on the ship. "She's giving it more elevation I think this one will hit, sir."
Dammit, the boy had a lot to learn about command "So we can assume, Mr. Orrock kindly get those flags off the deck, out of the way and-"
Clarke's musket shot snapped off his words and Kennedy flinched involuntarily away, cursing himself for the lack of strength that showed. But there was an opportunity to make /Hijo/'s think again he took the hefty boarding axe and watched his timing carefully, then chopped through the rope holding the anchor so /Foaming Wake/ came about the last few points in a wider arch, but gathered a little speed in her already billowing sails which gave them those few unexpected feet head start hopefully it would end the usefulness of that ranging shot. The delay in /Hijo/'s second shot told him that the musket, carefully aimed by Clarke, had probably killed or injured one of the gun crew.
"Used to be a poacher, sir," he said, abashed, and Kennedy supposed his expression must have shown his admiration for the shot.
"The flags, Mr. Orrock, if you please!" he snapped at the midshipman, who was still more interested in the /Hijo/ than his orders. This time he obeyed, and Kennedy exhaled impatiently, feeling ever more nervous about his plan. He had explained the need for careful timing and rapidity, and he did not need any crew tripping over signal flags as they tried to board, or if they were required to use the canons, after all. Not that the little four-pounders they had not dumped were going to do a great deal of damage if they did.
/Fool/, he cursed himself, but they were committed to the course of action he had dictated; they could not back out of the plan, now, and Kennedy quickly resurrected the play-acting he had done in France not as Lord Cassillis, but as a confident commissioned officer in His Britannic Majesty's Navy. He hoped it would be sufficient to cover the sudden uncertainty this was idiotic, he was going to fail, and he would lose the /Wake/ and any chance of fetching help or informing the Admiralty of /Seawitch/'s capture. He should have weighed anchor and sailed away on the night tide instead of embarking on this ridiculous piece of heroism. What the hell was he trying to prove? A familiar tendril of panic began to wind it's way around his heart and close his throat.
"Prepare to come round into the bay, Mr. Matthews." He raised his voice, and hoped he could keep it steady; "Mr Styles, begin soundings, if you please!"
"Aye, sir." A pause. "By the deep seven!"
Oh lord, was it so shallow /here/? Just how shallow was the reef, then? Even lighter, was /Foaming Wake/ going to get over, herself?
"Sir?" It was Matthews what had gone wrong now?
"Yes, Mr. Matthews?"
"Might I say something, sir?"
"Of course," he answered. He hoped Matthews wasn't going through a sudden crisis of confidence as well he needed him. He had steered a ship himself, but not with the kind of skill the old seaman had, nor as much experience, especially in shallow waters. This was the last situation in which he wanted to test his own abilities.
"I was thinkin' very much 'ow this plan o'yours reminds me of Mr. 'Ornblower!"
Kennedy smiled. In France, every thought of Horatio had hurt, and his cold response at finding Kennedy alive and well was like the constant ache of an old wound. However, Kennedy did not despair of being able to resume their friendship and recapture the closeness they had shared once Horatio had figured out that he was really not to blame for either his resurrection, or Hornblower's own problems, then the man would come around. Or at least, if they survived this damn stupid notion of his, he would, so the reference didn't cause him the pain it should.
"I wish Mr. Hornblower was here, too, Matthews," he answered.
"By the deep seven," came the call from forrard, and the old man shifted the wheel a little with absent expertise.
"No, sir I didn't mean I wished 'im 'ere. It's just that this plan is a clever notion; jus' the sort o'thing 'ee would 'ave come up wi'."
Kennedy felt some of his anxiety falling away. There was no greater complement to his unravelling nerves (or his self-esteem) that Matthews could have delivered to be compared favourably with Hornblower was a mark of the man's confidence in him and Kennedy drew the warming sensation to him like a protective blanket.
"Thank you, indeed, Mr. Matthews," he replied, softly, and couldn't resist a small smile. "But pray only inform Mr. Hornblower of your opinion if it succeeds, eh?"
Matthews chuckled, in a way that almost seemed self-satisfied. "Aye-aye, sir," he said.
"And a half less six!"
Kennedy brought himself back to the current situation. Although the natural tension of their plight remained, he found it easy to push all thoughts of failure and foolishness aside. If Hornblower might have thought up some similar action, then it couldn't be all that ridiculous, could it? An exchange of communication took place silently between Styles and Matthews, and it was Matthews who reported to him.
"We're at the reef, sir."
"Mr. Orrock what are our friends doing?"
"Still following, sirI thinkIt looks like they're employing their own leadsman, sir, and they've slowed, but they're still coming."
"Take in some sail, Mr. Clarke," Kennedy ordered. "As though we're playing it safe, too we don't want her to feel she can't catch us."
"Get that tops'l reefed you buggers!" Clarke barked. "Take in the t'gallant! Lively, lubbers, lively!"
Kennedy managed to feel, for a few moments, that Clarke was providing him with innumerable problems. He obeyed orders smartly, was a skilled shot and a generally useful man: he deserved more reward than extra spirit rations, but Kennedy couldn't feel comfortable recommending him for bosun's mate or any other position of authority because of the way he abused it. There was no need to swear at the crew like that they were responding swiftly to orders, with a speed and skill that saw him proud; abuse might speed them if too slow, but they hadn't even been given a chance to be sluggish.
He certainly couldn't reprimand Clarke on the deck, and it was not the time for gentle advice or explanations.
"And a quarter less four!"
Matthew's reactions were minute and he had all his attention focused on his handling of the ship. This was one part of the idea that Kennedy had never doubted if they ran aground, then it was because there was no way through, not because his crew could not manage it. They had come in a wide arcing motion, which served the double purpose of keeping them in deeper water for longer, and perhaps suggesting to the pursuing Spaniard that they intended to tack fully in the bay and head out in one massive loop, crossing /Seawitch/'s bows, and effectively running the blockade. By coincidence, it gave them a better angle at which to come at the second widest gap in the teeth.
"Sir /Hee-jo/ is coming up to our starboard!" cried Orrock.
Kennedy whipped around to observe the enemy for himself. He had wanted the /Hijo del Sol/ to follow his path, but it seemed that she was trying to cut them off by breaking off pursuit and running on a converging course.
"Damn him! More sail, Mr. Clarke!" he ordered, but had no leisure in which to frown over the way Clarke belayed the previous orders and the second mouthful of abuse the crew took from him.
"Sir!" it was just a warning word from Styles, that became unnecessary a split second afterwards as the terrible grating noise of the keel scraping against the coral reverberated through hull and deck and Matthews gave the tiller much of it's own way to avoid having the rudder sheer off. They would never be able to make it through the teeth without the rudder; a ship, even as small as /Foaming Wake/ could not be steered in so fine a manner using only sails and they had insufficient crew to employ oars.
/Besides which, they're being used to fend off the teeth/, Kennedy recalled.
The terrible noise stopped and didn't return after a very stressful half-minute of waiting.
"Mr Matthews, go below and check the entire hull to make sure we only scraped off barnacles and copper and aren't about to sink in the bay," Kennedy instructed, and took a hold of one of the spokes to indicate that he intended to steer the ship himself. Dammit he was too short to have full sight of deck and bows, stuck behind the large wheel.
He sighed and resigned himself to having his skills truly tested at the wheel. It seemed such a long time since he had steered even a small craft, and even though Styles was giving him regular reports, he had no real idea of how Matthews knew when to adjust the wheel. "Starb'd, sir! Starb'd!" Styles cried, and he quickly turned the wheel a couple of points, foundering for a moment before getting the vessel under control again. Kennedy was determined that he was going to get his ship away from danger without completely overshooting the mark and giving /Hijo/ too good a try with their broadside.
Ha thank goodness for Mr. Clarke's stare; several topmen about to laugh at his clumsy handling, and his need to shift to one side in order to see his path properly thought again before actually doing so.
"A quarter less three!" came Styles hail, and Kennedy breathed out in relief.
Another shot from /Hijo/ soared over them, the blast pulling down a topman, who fell over the side in a cloud of red, and slammed against the hull before he hit the water and failed to resurface. Clarke fired again, but the result went unseen and he re-loaded, swearing at himself, this time. More inner conflict for Kennedy; Clarke was no more sympathetic with himself than the crew.
"/Hee-jo's/ across the reef," Orrock reported. The clear water beneath them showed some protrusions of pink and white where the coral reached up to scratch at unwary keels and he found himself making constant tiny adjustments to the wheel in order to avoid them. /Hijo/'s next shot missed them by so little that several topmen, Orrock and Clarke had to wipe spray from their eyes.
"We're not takin' water, sir, we'll get to the /'Witch/," Matthews reported five minutes and another over-shot from /Hijo/ later. "But we might wan' to look underwater before sailing to England."
"Thank you, Matthews," Kennedy replied, not disguising the relief, and surrendering the wheel to the bosun. "If /Hijo/ doesn't blow us out of the water now she's clear we need to negotiate the teeth. Preferably quickly. Can you manage with all sails set, Matthews?"
"Aye, sir." There wasn't even the briefest look of doubt in his eyes to indicate that he could not steer through the tiny gap, so if his reply were the same sort of bluff that Kennedy employed, then the Lieutenant couldn't see it.
Another crash sounded from /Hijo/, but it wasn't a canon.
"She's struck the reef, sir!" was the exuberant report from Orrock.
"She's aground?" Kennedy asked, eagerly, tuning to look.
But /Hijo del Sol/ was drifting clear of the reef, momentarily out of the helmsman's control as she sought another path towards /Foaming Wake/. Kennedy tried not to let his heart sink, since even if this part of his plan was not, apparently, successful, then they had purchased more time to get through the massive pillars of rock, whereas /Hijo/ would have to turn and go back over the treacherous reef in order to exit the bay.
_CHAPTER FIVE: BOARDING_
"Prepare to fend off!" he called. Oars and poles
were taken up, and the men lined up under Clarke's stern glare
and foul-mouthed reprimands. It was comforting that the exchanged
glance with Matthews showed that his lowering opinion of the man
was shared by him. He wished he could say something to the reliable
old seaman, but there was no advice he could offer that wouldn't
be looked on as either insulting or coddling.
Instead, he contented himself with removing jacket, waistcoat and neckcloth. There was no point in flying the Spanish flag if he looked very British; at least just in shirt and trousers, he might look more like a none-too-tidy officer of any Navy. Maybe that tar that still clung to his hair would help with it.
"It's gonna be tight, sir," Styles called back to him.
"Then try to be aware of what the other side is doing, men! This isn't a competition between you, I want starboard and larboard teams both in tact; you'll be grateful to have each other once we board!" There were grins at that, but they looked set to obey him. They might not dare grin for Pellew, Hornblower or Bush, but Kennedy reminded himself that he wasn't any of those men, and couldn't try to imitate them. His way might earn him a little harmless impudence, but so long as it also earned him their obedience, he could afford to overlook the former.
This was the second widest gap in the teeth; and put them on as straight a course as the wind would allow for /Seawitch/. He had rejected trying to use the largest as it was quite central, and would have given /Hijo del Sol/ an easy angle at which to aim if her captain has guessed his plan. The bowsprit headed into the gap at as near dead-centre as the eye could determine. "We don't need any shouting," he called, projecting his voice without shouting himself; a legacy of his days as a would-be actor. Well that was one thing his superiors had never mastered. They were prepared. "Hoist the Spanish flag, Mr. Orrock, if you please," he asked.
"Aye, sir," the Irishman said, glumly and gave an exaggerated sigh. "If I must."
Kennedy let that pass. Experience would soon teach the young man when jest was not appropriate, but he would feel a hypocrite giving that particular lesson just now. How many times had Hornblower frowned at him for some ill-timed remark? Styles had stopped casting the lead he didn't have the room to throw without getting the line tangled with the nearest fenders, and the water was clear enough to see. There was the distortion that made an estimate of the depth impossible, but at this point, Kennedy was more worried about the sides of the ship than the bottom.
"Easy," he warned, as the two front men, then the ones behind them prepared to fend them off the rock. "Try and guide us through rather than pushing off." The less aggressive approach was more use here, and it seemed to be working. It was terse, precise work, and he hoped the men wouldn't be too exhausted for a fight. On the other hand, with the build-up of tension, such a release might just be the thing, and well-timed.
The /Wake/ came around a little too sharply; the men to larboard a little more eager than their counterparts. Matthews responded quickly, trying to compensate for the slackening of currents as she entered further into the gap, but the crash of splintering wood seemed unnaturally loud as half the rail on the starboard side was demolished. Matthews pulled precisely on the wheel; less than half a point, and Styles joined the fending to starboard for a moment; his strength with Matthews' skill collectively putting her back on course.
"Sorry, sir," Matthews apologised, as though he had dropped a tool on his officer's foot, rather than preventing further damage with his quick manipulation of the wheel.
"Quite all right, I assure you," Kennedy responded, his mouth dry. God they were nearly through and the only damage to show for it was a shattered rail! Maybe some scratches to the hull, but they weren't heavier in the water, so no holes. So long as they could pull alongside /Seawitch/ without being blown away by the /British/ canons, then this plan was actually going to succeed!
But the frigate's deck erupted in cheers as soon as the Spanish flag was in sight. They must have heard what they thought was a battle, and assumed the ship taken when /Hijo/ stopped firing. "Wave back, men /Seawitch/ is going to welcome us!" he ordered, grinning tightly and waving his arm above his head, as though in reply. The very idea that they were so cheerfully greeted by their enemies amused the men enough for some enthusiastic laughter and wordless response. Kennedy picked up the Spanish hat he had found in the cabin and waved it over his head.
"They've no idea, 'ave they, sir?" Matthews commented, eyes bright with excitement.
"No, indeed," he responded, with a giddy laugh, a grin still plastered across his face. "Bring us alongside and prepare to board! Lets teach them a lesson they won't forget quickly."
By the time the /Wake/ pulled alongside /Seawitch/, the Spanish
had seen through the ruse. Kennedy had expected as much, and
prepared the crew for this eventuality. However, it had lasted
long enough that the enemy were not properly prepared for the
onslaught of British seamen, snarling and yelling, and throwing
themselves into the fight with no hesitation.
There were no boarding nets to hinder their efforts to get on deck and the Spanish were still loading muskets for a first shot as Clarke fired into them, creating confusion and panic, and then those with firearms went down under a pile of Jacks a moment later, their weapons removed from the fight.
Kennedy led the charge; being amongst the first aboard /Seawitch/ and left Mr. Orrock to secure the /Wake/ and follow. He felt it was his privilege as the superior officer, and Orrock would be able to bestow the same disappointment on another midshipman some day; Kennedy had waited long enough to pass on the tradition. In fact, the tight nervousness he had felt coming over the reef and through the teeth, and the righteous anger at the Spaniards flying the blue ensign and wearing British uniforms found a welcome release in the battle.
He didn't hesitate to cut down one of the Spaniards in a British Lieutenant's uniform as he charged; he had to set an example he didn't want any of the men to hesitate just because of the way they looked, and taking such action himself should spur them to copy, whoever was unfortunate enough to be faced with anyone who wore the King's coat!
However, Kennedy never had the chance to witness his own success in much the same way that he failed to witness the small dashing figure who came from behind a canon, and landed such a crashing blow to his skull with a belaying pin that he was unconscious before hitting the deck.
"Well done, well done indeed!" Captain Pellew had
never felt so grateful for an officer who could think for himself
rather than dumbly follow orders in his life. Losing /Seawitch/
to such a dishonourable hoax as the crew of /Hijo del Sol/ had
attempted was one of the most embarrassing episodes in his life,
made doubly excruciating by seeing his crew and officers treated
like animals. Hornblower's face was still bruised, and he could
feel the tender spots and swelling across his own. Mr Wellard
hadn't even been allowed on deck before Pellew barked the order
that he report to sickbay he hoped the midshipman wasn't
as badly hurt as he looked.
Matthews had been congratulated for his part in the retaking of /Seawitch/, as had Mr. Orrock. But
"Where is Mr. Kennedy?" he asked, looking around. There were more than a dozen dead and wounded Spaniards, the remainder sat sullenly by the foc's'le, guarded by Marines, and two dead seamen from /Foaming Wake/'s crew. And no sign of Lt. Kennedy. He saw Bush grimly pacing the length of the larboard deck and shake his head. Despite the animosity between Hornblower and the third Lieutenant, he was also scanning the vessel to starboard from his position on the quarter-deck for their missing officer.
" 'Ee must be 'ere, sir 'ee boarded just ahead of me," Matthews explained. "I saw 'im."
"Aye, sir I saw him kill that false officer, there," Orrock said, nodding towards a corpse that had not yet been attended to.
In fact, the whole deck was a mess, and not just from the fight. These degos they had no idea of how to run a ship; ropes were left trailing where they could be tripped over, and weapons abandoned at the nearest convenient spot, which was why that had not been able to immediately defend themselves against the boarders. He watched Styles remove some rope by the aft canon, only to see that he hadn't intended to coil it down properly; he had found Kennedy beneath it.
"Archie!" Pellew frowned as Hornblower brushed past him and down to the main deck, but let it go for once. It had been Hornblower's worried voice which said the man's name the old diminutive and he smiled a little; clearly Hornblower's stoicism where Kennedy was concerned was more of an act than a fixture. However, it was Bush and Styles who were pulling the Lieutenant to his feet and Kennedy swayed like a drunkard, blood over his face and in his hair. Bush looked at him distastefully as he tried to move the blackened tendrils away from a savage wound just in his hairline and it stuck to his fingers, leaving black marks when he finally freed himself. Unkindly, Bush wiped his soiled hand on Kennedy's torn shirt.
Why Kennedy had tar in his hair, Pellew couldn't fathomnor did he wish to. "So much for a triumphant entrance, Mr. Kennedy," he addressed.
The man could barely focus on him, and asked, "Sir?" before over-compensating for the ocean swell and staggering forwards, then back against his support.
"You're concussed, man," Bush accused, gently.
"I am not!" Kennedy protested, wiping blood out of his eyes with the back of a filthy hand, and smearing it over his face. He swayed again, and added, "sir!"
"Well, congratulations on your victory, anyway, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew told him, knowing the officer would never remember the words in his state, as it was, and resolved to repeat them when he was more fit to hear them. Kennedy frowned, as though not recognising him. "To the sick-berth, if you please, Mr. Bush."
"Aye-aye, sir," Bush agreed. "Come on, Archie let's get you seen to." The gathered men, mostly from /Foaming Wake/, moved aside for their officer, and Matthews began a cheer for him as he stumbled through.
"I had something very important to do" he was telling Bush, by way of protest, and would have fallen down the ladder head-first without the Second Lieutenant's support.
Turning away from his men, Pellew laughed. "Poor Kennedy," he mused to Hornblower. "A daring plan that goes well every step of the way, save the last, and he can't even enjoy his triumph. I don't think he's even going to remember it."
"I think there'll be enough people willing to remind him, sir," Hornblower replied, neutrally.
"Indeed well, I shall have Mr. Orrock make the report for now; see whether his handwriting has improved at all. Get the deck cleaned up, if you please, Mr. Hornblower."
"Aye-aye, sir," Hornblower obeyed, and his first order was; "Throw those men into the brig!"
_CHAPTER SIX: Epilogue_
Kennedy knew that Cpt. Pellew intended to be kind when he
invited the officers and a couple of midshipmen to dinner, but
even though his concussion had worn off enough to prevent him
making any more stupid remarks, his headache was proving more
persistent. At least his stomach wasn't rebelling against the
tiny portion of food he had eaten, despite a feeling of nausea
which came over him every so often.
However, he didn't find it impossible to be cheerful: Orrock had told the tale - somewhat revised and exaggerated - to the amusement of those assembled. Once he realised they were onto his subtle embellishments (having received a more honest report from Kennedy himself), Orrock went into a wild flurry of story-telling in which the Spanish had somehow become Corsican pirates, the /Hijo del Sol/ was a First Rate of at least 120 guns and Kennedy himself was promoted admiral, although the crew of the /Wake/ had been whittled down to a bare half-dozen. However, the rendition was too amusing to put a stop to, even though Kennedy found himself growing rather embarrassed at the Irishman's remarks.
He was also interested to find how well he had fought on the deck of /Seawitch/, killing fifty dagoes despite having been stabbed five times, shot twice and practically beheaded, before falling to the deck.
"Speaking of your head; how is it, now, Mr Kennedy?" Pellew asked him.
"Fine, thank you, sir," he answered. "Better when I can get rid of the last of the tar."
"Especially now you remember which ship you're on," Orrock remarked, impudently. (Kennedy had spent most of his time in the sick-berth trying to explain to Dr. Sebastian that it was very important he return to /Seawitch/, despite being repeatedly informed that he was already aboard).
"Indeed," he agreed. "I don't know what came over me, Mr. Orrock. The /Indefatigable/ is an unmistakeable vessel, don't you think?"
He looked up innocently and took a small sip of port. Pellew was the first to laugh.
"Please - somebody - reassign him!" Bush begged to the heavens.
Kennedy raised his glass wickedly to the second Lieutenant and tried not to be disappointed that Hornblower was dabbing at his mouth with his napkin, to disguise the fact that he was not joining in. He had said a total of eight words to Kennedy all evening. Two had been 'thank you' and the other six a request for him to pass the pepper.
"Well, at least Mr. Bush will end up satisfied for a while," Pellew announced. "I take it, Mr. Kennedy, you will be fit to take command of the prize tomorrow."
"Sir? I understood Mr. Orrock was to have command of /Foaming Wake/," he replied. He was quite sure he wasn't mistaken as the young midshipman had spoken excitedly of his chance through the first course of dinner.
"He is, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew replied. "I cannot lose all my lieutenants, and as senior officer, you will take the /Hijo del Sol/ and the /Wake's/ cargo. She has more guns and a far greater chance of defending herself. Besides; she should fetch six thousand pounds or more, and I think that if fifteen hundred of that is to go to you, then you can damn well take her back to England yourself."
"ButI didn't take the /Hijo/ prize, sir," Kennedy protested. Surely he hadn't been that badly concussed. As he looked around the table for any confirmation of this, all he could see were grins. Apparently Cpt. Pellew had decided to enjoy himself on this occasion.
"You did indeed, sir," he said. "When we went back to the bay to finish her, and retrieve the cargo from Mr. Orrock's cave, we found the /Hijo/ - backside out - jammed between the teeth. The crew had abandoned on the boats and we had quite a task getting her free, but with a little work from the carpenter and his mates, she's become a well-captured ship!" It was Pellew's turn to raise his glass.
"A well-captured ship!" the others chorused, toasting him. Kennedy didn't think he had ever been so gratified, but the lingering glow was perhaps because Hornblower, beside him, had not shown the slightest resentment as he added his voice to the felicitations, rather than pretend to be distracted.
"Nearly two thousand pounds, altogether, Mr. Kennedy," Pellew mused. (Kennedy's share of the /Wake/ would bring the total up handsomely).
"It will last him a month," Bush predicted, dryly.
Kennedy looked at his plate, a little embarrassed at the reminder of his recent destitution. Bush hadn't known, of course; nor the others, but Pellew was aware of it, and was also, no doubt, remembering.
"And you don't even need a new uniform," the Captain teased.
Kennedy felt himself blush. "Sira full three quarters is pledged to my cousin - to rebuild Culzean. He offered me a family living, should I ever require one, and in return, I pledged my help in his efforts to restore the estate. Since the only assistance I can give is financial, and with so much he could bring forward his plans." He looked up and realised he had acquired an audience who didn't share his enthusiasm for his cousin's project. It had not been his intention.
"You pledged against /any/ sum? Are you mad?" Bush asked.
"Cassillis /will/ be surprised," Kennedy said, brightly, but it even rang false to him. At least Hornblower was actually gawping at him along with everybody else. Once, he would have attempted to dissuade Kennedy from parting with such a large amount - pointed out the evils and calculated some compromise that would even have kept the Earl happy in light of the new situation. He never thought he would ever have reason to be grateful for Hornblower's current animosity, but did wish that his financial affairs had been kept out of such public hearing - it had not seemed so very important when he made the promise.
"I think he's still concussed," announced Orrock, drunkenly.
"Concussion to Bonaparte!" Bush offered, and Kennedy was able to laugh at that, with the others. The small nod from the Second Lieutenant confirming that he had intended to distract conversation away from an issue that was becoming embarrassing to him, and enjoy the rest of the evening.
Oh, yes - Cassillis was going to be surprised, and pleased - and for once Kennedy found had true reason to look forward to going ashore that were not so alien from the reasons he looked forward to being at sea.