As I See Fit: Homeward Bound
"Newton's Law." Edward Pellew said as he picked himself up off the deck. "Are you hurt, Amanda?" He extended his hand to help her disentangle herself from the mattress and the bed covers.
She was laughing so hard that he thought she couldn't be injured. She shook her head and reached for his nightshirt that was still hanging from the head of the cot. He suddenly realized he was stark naked in the middle of the cabin and the noise that the cot made when it fractured against the bulkhead must have drawn some attention from the sentry or at least from Grimes and Millie.
As he ducked into the shirt, they both looked at the wreckage. She stood silent for a few moments then asked: "Newton's law?"
"For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." He started laughing almost as hard as she had been. "I was pushing and the cot was moving the opposite direction, the faster we went the wilder the swing of the cot. The cot hit the bulkhead and we ended up on the deck. The other Newton's law."
"I know that one, what goes up, must come down?"
"Correct." He said with a grin. He turned as a discreet knock was heard from the outer cabin door.
"Are you all right, Captain?" Sergeant O'Hearn asked, calling from the corridor. His voice was quiet, but Pellew knew that the deck watch officer would be right there with him.
'Was that man on watch every night?' Pellew thought. The sentry knew almost as much about Amanda and his evening activities as they did themselves. 'I need to have the Marine officer change the watch bills.' Was the instant thought, but no, that would not do, it was enough that O'Hearn knew. The man evidentially kept his peace where the Pellew's nighttime escapades were concerned; another man might not be so circumspect.
"We are fine, Sergeant. We will need the carpenter in the morning, but otherwise we are well." He answered.
Amanda had pulled the bedding away from the splintered cot and made them a pallet on the deck to finish the night on. He lay down beside her and drew her back to his chest. She started shaking with repressed giggles again. He realized that their romance was finished for this night and he laughed along with her until she drifted off to sleep.
He awakened with the watch turning up at four in the morning. The night was still black and he dressed by the light of the single lantern in the cabin. Amanda slept through his knocking about their quarters on his way to the coach where he could hear Grimes setting up his morning coffee.
She usually walked with him in this two-hour stretch prior to breakfast, but not this morning. He knelt on the deck and kissed her lips. 'Just like Briar Rose.' He thought, 'Will I wake her?'
No, she slept on. "Merry Christmas, my love." He whispered to her then left her to her rest.
When he returned to the cabin for breakfast he found a pile of gaily-wrapped small boxes piled in the center of the long table. Amanda was fixing his plate and Grimes busied himself pouring coffee for them. As they sat to their meal he noticed that she refrained from the eggs and bacon, opting for plain ships biscuit and a heavily creamed cup of coffee. 'That's odd,' He thought, 'Her appetite is as good as mine in the morning.' He frowned, but made no comment, instead he searched her face for a sign of anything wrong.
He found nothing there, except a little paleness turning the deep rose of her cheeks into a pale pink. He still said nothing. If she were going to stay silent, he would as well. For now anyway.
As the plates were pushed aside, and a final cup of coffee poured, Amanda began to pull boxes from the small pile. There were several small, but thoughtful gifts, a box of linen handkerchiefs for her, a last minute thought that Millie had purchased at his request. A new razor and strop for him. Her last present came from the spent wrapping. Pulling the red bow apart, the soft package fell open in her hands. The silver locket, given to him by the Reveres fell into her hands; the heavy silver chain sliding through her fingers like water. She sat dumbstruck at the engraving.
"Captain, Teddy, this is a true likeness! This is how you look at the Altamira!" She exclaimed. He knew now that he looked at her in that same manner. He had done it the night before. How could she think he didn't look at her with the same, if not more, love than he held for the ship?
She turned it over, seeing the ship and rubbing her fingers fondly across the engraving, she smiled, first at the silver piece then at him. He rose to fasten the locket around her neck.
"No, wait Teddy! Here!" She pushed a small box to him.
He ripped the paper and pulled the box apart. A new timepiece! The box cover said it was a fine Swiss make. He was sure it was to replace the cheap one he had carried since Kingston. She had been beside him in the Jamaica port when he had looked at the better watches
The sound died away in his ears. Instinctively his head jerked aft, to look through the stern windows. Nothing, he could see nothing! "Cannon fire! Amanda, stay here!" He stuck the watch in his pocket and bolted from the cabin. A sudden thought struck him and he poked his head back around the doorframe. "And get that cat in its basket cage!"
"Aye Captain!" Her answer followed him to the quarterdeck.
"Should we heave to, Captain?" Rimble asked as they stood on the signal locker, their glasses trained right aft to catch sight of the ship that followed them.
"No. Damn it, Rimble, I can't see her; I can't see anything at all. Come on, let's get into the top." Both men broke into a fast walk to the mizzen shrouds, gaining the platform; they braced themselves against the roll of the ship and again sighted their telescopes toward what was now the fore topgallant and fore topsail of the following ship.
"No flag that I can see. Rimble?" Pellew said.
"That is not a King's Ship." Pellew said flatly as he rubbed at his lower lip and chin in thought. He could let her head fall off; lose a little speed to get a better look. He was in the middle of these musings when the stuns'ls blossomed out on their pursuer. Pursuer, for that is how this ship had become titled in Edward Pellew's mind. Taking note of the pennants and sails of his own ship and of the weather, he slapped the telescope shut between his hands.
"Mr. Rimble, get on all the sail we can. Keep our original course in accordance with the wind for the best possible speed. Pray, tell the master to trim them as he sees fit to maintain or better the distance between us and that ship." He turned to face his first officer.
"We are running, sir?" Rimble exclaimed. The disbelief showing through plainly on his face. He had never known Pellew to run from a fight before.
Pellew drew a long breath, "Yes, Mr. Rimble. We are running." He felt that his own look must mirror his first's. He did not like to appear cowardly in the least bit, but he had to balance the crew, the guns and working the ship. He truly did not have enough men to fight the ship. Not nearly enough.
He left Rimble in the top and gained the crosstrees. He had to see. He had to get yet a better look. He locked his legs around the topmast and opened the glass again. With a certain bitterness he saw the great cat figurehead, and a ship whose build mirrored his own ship so precisely as if they had been built on the same plans and in the same yard.
But there was an advantage in this duplication of ships. He knew her sailing points; both good and bad as well as he knew the Altamira's.
He felt, rather than saw, the studding sails spread out from the fore and main mast courses and topsails. The ship seemed to leap in the water. The mast between his legs shuddered as the stays lost any slackness and took the strain of the new spread canvas on the forward masts. He twisted, shifting his position and looking to the head of the ship. The Altamira, bow wave washing out from her sides, white bellies of sails pushing forward and the quiet confidence of his topmen as they tended to their charges this all was his for as long as he commanded her.
His sharp intake of breath was startling; it was almost the same as if Amanda had touched him. This mass of wood, metal and canvas was he as much as his own body was. He didn't belong to the ship; he was swallowed whole into her and became her head, her lord and master. In that moment Amanda did not exist, the following ship did not exist; only this ship and this moment were real.
Charlie came on deck just in time to see Pellew ascend into the crosstrees of the mizzen. He stood still, on the gun deck swaying with the fore and aft rocking of the ship as he watched Rimble descend and speak a few words to the master. Moments later the sails were spread. Charlie had never seen the Altamira spread all her canvas. He did not notice Amanda stealing up beside him.
"I don't think I am welcome up there this morning." She said. He followed her gaze to the quarterdeck.
"I doubt it." He answered.
"Where is the Captain? I don't see him."
Charlie pointed up the mizzen to the dark coated figure perched in the crosstrees. "Up there."
She followed his finger and saw him just as he turned to gaze forward. Hammond looked down into her face as she considered her husband. He heard her sigh and felt her move from his side to go back into the great cabin. "Amanda?"
"I have to learn to live with this Charlie. Right now, I do not exist for him, you can see that in his face." She continued into the shadows, he followed. "I have to find my own way and go without him if necessary." Her voice held a steely quality that it had never held before when she spoke of Edward Pellew. All softness was gone, all the first flush of love dismissed from her visage. He saw the first glint of fire in her eyes.
"Amanda, that's why you should not be here. Not go with him like he wants. This ship, this commission, takes everything he has. It's his duty, his responsibility. It will be far better for him when he lands you in Portsmouth, and for you too."
She turned back to him. "Charlie, will you think that if Emmie wants to sail with you? When you want to take her home as your wife?"
He didn't know, and stood mute before her. She continued into the cabin and shut the door behind her.
Pellew gazed up into the sun, 'Almost noon.' He thought reaching for his watch; he would need to go down presently for the beginning of the day sightings. He reached into his pocket to check the time.
He frowned, two watches? He straightened against the mast, pulling out both of them. Immediately he replaced his old one into his breeches pocket. He pressed the catch of the cover and saw the miniature portrait of his wife inside.
John Copley had done a good job, this man who did not do miniatures as a habit. He wondered absently how much Amanda had paid for this tiny likeness. The artist had caught the mahogany of her hair and the blush in her cheeks that had been absent this morning. There was something not quite right with her. He could not pinpoint when the change had taken place, but very recently.
He held the watch up, gazing into her face, and then looked beyond the likeness to the Altamira before him, alive and singing with eagerness to obey his every whim. He closed the case, the lid clicking shut over Amanda's face. The ship had to come first. He owed the Altamira his entire attention, for without her, he would never be able to set his bride ashore. They would not live to see England.
'Preventer stays are up, chain slings are on the yards, boarding and splinter nettings are raised, and guns are all loaded and ready.' Pellew's pen scratched across his personal logbook. He dipped his quill again. 'The carpenter and his mate have been in the great cabin most of the day. I don't know what was done. I have not had time to care. We are still running under every stitch of canvas that is logical to carry at this point and in this weather.'
Once again, the pen dipped. 'I have made no secret of what is going on to the men. There are all seasoned crew and know we are undermanned. A suggestion was made, by Mr. Soames, one of the senior midshipmen, that we rig quicksavers on the topsails. I approved and assisted by Mr. Goethe, another of the seniors, Mr. Soames saw to their implementation.
'God willing, barring any unforeseen circumstances or a misstep by myself or the master, Bennington, we shall keep out of cannon range of that ship.' He turned the page and continued. 'The master and I are watch and watch until we reach England.'
He sat back and rubbed at his eyes, pulling out his watch he shook his head. He had been up since four and it was now after nine in the evening. He bent to his book once more. 'Here I must pray God, that I do not have to fight this ship. That rogue ship is fully crewed and gunned as we are. It will be a near thing if we come to battle.' He looked up as the bell rung out twice, then once more. He would be called at midnight. Closing the book, he removed to the main cabin.
He raised his eyebrows as he took in the changes that Amanda had made there. The hanging bed was gone and in its place was a bunk, overlarge and meant for both of them. High boards were raised above the level of the mattress at the head and food ends, leaving a dip in the middle for entry into the alcove.
Amanda snored quietly, wrapped in two quilts and both of them pulled up to her chin. She had made a little nest for them, out of the way and private. There was a curtain, made from the hangings of the old four-poster that had been their marriage bed that could be used to screen off the bed from the main cabin.
He removed his shoes, jacket and vest before climbing in beside her. She stirred, turning to him and touching his face, never completely waking up. So ended the first Christmas of his married life.
He was in the crosstrees of the main topmast two days later when he saw the cut in the top sail. It was like a stab to his heart. It would have to be mended immediately. The cut appeared to be directly under the crossing of the quicksaver. With a frown, he looked forward at the fore top sail, a rip was there as well and it appeared to be widening by the second.
Moments later he awakened the master. Bennington must have read the apprehension in Edwards face, for he came out of the bunk immediately. They could bend on a new sail or reef and mend the current ones. With either option, the ship would lose way.
"How odd." Bennington muttered as they stood in the foremast top.
Edward turned to him, "What?"
"How odd," Bennington repeated, "That both of these sails should tear in the exact same place." He pointed to the center panel of the topsail. "Captain, this isn't random."
"We will speak of it below, Mr. Bennington."
The master nodded. "Aye, Captain."
An hour later, he paced the quarterdeck; each turn forward brought the sight of the sailmaker preparing the two summer canvas sails to be bent to the yard. Looking up he saw that the rips were growing wider. The men working on the sails could not be done too fast.
It could not be done: remove the quicksavers, casting off and lowering the sail, preparing and raising the new sail, then to do it over again on the main mast before the other ship could come into firing range. He spun on his heel and walked aft.
The devil was still there. Almost running in the Altamira's wake, she dogged their course, every turn, and every correction in line. He bit his lip in thought. This was not going to be avoided; they would be exchanging shots in less than an hour. He shook his head and turned forward again.
"Mr. Rimble, send the hands to quarters and clear for action, if you please."
The master had removed the nettings around the fore and main mast. The main topsail yard was starting to come down. The Altamira slowed, almost as if she had stumbled in her long run towards home.
It was hard, no not hard, and almost impossible to keep the fear from his face. He saw Amanda, carrying the kitten in its basket cage in her right hand and the pistol case in her left, and Millie, with her sewing case, run from the main cabin to the ladder and away from his sight. His furniture followed them. The guns carriages rumbled as they were run out on the starboard side.
Charlie Hammond stood behind the forward guns, taking the place of a senior midshipman, freeing that officer for other duties. His boarding saber rested in his sword hanger and a brace of pistols were nestled under an upper deck hanging knee. Charlie, now unable to see their pursuer, looked aft to the quarter deck for his orders.
Pellew snapped open his new watch, glancing at the following ship and estimating the number of minutes it would take before that vessel opened fire. The ship was silent before him, except for the words passed by the topmen who were bending the new main topsail to its yard.
'Just a few more seconds' He thought, 'Just a few more.wait.wait' He finally spoke: "Rimble, get the hands on the deck. Lay them flat."
The ports were open on their pursuer. They would come under fire any moment now. He and the quartermasters remained standing. "Courage, lads." He said to the two men at the wheel. "Courage!" He glanced at his own fingers wrapped around the hilt of his sword; they were as white as the bone grip.
"Four points to starboard, Mr. Bennington."
"Yes, Sir." Benington relayed his order to the quartermasters.
The great guns on the rogue ship spoke as the Altamira began