As I See Fit: Homeward Bound
Edward Pellew moved away from the quartermasters, if there should be sharpshooters he wanted to pose no risk to his crew. "Mr. Bennington, heave to."
"Aye, Sir! Back the main yard! Back the mizzen yard!" The master shouted through his speaking trumpet. The men sprang up from the prone positions that had spared them the worst of the first broadside, to haul the yards round.
The ship shuddered under Pellew's feet, the spilling of the wind slowing her quickly. Mentally he apologized to the Altamira for what was going to happen to her. The last of the shots fired from his pursuer rammed into the bow and foredeck. Almost seeming to jerk her head around to the east again. One ball sailed over a gun crew, not harming them but wrecking the galley stove chimney, peeling it open like a banana. The hands began to pick themselves up from their prone positions and man the guns.
"Watch your helm." He muttered almost to himself, the quartermaster brought her back on course. "Rimble, now!"
"All guns forward of the main mast, FIRE!"
The cannon spoke as one, raking the gun deck of the pursuer as they attempted to reload.
Charlie Hammond waited, walking behind the gun crews of his division. These crews were all old Aurilies, well trained and disciplined. Their objective was different, not an outright mauling of the rogue, but a well aimed barrage at the stern, a barrage that would wreck their steering gear completely. Charlie smiled to himself, if his crews could do that, it would mean the Altamira would be far out of range before the rogue ship could be underway again to follow them.
"Every shot has to count, men, no misses, no mistakes."
He said as he paced. The gun captains, never taking their eyes
off the rogue, nodded to him. His sword was in his hand. He didn't
remember drawing it. He lifted it high, his eyes on Edward Pellew.
Pellew waited. He needed for that rogue to speed by him. The other captain was smart, and the yards were coming round on their pursuer, spilling their wind too. But the Altamira had the weather gage; Pellew would control this part of the engagement.
"Rimble, give them the rest. Mr. Bennington, prepare to make sail."
Rimble turned to Charlie and gave the order. Hammond's guns fired independently. Pellew saw each fired ball strike home, then a pause. Hammond was waiting for the stern of the rogue to pass.
The other ship was slowing faster than he thought she could, it's captain was attempting to box haul her, to back her up.
Pellew's teeth chewed into his lower lip, looking at the sail handlers who were coming free from reloading the fore deck cannon. Could he do it? Could he throw the Altamira all aback? No Charlie was going to have to do the best he could. He turned to Hammond, making a short shake of his head.
"All right lads, let 'em have what you've got. Make them count." Charlie shouted against the beginning of a ragged answering fire from the rogue ship. One by one the remainder of the Altamira's guns spoke. Each shot tearing into the stern of the rogue.
"Make sail, Mr. Bennington, and get us back on course for England." Pellew ordered.
Pellew watched as the other ship, continuing to slow, seemed to heave to, to a dead stop, with no headway or sternway. Disbelieving that the Altamira could have inflicted enough damage to halt their pursuer, he almost ran to the flag locker and climbed atop to see what they had done.
"Bennington, get those yards up!" He yelled as he passed the master. "Rimble, turn over some hands to help! We have to take advantage of this! We have to make all sail!"
The master and the first answered together and turned to their respective tasks.
The Altamira picked up speed again, fleeing off to the east. Pellew was able to breath just a little easier, the first flush of battle giving way to tiredness. He went to the rail over the waist where Charlie was supervising the reloading of his guns.
"Captain?" Charlie looked up at Pellew. Seeing him from this angle, Hammond was a little awed, 'Pellew looks like he doesn't have a care in the world. I can't ever be like he is. Never. I will not have that aura.'
"Did you see the name of that ship?" Pellew asked.
"I think it was Monte something. I could not see the starboard side. Sorry, Captain." He could not summon the courage to call the commander of the Altamira, Edward. He might never be able to do it again.
With men from the gun crews released to assist the top men, the two yards were hoisted and secured. With the new sails drawing well, and the Altamira swinging back to her original course, Pellew relaxed a little. There was still work to be done, there had been damage to the hull; he had heard the splintering dimly through the other noises of battle.
He stood a little longer on the flag locker. This had been his first action in ship-to-ship combat as a captain. His ship had done well, her guns wreaked havoc on the enemy; his men had fought valiantly, had he done as much? He glanced around to see if anyone was near, no, the quartermasters were busy and Bennington hadn't stepped away from the rail where he was supervising the clean up of the deck. Pellew held his hands out at waist level, palms down. They were shaking like aspen leaves in a light wind.
The Altamira was quickly moving out of range, away from the Monte. At least a piece of a name was better than pursuer. The Monte. The Monte was falling further behind. He opened his glass and put it to his eye.
She was quickly taking in her canvas, the last desperate box haul maneuver had left her stern on. He wished that the Altamira were better manned. A healthy boarding party would end this situation right here. He focused in on the stern of the Monte. Charlie had done his work well, the rudder just wasn't there, and neither were the spanker boom nor the mizzen gaff. She couldn't steer even if she could get way on. But her name was visible finally. "Montezuma."
"Hammond! Hammond!" He called jumping down from the locker. "Come here and see what you've done!"
Charlie ran up the ladder to the quarterdeck. Pellew handed the glass to him. "Good job, Charlie! You wonderful man!" Pellew's arms opened to hug his friend, but thought better of it and dropped them, hands flapping against his coat tails.
A call sounded from below. "Mr. Bennington!" The master moved to the larboard side of the quarterdeck.
"Yes, Porter?" Bennington answered. The carpenter stood on the spar deck, just out of Pellew's sight. Edward came to stand by the master.
"Captain, Sir." Porter tugged at his forelock. "We've got a problem. We're holed. Right up under the bowsprit and heads, in the orlop. Surgery's awash, surgeons are moving the wounded out now. Every time we bite into the waves we ship more water. I'm sorry, sir, we gotta stop and patch the hole or we'll sink for sure."
'Damn.' Pellew thought, but he said: "I'll come, Porter. Mr. Bennington, take the way off of her."
The master's voice was empty of emotion as he answered. Pellew could see the dismay in the older man's eyes. Pellew swung towards the poop ready to question Hammond on what he could see.
"Oh and, Sir?" The carpenters voice drew him back to the rail. "And we've lost half our snake sir." His manner was almost apologetic. Edward could see the hat in Porter's hand being slowly crushed between his fingers.
"We will not worry about our serpent, Mr. Porter. Let's get that hole fixed." He turned again to Hammond. "Charlie, are we well out of range."
"Aye, Captain." Charlie looked like he had just been able to get Pellew's rank out of his throat. It was not that he didn't want to give Edward the honor, but actually saying it was an effort. "We are well out of range and they won't be moving for a while, Sir."
"Very well, thank you, Captain Hammond." Pellew said with a smile.
Hammond turned back to the Monte. 'Damn Pellew's manners. I can't even give him his due without him giving it back to me.' He thought as he brought the glass back to his eye.
Pellew ran down the ladder following the carpenter through the waist of the ship. Amanda, who had been freed from the lady hole, took a couple of running steps toward him. He turned his head to glance at her. She stopped short, her hand going to her mouth for just a few seconds. She seemed to hesitate before calling to him. "Captain! Captain!"
He turned; frustrated at her that she would interrupt his work. "Yes, Mrs. Pellew?"
"Captain, we have to have the carpenter or his mates for the cabin."
"Not now, Mrs. Pellew. There are other things-"
She broke in on his words, "But Captain, we have-"
"The carpenter and his mates will be busy." He thought he had best at least ask what was wrong; they could be holed under the cabin as well. "Are we making water in the cabin, Mrs. Pellew?" These last words were thrown at her with a snarl. She backed up a step.
"No, but, Captain, we-"
"Captain, we don't have a bed! It was being stored and a ball got it! My new bed!"
"Is that ALL?"
"Except nothing. Mrs. Pellew. If the sea is not in the cabin, we'll deal with it later." His voice and his look told her to cease and desist.
"Yes, Captain." She looked down a the deck for a few moments, as if trying to think of something else to say, then turned back to the cabin without uttering another word. Pellew heard the muted laughter from the men who were securing the guns.
"Avast that talk!"
"Aye, Captain." Came the reply from several hands, but there was a hint of merriment in the voices. Pellew looked at them with the same glare that he had transfixed Amanda with just moments before. Silence reigned on the deck.
Until he passed through the bulkhead, then he heard the laughter behind him. He snorted with a short burst of laughter himself, and then followed the carpenter down the companionway to the orlop deck.
He had to stand aside as three wounded men were carried past him. "The wounded are going into the forward gun deck?"
"Yes, sir." The surgeon answered, immediately turning back to the man he was working on. "We will have everyone out of here and the ones who can return to duty will do so as soon as possible. Unless you send us some new patients."
"Believe me, I have no wish to do that." Edward moved among the wounded, encouraging them where he could. Several of them reached for his hand, he held each for a moment.
"Captain?" The surgeon spoke again.
"Yes, doctor?" Pellew answered.
"Can I see to your face sir?"
"Yes sir, you are cut on your cheek sir." The surgeon touched his left hand to his own face. Pellew ran his fingers from below his eye to his jaw, he winced and they came away red.
"I never noticed." He took in the wounded waiting for help. "No, when these men have been seen to, then send someone for me."
The surgeon's lips turned up at Pellew's statement, but he said nothing. The captain moved forward, still following the carpenter.
Porter asked for his attention as he moved into the small confines ahead of the sick berth. "Here, sir." He pointed to a foot wide hole. Looking up Pellew could see the trail board and what was left of the starboard heads. "We are getting ready to lower a fothered sail to give us a temporary patch.
They stepped back quickly as the Altamira's head came down and the sea poured through the hole. "Porter, if we shift some of the stores aft, will that bring her head up enough for a good repair?"
"It'll help, sir."
"Very well, I'll give the orders. We have to get this done in a timely manner. We must get underway."
"I understand, sir, my men are working on it now."
Pellew nodded and walked back into the sick berth.
That evening Amanda had seen to the cut on his face. When he had walked into the great cabin she immediately called for Grimes to bring up a pan of warm water. She very gently soaked the area around he cut, carefully reopening it and cleaning out whatever may have been there.
"You'll have another scar, Teddy, to go with your nose and your forehead." She had said as she threw the water out through the quarter gallery deck, or what was left of it. When he had entered the cabin he had gone directly for the gallery, coming around the corner expecting to be able to use the head when she had yelled for him to be careful. The seat of ease was there as was part of the washstand, but the upper half and part of the floor were gone. "I can step across, I'm able to span a foot wide gap, you know." She said, calling to him around the corner.
"Yes, but anyone leaning over the side could see you." He had called for Grimes to pass the word for the carpenter.
She stopped him. "No, Teddy, there are more important things for him to do. Maybe we could get an old sail and cover the, um, necessary area."
That had ended the conversation the day before. Now, he smiled at the memory. Her words were as different as night and day from the exchange on deck. He winced as the muscles in his cheek twinged. Picking up his pen he began his entry:
28 December 1773, Tuesday
"It seems like only yesterday we were eating our Christmas
breakfast. In the last two days we have had our first taste of
metal and fought our first real battle. The Altamira is damaged,
badly so, but the carpenter is seeing to it and informs me we
can get underway in the morning.
"The moon shines bright tonight. I have double lookouts in the tops watching the Montezuma for any sign that they are moving closer. This is going to be a near thing. They have their night lanterns all slung around the stern and are working as furiously as we are to repair their damage.
"Amanda was right, we don't have a bed. She is sleeping behind me in my old cot. We have agreed that until our cabin can be set to rights we will be circumspect on what we do in it. I don't relish another dumping on the floor. I despair, what a bad moment for that bed to ram into the bulkhead."
He turned in the chair to touch her hair. It had come loose from her nightcap when she climbed into the cot and spilled over the side of the cot. The corners of his lips curled up again and he turned back to his journal.
"Her face is pale tonight. She's still not eating. I think I know what is wrong, but I will not ask." He wrote, then paused, hearing the pounding coming from below and above his head where his men were putting the deck to rights. "What a place for this to happen. I will continue to act as if I don't know anything, but I have marked my calendar and will watch her with pleasure. I think I may enjoy being a father."
The morning of the 29th dawned with both ships still dead in the water and drifting with the current. Pellew had been in the mizzen top with his night glass since he was called at the start of the watch. The carpenter climbed the shrouds to make his report. He arrived breathless. The older man was an artist in wood, not a top man.
"We can get underway in about four hours sir. The last of the bracings are in place and we are caulking around the patch."
"Very good, Porter, very good" Pellew said. "I'll
go down with you now!"
"But sir, I've got bad news as well."
Pellew drew back a few inches. The older man's face was serious in the dim light of the new dawn. "Yes?"
"We won't be able to make the speed we were before. Firstly, part of the copper is sheared away and we had to remove some other parts of it. Just that will take some speed away, the water won't flow by witho-"
"Yes, yes, I understand about the drag from the loose copper, what else? Go on, man."
The carpenter looked up at Pellew, who was standing above him, apology was written on Porter's face. "And then that there patch, sir. It ain't gonna take any rough handling. It's just too big a hole. Gonna take a dry dock to fix it proper like."
"I understand, Mr. Porter." He shook his head. "I can't give you a commitment to an easy trip. But I will do what I can. Good job, Chips."
Taking a hand from the shrouds, Porter touched his forelock with shaking fingers. "Thankee sir!"
Four hours! He put his glass back to his eye. Four hours was
too much. The Montezuma was testing her new rudder and a jury
spanker was already rigged. The Altamira would be on the bottom
in four hours.
"Mr. Pengarth!" He called down to the quarterdeck. The lad looked up from his work. 'His uniform's too small.' Pellew thought.
"Run down and tell the carpenter that he has one hour, ONE HOUR do you hear! To secure his work!"
Pengarth shaded his eyes with one hand from the rising sun, "Yes, Sir!" He started to move away from the quartermasters.
"And, tell cook to get a meal served out in thirty minutes, we are going to quarters in forty five.
"Aye aye!" This time Pengarth made it down the ladder.
"Younger Kirkland!" He called to the little boy who was running from the main cabin forward, obviously on some errand for Millie or Amanda. Pellew grinned, the smile tight with the tension of the coming action, the little boy had wormed his way into Amanda's service and he had let it happen. The boy had been pressed into becoming her personal runner. It really was the best place for the lad; he was too little even to run powder. "Younger Kirkland there!"
Pellew saw the master, who was working at the main mast, tweak the lad on the shoulder and point up at the mizzen top. The boy sprinted to the quarterdeck, his little legs raising high to mount the ladder.
"Sir?" It was a squeak, his round eager face turned up to the mizzen top.
"Where are you going, Younger Kirkland?"
"Cook, Sir, my lady wants some biscuit."
"Run and tell Grimes that I want a pot of coffee and some of those shortbread biscuits in the tin in the main cabin stores. Have him send them up here!"
"Aye, Sir." The boy started to run across the deck, and disappeared down the ladder.
Waiting, was there anything as hard as waiting. Pellew leaned back against the mast and sipped at the cup of coffee in his hand. His eyes had not left the Montezuma except to look at his watch. Ten minutes, that was all that was left to the carpenter to finish the repairs, and then they would make sail. Repairs finished or not.
No other smiles lit his face this morning. He had not spoken to Amanda, up and gone before she stirred in the cot, he had brushed her lips with a kiss and let her sleep. This would be a near thing. Taking one last look at the Montezuma he reached for the backstay and slid to the deck.
"Send the hands to quarters, Mr. Rimble. Our friend is spreading sail."