The flashes had stopped after a few minutes of sailing away from Triborne and Dover. Callum did not look back to see if they were following. He knew they would, it was only a matter of time. His main focus was in reaching Renner to see if this Frenchman they were pursuing was either damaged or destroyed. If the Avion was destroyed, so much the better, Renner would have made Callum a very happy man indeed, he thought to himself. They were about half way to the position of the last flashes that they had seen. Callum knew that Patkin was still aloft and had his eyes peeled for anything on the dark horizon.
On deck, Collingwood was at the wheel with Talon, Talon guiding them closer, following the course that had been given to him. McGuffin was at the bow, his Marines flanked him and were lined up down the side, each held a musket, at the ready, extra shot and powder in their bags over their shoulders, all in full uniform now. The hands were busy, making sure that the canvas maintained holding as much of the wind as it could. Callum stood before the short rail of the wheel, next to the steps, a pistol was handed to him. He looked down at it and then over to who was handing it to him, the boy, Hans. Callum nodded and then took the pistol, checked it, made sure it was loaded and stuck it in his belt. The boy held out his other hand and handed Callum his sword. Callum smirked a bit at him, taking it from his hand and tucked it in the holder of his belt. He put a hand to the boy’s shoulder and gave him a nod. His reply that came was a soft smile.
“Sail, sir!” Patkin cried from above. Callum looked forward but couldn’t see it. He turned as Collingwood pulled the glass from the wheelhouse, handing it to Callum. Callum went forward to the bow coming in the midst of the Marines and stood next to McGuffin. Callum extended the glass and lifted it to his eye. McGuffin looked at Callum once and then out into the darkness ahead.
“There.” Callum said softly as he stopped his slow moving with the glass, “It’s the Hunter, she’s alone and seems to be drifting.” Callum turned toward the aft as McGuffin and the Marines kept looking forward, “Mr. Talon, two points to port!”
“Aye, sir, two points!” Talon called back. Callum turned and raised the glass again. He looked slowly about to see if their quarry was anywhere else. There was nothing. Callum collapsed the glass, turned and looked aloft.
“Patkin! Keep an eye out! I don’t want that French bastard sneaking in behind us!”
“As a precaution, we had better prepare the boat to lower over the side!” Callum called out.
“Aye, aye, sir!” Collingwood said and passed the order along. Several of the hands jumped to it, grabbing lines and started to untie it from its stays. They pulled the canvas off it and took it away, some of them folded the canvas which also acted as a hatch cover for the main hatch to keep out the rain or for heavy seas.
“Leave the boat where she is, lads.” Callum said, “If we must, we can haul her over the side by hand. I think there are enough of us to accomplish that.” Callum said as he looked about at the young Marines in uniform. The hands chuckled a bit at his remark, “Alright, let’s look sharp now, keep with your duties.” He said and they tipped their hands to him, he turned and looked forward again. The dark figure of Hunter was growing, but just barely. He lifted the glass scanning what he could see of Hunter in the dark, no lights, just her silhouette against the horizon.
“Amos!” Callum said aloud as he lowered the glass.
“Sir!” Amos said as he came up behind his Captain.
“Fetch another lamp. Light it and send it up to Patkin. It will act as a beacon for Dover and Triborne to see us better.” Callum said as he still looked forward.
“What happened, Renner?” Callum asked himself softly. He collapsed the glass in his hands. He pursed his lips and turned slowly as Collingwood was coming toward him.
“Sir, the wind is good, do wish more canvas?” Collingwood asked as Callum was close to him, he turned and looked forward again.
“Sail, sir!” Patkin called out, pointing aft, “It might be Dover, sir!” Callum looked back in that direction and then aloft.
“Could be as he says, it could be Captain Tomlin, sir.” Collingwood said.
“And then again it may not.”
“Triborne would take some time to get underway, sir.”
“Yes, you are right in that, Abel. Dover is easier to get underway, and I have shown Captain Tomlin a few tricks over the years to make it faster to do so. It might be Dover, but with all of this, I will not be caught with my breeches down. We will standby and be ready in case this bastard has slipped in between us and Dover.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Collingwood said.
“Patkin! Anything more about Hunter?!” Callum asked as he looked aloft, Patkin turned and looked forward from his perch.
“She looks dead, sir, and drifting!”
“Alright, keep a constant eye on the sail to aft!”
“Aye, sir.” Patkin called down. Callum turned and looked forward again.
“Abel, I have a feeling that this is about to turn into a rescue mission. I suddenly have a bad feeling about all of this.” Callum said his eyes moving about as he was thinking and thinking fast.
“I have a feeling that Captain Renner was outgunned by the Avion. They may have boarded her. With our actions of last night, he may be changing in his tactics now. If the Hunter was boarded, her officers and crew may be dead, and there may still be French aboard as Hunter could be very valuable to him.” Callum said as he looked forward into the dark. Amos was pulling the lamp up the Mainmast to Patkin, who took it and rigged it higher above his head.
“If there are French aboard her, sir,…then…”
“We may be walking right into a trap.” Callum said as he spun to face Collingwood, “Get this boat over the side, rig it tow behind us. Darin, can you see the Hunter?!” Callum called.
“Aye, sir, off the starboard bow!”
“Steer us in at her port side!” Callum said, “Sergeant?!”
“Sir.” McGuffin said as he stepped up.
“We are going to board her, under the assumption that the Hunter has been captured by our Frenchman, have your men form up to cover our starboard side. Once we throw lines, we will go up and over her rails, you and your men will follow directly behind us.”
“Very good, sir!” McGuffin said and saluted. Callum saw the boat being lifted off the deck, turned over and slowly put over the rail, two lines were used to attach her to Windsong’s port mid-rail to let her drift along with them and slightly behind.
“Are we going to use the boat, sir?” Collingwood asked.
“No, it will be a backup if this goes bad.” Callum said without looking at him. He was looking at the now looming shadow of Hunter, hearing something, but couldn’t make it out in the wind as it carried the sound away from them. Callum raised a hand to make everyone go quiet. A hush went over their deck, only the wind in the sails above and the creaking of the deck could be heard. Collingwood stepped closer to Callum as he and his Captain listened intently with strain. They were still at a bit of distance but coming up fast. Callum turned to Collingwood, “Strike sail, but be quiet about it. Sergeant,” Callum said softly, “Have a couple of your men go below and draw out all the small arms and hand them out to everyone along with extra shot and powder, your Marines included, and fix bayonets.”
“Yes, sir.” McGuffin said as he turned and gave instructions quietly. Callum went to the wheelhouse quickly, opening the door, he pulled out the pistols there, with the extra powder flasks and shot bags, setting them on the top.
“Darin, take this.” Callum said handing a pistol to Talon, “Tuck it in your belt. Bring us in nice and close to her on her port side.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said as he tucked the pistol then put both hands on the wheel. Callum closed the door, tucking another pistol in his belt, taking two in his hands along with a flask and a shot bag and went forward. He came up next to Collingwood and handed them to him. Collingwood did the same as his Captain tucking the pistols in his belt. The sails had been struck and were being tied as the Marines came back up on deck with wooden boxes containing the other pistols, shot and powder flasks. They began to hand them out as Windsong slowed her approach to the large dark shadow now nearing at their port stern. Sails were tied down and set, hands began to gather about near the two officers and the Marines were forming up behind Callum and Collingwood.
“Amos.” Callum said quietly and tilted his head, calling him over, “You and a couple of the hands standby to grab her lines. We’ll have to make a jump for her as we will still be moving a bit. Then get us tied off.”
“Aye, sir.” Amos said softly, turning and telling Brewer and Jennings what to do. They set about and got ready. Callum nodded at Amos and held up a hand, ready to drop it as the signal. Callum looked over at Hunter as they slowly slid their bow by her port aft quarter. He watched the rail on the Main Deck of Hunter above them, hearing muffled talk and cries, whimpering sounds. Callum narrowed his eyes, hand still up in the air, he saw the lines that ran along her side and then dropped his hand. Amos and his men grabbed the lines, Callum looked at Collingwood and went to where the starboard rail used to be and jumped, grabbing a climbing step on Hunter’s hull. He started to climb quickly, Collingwood jumped as well and caught, climbing up behind his Captain. A few of the men jumped as well, following their officers as Callum went up and over the rail, pulling a pistol as he landed on the deck. His eyes went wide as Collingwood joined him.
“Oh dear God.” Collingwood said in almost a whisper as he straddled the rail looking around.
“Grandfather, perhaps you should rest a bit, you look very tired.” Dustin said as he leaned forward on the ottoman a bit.
“Do I?” The old man asked as looked at the soft young face. They both gave each other a soft warm smile, “Good of you to care so much about me, my boy.”
“It’s only because I love you, Grandfather. Now, you should go rest before supper.” Dustin said.
“And here I thought you were just tired of listening to me rambling on about this and that.” The old man said.
“No, it is not that, I assure you. I never get tired of hearing you speak of those days, you know that. You make it almost come alive again with the way you describe it.”
“Really, and here I thought I was just giving the facts of it all.” The old man smiled and then winked.
“You are crafty as I have said before.” Dustin smiled with a hint of mischief behind it.
“I wasn’t trying to be, but, I can take the hint. I know you wish you speak to Andrew,…alone.” The old man said and winked again. Dustin dropped his jaw open. The old man got up and went slowly to his room. Both younger men watched him walk away and out of sight in the hallway. They heard the door close. Dustin looked over at Andrew and gave him a smile. He got up off the ottoman and moved to the settee, sitting next to Andrew.
“What do you want to talk to me about?” Andrew asked softly as he looked concerned.
“What about me?”
“Last night, I did tell you to just sleep, as we haven’t done much of that since you have been here. But, I couldn’t help but feel that feeling all night long from not being with you.” Dustin said softly.
“We were in the same bed all night. We were close. I don’t understand what it is that you mean?” Andrew asked and was genuinely confused. Dustin pushed him back to the arm of the settee and climbed up on him in one motion. He leaned down and kissed Andrew firmly but tenderly, running his hands up and down Andrew’s sides, grinding his hips into him. Dustin pulled back and rubbed his nose tip against Andrew’s as if making a circle.
“This is the feeling that I mean.”
“I like this feeling.” Andrew smiled and brought his hands up and rested them on Dustin’s hips above his butt.
“And I’d like to feel it even more tonight,…all night.”
“Well, who am I to argue with the other master of the house?” Andrew asked with a bit of a grin.
“Now that we have that arranged, would you care to take a walk with me?” Dustin asked.
“I thought you were getting supper ready?”
“Always think with your stomach, don’t you?” Dustin smirked as he kissed the nose tip.
“Well, I really enjoy your cooking. You do it very well.”
“Thank you. I suppose the walk can wait until he goes to bed this evening.” Dustin said and rolled his eyes a bit.
“Maybe you could talk him into having some wine with supper. I know he hasn’t had it in quite a while, it might make him even more tired and want to go to bed early.”
“My, you certainly can be quite the plotter, can’t you?” Dustin asked as he pulled back a bit more and raised an eyebrow.
“Well, I don’t think it would cause him any harm, do you?”
“No, but I don’t think he will. I’ll suggest it, but I doubt he will have any.”
“Well, we’ll just have to wait then.” Andrew said and smiled faintly, Dustin growled softly in his throat as he narrowed his eyes, “What?”
“Nothing.” Dustin said and got up off Andrew.
“Are you angry?”
“No, only frustrated I suppose.” Dustin said and sat down on the settee, hands clasped together, forearms between his knees.
“I’m sorry.” Andrew said as he got up and put a hand on Dustin’s arm.
“No, don’t be. It’s only me and the way I feel. I am getting accustomed to what we have been doing and just want more and more of it, that’s all. I can’t seem to get enough, I think about it all day long. I look over and see you and I go out of my mind and think of all the things I want to do to you and what I want you to do to me.” Dustin said as he was rocking a bit back and forth and then looked at Andrew, “Is that alright to think that,…those things?”
“You obviously enjoy it.” Andrew said and Dustin nodded rapidly, “As do I, and you know that. Is it alright to think that? I would say, yes, and very much so. You are amazing with what you do to me and I, too, crave it all day. Truth be known, I almost died last night not doing anything but sleeping. It was very painful to lie next to you and to not touch you.”
“Oh good, I thought I was the only one.” Dustin said as he raised his eyebrows and shifted on the settee, turning to face Andrew more, “We have to figure this out, a way to do what we want to do together and yet sleep long enough to rest, can you understand what I mean?” Andrew smiled wide and nodded, “What is so amusing?”
“Here we are, grown men, acting like school boys.” Andrew said and Dustin chuckled.
“I suppose you’re right, we are silly, aren’t we?”
“Yes, we are, and downright sad, I would say as well. Now, come here you.” Andrew said as he grabbed Dustin’s wrists and pulled him in. They kissed softly at first and then more and more aggressively, wrapping arms about each other as they sat together for the longest time. Dustin was humming and moaning with the tender onslaught and then pulled back resting his forehead against Andrew’s, catching his breath a bit.
“I have to get up and go into the kitchen.” Dustin whispered.
“Can I be of help to you?”
“What about your writing?”
“I’ll do it later. I just want to be close with you right now.”
“Well then, sir, I don’t really think I can refuse your offer.” Dustin smiled. He pulled back and led Andrew to the kitchen by the hand.
Collingwood swung his leg over the rail and set his feet on the deck. He came next to Callum as they both looked about at the men strewn across the deck, the damage done from cannon fire was extensive. Some of the cannon at the starboard rail on the Main Deck were upturned and out of action, rigging was shot apart, lines and debris were everywhere as well as some of the dead. Callum turned and looked over the rail.
“Sergeant, get your men up here to help. Someone fetch Carson and tell him to get up here to help with the wounded. Darin, you stay onboard.” Callum said and then turned back, he stepped forward seeing some of the crew of Hunter trying to help those that were wounded, as he looked around, there was no officer to be seen at the moment. Callum walked over to one of the men that was knelt down helping another crewman.
“Where is your officer?” Callum asked.
“I think he’s below on the Gun Deck.” He said without looking up.
“Abel,” Callum said as he turned, “take charge here. I’ll go below and see what’s going on.”
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said, turning and looking at the crew of Windsong and some of the Marines that were coming over the rail, “You men, lend a hand, get these men below to the surgery.”
“Surgeon’s dead, sir.” The crewman said flatly as he looked over his shoulder, “We have no one to help but ourselves for these poor devils.” Collingwood looked over at Callum as he stopped with hearing that and turned around to look at the crewman and then at Collingwood. Callum saw Carson come up over the rail, Callum went to him quickly.
“Carson, their surgeon is dead. Do what you can until help arrives.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir.” Carson said and went to the closest injured man. Callum watched for a moment and then looked over the railing down onto Windsong.
“Mr. Talon, secure lines to hold us fast! Get a signaling rocket out and fire it off!” Callum called.
“But sir,” Collingwood said as he came close to him, “what if that isn’t Dover coming up behind us?”
“Pray it is, Abel, pray very hard.” Callum said and walked away.
“Who is that?” The crewman asked Carson softly. Carson looked over his shoulder to the rail, then smiled and looked back at the wounded man on the deck.
“That is Captain Quintan Callum.” Carson said as he ripped the shirt of the man on the deck. He took the torn cloth and tied it around the wounded leg that he could see. Callum turned from the rail and started to go to the gangway stairs to go below, the crewman just watched him.
“Crewman, where is Captain Renner?” Collingwood asked as he came up behind him. He stood and turned and saw the uniform that Collingwood was wearing. He tipped his hand.
“I think he is in the Great Cabin, sir.” He said and tipped his hand again. Collingwood turned and directed some of the Marines to light some lamps.
“We were told lights out, sir.” The crewman said.
“That would hardly be the point now as the enemy knows where you are, don’t you think?” Collingwood asked him.
“Yes, sir.” He said and looked down at the deck for a moment. He looked skyward as the rocket was fired off from Windsong, going further skyward and then exploding in a shower of sparks.
Callum went down the stairs which were damaged, ripped half apart from a cannonball or two. The smells of sulfur and smoke were still heavy in the air. There was limited light as there were only a few lamps lit. He looked about and saw the devastation of the deck, some of the guns on the starboard side were turned over and out of action, some of the gun ports were now broad openings in Hunter’s hull, men were moving about, trying to get wounded and dead out of the way, moans and cries were all about him as he looked. It was utter chaos.
“Here now, get out of the way.” A gruff voice said as Callum was bumped into hard from behind. He turned and looked seeing two men carrying a dead crewman, “Move off now.” The crewman growled. Callum got out of the way and let them pass.
“Where is your officer?” Callum asked them.
“Haven’t seen him. Don’t know where he might be.” The one said as they continued on toward the aft section. Callum narrowed his eyes and went forward in search of an officer. All he could find was more devastation and wounded or dead men waiting to be tended to. Callum went back aft through the chaos that was all about him, going by the stairs he had come down, following along the broad deck, seeing a few men sitting, just shaking their heads at it all, not doing anything. Callum became angered.
He knew there was no direction being given to these men, they were acting out of reflex only and not really accomplishing anything at all. Callum kept quiet until he came into the aft section of the Gun Deck, the men that were dead were being placed here, stacked like cord wood, side by side. Callum looked about and saw a young midshipman, not more than maybe twelve, trying to organize a few coils of rope near the bulkhead wall of the hull.
“You there,” Callum said as he stepped up next to him, the boy looked up at him, he seemed dazed and confused, “what is your name?”
“Saunders, Midshipman, 5th Lieutenant.”
“Mr. Saunders, who is the officer of the deck?”
“There isn’t one. Lt. Kellogg was in charge of the gun crews.”
“Where is he?” Callum asked.
“Part of him is over there, I think.” Saunders said as he pointed toward the port side guns, his expression still dazed. Callum looked in that direction and then back again at the boy.
“Saunders, you’re in charge of the deck now.”
“Why?” The boy said as he looked at Callum with a blank look. Some of the hands gathered round Callum and were tense as he was standing in front of their young officer, not knowing who he was at all, not wearing a uniform.
“Because, Mr. Saunders, you are the ranking officer at this moment. You need to get these men organized and get these guns back into position and ready to fire if that Frenchman comes back.” Callum said as he remained calm and firm.
“I have no orders to do that. Who are you?”
“I am Quintan Callum.” All around them went silent and wide eyed, the boy looked up at Callum and the tears formed in his eyes, one dropped and rolled down his cheek.
“I don’t know how.” Saunders whispered. Callum firmed up, wanting to just hold the boy, to comfort him as what had happened here must have been terrifying for him.
“Learn quickly. Show these men what you’re capable of, stand firm. You can do it.” Callum said. He nodded to the boy once and the boy lifted the back of his dirty hand and wiped his own cheek, smudging it further with soot.
“Sir, what should I do first?” The boy said and Callum turned and looked at the crew, they were all still wide eyed.
“Where are you taking the wounded? I understand your surgeon is dead.”
“Below, sir, on the Storage Deck.” The gruff man that bumped into Callum at the stairs earlier said and tipped his hand, knowing who he was now.
“Alright. I want four of you to continue with that, anyone that can walk and is not seriously injured stays here to lend a hand. You, you, you, and you.” Callum said as he pointed to four men, “You are the ones to keep moving the wounded or the dead, the rest of you, we need to get these guns back into place. You, what is your name?” Callum asked the gruff man.
“Alright, Baxter, I’m putting you in charge of the gun crews here. You will assist Mr. Saunders in righting these guns, am I clear?”
“Good, now get to it. Work in groups, every other gun first so you are not in the way of each other. That French bastard might turn back on us, we have to be ready.”
“Aye, sir.” Baxter said and turned, “You heard him, lads. All of you come with me.” Baxter led the way, pointing out the guns, every other one as Callum instructed as Callum turned and looked at the young Saunders.
“First time under fire, Mr. Saunders?”
“There is a first time for everyone, Mr. Saunders, believe me, I know. Next time, you’ll know what to do, and you’ll be ready. Now, oversee your men, remember, be firm, stand tall, and they will draw strength from it.” Callum said.
“Thank you, sir.” The boy tipped his hand, Callum nodded. He walked away and went by the men working and went down another staircase to the Storage Deck. Wounded were everywhere, the deck was slick with blood, Callum slipped a bit in his boots. He looked around hearing the moans and groans, the whimpers of men in pain, some of them dying. It was very dark down here, no lamps had been lit. These men had been just dumped off, left on their own and to their own fates.
“Anyone see a lamp to light?” Callum asked out loud.
“Over here.” A faint voice said in the dark. Callum moved toward it.
“Call out again,…where?”
“Here,…over here.” The faint voice said as Callum made his way through the men, doing his best to not step on them. They, for their part, were trying to move out of the way as well, seeing him coming in the almost nonexistent light. Callum reached the sound of the faint voice and knelt down near him.
“Where is that lamp?” Callum asked softly. He reached out a hand and the lamp was moved to him, he took it and stood, he lifted the glass and shook the lamp to fully cover the wick in oil, making it draw up, he tilted the lamp slightly and pulled a pistol from his belt, cocking the hammer back once, he put the flint and pan near the wick and pulled the trigger, the spark lit the wick and it started to glow and the flame produced light. Callum tucked the pistol back in his belt and closed the glass. He raised the lamp and looked about. There were men everywhere, cuts, deep wounds, broken bones. His heart skipped a beat at seeing it. He took the lamp and hung it up on a hook in one of beams overhead.
“Here’s another lamp.” Another voice said. Callum turned and went to him and took it, lighting it the same way. It was becoming more lit here in this area now.
“If any of you can move about, find more lamps.” Callum said. He went back to go by where the first voice called to him.
“Who are you, where did you come from?” The first faint voice said, Callum stopped and looked over seeing a young crewman that handed him the first lamp, covered in blood all over his face, a deep cut in his throat and chest, from splintered wood. Callum had seen it before, too many times. He knelt down.
“I am from the sloop, Windsong, I’m Callum.” He said and gave the young crewman a smile of reassurance, “We saw the flashes and came to help. Dover and Triborne are coming as well.”
“Thank you, sir.” The young crewman said and tried to tip his hand. His eyes closed and his hand dropped. Callum heard his last breath leave his young body.
“But we didn’t get here fast enough.” Callum said in a whisper. He closed his eyes for a moment, and hung his head.
“He was a good lad, sir, a good topman.” The man next to the dead young man said. Callum lifted his head and looked over at him and gave him a faint smile. He stood and looked about.
“Do any of you know where Captain Renner or your officers are?” Callum asked.
“Captain Renner was injured, sir. The officers took him to the Great Cabin.” The man said and was obviously having a difficult time in talking.
“They left you men to deal with this on your own?” Callum asked.
“It wasn’t their fault, sir. That French ship came out of nowhere and gave us a full broadside before we could do anything at all.”
“Alright, stay here and keep as still as you can. I swear to you, help is coming and it will be here soon.” Callum said as he looked about, telling all of them.
“Thank you, sir.” The man said and tipped his hand. A few more lamps were found and lit, being hung up from the beam. Callum made his way to the aft stairs and started to go up. He did not see any damage here in the aft areas of the Ward Room, as well as the cabins. He went along the companionway and went to the Great Cabin door and opened it. His eyes went wide with what he saw.
“What in the hell is going on in here?!” Callum asked as he looked at the assemblage of officers about the table in the center of the cabin, they all turned and looked back at him, they parted out of his way as he came forward, “You have a ship in near destruction, wounded men everywhere on your decks, and chaos all about and you are all in here?” Callum asked as he stepped up to the table. Renner was propped up on one elbow on his left side, a large chunk of railing was embedded deep in his right side, he held a glass of whiskey in his hand. He looked at Callum and raised the glass to him.
“Captain Callum,” Lt. Carrington said, bowing his head slightly, Callum looked at him with a horrified look, “sir, Captain Renner was giving us final instructions.”
“To hang with your final instructions, Renner, your ship is almost lost. You have men dying out there right now.” Callum looked back at Renner, who had a pained look on his face.
“Yes, Callum. That is as much your fault as it is mine, I suppose.” Renner said with a raspy voice and short of breath and then drank down half the glass, spilling some out of the corner of his mouth onto him and the table he laid on.
“Carrington, take your officers and get out there. Get your ship under control, sir, and I mean now. You will find my officer on your deck trying to do it for you.” Callum said with a growl in his voice. They all looked at Renner for a moment, tipping their hands to him and then walked out, leaving Callum alone. Callum glared at Renner.
“Why, Renner? Your men needed your officers and you have taken them away? Why?”
“I wanted to set things right with them, Callum.” Renner said tipping the glass up and draining it.
“What happened, Renner?”
“He came out of the dark, your French devil.” Renner was rasping, “We didn’t see him as he sailed in. I had just come on deck. He gave us a full broadside before we knew he was there. Silent as the grave he was. We barely got the ports opened when he gave us another and crippled us. We fired back but did very little to him. He is like you, a man possessed.” Renner said in a gurgling raspy voice and set the glass on the table, he reached over a bit and picked up the dark bottle. He tried to pour but his hand was shaking too bad.
“Renner, help is coming. Dover and Triborne are on their way.”
“Too late for me, Callum.” Renner rasped and looked at Callum with a strange look, one Callum had never seen before, pained yes, but calm as well, his color draining from him. Callum saw whiskey going all over the table as Renner tried to pour. Callum reached out and took the bottle from his shaking hand, they looked at one another for a moment. Callum poured it, almost filling the glass.
“Are you dead then, Renner?”
“It’s better this way, Callum. I would not want the disgrace of facing a court martial for losing my ship.”
“You have not lost your ship yet, Renner.”
“As close as if that bastard had boarded us. No, I have lost Hunter to your madman, Callum, and rightfully so, my mistakes that I have made in all of this.” Renner closed his pained eyes for a moment and then opened them and they were glassier looking.
“Join me in a drink, Callum. I will make a toast.” Renner said with his rasp and coughed, a bit blood on his lips now. Callum thought about it for a moment and looked over and saw a glass on the side table. He went over and picked it up, coming back to Renner and poured a bit of whiskey in it and set the bottle down.
“Alright.” Callum said and held up the glass.
“To you, Callum,” Renner said with a gurgle as he picked up the glass and held it up, his face was sheet white now, the calm look was getting pasty and Renner’s head was weaving slightly, “the finest Captain in the fleet.” Callum narrowed his eyes and touched Renner’s glass with his. Renner went to lift the glass to his lips but it dropped from his fingers to the table and spilled, his head dropped, and he rolled onto his back, his arm draped over his barreled chest. Callum set his glass down and looked at this dead form, this man that had at one time been a hero to many and to their Nation. Callum lowered his head and closed his eyes. He heard the cabin door open behind him as Callum was resting his weight on his hands on the tables’ edge.
“Captain Callum,” The voice said. Callum did not move.
“What is it?” Callum answered softly.
“Dover is coming alongside, sir.”
“I’ll be up presently.” Callum said as his head was still down.
“Is Captain Renner,…?”
“Your Captain is dead. Where is Mr. Carrington?”
“He’s on deck, sir, with your officer.” The voice said, Callum lifted his head and turned to look at him, a 3rd Lieutenant that he did not know. Callum walked toward him, going by him and out the door, the young officer looked over at the body of his Captain on the table. He stepped out and closed the door behind him.
Callum came out on deck and looked about. Marines, crew, and a couple of officers were all about trying to organize the devastation, as well as the dead, and the wounded. Callum looked over to the starboard rail and saw the masts of Dover as she had pulled up alongside Hunter now. Callum went to the rail at the base of the stairs and looked over the side.
“Dover!” Callum called out.
“We are here, sir!” Tomlin called back up.
“Beat to quarters! Captain Tomlin, there are wounded here! I need Dr. Crawford, Hunter’s surgeon is dead! Send over a few of your hands to help! I need Camden to assess damage here as well!”
“Aye, sir! Beat to quarters!” Tomlin shouted loudly, his voice firm, and the Marine drum started to roll, hands jumped about, Tomlin calling out orders as Callum turned away. He looked and saw Carrington and Collingwood talking, pointing, giving out orders near the center of the deck, Callum went over to them.
“Mr. Carrington,” Callum said as he came up, Carrington turned and looked at Callum and touched his hat brim, “I’m sorry to inform you,…your Captain is dead.”
“Yes, sir.” Carrington said and looked down for a moment.
“As squadron commander, I hereby appoint you, Captain of HMS Hunter. I will draft a formal letter stating that fact and present it to you with your orders. I will also be making an official note in my log to that effect. When you have the opportunity, I would ask for a written account of what actually happened. Captain Renner told me some of it before he died, but I will need it to present it to the Admiralty, provided we survive this.”
“Yes, sir.” He bowed his head slightly as hands were coming up over the starboard rail from Dover. He looked and Callum turned.
“You men,…” Callum said as he called to them, waving them over to him. They came quickly and tipped their hands to him, “Men, this is Captain Carrington. You are here to assist him in getting Hunter ready to sail,” Callum said and turned and looked at Carrington, “Captain, these men are at your disposal.”
“Thank you, sir.” Carrington said as Callum pulled Collingwood away and led him up the stairs to the Poop Deck, the highest deck of Hunter, as Carrington gave out orders to the men from Dover. Callum and Collingwaood looked aft and could see in the dark the square sails of Triborne coming with all possible speed. Callum set to lashing the wheel, Collingwood helped him. Callum looked at Collingwood for a moment.
“Abel, I’m going back aboard Windsong to help Darin get her out of the way for Triborne’s arrival. I’ll take a couple of the hands with me to help. When Triborne arrives, have them beat to quarters as well. I want to take no further chances in this at all.”
“Aye, sir. If I may ask, sir, what happened here?”
“False pride and ego, Abel. This ship was almost lost because of it, I’m certain. It’s a wonder that any of them are alive actually.” Callum said as he looked across the Main Deck and then back to Collingwood.
“Do what you can here, she needs to be as ready as she can be before the dawn. I will return after Triborne arrives.” Callum said and turned to walk away.
“Aye, aye, sir.” Collingwood said as he looked aft and saw Triborne getting larger, coming closer. He turned and looked back, Callum going down the stairs, calling to a couple of the hands from Windsong that he saw on deck, Rafkin and Hawkins, having them go over the side and back to their own ship. Callum went over with them, climbing down and then jumping for the deck.
“Cast off those lines!” Callum called out, “Mr. Talon, steer us out and away with a hard port turn, we will let Triborne come in and take our place here!”
“Standby on the wheel!” Callum said, turning and going aloft, climbing up the rigging, Rafkin had joined him but from the other side, going up as well. They worked together and started to get the sails dropped, one by one, the Mainsail was first and then they climbed up even further and set the Headsail, dropping it away and Callum looked down, seeing the movement of Windsong now, sliding alongside Hunter and then started to pull away in the port turn that he ordered. “That’s got it for now, Rafkin. Let’s go down and make them set. Hawkins, set the Spanker!” Callum called down.
“Aye, sir!” Hawkins called back up with a cupped hand and went quickly aft.
“Aye, sir.” Rafkin smiled and nodded, seeing his Captain up in the canvas with him, it gave him a sense of pride to see his commanding officer doing what he had to do in certain circumstances. They went to their own sides and climbed down, Callum went as fast as Rafkin, like in a race, Rafkin beating him to the deck though, Callum being out of practice. They looked at each other for a moment and smiled wide at each other and then set to the lines, tying them down to stays and belaying pins. Callum looked up and the wind was taking her now and she was coming around.
“Darin, steer her in a circular course! Give Triborne as much time and room as possible! We’ll strike sails and come to her port stern and lay over after she ties off!” Callum called out.
“Aye, sir!” Talon said loudly, knowing what his Captain wanted and set about it with the wheel, guiding Windsong about, a slow lazy, large circular course giving Triborne plenty of berth to come in and settle next to Hunter, her sister ship.
Lines were tied, Callum looked up at the sails overhead as they billowed from the wind and were set. He lowered his gaze and looked over at Rafkin at the starboard side and nodded once. Rafkin smiled back in reply, Callum turned and went toward the wheel and Talon quickly.
“How is she steering, Darin?” Callum asked as he came around the short rail and came toward Talon.
“She handles like a dream, sir.” Talon smiled and nodded toward his Captain.
“It seems this is what she was built for.” Callum said, watching their progress as he looked forward and the back over the starboard aft quarter, seeing Triborne coming on quickly.
“I agree, sir. She handles very fast and is very smart in her moves.” Talon said.
“Better to have that in a ship, rather than in a woman, I suppose.” Callum said with a smirk and Talon looked over at him with wide eyes at the remark. Callum was at the wheelhouse, putting his pistols on the shelf inside.
“Sir.” Talon said flatly. Callum looked over at his young officer, Callum smiled and chuckled.
“Merely a jest, Mr. Talon.” Callum said and raised an eyebrow. He smiled as Talon rolled his eyes a bit, “Eyes on your heading, if you please.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said and looked forward again. He maintained the large circular course that had been started. Callum looked over at Triborne, seeing her sails being lifted in the dark, her motion slowing as the loss of the wind made her bow rise a bit.
“They’re almost here.” Callum said, “Thank God.” Callum exhaled.
“Is Hunter in desperate shape, sir?” Talon asked.
“I can’t begin to count the number of dead, Darin, as well as her Captain.” Callum said.
“Captain Renner is dead, sir?”
“He is, Darin.” Callum said as he continued to watch Triborne come in and take Windsong’s place at Hunter’s side.
“My God.” Talon whispered.
“Unfortunate, I know.” Callum answered seeing the sad look on Talon’s face now. Callum put a hand on the young shoulder for a moment and squeezed his fingers a bit. He lowered his hand and went to the aft starboard rail and watched Triborne slide in beside Hunter. Sails were drawn up on her and calls could be heard, orders being given in the darkness. Marines drums were beating, Triborne was getting ready for possible action. Callum watched them for a long minute, Triborne was now tied off to Hunter and hands were going over her side to help. Callum looked back at Talon.
“Bring her in, Darin. We will tie off on Triborne’s port aft quarter.” Callum said as he walked up to the wheel again, “I’ll help with the sails and the rigging.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said as he turned the wheel a bit more, bringing Windsong’s bow around. Callum walked toward the Mainmast, Rafkin and Hawkins were waiting, looking up at the sails starting to lose their billow, going against the wind.
“Hawkins, standby on the bow lines, Rafkin, you and I will strike sail.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir.” They both replied and tipped their hands. Hawkins turned and went to the starboard bow, taking lines in his hands, getting ready. Callum went to the rigging on the port rail, Rafkin went starboard.
“Standby, Rafkin.” Callum said, grabbing the lines for the canvas above.
“Aye, sir. Ready.” Rafkin said. Callum looked as forward as they were coming around now in the turn, Talon easily handling her. Another few yards and they could cast loose. They waited, Hawkins looked back at Callum once.
“Hawkins, call out to them when we get closer to take the lines.”
“Aye, sir.” He nodded and looked forward again, Windsong taking the wind now yet once again, the canvas snapped overhead. Calum looked up.
“Close enough, Rafkin, cast loose.” Callum said, Rafkin undid his lines as did Callum and the sails went out with billow. Callum and Rafkin pulled the lines, the sails starting to pull up, the lines carrying through the blocks with the draw. Windsong responded immediately with the loss of wind, slowing her approach a bit now as Callum wanted. He and Rafkin tied off the Mainsail and grabbed the lines for the Headsail, doing it again, drawing up the canvas through the blocks above. They tied off and went up the rigging, crossing out on the rigging spires and lines, drawing up the canvas more, tying it off even further. They moved quickly and went back to their own sides and climbed up the rigging further, getting above the Headsail now, tying it off. They nodded to one another as Hawkins had called out and sent the lines up to Triborne to take and tie them off. Callum and Rafkin climbed down as quickly as they could to the deck.
“Darin, lash the wheel!” Callum called down as he came. Talon moved and tied the wheel off as Callum reached the deck, “Let’s draw up the boat, we’ll row over and go aboard.” Callum said as they reached over the side for lines, pulling the longboat closer to the port rail, “Hawkins, get the oars and take them over the side.”
“Aye, sir.” He said and went forward, picking up four oars and carried them back. He climbed over and set them in and then dropped to the boat. Talon went over the side. Callum looked at him and Rafkin for a moment.
“I’ll be right back.” Callum said and walked toward the steps to go below to the cabins and galley. He went through the door and walked the few steps, opening his cabin door. He grabbed the sword and removed it from his belt then his tunic, pulling it off the peg on the bulkhead wall and turned and stopped for a moment, seeing the boy huddled in the corner on his pallet, looking tired and very frightened. Callum took a moment and tilted his head toward him and held out a hand to him. The boy stood, Callum taking him gently by the wrist and pulled him to him, giving him reassurance with a one armed hug, patting the boys back gently with his hand, the boy gave him a soft smile and pulled back a bit, Callum nodded in silence and slipped his tunic on. He pointed at the pallet against the wall, and the boy knew what he meant and went to it. He smiled briefly, winked, and went to the door and out.
On deck, Rafkin waited, Talon and Hawkins were set on benches waiting to set oars. Callum pulled out his long tail and tossed it over the tall collar of his tunic as he came quickly to the rail, he climbed over and went down into the longboat, getting to a bench and an oar. Rafkin took the line and dropped it on the deck and climbed over himself, grabbing an oar, they pushed off Windsong and set oars, dipping them in the water and started to pull, going around the bow, heading for Triborne. Callum looked over his shoulder as they pulled, seeing her large side getting closer, looming in the darkness over them.
“Almost there, lads.” Callum said, they were rowing together. Callum could hear voices at the railing of Triborne, “Throw us down a line to tie off!” Callum called up over his shoulder. Another moment as they shipped oars, a line was sent down, Hawkins tied it off, Rafkin and Talon grabbed the side of Triborne, holding the longboat as Callum reached out and started up the side on the climbing ladder, the others followed him up on deck.
“Where is your Captain?” Callum asked a young midshipman, who was tipping his hand to him.
“Aboard Hunter, sir.”
“Very well. Permission to cross your deck, sir.” Callum said, as a statement, not a question.
“Thank you.” Callum said, walking away from the young officer, going over to reach Hunter. His men followed close behind him. They reached the starboard rail and went across on gangplanks that had been set, tying the two great ships together, Callum stepping again on the deck of Hunter, seeing men working to get guns back into place, rigging being reset and tied, debris cleared and carried aft to be tossed over the stern. Callum saw Strathum, Stewart’s 1st Lieutenant, working with Collingwood and a group of men both from Dover and Triborne to continue and get things organized. Callum walked up to Strathum, seeing Callum he tipped his hand to him.
“Where is your Captain?” Callum asked.
“He went to see Captain Renner, sir.” Strathum said with a long face. Callum turned and looked at Collingwood.
“Mr. Collingwood, Mr. Talon is here at disposal for you. Let Captain Carrington know as well.”
“He is with Captain Stewart as well, sir.” Strathum said.
“I see. I will join them for a moment and then come back. Maintain what you are doing here.” Callum said.
“I have lookouts posted aloft aboard Triborne for us, sir, just to let you know.” Strathum said.
“A wise precaution, Lieutenant.” Callum nodded, “Very well, I’ll return shortly then.” Callum said, turned and headed for the Great Cabin.
He opened the door to the cabin, not knocking, as there seemed to be no point in formality to it at this moment. He stood there, seeing Stewart at the end of the table, his hat off and lying there at Renner’s feet, his head down a bit. Carrington had his back to Callum, standing there silently as he stared at his dead Captain. Stewart looked up and over at Callum with a blank look.
“Captain Stewart, I am sorry for the loss of your friend.” Callum said as he closed the door and came closer to the table.
“It is a great loss, Captain, not just for me but for all others and our Nation, sir.” Stewart said softly.
“Yes, of course.” Callum said as he came next to Stewart.
“He and I had served together once, many years ago. He taught me much.”
“I studied his tactics at Sheflands when I was at school there. His accomplishments were almost stuff of legend to be sure.” Callum said as he looked at the body on the table.
“Kind of you to say, Captain.” Stewart said as he looked as well where Callum was, “It is most unfortunate that his later years were what they were.”
“He was a great man,” Carrington said, “he was firm and was always steadfast.”
“I’m sure.” Callum said. He looked at Carrington, “What about your men, Carrington?”
“The surgeons are below tending to them, Captain.”
“Perhaps we should,…” Callum started to say but was interrupted with a knock on the door. Carrington turned half way and called out to enter. The door opened and Tomlin stepped inside, removing his hat, “Thomas.” Callum said softly, watching his friend come toward them, looking at the body on the table and then at Callum.
“I came aboard as soon as I could, sir. Dover is ready for anything that might come in the night, sir.”
“Thank you, Thomas. What about Camden?”
“He is surveying the damage along with the carpenter from Triborne, sir. Once they have assessed the damage, they will report here.”
“Very good.” Callum smiled briefly and then looked at Carrington, “As I was about to say, Captain Carrington, perhaps we should move Captain Renner to his berth and prepare him. It would be an honor to assist you in that.”
“Kind of you, Captain, to offer. Perhaps we should.” Carrington said. Callum went across the cabin to the berth, a small divided room. Callum looked inside the dark space. He stepped in and turned up the lamp. He saw the hanging berth, not quite the haversack used by all sailors and some officers. This one had a frame, a wooden structure that made the canvas rather like a box as it was stretched out around it. Callum noted that it was decorated with some rather ornate cloth, draperies almost, that hung from it around the ropes that suspended it from the beams in the ceiling. Obviously there was a lady that was in Renner’s life, either presently or in the past that had decorated it for him. Callum reached in and pulled back the coverings that were in the berth. He heard something and looked over, seeing Stewart standing in the doorway.
“Let me assist you, Captain Callum.” Stewart said and stepped forward, starting to help. They took the coverings and folded them, setting them out of the way. The hanging berth was ready now, Callum went back out and to the table, this time coming next to the body of Renner, looking down at the large piece of railing that was embedded in the side of him. Callum looked up at everyone for a moment and then put his hands on it, grasping it firmly, he pulled once, it did not move, he sighed and gripped it again pulling harder, it moved and then gave way, coming out of the side of the body Callum backing up a step from the exertion.
He dropped it to the deck and all the other Captains in the room came near him, Tomlin and Stewart were at Renner’s feet, Carrington and Callum took the arms, they pulled and slid the heavy body off the table, taking the weight between them, carrying him into the berth and placing the body into the hanging canvas. Callum crossed Renner’s dead arms over the barreled chest, Tomlin picking up one of the coverings that was folded and spread it out to cover Renner completely. They all looked at one another for a moment.
“Thank you.” Carrington said softly.
“Our pleasure.” Callum replied for the others as he looked at Carrington for a moment, “We must return to the deck and our officers, Carrington.”
The chaos on the Main Deck was under control now, Callum saw as he and the other Captains came out. The rigging was being reset to the rails and was now mostly out of the way, the guns were all up righted, being rechecked and placed back into their original positions. Lashings with pulling blocks were being set, overseen by Collingwood and Strathum. Callum came across the deck and looked about, some of the men of Dover saw him, tipping their hands as he went by.
The crew of Windsong was working aloft. They had been rerolling the canvas, with the reset rigging and lines, making everything fast and secure. Callum looked up and saw them about. He came close to Collingwood and stopped.
“It’s going fine, sir. We have two more guns to set right up near the bow and then we will go below.” Collingwood said.
“Very good, Abel, that’s good work.”
“Triborne is working below, sir. It seems to be worse on the Gun Deck, I’m afraid.”
“Yes, I saw that earlier. Have you seen Camden?”
“Yes, sir. He is on the Gun Deck now, sir.” Collingwood said.
“Alright, we’ll go down there and join him.” Callum said, “Keep up the good work here.”
Callum and the other Captains went below, down the gangway stairs in the center of the Main Deck, reaching the Gun Deck. Callum looked about, the deck was well lit from all the lamps that were about. Hands from Triborne were working to right the guns on the starboard side, sounds of chopping, hammering and the voices of men could be heard all about. The smell of powder and sulfur was mostly gone now.
“Captain,” Stewart said as he came up next to Callum, “perhaps we should divide up to make this go faster. Captain Tomlin and I can go aft, you and Captain Carrington go forward. We can meet up shortly.”
“A good idea, I agree.” Callum said, “Captain,…” Callum said holding out a hand, Carrington going with Callum, looking over the hands of Triborne and what they had been doing with clearing the disaster and damage of the deck.
“I have noticed that Carrington seems a bit uncertain in all of this, Captain Stewart.” Tomlin said quietly and he was beside Stewart. They watched the two, Callum and Carrington, walking away going forward.
“Indeed he does. I think it must be the shock of it all. I have seen Carrington be a very competent officer. He was always steadfast and at Renner’s side in all things. He should come into his own shortly.”
“I’m sure that must be it.” Tomlin said, “Do you know what happened here?”
“No, not all of it. It must have happened very fast though. It seems to me that they took quite a pounding.”
“That much is certain.” Tomlin said as he looked about. Hands were everywhere, debris was being organized and dragged out of the way, lines, blocks, powder kegs, ramrods were being picked up. Cannonballs were rolling about now and then with the slight sway of the deck. Hands were doing their best to get all things under control. Tomlin could see, as he and Stewart went aft, junior officers, some from Triborne, others from Hunter directing men, getting everything slowly put back into shape and order.
Callum and Carrington found Camden and the carpenter from Triborne near the forward end by the bow of the deck. Camden saw Callum, tipped his hand and came over to him.
“What have you found, Camden?” Callum asked.
“No damage below the waterline, sir, she’s quite sound. Most of the gun port hatches have been wrecked or destroyed, sir. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.”
“What do you mean, Camden?”
“It’s almost as if when they were fired upon, sir, every shot was placed to try and render a gun out action or simply to open up her side to take on water if they were going to pursue them, sir.”
“You say the shots were placed,…intentionally this way?” Callum asked as he narrowed his eyes a bit. Camden nodded.
“They knew where to hurt her, sir, without sinking her. The damage is worse below that way on the Storage Deck.”
“I see.” Callum said and folded his arms over his chest. Carrington looked at Callum.
“What do you think it means, Captain?” Carrington asked.
“It means, Captain Carrington, our Frenchman knows exactly what he is doing. He is an excellent gunner and knows how to use his ship quite well. Had Hunter been able to pursue, you would have taken on water, from what Camden is suggesting, and none of you would have survived. It is a tactic only used by the French at very close quarters. It allows them to escape after a close quartered fight and not be pursued.” Callum said, his arms still crossed over his chest. Carrington had a slight look of surprise.
“It sounds as if you know who he is, Captain?” Carrington asked.
“Indeed I do.” Callum said. He looked at Camden again, “Have you found any material to make repairs, Camden?”
“There is some below on the Storage Deck, sir. I am told that there is also some to be had aboard Triborne as well, sir.”
“Very good. I’ll speak to Captain Stewart about it. Do what you can, Camden. Any additional men you need, see to it.” Callum said, Camden and the other man with him tipped their hands.
“Aye, sir.” Camden said and turned away with the other man leaving Callum with Carrington.
“Who is he, Captain, this Frenchman?”
“A deposed Admiral of Louis, prior to the Revolution. The Avion was the flagship of the French Navy before Napoleon came to power and the Revolution. It seems to me that he is trying to seek favor with Napoleon, why, I’m not sure as of yet.” Callum said quietly, he looked about for a moment and then back at Carrington, “Let us find our other Captains and then go below and check on the surgeons.”
“As you wish.” Carrington said, following Callum going back aft. They saw the progress happening, it was slowly getting better. Junior officers were assisting to organize the hands and keep them moving in the repairs. Hands were tipped as Callum and Carrington walked by. They found Tomlin and Stewart near the aft quarter of the deck.
“All seems to be going well, slow, but well.” Tomlin said.
“I agree, Thomas.” Callum said, his eyes shifting back and forth as he was thinking. Tomlin knew the look and knew that something was about to change. He braced for it.
“What is going through your mind, Quintan?” Tomlin asked, Stewart was shifting his eyes back and forth between them. Callum cocked his head slightly at his friend.
“I am thinking we have to rethink a bit of strategy, Thomas. Why do you ask?”
“It’s that thing you do with your eyes, the moving of them as if you are moving pieces about on a chess board.” Tomlin said, rolling his own eyes a bit.
“I beg your pardon for saying this,” Stewart said as he stepped closer a step, “but, the two of you seem to have spent far too much time together.” Callum looked over at Stewart.
“You are correct in that, Captain,” Callum said as he looked at Stewart and then looked at Tomlin, giving him a hurt look, “apparently too much time together indeed.” Callum smirked for a moment.
“What do you wish to do, Quintan?”
“We will more than likely need to lay over for a day. Camden was just telling Captain Carrington and I about the damage that they have surveyed. If Hunter is to go off with us in this pursuit, she will take on water and founder. No, we will have to lay over and have her righted first. We will need every gun when we take this Frenchman, every single gun.” Callum said and emphasized the last.
“Agreed.” Stewart said. Tomlin nodded as well his agreement. Callum looked over at Carrington.
“I apologize to you, Captain Carrington,” Callum said as he face Carrington a bit more, “I do not mean to take away your authority, this is your ship now, however I feel that we all must fully be at the ready to end this mission.”
“I understand, Captain, and am grateful to your insights.” Carrington said, “Grateful to all of you actually.”
“We will all see this through,…together.” Callum said and held out his hand. Carrington looked at it and then took it in his own, giving it a firm grasp and then gave Callum a nod. They let go of each other, “Now, I think we should go and check on the surgeons below and see their progress.”
Callum opened the aft door of the Storage Deck of the great ship. The wounded had been placed here in the dark. Callum had found lamps earlier when he was here and had lit them. What he saw now was something that he almost expected.
The deck was now flooded with light, there were men everywhere against the bulkheads, some sitting and waiting, others were being made comfortable by hands that were sent below to help out the surgeons. Two tables were in the center of the deck, almost end to end, men were about each of those tables as well, sand was spread on the floor to keep from slipping in the blood. Callum could see Crawford, his old friend was working at the one table closest the aft end on an injured crewman, the other table beyond was for Dr. Morton, who was also bent over working on a crewman there. The men that were around the tables were holding down the men that were being worked on.
Callum looked about him at the wounded. He saw the man, the crewman, that spoke to him earlier when he was down here with them all. Callum could see that he had not been touched yet by either surgeon. Callum knelt in front of him, the crewman tried to raise his hand to tip it.
“You said they would come, sir, and they did.” He said, his voice getting very raspy.
“It shouldn’t be long now. They are the best in the fleet, I know that for a fact. Just hold on.” Callum gave a brief smile to him.
“I will, sir, thank you.” He rasped again and nodded slightly. Callum rose to his feet. He went toward the table and came up behind Crawford.
“Arthur, is there anything else that you need?” Callum asked. Crawford did not need to turn to know he was there, he knew his voice.
“We are doing the best that we can with this, Quintan. If there is something, we shall be calling out for certain.” Crawford said without looking up.
“Are we getting underway?”
“No, we will have to lay over until repairs are made. You have time to continue your ministrations in calm seas.” Callum said at Crawford’s shoulder, not looking over at the table.
“Good. Dr. Morton and I will require as much time as we can get to see to all these men.”
“I understand, Arthur.” Callum said.
“More sand.” Crawford said, looking up from his patient on the table to a hand that was there helping. Callum stepped away, going back to his group of Captains. Carrington seemed to be stunned by what he was seeing. Callum got close to him.
“Captain Carrington,” Callum said softly, Carrington eyes were somewhat blank, “Captain, focus.” Carrington shifted his eyes to Callum, “Let these men see you, with being firm, stand tall.”
“You’re right, of course, Captain. Thank you.” Carrington said and stepped around Callum, going down the deck slowly, looking at all of his men, some still sitting, waiting, others that had been attended to, bandages covering some of their wounds, trying to rest and be made comfortable where they were placed. Callum turned and watched Carrington.
“I was saying earlier to Captain Tomlin,” Stewart said as he drew close to Callum at his shoulder, “I have always seen Carrington as a competent officer. He will come into his own with this.”
“Sooner than he expected, I’m sure.” Callum said as he was watching the young officer still walking through his men, they all tipped their hands to him, those that could, “Let us go back up on deck and leave him with this for the time being.” Callum turned, Stewart stepped back once, Callum walking toward the aft door, Tomlin and Stewart following him out.
The Gun Deck was coming back into its own, the hands of Triborne had been joined by some of the hands of Dover and those of Hunter as well. The junior officers of all the ships had come together now and seeing to it with an efficiency that almost surgical in what they were doing. The guns were set, checked, rigged with lines and blocks, powder had been stacked, primers for the fuses, as well as shot being stacked. Callum looked it over, several of the junior officers tipped their hands to him.
Stewart walked along the port side, seeing little or no damage here as he went along. He was relieved to see it. Tomlin stopped and spoke to young Middleboro, 3rd Lieutenant of Dover, they were discussing something, Callum noted as he had stopped and looked back. Tomlin nodded to Middleboro and then came toward Callum. Tomlin stepped up and leaned forward a bit toward Callum.
“I was just informed that Camden is taking material from Dover and Triborne to make new gun ports.” Tomlin said.
“Where is he doing it?”
“I believe he is aboard Dover at this moment from what Middleboro said.”
“Judging from the size of some of these openings, he’ll more than likely have to shore up the hull at certain points first.” Callum said, nodding toward the closest large area that had been blasted away by several cannon shots.
“Yes. She can’t sail the way she is right now, as you said, Quintan. We may be here another day, provided there is enough timber to be had.” Tomlin said.
“We need to be after this bastard as soon as possible, Thomas, you know that as well.”
“What of their dead? We need to at least give them a proper burial, we owe them that at least, Captain Renner,…” Tomlin said as Callum sighed heavily. Stewart stepped close to the two of them.
“Let us see about Camden and his repair estimates first. Then,” Callum said quietly as he looked at Stewart and then back to Tomlin, “we will have Carrington make the decision on what he wants to do. If he needs to lay over for another day, then we may lose the opportunity to finish this. I do not want this Frenchman to regain the upper hand. We have him off balance right now, now is the time to strike. Renner told me before he died that they were able to fire back, but did little to him. I am hoping that there was some damage done, and with what we did as well, it might be enough to keep him busy.”
“I see your point in this, Captain,” Stewart said, “but I think that they have been through enough for one night, don’t you?”
“What would suggest, Captain Stewart?”
“Perhaps, we could go ahead with your plan you spoke of at dinner. You sail off with the dawn, Captain Tomlin and I can follow two hours later as you said. If Hunter is ready, so much the better, if not, let them rest and bury their dead. They can follow us later when they are able.” Stewart said quietly.
“You think that best, Captain Stewart, possibly divide our forces?” Callum asked.
“I know what you would do, sir, and I might do the same myself. However, I see the devastation here, their wounded, it seems between them and the dead are about a third of the crew possibly, though I have not counted. Carrington might have trouble from it, not being at full hands.”
“Alright, I see your point in this, Captain Stewart. I will concede to finding out the information to make her ready first. As I also said, we will let Captain Carrington make the decision for his own ship.” Callum said.
“Callum, I know you wish to end this. I don’t blame you. I, too, wish that, more than you know,” Stewart said as he put a hand on Callum’s arm, “this has been an ordeal,…for all of us.”
“Yes, it has, once again you’re right, Captain Stewart. You spoke of Carrington being very competent,” Callum said and looked at Tomlin, “Thomas, at dinner, you knew Carrington, how well do you know him, really?”
“As I said, we were midshipman in school. He was always levelheaded. A bit of a scrapper when it came to it.” Tomlin said, and then smiled slightly with an obvious memory in his mind, “I watched him take on three older classmates once and hold his own for a time.” Callum and Stewart smiled back briefly, “But that is not the same as battle experience, as you know.”
“He always had Renner to follow. If he learned from that, he will do well.” Stewart said.
“Agreed.” Callum said, “Alright, let’s find out about the repair estimate and then we will speak to Carrington.” They all walked together going up on the Main Deck. Callum saw Collingwood and Strathum, asking where Camden and Hartsell, the carpenter from Triborne were. He was told Camden was back aboard Dover, Hartsell was on Triborne. The Captains split up, Stewart going to find his carpenter on Triborne, Callum and Tomlin going over the side and down to Dover. Camden was quickly found as he was coming back up on deck, hands assisting him in pulling materials that were stored below.
“Camden,” Callum said, stopping him and the hands, Tomlin beside Callum, “we need to know, how soon will Hunter be made ready to sail?”
“Don’t gloss it over, Camden.” Tomlin said looking at him. Camden looked a bit apprehensive standing before his officers.
“Another day, sir, at least. We are working as fast as we can, sir. I’m sorry.”
“We know, Camden, no one is suggesting anything different, I assure you.” Callum said and gave him a nod, he turned and looked at Tomlin, “Alright, let’s find out what about Stewart and then find Carrington.” Tomlin nodded in reply, “Keep doing what you’re doing, Camden.” Callum gave him a wink and walked away, Tomlin following him. They went to the rail and climbed back up over the damaged side of Hunter reaching the Main Deck again, as they crossed, Stewart was coming back toward them from Triborne.
“What did you find out?” Stewart asked.
“Camden said another day at least.” Tomlin said.
“My man, Hartsell, agrees with that assessment as well.” Stewart said.
“Damn.” Callum said softly, “Alright, let us have our talk with Carrington about this.”
“I am sorry, Callum.” Stewart said.
“Nothing to apologize for, Captain Stewart, we will work with what we have.” Callum said and turned a bit, “Mr. Collingwood,”
“Sir.” Collingwood answered and tipped his hand.
“I am wondering, would you pass the word for Captain Carrington, I believe he is on the Storage Deck with the wounded. We will meet him in the Ward Room.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said and tipped his hand again. He turned and went to the rail leading to the Gun Deck to pass the word, Callum, Stewart, and Tomlin walked toward the doorway under the upper Poop Deck and went through, going to the Ward Room, following the companionway, Stewart knew the way, Callum letting him go ahead. The door was opened and they moved inside.
The Ward Room was large, used as the officer’s mess room as well as other functions. There were three tables and benches inside, several cabinets that lined the bulkhead wall. Callum went to the table in the center of the room and sat down, thinking. Stewart dropped his hat at the end of the table and waited, resting his weight on one hand, Tomlin dropped his hat at the other end and sat down on the same bench as Callum but at the end. They waited in silence for the few minutes it took for Carrington to enter the room, Callum and Tomlin got to their feet, Stewart looked over and gave Carrington a brief smile and a nod.
“Captain Carrington, thank you for joining us.” Callum said.
“Captain Callum,” Carrington said as he came across the room, “I believe I owe you a debt of gratitude, sir. I spoke to some of the wounded men below,” Carrington said as he came close to Callum, looking him in the face, “they informed me that is was you that found them there in the dark, you gave them hope that help was coming for them. They clung to that, sir. I was unable to give them reassurance of that myself earlier with Captain Renner, something that I can never forgive myself over now.”
“We learn by doing, Captain Carrington.” Callum said, looking him square in the eye, “Several things could have been handled quite differently, I’m sure. That is the beauty of hindsight, sir, and as I said, we learn by doing.”
“Again, my many thanks for the strength that you have, sir.” Carrington said softly.
“You are most welcome. We wish to discuss with you what we have found out about the repair estimates.”
“Both ships carpenters have related to us the same thing, Hunter will require another day before you can be underway.”
“I had the same thought as well, sir.” Carrington, said, “And I know you want to be off to chase down this Frenchman.”
“Yes, I feel that time is at hand as we have him off balance right at this moment. Can you tell us in your opinion, how much damage you might have done him? Captain Renner was of the opinion it wasn’t much.”
“The Captain did not have my vantage point, sir.” Carrington said, all eyes shifted to one another then looked at Carrington.
“Where were you when this happened, William?” Tomlin asked, Callum seeing the change in Carrington’s expression a bit at being called by name, a bit more relaxed now.
“I was on deck, it was very dark as you know, little or no light at all and with lights out, there were only a few hands on deck as well, no one was aloft yet to be set as lookout. We had been sitting for about an hour, under no sail, the hands were tying lines. I had gone up the port stairs to take the wheel and check our bearing. Captain Renner had just come out on the Main Deck, he was going to join me, I suppose, it was one of the things that we did at night when we sailed before he would retire. He was coming toward the starboard stairs, I could see him from where I was near the forerail…that’s when I first heard it, I looked up and they were there, almost a dead stop next to us. I heard the shout, the order to fire in French and they opened up on us.”
“Dear God,” Stewart said, “almost a dead stop, you say?”
“Yes.” Carrington said and nodded slightly staring at Stewart.
“What happened?” Callum asked.
“All of the hands that were on deck, fifteen or so were killed instantly, Captain Renner was caught by a flying chunk of railing and went down. I turned and pushed the helmsman forward toward the bell. He rang it to call all hands but was cut down with musket fire. They reloaded quickly as I was shouting, muskets were still going off and I was ducking behind the wheel to avoid the shots. I got to the bell and as the hands began to get to stations, the next broadside came. We lost a few more guns with it on the Main Deck, and as I could hear, on the Gun Deck as well. I called to return fire as I went down the starboard stairs to get to Captain Renner, to see about him.” Carrington said and his voice faded, the memory of it was in his vision, all of it, the sounds, the smells, the feel of it all. Callum looked at Tomlin for a moment and then back at Carrington.
“William, what happened after that?” Tomlin asked as he touched Carrington sleeve of his tunic. Carrington snapped out of it, “You said you had a better advantage than Captain Renner?”
“Yes,” Carrington said, turning himself and sitting on the bench at the table, his hat in his hands, he slowly turned it by the brim with only his fingers, “The Captain was mortally wounded, I could see that. He pulled on me, my collar, told me to get back up on the deck at the wheel, to steer us away. He pushed me away from him and lay his head down, I thought for a moment he was dead at that time. I went back up and took the deck at the wheel, hands were coming toward me down the port side, gun crews were getting to what guns there were left in action. I gave the order to fire. They responded quickly, my crew, the first shots that were fired by us. I went to the starboard rail and looked over the side. As you know, they are a bit taller than we, the Storage Deck guns that were fired hit her near the waterline, I saw it with what light there was from the flashes.” Carrington said as he looked up at Callum, “They were damaged, Captain Callum.” Callum nodded slowly his understanding, Stewart came to look at him as well as he came next to Callum, Tomlin sat on the bench next to Carrington.
“Were you able to see anything after that?” Callum asked.
“With what hands I had left to me, it became a pounding match, but we were no match for them. They have fourteen pounders against our twelve’s, most of our guns were out of action. They blasted holes in us. The impacts from them were pushing us away from them. We couldn’t fire back fast enough. Finally they must have realized that they had the upper hand, but with the damage they sustained at the waterline, they withdrew, set sail and were gone in no time at all. I thought they had the perfect opportunity to finish us off or board us, but they didn’t.”
“He did that with us as well.” Callum said with narrowed eyes as he looked down at Carrington, “I wonder why, it doesn’t make sense.”
“Opportunity lost.” Stewart said, “You’re thinking something, what is it?”
“I’m not sure. Twice now, he has had the upper hand, the weather gauge, and didn’t use it, possibly another part of his madness, I just don’t know.” Callum said as he looked at Stewart for a moment and then back down at Carrington.
“Carrington,” Callum said and stiffened a bit, “we wanted to discuss with you about the repairs and what you wish to do next.”
“Our duty, Captain Callum, of course.” Carrington said.
“Commendable, Captain, very commendable.” Callum said, “There are things to think of besides the duty that you must be meaning.”
“I suppose you are right in that, Captain.”
“Yes. We will leave it up to you, as this is your ship now.” Callum said.
“Captain Renner should be laid to rest as well as the rest of the crew that were lost to this.” Carrington said and lifted his head, looking at Callum, “Captain, I feel that I must say something else to you, sir. It is what Captain Renner said to you when you found us in the Great Cabin, sir.”
“What is that, Carrington?” Callum asked.
“Captain Renner was not quite himself as you know, sir, his wound. This was not your fault, sir, as he said you were to blame in this as well. It was our own shortsightedness in not being properly prepared, sir, for what you knew was possibly coming.”
“Thank you, Captain Carrington, but I agree with Captain Renner in that point he made. I am in command of this squadron, sir, that makes it my responsibility for both the good as well as the bad. We have lost one of the most experienced officers in His Majesty’s Navy, a loss that we might not be able to overcome.”
“I beg to differ with you, sir.” Carrington said as he got to his feet , his resolve was in him now, Callum could clearly see it, “I have great respect for Captain Renner and always will, but, he cannot compare to you three gentlemen that I am in company with. I would take this ship, Captain, and sail it as it is, if you wish me to, to be there when the time comes to deal with this Frenchman.”
“You overwhelm me, sir, with your praise and sense of duty. But, I caution you, the needs of your crew, they are very great at this time. You will be severely shorthanded with your lost numbers and wounded.”
“I am aware of that, sir. Hunter can make due, has in the past, and can again. This is a great ship and I have seen her come through more in other dark times as well.”
“Not to berate, Captain Carrington, but, Captain Renner was always there, was he not?” Callum asked, folding his arms.
“You think me untried, sir?”
“Is there something more perhaps that you that you wish to tell us?” Callum asked. Carrington shifted his eyes to Stewart for a moment, Stewart pursed his lips a bit, and Carrington looked back at Callum. Callum narrowed his eyes as he saw it, the reaction between these two, Tomlin saw it as well, “Obviously there is, out with it.”
“Callum,…” Stewart started to say, Callum firmed up, cutting him off, shifting his eyes back and forth between them.
“Gentlemen, there is no time to mince words. Say what there is to say, if you please.”
“There were times, sir, that the Captain’s presence was not,…there, when needed.”
“Due to his inebriation?” Callum asked, Stewart let out a breath and rolled his eyes a bit.
“I will not slander him, sir.” Carrington said.
“That is not my intention either, sir. Answer the question.” Callum said, Tomlin moving to stand beside Callum as he could the situation starting to build a bit.
“There were a few times that it fell to me to,…take over in his place, sir.” Carrington said softly.
“And you obviously not report this to the Admiralty, under regulation,” Callum said, his anger building, “either of you.”
“You must understand, Callum,…”
“Oh, I understand, Captain Stewart. His reputation, his command was at stake, his career. How many have died because of that, I wonder?”
“It was not that way, Callum.” Stewart said flatly.
“I begin to see it now, Captain Stewart. His 1st Lieutenant showed great loyalty in protecting him,” Callum said and eased in his anger a bit, “hell, I might have done the same thing, and you, you showed loyalty to a friend, protecting him as well. I can understand that as well and have witnessed it, sir, in Portsmouth. I admired the man myself.” Callum said and went silent for a moment, looking back and forth at the two before him, “Alright, this is what we are going to do. We will have our carpenters and your hands shore up your hull and ports near your waterline. I will set sail with the dawn with the plan that was laid out earlier this evening, Captain Stewart, you and Captain Tomlin will set sail two hours after I depart. Captain Carrington, bury your dead, that will give time necessary to have some of the repairs completed. Proceed under full sail to join us north of the Somme.”
“Aye, sir.” Carrington said and nodded.
“What are you going to do now, Callum?” Stewart asked and Callum shifted his eyes and then looked at Stewart fully.
“I am going to take my hands and return to Windsong and get her ready to sail. What was said here in this room, will stay between us, and will never be spoken of to anyone ever again.”
“Thank you, Callum.”
“Don’t thank me yet, Captain Stewart.” Callum said and turned away, walking toward the Ward Room door, Tomlin picked up his hat off the end of the table, looking at Carrington for a moment and then followed Callum out. Callum made his way out on the Main Deck, Tomlin was moving quickly to catch up with him.
“Quintan,…” Tomlin called, Callum stopped and slowly turned as Tomlin came to him, “I am a bit taken aback by what this implies.”
“I am as well, Thomas.” Callum said and let out a breath, “That kind of loyalty is,…misguided, but I can’t damn them for it.”
“Nor can I. Do you really trust Stewart?”
“He will do his duty, of that I can trust in, yes. What of Carrington?” Callum asked.
“You saw the look on his face, the resolve of the man inside. He has obviously been shouldering this command for quite some time, wouldn’t you think?”
“Yes, I think he has. Would you want him behind you?” Callum asked, Tomlin just glared, not in anger, just deep thought.
“Yes, without doubt.”
“That’s good enough for me, my friend.” Callum said and put a hand to Tomlin’s shoulder for a moment, “Are you clear as to what to do?”
“Do you want me in the lead?”
“You’re faster than Triborne will be, yes, take the lead in this, join me as soon as you can.”
“I’ll be right behind you, Quintan, have no fear of that.”
“I have never doubted you, Thomas, and I never will, you know that.”
“I do, my dear friend, I do.” Tomlin said as he watched Callum turn away from him.
“Mr. Collingwood,” Callum said as he stepped away from Tomlin.
“Sir.” Collingwood said as he came toward his Captain.
“We will be returning to Windsong to get underway with the dawn. Call for Mr. Talon and our hands as well as the Sergeant and the Marines, if you please. I have one thing to do with Captain Tomlin aboard Dover and then I will join you. Our boat is alongside Triborne on the port side.” Callum said, authority in his voice. Strathum came close as well, he watched as Collingwood tipped his hand toward his Captain, and walk away with Captain Tomlin to the starboard rail to go over the side to go down to Dover.
Callum climbed down and set foot on the deck of Dover, hands looked up from what they were doing, giving their obedience to him and now their Captain, Captain Tomlin as he stepped close beside Callum.
“Camden,” Callum said, Camden rose to his feet.
“I know you are doing the best that you and the hands can do. Your efforts are much appreciated by Captain Carrington. However, I need you to prioritize the repairs.” Callum said.
“Hunter’s damage near the water line, shore it up first, make her sound, they will be getting underway after they bury their dead in the morning. I will press you to continue on with them as they sail to further the repairs to rejoin the rest of us as we are sailing ahead.”
“Aye, sir.” Camden said with wide eyes.
“Once we reach our destination, repairs should be complete as it will be near dark or after. You can return here to Dover then.”
“As you say, sir.” Camden tipped his hand. Callum turned and looked at Tomlin, giving him a nod. Callum went to the rail again, Tomlin going with him and stopping, Callum climbed up and half turned hearing him.
“Quintan,…” Tomlin said as he looked up, Callum smiled briefly at his friend, “be careful. Wait for us to get there before you do anything, please?”
“I will, Thomas. I assure you. Just make sure you get there.” Callum gave him a smirk and knelt on his haunches reaching out a hand. Tomlin took it in his and gripped it firmly.
“We will, count on that.” Tomlin said. Callum took his hand back and climbed up the damaged side of Hunter and reached the railing and was out of sight.