Callum and Tomlin were on the Quarterdeck of the captured French frigate at the aft rail. They had walked away to be alone as Captain Stewart was back aboard Triborne seeing to supplies that Callum had asked for. Tomlin seemed worried to Callum, knowing his friend and the way he could be in his moods.
“Alright, Thomas, out with it.” Callum said softly.
“Quintan,…this plan of yours,…” Tomlin said and shook his head, “you will get yourself killed with it. Is that what you want? You know what we have at home, what awaits us there, the both of us, and, you by far have more to lose than I do.”
“Thomas, my friend,…believe me when I say that I know what I have, and right at this moment, I feel it more than I can tell you. I miss Dustin terribly. My dreams that I told of are becoming far more real to me that are about him.” Callum said as he turned and leaned on the railing, looking out into the darkness over the stern, “I want this to end, Thomas, and end soon.”
“It will, Quintan.” Tomlin said as he put a hand on the shoulder of his friend, “But, you must know that you are pushing the fates in all of this. Crawford has said more than once that you are living on borrowed time. I begin to believe it.”
“You doubt me, Thomas?” Callum asked softly, giving Tomlin a side glance.
“Your abilities, no. There is the unforeseen in this however. This Frenchman seems to know of things ahead of time, before they happen. He is more than dangerous as you well know. One wrong step by you in this, and he will kill you, Quintan.”
“Do you remember that night at the Boar’s Head? We had just returned from the Admiralty, the three of us, you, me, and Christian, I was so angry with all that was happening around us, my anger clouded my judgment, and that was when we walked into the trap with Maupin.” Callum said as he looked out in the darkness still, Tomlin turned and leaned on the rail as well, going shoulder to shoulder with Callum, “I thought I was going to die, Thomas. I saw Dustin draped over the bar like a side of beef, do you remember that?”
“Yes. I had thought he and Dorland were dead when I first saw them. And the knife to your throat, I instantly knew that your time had come.” Tomlin said softly.
“Yes.” Callum whispered and paused for a long moment, “The thought that was going through my mind at the time was, that if Dustin was dead, there was no point in my living any longer. When you went to the bar and checked him and saw he was alive, I drew up my resolve then, and my anger took me.” Callum smiled briefly and looked at his friend, “My point in this, Thomas, is that Dustin is apart from me now, as well as being a part OF me. I know that he is safe at home, and I will treat this Frenchman as I did with Maupin at the Boar’s Head. I will survive this, Thomas.”
“And then what, Quintan?” Tomlin asked and callum looked back out into the darkness over the stern.
“And then we will go home, to the Cross and to Harbroughs, and to those we love so much.” Callum said softly turning to look at Tomlin again and smiled softly at him.
“What of the Admiralty?”
“I knew that they were using me to rid them of this menace, and I welcomed it.”
“What? With what we have at home?”
“Yes, Thomas. I found myself wanting this again as well, I must admit, but, now being out here, with doing it, I want no more of it, can you understand that?”
“I can.” Tomlin said.
“I want to wake up in my own bed, Thomas, every morning with him next to me, for the rest of my days. Would you not want that as well with Christian, Thomas?”
“Sounds perfect to me, Quintan,” Tomlin said and flashed his eyes, “but, Christian is confused by it all with the two of us. I think he needs more time to settle into what we have together, what he wants with us. Do you find that with Dustin, with him being so young?”
“No, quite the contrary, Thomas, Dustin knows what he wants and what he wants out of the two of us, although he does not say it openly, he waits for me to vocalize it for the both of us, as we share the same views. He is the one that binds us together actually, I think.”
“I don’t see it as such, Quintan, and I know for a fact he doesn’t either. He has said it to me many times when we were alone.” Tomlin said.
“When you were alone?”
“Yes, while you were healing from all of your wounds, at the Heritage. Dustin and I had many conversations together. He is very much of the opinion that without you with him, he is completely nothing in this world.”
“He has never said that to me.” Callum said.
“Of course not. There are times, Quintan, that you can be a dense as a stone.” Tomlin said and they both chuckled at each other, “Now, what are we to do? You know that the Admiralty is going to draw and quarter you for destroying this ship, don’t you?”
“To hell with the Admiralty, Thomas, I say. When we return after this, I am resigning,…again.” Callum said and flashed his eyes, “They wanted me only for this one mission, I say let’s give them a bang of it, shall we?”
“Alright,” Tomlin sighed, and raised up off the rail, “shall we wait for Hunter to arrive in this?”
“I was thinking of the semaphore to start with.” Callum said with a smirk and Tomlin pursed his lips shaking his head slightly.
“You are impossible, Quintan Callum.”
“Dustin has told me that before as well.” Callum continued with his smirk.
“Excuse me, gentlemen. Am I interrupting?” Stewart asked. Callum and Tomlin looked over at him.
“No, not at all, Captain Stewart. We were actually discussing points of the Admiralty.” Callum said.
“I see.” Stewart said and raised an eyebrow, “I have my own points as well, sir, to be sure.”
“Well, perhaps when this over, the three of us can discuss it further.” Callum smiled.
“I look forward to that, Callum. The coal oil you asked for is being loaded as we speak. Do you wish to get underway?”
“Captain Tomlin and I were also beginning to speak of the semaphore. What is your opinion of it, Captain Stewart?”
“Any semaphore can be considered a threat to alerting our position.”
“Agreed. And as there is one here, and if there is the possibility of there being a code book, would you not think that we should try and obtain it, and destroy the semaphore as well, merely as a precaution?” Callum asked.
“It would be sound military strategy, Callum, I will not argue that. Beat it to the punch as it were. If there is a code book, it could be of considerable value to help end the war, I agree.”
“So, you are saying, Captain Stewart, you support Captain Callum’s decision to take the semaphore?” Tomlin asked.
“As he said earlier, Captain Tomlin, they know that he is here. They signaled, whom, we don’t know. My guess is that all of France knows of it and him by now and the element of surprise is now gone.” Stewart said to Tomlin and then looked at Callum, “Yes, Captain, I support your decision with the semaphore. How do you wish to proceed?”
“Very gracious of you to say, Captain Stewart. What I want to do is simple. Take Windsong, sail her for the coast, I will need about an hour or so to reach it under full sail and with this wind. Once there, we set out in the boat, Collingwood and myself, along with a half dozen Marines. We will take the semaphore, find the code book, if there is one, destroy the semaphore, and then return to Windsong. We can set sail once again and rendezvous with you, Captain Tomlin, and Captain Carrington when he finally arrives.” Callum said.
“I agree. Carrington should be here by the time you return and then we can proceed on to the Somme and to your madman’s hiding place. One thing concerns me though.”
“What is that, Captain?” Callum asked.
“What if you encounter Regulars at the semaphore?”
“I should think not. We watched it carefully for a time as we sailed along. We saw no Regulars at all. As I have said, Napoleon is spread thin and is to the east with the last reports I heard at the Admiralty.”
“Can we trust in those reports, Captain?”
“Well, it is the Admiralty after all.” Callum smirked and they all chuckled a bit over his joke.
“And the loss of this prize ship, Quintan?” Tomlin asked.
“What would venture in a figure for this vessel, Captain Stewart?” Callum asked, side glancing at Tomlin for a moment waiting for his reaction.
“Five thousand possibly, more if there was a cargo obviously, depending upon what it was of course.” Stewart said, Callum nodded and then looked at Tomlin.
“Would you agree with that amount, Thomas?”
“Yes,…yes, I would.”
“As would I. It’s settled then. I’ll make it up to my officers and men when we return to port.” Callum said.
“Quintan,…you have gone mad.”
“On the contrary, Thomas, I know that my officers and men will be robbed of their share when it comes time to carry out our plan against the Avion. I will make it up to them personally. And as far as prize ships, there are least two more docked at Boulogne that I saw. Once we are completed with our mission, we can sail there on the way home, take those ships if they are still there, and turn them over as prize when we reach port. Will that satisfy the Admiralty, Thomas?”
“And then we can sail up the Seine and take Paris I suppose?” Tomlin asked with a raised eyebrow.
“After I throw you overboard, you and your sass.” Callum said and Tomlin chuckled.
“If you think you can do it.” Tomlin said and crossed his arms. Stewart was wide eyed as he looked at them both. Callum saw the look of shock on Stewart’s face.
“Forgive us, Captain, we have been together far too long as you can more than likely see.” Callum said and smiled.
“Yes, it is very obvious to me, Captain.”
“Besides, I would never really do it, Thomas is a very poor swimmer. He might drown actually.” Callum said and winked at Stewart, Tomlin was open mouthed at the insult, “If you’ll excuse me a moment.” Callum said and walked away.
“That’s right, walk away you coward.” Tomlin said to Callum’s back, Callum was chuckling as he went to the fore rail.
“Mr. Collingwood,” Callum said. All the officers were gathered on the deck below the Quarterdeck turned, they all looked up at Callum.
“Sir.” Collingwood said, tipping his hand.
“Prepare Windsong, we’re getting underway.”
“Are we heading for the Somme, sir?” Collingwood asked.
“No, Mr. Collingwood, we are sailing for the semaphore as we spoke of earlier while Captain Stewart and Captain Tomlin wait here for Captain Carrington to arrive with Hunter. There seems to be no time like the present.”
“As you say, sir.” Collingwood said and tipped his hand again, Callum turned away from the rail and Collingwood looked about at his fellows, “Well, I suppose we’re off then.” Collingwood flashed his eyes, “Mr. Talon, let’s make ready to get underway, if you please.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said and grinned, tipping his hand to Collingwood.
“Be careful, Mr. Collingwood, and good luck to you.” Strathum said and reached out his hand.
“I thank you, Mr. Strathum, but as long as I have the Captain with me, I don’t think I will need luck.”
“That much is certain.” Talon said and was still grinning. He turned and headed over to the rail, going over the side to Windsong, calling out orders to the crew that was back onboard her. The other officers watched as Collingwood followed Talon and where he had gone.
“Someone is going to have to tell me about Captain Callum and his abilities, beyond what I have heard.” Strathum said quietly as the officers from Dover came closer around him.
“It would be our pleasure, Mr. Strathum.” Sommers said softly as he went shoulder to shoulder with his fellow.
“Gentlemen, I will make this as quick as I possibly can and then return to you here long before the dawn.” Callum said, holding out his hand to Stewart.
“Perhaps, Captain,” Stewart said, “after this is all over, we can compare strategy, at our leisure.” He gripped Callum’s hand tight for a long moment.
“It would be to my greatest pleasure, Captain Stewart.”
“Alistair, please.” Stewart said softly and clasped their hands with his other as well.
“Quintan.” Callum smiled warmly. The hands were let go and Callum looked at Tomlin, his close friend, “Thomas, behave yourself while I am gone, no mischief now, and no swimming either.” Callum smirked, holding up a finger of his hand.
“Be damned careful, you dense stone.” Tomlin said, taking his hand in his. Callum pulled and gave him a brief hug.
“I offer no more promises, I have made far too many already.” Callum whispered in Tomlin’s ear and then pulled back. He turned and went to the starboard stairs and went down, Stewart and Tomlin went to the fore rail watching him. Callum went over the side, the other officers on deck all tipped their hands as they watched Callum as well.
“If that damned fool gets himself killed, I will have the devil to pay at home.” Tomlin said mostly to himself, Stewart looked over at him and left it alone.
“Cast off those lines!” Callum said as he jumped on the deck, “Mr. Collingwood?”
“Hands aloft!” Collingwood shouted, “Set and make all plain sail! Mr. Talon, steer us around the bow of this French frigate and make for the coast!”
“Aye, sir!” Talon said as he put his hands on the wheel. He looked aloft as the canvas dropped and took the wind from the west now, filling and billowing the canvas out fully. Windsong began to move now that she was free, sliding slowly along the frigate as Callum came toward the wheelhouse and Talon.
“We’ll head directly east, Darin. We should be just north of the semaphore.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said and smiled a bit. He guided Windsong out and along the length of the frigate and then slowly they cleared the bow and the bowsprit, Talon making the turn gradually to port, Callum watched as Windsong continued to respond well and never failed to impress him with how she responded to anything that was asked of her.
“She’s quite the lady, isn’t she, Darin?”
“That she is, sir. I was thinking of it earlier, sir, how Mr. Perkins, Dustin that is, might enjoy handling her as well, sir.”
“I’m sure he would.” Callum said as he gave Talon a side glance, “Have you been thinking of him much, Darin?”
“When I am at the wheel, sir, I do think of him from time to time, and how I used to watch him as he handled Dover, sir. He is so slight in his build, and the wheel of Dover is so very large in comparison to him. It always made me wonder how he could handle her so well, sir.”
“I asked him of that once myself. We were sailing into the Azores almost two years ago.”
“I remember, sir, that’s when I came aboard.” Talon said and smiled a bit with the memory.
“Yes,…that’s right, isn’t it? Well, I asked him how he was able to do that so easily, that’s when he showed me his trick. I teased him over it a bit, I believe I called it the Perkins Maneuver.” Callum said and chuckled a bit, “I don’t think at the time that he found it as amusing as much as I did.”
“He, like me, sir, was probably trying to understand your sense of humor at that time.”
“Yes, quite,” Callum said and bumped shoulders with Talon gently, “and you still seem to have quite a ways to go with that still, Darin.”
“Sir,” Talon said and looked at him stunned.
“You just proved my point, Darin.” Callum said and laughed seeing the look on his face. Callum put a hand on the young shoulder, “Will you be alright here for a bit, Darin?”
“Yes, sir.” Talon replied. Callum walked around the short rail and headed forward on the deck and went to the hatch and the gangway ladder, he climbed down into the hold, looking about at all of the Marines there and saw McGuffin coming through them toward Callum in the dim lamplight.
“Sergeant.” Callum said and smiled briefly at the large man with the big whiskers.
“Sir. May I be of assistance to you?”
“Yes, if you would please, I will need a half dozen of your men for our little shore excursion. I think that we need to have them carry a dozen shots each and if they wish to carry a pistol each that would be fine as well.”
“Are you expecting trouble, sir?” McGuffin asked as he raised an eyebrow.
“No, but you never know. I would like to be prepared for anything, but, there really isn’t time for that.”
“Shall I accompany you, sir?”
“No, not this time, Sergeant, thank you. I think your men will be more than sufficient in this. My plan is to get in and get out as quickly as possible, then we can rendezvous with the squadron and proceed to the Somme once we return.”
“Very good, sir. Shall I have them standby here or send them up on deck, sir?”
“You can send them up, Sergeant, if you wish. The rest of your men are welcome on deck as well. We will keep uniforms out of the way for the time being unless there is a chill from the wind.” Callum said and nodded. He turned and went back up the gangway ladder. McGuffin turned and spoke to his men about who was to go with the Captain.
Callum reached the deck and looked about seeing Collingwood with Amos at the port rail amidships. Callum turned and looked toward the jagged black line of the coast against the night sky, he saw off the starboard bow a dim point of light on a hill, knowing it must be the semaphore and their target as it stood alone. Callum turned and went toward Collingwood and Amos. They tipped their hands as Callum came closer to them.
“Mr. Collingwood, prepare the boat.”
“How many men would you like to have row for you, sir?” Amos asked.
“It will only be myself, Mr. Collingwood and the Marines, Amos. No one else is to go. Mr. Talon will be in command in our absence.”
“Aye, sir.” Amos said and was wide eyed a bit. Callum nodded and Amos tipped his hand as Callum walked toward the short rail and went around it coming up next to Talon.
“Just a few more minutes, Darin. I want to get her close, but not too close.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Talon said and cleared his throat a bit.
“Something you wish to ask, Mr. Talon?” Callum asked softly.
“I was thinking, sir, about a few minutes ago, when we were discussing Mr. Perkins, sir.”
“Ask what you’d like, Darin.”
“I’m sure you must miss him, sir. I did not mean to bring up anything that might give you distress, sir.” Talon said softly.
“It’s quite alright, Darin, I assure you. He is on my mind quite a bit, as are the other members of my household.” Callum said and then paused for a moment, “When you were in my home, Darin, I told you then that you were more than welcome and amongst friends, you still are, that view has not changed.”
“Thank you, sir. I felt very comfortable there, sir.”
“Yes, I can understand that, and I’m sure that Callista helped with that feeling as well. When we return to port, you can visit my home again, to be able to see her, if you wish.” Callum said as he looked forward, Talon looked over at him.
“Thank you, sir, that is very generous of you.”
“Think nothing of it. But, I will have to have a talk with my friend Owen first, as he is very protective of her, being her older brother. Owen is a very powerful man, very strong. I would hate to see him snap you in two with his bare hands.” Callum smirked. Talon swallowed hard.
“Yes, I did rather notice he was very well built, sir, almost like Amos.”
“Yes to be sure.” Callum said as he looked forward, “Alright, lay her over to starboard, Darin. This should be close enough.”
“Mr. Collingwood, strike sail!” Callum said loudly.
“Aye, sir. Strike sail! Tie off and make her fast!” Collingwood said loudly as he looked aloft. Callum went round the short rail and went to the steps to go below. He went through the door, passed the galley, and went to his cabin, opening the door. The boy, Hans, was there and was surprised by Callum. He gave him a smile of reassurance and went over to the trunk and opened it. He moved about a few things and pulled out a dark shirt, the one that Dustin had picked out for him in Portsmouth. He took it and closed the lid. He stood and turned to the table, setting the shirt down. He unbuttoned his vest and slipped it off, the boy was there behind him and took it from him, Callum looked over his shoulder at him and shook his head a bit. The boy took the vest and hung it on a peg as Callum pulled his shirt out of his pants and pulled it up and over his head. He set the shirt down on the table and picked up the new one, slipping his arms in the billowed sleeves and then pulling it over the rest of him and let it drop. He tucked it in and grabbed one of the pistols off the table and tucked it in his belt and went to his sword, taking it and putting it through the holder in the belt. Callum looked at the boy, putting a hand on the young shoulder and pointed at the pallet against the bulkhead wall.
“You should get some sleep.” Callum said and smiled softly. The boy knew what Callum meant and nodded his head a bit. Callum went to the door and went out of the cabin. He reached the deck and saw the boat going over the side, Marines were gathered about with McGuffin, Talon had lashed the wheel and was coming around the short rail to Callum’s side. Callum went forward and came over to the rail.
“Sergeant, you have your men ready?”
“Yes, sir.” McGuffin said and half turned showing Callum the group of young Marines.
“Very good.” Callum said seeing young Lauder, Carson’s nephew, in this group of them, “Have your men go over the side and stow their weapons in the center of the boat. We shall all be rowing, gentlemen, there will be no boat crew.” Callum said, McGuffin jumped to it and gave directions as Callum turned and looked at Talon. Collingwood was at Callum’s side, “Mr. Talon, you are in command of Windsong while we are gone. Hold your position here. If we are not back in three hours’ time, you are to sail back to the squadron without hesitation, am I clear?”
“Perfectly clear, sir.”
“I want no sign of you or Windsong to be seen after the dawn comes. It is vital. The mission will continue on, Captain Stewart and Captain Tomlin have their instructions as well.”
“The mission, Darin, must proceed and be completed. Find the Avion and destroy her, or take her as prize. Either way, whether I am here or not. Do you understand?”
“I do, sir.” Talon said and tipped his hand. Callum looked at him and nodded, then turned and went over the side. Collingwood pat Talon’s shoulder once and then followed Callum. The crew of Windsong looked over the rail into the boat, The Marines left on deck crowded around them as well.
Callum took the tiller at Collingwood’s insistence, using a bit of a look, he sat down at an oar position, next to a Marine. Lines were cast off Windsong’s rail into the longboat and Marines pushed off the side with their hands, Callum guiding the longboat with the tiller away from Windsong.
“Alright, lads, set oars.” Callum said, “Nice and easy, not too much strain, the swells and the tide will help us out.” Callum looked up on the hill above the shore, seeing the dim light in the distance and steered for it.
The beach was narrow and coarse with its sand. Two Marines had jumped over the bow of the longboat into the water, taking lines with them, and pulled the longboat further up toward the beach. Callum had the Marines and Collingwood take the oars and stow them save one. Collingwood went forward to the bow and jumped over the side into the knee deep water and went to the beach, the other Marines followed after they gathered their weapons and supplies, going to the beach as well, Callum took the saved oar and jumped into the water with it, coming up on the beach.
“Here, one of you, sink this oar into the sand. Now, pull the longboat up further, lads, beach her and we’ll tie her off.” Callum said. It took only a couple of minutes. Callum looked back into the water. He could not see Windsong from where they were, and it was a good thing, “One of you stay here to watch the boat.”
“I’ll stay, sir.”
“Clemens, isn’t it?” Callum asked the young man.
“Yes, sir.” The young man smiled softly as Callum knew his name.
“Alright. If you see anyone, fire a round into the air. Do what you can to secure the boat. I will post someone else above the beach, there on the top of that bluff.” Callum said as he pointed. The young eyes followed Callum’s finger and then Callum turned and looked back at him, “Remain as quiet as you can until we return.”
“Yes, sir.” The young man said, Callum gave him a nod and went toward the bluff, the others followed him.
The bluff was not steep and was easily climbed with hands and feet. Callum reached the top and stopped, looking around in the darkness first to make sure it was clear. He continued up and came out on a grassy area, half turned and reached out a hand, Collingwood took it and Callum pulled helping him up. They both helped the young Marines get up and onto the grass as well.
“Now, I need one of you to stand guard here.” Callum said as he looked into his group.
“I’ll do it, sir.” A young Marine said and stepped forward, musket in hand. He was slight in size, very young looking to Callum, as if he was no older than the boy, Hans.
“Alright, you heard what I told Clemens?”
“Good, now, stay low, keep an eye about you, and an eye on Clemens as well. Anyone comes along besides us, fire off a shot to signal, reload and standby. I’m sorry, I don’t think I know your name, lad.”
“Randall, sir, Eugene Randall.”
“Alright, Mr. Randall. Hopefully we’ll be returning shortly. Just don’t shoot us by mistake.”
“No, sir, I wouldn’t do that.” The young boy said with a soft smile. Callum pat him on the shoulder once and nodded. Callum turned and headed toward the dim light up the hill above them. Collingwood and the four Marines left followed behind him.
The hill was not steep and there was a path that went along that headed up toward the building, a squared structure up at the top. As Callum went along the path, he was watching the structure, there was light coming from two sides of it, obviously window openings in it. They made their way as quietly as possible. They were about thirty yards below it and Callum stopped, crouching down, the others did the same. He watched the structure for a minute and then moved slowly, staying low as he moved forward, the others following his movements, staying low themselves, going slowly. At about ten yards from the structure, Callum pulled the pistol from his belt and cocked it, Collingwood doing the same. Callum stopped just a few feet away and turned back, looking at his group.
“Abel, you come with me.” Callum whispered, “You lads, stay here. If we run into trouble, come on the double.” The Marines all nodded their understanding, Lauder, in the lead of them all, looked over his shoulder at his fellows and then back at Callum and Collingwood as they were moving closer to the structure. Callum pointed to a side window, the dim light shining through it across the ground beyond, the other window was on the front of the structure, the sea side as well was the only door they could see. Callum made his way over to the side window and was under it, Collingwood was close to him. Callum was crouched and slowly rose up from under the window to look inside. He looked quickly and then ducked again. He leaned close to Collingwood.
“I saw someone moving about inside, but only their shadow.” Callum whispered in Collingwood’s ear, “Let’s go to the door.”
“Are we going to knock, sir?” Collingwood asked in a whisper with widened eyes.
“Why not?” Callum asked in answer to the question and flashed his eyes to Collingwood. He moved and Collingwood let out a silent sigh and looked skyward with only his eyes. Callum went to the door, holding the pistol up, pointing it in the air with bent elbow. He balled up his other hand into a fist and banged on the door rapidly.
“Bonjour! Bonjour! J’ai besoin de l’aide, s’il vous plait!” Callum yelled at the door. Collingwood was behind him facing the wall, pistol up, his other hand on the stone wall, “Bonjour! Bonjour! S’il vous plait! Quelqu’un est blesse!” Callum yelled at the door and banged a few more times. He heard a bolt slide back a bit and then the door opened but only to a crack.
“Qui estes-vous?” The soft voice answered though the crack.
“Quelqu’un qui a besoin de votre aide.” Callum said as he stayed out of the doorway. The door creaked open just a bit more and then he threw his body against it, hitting the person on the other side with the door, there was a scream, and then there were more screams, female screams as Callum stepped inside swinging the pistol about.
There was a bed over against the far wall, two little girls were in it, now sitting up screaming their lungs out. Callum lifted his pistol and looked down on the dirt floor. There was another girl, older, in her bed gown, staring up at Callum and Collingwood, her hand was covering her mouth.
“Tout va bien. Il esttout exact, nous n’allons pas vous blesser, je jure.” Callum said to the girl on the dirt floor, the little girls stopped screaming from the bed but were crying, “I told them we weren’t going to hurt them.” Callum said softly to Collingwood.
“You are English, no?” The girl asked lowering her hand, Callum looked down on her, he held out his hand to her.
“Yes, you speak English?” Callum asked in reply.
“Oui.” She said and looked his hand and then back up at him, “What do you want?”
“You have a man that lives here?” Callum asked and reached his hand out more.
“He will be back soon.” She said and looked at his hand again.
“I told you that we would not hurt you.” Callum said, his eyes moved about the room, “But, don’t lie to me again.”
“I’m not lying.” She said.
“Really, it doesn’t look like there is anything about that would belong to a man. All I see are feminine things.” Callum said as he looked about with only his eyes still, “Now,” Callum said and put out his hand further toward her. She hesitated but took it and he pulled her to her feet, “you may have something that I want. I will ask you, and you will give me what I ask for, do you understand?” Callum said as he moved his hand to her arm, grasping it firmly, pulling her close to him. He tucked his pistol back in his belt.
“You English pigs.”
“You operate this semaphore, don’t you?” Callum asked, “You do, don’t you?” He tightened his grip on her arm, she nodded her answer, “Do you have a book with the signals in it?” He watched her face as only her eyes shifted toward a shelf. Callum followed her gaze and there was a book on the shelf with some jars and tins as well, “Abel.” Callum nodded toward it and Collingwood went to it.
“You want just the book?” She asked, “It will do you no good.” She said softly.
“They change it, every two months or so, they bring me a new one.”
“It’s coded, sir.” Collingwood said as he was looking through it.
“You match the signal as it is counted and then relay it, don’t you?” Callum asked her.
“What do you want?” She asked.
“You obviously live here, do you not?” Callum asked his voice was firm. She nodded again, “Are those your children?”
“Do not do anything to them, please, I beg you.” Her eyes welled and she looked terrified.
“I told you, we will not hurt you, or your children. As I said, if you live here, and those are your children, where is their father?”
“He is with the Army. He has been gone for over a year.” She said.
“Abel, have one of the Marines come inside.” Callum said and let her go. She backed up a step away from Callum.
“Who are you?”
“I cannot tell you that right now. Go over and sit with your girls, comfort them.” Callum said.
“Sir.” Collingwood said and Callum looked over his shoulder. Lauder was there in the doorway.
“This man is going to stay with you while we tear apart the semaphore above. He will not hurt you. Mr. Lauder,…”
“You can’t tear it apart, please.” She cried from the bed, the little girls were crying now as she held them both.
“Would you rather that we destroyed your entire house? Leave you with no place to live?” Callum asked her and she hung her head, “Mr. Lauder, do you see that apparatus there near the window?” Callum nodded toward a group of wheels that had handles, with ropes, like a pulley system, the ropes leading up into the ceiling and to the roof and the arms of the semaphore above.
“Use the butt of your musket and break it apart while we take care of the arms up on the roof.”
“Please, you can’t!” She cried out, “I will have no way to feed my children.”
“They pay you then? They pay you to relay the signals?” Callum asked.
“Yes. If you destroy it, they will stop paying me. We will starve or worse.” She said as the tears dropped from her eyes.
“Do you have any other place you can go? A place of safety for your girls?”
“Amien.” She said softly.
“You have someone there, family perhaps?”
“Oui, my mother.”
“Amien, that’s on the Somme River, isn’t it, sir?” Collingwood asked as he was at Callum’s shoulder.
“Yes, it is. Mr. Lauder, destroy that apparatus. Mr. Collingwood, I have another idea.” Callum said, “You, Madame, get dressed, pack up a few things for yourself and your girls. We will take you to Amien as we have business on the Somme ourselves.”
“I will have no money, no way to live,…”
“Do not worry about that right now, just get dressed.” Callum said firmly.
“Sir,…” Collingwood said softly, Lauder raised his musket and started to smash it against the wooden wheels and handles at the window that controlled the arms of the semaphore above.
“Abel, have the other Marines get up on the roof of this place and tear apart the arms of the semaphore. I want it totally destroyed. Make it fast.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said, turning and called out to the other Marines. Callum looked at Lauder smashing everything to pieces, the girl was watching as well as she was dressing her girls. Callum looked around and saw a couple of large carpet bags. He went over to the shelf and picked them up, taking them to the bed and setting them there.
“You are serious.” She said as she looked at him, “Why?”
“There are about a thousand reasons why, and they’re all dead. Now hurry.”
“They will be well cared for, Madame, as I have a child myself. I will have no harm come to them, I assure you.” Callum said and looked up as he heard banging up on the roof.
“I think it’s all finished, sir.” Lauder said as he backed up from his destruction.
“Very good. Go up and help the others.”
“Yes, sir.” Lauder said. He walked out of the small structure, leaving Callum alone with the girl and her children.
“What is your name?”
“Marie.” She said as she looked at him, anger was in her eyes, “These are my girls, Aliee and Sophie.”
“I am Quintan.” Callum said, “I have a small ship off the coast. I will take you to it and then we can go on to Amien after we meet our other ships.”
“Yes, do not worry, I will keep my word to you and keep you and your girls safe. I will have you there in Amien by tomorrow afternoon, I promise.” Callum said as the girl was starting to undress in front of him. Callum went wide eyed seeing bare breasts, turned and went to the door, he turned his back to her while she dressed. Collingwood came up to the doorway, seeing her dressing, her nearly naked form, Callum standing in the doorway.
“Sir, uh,…semaphore is destroyed, sir.”
“Excellent.” Callum said folding his arms over his chest looking out toward the sea.
“Uh, sir, are you sure this is a good idea?”
“We have the code book, don’t we?”
“Yes, sir.” Collingwood said, “But, as she said, they change it.”
“I would imagine so, Abel, and that it would only be a few phrases. Base words will still remain the same, wouldn’t they? They can change it all they want, now that we know what their basics are.”
“I see what you mean, sir.” Collingwood said and then nodded toward the inside, Callum turned and looked at her, a simple dress that seemed a little tattered and worn, the girls were in the same condition as well. Callum went toward her and her girls.
“How old are your girls?” Callum asked.
“Aliee is four and Sophie is two.” The girl said.
“They’re very pretty,” Callum said, as he looked at them for a moment and then back at her, “like their mother.” Callum smiled briefly, and reached out and picked up the older girl, putting her on his hip, “Do you have what you need?” Callum asked and the girl nodded. He reached out and picked up a carpet bag and turned for the door, “Abel, lend a hand.”
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said and came toward the bed around Callum, picking up the other bag while the girl picked up the little one, putting her on her hip. Callum stepped out of the structure, the Marines were waiting.
“Mr. Lauder, would you mind?” Callum asked as he held out the carpet bag. The young Marine took it from Callum. Callum turned halfway back and saw the girl and Collingwood coming out of the structure. Callum turned and started down the path that they had come up, the other followed him and the little girl he carried. He looked at her pretty little face and smiled at her, “Voudriez-vous aller chercher un tour en bateau?” Callum asked, she nodded slowly, “Bon, ce sera amusement.” Callum smiled again. They came down the hill and started toward the bluff and the grassy area. Randall was standing there as he heard them coming. “Mr. Randall?” Callum called out.
“Very good.” Callum said as Randall could see the little girl Callum held with his arm, “If you would take the point, Mr. Randall.”
“Yes, sir.” The young Marine said and started down the bluff. Callum waited and had the Marines go first, then Collingwood. Callum watched them in the dark for a moment and then looked at the girl.
“Can you make it down?” Callum asked.
“Do I have a choice, Monsieur?”
“I’m afraid not.” Callum said softly, “I’ll go first and help you.” He stepped off and held out his hand, she took it to steady herself as they slowly made their way down the bluff carrying the little girls and reached the beach. Callum went to the longboat and put the little girl he carried up and over the side. He turned and took the littlest girl from Marie and put her in the boat as well. Callum turned and smiled briefly at the girl, Marie, and bent, scooping her up in his arms, putting her up and over the side. “Abel, put those bags in the bow, one of you lads, pull the oar out of the sand and gather the lines, the rest of you, give her a push off into the water.” Callum said, they all moved and put a shoulder to the hull of the longboat, pushing her out into the water and off the beach, “Alright, now everyone in, up and over the sides, watch out for the little ones.”
Everyone finally loaded in and started to get settled. Marines were stacking their weapons in the center of the boat, pulling oars and getting them set. Callum had Marie and her girls come to the bench seat at the tiller with him, the little one was on Callum’s lap as Collingwood and the Marines pulled at the oars, Callum turning the tiller, making the longboat turnabout and head out going toward Windsong. Callum kept an eye for a shadow or movement. They moved against the surge of the surf, the swells were small and then Callum saw the shadow, the outline, that he was looking for, Windsong, her form was silhouetted against the night sky. Callum moved the tiller and steered her toward the silhouette. It was a short bit of time as they pulled close to her.
“Ahoy, Windsong,” Callum called out, “lend us a hand here. Light a lamp on the Main.” Callum said as he guided the longboat alongside Windsong, Marines and crew alike were there at the rail in the dark. Lines were handed up and tied off. The lamp was lit and the deck glowed in the soft low light. Callum took the little one, Sophie, from his lap and handed her up as he stood up in the boat, McGuffin reached over the rail in the dark and took what Callum had in his hands and held up the little one in the lamp light of the deck. McGuffin was wide eyed seeing what was in his hands.
“Sir,…?” The graveled voiced voice asked and then cleared his throat.
“She’s not made of glass, Sergeant, but make sure you don’t drop her over the side, I don’t think she can swim quite yet,” Callum said as he looked up, he turned and took the other girl, Aliee, from Marie’s lap, turning with her in his hands and handed her up to waiting hands above. Talon looked over the rail, his eyes wide. Callum saw Talon there, “Darin, fetch Carson for me.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said with a shocked look and turned, “Pass the word for Mr. Carson!” Talon looked back as Callum was helping the young girl up, guiding her to the bench, hands reached over to take hers. They pulled and brought her up on deck to join her girls. Callum came up over the side, looking at Talon.
“As you can see, Mr. Talon, we have guests.” Callum said and looked at McGuffin, still holding the little one outstretched in his hands, he side glanced at Callum as the little one giggled a cute little giggle and held out her own little hands toward him, “I don’t think she’s dangerous, Sergeant, she shouldn’t bite you or anything.” Callum said as he picked up the other girl and put her on his hip.
“Yes, sir, I,…uh,…” McGuffin said as he looked at the squirming little one in his hands, still holding out her little arms toward the large man.
“It must be your whiskers, Sergeant. I am told that some women find them simply irresistible on a man.” Callum said as he watched this large man squirm, doing his best to keep a straight face. McGuffin pulled his arms in and the little one and her arms went around his neck immediately, “Well, suffice it to say, Sergeant, I think she is a good judge of character, wouldn’t you agree?”
“I am not quite sure, sir.” McGuffin said as he looked at the little one out of the corner of his eye. Carson came up to the group, his eyes wide as well.
“Sir,…?” Carson asked seeing them all about, Callum turned and looked at him.
“Carson, we have unexpected guests. Why don’t we take them to my cabin and make them comfortable. I am sure that with our little journey out here to Windsong, they might be a bit hungry as well.” Callum said and looked at the little one that was on his hip. He smiled and then looked at her mother, “Madame, if you will come with me, we will try and make you and your girls comfortable. You can have something to eat and then get some sleep if you wish.”
“Where would you like me to put you, sir? If you are giving up your cabin,…” Carson said, the crew and the Marines were all watching.
“I can sleep out here on deck, if need be. I think we can have the boy move below deck for a night.”
“If you wish, sir.” Carson said and was shocked over it all.
“Yes, if you would prepare them something quickly, I think the little one here in the Sergeant’s charge is fading rather fast.” Callum said as he saw the littlest one yawning and resting her head against the thick shoulder and in the whiskers of McGuffin, “Madame, if you will come with me? Sergeant?”
“Yes, sir.” McGuffin said as he followed Callum and the girl toward the steps to go below.
Callum started to walk toward the stairs and Collingwood was there, “Mr. Collingwood, secure the boat back on board and then let us get underway back to the squadron.”
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said, tipping his hand. He turned and started to give orders.
Callum went through the door at the bottom of the steps and went along to his cabin, opening the door, he set the girl down and reached up for the lamp, turning it up, he looked over and saw the boy asleep on his little pallet against the bulkhead wall. He went to go and kneel down to him, but a hand stopped him. He looked at the girl as she was shaking her head at him.
“Monsieur, please, do not wake him. He is only a boy. You cannot force him from his bed for us.”
“Thoughtful of you, Madame, but it will be alright. It is only for one night.”
“Leave him be, Monsieur.” She said and Callum stopped. He looked at McGuffin who was in the doorway and then back at the girl.
“Alright, if you insist.” Callum said and gave her a brief smile.
“I do.” She said, her eyes flashed for a moment. Callum saw a bit of anger as well as caring in them. McGuffin stepped in.
“Excuse me, sir.” He said softly, his graveled voice almost like a deep purr. Callum looked at him, and Callum knew what he wanted. He stepped over and took the little one gently from McGuffin, she was sound asleep against his thick shoulder.
“Thank you for your assistance, Sergeant.”
“You’re welcome, sir.” He said and raised an eyebrow. He turned and walked out of the cabin. Callum took the little one and knelt down next to the pallet, laying her down next to the boy, covering her up and then stood looking at them together for a moment.
“How old is your son?” The girl asked.
“The boy here? He is not my son.” Callum said quietly.
“I thought you said you have a child?”
“I do, but, at my home.”
“Is he a member of your crew then?”
“No. He is a poor soul that we found adrift and rescued him.” Callum said softly.
“I see. You have a kind heart, Monsieur. I know you will keep your word to me.” She said as he touched Callum’s arm. Callum turned and looked at her.
“I am a man of my word, Madame. No harm shall come to you or your girls aboard this ship.” Callum said. Carson came in with a tray and stopped at the table. Callum looked over at him.
“There wasn’t much time, sir. I am very sorry, Ma’am. I only had a few things still prepared in the galley.” Carson said, “Breakfast will be much better, I assure you.”
“Thank you, Monsieur.” She said as she looked at Carson. She came to the little girl and helped her up to the table as Carson set a few things out in front of them.
“Thank you, Carson. I will be on deck.” Callum said. He walked out of the cabin, going by the galley and then up the steps.
“He is the Captain, no?” She asked Carson. He smiled softly at her.
“Indeed he is, Ma’am. If you need anything, I’m right outside the door.” Carson said and left the cabin.
Callum looked about as he stood on the deck. The boat was back on board, sails were set, taking the wind once again, Windsong was underway. Talon was back at the wheel, Collingwood was in the center of the deck, the carpet bags were near him. Callum came over to him and picked up the bags.
“May I help you with those, sir?” Collingwood asked.
“No, I can manage, Abel. I will take these below and then return in a moment.” Callum said, turning away and headed to go back below.
“As you say, sir.” Collingwood said as he watched his Captain. Callum went down the steps and through the door, Carson was stepping out of the galley.
“I’ll take those, sir. I was going that way and I can see to them.”
“Thank you, Carson. I appreciate your assistance.”
“I’ll make them as comfortable as possible, sir.” Carson beamed.
“I am not trying to turn Windsong into a passenger vessel, but it seems that there was no choice in this.”
“I quite understand, sir. I am just wondering what Captain Tomlin is going to say when he sees who we have aboard.” Carson said with a bit of a smirk.
“Yes, I can only imagine myself.” Callum said and rolled his eyes a bit.
“You have gone completely mad, Quintan?” Tomlin said, “What in the hell were you thinking?”
“Thomas, please try to control yourself.” Callum said calmly as he stood in front of Tomlin on the Quarterdeck of Dover, Stewart and Carrington were standing next to him and they were a bit wide eyed themselves.
“I’m afraid I have to agree with Captain Tomlin.” Stewart said as he let out a breath. Callum shifted his eyes back and forth between all of them.
“An idea occurred to me, gentlemen, when I was standing in the semaphore. This girl and her children are an opportunity, one that I think we need to take advantage of.” Callum said.
“I don’t see how.” Tomlin said.
“When I sail up the Somme, it will be in broad daylight. We will be flying under a French flag. If that girl and her children are standing on deck, out in the open for all to see, and the Avion is there and sees us and them, it might help further to disguise us, don’t you think?” Callum asked.
“It might,” Stewart said, “however, there is your damage to your rails from the engagement with them. Don’t you think that they might suspect?”
“They might. I am willing to take that chance however. If the Avion is there and docked, we will have her position, and we will, with the light of day, be able to see what she is really about and my suspicions over her condition can be confirmed. Also there is the fortification at the mouth of the Somme. I intend to sail right by them and give them a good looking over as well. Once we drop off the girl and her children in Amien, we will come back and rendezvous with you and I can report my findings. The Avion no doubt will follow and we will all be waiting. We will be a prize ripe for the taking and simply irresistible to them after they see us.”
“He will know, Quintan, he will know you.” Tomlin said.
“You have gone mad.” Tomlin said as he shook his head.
“Do you have another suggestion, Thomas?” Callum asked.
“No,…no I don’t.” Tomlin said as he looked down at the deck for a moment and sighed heavily.
“You are risking the safety of this girl and her children, you know that.” Stewart said.
“Possibly,” Callum said as he pursed his lips for a moment, and then looked at Stewart, “but as far as I know, he has not butchered any women or children, just merchant crews, yes, some of them were boys to be sure, but they were members of those crews.”
“That hardly distinguishes between them and your ‘passengers’, as he does not know that.”
“True, but there is also the time of day to be considered. It will not be at night, under the cover of darkness and will not let him act out with his cowardice, it will be in broad daylight, again, throwing him off balance. I don’t believe he will strike while we are on the Somme. He can’t, it does not fit his pattern with his previous actions. His madness will not allow it.” Callum said.
“I suppose it takes one madman to know another.” Tomlin said flashing his eyes, “Where would you like us when you do this?”
“I think just off the coast to the south of the fortification. If I recall correctly from when I was here before, the fortification cannot see from that direction. It will be on their blindside.” Callum said.
“Yes, that is very true, sir.” Carrington said, “I have been here before, with Captain Renner.”
“How long ago?” Callum asked.
“A little more than a year ago.” Carrington said.
“Do you remember the fortification, Captain?” Callum asked.
“It is most earthen ramparts, not many cannon, there are long guns, possibly a dozen if memory serves. They did not fire upon us as we were in range. I remember that it made me wonder why. Captain Renner gave it no thought really even though we were cleared for action.” Carrington said as he thought about it, “It was most strange to me that they did not fire on us.”
“Hmmm, I wonder.” Callum said as he scratched his chin.
“Something is going through that mind of yours.” Tomlin said as he watched Callum.
“Yes.” Callum said softly.
“What is it?” Stewart asked.
“The fortification must be there merely for the defense of the Avion.” Callum said.
“What makes you think that?” Stewart asked.
“If they do not respond to a man of war and fire upon it when it is in range,…” Callum said, his voice trailing off as he went into thought.
“Perhaps they are just undermanned as suggested in the reports from the Admiralty?” Stewart asked.
“Perhaps.” Callum said as he snapped back from his thoughts, “But, we will find out for certain in the morning.”
“Then we should be getting underway to be in position to wait for you.” Stewart said.
“Yes, you should. I will hold position here until the dawn, then proceed on to the Somme as planned.” Callum said, “Gentlemen, I bid you a good evening.”
Windsong was underway, the wind was light this morning. Callum estimated that it was about two hours or more before they reached the mouth of the Somme. He gathered all on deck, crew and Marines alike to explain to them what was about to happen, or what he hoped.
“Gentlemen, you all know where we are going. I wanted to tell you that with the addition of our passengers, a new advantage has come to light, a reason for our being on the Somme now. We will be taking our guests up the river to Amien and dropping them off there. This will give us the opportunity to see if the Avion is there and where she docks. Also, I want to sail in slowly and have a look at the fortification that guards the Somme. Sergeant, I would ask that you keep your men below and out of sight, but I want you to remain on deck with us as I want you to see the fortification for yourself as I want your military opinion of it.”
“Yes, sir.” McGuffin said.
“Mr. Collingwood, I want no more than six men on deck. A ship of this size can be seen as over manned if we are all on deck, it might draw suspicion. The rest of you will remain below and out of sight. Take this opportunity to rest as the last couple of days have been a little on the taxing side. As we proceed up the river, make us look a bit disorderly, not the norm that we in His Majesty’s Navy truly are. It will help keep up appearances as to us being a merchant freighter. I will also have the lady and her girls out on deck. If they are seen, it will also help to further disguise us and I doubt that we will be engaged with women and children aboard. Hawkins, we have a French flag, do we not?”
“Yes, sir.” The young man answered.
“Good. Get it and run it out. Alright gentlemen, let’s get to it. We will sight the fortification in about an hour I should think and will be under their eye more than likely.” Callum said, “Remember, the end to this is drawing near. Keep your heads. Listen to instruction, and there will be no giving salute or obedience while we are there. Just follow instruction. Everyone clear?”
“Aye.” They all said. Callum nodded sharply in reply. The hands and the Marines broke up. Hawkins went to get the flag as he was told.
“Shall I get the lady for you, sir?” Carson asked.
“Not quite yet, Carson. Is she awake?”
“I believe so, sir. I was going to prepare breakfast for them.”
“Yes, do that. Make them comfortable for the time being. I will come and get them when it is time.”
“Shall I tell her, sir?”
“Yes, that way she is somewhat prepared. It would be the decent thing to do I suppose.”
“Very good, sir.” Carson said and walked away. Callum just smiled after him.
Callum turned his attention back to the deck and what was going on about him. Collingwood and Amos were setting about getting the hands organized, who was to stay, who was to go below. McGuffin was sending his men down the gangway ladder into the hold to get them out of sight. Talon was at the wheel, following the course he had been given. Callum went slowly forward on the deck going by those about him. He came to the bowsprit and looked out over the bow. The French coast was in the distance on the horizon.
“Soon, you son-of-a-bitch, I’ll have your head.” Callum said softly to himself as he folded his arms over his chest looking at the horizon.
“Excuse me, sir.” Collingwood said as he stepped to Callum’s shoulder.
“What is it, Abel?”
“We have the hands organized, sir. I have asked that most of the older men remain on deck with us.”
“Sensible, Abel. That might help keep up appearances as well. Older men, seasoned sailors as it were, not a threat.” Callum said softly.
“May I be of assistance to you, sir?” Collingwood asked, Callum looked at him with a questioning look.
“Do I look like I am in distress, Abel?”
“You look,…distracted, sir. I mean no offense.”
“I suppose I am a bit distracted. My mind is racing right now, so many different possibilities, so many outcomes.” Callum said and sighed.
“I can understand, sir.” Collingwood said and Callum smiled a bit.
“It was good of you to offer, Abel. I appreciate your concern. Fear not, we will see this through.”
“I have every faith in you, sir. I know that you will see us through.” Collingwood said, bowed his head slightly and walked away from Callum, leaving him alone.
McGuffin was at the bowsprit with Callum as the fortification was coming into view. Callum was coiling a loose line in his hands slowly as he was looking over the starboard bow. He had given Talon instructions for the course to bring them in close but not too close.
“What do you make of it, Sergeant?” Callum asked as he looked down at the line in his hand.
“I see a few Regulars, sir, and there appears to be someone up on that bluff above the fortification with a glass on us.” McGuffin said.
“Yes, I saw him as well.” Callum said as he took the coiled line and hung it on a belaying pin, “Keep an eye on them for a minute, Sergeant. Make it look as if you’re doing something. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Very good, sir.” McGuffin said as he bent down and moved a couple of lines as Callum walked away, heading toward the steps to go below.
Callum went down the steps and through the door, going by the galley and reached the door to his cabin. He knocked and opened it. He saw her, the girl, Marie at the table with her little girls. The boy, Hans, was there as well, standing beside the little ones.
“Monsieur?” She asked seeing Callum.
“Good morning, Madame. I was wondering if I might ask you to have you and your girls join me up on deck. We are approaching the Somme.”
“If you wish.” She said as she looked at him a bit guarded, “There is something that you need of me, no?”
“Yes, there is actually.” Callum said, “Understand that I told you last night that we had business to conduct on the Somme. If you would join me on deck, then we can proceed up the river without being fired upon. Your presence, and that of your girls might guarantee that.”
“You are using us.” She said with a glare.
“I also told you that no harm shall come to you aboard this ship. I mean to keep my word to you. But to do that, I need you to help us. Now, if you would join me please on deck.” Callum said and picked up the older of the two girls, putting her on his hip. He smiled at the little one for a moment and then looked at her mother. She rose up off the chair and picked up the littlest one, the boy backed up out of the way. Callum turned and went out of the cabin, the girl followed him, going up the steps and out on deck into the morning light. She looked about and saw Talon at the wheel, who smiled at her briefly, she smiled back at him. She followed Callum out into the center of the deck.
“Do you know anything of that?” Callum asked as he nodded toward the fortification.
“Yes.” She said softly.
“What do you know?” He asked as he came closer beside her.
“Why should I tell you?”
“Because I am asking you, asking you to help us.”
“You are English. You only want to destroy us, to take over France.” She said as she looked up at him.
“No, that is not true. What I want is to end this war, to stop the killing, to end the destruction, the waste of it all. To make it to where your husband can return to you and your girls and you can live in peace, and I can return home to my son and to those that wait for me there as well. Now, will you help us?” Callum asked as he looked deep into her eyes, his were almost pleading with her and she saw it and knew he was telling her the truth, “That fortification is only there to protect a certain ship, isn’t it?” Callum asked and she nodded slowly, “The Avion?” She nodded again, “How do you know this?”
“The soldiers, when they come from time to time, they speak to me of it.”
“What do they say?”
“They have told me of the ship and what he does.”
“The Admiral,…Battenou? The Avion is here then, on the river?” Callum asked and she nodded again. “How many men are there in the fortification?”
“Maybe thirty. There are not many.” She said softly and lowered her head a bit. Callum looked out over the starboard side seeing the fortification off in the distance.
Carrington had been correct last night, the ramparts were earthen in their construction. It was makeshift at best in that construction. Callum could see there were more than a dozen cannon there, placed along a long line that had them pointing out over the mouth of the small bay, covering the mouth of the Somme River. Behind the cannon were timbered and earth covered areas that were open to house and cover obvious powder storage areas as well as house those Regulars that might be stationed there. There was a high bluff behind it all that had the fortification protected and hidden from sight from anything coming up from the south. Callum looked at her and gave her a brief smile.
“Thank you.” He said.
“For what, Monsieur?”
“For being honest with me, you could have lied, but you didn’t.”
“There was no reason to lie to you, Monsieur. I believed you when you said that you only wanted to end this war.” She said softly.
“It was the truth, I assure you. I hate this war. I pray that your husband does return home to you and your girls once it is over.”
“I do as well, Monsieur.” She said as McGuffin walked up to them. The little one in her arms began to squirm when she saw him, holding out her little hands and arms toward him, “I think she likes you, Monsieur.” She said to McGuffin. He only raised an eyebrow to her.
“They do not seem to be preparing to fire upon us, sir.” McGuffin said, “They are just merely watching us.”
“So it would seem, Sergeant. We don’t appear to be a threat of any kind to them or the Avion. It would also appear that my suspicions have been confirmed, the Avion is here.” Callum said as he put the girl down on the deck. He looked at the little one who was squirming and still reaching out for McGuffin and then looked back at the large man, “Do you have children, Sergeant?”
“That is most unfortunate, Sergeant, I would think you would be a natural at being a parent.”
“Sir?” McGuffin asked as Callum took the little one from Marie and handed her to McGuffin, He took the little one out of mere response and jumped a bit as he did. The little one wrapped her arms around his thick neck and buried her cheek on his thick shoulder against the big whiskers.
“I rest my case.” Callum said with a brief smile, “As I said to you last night, she seems to be a good judge of character. You would make the perfect uncle or even a young grandfather, Sergeant.” Callum said and gave the big man a wink, who was clearly uncomfortable with the whole thing, “Excuse me just a moment.” Callum said as he walked over to Collingwood at the port rail, “Abel.” Callum said as Collingwood came close to him, “The girl has just told me that the Avion is here.”
“What would you like to do, sir?” Collingwood asked with wide eyes.
“We will proceed as planned, sailing up the river to Amien, with headsails only. I want to have a good long look over her as we go by. It will also make us look like less of a threat with less canvas.” Callum said giving him a nod and then turned away to go back to the girl and McGuffin, Collingwood nodded as well, then sent two of the hands up the rigging to draw up the Mainsail.
“Now, why don’t we take a stroll along the deck, the five of us.” Callum said as he came up close to the girl, putting his hand and arm about her thin waist, “If we make it appear that we are all happy with one another’s company, I think we can give those in the fortification less to be concerned with, wouldn’t you agree?”
“If you say so, sir.” McGuffin said as he side glanced the little one on his shoulder. Callum took the little girl by the hand and smiled down at her, giving her a wink as well, she smiled up at him as they began to walk along the deck together, going toward the bow.
Windsong was slowly entering the small bay now, as Callum and his little group came to the bow. The mouth of the Somme River was clearly in their view. Talon was steering well, guiding Windsong in carefully pointing her toward one side of the river, the south bank. Callum was looking at the clarity of the water in front of them. He could see the bottom which told him that the Somme was flowing slowly out into The Channel, not creating a surge to stir up silt of any kind. A possible problem if the need to escape the Avion presented itself. Callum let go of the little hand that he held and went more out onto the bowsprit, gauging the depth of the mouth of the river.
“Something wrong, sir?” McGuffin asked. Callum came back onto the deck.
“A potential problem, yes.” Callum said. He turned and looked at McGuffin, “I’ll be back in a moment.” Callum walked away from them heading down the deck toward the wheel and Talon, “Darin, steer her more toward the center of the river.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said as Collingwood came close to him.
“Something wrong, sir?”
“Possibly, Abel.” Callum said, “The river is flowing very slowly. If the Avion responds to us and does take action, we will only have this slight wind to use for any possibly escape.”
“And with its direction as well, going against it,…” Collingwood said as he looked aloft.
“You see my concern.” Callum said, giving him a side glance.
“I do, sir.”
“I have the deck, Abel. Go below, have the hands prepare for possible boarding. I’ll have the Sergeant prepare his men as well.” Callum said.
“You think they might, sir?” Collingwood asked.
“As I said the other night, I will not be caught with my breeches down. If it comes to a fight, we will be ready.” Callum said, “We will continue to keep everyone out sight. I want no weapons on deck other than the rail guns that are already in place.”
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said and went to go below, Callum went forward toward the bow. He reached out and took the little one from McGuffin.
“Sergeant, go below, prepare your men for possible action. With the current of the river and this wind, if the Avion decides to do something, I want to be ready.” Callum said.
“You’re thinking, sir, something is not right?”
“It’s just a feeling that I have, but I want to ready as I said, it might be the prudent thing to do. And keep it quiet, I want no weapons on deck.” Callum gave him a look, McGuffin had seen it before. The girl had wide eyes.
“Very good, sir.” McGuffin said and walked toward the gangway ladder.
“Monsieur, you said that,…”
“I said it might guarantee them to not attack to have you and your girls to be seen. Something about all of this just doesn’t add up. You said that you knew of what Battenou does, what do you know?” Callum asked.
“I only know that he takes his ship out once a month or so.”
“And you don’t know what he actually does when he sails?” Callum asked and she shook her head in answer, “If I were to tell you, you probably would not believe me. Understand that I have not lied to you and I have no real reason to, do you believe that?” She nodded slowly, “We are here to find him and to stop him by whatever means possible. The boy that was in my cabin, I told you that we found him adrift. He was on a merchant ship a Dutch ship. Admiral Battenou attacked it and murdered the crew, the boy only survived because he was hidden during the attack. There have been other merchant ships that have had the same thing done to them as well. He murders the crews and leaves the cargos in place.”
“That is not possible. Admiral Battenou is a man of honor. He is a well-respected man by all of us here in France, Monsieur, he,…”
“Is quite mad, I assure you. It is how he murders those crews that has made us believe that he is truly mad.” Callum said.
“I cannot believe that.”
“There is proof that it is him, he leaves his pennant from the Avion on those ships that he attacks after he butchers the crews. He attacked us two nights ago, as well as one of the ships of our squadron the following night. You see the damage that was done to us. He must be stopped from what he is doing.”
“How does he murder the crews?” She asked with wide eyes.
“He mutilates them, cuts them into pieces, leaving them. His crew is doing it, but under his orders. He must be stopped.”
“It is not possible, he would never do that.” She said and looked horrified from what she was hearing.
“Believe me when I tell you this. The boy was a witness to it as well. If you don’t believe, you can ask him.” Callum said, “I can have my man, Carson, have him explain it to you, as the boy only speaks Dutch.”
“Why would he do this, what you say?”
“We don’t know. We only know that he must be stopped, permanently.” Callum said flatly.
“It could not be him that attacked you, Monsieur.”
“Why, because you think he is man of honor, a hero to your people? There will be proof. When he attacked us, we only survived the attack by damaging the Avion, making him withdraw. There was a fire that was set aboard her by us. When we find her, if she is there, you will see there is damage to one of her masts, damage from the fire that we set. She attacked us in the dead of night, a much smaller ship. He meant to murder us all.” Callum said to her. She still had a look of disbelief on her face.
“If there is this damage aboard his ship, I might believe you, but only then.”
“The messages you were sending from the semaphore, the ones you relayed, you know what they were, don’t you? They were of ship positions weren’t they? Sightings of other vessels, they only came once a month when there was no moon. You relayed a message just the other day, did you not?” Callum asked and she lowered her head a bit and nodded, “And you know what that message was, where to send him to find us, is that not so?” She nodded again, “I thought as much. Further proof for you, wouldn’t you say?” She lifted her head and her eyes were welling as she looked at him.
“I did not know.” She said softly.
“I do not blame you in this, Marie. You were only doing what you were supposed to do, as am I.”
“What do you want of me?”
“I told you that we would take you to Amien for your safety, and I will keep my word to you as I have said. What I want from you is your silence when we reach Amien, if we reach it.” Callum said.
“I will remain silent, Monsieur.”
“Good.” Callum said as he looked down at her, tears were begging to stream down her cheeks as Collingwood walked up to them. Callum did not look at him, only keeping his eyes on her.
“I beg your pardon, sir.” Collingwood said as he looked back and forth at the two of them.
“What is it, Abel?” Callum asked softly.
“Everything is prepared below, sir. The hands are ready and the Sergeant has the Marines prepared as well.” Collingwood said.
“Is everything alright, sir?” Collingwood asked seeing her tears.
“Yes. We were just having a little talk about the truth. Our young miss here was unaware of what was actually happening until just now. I have enlightened her as to the situation and its facts.” Callum said.
“I see, sir.” Collingwood said as he looked at the girl.
“You asked me last night when we were at the semaphore, Marie, why I was doing this. I told you there were about a thousand reasons and they were all dead. Now you know what those reasons are.” Callum said and she sobbed openly, putting her hands to her eyes.
“Sir.” Collingwood said as he looked at Callum with shock. Callum reached out and pulled her close to him and just held her with one arm about her shoulders as he still held the littlest one with the other. She buried her face in his chest.
“She knows, Abel. I have told her that this was not her fault, she was only doing what she needed to do to feed her children.” Callum said.
“I’m sorry to say it, sir, that just seemed a trifle cruel.”
“Yes, perhaps you’re right.” Callum said as he looked at Collingwood. He pulled his arm back from her and lifted her chin gently with a finger, he could see her eyes and the look on her face, the horror of it all was sinking into her now, and he felt something inside himself now, something that he had not felt in quite a while, “I’m sorry, Marie, truly I am. It’s just that I have become so taken over by what he has done in all of this, the things that I have seen, the friend that I have lost weeks ago to him and his actions, I hope that you can forgive me for what I said. I did not mean to be cruel to you. You are an innocent in this, please,…forgive me.”
“I understand, Monsieur.” She said as the tears began to ease from her soft eyes.
“We will get you to safety, you and your girls, I promise you that much.” Callum said and gave her a faint smile.
“Thank you, Monsieur.” She said softly.
“Sir.” Collingwood said as he was looking forward toward the bow. Callum looked over his shoulder. His eyes narrowed at what he saw. Windsong was now making a slight turn following the slight bend in the river. In the distance on the north bank was a small hamlet, houses, buildings and a dock area on the wide river. There, at the dock area was a large ship, a ninety gunner, the Avion. Her masts rose up skyward, her canvas was up and secured. Her hull was as black as night, no paint, no adornment whatsoever on her. Callum could feel his heart pounding in his chest, his throat went tight at seeing her, and he felt his anger surging in him. He had been right all along. Here she was, tucked away, hidden from the coast by the curve of the wide river, the small town that was obviously supporting her. Callum thought that if they were aboard Dover right now, right here, he would be clearing for action and would be having all guns set and primed to blow her out of the water where she was at. “Dear God.” Collingwood said and brought Callum out of his thoughts.
“Do you see anyone, Abel?” Callum asked.
“Her deck looks deserted from here, sir.” Collingwood said.
“I don’t see anyone either.” Callum said quietly as they both watched the Avion carefully. Callum handed the little one over to Marie. She took her and Callum stepped away from her, Collingwood going with him, stepping toward the port bow rail, looking at the Avion carefully as they drew closer to her, “Go to the wheel, tell Darin to stay in the center of the river.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said and went quickly aft. Amos came forward and came close to Callum.
“Orders, sir?” Amos asked as he was looking forward.
“Have the men keep about their work, Amos. Let’s not all gawk at her. Pass the word for the Sergeant.” Callum said without looking at him.
“Aye, sir.” Amos said quietly. Callum backed away from the rail as Windsong was staying in the center of the wide river. He went to Marie and her girls in the center of the deck, coming up next to her.
“Are you alright now?” He asked her softly with a brief smile. She nodded her head in reply as she looked at him, wiping her cheek with the back of her free hand. Callum picked up the older girl and put her on his hip. He smiled at her and tickled her a bit, making her giggle.
“I think I should ask you, Monsieur, are you alright?” She asked. Callum smiled openly at her and put an arm around her shoulders as he stood next to her.
“I am now. It is a relief to see her docked there.” Callum said.
“Many think that that ship is a ghost or phantom, a devil ship. I was almost beginning to think it myself actually. Now, seeing her in the daylight, it changes it for me. She is just an old ship, and poorly taken care of.”
“What do mean by poorly?”
“See her hull? How black it is?” Callum asked as he nodded toward the Avion.
“It is not cleaned, not taken care of. The sun does that, along with fresh water, makes the wood black, brackish. The salt is coming out of her wood. She is rotting, I was right.” Callum said, “I could probably punch my fist through her waterline. It’s sad actually. She was once a very proud and beautiful ship I suppose in her day.” Callum said.
“What are you going to do, Monsieur?”
“Put her out of her misery.” Callum said flatly.
Windsong slowly reached her, passing bow to bow now. Callum watched carefully as they slowly slid by the Avion, some hundred yards distant from her. Callum could clearly see that she was barely being held together and that there might be water very high in her bilge from her poor condition that could be seen. It was no wonder that she withdrew when there was a fight, she couldn’t possibly take it, Callum thought to himself. The damage done to her from the shots from Hunter were on the dock side and could not be seen or letting Callum assess them. He was only guessing, yes, but it was very apparent that the Avion was in distress and could easily be taken. What made her dangerous was not only her guns but the number of her crew. Callum knew that if they could get her out into open water, the squadron could make short work of her, and then another thought occurred to him and he smiled briefly at it.
“I’m no sailor, sir, but she appears to be in a rather bad sort of way, does she not?” McGuffin asked.
“You are quite right in that, Sergeant. Let me ask you, if we were alongside her, how fast could you get you and your men up and over her side?” Callum asked as McGuffin was side by side with him.
“Barring any resistance, sir, quite quickly from the looks of it. She has several step ladders in her side.” McGuffin said.
“Yes she does. If we covered you and your men with the rail guns as well with pistol shot and extra muskets, I agree, she could be taken with what Marines we have aboard.” Callum said.
“Are you considering doing it now, sir?” McGuffin asked as he looked at Callum with wide eyes.
“No, we will go on to Amien as I gave the lady here my word. However, on the return trip, if there is no one aboard,…” Callum said as he looked at McGuffin with a lifted eyebrow.
“I see what you mean, sir.” McGuffin said and smiled out of the corner of his mouth, lifting his big whiskers a bit. Callum chuckled softly.