“You thought I was dead, English, yes?” Battenou said as he wrung the pommel of the sword in his hand.
“One could have only hoped.” Callum said giving a slight sigh.
“You should have seen him run from my father’s cabin, mes amis.” Battenou said as he was in the midst of the group of his crew at the wheel, “He acted like a coward, a true coward, running away after he killed my father.”
“Why don’t you tell them all the truth, Battenou, the real truth. The blood on your sword is from your father, you’re the one that ran him through trying to kill me.” Callum said, his sword still up.
“You made me do it, you are the one that is responsible!” Battenou had a wild eyed look now.
“Responsible for your insanity? Your actions? Not I, you miserable sot. You’re the coward in all this, the proof of it is in your lies as well as in your actions. If these men of yours had any idea of what kind of madman you really are, they would throw you over the side and let the sharks deal with you as you deserve.” Callum said flatly, “Shall I tell them for you, Battenou, in French?”
“I will kill you first.”
“You already tried that and it only served to have you to try and kill yourself as well as killing your father. Stop this, surrender yourself and no one else has to die like your father did.” Callum said. Battenou came a few steps forward, his sword raised.
“Come, English, let us finish what we started below. There will be no one to stop us.” Battenou said as he readied himself. Callum went to step forward but Talon touched his sleeve.
“Sir,…” Talon said softly through clenched teeth.
“It’s alright, Darin. It will be alright, keep an eye on the others. Don’t drop your guard for a moment.” Callum said. He stepped forward away from Talon, Lauder, and Randall at the rail. He held up his sword as he got into a defensive stance. He touched the blade tip of Battenou’s heavy sword with his own making it ting, “Now, do try and be brave this time, Battenou. How is your wound to your chest by the way?” Callum asked. Battenou growled in his throat and it came to a roar and he lunged forward, Callum blocked it easily, then lunged himself, catching the long coat that Battenou wore, ripping into the heavy cloth, Callum pulled back and before Battenou could move again, Callum sliced into the left shoulder with a swing, Battenou grunted and spun away, swinging as he came back around, Callum blocked it and slid to the pommel. He pushed the off balance larger man, making him stumble back a few steps, “You really must try harder, Battenou, you are giving the wrong impression to your men, you know.” Callum said as he held up his sword up at the ready. Battenou became enraged even further. Callum looked forward beyond Battenou and saw Triborne turning at the bow of the Avion. Callum turned his attention back to Battenou as the sword started to swing from the dark dressed man and then the booms from the cannon of Triborne erupted, a full broadside fired, thirty six guns all at once. Callum spun out of the way of the blade as the cannon balls came in at them, he dove in the direction of Talon and the Marines.
The cannon shots ripped through the hull and decks of the Avion. Men screamed out loudly in pain as they died, wood being splintered and ripping apart could be heard, rigging being torn out, masts creaking and trembling from the impacts to them. Callum hit Talon with his body, bringing him to the deck, an arm of Callum’s caught Lauder as well, dragging him and Randall down together as well. They came together in a heap, Callum covering them with his own body for a moment. He raised his head and looked over his shoulder.
The wheel had been hit and was completely destroyed, the Frenchman that was there manning it was cut in half and strewn over the deck, the group that was there was also lying about on the deck, most of them were dead or dying, either in pieces or impaled with splintered wood from the forerail. Callum got off Talon and the Marines, grabbed his sword off the deck and looked, seeing Battenou lying on his side, very still. Callum got to his feet, his sword at the ready just in case. Callum went a step to the remains of the port rail and leaned out a bit seeing Triborne was holding relative position, making ready to fire again. The deck of the Avion shifted and leaned over to port a bit more now as she was taking on water. Motion caught the corner of Callum’s eye, he turned and looked seeing Dover was coming in now, completing her turn across the stern of the Avion some hundred yards distant.
“Ahoy, Dover!” Callum screamed over the stern as he cupped a hand to his mouth.
“Ahoy!” The faint voice called back, “Quintan?!”
“Thomas! We are here! On the Avion!” Callum cried out, his chest felt relief for a brief moment.
“Sir! Behind you!” Lauder yelled out, Callum spun his head and saw the glint of steel coming down toward him, he moved out of the way just in time as the blade came down and chopped into the rail he was at. Callum pushed off and into the large mass of Battenou, knocking him off balance, the two crashed on the deck and rolled once, Callum trying to get away from him, but was held tight by the powerful hands. Battenou rolled on top of Callum, getting over him, hands were on the tunic lapels, Battenou lifted and slammed Callum on the deck over and over as he roared in his throat. Another roar came into Callum’s ears, a different roar, Lauder came across the deck and leaped onto Battenou’s back, wrapping an arm around the thick neck, pulling tight around it, the free fist was punching into the face from the side on the dark man and he let go of Callum to fight off this new threat. Battenou used all his might and grabbed the arm of the young Marine, pulling it away and was able to half turn, sending a fist up into the young face, knocking him backward and off him. Callum twisted away and pushed Battenou off himself, Callum rolling and falling on the large man, he got to his knees and punched him over and over but it didn’t seem to slow him. Callum took his fists and put them together as he had done down in the cabin and sent them flying with everything he had, the impact knocked Battenou to his back. Callum jumped on the large man bringing an elbow down on his throat.
Lauder shook his head clear and got up quickly, leaping to his Captain’s aid again, jumping on the large man trying to hold him down. Callum got back to his knees and punched once again as the booming of cannon fire went off again in the distance. Callum reached out and pushed Lauder away from Battenou as the deck was ripped apart from an incoming ball, Battenou screamed out in pain from something that could not be seen clearly. More screams and shouts from dying men, splintering wood, the masts were groaning even more and the deck listed with a jolt to port, Callum groaned as he had been thrown back from the impact of the ball. He lay still as he was covered with debris.
“Sir,…sir?” Lauder asked as he sat up on the deck near the port rail. Lauder moved and crawled toward Callum as he was lying on his side facing away. Lauder crawled around Battenou’s feet and came up to Callum, putting a hand on Callum’s shoulder, turning him a bit toward his back, “Sir,…” Lauder said and Callum groaned again, his eyes opened a bit, Lauder gave a sigh of relief, “Are you alright, sir?”
“We have to get off this ship,…now.” Callum said barely above a whisper, “Where is,…” Callum closed his eyes and went limp. Lauder looked over at Talon and Randall.
Talon was trying to get to his feet, but was weak from the beatings he had taken from the French crew. He struggled even harder as he saw Callum was down on the deck. He got to his feet and was shaky. He came over toward Callum and Lauder and looked down.
“He’s breathing, sir. I think he was hit by some of the decking and is merely senseless, sir.” Lauder said.
“Thank God he’s alive.” Talon said, “We need to get him up and out of here before they fire again.” Talon looked at Randall as he was finally getting to his own feet using the corner of the rail to help himself up. He looked through and then over the rail and his eyes went wide at what he saw, he turned and looked at Talon, but Randall couldn’t speak from his injuries to his throat, he only pointed. Talon staggered over toward him and leaned on the rail, looking down, “Thank you.” Talon said as he looked skyward for a moment and then back down at the water. Windsong was there at the stern of the Avion, lamps aglow on her deck, a warm and inviting sight to Talon. He and Randall were seen by those on deck and Patkin being aloft. Amos came forward and took a line and tossed it up. Randall and Talon reached out together and caught that line. They tied it off on the remains of the rail, Talon turning and looking back at Lauder and Callum still lying on the deck on his side, “Can you get him over here, Lauder?” Talon asked through clenched teeth.
“Yes, sir.” Lauder said, getting to his feet, he came to Callum’s head and knelt down, scooping Callum up from under his arms and began to drag him toward Talon and Randall on the listing deck.
“Let me help you, we only have a couple of minutes to do this. Triborne is reloading her guns and will give another broadside.” Talon said using one hand, the other held his own sword.
“How do we get him over the side, sir?” Lauder asked.
“We’ll have to rig something. We can climb down this line to them, but he,…” Talon said as Callum let out a breath and his eyes opened. He shook his head a bit and put a hand to his forehead, “Sir, are you alright?” Talon asked as he knelt beside his Captain.
“A bit dizzy, Darin, but I’m alright I think. What happened?” Callum asked.
“Triborne, sir, she’s fired another full broadside. The Avion is sinking. Windsong is here, sir, we’re tied off with a line.” Talon said. Callum struggled to get to his feet, Lauder and Talon helped him up. Callum turned to the rail and looked down. Amos and some of the hands were there looking up at them.
“Right,…you three, over the side and down. Can you make it on this line?” Callum asked as he looked at them.
“I think so, sir, aren’t you coming?” Talon asked through clenched teeth.
“I’ll cover you three and your escape.” Callum said, turning and going for his sword. He looked at the chaos of the deck below, the men there trying to get about, some going over the side and into the cold water. Callum picked up his sword, sheathing it, turning and coming back to his group, “Hurry now, we haven’t much time. Captain Stewart doesn’t know we’re here and he will keep firing until the Avion sinks out of sight.” Callum said, he looked at the condition of his men and it was very poor. They had all been beaten severely by the French crew of cutthroats and Callum was angered over it, “Randall, you go first.” Callum said and gently touched the young shoulder. Randall was helped over the damaged rail and he took the line, wrapping his legs around it, he started to go down on it, hand over hand. They watched as he went down, hands below waited and held up their hands to help him when he got closer to them, “Alright, hurry now, Lauder your turn.”
“I’ll stay with you, sir.” The young Marine said, his face was swollen, both his eyes were blackened, his nose was bloodied like Talon’s and possibly broken.
“Enough heroics for one day, lad. Come on, quickly.” Callum said and guided him with a hand, making him go over the damaged rail. He took the rope and did what Randall had done, wrapping his legs around it and used his hands to climb down, sliding along the way. Callum and Talon watched as the hands got Randall clear of the line and waited for Lauder, “Alright, Darin. Can you make it?”
“Yes, sir.” Talon said through his clenched teeth, his jaw obviously was broken as it was swollen very bad on the right. Talon was looking down at the deck below of Windsong. He looked back at his Captain and then Talon’s eyes went wide, “Sir!” Hands reached out and grabbed Callum from behind by the shoulders, pulling him away. Battenou was on his feet and had Callum from behind.
“Go, Darin!” Callum said loudly as he was drug backward, “Rockets! Fire them off!” Callum choked out as he was being strangled from behind by the strong hands. Talon was still wide eyed, but Callum waved him to go, and then was drug closer to the large man. Callum used an elbow and thrust it into the ribs of his attacker. He was still gripped and did it again and again as hard as he could. Talon went over the side as he had been ordered. Callum felt the hands loosen on him, he turned in them as he was still being held and started to punch into the center of the large man and then jabbed upward, knocking the chin up that was in front of him back, the big hands let him go.
Booms came again, Triborne firing another full broadside into the Avion. The impacts shook every part of the once great ship, jarring everything about them. The Mainmast creaked and groaned even more and finally gave way, ripping the rigging away from the rails on the starboard side that was holding it in place. The mast was ripping the rotting deck apart as it fell toward the port side and with the lean, men screamed as they were either crushed or trapped by the splintering deck. Guns could be heard sliding and rolling from the starboard side, breaking free of the lines and blocks that held them in place as the deck tilted even more now with the new weight. Callum was tossed to the port rail near him. He looked up as the Mizzen was groaning and creaking as well, the canvas that was unfurled and hanging loose was fluttering, lines dangled all about him and he saw the madman coming toward him in all of it. Callum could not reach his sword in time before he was grabbed yet again.
“You bastard!” Battenou growled, his eyes were wild looking as he held the lapels, lifting Callum off his feet.
“I said I would see you destroyed.” Callum said before he was tossed away like some much linen. He hit the deck near the remains of the aft rail, the rope that tied Windsong to the Avion went tight. He rolled to get to his feet and reached for it but the rail gave way and the line was lost to him just beyond his fingertips, the rail section flying away.
“You cannot escape, English!” Battenou roared as he also saw the rope disappear, “You will die with me now!” Callum turned to face the large madman that was coming toward him. There was a great groan that rose up with even louder cracking and snapping of wood as the Mainmast gave way fully. Battenou stopped and spun to see the giant mast fall to the port side, smashing its base up through the deck, ripping it apart, crushing those men that were trapped in the rigging and the decking, their screams were silenced in an instant and the entire ship jumped a bit in the water as the giant mast hit the water, the deck and the ship lay over a bit more, Callum falling against the port rail. He looked over and the water was closer to where they were on the deck with the leaning.
“Battenou, end this while there is still time!” Callum shouted, “Don’t be a fool!” Battenou turned, his eyes even more wild looking than before. Callum knew that he was completely lost in his madness now. He steadied himself, one foot against the leaning rail, the other on the leaning deck and drew his sword, “Your ship is lost! Your father is dead! Surrender!” Callum shouted over the noise around them, Battenou screamed his frustration loudly and came at Callum. Callum raised his sword and lunged as the large man was almost on him, the sharp three sided point went into the dark vest near the center, plunging into Battenou’s heart, the large man kept coming, the point going through him all the way, out the back of the long coat, he slammed himself to the pommel of Callum’s sword, hands going to Callum’s throat. Callum pushed against the pressure and twisted the blade, the eyes of the madman glazed a bit for a moment and then went wider as Callum twisted back the other way with the blade. The hands on his throat tightened even more and the deck groaned loudly under their feet. Sparks came from the port side away from the Avion as a rocket sailed in and hit the Foremast, exploding with a shower of even more sparks. Callum saw it over Battenou’s shoulder but did not give it full attention as the hands gripped even tighter on him. He tightened his neck muscles against it and pushed back with his legs and feet into the large dark man. Lips curled on the insane face and Callum twisted the sword back the other way. He used his left hand, balled into a fist, punching into the center of the large man as his own lungs were burning and ready to burst from the tight grip and loss of air. Callum could see the flames on the Foremast in the canvas. Battenou loosened his grip as another rocket came in, this time hitting the Mizzen.
The unfurled canvas that hung from it erupted into flame with the shower of sparks. Lines caught as well, the hemp of them acted like fuses, going higher and higher up to the cross arms off the mast, raining cinder down on Callum and Battenou. The flames were spreading wildly and lit up the deck fully as Battenou began to sag. He dropped his hands from Callum’s neck but left them on his chest as he began to sway a bit.
“Are you done, Battenou?” Callum as, the sword still buried fully, Battenou puffed his cheeks a bit trying to speak. Callum had seen enough men dying in front of him in his time to know that Battenou was done, no matter how powerful he was. The hands slipped off Callum and dropped, Callum put his left hand to Battenou’s chest and he pulled out his sword quickly and pushed the large man away from him. Battenou staggered once and fell backward into the vee between the remains of the rail and the decking, his eyes glazed and were fixed, “Justice be done.” Callum said, raising his eyes skyward, “For you, Paul, and those others that this monster took.” He lowered his eyes down at Battenou for a moment and then the deck jolted once again. Callum reached out and steadied himself on the remains of the rail next to him. Callum looked to his right at the Mizzen, feeling the heat from the flames.
It was fully engulfed in flame now, the canvas was shredded, flaming pieces flew away in the air and landed on the deck below catching the tinder dry splintered wood, and the flames started to engulf the remains of the once great ship. Callum watched it begin to burn, men that were left alive or injured made it over the side and into the water, he was almost alone now. The only sounds about him were the flames burning away at the rotting wood, the decks creaking and groaning, or the masts cracking and popping as the pitch in them sparked or burst from the heat.
“Sir!” A voice came from Callum’s left, he turned and Windsong was coming around again as she had been making a tight turn to circle back for him. Callum saw her bow coming for the stern, Dover was lying off amidships from the Avion, waiting as well. To Callum, it was a wondrous sight, both of his ships waiting for him to come to either of them, both bathed in the light from the flames that were taking this ship he was on. ‘It was almost over’, Callum thought to himself, ‘I can go home at last now to my love that waits for me there.’
“Sir! Make a jump for it, sir! We’ll pick you up!” Amos yelled from the bowsprit. Callum waved once. He went to step on the destroyed rail but he heard the cracking and groaning of the Mizzen behind him and looked over his shoulder and then skyward.
“Oh, dear God.” Callum said. He knew that if the Mizzen cut loose and fell while he went over into the water, it might hit him and kill him instantly. He looked up, seeing the flames and saw a line that came from the end of one of the cross arms high up. He went over the top of Battenou’s still body and grabbed the line, he took it in one hand and went up the leaning deck, he reached a point up on the lean, turned and gathered the line with both hands and pushed off the deck, swinging on it long and far out over the water toward Windsong, he reached a point where the outswing was ending, he let go and dropped through the air and into the cold water. He sank below the swells, and started kicking to come back up to the surface. He broke through and took a breath as Windsong was coming by near him now, he started swimming as hard as he could with his tunic on. Jennings threw a line out to him, Callum swam over it and took it in his hand and as Windsong kept going, the hands on her deck pulled that line, bringing their Captain back with it. Callum reached the side of Windsong, several hands reached out and down for him, all grabbed him and pulled him up on the side.
“Welcome aboard, sir.” Talon said with his clenched teeth.
“Thank you, Mr. Talon.” Callum said and coughed a couple of times. He nodded toward the young officer and turned back to see the Mizzen go over, ripping the decking apart of the upper deck, the mast itself falling where the body of Battenou was laying, crushing the deck and rail, “That will stop you now and for good, you black hearted son-of-a-bitch.” Callum muttered as he never took his eyes off the sight before him. The Avion, the once great ship was listing on her side, the decks were aflame as she was sinking below the water of The Channel. Hissing could be heard as the rotting wood was touched by the water, steam and smoke was beginning to rise from her. The flames that were producing the light were going out and darkness soon took the great ship as she slowly slipped under the waves. It was fast, very fast, debris floated on the surface now where the Avion had disappeared, a slight churning and bubbly of air escaping her was breaking the surface, pushing the debris away from the area. Callum watched half expecting Battenou to rise up and try again, but he was gone.
“You alright, sir?” Amos asked as he looked his Captain up and down. Callum was dripping wet on the deck.
“Yes,…I’m fine, Amos.” Callum finally turned away and looked at Talon, “What is our status, Mr. Talon?” Callum paused for a moment and looked around a bit at the slightly deserted deck, “Where is Mr. Collingwood?”
“I’m sorry, sir, he’s below with Carson.” Talon struggled to say. Callum looked at him and then at Amos.
“I had to take the deck, sir. Mr. Collingwood was struck down when those Frog bastards started firing on us with their muskets.” Amos said and lowered his head.
“What?” Callum asked with widened eyes and pushed through the group that was there going for the hatch and the gangway ladder. Callum jumped down it, going through the Marines, about half of them were lying about on the deck and against bulkheads, being treated by the boy, Hans. Callum was horrified. He went through them and headed aft, seeing lamps lit. He went along quickly and stopped as he saw the group collected there. Some of the hands, Brewer, Hawkins, and Rafkin were hanging in their haversacks, bandaged. Callum looked at each of them, moving slowly now as he went by each and then he saw McGuffin lying on the deck, propped against the bulkhead wall, one of the Marines was at his side trying to hold a cloth on him.
“Sergeant?” Callum asked softly as he knelt at McGuffin’s feet.
“Sir.” The graveled voice was weak but was there. He opened his eyes and looked at him, moving his big whiskers a bit, Callum knew he was trying to smile, “You,...look as if,…you went for a swim,….without me, sir.”
“Yes, I rather had little choice in it, I’m afraid. It wasn’t as cold as when you and I did it however.” Callum said as he touched the boot of the man that was closest to him, “It’s not like you to sit down on duty, Sergeant.”
“I’ll be alright,…after I get,…my breath back,…sir.” McGuffin said, and the young Marine next to the big man dropped a tear from his eye.
“I’m sure you will, Sergeant. Rest easy, help will be here shortly.” Callum said, giving the big man a nod and rose to his feet. He turned and looked at Carson, who was coming closer to him, a look of relief was all over his face seeing his Captain.
“Where is Mr. Collingwood, Carson?” Callum asked quietly.
“Over there, sir.” Carson said with a nod toward a haversack.
“Why weren’t you sailing to get these men to a surgeon?”
“They wouldn’t hear of it, sir, none of them. Not until you were safely back aboard or we knew for sure that,…”
“Alright.” Callum said as he stepped around Carson and walked up to the haversack. He came up slowly and looked down in it. Collingwood was stripped to the waist, bandages were wrapped around him but were stained with dark spots and seemed wet in the lamplight. Callum stepped forward one step and put a hand on the closest leg. Eyes slowly opened and looked up at Callum.
“Sir.” Collingwood said very faintly.
“Abel.” Callum said and gave him a brief smile. His fingers gently pat the leg under them, “I’ll have Dr. Crawford here in no time to look at you.”
“Don’t waste your time with me, sir. The others are far more important.” Collingwood was whispering. Callum had to lean forward to hear him.
“Nonsense.” Callum said as his throat tightened, “I need you on deck as soon as possible to stand with me when we sail up the Thames.”
“Is it,…over, sir?”
“Yes,…yes it is. We can go home now. I know your lady waits for you in London.” Callum said.
“She will,…” Collingwood struggled to swallow, he took a deep breath, “have to wait quite a while, I think.”
“Abel, stay with me, do you understand? Don’t you dare give up on me.” Callum said and squeezed his fingers a bit on the leg.
“I’m,…sorry,…sir.” Collingwood said as he closed his eyes, the color of his face was ashen.
“Abel,…Abel?!” Callum was close to the ashen face and then he felt a hand on him, pulling him back. Callum stood and looked over his shoulder at a very weary looking Carson. Callum turned and hurried away for the gangway ladder. Callum climbed up the ladder and reached the deck, looking about, Dover was two hundred yards away.
“Lay us over alongside with Dover!” Callum yelled. He turned and went to the port bow rail, “Dover! Ahoy Dover!” Callum screamed.
“Ahoy!” Came the cry back.
“We have wounded here! Have Dr. Crawford ready!” Callum screamed. He turned and headed for the wheel, “Goddamn it!” Callum yelled at his men, “You should have sailed for Dover! You shouldn’t have waited!” Talon came up to him as he was coming across the deck.
“Sir.” Talon said with his clenched teeth, getting in front of him, Callum went to go around him, but Talon put hands on him to stop him, “Sir! They wouldn’t do it, sir, none of them would until they knew about you.”
“They’re dying down there! They’re far more important, damn it! Get us to Dover, quickly!” Callum yelled as he looked past Talon
“Sir, we’re on our way. Get out of your wet clothes,…please, sir. We can handle this.” Talon said. Even with his broken jaw, his resolve was firm with his Captain for the very first time. Callum stopped and just looked at him. Talon gave him a simple nod and Callum relented, knowing the situation was being handled. He went around Talon and went to the steps to go below.
Callum was sitting at the table in his cabin, staring at the wood of the table, lost in thought. So much had happened in the past few days in all of this. Renner was dead, the once revered Captain of HMS Hunter, a hero for his actions in the Royal Navy, the boy, Hans, rescued from the ravaged Dutch merchant ship, Admiral Battenou, a once greatly respected and feared man of the French Royal Navy, and now, most of Callum’s crew were either injured or dying, he didn’t know their condition yet.
Collingwood had taken several musket balls trying to act to save the men on the deck of Windsong by knocking them out of the way. McGuffin, the big tough Marine Sergeant with a soft heart was wounded severely as well. Those young boys, brave Marines all of them, standing there and taking fire upon themselves from those murdering cutthroats of the Avion, and all the while, Callum was aboard the Avion fighting for his own life, trying to end this nightmare that they were in. But, it was actually vengeance that Callum was seeking, vengeance against this madman, Battenou. A brute of a man, very powerful and Callum felt it in his own body, the severe pounding that he had taken from the dark and truly evil man. He hurt all over, everywhere, and he was even more than that, he was exhausted, the lack of sleep for all these days and nights. He felt old, tired, worn out. He didn’t hear the knock on the door as he was so lost in his thoughts.
“Quintan?” Came the soft voice. The light in the room grew brighter around him as he traced his finger along the grain of the wood of the table lost in his thoughts, “Quintan? Can you hear me?” The face came down in front of his, jarring Callum from his thoughts. It took him a moment and then he looked at it and then recognized it.
“Thomas, what are you doing here?” Callum asked softly.
“I am here to take you out of this box you are holed up in.” Tomlin said.
“Is there any word?” Callum asked.
“Yes,…you need to come and see for yourself. Crawford sent me to get you.” Tomlin said, “Come.” Tomlin said and put a hand on Callum’s shoulder, urging him to get up.
Tomlin led the way to the Storage Deck of Dover. He led Callum aft to where Crawford always set up his surgery. The large table was empty that was in the center of the gangway. Several men were lying on each side of the gangway on cots or were sitting on benches. Some of them that were able tipped their hands as Tomlin and Callum came slowly by them all, crew and Marines alike. Callum saw Hawkins sitting on a bench, trussed up with bandages.
“Hawkins, are you doing alright?” Callum asked.
“Yes, sir.” Hawkins tipped his hand and went to stand but Callum stopped him, holding up his own hand, “Dr. Crawford did a fine job, sir.”
“I’ll pass that along to him when I see him.” Callum said with a brief smile, “Get some rest. We’ll be going home soon.”
“Yes, sir.” Hawkins said and tipped his hand again. Callum moved on and came to stop at McGuffin’s feet. He was asleep but a young Marine was there near his head watching over him.
“How is he?” Callum asked the Marine, who stood rigid.
“He’ll be alright, sir. The doctor took the ball out of his lung, sir.” The Marine said, his voice was soft and young.
“I see.” Callum said, “Tell him when he wakes up that I have the duty.”
“I will, sir, he’ll appreciate that, sir.” The young Marine stood rigid. Callum nodded at him and turned to Tomlin.
“Where is Collingwood?” Callum asked softly.
“He is in the Ward Room.” Tomlin said as he looked up with only his eyes toward the deck above them and then back at Callum, “They just got done working on him, Quintan.” Tomlin turned and went to the aft door and then through, Callum followed him and up the tight narrow steps to the deck above. They went into the Ward Room. Callum stepped out of the way of the door and Tomlin closed it gently behind them. The lamp that hung above the table was burning fully, bathing the entire room with warm light. Callum saw Crawford and the other surgeons from Triborne and Hunter standing there at the end of the large table, cleaning their instruments. Collingwood lay on the table, a sheet was pulled up to under his arms. Crawford looked at Callum, his old friend, and stepped closer to him.
“I haven’t looked at you yet, Captain. You seem to have need of some stitching over your eye and what is that on your neck?” Crawford asked.
“I require no attention, Arthur, thank you.” Callum said in a low voice, “How is he?”
“We did all that we could for him, Quintan, I assure you.” Crawford said in an equally low voice.
“May I speak with him?”
“Yes.” Crawford said as he looked over at Collingwood. Callum stepped close to the table and put his hands on it, leaning a bit over Collingwood.
“Abel.” Callum said gently. Collingwood fluttered his eyes a bit and they opened slowly.
“Sir. You’re alright. I knew you would be.” Collingwood whispered and smiled briefly.
“I heard what you did for the men, Abel, very commendable.”
“I was only,…following your lead, sir.” Collingwood said and swallowed with difficulty.
“You should rest before we get underway.” Callum said.
“Dr. Crawford has told me, sir, something different.”
“It’s,…quite alright,…sir,…I knew it might,…come to this,…one day.” Collingwood said with trouble, closing his eyes a moment and then opening them to look at Callum, “I wanted to,…thank you, sir,…”
“Yes, sir,…” Collingwood nodded slightly, “for trusting in me,…giving me the,…opportunity to be your,…1st in this mission.” Collingwood whispered, “I hope I didn’t,…let you down, sir.”
“It is I that has let you down, Abel, and I’m very sorry.” Callum said as Collingwood raised his hand with a bent elbow. Callum saw it and took it in his hand and held on tight, “Abel,…”
“Will you do something for me, sir?” Collingwood asked, his eyes closed and a tear came from the corner and rolled out and down his temple.
“Anything.” Callum said.
“I have a letter,…in my trunk. Will you see that,…she gets it, sir?” Collingwood asked.
“Yes, of course. I would be honored to do that for you. Do you want me to take you home?” Callum asked.
“Please. My family,…” Collingwood whispered. His grip loosened a bit on Callum’s hand and his eyes went to slits. Callum heard the breath slowly escape from him and he became still.
“Abel?” Callum asked as he squeezed the hand, “Abel?”
“He’s gone, Quintan.” Crawford said softly as he came beside Callum.
“This is all my fault. My arrogance and need for vengeance led to this. So many men have died and this man, this very good man sacrificed himself because of my mistake.”
“No, Arthur.” Callum said quietly as he hung his head a bit, lowering the hand slowly that he held, “It is all my fault.” Callum said as he rested his hands on the edge of the table. He looked down at his 1st Lieutenant that lay still, pale and ashen, completely lifeless now, “Thomas,”
“Are you prepared to get underway?” Callum asked.
“Yes, we are.”
“Signal Triborne and Hunter, we will set sail for Southend in an hour before the dawn.” Callum said as he looked at Collingwood again. “I’m so sorry, Abel.” Callum whispered. He turned and went to the door, going out.
Callum stood at the bowsprit of Windsong, looking out over The Channel in the darkness near the dawn. The hands that were there on deck busied themselves, looking at their Captain now and then as they worked. Callum stayed where he was, his left leg up on the bowsprit, his arms crossed and resting on his leg as he watched the swells coming in from The Channel, the breeze was blowing in his face, ruffling his collar a bit.
“We’re ready to set sail, sir.” Amos said as he came up behind Callum.
“Cast off the lines from Dover, set and make all plain sail. Set a course for Southend, we’ll sail her up the Thames and dock at the mouth there.” Callum said very plainly without looking over his shoulder.
“Aye, aye, sir.” Amos said, tipping his hand at Callum’s back. Amos looked at him for a moment in the lamplight from the masts and then turned away. Callum paid no attention at all to the orders being given as he still focused on The Channel and the thoughts racing through his mind. He lost track and sense of anything around him as they sailed on into the night.
It was some time, how much, he didn’t know but he drew very cold as he faced the wind in the night air. He rubbed his arms with his hands and stood straight. There was something behind him, he heard motion on the deck and half turned his head.
“Here you are, sir.” Carson said as he handed out a cup. Callum looked at it but didn’t move, “It’ll help warm you, sir.” Carson said, Callum slowly took it, “I have your vest as well, sir, if you’d like it.”
“I’ll be fine.” Callum said flatly. Carson just stood there, Callum felt him, “Where did I make my mistake, Carson? Was it when I went aboard the Avion last night?”
“You did what you had to, sir, what you were ordered to do. There was no mistake in anything that you did. You were given an impossible mission, sir. Respectfully, the Admiralty knew it, and that’s why they had you return, sir. Mr. Collingwood also knew that, sir. He spoke of it many times to me.”
“What was it that he said?” Callum asked as he turned his head a bit.
“He said that he knew the mission was going to be a success simply because you were leading it, sir. Mr. Collingwood had the greatest faith and trust in you, sir.” Carson said.
“I let him down. I let them all down, Carson. That’s what got him killed.” Callum said softly.
“No, sir. What got him killed, sir, if I may speak plainly, was Captain Renner for not doing his duty. I mean no disrespect to Captain Renner or to his memory, but had he acted properly and without distraction, this would have ended that night that Captain Renner died, Mr. Collingwood would not be dead, sir, and the others would not be injured as they are.” Carson said, “There is no need to blame yourself, sir. You did far more than any of the others might or could have in this. You, singlehandedly, sir, have rid this world of an insane monster. In my opinion, sir, you should receive that knighthood that you joke about.” Carson said, handing out the vest to Callum, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, sir, I have duties to tend to.” Callum took it from his hand and looked over his shoulder as Carson walked away, going toward the steps to go below. Callum draped the vest over his arm and drank his coffee as the sky began to change with the approach of the dawn.
“Land ho! Southend! Off the port bow!” Patkin called down from aloft. All eyes looked toward the bow. Callum had never moved from his position at the bowsprit, seeing it coming for a while now on his own. The land was still a dark outline on the horizon even with the morning light. Windsong was pointing north on their approach riding the current along in The Channel. The wind that filled the angled sails was favorable and Callum looked aft. He could see the sails of Dover and Triborne from here in his position. He knew that Hunter was coming as well, towing the captured French frigate, but was slower because of it, that and their damage sustained in the attack from the Avion. Callum looked back forward. He watched the horizon for a while then turned and went along the deck to the steps to go below. He ran into the boy coming out of the galley. Callum put out his hands on the young shoulders.
“Watch yourself now.” Callum said and Carson appeared behind him, putting his hands on the boy, pulling him back out of the way of Callum.
“I’m sorry, sir, he seems to be excited about going to England with us.”
“I thought he wanted to go home, Carson.”
“He does, sir, but it is exciting to him to see new places, I think.” Carson said as he looked at the boy and then back at Callum.
“We will carry out our business, Carson, and then see about taking care of him as well. It may be a few days though.”
“I understand, sir. I’ll be sure and tell him.” Carson said.
“I’ll be in my cabin. We should be at Southend in another hour or so with this wind.”
“Shall I bring your breakfast in, sir?”
“I won’t be eating, Carson.” Callum said and went to step away.
“I beg your pardon, sir, but you haven’t eaten for two days, sir. If you do not eat something, you’ll simply drop over, sir, and then what good would you be at home, sir?” Carson asked and raised an eyebrow.
“I see your point, Carson, wise as always.” Callum said and smirked a bit, “Fine, bring it in then, if you please.”
“Right away, sir.” Carson beamed a smile, pulling the boy back into the galley.
Callum stood on the deck in full uniform as they approached the dock of the port simply known to all as Southend. Callum had been here many times over his career and hated this port more than all others. Southend was dirty and beyond the docks was a bit lawless and seedy. As sailors went, they all loved it, the taverns, the brothels, and with that Callum supposed it was more than just the atmosphere of it that appealed to any common sailor.
He could see several ships at anchor here in the harbor. Ships of the line, various sizes and classes, all from different squadrons, no full squadron was here at all. These ships were either resupplying or were here for some kind of repair. There were other ships here as well, merchant ships from various countries, some American, others were Dutch or Spanish or Portuguese. Callum watched them as he gave Amos control of the deck, wanting him to dock them.
Callum had chosen Southend as this was the closest port to London and to the Admiralty. He could get word off to them quickly and be done with his report to them and then figure out what to do with the boy. His main thought was to make arrangements for Collingwood for his continued journey home, Callum told him he would and he fully intended on keeping his word.
“Amos, the deck is yours. Once we are docked, come to my cabin.” Callum said flatly.
“Aye, sir.” Amos said and tipped his hand. Callum walked toward the steps and went below. He wanted to set about with paper and quill to write out a note to the Admiralty, telling them of the squadrons return, even though the semaphore in place here had probably already done it for him. Nonetheless, it was his duty to inform them on his own. He slipped off his tunic and hung it on the peg, he pulled out the quill and ink from his trunk and set the items on the table. He went back over to the trunk and dug through it to the bottom, pulling out a few sheets of blank paper that he had and went to the table, setting it out. He reached up and turned up the lamp over the table and sat down in one of the chairs. He opened the well and dipped the quill, tapping it on the edge and began to write out the note to the Admiralty.
He had finished it, setting it aside to dry, and pulled another sheet. This one to His Grace, The Duke of Wellington, a promise kept to The Duke to let him know that he had returned safely and also to thank him for the special delivery of supplies that The Duke had sent before they left Portsmouth, the signaling rockets and extra munitions. A knock came at the door.
“Enter.” Callum said and the door opened.
“We are tied off on the dock, sir. You wanted to know?” Amos asked after he tipped his hand. Callum did not look up, but pointed at the chair to his left at the table.
“Join me for a moment, Amos.” Callum said as he continued writing.
“I’ll just stand, sir.” The large muscular man said.
“Nonsense, sit down. I promise not to spill ink on you.” Callum said as he tapped the quill again, he went back to writing. Amos came over and sat down slowly, “Amos, I am disturbed, very disturbed by the events of last night. I do not fault you for what happened. Quite the contrary, I blame myself for Mr. Collingwood’s death.” Callum said and never looked up once.
“No, it is true, Amos. Not just as Captain of the ship, but with the actions that I took, I set things into motion. I saw the trap,” Callum said and stopped writing, staring at the paper in front of him, “I jumped at it, as I wanted this to end. Abel tried to warn me, to stop me, but I continued on and ignored his warning, and it led to him,…”
“Sir,…” Amos said as he looked at Callum, seeing him this way, his Captain torn and grieving over the loss of Collingwood.
“What was I saying?” Callum asked as he pulled himself back from the edge, “Oh, yes. I wanted to ask you, Amos, did you enjoy the duties as Boson here on Windsong?”
“Yes, sir, very much.” Amos said as Callum was looking at him now.
“I thought as much. I must say that I was very impressed with the way you handled your duties and the crew. They responded well to you. As such, I am going to write a recommendation for you. I don’t know how much weight it will carry as I am leaving the service, again.” Callum said and flashed his eyes.
“You can’t, sir, you can’t leave.”
“Amos, you know that I was court-martialed and drummed out. The Admiralty only brought me back as I was expendable in this. They did not want to sacrifice any other Captain.”
“That can’t be true, sir. Then why send Captain Stewart and Captain Renner in this, sir?”
“Merely as support, not in the line of fire as it were. You see, if I were lost, they would have lost nothing, save a captured sloop and a few hands for the crew. The Marines as you know mean nothing in the grand scheme of things with the Admiralty. If they were lost, they could be replaced with more fresh recruits and the whole thing would have been swept under the rug. They would cut their losses and try something else if we had failed. But, we did prevail and were successful, this will give them something new to think about, hence the letter of recommendation. If it is presented and accepted, you could probably sign aboard any ship of your choice as Boson.” Callum said and gave a brief smile, “Now, as far as the men, you can disembark them and they can stretch their legs a bit and enjoy themselves with whatever revelry they wish to do while we are here. Hunter will bring in the captured frigate and I will see that it is turned over as prize, that money will go to you, Mr. Talon, the men, and the Marines as all of you have earned it.”
“The Marines, sir? That goes against regulations, doesn’t it, sir?”
“It does, but I could care less for regulations at this moment, Amos.” Callum said and sat back, “In fact, if I had a bottle right now, I would ask that you join me in a drink.”
“Thank you, sir, I would enjoy that very much.” Amos said, a little shocked but smiled wide.
“And speaking of such,…” Callum said and got up from the table, setting the quill down, he went over to the trunk and opened the lid. He knelt down and rummaged through a few of his things and then closed the lid. He stood and came back to the table, he held out his hand toward Amos, “I’m sure the lads have nothing as far as money goes. Spread this about with them and don’t tell them where it came from. Do we understand one another?” Callum asked and Amos was more than shocked and wide eyed. He looked at the notes that Callum was handing him, then looked up in his face and went to stand.
“Sir, you can’t mean this.”
“I do, Amos. You and they have earned it and much more. Take it, that’s an order.” Callum said as he stuck it out further and raised an eyebrow. Amos swallowed hard and then slowly took the notes from Callum’s hand, “Make sure they return from town. I will be sending a message off to the Admiralty and arranging for Mr. Collingwood to be taken home for burial. I am not sure if they will want us to return to Portsmouth or not.”
“Aye, sir.” Amos said as Callum sat back down at the table. He picked up the quill again, dipped it and tapped the tip and set back to writing again. He kept writing as Amos went to the door, opened it and looked at his Captain again, he let out a breath through his nose and went out, closing the door softly behind him.
Callum finished the note to The Duke, reread it and was happy with it, setting it aside to dry at the far edge of the table. He pulled another sheet and wrote the recommendation for Amos as he said he would and set it aside. He had a few sheets left and started to write the account of their mission, the official version for the Admiralty as he knew they would want full record of it. He was just barely into the first page when there was another knock at the door.
“Enter.” Callum said as he kept writing.
“Excuse me, sir. There’s someone here to see you.”
“Who is it, Carson?” Callum asked as he kept writing without looking up.
“Captain Callum?” The deep voice asked. Callum looked over at the door. A finely dressed officer stood there, his hat in his arm. Callum set the quill down and stood.
“How do you do? My name is Phelps, Captain.”
“Commodore Phelps?” Callum asked.
“Yes, that’s right. I see that you have heard of me.” The man said. He was tall, about six foot, on the slender side, his hair was brown and long, pulled into a tail that was draped over his right shoulder half covering an epaulette on the brilliant uniform. His pants were long and were tucked in his knee high boots. Callum noticed the ivory grip on the sword pommel that hung from the straps on his belt. He was decorated heavily on his left breast, the medallion in the center was for service of valor, those commanders that fought at Trafalgar. Callum knew this man’s reputation, a fast thinker, leading to quick action without pause, he was one of Nelson’s own having been aboard Victory during the battle.
“It is an honor to meet you, sir.” Callum said bowing his head slightly.
“Let us dispense with the pleasantries, Captain, and get right to it.” Phelps said as he came in and dropped his hat on the table. He looked at the writings on the table for a moment and then back at Callum.
“Carson, coffee if you please.” Callum said.
“Right away, sir.” Carson said and left the cabin.
“Please, Commodore, sit down.” Callum said holding out a hand to an empty chair.
“You are preparing your report I see.”
“Lord Hood wished to have a detailed account of our sailing.”
“If you survived,…which you obviously did, Captain, my congratulations to you and your squadron.” Phelps said. He sat down and looked at Callum who had narrowed eyes, “You’re wondering how I know. Your mission to stop this rampaging madman was supposed to be kept secret, only known to those at the Admiralty, and you would be correct in that. However, several things have come to light since you left Portsmouth. For instance, there is a certain missing Dutch merchant ship that was spotted heading into the North Sea and has disappeared without a trace. They had a very valuable cargo aboard as well as several documents of a,…state nature. Also, another ship, a merchant, an American I believe, was spotted in the North Sea and was sailing north, they too have disappeared completely.”
“And you bring this up to me because,…?” Callum asked as he sat down at the table. Carson opened the door carrying a tray, setting a small pot and two cups on the table. Phelps just stared at Callum, “Thank you, Carson.” Callum said softly, “We’re not to be disturbed.”
“As you say, sir.” Carson said and closed the door as he left the cabin. Callum poured coffee for Phelps and then for himself and set the small pot down on the table.
“Forgive the interruption, Commodore, you were about to say,…?” Callum asked as he picked up his cup.
“Do you know anything about those ships?”
“And why is it important to you, if you don’t mind my asking? I know that you are not posted at the Admiralty. You are in command of the Fleming, aren’t you?” Callum asked.
“You seem to be well informed, Captain.”
“Our fleet is only so big, Commodore. A man of your standing and reputation is known to a great many and bears watching.”
“Why would I bear watching, Captain?”
“As I said, Commodore, a man of your reputation for daring and quick thinking under fire always bears watching by those in order to learn from the example that you set.” Callum said.
“I see. I appreciate your compliment, Captain.”
“Are you working for the Diplomatic Service perhaps, Commodore?” Callum asked.
“Why would you ask that?”
“You mentioned documents of a state nature. Surely the Diplomatic Service would be interested in knowing what they were or of obtaining them.” Callum said as he folded his arms over his chest. He cocked his head a bit as he looked at Phelps.
“Perhaps I should rephrase my questions.” Phelps said.
“You have only asked one. I will give an answer, Commodore, at the risk of sounding rude. What I know will be given over to Lord Hood and to the Admiralty in my full report. I am not in the habit of gossip, sir, nor in letting my duty slip.” Callum said.
“I see. I cannot blame you, Captain, for doing your duty and doing it correctly.” Phelps said his deep voice resonated through the small cabin, “I seem to have disturbed you needlessly, I apologize.” Phelps said as he got up and picked up his hat off the table. Callum got to his feet as well, “Perhaps we can meet again, you and I, when His Lordship has your report and the dust has settled from all of this.”
“I look forward to that, sir.” Callum said and gave a slight bow of his head. Phelps went to the door and went out, leaving it open behind him. Callum went to the door and closed it. He thought long and hard before returning to the table. He went over to the table and looked at the papers. The ones he had written fully were off to the far edge. Callum didn’t think that Phelps could have read them all so quickly, with just a glance, it was impossible. Carson opened the door and came in.
“Carson, was the Commodore escorted?” Callum asked as he looked at Carson.
“Not that I saw, sir. I had just gone up on deck as the hands were leaving to go into town. The Commodore came up the gangplank and came aboard alone, sir.”
“Is something wrong, sir?” Carson asked.
“I’m not sure. He was asking questions that I think he already had the answers to. It was like he was testing me or something.” Callum reached up and scratched his chin, “Are we alone onboard?”
“Yes, sir. The Marines that were aboard are reporting to the Garrison here. You, and I, and Hans are the only ones aboard, sir.” Carson said.
“Come with me, Carson.” Callum said. He went to the door, Carson followed him out and through the companionway going by the galley and went through the door up the steps on deck, Callum went to the end of the short rail and around to the wheelhouse. He opened the door, grabbing the pistols that were there, pulling them all out, “Take some of these, we’ll take them back to my cabin.” Callum said, Carson was a bit surprised by it.
“Excuse me, sir, but do you think we are going to be boarded here on the dock?”
“Something has occurred to me, Carson. I will not be caught off guard again or have a loaded pistol put to my head simply because someone thinks we might have something onboard with us.” Callum said as he put pistols in his belt and then picked up the last of them, closing the door with his foot.
“Let’s go below, I’ll explain it there.” Callum said. He led the way to his cabin, putting the pistols on the table, “Where is the boy?”
“He’s below, sir, doing some cleaning and straightening. Something he likes to do for the crew and the Marines, sir.”
“Something tells me that he might be a part in this. I don’t know how or what, but we need to keep an eye on him and keep him close to us.” Callum said.
“A part of what, sir?” Carson asked.
“Phelps asked specifically about the Dutch merchant ship that Hans was on. He wanted to know if I knew anything about it. He said it had a very special cargo onboard as well as documents of a state nature. He was very serious in his look about it. He also knew of our mission and our chances of survival.”
“How could he know that, sir, all of that?” Carson asked.
“That would be my point, Carson. Of course, he was not very forthcoming.” Callum said as he checked a couple of the pistols, “So you see why I want to take precautions.” Callum said as he tucked a pistol in his belt.
“Sir, I have asked the boy more than once what they were carrying. He told me that the hold was empty, they had delivered their cargo and were returning home with nothing.”
“I would agree with that, Carson, as all I saw onboard in the hold were body parts and a few scattered boxes, nothing that seemed of importance.” Callum said, “But, Phelps doesn’t need to know that. We’ll let him keep guessing for now and show his hand and what he really wants.”
“Should we have some help, sir?”
“You go and find the boy, keep a pistol with you at all times, Carson. Anyone that comes aboard that you don’t know, shoot them on sight. Trust no one for now. I will do the same.” Callum said handing Carson a loaded pistol, Carson took it and tucked it in his belt.
“Aye, sir.” Carson said with a shocked look.
“Now, go find the boy. Leave the door open.”
“As you say, sir.” Carson felt the pistol in his belt and walked to the door, opening it wide and leaving it open.
Callum pushed the dozen pistols back from him and set down at the table again. The coffee was still on the table. He picked up his cup and had some of it and set the cup down. He leaned back in the chair. He was tired, very tired of all of this that was happening. The Avion and the hunt for it, the battle aboard her, the loss of Collingwood now, all weighed heavily on him and he sank a bit in the chair and shook his head. What was it that Phelps really wanted, Callum wondered, why had he come, was he part of all of this, this situation with the merchants. Was Phelps that someone here in England that was helping Battenou that Callum had suspected all along? Callum picked up the quill again and started writing the report.
“Quintan?” The voice made Callum look up from the table and his writing. Callum saw Tomlin standing in the doorway.
“Thomas.” Callum said as he set the quill down. Tomlin came into the cabin and over to the table. He took a chair and sat down, dropping his hat on the floor.
“What are you doing?” Tomlin asked.
“Finishing my report to the Admiralty. Are you docked or at anchor?” Callum asked.
“We are at anchor out in the harbor. Triborne is at anchor near us. Carrington has brought in the frigate, the Harbor Master and the Assessor are looking it over now for prize value.”
“What of the wounded?” Callum asked.
“Dr. Crawford is seeing to them being taken to hospital. I have set Camden to task to build a coffin for Collingwood. He assured me that it would be his finest work. He should have it completed by tomorrow.” Tomlin said. Callum lowered his head a bit.
“Thank you.” Callum said softly.
“Quintan, this was not your fault, what happened to Collingwood.”
“I appreciate that, Thomas, but you know that it was my fault, I got him killed.” Callum said as he stared at the pages he had written in the report.
“He knew the risks, as did we all. You explained the mission before we left Portsmouth to all of them. He accepted it, he said it himself. He said it might come to this one day, you heard him.”
“That doesn’t excuse it, Thomas. He was a good man, a good officer.” Callum said.
“Yes, he was. And as a good officer, he did his duty not only to you but to the crew in trying to save them. They are alive because of him and his actions. You should be proud of that.” Tomlin said as he put a hand on the forearm of his friend, his Captain, “I know that I am. I am proud to have served with him. Grieve for him, yes, don’t let it consume you, Quintan. But remember this, what he did, he did for you, because of you, and who you are.” Tomlin said and Callum looked at his friend with a sad look.
“I suppose you’re right, Thomas.” Callum whispered.
“Carson told me you had a visitor onboard.”
“Yes, Commodore Phelps. Do you know him?” Callum asked.
“Only by reputation. What did he want?”
“Information.” Callum said and Tomlin had a questioning look on his face.
“What information?” Tomlin asked.
“He wanted to know about the Dutch merchant that we found the boy on. He knew about our mission as well. And there was something else.” Callum said as the thoughts of Phelps and his questions went through his mind again.
“What else?” Tomlin asked.
“He said that there was an American ship missing as well. They came across us after we found the boy.” Callum said, “And now they seem to be missing as well, according to Phelps.”
“I don’t understand, what does this have to do with,…” Tomlin said.
“There was something that Phelps said, something about the Dutch merchant, they had a special cargo and also some documents onboard.” Callum said and Tomlin looked even more confused. Something occurred to Callum and he stood. He picked up another pistol and handed it toward Tomlin, “Take this and come with me, Thomas.”
“Where are we going?” Tomlin asked as he stood, taking the pistol from Callum, tucking it in his belt.
“I need to ask the boy some questions.” Callum said as he went to the door.
Callum came down the gangway ladder into the hold, Tomlin was coming down himself as Callum came off on the deck. He looked over and saw the boy and Carson there still straightening out items and supplies that were left from their sailing. Callum walked over toward them, Tomlin behind him. Callum came up and stopped, Carson and the boy looked at him, the boy smiling at Callum.
“Carson, I need you to ask the boy a few questions for me. We need to ask them exactly as I word them.” Callum said as he folded his arms over his chest.
“Of course, sir. Is something wrong, sir?”
“Possibly. Our young lad here may be the key in this as I said he was possibly a part of this. Has he said anything else or made any mention of anything since we have docked?” Callum asked.
“Only that we wished to go ashore to have a look around, curiosity more than anything else, I think, sir.”
“Yes, I’m sure. I was curious like that myself when I was his age when we would sail into a new port. Carson, ask him if knows of what came aboard his ship after the cargo was delivered to Brest.” Callum said.
“Yes, sir.” Carson said, he turned and looked at the boy, giving him a warm smile, “Hans, de Kapitein wil weten als je wee twat je aan boord van het schip werd gebract nadat u uw lading afgeleverd bij Brest.”
“Ja, mijn oom had box bracht hem een longe doos die hij zet in zijn hut. Hij vertelde me dat het niet aanraken of te openen.” The boy said to Carson, he was nodding and then looked at Callum once, and then back at Carson. Carson looked at Callum.
“He said that a long box was brought onboard and given to his uncle, sir. It was put in the cabin, he was not to touch it or open it, sir.”
“Did he ever see what was in it, Carson?” Callum asked.
“Hans, heb je ooit te zien wat er in de doos?”
“Ja, ik was in de cabine nadat we de stad en de koers naar huis vertrokken. Mijn oom was op zoek naar de papieren die in haar waren. Ik kon ze echter niet te lezen. Het schrijven, ik begreep het niet.” The boy said to Carson.
“He said he saw them, sir, his uncle was looking at them, but Hans says he couldn’t read them.” Carson said.
“Why not?” Tomlin asked at Callum’s shoulder.
“Because they were in French.” Callum said.
“How do you know that?” Tomlin asked.
“If those documents were picked up I Brest, it would only stand to reason they would be in French.” Callum said as he looked at the boy.
“What do you think they were?” Tomlin asked.
“Phelps said they were of a state nature. Possibly trade agreements with Napoleon, I would suspect.” Callum said and narrowed his eyes a bit, “Whatever they were, they are at the bottom of the North Sea now.”
“What does all this mean, Quintan?” Tomlin asked. Callum looked at Carson.
“Carson, thank him for me. Tell him, if he remembers anything else, I would like to know what it is.”
“Certainly, sir.” Carson said and looked at the boy and started to relay what Callum had said. Callum turned and nodded for Tomlin to follow him toward the gangway ladder. They went up on deck, Callum went to the bowsprit and sat down on it.
“What does it mean, Quintan?” Tomlin asked as he stood in front of his friend.
“I’m not sure, Thomas.” Callum said as he folded his arms again, “But, with Phelps asking questions now, and with all of this that has happened, there is something that I have missed, I know it. Everything we have been through all ties together somehow.”
“Don’t you think you might be overthinking things again?”
“You think I’m seeing conspiracies around every corner, Thomas?” Callum asked and let out a sigh, “What about Smythe, Maupin, and what happened at La Rochelle and in London? Was all of that just conspiracy as well? You know that all of that was tied together. Think for a moment, what if all of that is involved with all of this as well? When I was aboard the Avion, Battenou had said to me that Maupin had been a friend to him once.” Callum said and raised an eyebrow. Tomlin gave him a slight look of shock.
“Yes, he did. Now, what would you think?” Callum asked. Tomlin thought for a moment.
“I see what you mean, Quintan. Do you think the boy knows anything else?”
“Not unless his uncle, the Captain of that ship, said anything to him. However, if Phelps is involved in this, and if he were to find out about the boy surviving and knowing anything at all, the boy might be in great danger.” Callum said.
“Phelps is a Commodore, a very respected officer, Quintan. He served with Nelson at Trafalgar. You really don’t think that he might be involved in this, do you?”
“There are many things, Thomas, that might motivate one to turn to traitor. Was not Smythe a well-respected Captain? He was a traitor.”
“Yes,” Tomlin exhaled heavily and rolled his eyes, “you’re right. I suppose it doesn’t make a difference as far as rank is concerned, does it?”
“No, it doesn’t.” Callum said.
“What are you going to do now?”
“I will keep my word to Abel. I will take him home to his family and deliver his letter, then I will take the boy home to Aarhus.”
“What? You can’t be serious, Quintan. The French hold it. What flag would you sail under?” Tomlin asked with wide eyes.
“This ship has served as a merchant before, it can do it again, don’t you think? We can sail in, dock, drop the boy off, and then return home.” Callum said.
“What is it with you, Quintan?” Tomlin asked as he shook his head, “You are always looking for a fight, why is that?”
“Who said anything about a fight, Thomas?” Callum asked, “All I’m talking about is taking the boy home to get him out of possible danger.”
“Dear God, Quintan, you’re talking about sailing into French held territory. Who knows what presence they have there? What if there is a full garrison of Regulars there when you dock?”
“There were Regulars at Amien on the Somme, we managed there.” Callum said.
“There are also Dutch merchants that are anchored here at Southend. Why not simply put him on one of them and send him home?” Tomlin asked.
“Yes, there are, but what if they are involved in this as well? It looks as if they have been for a bit of time before us, what if Phelps has spoken with them as well? If they were to find out about the boy and his survival, it might go bad for him. I have enough blood on my hands, Thomas, as it is, don’t you think?” Callum asked, “No, I will see him safely home, I gave him my word also. The day that we encountered that American merchant ship, the one I spoke to you of that was sailing north, I tried to send the boy with them, but he refused to go.” Callum said as he recalled the boys reaction of that day, “He knows something, he must.” Callum said as he went into thought again.
“What about home? We’re here, in England, what about Dustin and Henry?” Tomlin asked.
“It tears at me, Thomas, you know how much I miss Dustin. But, I have to see this through to the end.” Callum said as he looked at Tomlin.
“Alright.” Tomlin said and frowned, “What do you want me to do?”
“I am going to send a note to the Admiralty letting them know of our return. As I said, I will take Abel home to London to his family and deliver his letter. Once I make my report to the Admiralty and to Lord Hood, they can give me orders as to what they want done. After that, I will take the boy home. What I would ask of you is to give me lend of a few of the hands from Dover to fill in for those that have been wounded and cannot return to duty when I sail.” Callum said.
“Simple enough, I suppose.” Tomlin said and then had a thought, “What if the Admiralty wants the boy?”
“I haven’t really thought about that. I don’t know if they would want him or not. If they do, then I will deal with it when that time comes. Are you going to send a note off to Christian?” Callum asked.
“I have given it thought, yes, but I think I will wait for a time until we find out what Lord Hood wants to do.” Tomlin said.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. If Christian has been sent aboard as he feared he might be, then I will probably have to find out from General Emery himself as to where he was sent.” Tomlin said after he paused a moment in thought, “It occurs to me that you and I are in special circumstance in this.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, that you, with being brought back to service to handle just this mission, you can leave if you want and not look back, I have the choice really, of either staying or resigning my commission. It is rather dependent upon what is going on with Christian, I suppose. That hadn’t really occurred to me until right now.” Tomlin said and lifted an eyebrow a bit.
“Yes, it does feel a bit different now, doesn’t it?” Callum asked and smiled briefly, “Let me send this note off to the Admiralty. Would you remain aboard with Carson just in case?”
“Yes, I can, or would you want me to take it for you?” Tomlin asked.
“You wouldn’t mind?” Callum asked.
“I think that either way, it would be the least that I could do.” Tomlin smiled. Callum got to his feet.
“Alright, I’ll let you take it then.” Callum said, “Let me go and fetch it.”
The Marines returned to Windsong from the Garrison and came up the gangplank from the dock. They presented themselves onboard, getting into formation on the deck. Callum and Tomlin were at the wheelhouse watching them and waited for them to finish their procession. Clemens was at their head, as he had been appointed by the others to take the lead in this. He snapped to attention, the others followed suit.
“Reporting aboard, sir!” Clemens snapped with a salute and held it. Callum looked at Tomlin for a moment and then looked at the formation. He came around the short rail and walked over to the Marines, stopping in front of Clemens a few steps away from him. Callum gave him a salute in return.
“At ease.” Callum said, “What were you told at the Garrison?”
“The command officer took our account and status, sir, and ordered us to return here, sir, to report to you. What are your orders, sir?” Clemens asked as he dropped his hand from the salute.
“I see.” Callum said, “Alright, I need a two man rotation to have the watch kept, one fore, the other aft. No one is to come aboard without permission, other than the crew.”
“Yes, sir.” Clemens said and snapped another salute.
“You are in charge, Clemens. I will make you the acting corporal.” Callum said.
“Very good, sir.” Clemens said and dropped his hand again.
“Dismiss your men. I think Carson will be preparing supper shortly.” Callum said.
“Thank you, sir.” Clemens said, spinning smartly on his heel, looking at the formation behind him, “Two men for the watch, step forward.” Two Marines stepped forward, “One forward, one to the aft section.” The two separated and went different ways, “The rest of you, dismissed. Stow your weapons below in the hold.” Clemens said, the formation turned as one, forward and started to step together to go to the gangway ladder. Clemens turned and looked at Callum, snapping another salute, “Watch placed, formation dismissed, sir.”
“So I see. Very good, Corporal, carry on.” Callum said, turning and walked back to Tomlin. Callum came around the short rail and up next to Tomlin.
“That was very impressive, I must say. Were they like that all the time that you sailed?” Tomlin asked quietly.
“Not really, no. I was trying to keep them relaxed actually. I even had McGuffin teasing and joking a bit with them.” Callum said softly as he looked forward and watched as the Marines went down the gangway ladder into the hold, “The crew was even teaching them how to sail and I encouraged it, just in case they needed to lend a hand. It seems that something might have happened at the Garrison. I wonder.”
“Well, now that your note has been sent off to the Admiralty, I should return back to Dover. I’ll send you word when Camden is done with his work on the coffin.” Tomlin said.
“Yes, please do that. And also, give Camden my thanks for his work. I know that Abel would have appreciated it as well.” Callum said.
“I will.” Tomlin said and put out his hand, “Let me know if you hear anything yourself.”
“I will.” Callum said, taking Tomlin’s hand in his own. They gripped firmly for a long moment, then Tomlin took his hand back, giving Callum a slight nod and then walked away. Callum watched him walk down the gangplank to the dock and went along to a waiting longboat from Dover. Callum turned his attention back to his ship. He went around the short rail to the steps to go below, through the door and stopped at the galley, seeing Carson and the boy there preparing supper.
“I heard that the Marines return, sir.” Carson said.
“Yes, they have.” Callum smiled, knowing to himself that Carson had an ear to every bulkhead on any ship he was on and never missed anything.
“I should have supper ready for you and them shortly, sir.”
“Thank you, Carson.” Callum said as he looked at the boy. Hans still wore the spare shirt that Callum had lent him when he came aboard, and the tattered sailor pants that were several sizes too big for him. He was still barefooted as well, “Carson, I was wondering, do you know of a mercantile here in Southend?”
“I do, sir.” Carson said as he looked up at Callum from the stove.
“I was thinking,…perhaps we should have the lad here outfitted with a few things to wear. He seems to be a bit on the worn side, wouldn’t you say?” Callum asked.
“Indeed, sir. I should think his breeches should be burned.” Carson said as he rolled his eyes a bit.
“Then perhaps, tomorrow, you could see to it, if you wouldn’t mind?”
“I would be happy to do it, sir.” Carson beamed and then leaned over a bit and told the boy, who went wide eyed as he looked at Callum, “I think he would be rather pleased as well, sir, from the looks of it.”
“I agree.” Callum said and gave the boy a wink and a brief smile, “I’ll be below with the Marines, Carson.”
“Yes, sir.” Carson said.
Callum stepped off the gangway ladder into the midst of the Marines in the hold. They all stood stiff at seeing him, snapping to full attention.
“At ease, gentlemen.” Callum said and he saw Clemens in their midst, “Corporal, a word, if you please.”
“Yes, sir.” Clemens said and followed Callum aft. Callum stopped a good ways away from the group and turned, “Corporal, Captain Tomlin and I were having a bit of a discussion a few minutes ago about when you and your men when you came back aboard.”
“Yes, sir, is something wrong, sir?” Clemens stood rigid.
“I am wondering, was something said at the Garrison by the officer in charge?”
“He,…well, sir,…” Clemens said with a nervous look.
“It’s alright, Clemens, be easy, there will be no trouble from it, I assure you.” Callum said as he looked at the young Marine.
“Well, sir, you see,…Major Simmonds, sir,…”
“Major Simmonds, you say? He’s the commanding officer of the Garrison here?” Callum asked.
“Yes, sir. You know the Major, sir, how he can be,…” Clemens said, looking a bit nervous.
“I do.” Callum said, “You were at La Rochelle, were you not, Clemens?”
“You know that the Major and I were together in the fortress there, as you were there as well.”
“Yes, sir.” Clemens said, still looking nervous.
“The Major, sir, he feels,…sir, that things with us are a little lax and expressed to us, sir, that we should adhere tightly to regulations more than,…” Clemens said, as Callum folded his arms over his chest.
“Oh, does he now?” Callum asked as he tensed up a bit raising an eyebrow, “I will thank the Major to keep his opinions about what goes on aboard my ship to himself, if and when I see him.” Clemens looked like he was about to panic over what Callum said. Callum saw it and eased himself a bit and let out a breath through his nose, “Fear not, Clemens, I’ll keep it to myself.”
“Oh, thank you, sir.” Clemens said as he sighed a bit and looked relieved.
“Alright,…you know how I like things aboard ship.”
“Good, keep your men in line, have them do their duty, and everything will be just fine.” Callum said.
“Yes, sir.” Clemens said. Callum leaned forward a bit toward him.
“What the Major doesn’t know won’t hurt him, understand?”
“Completely, sir.” Clemens said and stood rigid again.
“Very good. Carry on, Corporal.” Callum said.
“Yes, sir.” Clemens said, saluting, turning, and headed quickly back to his men. Callum just shook his head for a moment and then started to follow him, going through the group of Marines to the gangway ladder, they all watched him go through and then up the ladder.