The old man looked at what Dustin had set on the table for supper and watched as Dustin sat on the little bench next to Andrew. Henry had come back from the barn at Harbroughs and had joined them at the table, Robert had taken the chair directly across the table from the old man and they all smelled what it was that Dustin had cooked and it smelled wonderful.
“Dustin, I am reminded of something that my Aunt Martha used to make for us as well, something that looked similar to this. Is this Shepard’s Pie?”
“It is, Grandfather. I found a group of writings in the pantry in a corner on one of the shelves. It might have been her that wrote out this recipe. I simply followed the instructions.”
“Really, I had no idea that she had done that.”
“I assume that it must have been her.” Dustin said.
“Well, it certainly smells good.” The old man said. Dustin was starting to serve it, as plates were filled and handed out to all. They all began in on it and were overwhelmed with the taste of it, they all looked at Dustin with total amazement.
“When did you learn to cook, Dustin? Did they teach you that at University?” Henry asked his son.
“No, Father, as I said, I simply followed the instructions from the recipe that was written. It was plain in its writing and quite easy to follow. Do you like it?”
“My son, I have not tasted anything like this in years. It is more than wonderful.” Henry smiled at his youngest son.
“Here, here.” The old man said and raised his coffee cup toward his grandson, making him smile wide.
“Little one, you will need to come home with me and do my cooking.” Robert said.
“I believe I have already reserved that right, Robert.” The old man smiled.
“You are the lucky one, aren’t you, Grandfather?” Robert asked and looked at the old man with softened eyes.
“If only that were true, my lad.” The old man said almost to himself, and then smiled at Robert and went back to his wonderful supper.
“I didn’t even think, Grandfather, should I open a bottle of wine? We haven’t been together like this for quite some time.”
“Yes, by all means, I am sorry I didn’t think of it myself. I do not care for any however, thank you.” The old man said and glanced over at Andrew and seeing his plate was already clean, “I have noticed that you have a rather remarkable appetite, Andrew, reminds me of someone.” The old man smiled at him and the young man blushed with embarrassment. “There is no shame in eating and eating well, I assure you. I always appreciated watching hungry men eat, as a matter of fact, during our sailing, I began to make a habit of taking my meals with the crew, which was unheard of to say the least, and quite shocking to my steward. He put up a bit of an argument over it for a time, but finally relented and came to see that not only did I enjoy it, as finally did my officers, but it rather bolstered the moral of the crew, eating with their Captain. I always enjoyed watching them eat, hungry men as they were, all working hard to make sure that there was no room for complaint from me or my officers.” The old man said as he watched Dustin pour wine for all of them. He looked up at Dustin, “How many bottles are left of that?”
“Two others beside this, Grandfather.”
“Hmmm, perhaps tomorrow when you go into the Square, you should see about more.”
“Are you expecting further company, Grandfather?”
“Well, your brother might begin to grace us with his presence, and if you keep cooking the way that you are, I can see all of us continuing to gather here at the table. A few more bottles might not be such a bad idea.” The old man smiled and all of them lifted their glasses.
“This is long overdue, all of us like this together.” Henry said, as he looked at his father, “Papa, to you, a most generous and wonderful man, a hero to most, but to me, simply the best father that a boy could ever have had.”
“Here, here.” They all said, and the old man’s eyes misted.
“Thank you.” The old man said as he gathered himself and raised his coffee cup to meet their glasses. He sipped his coffee and then cleared his throat. Dustin began to clear away dishes after everyone was done eating, mostly in silence, Andrew got up and helped him, Henry watched the two of them out of the corner of his eye at the sink, secretly suspecting of the two of them. He brought his attention back to the table and to his father.
“It’s true what I said, Papa, I hope you realize that.” Henry said as he leaned forward a bit. The old man smiled.
“I do, Henry, and you make me proud and very happy to know that you feel that way.” The old man said. They took each other’s hand and gave it a light squeeze on top of the table, “So tell me, is everything alright with you?”
“I feel,…relieved, Papa.” Henry said, “It’s as if a great weight has been lifted from me finally. I seem to have more life about me now, more energy as it were. Tomorrow, I will see about the rest of her things to being packed and shipped to her, and I will more than likely do some riding as well, and now more often I think. You know she never really liked me to ride.”
“I recall you saying something about it once a few years ago, yes.”
“I am wondering if I should seek out the advice of our solicitor as well.” Henry said.
“Henry, as I said, perhaps she will have a change of heart. There is a possibility that she may wish to return.” The old man said with deep caring in his eyes for his son and his feelings.
“As I said, Papa, that door is now closed.” Henry said, and pat the back of the old hand. Robert was listening and watching the two of them, and could see the difference in his father as well, seeing the relief in his face when they had met in the barn this morning, when Henry had told Robert that she was gone and that same look of relief was still there in his face this evening.
“As you say. I will not interfere in your affairs, Henry, trust in that.”
“I know you wouldn’t, Papa.” Henry smiled, “I should be off. I have a few things to attend to before it is too late in the evening.”
“Anything you need help with, Father?” Robert asked.
“No, it’s alright, I can manage it easily, but thank you.” Henry said to his oldest son, “Will I see you soon, Robert?”
“Yes, Father, perhaps later in the week.”
“Good.” Henry said as he stood up from the table, Robert stood as well. “Thank you for supper, Papa.”
“You are always welcome here, Henry, you know that, but as far as supper is concerned, you should thank Dustin for that.” The old man smiled.
“Yes.” Henry said and looked at his youngest son at the sink, watching them wash and dry the dishes side by side, “Thank you for a very wonderful supper, Dustin.” Henry said a bit louder than they had been speaking at the table. Dustin turned and looked at his father, shaking his hands of the water and came over toward him. Henry stepped to him and Dustin held out his arms, Henry smiled and they hugged briefly.
“I’m glad you were here, Father.” Dustin whispered in his ear.
“I too.” He whispered back and they pulled apart, Henry turned and put a hand on the old man’s shoulder from behind him and bent down and kissed the old man’s cheek, “Good night, Papa.”
“Good night, Henry.” The old man smiled at the touch. Henry hugged his oldest son and went out the back door and started down the path of the knoll toward the opening in the stone wall that was gated and then on to the barn at Harbroughs.
“Well, this has been a very pleasant day, I must say.” Robert said, “But, I must be off myself, I have to be at the mill very early in the morning.”
“Are you sure you have to go, Robert?” Dustin asked as he looked at his older brother, who nodded his answer to him. Dustin was saddened as it had been some time that they had actually been together, and today had been very nice.
“I said, I would be back later this week, and I will.” Robert said to Dustin and then looked down at his Grandfather, who was starting to get up from the table, “If for no other reason than to hear of Harbroughs being robbed.” He said and cocked his head a bit to the old man, who chuckled and shook his head a bit.
“I will make certain that that is done, only for you, my boy.” The old man smiled as Robert came around the table and wrapped his big arms around him and held him gently. “This was very nice, Grandfather, I had a very good day with you, and I thank you so much.”
“I enjoyed it as well. But I should be thanking you instead, Robert.” The old man patted the muscular back. Robert slowly let him go and stepped to his brother. Dustin was dwarfed by him, but he hugged his older brother and the big arms squeezed him tight, making Dustin grunt a bit.
“You’re a good cook, little one, thank you very much.”
“I enjoyed doing it and am glad you liked it. When you come later in the week, perhaps you can bring Henry with you and we can all have a proper reunion.”
“I’ll see about doing that.” Robert said.
“Please do.” The old man said as he was standing next to the table watching his grandsons and their embrace. Robert let go of his brother and turned to nod to the old man and give him a broad smile.
“Andrew, it was pleasure to meet you.” Robert said and put out his hand, Andrew nodded and took the hand in his, giving it a shake.
“Likewise.” He said and smiled as well. Robert let go of him, turned and headed for the door, the old man followed him with only his gaze. The old man sighed to himself being happy in the thought that his family was coming back together finally after being apart for so long. He looked over at Dustin and gave him a wink and went toward the doorway into the parlor. Dustin smiled at him and went back to the sink and Andrew as they were almost done.
“Are you tired, sir? It must have been a rather long day for you.” Andrew said as he came into the parlor and settled on the settee near the old man who was sitting in his big chair.
“Yes, it has been hasn’t it, but also a very good day as well.” The old man smiled, “I think we can continue for a bit, if you’d like?”
“If you are up for it, sir, certainly.” Andrew said and put his notebook in his lap, taking the pencil in his hand. The old man looked over at Dustin as he came into the parlor from the kitchen and sat on the ottoman next to the big chair, the old man smiled at him warmly.
“Yes, I am, I think.” He said and looked over at Andrew, “Let me see,…I remember now, we had set sail and were out in The Channel, I had ordered extra canvas to be set and had gone below,…”
“Sergeant, may I have a word?” Callum asked and McGuffin turned around and snapped to attention in the midst of his Marines. They all stood at attention when they saw Callum standing there.
“Certainly, sir.” McGuffin said and waited for Callum to lead him away from the Marines, but Callum didn’t move.
“To begin, I wanted to apologize for not filling you in with everything. You see, I am of the opinion that merchant vessels are being watched and their whereabouts are being reported to this Frenchman that we are hunting. That being said, now that we are out to sea, I feel that we need to keep up appearances as I had mentioned. One hint of a uniform may doom us all. This is a bit unorthodox I know, however I feel that it is necessary. And to put your mind at ease, I feel rather underdressed myself.” Callum said and smiled.
“I understand completely, sir.” McGuffin said and eased himself a bit in front of Callum, recognizing that he was talking to his men as well, but not bypassing McGuffin’s authority as he was speaking directly to him, “It is good of you to explain it, sir, and it clears it up nicely, but if I may a question?”
“Please do.” Callum said and folded his arms over his chest.
“Do you think that we were being watched in Portsmouth?”
“No. Portsmouth as you know is only a naval port and does not have merchantmen port there, but only rarely. I think that whoever is watching is near the Dover shoals or further up our coast at some port there.”
“I see. You wish to have the men become somewhat accustomed to being out of uniform before we pass near such a port.”
“Exactly, very astute of you, Sergeant, my compliments.” Callum said and bowed his head slightly.
“I was in a similar situation while at the Nile, sir. I can understand your taking precautions as such.”
“Thank you, Sergeant, I appreciate your cooperation.” Callum smiled.
“Is there anything else you need, sir?”
“Come to think of it, yes, we should probably load the muskets in the armory that you set up, just as a precaution, and also if any of your men wish to help out further with the crew as they have been doing, we can further their sailing education, and of course only if they so choose.”
“I will ask them, sir. We will take care of the muskets as well, sir. What would you like us to do with the swords, sir?”
“Swords?” Callum asked.
“Yes, sir, I thought you knew. There were quite a few of them in the crate that held the muskets, sir, as they were lying underneath them.”
“No, I didn’t know. Well, another little plus in this gift we have received. I’ll have to be sure and send a thank you note to The Duke, it would seem.” Callum smiled again, “I take it that they didn’t fit in the locker then with the muskets?”
“They seem to clatter about, sir.”
“I see. Well, perhaps we could place them in the smaller crate that had the pistols, stack them in as it were and put it near your armory?” Callum said and looked for a moment in that direction, then back to McGuffin.
“Very good, sir, we’ll see to it right away.” McGuffin turned and with only a finger silently counted out four of his men with pointing at them and they set off after giving him a salute. McGuffin looked back at Callum and gave him that ‘look’ that Callum so appreciated from the large older man with big whiskers.
“That was easy, Royal Marine efficiency at its finest. Thank you, Sergeant.” Callum said with a wide smile.
“Our pleasure, sir.” McGuffin saluted and Callum returned it loosely. He turned and went up the gangway ladder to the deck. He watched Collingwood and Talon struggling with the wheel still as he came closer toward them. Callum saw Hawkins at the aft rail with the glass to his eye. Callum looked beyond him and saw the canvas and masts of Dover in the distance.
“Everything alright, Mr. Collingwood?” Callum asked.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said through clenched teeth, Callum saw beads of sweat on Collingwood’s brow and the same condition on Talon. Callum wanted to crack a wide smile, but didn’t. He went by them and toward Hawkins, coming up beside him. Hawkins lowered the glass and offered it to him.
“That won’t be necessary, Hawkins, I can see her just fine from here.” Callum said, “Tell me, can you see who’s in the bowsprit with the glass?” Callum asked as he gave Hawkins a crooked smile, getting a shocked look in reply from the young man. Callum put a hand to his shoulder and pat him twice, giving him a chuckle and went back to the wheel. “I’ll take her for a bit, Mr. Collingwood.” Callum said and stepped into Collingwood, putting his hands on the wheel.
“Aye, sir, thank you.” Collingwood let out a breath of relief. He raised a sleeve and wiped his brow.
“You can cast loose, Mr. Talon.” Callum said and Talon looked over at him with wide eyes. Talon slowly let go of his grips on the wheel, and it didn’t move. “Mind over matter, gentlemen. Work the wheel with the canvas, not against.” Callum said as Collinwood stepped forward and looked at the loose grip that Callum had on the wheel and couldn’t believe what he was seeing. He looked over at Talon and their eyes met.
“Ah, Carson.” Callum said with a smile, “Is there any coffee?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll only be a moment.” Carson beamed and walked back to the steps and out of sight.
Collingwood and Talon watched as Callum ported the wheel again a bit, the deck moved a bit under their feet. Callum looked beyond Talon toward the shore, seeing it clearly.
“There’s Brighton, gentlemen.” Callum said, making Talon turn on his heel, and Collingwood lean forward a bit. As they did, Carson reappeared and set a tray on the wheelhouse, handing Callum a cup, Callum taking it in his right hand, leaving his left only on the wheel, “Thank you, Carson.” Callum said smoothly.
“Coffee, sir?” Carson asked Collingwood, who did a double-take look at Carson and took the cup he was handed and then looked at Callum who had only one hand on the wheel and fell into further disbelief at what he was seeing.
“How, sir? How can you possibly do that?”
“Quite simple really.” Callum said as he went to sip more coffee and looked at Collingwood with only his eyes, “After a bit of practice, you can manage it as well.”
“How did you learn this, sir?” Collingwood asked barely above a whisper. Callum smiled at him once.
“The best helmsman in the fleet showed me once. He is quite a good teacher, actually.”
“You’ve done this before, sir. Who was that helmsman?”
“Dustin Perkins, Dover’s chief helmsman.” Callum said and sipped his coffee.
“The young man that had all the injuries to his face when I first came aboard Dover, at La Rochelle?”
“The one and the only, yes.” Callum smiled, “The best in the fleet. Even Fitzwarren wanted to steal him from me to helm the Valiant.” Callum smiled.
“I had no idea, sir.”
“Experience and skill does not always come with age, wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Talon?” Callum asked loudly, bringing Talon out of his staring at Brighton in the distance.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” Talon asked.
“I was speaking of the best helmsman in the fleet.”
“Ah, Mr. Perkins, you must mean, sir. Yes, he is the best, is he not, sir?”
“Indeed he is.” Callum winked at Talon, who smiled in return and looked over at Collingwood.
“Sir!” Hawkins called out. Callum did not turn around.
“Let me guess, Hawkins, Captain Tomlin is putting on extra canvas.” Callum said.
“Yes, sir.” The young man said and Callum smirked. He handed his cup toward Collingwood, who took it with a slightly opened mouth.
“Thank you, Abel.” Callum said quietly and cranked the wheel a bit more for another point to port. Callum steadied the wheel and then reached back over for his coffee, taking it and holding it up to Collingwood in a silent thanks to him. Collingwood could only shake his head. Callum sipped more of it, and then grinned for a minute at him.
“Amos, take a sounding!” Callum shouted, “Let’s find out how well she’s doing for us!”
“Aye, sir!” Amos shouted back into the wind, turned and pointed to one of the hands who jumped for a sounding line.
“Care to make a wager, gentlemen?” Callum asked.
“I would never bet against you, sir.” Talon said, making Callum smile softly at him.
“Mr. Collingwood?” Callum asked. Collingwood looked over the starboard side and tried to gauge it with the wake that ran down from the bow. He turned back and looked at Callum.
“A shilling, it’s ten, sir.” Collingwood said with a smile of confidence. Callum just looked at him with only his eyes and smirked before sipping more coffee.
“Twelve.” He said softly.
“Done.” Collingwood smiled. They waited a minute.
“Twelve knots, sir!” Amos called from the rail. Collingwood looked deflated and beaten, Callum never lost the smirk, Talon only hung his head and shook it a bit.
“Twelve?!” Callum shouted, “I want more! What say you men?! Can we get more out of her?!”
“AYE!” Came shouts from all over the small vessel.
“Amos! Double rig the spare Headsail before the Main!”
“Aye, sir!” Amos beamed, turning, “You heard the Captain! Break out the spare Headsail! Set for double rigging! Aloft there, send down a leashline!”
“How did you know, sir?” Collingwood asked.
“I’ll show you.” Callum said as he reached back to the wheelhouse and set his cup on the top, he took his right hand and held it out to Collingwood, guiding him to come closely to Callum, “Here, put your foot against mine on the deck.” Callum looked down and watched, “Slide it up against it mine, right next to it so they touch. Now, you feel what I feel, I’ll describe it to you, and you can picture it in mind, close your eyes.” Callum said and looked at the young face, “You feel the slight vibration?” Collingwood nodded, “Do you feel the movement of the deck, the very wood itself moving, as if it were breathing?” He nodded again and smiled knowing what he meant, never feeling it before until right now as he described it, as it were alive almost, “Now, count to yourself silently, in between those breaths that you feel.” Callum said and waited.
“Alright, sir, I think I’ve got it.” Collingwood said softly.
“I think so, sir.”
“How many did you count?” Callum asked.
“Do it again,…ready? Now.” Callum waited, “How many?”
“Eight, sir.” Collingwood said with his eyes still closed.
“We’ll work on it more over time.” Callum said, patting Collingwood gently on the back. Callum looked forward, the extra canvas had been pulled up from below and was being rigged with the dropped leashline to haul it up. Callum saw it was set and Amos waved his hand, signaling aloft, and the riggers aloft pulled it, and the canvas went up into the rigging in front of the billowed sails that were in place. The topmen above were setting to it, spreading out the extra canvas and working lines to anchor corners to bring the extra canvas into position in between the Headsail and the Mainsail to catch the wind that was lost between the two. Lines were dropped and the lower corners were set and stayed to each rail, port and starboard, secured with lazy 8’s on belaying pins. Callum watched and he also felt the deck again, smiled to himself, as the extra canvas took full billow now and heard the creak of the Main Mast with the additional strain. He looked forward and smiled openly now as the spray was lifting higher into the air over the bow. Callum gave Collingwood a side glance.
“Care to make it double or nothing, Mr. Collingwood?”
“No, sir, I believe I’ve learned my lesson for the day in wagering against you, sir.”
“Well, that’s too bad. I thought possibly you might be able to finance the rest of our trip with further wagers.” Callum smirked and heard Talon chuckle, drawing a stern from Collingwood toward Talon who cleared his throat in seeing the look from him.
“Deck There! Sail!” Callum looked aloft and saw where the arm was pointing and looked starboard. Off in the distance he could see it, but not quite make it out yet.
“Hawkins, glass!” Collingwood shouted and held out his hand, the young man jumped and brought it to him quickly. Collingwood put it to his eye and looked. “One of ours, sir. Ninety gunner, sir.”
“Coming up from the south, who do you think she is, sir?” Talon asked as he stepped close to Callum.
“I’m not sure.” Callum said as he was watching, “Anything, Mr. Collingwood?”
“I can’t tell from here, sir, not yet at least.”
“We’ll keep an eye on her.” Callum said and looked over his shoulder, seeing Dover falling back in the distance as she had to stay in deeper water and out of the current that Windsong was riding. Callum looked over starboard at the approaching ship coming from the south. “Hawkins, go to the port locker and pull out our set of colors and run them out.”
“Aye, sir.” He said, tipping his hand and running off.
“That’s all I need.” Callum said softly.
“Sir?” Talon asked.
“To be spotted by one of ours heading into port, Darin, word spreading about a sloop on the run from a ship of the line.”
“I see what you mean, sir.” Talon said.
“We’ll clear the Dover shoals long before she does, but, I’m afraid that Captain Tomlin will be near to pulling alongside of her as their distances are about the same from us.”
“I agree, sir.” Collingwood said, “Captain Tomlin seems to be falling further behind even with the extra canvas.”
“Yes, he hasn’t quite gotten the feel of her yet, but he will, mark my words. Wish I knew who that was. She has to be from Gibraltar.”
“She must be heading for Southend, sir.”
“I think you’re right in that, Darin, she seems to be inset toward the coast a bit more.” Callum looked over, seeing Hawkins coming back with the colors, “Hawkins, get it ready, but don’t run it out yet.”
“Aye, sir.” He said as Callum turned back and watched the other ship.
“Anything yet?” Callum asked Collingwood as he had lifted the glass again.
“No, sir, not yet.”
“Alright, keep an eye on her.” Callum said. He looked over at Talon, and smiled briefly at him, “Give her a try on your own, Darin?”
“Yes, sir, I’d like that, thank you.” He said, in a timid voice. He came around Callum and went to step in, watching where Callum had been carefully and took over from him slowly, Callum backing away.
“Alright, Darin, she’s all yours now.” Callum said. He watched Talon for a moment and then stepped next to Collingwood, who handed Callum the glass. He put it to his eye and focused on the mast points, seeing the pennants that were flying, Callum lowered the glass and handed it back to Collingwood.
“What is it, sir?”
“Have a look again.” Callum said, Collingwood raised the glass to his eye, “See the second pennant, on the Mizzen?”
“Can you make it out?”
“It’s rolling too much at the moment, sir. Wait a moment,…yes, I see it, it’s a Mediterranean squadron member, sir.”
“Very good, Mr. Collingwood, and a ninety gunner as well. Who would you think that is?”
“It has to be Admiral Parring, sir, it must be. She’s English built for certain.”
“Admiral Parring, on his way to port, and with no escort in sight. I wonder” Callum said folding his arms, and putting a single finger to his lips, “Now, don’t you find that a trifle odd, Mr. Collingwood?”
“Indeed, sir, highly irregular.”
“I agree.” Callum said and came around Collingwood and started to walk the deck slowly, going forward, clasping his hands behind his back, his head down slightly as he was going into deep thought.
“What do you think it means, sir?” Talon asked Collingwood.
“Squadron flagship, heading home, without the squadron? Damned bad business, I’d say. I wonder what he’s thinking?” Collingwood asked mostly to himself as he stared at Callum.
“I would lay odds on it, sir, he’s thinking right now to reduce sail, let Dover catch up to us, and see what’s going on with that ship. I’d lay money on it, sir.” Talon said.
“Considering you have no money, Mr. Talon, I couldn’t take that wager. Besides, you owe me for those clothes your wearing that we purchased at the mercantile.”
“Yes, sir, you’re right, I’m still embarrassed about that, sir. I’ll make it up to you, you have my word.”
“Yes, you will, to the tune of two pounds, six.” Collingwood smiled, Talon blushed, “I am merely teasing, Mr. Talon, don’t let it bother you. It was a smart purchase.”
“If you say so, sir.” Talon said.
Callum slowly walked to the bow and looked over into the water as he stood next to the bowsprit. He let out a breath and turned and started back toward the wheel. All of the hands were watching him carefully, knowing what must be going through his mind at this moment. They continued their working but they all would look at Amos now and then, silently asking him to find out as it were. Amos could see the looks from them and the deep thinking that his Captain was doing as well. He grit his teeth and stepped up to Callum.
“Would you care for another sounding, sir?” Amos asked, and tipped his hand. Callum broke his thoughts and looked at him, and then looked around at his other hands that were about for a moment and looked back at Amos.
“Yes. Let’s see what the extra canvas has done for her.”
“Aye, sir.” Amos said and nodded, he turned and looked over at Hammond, an older man who was very skilled as a seaman and was well respected by all. Amos and Callum watched as he struck the line and sent it over the side and pulled, giving it the count. He turned as he pulled the line up to him.
“Fourteen.” Hammond said to Amos.
“Fourteen, sir.” Amos said with a smile as he looked at Callum.
“Very good.” Callum smiled, “It seems that she does very well, doesn’t she?”
“She does, sir. And you were right, sir, she does match her name.” Amos smiled. Callum smiled and nodded at him. He went on to amidships and stopped and looked out over the rail, seeing the sails of the large ship still well off in the distance. He lowered his head and continued on and stopped at Collingwood. Callum looked up and aft, seeing Dover in the distance behind them, dropping away a bit more. Collingwood and Talon waited silently for Callum to say something. He looked over to the starboard again.
“In case you are wondering, gentlemen, no matter how great my curiosity, we have a mission to continue with. Mr. Talon, maintain your course, we will follow this current around the Dover Straights. Mr. Collingwood, once into the North Sea, we will begin to set our course north as I indicated on the chart.”
“Aye, sir.” They both said to him as Callum continued to look starboard.
“I have no doubt that she has seen us, but, I can only hope that word does not spread too quickly about us once they reach Southend and anchor. If they meet up with Captain Tomlin, I can also only hope that he will come up with a cover story of some kind regarding us.”
“Agreed, sir.” Collingwood said.
“Grandfather, was it that Admiral?” Dustin asked. The old man nodded, and then shook his head a bit, “What is it?”
“Admiral Parring.” The old man said, “I don’t wish to slander his memory, even though I never did care for the man. I had met him twice before, once at the Admiralty as I said, the other time was before that, at a public bathhouse. I did not see what happened in the bathhouse, but was told about it later and was angered over it.”
“Why is that?”
“Another time, perhaps.” The old man smiled at his grandson, seeing the look on the young man’s face, a look he had seen before, but on his Dustin’s face, that questioning look of his, but yet also as if he knew. The old man smiled.
“You said it was odd, sir,” Andrew said, breaking the old man’s thought, making him look over, “why was it odd that he was sailing to port?”
“A flagship should never be sailing without escort from a member or members of its own squadron. I did not find out until much later what had actually happened and why Parring was sailing alone.”
“What happened, sir?”
“Andrew, I will ask you again not to write of this. Parring has members of his family, still within active service, I’m sure, distant relations no doubt, but relations nonetheless. I would hate to see them reading or hearing of this and raising complaint from being possibly slandered.” The old man said. Andrew and Dustin looked at each other for a moment and then back at the old man.
“Of course, sir.”
“Good.” The old man looked at each of them, “I will be perfectly candid in this,” The old man lifted a finger, and caught their eyes, “you both know of me, as I know of you both, we three share the same,…tastes.” The old man lowered his hand, reaching over and taking Dustin’s in his, “And that fact is perfectly fine to be sure, but Admiral Parring used his position and his ‘authority’ if you will, to assert himself onto others, until it caught up with him. You see,…Admiral Parring’s tastes included the very young, those unfortunately unable to defend themselves against his advances.” Dustin and Andrew looked a little shocked, “Apparently, he was caught with the young son of a diplomat, and it did not go well. He was recalled, which is why he was sailing to port alone without his squadron. He was quietly dismissed from his post and retired from the service, without scandal to the Royal Navy.”
“My God.” Andrew said quietly.
“I, for one, was quite relieved actually to hear of it, his retirement. Parring was a poor leader in my opinion, how he made to being an Admiral is beyond me.” The old man said, “He was more of a follower than a leader, and a poor sailor as well.”
“I had no idea, Grandfather.” Dustin said.
“He was a very overweight man as well. I had heard a few years later, while I was posted at the Admiralty that he had died from a heart condition.” The old man said. He looked slightly angered in speaking of this, Dustin thought. Dustin took his other hand and pat the old man’s hand that held his other, “Well, that’s over with, all in the past thankfully.”
“You look tired, Grandfather. It’s getting late, you should get some rest.” Dustin said.
“Perhaps you’re right, my boy.” The old man said. Dustin was let go of and the old man got up from his chair slowly. “I’ll say good night then.”
“Do you need any help?” Dustin asked.
“I can manage, thank you.” The old man said with a brief smile, and started to head toward his room.
“Good night, sir.” Andrew said to the old man.
“Good night, Grandfather.” Dustin said as he watched him walk away.
“I wonder if that happened a lot.” Andrew said softly when they were alone in the room. Dustin looked over at hearing him.
“Small boys, like that.” Andrew paused, “I know that there were always small boys on navy ships, they called them something, I don’t recall what it was,…but to hear of something like that happening.” Andrew shook his head a bit.
“I know what you mean.” Dustin said, “There’s a bit of wine left, would you care for any more?”
“No, I don’t think so, thank you.” Andrew smiled at him. He set his notebook down on the cushion next to him and moved over into the chair next to Dustin, taking both of his hands in his, as Andrew sat on the edge of the chair cushion. “I was wondering, would you like to do something with me?”
“What would that be?” Dustin asked as he raised an eyebrow.
“I noticed earlier when we were doing dishes, the clouds were clearing out, I could see the stars. Could we take a bit of a walk in the moonlight?”
“I would like that, yes.” Dustin smiled and got up from the ottoman, Andrew stood as well, “That will also give him time to get settled and go off to sleep.”
“I had the same thought myself.” Andrew said, leaning forward and kissing Dustin softly. Dustin turned and pulled Andrew along by the hand behind him as they went for the back door.
“Morning, Andrew.” The old man said as he was sitting at the table looking at a bleary eyed young man standing in the doorway, “It looks as if you didn’t sleep very well last night.”
“It was a bit difficult, sir.” The young man said as Dustin came over to the table with a cup of coffee and set it down for him. He and Dustin looked at each other briefly. “Thank you.” He said softly and then sat down on the little bench at the end of the table.
“Is the bed not comfortable enough for you, Andrew?”
“It is quite comfortable, sir. I was just,…tossing and turning a bit last night.” Andrew said. Dustin chuckled at the sink counter on the other side of the kitchen. Andrew looked over toward him as he picked up his cup trying not to go wide eyed. He shifted his eyes over to see the old man, who looked like he wasn’t paying any attention to it at all. Dustin turned back from the sink and came over to the table, putting a hand on the old man’s shoulder.
“I’ll go into town after breakfast, Grandfather, if that’s alright, and take care of getting what we need.” Dustin said and the old man nodded, “Would you care to go with me, Andrew?”
“That might be a good idea, actually.” The old man said, “You shouldn’t be cooped up in the house all the time, as I am, Andrew, it would be good for you to get out and stretch your legs now and again.”
“If you think so, sir.” Andrew said, knowing that something was up between these two. The old man looked over at him and smiled and then gave Andrew a nod. Dustin smirked a bit and went to the stove. Andrew focused on his coffee.
“What was the all about at the table earlier?” Andrew asked as he and Dustin walked through the front gate. Dustin just gave him a puzzled look, “You two were obviously talking before I came downstairs.” Dustin smiled and nodded.
“If you must know, he heard us again last night,…all night.” Dustin smiled wider. Andrew was open mouthed with shock.
“I thought so as well at first, but he said something to me.” Dustin said, as they walked on the road toward town.
“I can only imagine.” Andrew rolled his eyes.
“He said, that in listening to us, as he put it, he couldn’t help but hear it, it made him wish that he were young again.”
“I asked him the same thing. He said that if he were young again, and could do it all over he would have done things differently with his Dustin. A regret of his, I suppose. So, he has asked me to go to the mercantile for him to purchase something, something he knows that they have.”
“What is that?”
“He asked me to get him a music box, something that he can wind up and listen to the music of it if he begins to hear us again even with his door closed.”
“Maybe we should just stop.” Andrew said quietly.
“I suggested the same thing to him, it seemed to upset him a bit when I told him we would. He was quite adamant about us not stopping.”
“Are you being serious?”
“Yes. He said that our happiness was very important to him, and that he was returning a favor of understanding to someone, he wouldn’t tell me who though when I asked him.” Dustin said.
“This is rather embarrassing to say the least.”
“I don’t think so.” Dustin said, as he stopped, touching Andrew’s arm to make him stop as well, they looked at one another, “Andrew, you have shown me something, something that is wonderful, something that I only thought that was only within me. I care for you, very much, Andrew. He sees it, he understands it, and he accepts it fully. I am deeply grateful to him in that. And as he said, he cares about our happiness. I suppose we could go off to the stable in the middle of the night, but he also said to me that the Cross was as much my home as it is his. With his understanding of everything, I have no issue with us continuing to do what we’re doing, and obviously neither does he.”
“I see.” Andrew said in a whisper.
“And in all of this, I have not asked you what you think and feel. Please, would you tell me?” Dustin asked. Andrew looked at him, his face was calm, his eyes bright and he stepped a step closer to Dustin.
“I will tell you, Dustin, that you are the warmest, kindest soul that I have ever met in my life. You make me so happy when we are together. The last two nights with you have been the best nights in my life. I look at you as I begin to lie next to you in that bed of yours, the way you look at me, it makes my heart swell. I dream of you at night, even though we are wrapped up with one another. You do so much for me without lifting a finger. Your looks that you give me, your touch, your laugh,…I have never felt anything like this before. I would be deeply saddened if we stopped in what we are doing.”
“Is it possible for two men to love one another?” Dustin asked.
“I would think it would be, why not?”
“It was just a thought.” Dustin said.
“Let’s go and find him that music box, shall we?” Andrew smiled, Dustin nodded in reply.
“Grandfather,” Dustin said as he looked at the back door, “were you out for a walk?” The old man came in through the back door and closed it, looking at the table being covered with all manner of items from town.
“Yes, I was down at the stable seeing about the roof Robert was speaking of with it leaking yesterday. My heavens, Dustin, did you clear out the entire Square with purchasing all of this?”
“Hardly that, Grandfather.” Dustin smiled, “but I have a bit of news.”
“Oh, gossip from town perhaps?” The old man asked as he looked at the young man.
“Not exactly gossip.” Dustin smiled, “I saw Henry, Grandfather.”
“Did you now? And what did he have to say?”
“He sends his best, and his love to you,” Dustin smiled, “and I told him that we were all getting together later in the week for an evening together, and to speak to Robert about it as to when exactly as their jobs are what keeps the time table.”
“How is he?” The old man asked.
“He looks a bit thin to me. I don’t think he has been eating much lately. He wouldn’t tell me though.” Dustin said and looked a bit worried with thinking about his brother, the old man could see it on his face. Dustin changed his look a bit and raised an eyebrow, “We also ran into Mrs. Ross.”
“Oh?” The old man asked.
“She looked over our items quite closely.” Dustin said flashing his eyes, and then looked at his Grandfather full on, standing in front of him, “And I have come to a decision, Grandfather.”
“Did speaking with her spur your decision, Dustin?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“I know you, my boy, and your heart.” The old man said he put a hand on the young shoulder, “You are concerned about her and her status. You made mention of that. Remember what I told you about that and their means, I would take care of it.” The old man smiled, and the young man nodded, “So tell me, what have you decided?”
“I have decided to take over the house from her, Grandfather.” Dustin said, “I’m certain she will be here shortly, as I somewhat hinted at that decision to her. She seemed to be a bit upset over it.” Dustin said with a sad look on his face.
“Are you sure you want to do that, my boy? To take over the house?”
“I am, Grandfather.” Dustin said, and the old man smiled wide.
“Good, at least we won’t starve then, or have bland cooking any longer.” The old man said and looked at Andrew, “What do you think of that, Andrew?”
“We spoke of it on our way back here, sir. I for one enjoy his cooking very much, sir, as you know, and I have told him that as well, repeatedly.”
“I have no doubt.” The old man chuckled a bit.
“I also found what you requested, Grandfather. I put it on the stand beside your bed.”
“Did you now?” The old man shifted his eyes back and forth between the two of them. “I’ll just go and have a look at it then.” He said and lowered his hand and slowly went to the doorway to go to his room. Dustin and Andrew looked at each other for a moment knowing what it meant for them and continued to unpack and put away the purchased items into the pantry.
Callum stood at the wheel next to Talon as he maintained his grip on it. Callum could see that his young officer was having a less difficult time with it now after Callum had shown him what to do and how to make the canvas and the current they rode work with the wind and not against it. In the distance, off the port bow, Callum could begin to clearly see just faintly the white cliffs of Dover, as Windsong was moving quickly in the sweeping current, driven by the continued strong wind and the extra canvas that was capturing it.
“I think she’s rather enjoying it now, wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Talon?”
“I would, sir. I think the vibration in the deck is smoothing out, sir.”
“Very good, Darin, I think you’re starting to understand what I was speaking to Mr. Collingwood about. I might press you to further explain it to him.”
“Yes, sir.” Talon smiled without looking at Callum over his shoulder. Callum turned and looked aft and could see Dover at about the same distance as they had been. He looked starboard, Collingwood still had the glass to his eye.
“Anything, Mr. Collingwood?”
“I would think they have seen us, sir, but they don’t seem to be concerned too much over us.” Collingwood said and lowered the glass.
“Probably because Dover is on our heels.” Callum said, “They are more than likely thinking that they can catch us and not have to bother with the effort or to assist.”
“You might be right in that, sir” Collingwood said softly as he gave his Captain a side glance and then lifted the glass again to his eye.
“Watch for any change in their action though.”
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said as he kept an eye on the distant ship. Callum turned and looked back at Talon, who nodded and gave him brief hint of a smile. Callum winked at him.
“Hawkins,” Callum said, and the young man stepped away from the aft rail and his watch on Dover’s approach. He tipped his hand to Callum, “See Amos, and if he needs an extra hand.”
“Aye, sir.” He nodded and walked quickly toward the big man in the middle of the deck.
“I’ll be in my cabin for a minute, gentlemen.” Callum said and went to the stairs, both Collingwood and Talon nodded toward him.
Callum went through the door and past the galley, Carson put his head out for a moment watching him and Callum went into the cabin, grabbed the chart and closed the door behind him, coming back by Carson.
“Pardon my sir, would you care to have something to eat?”
“Yes, Carson.” Callum said and paused, “When the crew eats, why don’t you bring it up on deck for me.”
“On deck, sir?”
“Yes, on deck.” Callum said and Carson had a look on his face like he was confused, “Is there a problem, Carson?”
“No, sir, no problem.” Carson said but still had the look.
“It looks as if there is problem, Carson. Speak plainly man, what is it?”
“Well, sir, it’s just that,…well, sir, are you going to be making a habit of it, sir?”
“I might in that, Carson, yes, for the duration of this mission.”
“I see, sir.” Carson said and looked wounded now.
“Better on deck than in that cupboard of a cabin that I have, I would think.”
“As you wish, sir.” Carson said. Callum knew what was on going in Carson’s mind. It was highly irregular what he wanted and just not done. Captains were not to do this, they were to adhere to a silent and unspoken tradition, to be separate from the crew, not to be brought into their company. Callum gave Carson a smile out of the corner of his mouth and headed for the door and the steps.
He came up on deck and looked forward with seeing the men working, both on deck and aloft, securing lines and canvas alike in bringing the best capture of the wind. He could feel the deck and hear the masts creak with the strain and it seemed to him that their vessel had taken in her second breath as it were and had a feel now for what they wanted out of her. He smiled to himself with that thought and went around to the wheelhouse.
On the top of the wheelhouse were wood strips that were built into the top, those strips had turns that were built into them that once they were placed into their correct position, pressed those wood strips down to the top of the wheelhouse that would capture the edges of a chart of just about most regular sizes allowing the chart to be spread out and held in place as it were for a navigator to reference. Callum took the chart and spread it out, smoothing it and sliding the edges in and under these strips and turned the small handles, locking the chart into place so the wind could not take it. Callum measured from the chart and looked at relative position with the coastline off to port, smiling to himself even more as they were making excellent progress with the cliffs of Dover coming into clearer view to them, less than an hour away now, Callum estimated.
Dustin opened the front door as there had been a knock at it. The old man and Andrew looked up from the writings that they were doing, watching Dustin letting Mrs. Ross and her husband, a large man in belly, into the parlor. The old man had thought that she might come here after Dustin had said that they had spoken together in the Square this morning.
“Mrs. Ross, it is good to see you, my miss, please do come in.” The old man said as he rose out of his chair. She came close to him, her husband was close behind her. “Mr. Ross, a pleasure to see you as well, sir.” The large man nodded to the old man.
“I believe you know why I have come, sir. The young master and I spoke in the Square earlier this morning. He told me that he was considering taking over my position, sir. Is this true?”
“Well, you certainly are to the point, as usual, Mrs. Ross. I will not deny that he has expressed his wish to assume it, yes, but only after I had asked him.”
“Are you unsatisfied with me, sir?”
“I would not put it that way, Mrs. Ross, no.”
“Then what is it, sir?”
“It might be easier for all involved, Mrs. Ross. Won’t you make yourselves comfortable?” The old man held out a hand toward the settee.
“I think not. If you feel this way, sir, I certainly would have thought that you might have made your feeling known to me, sir.”
“Mrs. Ross, before there is any harsh words spoken, please, let me assure you that you will be compensated for any trouble that this might have brought to you and your husband and your situation.”
“Then it is true, you are dismissing me.”
“Mrs. Ross, please, if you would not let yourself come into a state,…”
“A state, sir?” She asked with wild looking eyes, her tone loud.
“Aggie,…” The man behind her spoke up as he got close to her, “he’s right. If it be what he is wantin to do now, let it go.” She ignored him and glared at the old man.
“Mrs. Ross, I will pay out for the remainder of the year, and I will certify references for you, if you wish.”
“There, you see, Aggie,…it’s not all that bad now. Come, my girl, sit yourself down.”
“Quite right, Mr. Ross, please, have a seat Mrs. Ross.” The old man said. He watched as they moved over to the settee and sat down, she had her head down a bit. He looked over at Dustin and nodded toward the small hallway, Dustin saw what he meant and went to the old man’s room. He reemerged a moment later stepping toward him and handed the old man the leather purse that he had had all these years. The old man sat down and counted out notes quietly and quickly and handed them out to Mrs. Ross. She looked at them in his wrinkled hand and then into his old eyes. “This is yours, my miss, please,…” He said and paused in the silence of the room. She slowly reached out and took the notes, “Good. Now, if you need reference, do not hesitate to ask. I assure you that I will not hold it back from you.”
“Thank you, sir.” She said quietly.
“There is nothing to thank me for, my miss, it is your due. Understand that there is no fault with you and your service, it is with us. At this time, I feel that we are more than capable of taking care of the house and its needs. As you will recall, you came to me when I was alone, with Dustin being at University. And this will give you time to take care of your own house as well. Am I not right?”
“Indeed you are, sir.” Mr. Ross spoke up, “My Aggie, here, sir, you know she is always here and leavin me to fend for myself. It is nice to ‘ave her about.”
“And there you have it, Mrs. Ross, a simple statement from your husband, wishing to have your company about with him.” The old man said and smiled. She looked up at him, clutching the notes in her hand.
“Your health, sir, and what of that?”
“You know that my time is limited, Mrs. Ross, as well as I do. I have decided to live my remaining days the way that I wish. The good doctor will be along in another couple of days to check on me, as he usually does, I’m sure, and he will probably be displeased as is his usual.” The old man chuckled, “But, fear not, it is what I wish, and the way I wish to carry on.”
“I see.” She said in almost a whisper.
“Now, is this satisfactory to you?”
“I suppose it must be, sir. There is a lady in town that is possibly looking for a housekeeper I’ve heard.”
“Ah, there you have it.” The old man smiled, “I can write that reference for you if you wish, you can pick it up tomorrow, if you’d like.”
“Very generous of you, sir.” She said and got to her feet, her husband rose as well. The old man slowly stood, handing his purse back to Dustin. She reached out her hand and the old man took it and held it for a moment and she pulled back, Mr. Ross reached out and the old man gave it a firm grip. Without much else said, they both went to the door, Dustin opening it for them. She and he looked at one another for a brief moment.
“I will see you in the Square from time to time, I’m certain, Mrs. Ross.” Dustin said.
“Yes, sir, I’m sure you will. Thank you, sir.” She said and went out, followed by her husband. Dustin closed the door, and stayed quiet a moment, watching them through the glass going down the path.
“Are you alright, my boy?” The old man asked.
“Yes, Grandfather, I am.” Dustin said and looked at him. He pulled himself up and gave him a nod, “I’ll put this away for you, and get a start on supper for this evening.”
“Excellent. Make sure you make more than you would for just the three of us, it is entirely possible that your father may join us.”
“Would you like me to find out for certain?”
“No, it will be his own decision, but, let us be prepared just in case.”
“A back up plan, Grandfather?” Dustin asked with a smirk and a raised eyebrow.
“I think you begin to understand me a little better, my boy, and my methods.”
“I do, Grandfather. Robert was right, you are crafty, aren’t you?”
“And old.” The old man smiled wide and then sat down, “Andrew, where were we?” The old man asked and the young man sat back down in his usual spot and reread the last bit. He looked up.
“You were about an hour from the Dover cliffs, sir.”
“Ah, quite right. We sailed without further incident through the Dover Straights, riding the current and taking the wind, staying well ahead of the other ships. I ordered the extra canvas struck, rerolled and stowed away when we cleared the Straights. Several of the Marines had joined my men with having nothing else to do, and I was watching a small ocean of white as they moved about with the hands. I was not concerned during the day so much as we made our way to our course line out into the North Sea, heading north to our first position. My thought was to make us as visible as possible in case we were being watched. I wanted to start with being near the first position of a known attack point off the Scottish coast, near Wick. That merchant attacked there was larger than we I had been told and felt confident in making that area our first point, before turning south. We were a day ahead from the no moon yet, and I was feeling anxious about all of it. Carson, my Steward, put me at ease,…”
“Captain, I would like to introduce you to someone, sir.” Carson said with a young Marine standing beside and behind him. Callum was giving them both his best look, that look of a Captain, official, strong, and slightly annoyed at being bothered. Carson was just as bubbly as he always was and could cut right through Callum’s façade.
“Who is this now, Carson, have you discovered a young stowaway below decks?” Callum asked in his voice of authority. The young man swallowed hard, Callum saw him and he was looking almost terrified at being here in his presence. Carson reached back and grabbed the young man by the arm gently and pulled him up next to him.
“My sister’s son, sir. Captain Quintan Callum, may I present Keifer Lauder. He has heard much of you, sir, from me, and I wanted to introduce him before we were too far into the mission, sir.”
“I see.” Callum said, and took a hand off the wheel and held it out to the young man, who swallowed hard again, getting a shoulder bump from Carson. He put out his hand and took Callum’s, “Good to have you aboard, Mr. Lauder.” Callum said and gave him a nod.
“Thank you, sir.”
“First time at sea, Mr. Lauder?”
“Well, perhaps we won’t have a very rough time of it, and will be able to give you smooth sailing.” Callum cracked a smile for the first time. He liked the look of this young man before him, very handsome, almost as tall as he was, there seemed to be good tone to his body even though he was very slender, as his grip had suggested, his eyes were a deep blue, like Talon’s, piercing almost, and his hair was as black as coal, and made his white fresh face stand out even more. “It would seem that you have had good fortune as to not have inherited Carson’s looks, my lad. Wouldn’t you agree, Carson?” Callum teased, Carson beamed his signature grin with it.
“Indeed, sir. His father is a very striking fellow to be sure, but he has his mother’s eyes I think.”
“You don’t say?” Callum asked and gave the young man a wink, “So, with this being your first time out to sea, I dare say you have never piloted a vessel of any kind then, have you?”
“Oh no, sir.” He said with wide eyes.
“Would you care to give it a try, Mr. Lauder?”
“I would not want to be any trouble, sir.”
“Nonsense.” Callum said, “Who knows, if you like it, I may have Sgt. McGuffin reassign you. I might even entertain thoughts of having you join us when you resign with the Marines.” Callum took a step back but held the wheel, as Carson pushed the lad forward a bit more. He came in and stepped near the Captain, and Callum carefully showed him how to take the wheel and to get a feel for it before letting go of it. Callum stepped off to one side but stayed close with him as the young man stepped closer to the wheel for more control. “The secret is, work with it, not against it. Feel the water and the wheel working together, hand in hand, the wind forces it, but you control it.” Callum spoke softly into his ear and the young man eased with what he felt in his hands as he listened to the Captain. “You see, I think you have it.” Callum smiled over at Carson, who was almost beside himself with it all, “When is supper, Carson?” Callum asked.
“In about an hour, sir.”
“It should be near dark soon after, I would think.” Callum said, “If this wind holds, we should be alright through the night and reach our point by the morning.”
“Would you care for supper in your cabin, sir?” Carson asked.
“No, I’ll take it out here as I said earlier. I will keep the wheel into the next watch.”
“Sir?” Carson asked looking confused.
“Amos is relieving me on the next watch.” Callum said. He looked over at the young man standing next to him that was handling the wheel for him, “Ready to give her up, Mr. Lauder?”
“If you’d like, sir.” He answered and looked like he’d done something wrong. Callum saw it and leaned close to him.
“I wouldn’t really want to keep you from any duties the Sergeant might have for you.” Callum said softly close to his ear and it eased the young man.
“We have already drilled for the day, sir. I am on my own time as it were.”
“Very good then. If you want the wheel, then you may have it.” Callum smiled at him.
“Thank you, sir.” The young man looked into Callum’s soft blue eyes and was lost in them. Carson cleared his throat, and Callum looked at him.
“I’ll see about supper then, sir.”
“Yes, do that by all means.” Callum said as he straightened. He looked over at the young man, “Would you care to take supper with me here on deck, Mr. Lauder?”
“It would be an honor, sir.” The young man was wide eyed.
“Excellent.” Callum said and gave him a nod and looked at Carson, “There you have it, Carson, we’ll have our supper here on deck.” Carson’s mouth dropped open a bit. His eyes went back and forth between the two.
“As you wish, sir.” Carson said and turned away to go back below to the galley. Callum looked aloft and saw the wind was still good, sails were at full billow and the Main was creaking less with the loss of the extra canvas. All seemed well as the late afternoon slipped into early evening. The watch was called and men traded places with one another. There were less hands now and Windsong settled into her northerly course. Callum would look over his shoulder now and then aft but could not see sails on the horizon. He knew Dover was there, but out of sight. Carson brought up supper and set it on the wheelhouse top being mindful of the chart. Callum stepped to the wheel to take it from the young Marine but was stopped by the hand of another, he looked and there was a smiling Hawkins, his eyes flashed in the light of the dusk.
“I’ll take her, sir, you can have your supper.”
“Thank you, Hawkins.” Callum said and put a hand on Hawkins shoulder for a moment and he felt Hawkins respond to that touch with a slight ease of muscle as it were. Hawkins stepped into the wheel as Callum joined the young Marine that waited for him. Together they started to eat. Hawkins would look at them now and then stealing glances under the cover of trying to see if anything was approaching from the stern.
“Tell me of yourself, Mr. Lauder.” Callum said as they sat on the wheelhouse. “You seem a bit young to be a Marine.”
“I suppose that’s true, sir. I will be sixteen very soon. I and most of my fellows had to somewhat lie about our age to join up, sir.” Lauder said and then looked worried, “Please don’t tell the Sergeant, sir.”
“I think he already knows.” Callum said and gave him a brief smile, “It’s not hard to guess, you know.”
“No, I suppose not.” He said and hung his head a bit.
“It’s alright, my lad. To do ones duty for his King and his country is hard to argue with, at any age. I’m just surprised that most of you are that young that’s all.”
“They came while we were at school. They wanted some of the older students, but most of us stepped in first. They didn’t even question it. We were told to report to the Garrison in two days and so we did. They trained us and then we were told to report to the docks.”
“So you’ve never seen or have been in any other duty?”
“No, sir. This is our first duty of any kind.”
“Oh, dear God.” Callum said in a whisper. McGuffin knew it but didn’t say anything, just gave Callum prideful talk of them being Royal Marines. Callum smiled at the young man, “Well, you just make certain that you follow what the Sergeant says and he will see you through any trouble that may come.”
“You think there might be,…trouble, sir?” The young man asked and looked frightened as he held his plate.
“Without a doubt, at some point, yes, there will be trouble. That’s why we’re here in this sailing, in this mission. I won’t lie to you, you’ve heard what I have said before we sailed. You just do what you have been trained to do when the time comes, and follow what the Sergeant says, it will save you from harm, I’m certain.” Callum said softly and the young Marine eased a bit. Callum scanned the young fresh face for a minute, all of them were like him, young, fresh faced, untried. Callum was sick to his stomach over it, thinking that most of them or possibly even all were going to die if this went bad. But, he knew that there was no turning back now, they were committed to it, this mission he was leading, and too much was stake in the larger picture of it all.
“I have heard from my uncle, sir, about some of things that have happened. I wanted you to know, sir, I will do my best not to let you down.” The young man said as he stared at Callum.
“I’m sure you won’t.” Callum smiled into the young deep eyes and gave him a brief nod as well.
“Some of my fellows know as well, sir. Everyone at the Garrison speaks of what happened in your last mission, those that were aboard Dover told us all. Is it true, sir?”
“Well, I’m not sure what they said.” Callum went back to his supper as the young man just continued to look at him.
“They said that Dover had been boarded and you were near dead but you came up and helped retake the ship.”
“I suppose it could be seen that way. I was merely doing my duty with it all. I would not ever let my ship be taken without a fight while I still had breath.” Callum said as he finished the last of his supper, “There are those that might see it as me rising from the dead as it were, but, I assure you, there were other reasons.” Callum looked up and saw Hawkins was listening to what was being said as his head was cocked a bit. Callum looked at him for a long moment. “I’m certain that Hawkins here could give you his account of it as well, couldn’t you, Hawkins?” Callum asked setting his plate down and folding his arms over his chest, “You see, Mr. Lauder, Hawkins was a member of the starboard gun crew. He stayed at his post and with the fellow members of his gun crew, they continued to fire into the Frenchman as we were being boarded, isn’t that right, Hawkins?”
“Yes, sir. We followed your orders, sir, and kept firing.” Hawkins said as he was asked to join in the conversation.
“My point, Mr. Lauder, is that each of us has a duty to perform. We all know that, as do you. Remember to keep your head about you and follow orders and it will see you through.” Callum said as he watched Hawkins in front of him.
“I will, sir.” The young man said as he leaned against the wheelhouse with Callum still next to him. Callum gave him another brief nod.
“Have you had your supper, Hawkins?” Callum asked.
“Not yet, sir.”
“Well, go below and see about it then. I’ll take the wheel.” Callum said and stepped forward, and took the wheel from him. Hawkins tipped his hand, “Thank you for taking over.” Callum said to him and Hawkins tipped his hand again, looking his Captain over again and gave him a soft smile. He walked away as Carson came back up on deck to collect plates.
“No, I think I’ve had enough for the time being, thank you.” Callum said.
“Can I get you anything else, sir?”
“Yes, would you fetch my vest from the cabin?”
“Certainly, sir.” Carson said and stopped with the plates in his hand. He knew that Callum was going to remain on deck now, even if he was relieved. “I’ll only be a moment, sir.” Carson said and Callum looked over his shoulder at the young Marine who remained there behind him.
“I’m wondering, Mr. Lauder, would you open the door there of the wheelhouse? Could you see to the pistols that are there, check them and see if they are loaded?”
“Yes, sir.” The young man said and stepped away and opened the door he had been leaning against. He reached in and started to pull them out, looking them over. Only a couple had been loaded. A dozen were stored there. Extra shot and powder was there and he set about to load the others and put them back on the shelf next to the signaling rockets. Callum glanced over now and then seeing his progress as Carson came back up on deck with Callum’s vest. He helped Callum slip it on as he had come behind his Captain, Callum did not button it but only wanted it to shield him from the wind a bit.
The wind was still good and strong as the darkness surrounded them. Lanterns were being lit now bringing the deck and the masts into a new life with the glow from polished woodwork. Amos appeared on deck leading Capshaw, Patkin, and Hammond. Amos had given them instructions about the watch, Capshaw went forward to the bowsprit to keep lookout, Hammond came with Amos to maintain watch aft through the night. Amos and Hammond tipped their hands to Callum, Hammond continued on his way to the aft rail, Amos was standing by to take the wheel, Callum knew it. He let Amos take his place and turned to stand beside the young Marine.
“They’re all loaded, sir.” The young man said.
“Excellent. Thank you for doing that, Mr. Lauder.”
“My pleasure, sir.”
“Why don’t you go below before the Sergeant comes looking for you.”
“Thank you, sir.” The young Marine said and looked at Callum in the lamplight, “Thank you for speaking with me, sir.”
“It was my pleasure, I assure you, Mr. Lauder. We will speak again, I’m sure.” Callum smiled and gave him another brief nod. He watched the young Marine walk away and head toward the hold. The lantern had been lit at the aft rail and was giving good light about them. Callum stepped closer to Amos, coming beside him as he looked forward, seeing only the deck awash with a soft glow from the lantern on the Mainmast. Darkness surrounded them completely beyond the soft glow, the sound of the wind in the canvas making it snap now and then, the creaking of wood from the deck and the masts themselves could also be heard. Callum saw young Talon emerge and come up the steps to the deck.
“Good evening, Mr. Talon.” Callum said.
“Good evening, sir.” Talon said and tipped his hand to him. Callum knew that Talon had been making his inspection below before coming up on deck as was customary, “Everything is secured, sir, all accesses are cleared away.”
“Very good.” Callum said, he looked over at his young officer who was scanning the darkness, “I’ll remain here on deck, Darin,” Callum said softly as he leaned close to Talon’s ear, “why don’t you go below and rest for the evening with Mr. Collingwood.”
“I want to see about our first night that’s all, to make certain of everything.” Callum said and saw the look on the young man’s face, “It’s alright, truly.”
“If you wish, sir.” Talon said but looked worried.
“I don’t expect trouble tonight, but, if there is, make certain you’re ready. You and Mr. Collingwood check over your pistols.”
“We will, sir.” Talon said. He tipped his hand and looked Callum in the eye, but Callum had looked away and was watching forward again. Talon went below but slowly, giving Callum a last look as he went down the steps to the door that led below.
“Grandfather,” Dustin said from the kitchen doorway, the old man looked up at him, “I have supper ready if you wish.” The old man looked back at Andrew on the settee near him. He watched the young man put his notebook down on the cushion.
“Well, I think we are ready, or at least one of us is.” He smiled back at Dustin, who was grinning at seeing Andrew getting to his feet quickly. He waited as the old man slowly rose up out of his chair and started toward the kitchen, following him, not wanting to crowd him. Dustin went back into the kitchen as the old man came in and stepped to the table, taking his usual place at the side, his back to the stove and his grandson. Andrew took the end on the small bench near the doorway to the parlor. Dustin looked over at them and picked up a pot and brought it over to the table and set it down them. Andrew looked up at him and smiled, Dustin smiled back at him.
“It smells wonderful.” Andrew said softly to him.
“Thank you.” Dustin said and went back to the stove, opening a the oven door, he reached in with a cloth and pulled out a pan containing warmed bread that they had purchased in the Square this morning. He set it down and pulled it and set it on a board and picked up a knife to start to slice it. A knock on the door stopped him. He looked over and saw the door open and his father step in.
“Henry, a pleasant surprise.” The old man said.
“Hello, Father.” Dustin said.
“I hope it’s alright that I join you?”
“Of course it is, and welcome.” The old man said holding out a hand to show him a chair at the end.
“Dustin had waved me over earlier.” Henry said.
“Did he now?” The old man asked as he looked over his shoulder and gave his grandson a wink.
“He did.” Henry said and looked over at his son and gave him a half-smile, Dustin smiled widely at all of them. “It doesn’t seem as though he said anything to you about it however.”
“No, he did not, but you know it is no issue at all. You are always welcome, Henry.” The old man said.
“Thank you, Papa.” Henry said as Dustin came back to the table with the board covered with sliced bread. He set it down on the table and came around and sat opposite his grandfather. He reached and uncovered the lid of the pot and put a large wooden spoon into it and began to serve everyone. They started into the simple but excellent stew that he had made, the old man was enjoying it very much Dustin could see and it made him happy. “So how is the writing coming along?” Henry asked Andrew directly making eye contact with him to engage him. Andrew was surprised by it. They had not really spoken since that first day.
“I think it’s going fine, sir.” Andrew said as he had stopped eating.
“Really? As I had said, I think it’s a good thing.” Henry said and paused long enough to chew and swallow, “Do you think it will make a good book or is it just a sort of long account?”
“I have been giving that some thought as well. As we continue to go along with it, it is quite engaging actually. I’m beginning to see how all of the men that served began to think and feel about what happened. As I said, it’s very engaging. In answer to your question, I think it should be presented as an account, a memoir if you will. It is an adventure story on its own, yes, but it has feeling and meaning beyond that as well.” Andrew said, and all of them at the table were just staring at him as he spoke.
“Thank you, Andrew.” The old man said, “I was not trying to give anything else but a full accounting of the facts, as we originally decided on.”
“Exactly, sir.” Andrew said, turning his attention toward the old man fully, “And that’s the whole point of it, sir. It’s simply with those facts and the way you relay them to me that is so captivating. There is no need whatsoever to add any flourish to it at all, sir, and not that I would in the slightest. But the one question that I have not asked you yet, did you keep a log?”
“All Captains are required to keep a log.” The old man said, but shook his head a bit, “But, I must confess that I was not very diligent in that duty. I lent more toward a full report when it was necessary to write one. My logs, or rather the log from Dover was turned over to the Admiralty when she was finally decommissioned and dismantled.”
“It would be very interesting to read that, I would think.” Henry said softly.
“Not as interesting as what Andrew is writing, Father. I sit and listen as well to what Grandfather tells him and some of it is completely amazing to me.” Dustin said.
“I have listened as well when I was a boy, as you know, but it was more from Thomas and Christian and what they experienced.”
“Thomas was always wide eyed over telling stories, wasn’t he, Henry?” The old man asked.
“Yes, he was. I remember Christian telling me things, but he was more like Dustin in his recounting of it, matter of fact as it were.”
“Yes. I think that Dustin was more the better storyteller of our little group.” The old man said.
“While you were away, he would tell me those stories when he first came aboard Dover, stories of you and what happened when your Captain was still alive.” Henry smiled softly.
“Captain Powers, yes.” The old man said giving a nod.
“If I had the time, I would love to sit and listen to you as well, Papa.”
“I’m sure you would, Henry. As I have said, I should have done it years ago with you.”
“At least you are now, Papa.” Henry smiled and pat the back of the old man’s hand. He looked at Andrew directly again, “But, I insist that I get the first copy.”
“It would be my honor, sir.” Andrew said and smiled wide, feeling finally welcomed at last by this man that sat opposite him, an older version of the person that he shared a bed with and cared very deeply about. They let the conversation lapse a bit after that and went back to their excellent supper until they were all stuffed to their limits. Dustin cleared the table and again, Andrew helped in silence and without being asked. The old man turned and looked at his son.
“I wanted to ask, Henry, do you need any help over at Harbroughs?”
“No, Papa, thank you. I seem to managing quite well. Being over there alone is of no trouble to me at all. I have the company of the dogs as well as the horses.” Henry said and chuckled a bit, “She would more than likely have a fit knowing that I have let the dogs into the house. One of them has actually started sleeping on the bed with me at night.” Henry said and chuckled again, as did the old man. “I think they are rather enjoying it though they were confused by it at first.”
“I don’t doubt it.” The old man said. “I was wondering why I haven’t seen any of them about when I was outside earlier.”
“Actually, they are all outside waiting on the flagstone. They follow me about everywhere now.”
“Do they?” The old man asked, “I remember that first dog of yours, the one that followed you home from the Square. Do you remember him?”
“I do, Papa. He helped me so very much. It was he that saw me through with everything while you were gone that first time. And I was thinking about him just this morning actually. I miss him sometimes, the way his eyes were so expressive when he would look at me.” Henry said as he was drawing a small circle with a fingertip on the table as he looked down at it, lost in the memory of that dog, his first real friend. The old man watched his son and what he was doing, realizing how lonely that his son must have been, it saddened him.
“Are you alright, Henry?” The old man asked quietly. Henry didn’t look up, but only nodded in reply.
“Yes, Papa, I am fine.” He said and smiled briefly at the small circle he still drew. He stopped and looked up, “Well, I must be off. There are a few things to tend to at the barn before bed.” He stood up, the old man followed his with his gaze, Henry went over to the sink and put hands on shoulders of both Dustin and Andrew. “Thank you for dinner, it was most excellent.”
“You’re welcome, Father. If you wish, I can cook breakfast for you in the morning?”
“No, I can manage that for myself, but thank you.” Henry said as Dustin was looking at him, and they both smiled at one another, “Andrew, I look forward to hearing some of this account when you have a bit of time.”
“Certainly, sir, I think we can do that very soon.” Andrew said as he looked at Henry as he stood next to Dustin.
“Good. I’ll say good night then.” He took his hands from their shoulders and left them looking at each other and walked over to his father at the table, who had risen and waited, “Good night, Papa, and thank you again. It was very enjoyable for us to speak.”
“Yes, it was, Henry. Please, come for supper tomorrow. I would like it be a regular thing, if you would.”
“I will, thank you.” He smiled at his father. He hugged his father and gave him a kiss on the cheek and pat a shoulder gently. He pulled back and went to the back door, the dogs were indeed waiting for him there, the old man saw it and smiled and then chuckled shaking his head a bit. Henry closed the door behind him.
“That first night, the wind was good and I was chilled slightly from it. I didn’t go to my cabin to even get a jacket, I didn’t wish to leave the deck. I had thought to keep a constant watch. I had thought that if I turned my back for even a moment that bastard we were hunting would sneak in on me. I couldn’t take that chance not with that first night. My men felt the same way I came to find out but only later, much later.” The old man said as he was sitting in his chair, Dustin beside him on the ottoman, Andrew at his usual spot on the settee.
“But there was nothing during that first night was there, Grandfather?” Dustin asked. The old man shook his head a bit as he looked at the young face.
The dawn slowly came upon Windsong and those that were aboard her. Callum was bent over the chart on the wheelhouse calculating where they actually were. He looked about him and could not see any sign of land at all, and it was a good thing to him he thought. If they had been seen, and his suspicions were correct, whoever was watching and reporting on merchants would have seen them as they emerged from the Dover Straights as it had to be from there or nearby. He hoped his gamble of it was correct and now after having nothing happen in their first night at sea, he was feeling slightly at ease. He knew that they were to the east of Wick, the small Scottish port in the north of Scotland by a few miles right where he wanted to start. All of the hands with him had done well, minding their duties and keeping a good watch through the night, he, like they was tired from the constant tension that they had felt throughout the night, but none spoke of it openly.
Collingwood was the first to emerge on deck before the watch was changed. He knew that Callum was on deck as Talon had told him when he came to their shared cabin. Collingwood himself had gotten very little sleep with the tension of this first night and couldn’t wait any longer to join his Captain on deck. He looked about as he emerged from the doorway, seeing the hands going about their work, Capshaw was maintaining his lookout at the bowsprit, and Collingwood came up next to Callum as he was still bent over the chart, looking down on it as well. Callum looked up at him finally for only a moment.
“Morning, sir. I trust it went well last night, sir?” Collingwood asked.
“It did, yes.”
“You look tired, sir, would you like me to take the deck?”
“In a bit perhaps.” Callum said and looked about him again, noting the sky as well toward the west of them.
“Where are we, sir?” Collingwood asked as he looked at the chart. Callum pointed to it, their position on the chart.
“We should about here, twenty five miles or so off Wick. Captain Tomlin should be about here, within sight of Wick by now I would think.” Callum said as he pointed after sliding his finger over a bit, “Captain Stewart should be here in this position, and Captain Renner should be here and holding his position.” Callum said as he slid his finger down the chart pointing to marks that he made on the chart, “We will maintain position here for the day and then proceed south on our course as it becomes late afternoon.”
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said as he studied the chart closely.
“We can strike sail in about an hour. Maintain the Headsail so we keep position constant, if we move too much, set a circular course.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Collingwood said and gave him a nod.
“Have all ties and stays double checked and readied for tonight. I’ll get a bit of rest and then return to join you on deck.”
“As you wish, sir.” Collingwood said and gave him another brief nod. Callum walked away and went down the steps to the door that led below. He went through and Carson leaned his head out.
“Morning, sir, would you care for some breakfast?”
“Perhaps something small, Carson.”
“In your cabin, sir?”
“Yes, that would be fine, thank you.” Callum said and walked the few steps to the door of his cabin and opened it as Talon emerged from his own.
“Morning, sir.” Talon said and tipped his hand. Callum looked over at him.
“Morning, Darin.” Callum said and gave him a nod. “Mr. Collingwood has the deck and has his orders. I was seeing some clouds to the west, we might be getting a bit of rain soon. I want you to double check the bilge pump just to make certain of it. I don’t want to take any chances.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Talon tipped his hand and gave him a nod.
“Report to Mr. Collingwood before you do go below.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said and walked toward the door. Callum went into his cabin, leaving the door open behind him. He went to the table and sat down at it and stretched out his legs trying to get comfortable a bit. He closed his eyes for a moment and Carson came in.
“Here you are, sir.” He said as he set down a plate and a cup of coffee for him along with silverware.
“Thank you, Carson.”
“Can I do anything else for you, sir?”
“No, I can manage, thank you. You can leave the door open though if you would.” Callum said and looked at his small breakfast. He started into it after Carson went back to the galley. He ate in relative silence, hearing things about on deck above him as the watch was changed, hearing muffled voices above him. He could pick out a word now and then and finally finished his breakfast. He pushed his plate back and could smell the beginnings of Carson baking bread, or something like it. He smiled at it and pulled his boots off, setting them next to the chair he was in. He sat forward a bit and slipped off his vest and stood, going over and hanging it on a peg. He turned and went to his haversack and climbed into it, using the old blanket and covered only his chest and closed his eyes. His mind filled almost immediately of images of Dustin as he started to relax, seeing his shining face smiling at him in his mind as he began to dream. They were holding each other’s hands and had just shared a tender and soft kiss as they were standing on the knoll at the Cross in the tall grass. Dustin pulled away from him and was slowly backing away, leaving him alone and was only able to stare at him, wanting to tell him to come back to him and to not leave. He could not say anything, nothing would come from him even though he tried. The image was pulled away quickly as he opened his eyes. He heard shouting above him and leaped out of his haversack, reaching for his boots and headed for the door.
On deck, all hands were about along with Marines only in shirts without jackets as Callum emerged, seeing everyone looking out into the distance. He took his boots, dropping one and stepped into the one he held and reached for the other, grasping it and went to step into it as well. Collingwood was at his side, holding a glass in his hand.
“Sail, sir, off the port bow, at two points.” Collingwood said as he was looking in that direction, Callum stamped his boot on the deck and took the glass and lifted it to his eye. He followed to the track with it and then saw the vessel. Large, slow moving, but not under full sail. He watched it for a minute, not seeing flags or pennants of any kind. Talon had come beside Callum as well now and was also looking, McGuffin joined them as well.
“I’m not sure if it’s a Man of War.” Callum said, “But let’s not take any chances. Clear the deck, Mr. Collingwood,…”
“Aye, aye, sir. Clear the deck!”
“Sergeant, perhaps you should have your men standing by.” Callum said.
“Yes, sir.” The big man said smartly and saluted, “Marines! Into the hold! Make ready weapons!” The big man said and started off toward the hold himself, his Marines were either going down quickly or were about to once there was room to do so. Callum handed the glass back to Collingwood, turned and headed to the steps, going quickly down, grabbing his sword, putting it through his holder in his belt and grabbing his pistols, he tucked them into the belt as well, spun and headed for the deck. Once there, Callum looked over at the wheel, Dorfman was there.
“Maintain this course, Dorfman.”
“Aye, sir.” The older man said and kept the wheel where it was. Callum went back to his officers, Collingwood had the glass to his eye.
“Coming up from the southeast.” Callum said softly, “Anything, Mr. Collingwood?”
“She must be a merchant, sir. She’s running with Headsails only though, sir.”
“And running slow, she almost heading into the wind. I wonder.” Callum said, and held out his hand for the glass. Collingwood gave it to him and Callum lifted it to his eye, watching the distant ship closely.
“Do you think she’s seen us, sir?” Talon asked.
“I don’t think there’s anyone aboard to see us, Darin. Mr. Collingwood,” Callum said with the glass to his eye still.
“Change course, bring us in under her lee. We’re going to board her.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said with a worried look. He turned away from the rail, “Set and make all plain sail! Dorfman, change course, bring us to that ship on her lee!”
“Aye, sir!” The older man answered and turned the wheel a bit as the sails above that had struck were now being unfurled again to catch the wind. Callum stayed with watching her off in the distance.
“Who do you think she is, sir?” Talon asked as he watched beside his Captain.
“If I had to venture a guess, I’d say she’s Dutch built.” Callum said as he handed Talon the glass, he took it and raised it to his eye, “Notice her bows, see how broad they are?”
“Yes, sir, I see it.”
“The Dutch build their heavy merchants that way. It allows for more cargo storage in the forward hold.” Callum said. Talon lowered the glass, “She’s a couple of miles off yet. I need to see McGuffin for a moment, keep an eye on her.”
“Aye, sir.” Talon said and went back to watching as Callum went off to the hold and went down the gangway steps quickly as the hands were moving about doing their work. Callum reached the deck of the hold and saw McGuffin watching his Marines getting their gear into place and forming ranks in the confines of the space they had.
“Alright lads, look sharp now. Let’s show the Captain what Marines can really do.” McGuffin said as he watched them all, looking up and down the line. Callum stayed quiet while the large man did his job not wanting to interrupt him at all. McGuffin turned and snapped a salute. It didn’t surprise Callum that McGuffin knew he was there, he almost expected it. “Sir.” He said, holding the salute. Callum returned it loosely and McGuffin dropped his arm, “We are standing by, sir.”
“Thank you, Sergeant. And it is certainly a very good showing as well, my compliments.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“We’re going to pull alongside that ship. It looks like it’s a merchant, possibly Dutch, and she may be in trouble.”
“A possible rescue then, sir?”
“I don’t know yet. Keep your men at the ready for the time being, but let’s not raise an alarm with that other vessel yet. Have your men standby down here.”
“Very good, sir.”
“Sir?” Came a voice from above, Callum turned on his heel and looked up seeing Bateman at the opening of the hold, “Mr. Talon’s respects, sir, he needs you on deck.” Callum nodded his reply, and looked back at McGuffin.
“Sergeant?” Callum asked and he stepped to the gangway steps, McGuffin following him up. Callum crossed the deck quickly to come to beside the young officer. “Mr. Talon?” Talon handed the glass over to him.
“In the rigging, sir, her port side at the Foremast.” Talon said and pointed. Callum looked at him for a moment and then lifted the glass to his eye. He found what Talon was talking about seeing someone moving up and down in the rigging, but it was like he didn’t know what he was doing, just going up and down a few rope rungs reaching out toward lines. Callum couldn’t quite make him out, but he seemed small in size compared to the scale of the rigging he was on. Callum lowered his glass and narrowed his eyes.
“It looks like someone is aboard her for sure, but he’s the only one I can see moving about.” Callum said.
“He’s all I could see as well, sir.” Talon said. Callum turned on his heel and headed for the wheelhouse. Collingwood watched him coming toward he and Dorfman.
“Mr. Collingwood, bring us down her port side to windward and swing us around her stern. We’ll board her on her starboard side. There’s someone over there in the rigging.” Callum said.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said, “Would you care to take the deck, sir?”
“Thank you, Mr. Collingwood, it’s still your watch.” Callum said with a raised eyebrow.
“Aye, sir.” Collingwood said and tipped his hand. Callum nodded and then turned back and looked toward the bow, the other ship was getting larger as they drew closer to her. Now it was a waiting game for them all, the hardest part of it, the not knowing, the anxiety in thinking that there might be trouble from this. What if it was a trap of some kind? Highly unlikely though the thought was there, and all aboard were thinking it, Callum included as he looked about at his crew and his two officers, what if? Two words that formed a question that was never ending within its possibilities. Callum let out a long and silent sigh over it and the thought. Rafkin was the only man aloft as Windsong finally reached this ship that was alone out here in the North Sea. Dorfman steered a course down the port side as had been ordered and slowly swung wide around the broad stern. Callum looked up aloft as if silently asking Rafkin what he saw from the vantage point that he was in, but he never said anything. As they made the sweeping turn, the person that was up in the rigging had climbed down as they were approaching had disappeared from sight. Callum watched carefully as all others aboard did as well, again, there was no movement or show of anyone that might be about on board, save the one that had been seen up in the rigging. No one was at the wheel either, it turned back and forth on its own in the swells that this ship rode. Windsong slowly approached up the starboard side of this ship. All hands were on the port side of Windsong, looking up as this ship that they were coming alongside of was twice their size and almost that in her height above the waterline over them as well.
“Hands standby on the lines!” Callum called out. “Mr. Collingwood, strike sail!”
“Aye, sir. Strike sail!” Collingwood called out. Some of the hands jumped to it and began to use lines to pull sails up, bringing Windsong to slow her pace alongside this larger ship.
“Cast your lines! Tie us down to her!” Callum called out. He watched as hooks attached to lines went up and over the railing on the larger ship and then were tied off to belaying pins to keep them secured to one another. The two vessels bumped and ground against each other a few times. Callum turned and looked at McGuffin, “Sergeant, would you care to accompany me?”
“Bring one of your Marines as well, but only one to stand as sentry.”
“Of course, sir.” McGuffin said and went to call one of them up from the hold.
Collingwood had pulled a pistol from the wheelhouse and came to join Callum who was next to Talon. He looked at his two young officers and then at the faces of the hands that were starting to gather round them.
“The Sergeant and I will board her,” Callum said to Collingwood, “You will all remain here until I determine what is going on. Mr. Collingwood, have Amos load the rail guns with grape shot and have everyone arm themselves just as a precaution. The Marines are at the ready below, leave them there for the time being.”
“Aye, aye, sir.” Collingwood said and turned and looked at the hands, they all set off to carry out the orders. McGuffin returned with a fresh faced young Marine.
“Ready, Sergeant?” Callum asked and received only a look from the large man, Callum gave him a half-smile and went to the port rail, jumping up on it, grabbing a line from the larger vessel and went up the side, McGuffin followed him up on the same line. Callum reached the rail and went over it, pulling his pistols that were in his belt. He used his forearms to help cock them and was ready as McGuffin came up and over the rail. Callum looked about on the deck not seeing anyone about at all. As he looked about he could see large areas that glistened in the late morning light of the day. McGuffin had pulled a pistol from his own belt and cocked it, swinging it slowly as he looked around as well while Callum went to a large glistening area and knelt down beside it. He set a pistol on the deck and dipped a fingertip into it and lifted it, it was deep red. His eyes looked about on the deck of the swaying ship. McGuffin was behind him, covering him as Callum rose to his feet.
“It’s blood.” Callum said quietly to McGuffin half over his shoulder, McGuffin narrowed his eyes, “Let’s look in the hold, have your sentry stay there at the rail.” Callum said in a quiet voice and McGuffin looked at the young Marine and held up a hand to silently tell him to stay put. He nodded once in reply to the order.
Callum walked over to the hold, pistols out in front of him pointing as he looked over and down into the hold. What he saw made him close his eyes and turn his head. McGuffin stepped up close to him and looked as well.
“Dear God.” He whispered in his deep graveled voice. The smell was pouring up from below, rancid and rotting. Parts of bodies were piled together in a grotesque heap as if just thrown down, some parts still wore clothing or bits of it, but mostly the parts, legs, arms were bare. Callum winced from the smell, it was almost gagging to him and he turned away from the edge of the hold.
“We have to find whoever is aboard. He must have gone below somewhere. Whoever he is either saw this happen or was a part of it.” Callum said, “I’ll go below through that door, Sergeant, see if you can lash the wheel to keep her steady and on course.”
“You shouldn’t be alone, sir.”
“Join me as soon as you can.” Callum said and set off to the doorway that led into a companionway below and to the cabins that might be there. McGuffin walked up on the upper deck at the wheel and began to use lines that were about to lash the wheel to keep her steady. McGuffin was being watched by Rafkin that was still aloft on Windsong, Collingwood was looking up and was given a sign that so far everything was alright. All the crew on deck of Windsong could see was the Marine standing guard at the rail.
Callum went through the door and looked around, it was like a Ward Room for the crew to have their meals in. Callum could see cups and a few plates about on a couple of tables but nothing else. He continued on a few steps and was into a passage, a few doors lined it and it was very dark, the lamps on the walls had gone out or were put out intentionally. Callum listened at the first door and heard nothing, he assumed it was the Captain’s cabin. He opened it and the smell was overwhelming and turned his stomach. He turned his head away for a moment and looked in after holding his breath. Like in the hold, there were body parts, it was hard to determine how many people that it might have been that were killed in here, but the pile was large. He closed the door and put his upper arm to his nose to breathe through the cloth of his shirt. He moved to the next door and did the same thing, listening first and held his breath and opened it, more bodies, he closed the door. He moved on to the last door and listened. He heard something inside, he waited a moment, tucking a pistol into his belt to free up a hand, he opened the door slowly.
The smell here was faint, and he looked around in the darkened room as best he could, he did not see movement or body parts at all. A lamp was swinging gently from the center of the timbered ceiling, but it was out as well. He opened the door wider and heard movement on the far side of the cabin. He looked in that direction and saw nothing. He stepped in further and held out his pistol, he stepped again toward a table in the middle of the cabin and looked in the direction of the sound of movement and he saw something, what was that? He stepped closer another step and then the screaming started, loud and shrill, it was ear splitting and kept going on and on as he moved toward it. Dark curtains covered a window on the bulkhead wall, Callum reached up and ripped it back and brought light into the cabin. Callum looked down and saw the screaming figure, a boy older than his Henry at home, but a boy nonetheless. Callum set his pistol on the table and knelt down in front of the screaming huddled up boy under a shelf against the bulkhead. Callum reached out and grabbed him and pulled him to him and just held him while the boy continued to scream in his ear. Finally it stopped, the screaming, the shrill piercing noise, Callum’s ear was ringing from it all. He kept holding the boy, not moving at all, staying perfectly still and then he felt the body weight of the boy go limp in his arms. Callum picked him up, he barely weighted anything, he held him under the seat of his pants and the limp body was draped over Callum’s right shoulder as McGuffin charged in, pistol ready as Callum turned.
“It’s a boy. He must have been the cabin boy or something.” Callum said to McGuffin, picking up his pistol off the table, he walked by McGuffin carrying his burden and headed back the way he came and out on deck, at last into the open air. Callum walked toward the Marine Sentry and looked over the rail at his waiting officers and men below. “Rig me a line with a loop.” Callum called down over the rail, and hands jumped to it. It was raised up and swung over, McGuffin caught it and they worked together to sling it under the arms of the boy. They secured another line and carefully lowered him to Windsong and waiting hands, they lowered him to deck carefully as Callum came down, followed by McGuffin and the Marine.
“What did you find, sir?” Collingwood asked as he was bent over behind a kneeling Callum, who at the boys side.
“That French bastard did this. They’re all dead, cut into pieces, the entire crew. This happened some time ago, as everything is starting to rot. It would seem that this boy has somehow survived the attack and has been trying to deal with the officers and crew, putting them together, or their pieces at least. I need him to tell me what happened and if he knows anything else that we don’t know about this Frog son-of-a-bitch.”