DOVER Chapter 23

Callum entered the Great Cabin and went to the berth, he slipped out of his tunic and hung it on the peg on the wall. He is hat hung on the next one, and he removed his sword, or rather the sword that was Captain Powers' trunk. He looked at it, and then placed it next to the small desk against the other wall next to the door. He slipped out of his shoes and lay on the bunk against the bulkhead.

His mind was still consumed with thoughts of the past few minutes on deck, the longboat from the Tarkington. What was Smythe thinking, that he could buy Callum off with a few bottles of some spirits and extra rations? Or was there something more in the crates in the boat? Either way, Smythe was not going to succeed in his plans, as far as Callum was concerned. He wondered if he should send word to the Valiant, and His Lordship, but there wasn't time, especially as they were to be underway shortly. He didn't worry now about further intrusion, as Talon was on deck and knew the situation all too well. Callum smiled at the thought of his young officer and how he had performed.

Callum slipped off into another sleep, restless and uneasy. His dreams came again, but this time it was different, not as foreboding as the one that had alerted him to the danger of Smythe, but they were still dark and troubling. His eyes would open from time to time, and he would look around, trying to think of where he was. When he realized where he was lying, he could close his eyes again, then drift off. It was becoming frustrating to him.

After about the fifth time of the invasion into his sleep, Callum decided to himself that enough was enough. He swung his legs off the bunk and stood. He walked out of the berth and went to the table, sitting down in the low light of the lamp on the wall. He folded his arms on the table and put his head down. His thoughts eased and his mind went to Dustin.

He saw him, walking in the tall grass, coming toward him this time, Callum smiled to himself, seeing him that way, dressed in his pantlets, and stockings, his shirt open at the collar, the cord weaving through the openings, and its ends dangling down, his cotton jacket with the puffed shoulders, and its high collar open as well, fitting tightly over his tight frame, his soft brown hair, long and flowing gently in a breeze, and as he drew nearer, his eyes sparkled their brilliance. Dustin smiled up at Callum as he put his hands on Callum's arms. Dustin said something to Callum, but Callum couldn't hear him, even as he stood before him. Callum could see his lips moving, but still could not hear. Callum strained at it, but nothing. Callum watched as Dustin walked away from him, and then in the distance, the direction Dustin was headed, was the house. Callum turned and looked behind him. The Dover was right there, so close he could touch her, smell her, he looked up, and there was Arvin looking over the rail down at him, as if he was waiting for Callum to join him.

Callum met his stare with his own, and then turned back and looked toward Dustin. He stood near the back door of the house and was joined by Callum's dear Martha. She stood next to Dustin, as if waiting for Callum. Callum looked back up and saw Arvin at the rail still as if he was waiting, and would always be there. Callum looked down as if to hang his head. He collected himself and looked up, Arvin nodded and then disappeared from sight. Callum looked back and saw Dustin and Martha going into the house through the back door. Callum was torment, his two sides warring with each other, falling into the abyss of agony. His chest pounded heavily. It became a grinding sound in his head, deep and groaning. He lifted his head and blinked his eyes, trying to focus on where he was.

The sound was still there, in his ears now. He knew that sound but could not place it. He moved his eyes back and forth in the low light of the cabin. He knew that's where he was. That sound...and then it occurred to him, what it was. They were weighing anchor, it was the capstan cranking away. Callum thought it must be time or near time at least...the dawn. He folded his arms again on the table and lowered his head on them.

"Sir?" Callum jerked his head up at the voice. "You didn't sleep out here, did you, sir?"

"It's fine, Carson." Callum said, in a low tone. "What time is it? I have not heard the bell."

"It's nearly dawn, sir." Carson said softly. Callum went to stand. "Sir, you must rest. Mr. Arvin is on deck and has everything well in hand, sir. How about some breakfast, sir? You haven't eaten in quite a while." Callum was looking at him, hovering near him, a concerned look on his face.

"I suppose you're right, Carson."

"Very good, sir." Carson tried to smile and turned away. He went out the door, leaving Callum alone. Callum got up and went to the aft windows, looking out. The darkness was lifting, changing, growing softer, becoming light. Callum could make out the lines of some of the other ships nearest them, but they were still surrounded by the dark. A knock at the door broke his thoughts. "Enter." Callum said, looking over his shoulder.

"Beg pardon, sir." Callum turned and saw it was Arvin, closing the door as he stood there next to it.

"Morning, Mr. Arvin."

"Morning, sir. I trust that you were able to rest, sir?" Arvin said, looking concerned.

"I am fine, Mr. Arvin." Callum answered. Arvin stepped forward and as Callum stepped toward the table, Arvin was able to sneak a look into the berth. He saw that the bunk had not been slept in.

"Progress report, Mr. Arvin." Callum said, as he sat in his chair.

"We are weighing anchor, sir. There is a good wind this morning. If it holds, we should do well, sir."

"I see." Callum said. "Who's on deck?"

"Mr. Tomlin has the deck, sir."

"Very good." Callum said.

"Sir,..." Arvin hestitated, he was about to cross a line, and needed to word it carefully, "Carson has informed me that he found you sleeping at the table, sir. Is there something I might do to make you more comfortable, sir?" Callum knew that Arvin was simply worried about him, and Callum gave him a brief smile.

"I am dealing with...ghosts, I suppose. I can't quite make myself sleep in the bunk. It is... slightly bothersome, that's all."

"I understand, sir." Arvin smiled briefly himself.

"So, we should be ready to set sail."

"In less than an hour, sir. The men are anxious to be getting underway."

"As am I." Callum said. Carson entered the cabin carrying a tray. He set it on the table, and began to set out plates, and flatware, in front of Callum. Carson set a place for Arvin as well, then poured coffee, passing a cup and placing it in front of Callum. "Have a seat Mr. Arvin, if you please."

"I took the liberty, sir." Carson said picking up the tray, indicating the breakfast for Arvin.

"Quite right, Carson." Callum said, as Arvin joined Callum at the table. "Good thinking, as always." Callum gave Carson a faint smile, and Carson beamed back at him. Carson nodded and left the cabin. "Mr. Tomlin knows to set full sail, I take it?" Callum asked as he started to eat his breakfast.

"He does indeed, sir."

"Excellent. As long as we stay ahead of him, that's all that concerns me." Callum almost whispered.

"Agreed, sir. But as the Tarkington is of shallow draft, as we, it may prove difficult. When do you think the squadron will be getting underway?"

"Knowing His Lordship, shortly after we are underway."

"I feel more comforted knowing that, sir."

"I, as well."

"Is there something else troubling you, sir?"

"It's when we reach La Rochelle. As we go in under full sail, we will need someone at the wheel who can...anticipate and react quickly."

"It's quite a shame about young Perkins, sir. It would be a Godsend if he were there."

"I agree." Callum said, looking straight ahead, his eyes went blank talking about Dustin. He pulled himself back to it. "Amos seems to be a good hand at the wheel, but I feel he is far best served at his gun station."

"Agreed, sir, he does have a good eye for a target." Arvin said, Callum smiled at his comment.

"I had thought about moving Mr. Talon up from the Gun Deck, and if it follows to my plan, the port battery will not be in use, but rather at standby."

"You wish to pursue a circular course then, sir? Swing into the bay, and the swing back around?

"Something like that, yes." Callum said, as he picked up his coffee. He sipped it, then set the cup back down. "I am hoping to give a full broadside to the fortress, then reload before we reach their fleet. As I said before, knowing the French, hopefully every rudder will be in full view."

"Very bold, sir, and I pray you're right."

"As do I, William." Callum replied softly. He finished his breakfast and pushed his plate away from him. "And if I'm not, and they are ready, then we will run like the wind. Not too proud to show them our heels, eh?" Callum smiled at Arvin. "With any luck, we can at least draw them out for the squadron, as that was the plan from the beginning. I see no reason to change it."

"As you say, sir." Arvin replied. He finished his breakfast as well, and pushed his plate back. He picked up his coffee and held up his cup to Callum. Callum smiled and lifted his. "Here's to a swift execution and success."

"Here, here." Callum said, touching his cup to Arvin's. Carson opened the door, Callum looked up. "What is it, Carson?"

"With Mr. Tomlin's compliments, Mr. Arvin is requested on deck, sir." Carson smiled and closed the door. Arvin stood up and bowed his head slightly to Callum.

"If you will excuse me, sir."

"I shall join you presently, Mr. Arvin." Callum said, and then got up from the table as well. He went to the berth as Arvin walked out of the cabin. Carson returned a few minutes later with a tray and cleared the table. Callum heard him. "I shall be on deck, Carson."

"Might I suggest, sir, that you see Dr. Crawford before going?" Callum stepped out of the berth, looking at him, as he was tying his necktie.

"What for?"

"The Doctor conveyed that he would like to see you before we got underway, sir."

"I see." Callum said, "I shall then. Thank you, Carson." Carson nodded toward him and then left the cabin. Callum finished his tie and then slipped on his tunic and buckled shoes. He fluffed his tail out of the collar, as he carried his hat under his arm, leaving the cabin. He walked down the companionway to Dr. Crawford's cabin. Callum knocked as his heart raced, at the opportunity to see Dustin. Callum heard the Doctors voice beckoning to enter. Callum opened the door and saw Crawford standing over his small desk.

"Good morning, Doctor. I was told you wished to see me." Callum said, as Crawford turned.

"Indeed Captain. I am told we are getting underway on our mission finally. I was wondering if the surgery is clear on the Storage Deck? I would hate to be rushed to throw it into any type of shape."

"I take it that you have not looked for yourself?"

"No, I have been a little...preoccupied."

"Oh? And what else has taken up your time?" Callum asked.

"I have been preparing a few items, for you, actually."

"Me?" Callum asked.

"I have been informed that you are not sleeping well, nor are you eating." Crawford said, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "Need I remind you, Captain, that we are headed for a battle? If you do not rest yourself..."

"Yes, yes, Doctor, I am very much aware of the situation. And it might please you to know that I have just had my breakfast." Callum sounded a bit perturbed with his old friend. "So, as you can see I am fit and ready for come what may." Callum smiled the briefest of smiles.

"Nevertheless, I have prepared something for you to help you sleep."

"After the mission, Doctor, I wish to keep my wits about me if you please." Callum said, looking stern.

"Very well." Crawford looked away for a moment. "Would you care to look in on my other patient?" Crawford nodded toward the berth. Callum looked and saw Dustin lying there, sleeping peacefully. Callum smiled a half smile.

"I have always said that he could sleep through cannon fire. Again, he has proved my point." Callum said softly.

"He has been asking about you." Crawford said softly as well, not looking at Callum. Callum was wide eyed. "Oh, not directly of course, but in his own way." Crawford looked directly at Callum, "He is concerned about you."

"I am alright, Doctor, I assure you." Callum smiled a little again, looking at Crawford. "I am having a little trouble settling into the berth that's all. It will pass." Callum heard over their heads, the sound of yelling, he knew Arvin was barking out orders to get underway. "Now, if you will excuse me, Doctor, I am needed on deck." Callum looked over at Dustin again, and then turned away, walking down the companionway. Callum walked through the galley and out onto the Quarterdeck, closing the door behind him. He went up the starboard stairs and was greeted by Arvin and Tomlin giving their tipping of hands.

"Gentlemen, are we about ready?" Callum asked.

"Yes, sir." Arvin said. "Anchor is nearing up. We are beginning to drift slightly, sir."

"I see." Callum said, and looked over the starboard rail, as it was getting lighter, seeing that the crew of the Tarkington were doing the same off in the distance. "Mr. Tomlin, let us not delay much longer. I want to be at full sail before they are." Callum said clearly, looking at Tomlin.

"The men are pulling up as fast as they can, sir."

"Then put more of the hands to it." Callum answered. "It will be a race, and it's a race I intend to win. Are we clear? Report back to me when it's done."

"Very clear, sir. I will, sir." Tomlin said, snapping straight, tipping his hand, he turned and headed quickly for the port stairs, calling more of the hands to go below. He went below as well. Arvin was looking over at the Tarkington, trying to see in the predawn light. He was having difficulty with seeing any detail that the crew was doing, but he knew that they were preparing as well, seeing movement onboard.

"Mr. Middleboro explained to Mr. Tomlin, sir, about what happened during the night with Mr. Talon. Mr. Tomlin relayed it to me. I'm astonished, sir."

"As was I." Callum said, as he clasped his hands behind his back, standing there watching the Tarkington as well.

"What do you think he was planning?" Arvin asked softly.

"If I had to venture a guess?" Callum asked, not looking at Arvin, "I would say one of two possibilities. Either his intention was to placate me with bribery, or possibly, and I think this more likely, assassination." Arvin went wide eyed hearing Callum.

"You think he would...?"

"Put yourself in his position. Wouldn't you try and protect your secret at all costs?"

"I see your point, sir."

"Which is why I don't intend on turning my back to him, once we arrive at La Rochelle. I want the Tarkington watched at all times."

"Understood, sir." Arvin nodded. They watched the Tarkington as the light of the dawn increased slowly. A few minutes later, Tomlin reappeared on the Quarterdeck, tipping his hand.

"Anchor clearing, sir."

"Very well, tie off then. Assemble all available hands and topmen aft. Do it quickly and quietly, no yelling orders." Callum nodded at Tomlin.

"Aye, sir." Tomlin ran off, passing the word as his Captain had given it. The hands assembled on the Main Deck, as Callum was leaning on the rail looking down at them. He could see about thirty of them together.

"Lads, we are getting underway. I want you to understand, that we are not giving orders in the usual fashion. I'm giving you instructions here, right now. Set full sail. We are going to beat the Tarkington to our destination. Once we are underway under full sail, and out in front, orders will be given the regular way. Now, hands aloft, set sail." Callum nodded and they set about, starting up the rigging quickly. Callum watched as they climbed out and started untying and letting go.

"Nicely done, sir."

"Thank you, Mr. Arvin." Callum smiled as he continued to watch as sails started to unfurl, snapping as they caught wind. "I shall be below, Mr. Arvin. I promised to check the Storage Deck for Dr. Crawford."

"Very good, sir." Arvin said. A couple of the hands on deck looked up toward him and he pointed toward lines to be tied off. They jumped to it quickly. Callum watched as he went down the stairs and proceeded to the Main Railing.

Callum went below, he went through the Marines, as they snapped to attention, continuing on his way to where the surgery was kept. It seemed clear for the most part. A few hands were about and Callum told them to clear the area a little more for the Doctor. They tipped their hands and carried out his instructions, as Callum inspected the rest of the deck as he made his way back.

Callum went up from the Storage Deck to the Gun Deck, looking about as he stood there, seeing that extra powder was stacked and all shot was refilled in the new stanchions that had been built.

Callum felt that he could take this his ship and crew and take on the entire French fleet if it came down to it. He was proud of the way everything was coming together. He went up on the Main Deck and went forward, looking everything over, as he could feel the roll and sway as Dover was underway and responding to the wind. The deck was creaking slightly and as he put his hand on the Foremast, he could feel the flexing of the wood. He looked up, seeing that sails were in full billow, as he went to the larboard fore rail, looking aft, seeing the Tarkington also setting sail, but now Dover was in the lead. Callum walked the rail toward the Quarterdeck, keeping the Tarkington in view as the light of the dawn was increasing. Callum went up the stairs, going toward the aft rail. He put his hands on it, watching, as Arvin came up beside him.

"We have the jump on them, sir."

"Indeed, shows great promise, Mr. Arvin." Callum said, keeping his eye on them falling behind.

"As long as the wind will hold, we should see La Rochelle early this evening, I should think."

"I agree, sir. I'll have a sounding taken soon."

"Very good, Mr. Arvin." Callum said, looking to his left along the rail, seeing an older crewman there, Dorfman. Callum called to him. Dorfman stopped what he was doing and walked over tipping his hand to both of them. "Dorfman, keep a watchful eye on the Tarkington. Let me know if she does anything."

"Aye, sir." Dorfman said, tipping his hand again, then looked out over the rail. He went back to his duties and looked toward her now and then. Callum turned and walked toward the rail, his hands clasped behind his back, looking up, he could see canvas straining with the wind overhead, and was even more pleased. Callum turned and saw for the first time who was at the wheel. His eyes went wide as he saw Dustin standing there. Callum stepped once toward him, as Dustin smiled and nodded his head slightly. Callum could see the bruises and the puffiness of the stitches. Arvin had known that Dustin was there, as he had come up to take his station while Callum had been below. Arvin saw Callum's reaction to Dustin being there and slid up next to his Captain.

"It seems to be a Godsend indeed to have young Perkins at the wheel, doesn't it, sir?"

"It does indeed, Mr. Arvin." Callum said, reining his excitement back. "Are you fit for duty, Mr. Perkins?"

"Aye, sir." Dustin said, through gritted teeth, nodding his head.

"I see." Callum said, trying to sound authoritarian. "Well then, I can only imagine that being under the good Doctor's care has brought this miracle about. I must give him my compliments." Callum smiled and winked at Dustin. Dustin blushed as he gripped the wheel tighter. Callum turned and looked forward again, feeling warmed by Dustin being there. He sighed to himself softly.

"Beg pardon, sir." Callum turned toward the voice behind him. It was Dorfman, tipping his hand. "The Tarkington, sir." He nodded toward the aft rail. Callum turned on his heel and looked aft. He stepped quickly to the rail, seeing what Dorfman was talking about. Callum put his hands on the rail, and then slapped it. Arvin joined him as well.

"Glass, sir?"

"I don't need a glass to see that, Mr. Arvin." Callum said, with a low growl in his voice. Smythe was obviously doing everything that he could to catch them. Not only were they at full sail, but apparently Smythe had ordered extra canvas to be rigged as well, almost doubling the sail count. The Tarkington would be on them in less than an hour rigged the way she was.

"Mr. Arvin, more canvas." Callum said. Arvin spun and walked quickly to the rail.

"Set the stunsails!" Arvin yelled as loud as he could. "Run out the Flying Jib! Lively now!" Arvin watched as the men aloft start to rig the extra sails. It was happening, but not fast enough.

Callum joined Arvin at the rail, looking aloft. The extra sails began to unfurl and then slowly fill, rigging was lashed and set. Callum and Arvin lowered their eyes seeing the Flying Jib run out as well, taking the wind as well, filling to billow. Callum looked back aft, seeing the Tarkington, and her relative position to them. Callum patted the rail with one hand as he continued to watch the Tarkington.

"Come on, my lady, come on." Callum whispered to himself. Callum turned and looked at Arvin. "Bring out the extra jibs. We'll rig them from the main to the rails."

"Sir?" Arvin asked with a confused look.

"We must do everything that we can to stay ahead of him." Callum growled. "Even if that means our handkerchiefs. We must to survive this."

"Aye, aye, sir." Arvin said, walking to the stairs quickly. He went down and onto the deck, calling out a few of the men's names, giving them instruction to go below and pull the extra canvas.

Callum turned and looked back aft, seeing the Tarkington as Dover seemed to be holding her own, keeping the same distance as before. Callum wanted to smile at the fact, but he was actually growing more and more concerned. Dustin, manning the wheel, could see Callum and his expressions, reading them, knowing that something was very wrong. Dustin so wanted to talk to Callum, find out what was troubling him so, but knew it was not the time, nor the place. He had to satisfy himself with only being near his love again, watching him.

Arvin had gone on deck to see about the lines and rigging that Callum wanted for the extra sails. Arvin set about explaining quickly how to rig the extra canvas to a few of the hands once it was on deck. The hands set about unlashing and pulling to get new lines ready. Once the extra canvas was on deck, the hands jumped to it quickly, securing and setting the jibs and then running them up. Callum was looking down at the deck, seeing Arvin going back and forth, making certain that everything was correct, and then he looked upward as the first jib went up starboard. It caught wind as it was raised, then the port side, doing the same.

Callum looked aloft seeing if there was any change in the wind and how the extra canvas reacted against the main sails. It was important that all sails maintained their full furl if they were going to be first. Callum patted the rail again, seeing that everything was holding fast and true. He silently thanked Dover for cooperating with him and his need. Callum looked at Dustin for a brief moment, their eyes met, and Callum winked at him, making Dustin try to smile, but it still hurt too much for him. Arvin returned to the Quarterdeck, looking aft as he also watched the Tarkington.

"Extra canvas is aloft, sir." Arvin said, nodding toward Callum.

"Very good, Mr. Arvin, let's hope it's enough." Callum replied.

"Agreed, sir."

"How's she handling, Mr. Perkins?" Callum asked, grinning slightly.

"Good, sir." Dustin mumbled. Callum and Arvin could see that he was struggling to maintain his course."

"Is she fighting you?" Callum asked as he stepped closer.

"A little, sir." Dustin mumbled again, looking at Callum, his eyes almost pleading to touch him or be touched.

"Let me see her for a moment." Callum said, taking the wheel from the other side, standing next to Dustin. Dustin watched as Callum put his hands on the spoke handles, and then Dustin let go, but stood there. Arvin smiled at the two of them. Callum could feel her and the struggle of water and rudder against the wind. "She seems to be putting up quite a fight." Callum said.

"Perhaps you are just a bit out of practice, sir." Arvin said, trying to make a jest, remembering Callum's jest when Arvin had the wheel during their target practice.

"Yes, quite." Callum said, giving Arvin a firm look, making Arvin look down at the deck. "Alright, Mr. Perkins, you can have her back." Callum said, looking over at Dustin. Dustin put his hands on the spoke handles again on his side and grasped them tight. Callum let go and stepped to his left. He let out a breath slowly, as he had apparently been holding it most of the time at the wheel. Arvin just smiled, but didn't look at him. "My, I am a bit out of practice."

Callum smiled toward Arvin. "Perhaps, after this mission is over, Mr. Perkins will relinquish his control of the wheel and let me take it, to get reacquainted."

"Perhaps, sir." Arvin said, and then cleared his throat, giving Dustin a rolling eyed look, that Callum could not see. Dustin smiled and lowered his head a bit. Callum turned away and looked aft.

"Looks like we are gaining a little headway, Mr. Arvin." Callum said. Arvin looked back as well.

"It would seem so, sir." Arvin said as he came beside Callum. "Well done. I have never seen that done with the extra jibs before, sir."

"A trick of Captain Powers actually, we were trying to outrun a few Spanish ships my first year aboard." Callum smiled. "A trick that saved all our lives."

"I see. sir."

"Keep a close eye on her." Callum said. "I'm sure that he might have a trick or two as well. You have the deck, I need to have words with Captain Anders."

"Aye, sir." Arvin said, as Callum walked away. Callum walked to the Ward Room and knocked and then opened the door. Anders and Holt were at the table with a map laying on it. Both snapped to attention.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything?" Callum asked.

"Certainly not, sir," Anders said, "in fact, I was going to come up on deck and see you, sir."

"Well then, it's to our mutual advantage I would say that I came to you." Callum noticed the drawing on the table. An ink well and quill were nearby. "What's this then?" Callum asked.

"Lt. Holt drew a sketch of the fortress at La Rochelle, sir. The Lieutenant happened to be there as a boy before the revolt, sir, he sketched it from memory." Anders said, raising an eyebrow toward Callum.

"Really, that's remarkable." Callum said, coming closer to the table, looking down. Holt turned it around to show Callum. Callum studied it for a long moment and then looked up into the young Lieutenants face. "All this,... from memory?"

"Yes, sir." Holt said. "One of the reasons I was selected for this mission, sir."

"Then it's fortunate for us to have you aboard."

"Yes, sir."

"So, tell me, Captain," Callum said, standing straight, "what are your orders for being disembarked? We did not discuss that last evening."

"No, sir, we did not. My orders are to disembark the best way possible, sir. Either by boat or being docked."

"I see. I'm certain that the French will have other plans about us docking."

"I agree, sir."

"So, you will need both long boats aboard, as well as the gig for supplies, I assume."

"If you think that best, sir."

"Actually, what I would think best is to survive the attack that we are planning to begin with, then landing your men safely, which, by the way, gives me an idea." Callum said, getting lost in thought for a moment, as he scratched his chin. He pulled together and looked at Holt. "You say that you saw the fortress as a boy?"

"Yes, sir." Holt answered.

"Only once?"

"No, sir. I was there for some time, as I recall."

"How much time?"

"I would say about a good month, sir." Holt was coming to realize what Callum was going to ask him.

"And, as a boy, I'm sure that you did a fair amount of exploring?"

Holt smiled, briefly. "Yes, sir."

"Then, Captain, as to what we were discussing last evening, I am wondering how Captain Smythe would be disembarking his Marines as well?" Callum paused a moment. "For his plan to possibly work, he has to get them off the ship." Callum said, raising an eyebrow.

"I see, sir." Anders knew where Callum was going. "Otherwise, he will be stopped. The officer in command of the Marines will see anything out of the ordinary and take action himself."

"Who is the officer in command of the Marines on the Tarkington?"

Anders smiled wide. "A fine officer, sir, and someone whose name you will know, Captain Emery, the son of General Emery."

"And what is the state of Captain Emery?"

"He wishes to advance himself, sir, follow in his father's footsteps as it were. He will be very alert, I assure you. His success will ensure his promotion."

"Music to my ears, Captain." Callum smiled, then looked at Holt. "Lieutenant, I am curious, how did you come to be at the fortress?"

"My father, sir, he was a good friend to the count of that region. The count's son and I were of the same age and we made several trips into the fortress to explore it, boys being boys, sir."

"You are a treasure, Lieutenant." Callum said. Holt started to explain the sketch to Callum further, showing where the battery placements were, and how many cannon ports, as best he could recall, and the best place where to possibly store the extra powder. Once Holt explained what Callum was looking for, Callum asked him to draw a sketch of the bay itself from what he could remember as a child. With that information in his hand, Callum could visualize what they were up against as far as other placements. Callum said he would return shortly and went up on deck again, seeing Mr. Arvin on the Quarterdeck. The watch had been changed, but Dustin remained at the wheel.

"Why is he still there?" Callum asked Arvin quietly.

"He requested to stay, sir." Arvin didn't look back at Dustin, but lowered his head slightly toward Callum. "He looks like he is about done in, sir."

"I see that. You could have ordered him, you know?"

"I didn't have the heart, sir. I think he is trying to convey a message to the crew, sir."

"I will see about that." Callum said, "Have one of the hands take the wheel."

"Aye, sir." Arvin tipped his hand and stepped to the rail, calling to one of the hands that was capable. Arvin waited at the rail, as Callum walked up next to Dustin, with his hands clasped behind his back.

"Dustin, I am going to relieve you. I want you to get some rest and something to eat." Callum said softly out of earshot of everyone.

"I'm fine, sir." Dustin mumbled.

"I want you to rest, that's an order." Callum said in a low voice.

"I have nowhere to go below, sir." Dustin mumbled again. Callum knew what he meant, and grew angry over it.

"Yes, you do. I will make arrangement. You will rest, as I need you here this evening when we arrive." Dustin looked at him, his eyes gave a questioning look. "You have missed much, and I need you here for the coming battle." Callum whispered. "I will see Carson, see him when you are relieved." Callum said, and walked down the steps and went into the galley. He returned a few moments later, looking aft, seeing the Tarkington was still there, but was falling behind a little more. The hand that Arvin had called to came to the wheel and nodded at Dustin, as he took the wheel from him. Dustin tipped his hand toward Callum and then to Arvin and walked toward the stairs on the port side, and went down. Callum stepped to the rail as he and Arvin watched Dustin go below.

"I have some very interesting information about the fortress, Mr. Arvin." Callum said.


"Our young Marine Lieutenant." Callum said, looking at Arvin and then giving him a smile. Callum spotted Middleboro coming up on deck. Callum beckoned to him. Middleboro came up the steps, tipping his hand toward them. "I will have you take the deck, Mr. Middleboro."

"Very good, sir."

"Maintain your helm, and keep an eye on our friend back there." Callum said, nodding aft.

"Aye, aye, sir." Middleboro snapped and tipped his hand. He turned and looked aft and narrowed his eyes.

Callum knocked on the door to the Ward Room and opened it. He entered with Arvin behind him as Anders was standing over the top of Holt, watching his work on the new sketch. Holt went to stand seeing Callum and Arvin, but Callum held up a hand to stop him.

"How is your progress, Lieutenant?" Callum asked as he looked down at the new sketch.

"I would say it's almost done, sir."

"Excellent, then you can enlighten myself and Mr. Arvin." Callum said, with a brief smile.

"Yes, sir." Holt said, going back to the sketch. Callum looked at Arvin, their eyes met for a moment and then Callum looked at Anders, and lifted an eyebrow toward him. Anders smiled, and looked back down over Holt's shoulder.

The discussion, led by Lieutenant Holt, left many questions were answered, but those answers gave rise to new questions about what Smythe may possibly be planning. One thing was certain to Callum and to Anders, they had to stop Smythe from firing on the Marines once Smythe disembarked them from the Tarkington. Lieutenant Holt had been a wealth of information, but also was a good officer, knowing his place and not asking questions of his own, as he could tell that his commanding officer was not telling him everything. Carson came in setting supper for them as they had their discussion, Callum had told Carson that he would eat later in the Great Cabin after their discussion. Callum settled for coffee for the moment. Once supper was over and the discussion was closed, Callum rose and left Arvin with Anders and Holt, telling Arvin he would be on deck in an hour or so. Callum went to the Great Cabin.

Callum dropped his hat on the table and went to the berth, the drape was pulled over the door. He quietly moved it, seeing Dustin sleeping in his bunk. Callum walked up beside the bunk and brushed the hair out of Dustin face, looking at his young love, knowing that this was as close as could get to him right now. Callum walked out of the berth closing the curtain, and then went over to where the charts were. He slipped out of his tunic and draped it on the back of a chair, then spread the charts out, studying them closely. He gauged that they had about three hours maybe a little less till they reached La Rochelle. Callum was bent over the charts when Carson came in quietly. He set a tray on the table, pouring coffee for Callum and then setting his supper on the table. Callum was lost in the charts. Carson could see it, and walked back out quietly.

"Quintan." Came the soft voice. Callum looked up from the charts, seeing Dustin standing there in the doorway of the berth. His eyes looked sleepy, as he leaned against the doorway. Callum straightened and stepped toward him. Dustin let a tear fall and held out his arms. Callum walked quickly to him and put his arms around him, hugging him, but not tight, not wanting to hurt him.

"I have missed you so." Dustin said in a whisper, as he stroked Callum's hair with one hand, the other clinging to Callum's shoulder.

"As I have so missed you, my love." Callum said softly. "I wish I had made you stay in Birmingham." Callum drew in a deep breath and slowly let it out. "We need to talk, there is so much I need to tell you, and we have no time."

"Hold me for a moment longer, will you?"

"Oh, yes." Callum whispered, rocking Dustin in his arms side to side, gently swaying him. Callum pulled back and took Dustin by the hands, leading him to the table, sitting him down. Callum started to tell Dustin, but Dustin stopped him, pointing at Callum's supper. Callum looked at it, and then looked at Dustin, Dustin pointed at it again, and Callum got the point, he ate some of it, and spoke of what had transpired. Dustin listened intently, hardly able to believe about Captain Smythe, then Callum pushed the plate away. "This is why it is imperative that you are at the wheel. I need someone who can handle her as only you can. You know her moods and her feel. Can you do that?"

"As long as you are there, I can." Dustin whispered, trying to smile, but it still hurt. Callum looked away seeing the pain in his face, as it pained him as well.

"Now, go and rest yourself some more. I have to go over these charts." Callum said. Dustin got to his feet and put a hand to Callum's shoulder, he leaned forward and gently kissed Callum on the temple.

"I love you, Quintan." Dustin whispered.

"And I love you, very much." Callum smiled, taking one of Dustin's hands gently in his. As Dustin walked away, fingers slid to their tips and they lost each other's touch. Callum watched Dustin go into the berth and left the curtain open. Callum moved the charts around a bit and then stood, bending over the table, studying them again, then sipped more coffee. Carson reentered the room and took the plate, looking at it, and then at Callum. Carson went to the door and left.

A knock on the door came after quite some time.

"Enter." The door opened slowly.

"Mr. Arvin's compliments, sir."

"Yes, Mr. Talon?" Callum looked up from the charts.

"Lights in the distance, sir. We may be near, sir."

"Pass the word, lights out, Mr. Talon. Tell Mr. Arvin, I shall be up presently."

"Aye, sir." Talon said and then tipped his hand. Callum reached for his tunic, and then his sword, putting it in his belt holder, he put his tunic on, and fluffed his tail out. He walked quickly to the berth and woke Dustin.

"We are nearing La Rochelle. I have ordered lights out. Can you find your way in the dark?"

"Yes." Dustin whispered, sitting up on the bunk, swinging his legs.

"I shall be on deck. Come in a few minutes." Callum kissed Dustin's forehead gently, and then turned.

"Quintan." Dustin said softly with a hiss. Callum turned, looking back. Dustin walked to him quickly and kissed him on the lips. Dustin groaned from the pain, but did it again. Callum did not touch him.

"I must go." Callum smiled and walked away. He blew out the lamp on the wall as he went, and then opened the door.

Callum emerged on the deck and went up the starboard stairs. The moon was out at three quarters full, the stars shone brightly, shimmering on the surface of the water. Callum looked aft, still seeing the lights of the Tarkington in the distance.

"Lights out!" Arvin yelled. The Dover went into darkness, except from the heavens. Callum looked to the southeast seeing a faint glow off in the distance. Callum went to the wheel, looking at the compass. Arvin stepped near Callum, looking at the compass as well.

"Helm, make your course south, southeast."

"Aye, sir."

"There are those rocks just off the point on the north side of the fortress, according to the charts. Probably about five hundred yards off shore, I would think."

"Or more, sir." Arvin said.

"We'll get close, but not too close."

"Aye, sir."

"I think we can strike the extra canvas, Mr. Arvin. We seem to be way in the lead of the Tarkington."

"Very good, sir." Arvin replied and turned to Middleboro, giving him the orders, Middleboro tipped his hand and left the Quarterdeck. They watched as the extra canvas was being struck and hauled down. The hands that were on those lines, folded the jibs and got them ready to take them below. Arvin and Callum watched as the stunsails were struck and slowly retracted.

Callum Looked toward the glowing light off in the distance, the shore was not visible yet on the horizon, even in the moonlight. Callum looked aft, and his eyes went wide. He stepped to the aft rail, scanning the sea behind them. The Tarkington had disappeared. There were no lights to be seen. Callum's heart raced, as Arvin came up next to him.

"Have they gone dark as well, sir?"

"It would appear so." Callum said, and slapped a hand on the aft rail. He looked over at Arvin. "Send for Captain Anders. Call all hands aft. The traitor is about to tip his hand, Mr. Arvin." Callum nodded once.

"Aye, sir." Arvin turned walking to the rail quickly. "Pass the word for Captain Anders! All hands assemble aft!" The crew on deck came toward the rail, and those that were below came up quickly. Anders emerged, looking about as he saw the crew gathering in front of him. Holt stood behind Anders and then Anders walked through them, heading for the stairs. Holt followed, trying to get through the crew. They reached the Quarterdeck and stood as Callum turned from the aft rail.

"Is something wrong, sir?"

"Yes," Callum said as walked up to Anders, a wide eyed look in was in Callum's eyes, Anders could see it with the moonlight. "He's making his move. The Tarkington has disappeared from sight. Get your men ready to move. Keep them out of the way, but assemble the rest of your contingent here, aft on the Main Deck. Get your sharpshooters aloft and have them standby. We will beat to quarters shortly. Give me six of your men up here on the Quarterdeck."

"Very good, sir." Anders said, looking aft over Callum's shoulder, not seeing anything behind them at all. Anders turned to Holt, who had heard everything, and just looked at him. Holt snapped and saluted, turning and headed for the stairs.

"Hands assembled, sir." Arvin said. Callum stepped around Anders and went to the rail, putting his hands on it, looking at them in the moonlight.

"Now is the time, lads!" Callum said. He pointed toward the glow on the horizon. "There is our destination and target! We shall strike the fortress, reload, and then strike their fleet! The Tarkington is behind us, and we have the first honor! Well done, lads, well done!" The crew cheered the praise given them. "Now comes the real test! I know you will all do your duty! You have proven it time and time again! With your practice and your skills, we will win this night, and we will be the envy of every ship in His Majesty's Navy! Now, to your stations! Gun crews, check your guns! Make every shot count lads! Remember to stay sharp and to be quick!" Callum looked up, cupping his hands to his mouth, "Lookouts, below!" He looked back down at the crew. "I am counting on each and every one of you!" Callum nodded at them, and they all tipped their hands to him. "Stations!" The crew turned and hurried to their areas, manning the guns, checking them over.

"I'd say in under an hour, sir." Arvin said, nodding towards the glow. Callum looked as well.

"I agree, Mr. Arvin." Callum said, and then looked up, seeing the wind slacking a bit. Damn he thought, not now, not now. "Helm two points to larboard."

"Aye, sir." The familiar voice said. Callum looked to his right, seeing Dustin at the wheel. Callum smiled briefly toward him.

"Glad to have you at the wheel, Mr. Perkins." Callum said, clasping his hands behind his back.

"Thank you, sir." Dustin said, as clear as he could. Arvin looked at Dustin and grinned a brief grin and then looked at Callum, then forward again. "Two points, sir."

"Very good, hold your course."

"Sir,..." Arvin said, as he stepped forward, "I hear breakers, sir." Callum stepped forward, trying to hear over the sound of the crew below.

"Quiet, lads, quiet!" Callum said, listening. He put his hands on the rail, straining to hear it. Then a cry from the bow, "Rocks, Sir!"

"Whereaway?!" Callum called back.

"Starboard beam, sir!" Came the answer, Callum and Arvin went to the starboard rail. Off in the distance, Callum and Arvin saw the breakers on the rocks in the moonlight, as Arvin pointed at them.

"Hold your course, Mr. Perkins." Callum said over his shoulder, watching the rocks.

"I think we'll miss them, sir." Arvin said.

"Looks like I should correct the French map maker, eh Mr. Arvin?"

"Indeed, sir." Arvin smiled. They were interrupted by the sound of the Marines, filing out on deck, lining the rails, and as requested six of them came up the stairs to the Quarterdeck. Anders was watching as he stood out of the way at the rail. His men lined up at the aft rail, out of the way.

"Beat to quarters, Mr. Arvin, load, and standby."

"Aye, sir." Arvin turned and went to the stairs, putting his hands on the railing. "Beat to quarters! Load and standby!" The drum sounded for all hands, those that were not at station already. Arvin heard the men below bustling about and then blocks and ropes, guns being pulled back and loaded. He looked at the glow, which had grown now, and then he caught the first glimpse of the fortress in the moonlight.

Callum saw it as well. The tops of the fortress, dark even in the moonlight as it was silhouetted against the sky in the darkness. Callum could not see any light from it at all. If there were sentries as he assumed that there were, they were at their posts in the dark. It just didn't seem right to Callum, something was odd about it. He looked up and saw the wind had dropped even more now, and the sails were slacking. Not now, Callum thought to himself, hold on, keep steady, then he cursed to himself and then slapped the starboard rail, turning he went over toward the wheel and stood. It was only minutes now. They started to round the point, the fortress loomed larger as it now came into full view, off the starboard bow. Callum estimated may about three hundred yards or so.

"Bring us a little closer, Mr. Perkins."

"Aye, sir." Dustin said making himself clear.

"Open the ports and run out, Mr. Arvin."

"Aye, sir. Run out!" Arvin yelled quickly. Then Callum heard something off in the distance, voices yelling, calling out, in French, calling out alarm. "They know we're here, sir."

"Then let's give them an introduction, Mr. Arvin! Fire as you bear on the placements!" Callum said, as he spread his feet a little, bracing himself.

"Starboard battery! Fire as you bear!"

"Sir!" Came a voice from behind Callum, making him turn and look over his shoulder. "The Tarkington, sir. She's right behind us!" Callum spun around on his heels, looking aft as the guns started to fire from the bow, one after the other. Callum saw the Tarkington was a little more than a hundred yards off and with the moonlight, he could see crewmen at her bows, readying their cannon as well. His eyes went wide.

"All hands down!" Callum screamed, as he dropped to the deck. Cannons went off from the Tarkington, the shots ripping through the aft rails and hitting the Mizzen. Callum rolled on the deck, covered in splinters of wood. He could see a couple of the Marines lying there dead, one cut to pieces, blood leaking from him. Callum saw the wheel, part of it destroyed as the shot went through it.

"They're firing on us, sir!" One of the hands yelled. Callum looked around, seeing everyone as they got to their feet. Dustin stood and took the wheel in his hands, not looking back. Callum caught sight of Arvin and went to help him up.

"You alright, Mr. Arvin?"

"Yes, sir. Had a chunk of rail graze me, sir."

"Reload, Mr. Arvin. Let's get to the fleet." Callum looked at Dustin, concentration was all over his face. "Mr. Perkins, bring us into the bay." Callum said, seeing Dustin worked the damaged wheel.

"Sir, they're reloading!" Cried one of the hands. Callum looked back seeing it in the moonlight. He heard something else, something overhead, He looked up quickly over his shoulder as the wind was stiffening, filling the sails. He looked quickly back and saw his crew swing the rail gun toward the Tarkington.

"Do not fire on them!" Callum yelled. "That's an English ship! We will not fire on them! Captain Anders, get your injured below! You lads, give them a hand!"

"There's their fleet, sir!" Arvin yelled. "And look, sir!" Callum spun and looked forward, his eyes went wide. As he expected, most of the French ships had their rudders pointing in their direction. With the exception of the largest of the ships, a French ninety gunner, Callum could see sails being dropped as she was preparing to get underway.

"Damn," Callum said, not expecting this at all. "Bring us to point blank range, Mr. Perkins." Callum said, looking over his shoulder, then looking toward the Tarkington. He could see the crew was hesitating, as they were confused by them not firing back, obviously Smythe had filled their heads with lies. He looked forward seeing and hearing the French crew of the ninety gunner getting ready running and yelling.

"Starboard battery ready, sir!"

"Very good, Mr. Arvin, standby to fire!" Callum said, then looked over his shoulder again. He saw the Tarkington run out her guns. He watched for a moment and then looked forward. "Hit them as many times as we can! Fire as you bear!"

"Fire as you bear!" Arvin yelled. The guns started to go off again, one after the other, as Callum turned and saw the Tarkington, starting to turn slightly to port, cutting across Dover's stern.

"You will not have my ship, sir." Callum growled, thinking he was facing Smythe himself. "All hands down!" Callum yelled as the Tarkington fired into them again. Callum rolled out of the way across the deck as the shots hit, splintering the deck around him and the fore rail behind him. Cannon were firing one after the other from the Dover as they sailed by the French fleet. Arvin had been flung down the stairs from the last shots from the Tarkington. Callum could not see if he was alright as smoke was covering the deck.

Callum got to his feet, and felt a little dazed. He looked over and saw Anders was lying on the deck, but was moving at the fore rail. Callum looked toward the aft rail, only one Marine was left, who was on his knees, holding his head with one hand, trying to get up. Callum saw a couple more of his crew were lying, dead, on the deck, he looked at the wheel, which had more damage to it now, and the Mizzen was shot nearly in half, but holding. Callum didn't see Dustin, and as the smoke cleared he saw Dustin was lying on the deck toward the port side, Callum's heart raced, as he turned and looked back on the Main Deck, seeing the men continue to try and reload and fire under the direction of Tomlin, Middleboro, and Talon. Callum saw Arvin trying to get up from the deck, a couple of Marines were helping him. Callum watched the Tarkington as he went to Anders and checked on him.

"I'm alright, sir." Anders said softly, as he got slowly to his feet, using the rail and Callum's arm to steady himself. Callum went to Dustin, and knelt beside him. Dustin shook his head, and Callum took his hand in his.

"I'm alright, Captain." Dustin said, as tried to smile, and then winked at Callum. Callum pulled him to his feet.

"You gave me quite a start. Take the wheel, roll us out to port, we have to get away from the Tarkington." Callum said softly, guiding Dustin with a hand as he went to join Anders checking the crew members and the Marines. Callum heard a cracking sound overhead as the turn to port started. He looked up over his shoulder seeing the Mizzen starting to buckle and lean to starboard. Callum lowered his eyes toward Dustin and at that moment, as Callum stood and turned, the cross arm and rigging began to fall. Callum saw it coming and hurried, taking three long steps toward the wheel and then he felt his hands on the familiar thin body, pushing it, as Callum became buried by block and tackle and ropes of the rigging. The darkness took him.



[email protected]


Rate Story Choose rating between 1 (worst) and 10 (best).

Bookmark and Share

blog comments powered by Disqus