The Kings Coat | Chapter 13 of 27 - Part: 1 of 5

Author: Dewey Lambdin | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2583 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 4

Dawn was a rosy hint rising over the humps of the sea astern, lost in the grey gloom of another spring morning in the windswept North Atlantic. The taffrail lanterns and the candles in the wheel binnacle lost their strength, and one could begin to recognize people on watch by their faces instead of their voices. Like wraiths the ships in convoy began to loom as dark shadows ahead of them to leeward on either side of their bows now that another long voyage was almost over.

Alan clung to the starboard shrouds halfway up to the main top, shivering with chill and trying to steady a heavy telescope to count ships. Lieutenant Kenyon was below him at the quarterdeck ladder, his eyes flying from one vantage to the next, judging the strength of the wind, the set of the sails, Ariadne’s position to the rest of the convoy, a first reassuring sight of Dauntless out to leeward and far ahead of the convoy, eyeing his watch to see they were awake and alert. Lewrie wondered if he was making nautical plans for all eventualities … or merely sniffing the aromas that occasionally swirled back from the smoking galley funnel. Today was a meat-issue day following a Wednesday “Banyan Day” on which the crew was served beer, cheese, gruel, soup and biscuit.

Lewrie clambered down to the rail and jumped the last few feet to the deck. “Twenty-five sail to starboard, sir. Some very far out of position, but all taffrail lanterns burning.”

“Very good, Mister Lewrie,” Kenyon replied, referring to his pocket watch. “Almost five bells. Prepare to rotate the watch.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

Five bells did indeed chime from up forward—two pairs of quick chimes, and a last single one that echoed on and on. Or was it merely the sound of so many ships around them raising a chorus of bells later than Ariadne? Lewrie kicked awake one of the ratty little ship’s boys so he could turn the half-hour glass at the binnacle. Wash-deck pumps were stowed away—hands stood erect from buffing the deck with bibles and holystones to remove the filth of the day before—others boiled up from below with their rolled-up hammocks for stowing. The pipes shrilled for the lower deck to be swept clean. Pump chains clanked as the bilges were emptied of their accumulated seepage.

“Twenty-two ships to larboard and ahead, sir,” Midshipman Rolston reported to Kenyon, “and Dauntless is shaking out her night reefs, sir.”

That was the main wrench of being in Kenyon’s watch; having to share it with Rolston. Even after two round voyages Rolston still gave off a hatred so deep and abiding that he positively glowed, and Lewrie found himself walking stiff-legged about him, waiting for the knife in the back, or the studiedly awkward push at the wrong moment.

“Very good, Mister Rolston,” Kenyon replied. “My respects to the captain and inform him that all ships in convoy are in sight, spread out from the night, and that Dauntless is making sail.”

“Aye aye, sir,” Rolston answered, giving Lewrie a haughty look as if to say that he could never be entrusted with carrying a message aft to their lord and master, as Rolston could.

Alan’s belly rumbled.

“Hungry, Mister Lewrie?” Kenyon grinned.

“Always, sir.” He never got enough to eat, not like back home in London, and ship’s fare was plain commons. He could spend half the watch dreaming of all the spicy substance of the buffets he had seen at drums, the hour-upon-hour dinner parties of course after course, even the hearty filling nature of a twopenny ordinary, or the choices available at a cold midnight supper after the theatre. The midshipmen’s mess always exhausted their livestock quickly, and had to settle for biscuit hard as lumber and alive with weevils; joints of salt-pork or salt-beef that had been in-cask so long, one could carve them into combs; thick pea soup; cheeses gone rancid, and that only twice a week; an ounce of butter now and then; and a fruit duff only on Sundays. He no longer looked askance at the hands who offered him rats that had been caught and killed in the bread room. They were three-a-penny, fat as tabbies, and surprisingly tasty; “sea squirrel,” they called them.

Now that his once-fine palate had been jaded, he had to admit that the food wasn’t all that bad. He had seen coaching inns and low dives in the East End of London that served worse. It was the unremitting sameness of boiled everything. And once the gristle and bone had been subtracted, there was never enough on his plate to leave him comfortably stuffed.

“Captain, sir,” Lewrie whispered, catching sight of Captain Bales coming on deck from his great cabins aft. He and the mate of the watch, Byers, went down to leeward, leaving the starboard side of the quarterdeck for Bales to pace in solitary splendor. And after making his report, Kenyon joined them.

What would he have done if he had not gotten into Kenyon’s watch? he wondered. The captain was so remote and aloof, and rarely seen. The first lieutenant, Mr. Swift, was a testy butler who always found a power of fault—no one could please him. The third officer, Lieutenant Church, was cold as charity and silent, while Roth, their fourth, and Lieutenant Harm, the fifth, were both full of harshly impatient bile. Kenyon was the only one he could remember who actually smiled now and then, who didn’t deal out floggings and canings and viper-tongued screeches against one and all. Kenyon went out of his way to teach, to admonish his failures as faults to be corrected and not catastrophes that called for humiliating tirades. He would go to the heads aft off the wardroom in the middle of the watch, leaving Lewrie and Byers alone on the quarterdeck, totally in charge of twelve-hundred tons of ship plunging along in the dark of night. While Kenyon did not court favorites, and disliked being toadied to, Lewrie had a sneaking feeling that Kenyon liked him. When his part of the watch stood on the quarterdeck, he got quizzed by the second lieutenant. And there was time to talk softly in the black hours of the morning; Alan found himself confiding in Kenyon, as he never could with the others, even Ashburn. Had it not been for the difference in rank, Kenyon could have become much like an older brother to him. He did not think Kenyon and Rolston shared the same regard.

“As soon as the hands have eat, we’ll endeavor to round up this flock of silly sheep once more, Lieutenant Kenyon,” he heard the captain say. It was the same each morning of every convoy; the masters of the merchant ships would never trust the station-keeping of their own kind and would scatter like chickens going for seed corn every night, which required Ariadne to spend half the day chasing after them, herding them back toward the pack and chivvying them into order. And merchant captains did not take kindly to sharp commands from the Navy. More than once they had fired a blank charge to draw a moody merchantman’s attention to their signals.

Under the captain’s sharp eye, Lewrie tried to appear busy. He went up into the larboard shrouds of the mizzen to use his telescope on the convoy, now that the gloom was being chased to the west by the watery rising sun behind them. He also noticed, with some amusement, that Lieutenant Kenyon was trying to appear intent on his duties as well.

He turned his glass on Dauntless. There were flags soaring up a halyard on her mizzen, and he dug into his pocket to consult a sheet of paper that contained the meager signals for day or night. “Strange sail … south!

“At last!” he crowed, leaping down and dashing to report to Lieutenant Kenyon. This close to New York, strange sail could be those Frenchies from their base in Newport, or rebel privateers. We’re going to see some action, he exulted.

“Strange sail, is it?” Captain Bales said, hearing the report. “Aloft with you to the maintop, Mister Lewrie, and spy them out!”

“Aye aye, sir!”

“Mister Kenyon, my respects to the master gunner and I’ll have a signal gun fired to starboard. Day signal for the convoy to close up, followed by ‘strange sail to the south.’”

“Shall we beat to Quarters, sir?” Kenyon asked.

“No, let the hands be fed first. Time enough for that.”

Lewrie made it to the mainmast crosstrees to join the lookout already there, his heart beating from the exertion, and the excitement.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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