The Kings Coat | Chapter 15 of 27 - Part: 1 of 8

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

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Chapter 6

English harbor at Antigua was a bit of a letdown, after yearning for it, imagining the joy of it, and struggling so hard to reach it. Once round Cape Shirley into the outer roads, the land was all dust and sere hills, sprinkled with dull green flora. They were told it was the dry season, even though it was near the start of the hurricane season. There were island women in view, loose-hipped doxies in bright dresses and headclothes ready to provide comfort and pleasure for the poor English sailors, but the ship was not allowed Out of Discipline. They were much too busy for that.

First, they had to keep from sinking at their temporary moorings. Ariadne’s bilges and holds were deep in the water, and the orlop hatches had been sealed tight; even then at least an inch of dirty water sloshed about on the orlop. Since their battle with the disguised Spanish two-decker the pumps had gushed and clanked without pause while carpenters slaved to patch holes. The upper deck damage could wait; gilt and taffrail carvings were moot if Ariadne foundered.

Along her waterline, ravelled sails could be seen, hairy patches fothered over gaping wounds to slow the inrush of water. Discarded bandages, bloody slop clothing and floating personal possessions seeped from her like pus.

Rowed barges towed her down the tortuous channel to the inner harbor and the dockyard, where she was buoyed up with camels, barges on either beam supporting thick cables that slung under the hull. As the camels were pumped out, they rose in the water, bringing Ariadne with them so that laborers could get into her holds and begin plugging the many shot holes.

Above decks, she was in much better shape; damaged yards and topmasts had been replaced, snapped rigging reroved, torn canvas taken down and replaced with the heavy-air set, or hastily patched. But the poop, starboard side and the starboard gangway still bore shot holes, especially around the waist. Light shot was still embedded in her thick scantlings, the decks were still torn from splintering, and no amount of scrubbing could remove the huge bloodstains, especially on the lower deck.

And Ariadne stank, though she had been scoured with vinegar or black strap, smoked with tubs of burning tobacco, or painted with her slim stocks of whitewash and red. She reeked of vomit, of gangrenous wounds from her tortured men who had been killed but had not yet been allowed the final release from agony. She smelled coppery-sickly from the smell of decaying bodies, and the island flies found her and made a new home so they could feast on her corruption, on all the blood that had been spilled and seemed now a part of her framework.

She was a worse environment than the old Fleet Ditch, Dung Wharf or the worst reeking slums Lewrie could remember hastily passing. He was an Englishman, which meant that he was used to stinks, but he had never imagined anything that bad.

Dockyard officials had been aboard and had ordered the removal of her artillery to lighten her. They had poked and probed, measured and calculated, noting her new tendency to “hog,” to bend down a bit at bow and stern, a sure sign that the keel structure was badly strained, some of her key midship beams weakened. It was supposed that once she could float on her own without aid, she would go into the dock for permanent repair. Though where they’d get the timber …

The wounded were taken off to the hospital; the dead had been buried at sea. Altogether, they had suffered forty-one men discharged dead, and another seventy severely wounded, and half of those stood a good chance of dying yet. That was a quarter of the entire ship’s company, and did not count those lightly wounded that had been returned to light duties.

There were gaping absences in her crew. Turner had been killed on the riddled starboard gangway. The master gunner, Mr. Tencher, had been killed up by the bow chasers. Harm and Roth, of course, were gone from the officer’s mess. Two young midshipmen had died, as well as little Striplin, and his friend Beckett had lost a foot on that last broadside. Shirke was ashore with a broken arm, but looked likely to mend. Chapman, on the other hand, had lost a chunk out of his right thigh from a grape-shot ball, and his future held in a precarious balance, for they thought the leg might have to come off near the groin.

Finnegan and another of his mates had been made acting lieutenants, as had Keith Ashburn, since no officers could be spared from the other ships in port. Indeed, no captain would willingly give up a competent commission officer into such a ship, and no lieutenant would consider such an appointment, since if she were condemned he would be left high and dry without employment.

Captain Bales, once he had made his dire report to the admiral, had kept his own silent counsel aft in his quarters. Lieutenant Church was nowhere to be found, and no one would admit knowledge of his whereabouts. Rolston also had gone, in custody of Marines, from the flagship.

The remaining midshipmen had been run ragged in the days that followed, standing watches, ferrying groaning and crying wounded ashore and bringing back fresh supplies to feed the survivors, lumber to plug shot holes, emptying the magazines and hoisting out the great guns and their trucks, and the tons of round-shot to lighten the ship. They were also involved ferrying the dockyard officials, flag officers, the idle curious and the morbid who wished to come and gawk and marvel, praise or damn, inspect and condemn.

Lewrie clambered up the ship’s side and through the battered entry port, chafing in his uniform. The day was hot, and there was no wind in the harbor. He let Bascombe take his place and went to the scuttlebutt for a measure of fresh water, grateful for the shade of the old scrap canvas that was rigged over the quarterdeck as an awning.

By God, I know it’s unhealthy to bathe too often but I’d admire a dunk in a creek or something, he thought. With so much fresh water coming aboard, no one would miss a gallon in which he could take a quick, cooling scrub and put on some clean linen.

“Mister Lewrie?” the captain’s clerk said to him.

“Aye, Mister Brail?” Alan noted that even Brail wore his arm in a sling; fortunately not his writing arm.

“The captain would like to see you.”

“Me? What have I done?” Alan cringed, by rote.

“I have no indication that Captain Bales is displeased with you, Mister Lewrie. He would be, however, should you keep him waiting.”

Lewrie straightened his sweaty clothing and went aft.

“Midshipman Lewrie reporting, sir.”

The captain stared at him, scowling with those huge eyebrows, and Alan was sure he had committed some grievous and punishable offense without knowing what, or how.

“Mister Ashburn has informed me of your mess’s request that I release some of your money for the purchase of fresh cabin stores. I have summoned you to take charge of it, since the others are away at their duties at present.”

“Whew…” was forced from him, barely audible.

“I will allow each of you no more than five pounds, as the prices here in the islands are higher than normal. That will have to be sufficient. And I’ll not have it all spent on spirits, mind you.”

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

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