The Kings Coat | Chapter 18 of 27 - Part: 1 of 9

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

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Chapter 9

Friday noon found Parrot due south of Morant Point, beating her way offshore for Antigua. The wind had backed to the sou’east, and with her jibs and gaff sails laid close to the centerline, she clawed for every yard to windward, bowling along with her lee rail slanted close to the bright blue sea, and leaving a creaming wake bone white behind her.

Their passengers were no trouble. Lord Cantner was a minikin of a man, not above five feet tall, but obviously much taller when he sat on his purse. His wife, Lady Cantner, was indeed the raven beauty Alan had seen sneaking down the dark hallway at Sir Richard Slade’s, and she recognized him as well, and blushed prettily when introduced. She was not quite thirty, while Cantner was a stringy sort pushing sixty, and a colt’s tooth for marrying such a younger woman who had such a roving eye. Lewrie was irked that the manservant had his berth space, and was reduced to swaying in a hammock over the wardroom table again. But so far, they had been no bother.

For all the first day, Parrot labored hard to make her easting without losing ground to leeward, but she was putting up a steady eleven knots, and sometimes striking twelve, and it was such a joy to be on deck in the mild winter sunshine, with the wind howling and the rigging humming and crying and spray and foam flying about her like dust from a thundering coach, that Lewrie could find solace from his disappointment in Lieutenant Kenyon. Still, he found it hard to be properly civil to him, so he reduced himself to duty and did not seek out the sort of friendly chats they had enjoyed before.

By the second day the wind had veered more east, and they turned and tacked so they would not be set upon Hispaniola, angling more to the sou-sou’east half east, which would bring them below Antigua but in position for another tack direct for English Harbor, and the waiting winter convoy for England.

It was on the second day that the acting quartermaster went down sick, complaining of severe headaches, and Boggs was at a loss as to the cause. The man quickly got worse, pouring sweat, retching and vomiting, and running a high fever. Boggs began to look worried when the man cried that he was blind and raved in the fever’s delirium.

Bright, the gunner’s mate, was the next man to be struck down. He stumbled to the deck in the middle of gun drill, almost insensible. Next was one of the carpenter’s crew, then a ship’s corporal. After him, it was an older topman, and then the forecastle captain. The acting quartermaster had meanwhile turned the color of a quince pudding, and began to bring up black bile.

“It’s the Yellow Jack,” Boggs told them shakily.

There was no more horrifying name that could have been uttered in the tropics, other than Plague. Yellow Jack was the scourge of the West Indies, and all those scrubby coasts of the Spanish Main and up into the Floridas. Whole regiments could go down sick in a week, and the survivors would not make a corporal’s guard. The most complex objects of the age, the huge and powerful 1st and 2nd Rate line-of-battle ships, could be turned to dead piles of timber and iron as their crews died by the boatload.

“What can we do?” Leonard asked, plainly scared to death.

“There’s bad air aboard,” Boggs told them. “Some feverish vapor trapped below. Tropic land gives off sickening ethers at night as it cools; you’ve seen the mists. Ventilate immediately. We must pump our bilges, flush ’em clean, and scour with vinegar below decks.”

They rigged wind scoops. They pumped the sea below through the wash-deck pumps until the chain pumps brought nothing from the bilges but bright seawater. They scoured every surface with vinegar. The acting quartermaster died. Gunner’s mate Bright died. Two gunners came down with the fever, moaning and shivering. One of the little West Indian ship’s boys went sick, as did Lord Cantner’s manservant.

“We must smoke the ship to drive the bad air out,” Boggs prescribed, and they took plug and leaf tobacco and burned it in tubs, waving smouldering faggots of the stuff in every compartment and nook and cranny, like shamans ministering to an aboriginal sufferer. But the old topman, the forecastle captain, and the ship’s boy died, and had to be interred to the mercy of the ocean, and one could feel the jittery tension in the air like a palpable force.

By evening Docken the warrant gunner had fallen ill, as had five more hands and the cook’s native assistant.

“We must keep all the sick on deck in fresh air in a patch of shade, and give them all the water and small beer they can drink,” Boggs said. “Cut down the grog ration, and stop issuing acid fruits that bring on biliousness. Thin soups and gruels instead of fresh or salt-meat.”

The two gunners died. Lord Cantner’s manservant died. During the night, six more hands began to stagger and sweat, complaining of raging, blinding headaches. Those already stricken turned shocking yellow and began to throw up a black bile.

Vómito Negro, the Spaniards called it: Yellow Jack.

Boggs and Leonard made a project of inspecting the galley and rations on the chance the native cook’s dirty habits might be to blame, but could find nothing they could fault in cleanliness.

By dawn Lady Cantner’s maid dropped in a swoon and cried in terror as she realized she was afflicted. Everyone began to walk the decks cutty-eyed, wary of being too close to another person, and one could smell a miasma of sweaty fear amid the odors of the sickness.

They threw the island animals overboard on the suspicion that they might have carried the fever aboard, along with their coops and pens, and the manger was hosed out, and scrubbed with vinegar or wine.

The wind veered dead foul, forcing them to face a long board to the suth’rd, which would take them closer to the French island of Martinique. Regretfully they had to tack and stand nor’east as close to the wind as possible for Anguilla, the nearest British settlement.

Boggs was by now half-drunk most of the time in sheer panic at the thought of dying and his inability to do any good for anyone. He made up bags of assafoetida for everyone to wear, and the crew eagerly seized their bags of “Devil’s Dung” like a talismens.

Docken died. The acting bosun died, along with three more men. Two of the youngest victims seemed to recover, though they were weak as kittens and all their hair had fallen out, so there was some hope.

“We are seven days from Anguilla,” Kenyon told them aft on the tiny poop by the taffrail. “Lewrie, we must have the starboard guns run out and the larboard guns hauled back to the centerline to ease her heel. It will make her faster through the water.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

“Mister Claghorne, we must drive this ship like Jehu for the nearest port. Nevis or St. Kitts, if Anguilla will not serve. It is our only hope that we reach a friendly port with medical facilities greater than our own.” Kenyon seemed foursquare and dependable amid all the suppressed hysteria, but Lewrie could see the tension around his eyes, the desperate glance as he realized just how powerless any man was in the face of the unknown—Yellow Jack.

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

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