The waterfront at Ajaccio was alive with the normal bustling mass of people selling fish, buying fish, and stealing fish. Crew members from the ships alongside mingled with the troops recently landed from the Spanish ships offshore.
|Glory By David O'Neil|
Jonathon had heard about Spanish duplicity. As far as he was concerned it meant that the Spanish might go home and the British take over. To a slave this meant little, unless you were a slave still interested in making his escape.
He nudged his next-in-line, Andrew Fox-Gilbert, Midshipman RN, equally in rags and equally a slave.
â€œThis rope is frayed through. The next barrel we roll we follow over the edge and into the water.â€
â€œItâ€™s no good for me. I cannot swim, as you well know.â€
â€œThat will not matter. I will keep you afloat, never fear.â€
As the next barrel came into the line, Jonathon gritted his teeth, jerked his hands apart.
The rope strands, weakened already, snapped and Jonathon was pushing the keg, as hard as he could at the low bulwark, which had been damaged during a gun action earlier that week. Without thinking, Andrew followed, pushing the barrel. The others in the line also joined in and suddenly the entire 70 barrels were rolling, gaining speed as they reached the weakened gunwale.
The barrels plunged down to the sea below. The slaves followed. Few could swim, but the barrels would float, and anything was better than the life they faced as slaves.
Jonathon looked out for his friend. It was difficult to see properly with the splashing and crashing of barrel upon barrel, and the shouts and shots from the soldiers on the quay. Andrew was hanging onto his barrel with fierce determination. Jonathon, released from his own barrel, dived and worked the rope loop around Andrewâ€™s barrel over the end, loosening it from the ties that bound Andrew to it.
Andrew panicked when his support in the water suddenly disappeared. He gulped salt water and coughed and spluttered, while his friend took a hold of his collar and dragged him away from the struggling melee of men and barrels. Jonathon pulled his friend around the next craft moored and waiting for its turn alongside the quay. Out of sight, in the calmer water in the lee of the moored craft, he managed to hook Andrew to a fender hanging down the port side of what now was clearly to be seen, the captured RN cutter Margaret.
The prize crew were all leaning over the starboard side hauling in the escaping slaves, hooking them with boathooks, overcoming their weakening struggles and dumping them to be watched over by, two armed men.
Jonathon worked his way along the side of the cutter until he was screened by the mast. He then carefully scrambled onto the deck of the small warship. He waited until both guards were occupied hauling two new captives across the deck. Then, armed only with a belaying pin, he stepped out and swung, full-armed, catching the nearest guard across the back of his head. Not waiting to see the effect, he immediately swung onto the other guard, catching him across the throat as he turned to see what was happening to his companion. With both guards down, Jonathon took the knife from the belt of his first victim, and slashed the rope binding the nearest prisoner. Released, the man took the knife of the other guard and turned to release his nearest neighbour. Jonathon put his finger to his lips to keep the men quiet, passed the two firearms carried by the guards to two of the men and grabbed the cutlass from the belt of his first victim. When the next recovered prisoner was hauled over the side, the crew discovered that their prize had changed hands once more. Jonathon kept the crew at it but made sure the men in the water realised that they were in safe hands.
Having rescued Andrew and hauled him on board, Jonathon showed him the fifteen men recovered and the nine crewmen who were now prisoners.
â€œWhy are you telling me all this? You are the man that made this possible. It is you who led us to recapture Margaret.â€
â€œBut I cannot command this vessel. I know a little of navigation, none of leading men. You are a shipâ€™s officer. It is you who should take command.â€
Andrew laughed, â€œIt is simple really.â€ He turned to the assembled men. â€œWell, lads. Mr Hope here has brought us this far, and I for one would be happy to follow him out of this bloody harbour. What say ye?â€
A big fellow stepped forward. â€œMy name is Hazard, sir. I was Boâ€™sun in Intrepid. Sailing this tiddler is easy for the lads and me. Without Mr Hope, weâ€™d be stuck on that Spanish bastard. So if itâ€™s all right with you, sir, its fine with us.â€
Andrew swung round to Jonathon, and touched his forelock. â€œWhat are your orders, sir?â€
Jonathon shrugged, â€œVery good. Mr Fox-Gilbert, have the boâ€™sun,â€ he nodded to Hazard. â€œHave the men sweep the ship for supplies and weapons. Keep the activity at low level. After all we are supposed to be a prize crew. Check for any other prisoners below. I will be in the captainâ€™s cabin meanwhile. Please join me there when the watch has been set and, by the way, see if any of the men can cook?â€
â€œAye aye, sir.â€ Andrew turned to Hazard, â€œYou heard the captain, boâ€™sun. Send a search party through the ship and join me at the quarterdeck to allocate watches.â€
Jonathon sat in the chair in the stern cabin of the cutter. He had learned to read as cabin boy on the coaster Amy, and by the age of nine knew which way up to look at a chart.
His early days had been marked by the loss of his mother to illness. That had been the reason his uncle had taken him aboard ship under his command, coasting between Newcastle and London, and the ports between. He had shipped out on a foreign-going vessel when the Amy had sprung a plank in a storm off Norfolk. He had been the sole survivor, and at the age of 12 was only able to ship on as cabin boy, though, as soon as the Captain discovered he could read and write, he spent most of his time helping him with the purchase of cargo and more importantly the sale of the cargo.
The capture of the trading brig had been a bitter blow for the Captain, who did not survive the three months of captivity endured by Jonathon Hope. Andrew had joined the captives when his ship, attached to the fleet, had run aground on the Spanish coast during an attack on Toulon. The fact that the Spanish were supposed to be allies of the British at the time seemed to have passed the local commander by.
Jonathon, was now almost 17 and near 5 foot eight tall, still a little thin but deceptively wiry and muscular. He could handle a sword adequately and a pistol well. His fists had been well used ever since he discovered that there were men at sea who used boys from choice. Andrew Fox-Gilbert RN, Midshipman now also 16, slim fair-haired, the son of a Norfolk Squire, was adept at swordplay, adequate with a pistol, and lethal with a sporting gun. Their friendship had been forged in captivity, and they made a formidable pair working together.
Jonathon was still only half aware that he was sitting in the captainâ€™s chair in command of his own ship. He grinned and opened the captainâ€™s log. He entered his name and listed the names of the crew members passed to him by Andrew, who was now seated opposite him with a glass of the wine unearthed from the cabinet beside the desk.
â€œThe Spanish have not replaced the boom across the harbour entrance,â€ Andrew said, â€œIf we make a run for it tonight, we should be able to clear Sardinia by mid-morning.â€
â€œIt will be a case of where-to next? Do you have any idea where we may find the fleet?â€ Jonathon withdrew the chart for the Western Mediterranean and studied it.
Andrew was surprised, not having been aware that Jonathon could read.
â€œPerhaps Sicily, though I would not be too sure.â€ He noticed Jonathon indicated the island with the dividers he was holding. â€œOtherwise, Gibraltar would seem to be the only safe target for us to aim for. How long do you think? One, two weeks perhaps?â€
â€œProbably the safest bet. This should be a lively sailor and, if we keep a good watch, we should be able to run if we spot trouble.â€
â€œWe can set the prisoners ashore at the harbour mouth. Now, is there anything weâ€™ve missed?â€
â€œWe discovered clothes in the Firstâ€™s cabin. I believe the occupant was a lady. With a maid. There was a made-up bed on the floor.â€
â€œWhere would they take her, I wonder?â€ Jonathon scratched his head.
â€œI questioned our new crew. One of them was on this ship when she was captured. He said the lady was being brought to Gibraltar on their trip out from England. In Gibraltar it seems her son had been posted to Port Mahon in Minorca. The Margaret was taken off Ibiza and brought here as a prize. So where would she be now?â€
â€œA Lady and her maid? The Admiralâ€™s residence, I presume, once the Governorâ€™s mansion.â€ Andrew said. â€œWe can always slip ashore and take a look. We have uniforms.â€
Jonathon looked up sharply. Was Andrew joking? He looked very serious. â€œYou think?â€
Andrew shrugged. â€œThis morning I was pushing barrels of wine up a sloping gangplank.â€
â€œLet us speak with our prisoners.â€
Ben Hazard was sent to fetch a prisoner who could speak English.
The man was worried and sweated a lot, until he realised that it was only information that they were after. It seemed the lady and her maid had been taken to the Admiralâ€™s residence, and the man had seen that the lady at least was being treated properly.
At this time of year the nights were longer. The two young men dressed in the uniforms they found still hanging in the lockers from the officers of the Margaret. Thus Jonathon was now Lieutenant and Andrew Mid-shipman. They wore the uniforms as there was little difference especially at night between the officerâ€™s uniforms in the Spanish, French and British Navies?
There was no security as such in the port. The uproar of the soldiery and the seamen was similar to that found in any seaport in the entire Mediterranean. The prostitutes plied their trade, the thieves and pickpockets operated and the others got drunk if they could afford it. The attitude of the two young men, carrying sword and pistol, carried them through the throng who parted to let them through without question. In the background, following within sight, unknown to the pair, three of the chosen seamen from their ship kept an eye on their progress. â€˜Just in caseâ€™ Hazard decided.
As they approached the Government house the sound of music could be heard and it became apparent that an entertainment was in progress.
The doors of the ballroom were open, and couples were moving in and out to take the cooler night air, before returning to the dancing inside. It was not difficult for the two British Officers to hide their cloaks, hats, and Jonathonâ€™s sword, to allow them to pass in the garden as guests, seeking, and eventually finding, a lady speaking English to a small group of Spanish officers. The group broke up leaving just one man who appeared to be able to converse in English well enough to carry a conversation. Andrew appeared behind the man and gestured to the lady. She looked, but it was not until he tapped the dirk at his waist, that she realised that he was British. If she was a Naval wife, Andrew gambled that she would recognise the uniform. The lady turned to her companion. â€œI wonder if I can be trusted while you find me a cordial. I would go back inside, but I confess it is so warm I would swoon were I to venture in my present state. If I promise to seat myself here, I will not stir until you return.â€
The officer bowed. â€œOf course, Madam. I accept your word. I will return immediately.â€ He turned glanced briefly at Andrew and made his way into the ballroom.
The lady looked at Andrew. â€œQuickly now. You are British?â€
â€œYes, Madam. Mid......!â€
She shook her head impatiently. â€œDonâ€™t interrupt. There is little time. I have documents for the Admiral in Gibraltar. Look up. The end window is mine. In one hour I will drop a package to you. You will deliver it with all speed to Gibraltar.â€ She paused, â€œYou have a ship?â€
â€œYes, Madam. Do you desire passage?â€
She looked at him as if he was an idiot. â€œWhy would I ask you to deliver my package if I wanted a passage? I can hardly gather information if I am not here. One hour! I can see well from my window. If you are trapped, call for Lydia, my maid. Do you understand?â€
Andrew hesitated for a moment then stepped back and joined Jonathon behind some bushes, as the officer returned with the drink for the lady.
â€œSo she does not wish to come with us. She is a spy!â€ Jonathon looked at the watch he had taken from the Prize master. â€œIf we make ourselves comfortable for the next hour, you can collect the package and we will be on our way.
The ball was still in progress when Andrew took his place beneath the window the lady had indicated. He stood there for a while before a girl looked over the balcony. She called quietly, â€œIâ€™m Lydia. Did you call me?â€
â€œNo, miss. Iâ€™m Andrew. I await your Lady.â€
â€œI was instructed to give this package to you. I have tied it to my scarf to lower it quietly.â€ There was an altercation at the other end of the garden, then the package descended attached to a silken scarf. As Andrew took it in his hand the scarf fluttered down, obviously released by the person above. Andrew gathered the scarf and the package and retreated into the bushes.
A man appeared on the balcony and looked down, â€œ I heard voices. Who were you talking to?â€
â€œThere were people passing below. It must have been them you heard. I spoke to no one. I know no one here. Who would I speak to?â€
The voices faded and the man withdrew. Andrew joined Jonathon, the scarf tucked under his tunic. Then he passed the package to Jonathon who thrust it into the front of his uniform jacket. Then, in cloak and hat once more, they made the stroll back to the quay and were rowed out to their ship.
Hazard greeted them as they boarded. â€œNo ladies, sir?â€
â€œNo ladies, boâ€™sun. Iâ€™ll be in my cabin. Prepare for sea. Rig the decoy lamp and call me when we are ready to leave.â€
â€œAye aye, sir.â€ The boâ€™sun called quietly to the carpenter. â€œYou heard the officer. Get moving!â€
Below in the cabin, Jonathon examined the package, wondering how the lady had managed to conceal it from the Spanish. He shook his head and placed the package in the strongbox behind the desk.
Andrew stood awaiting comment. He was disappointed. â€œLet us have a quiet glass and await the Boâ€™sunâ€™s call.â€
The topsails of the cutter were drawing well and, with the mainsail and the foresail set, the Margaret was logging eight knots in a strong wind which lifted the waves to over a metre and showered the fore deck with spray as the bowsprit dipped and occasionally stabbed the face of the waves.
Jonathon looked along the deck at the guns, all lashed in place and the clean, neatly secure cordage, proud and pleased with the way the ship was handling. They were three days out from Ajaccio with no sign of pursuit. Their departure had gone off without a hitch. The raft with the riding light attached had deceived the other ships, and they had not, it appeared, been followed. He called to the lookout perched up the tall mast, â€œAny sail in sight?â€
The lookout did another sweep of the horizon with his glass, â€œAll clear, sir.â€
Jonathon turned to Andrew. â€œLet us exercise the guns. I seem to recall we have sufficient powder and ball to waste a little on practice.â€
Andrew grinned. â€œAye aye, sir. Mr Hazard, gun crews, exercise the guns. Find us a few targets if you can.â€
For the next two hours the intermittent banging of the guns disturbed the peace. The clouds of gunsmoke dispersed swiftly in the fresh windy conditions.
Andrew mentioned that the crew had performed well, despite being short handed. All the targets had been smashed. Speaking to Jonathon after the practice, Andrew said, â€œWe have selected two gun crews. Having tried the men we found the best and teamed them for accuracy and speed of operation. They will stay as at team at action stations. With only these popguns ( 6lbs) to play with, it seemed the best solution.â€
Jonathon smiled and nodded his head. â€œI have no doubt with a full crew we would soon find crews for all the guns. But, in the meantime, well done, Andrew. Let us hope we do not need them, on this voyage at least.â€
Just when it seemed that the escapees would have an untroubled voyage, they spotted a pirate galley making for the Barbary coast. The Margaret was between the galley and the distant line of the North African coast. The lookout had been joined by Andrew who carried the big telescope with him. Calling from the masthead, Andrew reported, â€œShe has been damaged and is short of oars. Her mast is frapped and she cannot carry much sail. I guess she took on more than she intended, and had to make a run for it.
Jonathon did not hesitate. â€œLoad all guns, port and starboard. We will take a look and see if there is anything we can do to make life more difficult. Masthead! Any sign of support for the galley?â€
â€œNo, sir. Though the galley is beginning to turn away. Looks like she is trying to run.â€
â€œVery good, Mr Fox-Gilbert. Join me on deck and we will give chase. Let us see just how fast our ship can go!â€
With all sail set full and taut, there was not a wrinkle to be seen, just straining canvas in a great white cloud. It was almost frightening to feel the tension throughout the ship as she settled, heeling on course to chase and intercept the galley.
In normal circumstances this would not have been a recommended practice. The galley, fully manned, would be far too quick and agile for the cutter, and her one gun, mounted in the bows, would only need a single shot to sink any small ship foolish enough to get in range. Jonathon was depending on the damage already done to the galley to make the difference he needed in such an encounter.
The Margaret swiftly overtook the galley which did prove to have been damaged in a previous encounter. Under the threat of the guns, the captain of the galley surrendered, handing Jonathon the heavily jewelled and decorated scabbard with its finely damascened blade.
There were several wounded in the crew of the galley, and both dead and wounded among the slaves on the benches.
Andrew had the able-bodied crewmen and warriors replace the slaves at the oars. He assembled the surviving slaves on deck. Of the one hundred and twenty slaves they had set out with, sixty remained. He looked them over. The reek of the unwashed men seated for weeks in their own filth was choking. Calling for the sea water hoses to be rigged, he ordered the men to strip, and for the next half hour the startled men were battered by the cold waters of the sea and encouraged to scrub their filthy bodies clean. Those who decided to refuse were given no option, as the others turned on them and scrubbed them raw. With clothing taken from the galley and the cutterâ€™s slop chest, the men were dressed once more. The British and Portuguese, numbering thirty-two men were taken into the crew of the cutter to ease the pressure on the escapees.
The remainder took over the running of the galley. The broken mast was braced with four of the unusable oars. Two days later, under sail â€“ with occasional sessions of the oars â€“ the prize galley, Osiris, under the command of Midshipman Fox-Gilbert, followed the Margaret into Gibraltar harbour.
The sight of a captured galley was unusual enough to raise considerable interest. The fact that it had been captured by an undermanned cutter raised even more. The final denouement, announcing that the cutter itself had been recovered from enemy hands under the nose of the Spanish Admiral, created the biggest stir of all.
In the Admiralâ€™s office in Gibraltar, the two figures, Fox-Gilbert and Hope stood at attention awaiting the verdict on their conduct.
When the great man looked up he noted their rigid figures. â€œBe seated both of you. I have to see what this is all about.â€ He waved the letter from the lady spy in Ajaccio.
The two young men sat in the chairs provided, still tense to learn their fate.
Eventually, the Admiral sat back, â€œDo you know what this letter says?â€
Both shook their heads. Jonathon volunteered, â€œThe lady said to deliver it unopened and destroy it if we were taken, sir.â€
â€œGood. Well done, both of you. Now I have read your reports. I am surprised that you did not take command, Mr Fox-Gilbert. As the senior officer present, I would have expected it of you.â€
â€œIn my report I mention that I was one of many rescued by Mr Hope, who acted upon his own initiative. Mr Hope suggested I should take command. I immediately placed myself under his orders. I already respected him for planning and executing our escape. And it was apparent that he already had the respect of my companions. He was immediately accepted by all the escaped men. In addition, he saved my life on two separate occasions.â€
Jonathon was blushing at these effusive words and would have spoken, but the Admiral spoke first. â€œWell said, young man. I was just confirming that there had been no pressure placed upon you. I presume you would not find it difficult to continue to serve under Mr Hope?â€
â€œNot at all, sir. It would be my honour.â€
â€œMr Hope, in view of the initiative you have shown in this matter and the fact that you not only recovered a valuable ship and returned it to the Royal Navy along with another prize. I have arranged to appoint you as Masterâ€™s Mate, dated from your 13th birthday. You will be entered for the Lieutenantâ€™s examination on your 17th birthday. Since that is less than one year hence, it behoves you to study those subjects you are not already acquainted with. Mr Fox-Gilbert will probably face the same selection board. I suggest you help each other study for the occasion.â€
He sat back in his chair. Admiral Hamilton was approaching the age where his wife was expecting to return to the estate they owned in Sussex. His daughter and her husband had been running things for the past seven years, and they were showing signs of restlessness.
He stirred and concentrated on the notes he had made when he first read the reports from the two young men before him. It was important he got this matter right.
â€œYour acting rank of Lieutenant is confirmed, as is that for Midshipman Fox-Gilbert. You are appointed to take command of the Gloire currently lying in Port Mahon. She is a captured French corvette used as a smuggler. You may take any of the crew of the cutter that you wish, though I have appointed three Jerseymen who are all fluent French speakers. Your orders have been credited with your back pay, and you can obtain uniforms from the shop in the town to await you when you leave tomorrow on the mail ship. I have arranged for you to have credit. While I suggest they will be useful, most of your sea time will be spent in plain clothes.
He stood and stretched his back, aware of the ache that would no longer go away. His gaze at the two young men before him did not waver. For a moment he envied them their youth, and enthusiasm. â€œYour first task will be to deliver a message to the lady you met in Ajaccio. She will decide your use at that time. Otherwise you will find guidance in the orders from here. Remember the password ARGOSY. It indicates friend in our information network.
Later in the street, now clad in uniforms supplied by the outfitter from his ready-to-wear stocks, the two friends were seeking food and drink, befitting their comparative wealth gained by the recovery of the cutter, and the taking of the prize galley.
Captain Murray, the bluff Aide-de Camp for the Admiral, had advised them that the Gloire was a ship-rigged corvette 88 foot length overall. â€œWhen they realised how fast she was, smuggling and blockade running was her obvious fate. Her capture had netted 132 crew, plus a captain and a mate. Her twenty guns were proper weapons if served properly, and she had been fitted with an assortment of weapons, including three rifles.
The Captain lifted his hand to stop the question. â€œAll three of your Jerseymen are trained sharpshooters with the rifles. They had settled in America when a raiding party of French and Huron Indians overran their home-stead. The men had been out hunting and returned in time to see their homes in flames and their families dead.
â€œThey trailed the party and killed every Frenchman involved. Only then did they decide to return.â€
â€œWhy are they here and now, sir?â€ Andrew asked.
The Captain smiled grimly. â€œHome was no longer the place they were born.â€ He shrugged, â€œYou will find out in time.â€
Jonathon said, â€œWhat about the Hurons?â€
â€œThey accepted that the Indians were savages and that was part of their way of life. The French had been born of civilised people; for them there was no excuse.â€
Jonathon nodded slowly realising the logic but also marvelling at the self-control of the Jerseymen.
â€œYou will find the three men very useful in many ways, but I doubt you will ever make them lose their temper. They are superb sharpshooters.â€
Ben Hazard shielded his eyes and gazed across at the ship that lay alongside a quay on the far side of the harbour. There was a rakish look about her that stirred something inside him, an excitement, and he could not wait to get on board. He turned to the young midshipman standing next to him, â€œWhat do you think of our new home?â€
The midshipman, Elliot Mason, jumped, startled out of his reverie by the Boâ€™sunâ€™s question.
â€œWhy she looks a speedy craft, and she is bigger than I expected.â€ He spoke well though there was a slight accent. Mr Mason was an Alderney man who also spoke French, and happily, Spanish.
Jonathon and Andrew were also interested. Rightly so, since she was the only ship of her size in the harbour.
With the men landed and formed up under the command of the Boâ€™sun, Andrew, with the gear collected and loaded on a wagon took the party round to their new home.
Jonathon reported to the port Admiral. There he was introduced to the three Jerseymen who all carried hide packs and the long rifles brought from America. Jonathon noticed that the open barrel mouths were all wrapped in greasy rag to prevent the salt air entering and damaging the rifling.
All three men were little taller than their weapons, but lithe, competent-looking in their fringed leather jackets and breeches. All also wore soft-hide shoes. They moved without any observable sound, and Jonathon became aware of the menace that these men could be to an unwary opponent. The men introduced themselves as Campe, Marc and Henri.
Outside the Headquarters building Jonathon, stopped and shook each man by the hand. â€œI command, but I know little of command. You are all expert at your work. I depend upon you to teach both me, and others of the crew a little of that expertise. Our work in our new ship does not entail waving flags and roaring guns, rather the silent contact in the night, a ghost to be unseen or at best unnoticed. Do you understand that?
Marc smiled grimly. â€œYou may depend on us, Captain.â€
That was all that was said. They boarded the former corvette, and Jonathon read himself in before the assembled crew.
After three days of clearing up and overhauling the standing and running rigging, and with sails now replaced suitably weathered looking, the Gloire reported ready for sea.
To the crew that was when the ship became the Glory, the name on the transom did not change, nor on the documents, just in the mind and hearts of the men she would, from now on, always be Glory.
After two days, the crew had been shaken down in their tasks to the satisfaction of the boâ€™sun. Andrew had selected gun crews and the pattern of life was settling into a routine that suited their designated abilities. As he stood with Andrew by the wheel, the crack of the Baker rifles could be heard as the marksmen practiced their skill on the pieces of flotsam from the broken kegs used for the gun practice earlier.
â€œAs you know, Andrew. we will be seeking the lady who sent us on this path. I am informed that her name is Madeline Bellew. Her former husband died during the taking of the Margaret. Apparently, she was already an agent when she married her husband.
â€œWhere are we likely to find her? Do we have any clue?â€ Andrew was looking concerned, as well he might. The Mediterranean covered a big area.
I have the names and locations of several informants who may be able to narrow the search for us. We can start at Ajaccio, though I realise the Spanish have been eased out of there now. From there onwards we will be in the hands of fate. Our secondary task is to gather what information we can in our travels, and seek a man called Simon Herriot, a particularly active spy for whoever pays the most. It seems he has been active over the past few years causing all sorts of trouble for our cause in particular.â€
Jonathon took a last look around the busy deck and nodded to Midshipman Mason. â€œTake over, Mr Mason. I will be in my cabin. Call if you have a problem.â€
Eliott Mason stepped up to take post beside the wheel while his Captain went below. The pride at being entrusted with the ship while his captain was elsewhere apparent in the squaring of his shoulders as he braced himself, and, in an aside to the helmsman said, â€œWatch your helm, man, you are weaving like a Liverpool doxy after a session with the boâ€™sun!â€
The helmsman grinned as he adjusted the wheel. He would remember that one. Behind his ear he heard the voice, soft and gentle with a steel lining. â€œJust watch the course, lad. And keep what you hear to yourself.â€ The Boâ€™sun smiled to himself thinking, young Mason was growing into a proper naval officer, no mistake!
Poring over the map of the Mediterranean, Jonathon and Andrew were aware there were several problems to be solved by the captain as part of his preparation for the lieutenantâ€™s selection next year. He was lucky that his knowledge of maths was proving useful in the study of navigation. Andrew had been well trained in the use of the instruments of the craft, but even he was surprised at Jonathonâ€™s swift grasp of the mathematics involved. Taking sights demanded the ability to stand firm on deck and choose the moment to mark your results, Jonathon had mastered that skill on the way across to Gibraltar. The linking of the maths in working out dead reckoning, and the solving of the problems of tide current and wind was rapidly becoming a simple matter to Jonathon.
For Andrew, there was the task of slowing Jonathon down, as he had a habit of over-simplifying problems. This would not sit well with the sort of examination board who judged applicants for promotion.
The lessons between the two friends were strictly controlled for length. They worked for one hour in the morning, and a second hour after the noon sights. The other elements of instruction were completed in the interim periods.
Fencing lessons were shared between midshipman Mason, Andrew, Jonathon and, the Jerseyman Marc. Marc was adept with the rapier, thus bouts with the foil were an education to all three young men. The resultant improve-ment in their skills was soon apparent. Cutlass lessons were conducted by Boâ€™sun Hazard, who took sections of the crew in addition to the officers and ensured that everyone felt at least comfortable with a cutlass in his hand.
The days at sea passed swiftly with the crew busy learning to work together and perfecting their ship-handling skills. There were other ships spotted and they spoke to two separate frigates on the third and seventh day out from Gibraltar. Their orders from the Admiral were happily strongly worded and dissuaded both frigate captains from diverting the Glory from her scheduled task.
During the period which had started when Jonathon was a slave, the transition between boy and man had begun. He was filling out, growing taller and tougher. On Glory with the encouragement of Ben Hazard, he was learning the art of self-defence, and, along with Andrew, developing into a useful fighter. As Ben pointed out they may not always have swords and pistols to hand, and the port towns of the world were not the safest places to pass through, especially at night. It was a reason to make sure that, combined with their growing expertise with weapons, both friends would be able to look after themselves in just about any situation.
They spotted the schooner one week out. She was making heavy weather of it. The standing rigging for the mizzen mast on the starboard side had torn away from the chain plates. By maintaining the wind pressure on the port beam they kept the mast upright, but the crew were having problems grappling the chain plate, which was swinging erratically with the pitch and roll caused by the movement of the ship. As Glory approached the stricken ship, two of the Jerseymen came up from below with, what Jonathon realised, must have been bows used by the Indians.
Campe strung his bow and stretched it. Then, withdrawing an arrow from the quiver by his side, he attached a length of light line to it leaving the coils of extra line on the deck to run out smoothly. Henri approached Jonathon. â€œPlease, sir. Run down her starboard side as close as possible. We fix!â€
Marc was waiting for the ship to close the damaged schooner. As the ship came abreast of the schoonerâ€™s starboard side, Campe raised the bow and fired his arrow into the canted deck of the other ship. Marc had tied the other end of the line to his own arrow. He fired and the arrow flew true, carrying the light line to the other ship catching the swinging chain plate in the loop of line.
From the deck of the schooner came a cheer, as the line was hauled in and the chain plate secured to the bulwark close to its original position.
The people on the schooner dropped her sails now the mizzen was anchored in place. Andrew took the jollyboat and rowed over to the merchantman.
He was received on board by a subdued group of people. Marc, who had followed him over the side, said in English. â€œThey do not want us on board. I think maybe they are pirates.â€ He stepped over to the arrows still stuck in the deck. He wrenched them loose and set one on the string of the bow, without stretching it far. He then stood back, eyes everywhere, just watching.
The man who seemed to be in charge was anxious to send Andrew back to the Glory. Andrew was in no hurry. â€œIâ€™ll need to see your papers, captain.â€ He spoke in English.
The captain said with a shrug, â€œThey are in the cabin below.â€
He led the way, down to the main cabin in the stern of the ship. Andrew was already prepared, his hand on the butt of the pistol in his belt.
When the captain flung the door open and stepped aside, Andrew stepped aside also. The blunderbuss charge would have been fatal had it hit him. As it was his pistol bullet took the shooter in the chest and he dropped, already dead before he hit the deck. Andrew thrust the captain into the cabin ahead of him. A sword blade took him in the throat. Andrew pushed the dying man at his attacker, frustrating the attempt to withdraw the sword. He then whacked the swordsman with the butt of his pistol. The man collapsed with a sigh. And the resistance was overcome.
There was a woman tied to the gun in the rear of the cabin. By her dress she was a lady and, though a little battered, still proud and defiant. Andrew released her, cutting the ropes with his dirk. The lady promptly collapsed in his arms.
Like the gentleman he was, Andrew laid her on the bunk and drew the cover over her then left her to recover.
On deck, the pirates had been assembled by Jonathon under the threat of Gloryâ€™s guns and the physical presence of Boâ€™sun Hazard and his six man boarding party.
On the face of things they seemed a very small threat to twenty pirates, but their leader was already dead in his cabin and the men were a sorry bunch at best. They stacked their weapons and stood glumly as they were secured by the boarding party.
Andrew reported the finding of the lady, and Marc appeared with another woman. Discovered in the forecastle, she was the companion travelling with her employer on the hired ship. The schooner Gavotte had been commissioned to transport the lady and her entourage to Messina in Sicily. According to the companion, the gentlemen escorting the Contessa were led by her guardian, the Marquis, and three hired men.
In the stern cabin of Glory Jonathon seated himself. Present, already seated, were the Contessa and her companion, Elena.
Andrew, and a glum looking young man, who was apparently the only survivor of the three hired men, stood awaiting events, with Marc guarding the door.
Jonathon nodded to the Contessa, â€œPlease, Madam. Can you tell us what happened?â€
The Contessa, straightened in her chair, and in perfect English told her story. â€œMy guardian and I discussed the matter of marriage. We were at the time on our estate in Mallorca.
â€œHaving selected a suitable husband, we were informed that he had been despatched to the Embassy in Sicily. Since I was already seventeen, we decided that, rather than await his return in three years time, in arrangements of this nature, it is important to arrange for the inheritance sooner rather than later. You understand?â€ She looked keenly at Jonathon, who did not understand at all, but who nodded as if he did.
Satisfied, the Contessa continued. â€œWe hired a reputable ship for the voyage and three guards, and set out for Messina.
â€œAll was well until this morning. I was woken by the sound of a pistol shot and running feet on the deck. I heard the small cannon fire. Then the door burst open and Gerard, the senior guard, entered shouting that the Marquis had been shot and the men had mutinied.
He slammed and locked the door, locking me inside.
He returned later and made to attack me. I fought him, but he was too strong and I was nearly overcome when there was a crashing noise and the ship shuddered. Shouts of alarm from the deck made him lash me to the gun. â€œI will return.â€ he said. He slammed the door and left me alone once more. The next I knew was when the door was flung open my attacker came in, sword in hand, followed by a man with the blunderbuss, who slammed the door behind him. The man with the gun waited and when the door opened, he fired. There was another shot, and he dropped to the deck. Gerard turned to the doorway and thrust his sword out. The shipâ€™s captain was in the way and was pierced by the blade, and as the man tried to free it, another man hit him with a pistol, and he collapsed. When I saw the uniform, I realised I was saved, and I admit, I collapsed.â€
Jonathon nodded, â€œThank you, Contessa.â€ He turned to Elena. â€œNow, please. What do you know of all this?â€
â€œLittle, sir, I am afraid. I was on deck with some washing when I heard a pistol shot. I was grabbed by two of the men who hustled me below into the menâ€™s quarters in the bow. They were not gentle and they took advantage, with their hands, sir.â€ Jonathon realised that he should understand this but, again uncertain, he nodded under-standingly and the woman continued.
â€œWhile they argued who would have me first, there was loud crash, and shouts for all hands. They tied me up and left me. Next I knew that man came and released me.â€ She indicated Marc. â€œHe was very gentle and kind.â€ She blushed, and Andrew noticed, so did Marc.
The hired man had little to say. He had been woken by the loud crash everyone else heard. His leader had ordered him to stay out of the way while he took care of business. Not knowing what was happening, he was astonished to see his leader shoot the other hired man, and then swing his sword across and slash the Marquis across the throat, killing him instantly. Then Andrew and his men appeared and that was that.â€
â€œTell me. Did you have any idea that this mutiny was about to occur?â€
â€œNo sir. Nor, I am sure, did most of the crew. They just followed orders. After all the chain-plate had torn away, and that was serious business for the sailors.â€
Speaking to Andrew privately later, Jonathon asked, â€œWhat did the Contessa mean by arranging for inheritance sooner rather than later?â€
Andrew grinned, â€œWith arranged marriages among the nobility love does not come into it, unless you are particularly lucky. It is all about breeding. Thus, if you as a Baron marry at the age of forty perhaps, your bride being between sixteen and eighteen, the first priority is to ensure the succession. That means you bed the woman as soon as possible hoping for a son. If the first is a girl, then off you go again, until hopefully a son is borne. From then on you can return to your mistress and leave the bringing up to your wife. She will be delighted to rid her bed of the randy old goat she is saddled with and, if she is discrete she can mount the stable-boy if she feels the urge. If no son appears, often a stable boy or other servant is introduced to help nature with a strapping lad to occupy the place of the heir.â€
Jonathon sat pale-faced at this explanation. He had not experienced contact with nobility and this cynical explanation was a shock to a young man who was so worldly in many ways.
â€œI noticed you wondered about the comment from Elena about the men groping her as they took her into the focâ€™sle. They would have raped her then and there. You do know what rape is?â€
â€œAs it was they were still arguing, and groping her when they were called away. So nothing worse happened to her. I have the feeling that Marc will receive a much friendlier reception from the lady.â€
â€œWell, it seems we are stuck with escorting this bloody ship to Messina. At least then we can get on with our mission.â€
â€œI suppose we will need to keep the ladies on board for their protection. Let young Mason take the schooner under his command. Better make sure he keeps us in sight for the rest of the journey.â€
Jonathon Hope sat not actually reading the textbook on navigation. He was deep in thought over the situation facing him. How had he managed to finish up in the Captainâ€™s cabin in command of his own ship? He had been looking after himself since he was ten years old and had grown up fast, but he was still in many ways the boy who missed his mother, and the uncle who had bothered to take him on.
There were plenty of occasions where he could have used help through the years that followed, but few where that help had been forthcoming. Andrew was the first real friend he had made over the past years. He admitted to himself, the reason he was seated in this chair was because of Andrew. He turned to the book in front of him, and added the rider: It is also the reason that I must pass for lieutenant or let the Admiral, Andrew, and Captain Murray down.
He smiled grimly. There was always the matter of his own feelings about his life, but it did not hurt to feel responsible for others for a change. One way and another, his responsibilities seemed to be extending over an ever-widening area. Now he had yet another ship to nursemaid and two more women to worry about.
A knock on the cabin door followed a slight altercation in the passage outside.
He called out, â€œEnter!â€
The door was opened by Hector, the man selected to be his servant. â€œThe Contessa asked to see you sir, I told her you should not be disturbed, but she insists.â€
Jonathon sighed, â€œPlease let her in.â€ He closed the book on navigation and rose to his feet to greet his visitor.
The Contessa swept into the cabin and stood trembling before the desk.
â€œPlease be seated,â€ Jonathon said quietly. To Hector, â€œA glass of wine for the Contessa, please. Then leave us.â€
The lady seated herself almost before the chair was in place. By the time Jonathon himself was seated, she had calmed down and taken a sip of the wine placed before her by Hector.
As the door closed behind the servant she said quietly, â€œWhat I have to say must be for your ears only.â€
Jonathon looked at her, aware of her determination in the set of her jaw and the steady look in her dark eyes. â€œI will make any decision that I think necessary after you tell me whatever you think I should know. That is the best I can promise.â€
There was a few tense moments while she thought about this, then, â€œI am not who you think I am.â€
Jonathon waited saying nothing seemed to be the best response at this time.
She continued. I was seized in Lyons by the French secret police. At that time I was employed by the French Kingâ€™s First Minister, to report on the activities of the anarchist movement that had been growing in strength in the south, and threatened to join forces with the Jacobin movement rapidly expanding in the Pas-de-Calais region, in Paris specifically.
â€œThe choice offered to me was to work for the anarchists, or suffer degradation and death in the hands of the torturers prior to an interview with Madam Guillotine.
â€œAs you may have guessed I chose the option to survive, realising that the opportunity to turn the situation around could only happen if I remained alive. I am aware that war has broken out once more between Britain and France, but I am also aware that the rule of King Louis XV is endangered by forces he cannot control. His generals only fight the battles they select and more and more of the people are being downtrodden by his appointees, who take advantage of their privileged position to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. My purpose in explaining this to you is that I do not need to go to Messina. Rather a place on the coast of Italy.â€
She sat back and regarded Jonathon with that steady look which had determined him to listen to what she had to say.
â€œWhat about Elena? Is she a part of this arrangement?â€
â€œElena was hired in Mallorca. She knows me only as the Contessa, an abused lady of Spain.â€ The cynical smile that accompanied this comment took the sting out of what could have been a bitter comment.
â€œWhy should I aid a â€˜spyâ€™ of an enemy of my country?â€ It was difficult for Jonathon to think in terms of friend or enemy about the woman seated opposite him. Her presence on Glory had been disturbing from the beginning. Young and beautiful, she was a breath of a life that had never been possible when he was struggling to survive. In many ways it was a brutal reminder that this girl, who was maybe two, perhaps three years older than he, was involved in events of state that could involve the removal of Kings, and war between nations.
He stirred and pulled the chart he had been using forward to remind himself of the shipâ€™s present position. â€œI need to think about this. There is no reason to make a hasty decision now. I will decide later today. Meanwhile, I will re-examine my own orders, and decide if a change of destination will be necessary.
Jonathon kept his own counsel for the remainder of that day. Finally, he sent for the Contessa and Andrew and, when both were seated, he spoke. To the Contessa he said, â€œFirst, Madam, I wish to know your name? I refuse to refer to you as Contessa when I know the title is an assumed identity.â€
Watched by the astonished Andrew, the Contessa thought for a moment and then said quietly, â€œMy name is Catherine Ferrar and I was born in Gascony. I am the daughter of a Vicomte who lost our lands and home during the eternal struggle between the Valois and Bourbons. I was therefore at the mercy of fate and my own wits.
â€œHaving decided that the Bourbon cause was the best of a bad lot, I worked successfully for some three years, before the secret service of the military cadre managed to entrap me. They made me an offer I could not refuse at that time. The death of my parents has removed the hold they had over me, and I now am back in touch with my former friends. There is, of course, a problem. Because in the past year, serving both masters, I have realised that I am not trusted by either side and therefore vulnerable. My request to be dropped on the Italian Coast was to simply evade being forced to marry that stupid old man in Sicily. The arrangement was made before I was aware of the death of my parents. I still have a friend in Gascony which meant that I could keep contact with my parents, without the knowledge of my masters. I did not have the chance to escape before the ship sailed, though I was sure I would find a way of diverting the ship and escaping the clutches of my controller. The mutiny was not of my doing, but it worked out as fate often decrees, and here I am throwing myself on your mercy.â€
Andrew sat through the story, without comment. He turned to Jonathon, â€œI believe you may have in mind what has occurred to me?â€
Jonathon grinned, â€œJust to re-assure you, Madam Ferrar, I have, up to this moment, spoken to no one about your situation. I gave my word and kept it. Since you have decided to confide in Lieutenant Fox-Gilbert, then I take it I am released from my promise and we may discuss this matter freely between us?â€
â€œIf you think it might help, I agree. So who is this Madeline Bowen?â€
The two men looked at each other, then Jonathon spoke. â€œMadeline Bowen is the widow of a naval Captain who was taken into the entourage of the Spanish Admiral who was responsible for her husbandâ€™s death. Unknown to him, we believe, she is in fact like you a secret agent. Employed by the British Government, and currently still retained in the household of the Spanish Admiral. Our current task is to contact her, and I believe she may well be the answer to your problem, and at the same time ours.â€
â€œYou are suggesting that I work for your British Government?â€
Andrew broke in hurriedly, â€œNo, Madam. For Mistress Bowen!â€
Catherine Ferrar sat back, not really surprised at the suggestion, though pleasantly surprised at the way the suggestion had been put. Placing her loyalty in the hands of an individual was not the same as serving a Government. Individuals tended to have preferences that Governments ignore or crush or tell lies about.
â€œGentlemen, I believe I would like to meet Mistress Bowen, if it is possible. I am of the opinion that many of the principles I have fought for would be shared with such a lady.â€
The two men exchanged glances. â€œWell, Miss,â€ Jonathon continued. â€œWe will continue our voyage to Sicily without mentioning your presence upon our arrival. Our search for Mme Bowen will continue from there. Do we all agree?â€
Catherine was left to inform her companion of the change in her situation, while Andrew had a quiet word with Mr Hazard for the information of the rest of the crew.
The straits of Messina are the passage between Italy and Sicily, the port of that name, being the second biggest on the island. Glory called at the port but rather than go alongside she lay offshore at anchor while Andrew Fox-Gilbert took a party ashore to enquire of the whereabouts of the lady, Madeline Bowen.
The voyage from Messina to Naples was a short one, or it would have been had there not been an interruption they could well have done without. The area of water in that part of the Tyrrhenian Sea was not renowned as a haunt of pirates. An encounter with a Tunisian galley demonstrated that travel by sea could always result in unexpected encounters. Captain Mustafa became the victim of a similar encounter to that of the galley captured by the cutter Margaret during her voyage to Gibraltar, now nearly two months ago.
Having sailed in company with a larger ship, captained by Mustafaâ€™s brother in law, the enterprise was set fair by the taking of the Spanish merchantman Sofia Grande. Both of the galleys took part and the poorly-armed and captained Spaniard really had no chance against the agile galleys, and their excess of manpower.
Having returned the prize to Bone, the two galleys continued northward seeking more opportunities for spoil. North of Sicily a storm that had slowed the voyage of Glory hit the two galleys hard and it was all that Mustafa could do to just keep afloat. They had lost touch with each other early on. While the Glory, away to the westward, had been tossed about and slowed down a little, the two galleys had been caught in the worst of the storm and driven toward the shore of Italy. The big galley was observed to founder on the rocks off Cape Licosa. Mustafaâ€™s smaller, more agile ship was able to claw off-shore and survive the storm.
During the next few days the ship was put back into shape, though they had lost several oarsmen in the process, sufficient slaves had survived to keep the ship manoeuvrable. It was with some optimism that Mustafa set out for the North African coast, expecting to steer clear of the Island of Sicily.
Glory encountered the galley, as she crossed the Gulf of Salerno. The crew were at drill since it was the forenoon. The call of the lookout from the masthead was enough to put the crew on their mettle to clear for action. At that time it was not known if the stranger was friend or foe. The drill was followed regardless.
Captain Mustafa could not believe his luck. The Gloire was known to be the carrier of a small but expensive cargo. He had no hesitation in ordering the chase. It came as a shock to discover that his prey was actually sailing toward his ship. He had been unaware that the Gloire had been captured by the British. His second shock came when he realised that the ship was flying a Royal Naval Ensign.
Over the water he heard the rumble of the guns being run out, and it was only then that he began to think he might be making a mistake.
Both ships topped a wave at the same time. The broadside that closed the gap between the ships was received unhappily by the galley slaves who lost several of their number to the cannon balls smashed their way through the of the hull at the level of the rowers.
The balance of the galley was lost as she rolled through the waves and took in water through the gaps in the hull. Throwing the helm over, Mustafa attempted to evade further punishment, turning hard away at an angle from the British ship that was already running out the guns for a second broadside. Too late to evade the full effect of the guns, the galley staggered under the impact, and several more of the oars were smashed.
Mustafa sadly ordered the flag to be dropped. Defeat was inevitable and the killing was pointless.
Jonathon was beginning to feel frustrated, every time they set out to get something done, life intruded. As Andrew pointed out, each of the interruptions had added to the prize money they were due. In addition it had enabled them to fill out their crew shortage. The real benefit had been the chance to settle the crew down and get them working as a team.
Jonathon was concerned that this whole business of giving him command of the Glory had been one step beyond his abilities. Despite the re-assurance provided by Andrewâ€™s acceptance of the situation, he was still not sure that he was the right man in the right job. Determinedly, he carried on but there were issues he was aware of that still made life difficult.
Oddly, it was the presence of Catherine Ferrar that resolved the issue for him.
Caught out by one of the strange occurrences of travelling over the open sea, Catherine was on deck chatting to the Boâ€™sun when the seventh wave hit. Jonathon was on the quarterdeck beside the helm. The odd wave drove the bow up and over toward the starboard side, throwing bodies everywhere. Catherine went straight over the starboard side. The boâ€™sun went the opposite way and grabbed at, and held, one of the ratlines, saving himself from the inevitable plunge into the water.
Jonathon reacted to the sight of Catherineâ€™s flight into the water and leaped across to the starboard rail, in time to catch a glimpse of Catherineâ€™s dress as she sank beneath the waves. Without hesitation, he dived and grabbed her clothes and hauled her to the surface.
She arose spluttering and spitting salt water, her face red and gasping for breath. Jonathon held her and turned her to lie on her back. She lay with the re-assuring feel of his arm supporting her head out of the water. The powerful kick of her rescuerâ€™s legs made her aware that she was in safe hands. She relaxed and let Jonathon look after her.
Andrew had stopped the ship and had boats into the water to pick up the people swept overboard. Seven in all.
In the main cabin, Jonathon dried off and changed into clean clothing. He called on Catherine to see that she was recovered. She was well wrapped up and sitting up in the berth and sipping a hot drink.
When Jonathon came in her face lit up. She smiled and held her hand out to take his. â€œI was terrified until I felt your touch and I realised that all was well.â€
Jonathon flushed. He was unused to the praise and definitely unused to being praised by a beautiful woman. He did not know whether to withdraw his hand or leave it in the ladyâ€™s.
He was rescued by Andrew once more, who reported that the other castaways had all been rescued and there were no casualties. The galley was still afloat and in place off the port quarter. Their estimated arrival in Naples was a matter of hours away.
The harbour of Naples was busy with traffic, ships of all nations entering and leaving, the cargoes stacked on the wharves, awaiting collection or shipping. Glory slipped into the melee under a house flag, no mention of her British origin.
Andrew went ashore to seek Mistress Bowen, accompanied by two of the Italian-speaking volunteers, rescued from the galley. The galley had been left at Ischia, her patched sides and jury mast giving her a forlorn look. Midshipman Mason was in charge and had the prize crew at work making new oars and forming the new mast.
Boâ€™sun Hazard was with the Midshipman helping direct the repairs. The remaining slaves had been released from the benches and were doing most of the heavy work.
The galley captain, Mustafa Ahmed, was secured in one of the cabins, and his crew were chained to the benches. As soon as the hull had been made secure, the hoses were rigged and the slave hold was flushed completely. The accumulated rubbish, excreta and scraps of rotted food was dumped into the sea. Though a faint odour remained as a reminder, the ship felt fresher and more acceptable to its new owners.
Originally built as a trading vessel, the prize crew worked to return her to her original form, rightly assuming she would fetch a better price in that guise.
In Naples, Andrew managed to locate the English Consul and, through that gentleman, the Agent re-establishing the Embassy. The whereabouts of Mistress Bowen were disclosed. She was now established on the north side of Naples, and he was able to make contact with her and pass on the envelope addressed to her from the Admiral in Gibraltar. He also briefed her on the capture of the French Royalist agent that they were holding on board the Glory. As anticipated the lady decided to meet Catherine Ferrar personally.
In her guise as a wealthy widow, Madeline Bower had purchased a small sailing craft, which allowed her to escape to the waters of Naples Bay when the weather became overly warm. It was a habit followed by many of the older families of Naples and it had been a means of entree to areas that would have been otherwise closed. Her situation as a widow was also an advantage as her presence was often called upon to make up the numbers where unattached males were on the invitation list.
It was in her own sailing boat that Madeline Bowen made contact with the Glory, successfully transferring from yacht to ship as she passed behind the ship. Stepping from the yacht, she was dressed as a crewman wearing the crewmanâ€™s trousers, rather than the bulky dress that current fashion demanded ladies wore. Her appearance caused a stir among the crew, who were unused to seeing pretty women in striped shirt and trousers revealing rather more of the shape inside them than their normal attire.
For Jonathon the arrival of Madeline was a bitter sweet moment. On the one hand he would be relieved of the embarrassment of having a lady aboard a ship full of men, on the other hand he had grown rather attached to the Catherine, with whom he had conversed at length on all sort of subjects. Despite his manly bulk, he was still a youngster and Catherine, although merely two years older was already a woman, and her rather more worldly attitude had helped him grow into the position he was now occupying. Though he had not really been aware of it, he had grown fonder of the lady than he realised. Unused to socialising with the opposite sex, his only experience thus far, had been with a generous lady who had a boarding house in Folkestone. Her interest, in teaching the youngster the facts of life, had been from boredom generated by her husbandâ€™s preoccupation with the new housemaid.
The departure of Catherine with Madeline, was a lesson in life that Jonathon learned at that time.
During the next three months the Glory spent her time zigzagging between the coast of France, Spain and Italy. The confused politics of the time meant that intelligence gathering had become an increasingly important matter. As a result both ladies, and several different men, were taken, dropped off and, on occasion, collected. Not always in good condition. The crew of the Glory became accustomed to rowing ashore armed and prepared to defend themselves and the agents against dragoons and coastguards out to capture them.
Off the coast of France one mile east of Cannes, the dinghy that had gone to collect a lady agent returned with a small frightened man carrying a letter.
Jonathon received the letter and, though his French had improved, he called Marc to assist in the translation.
The letter was a scrawled note from Catherine, â€œI have been taken by the local committee and charged with the murder of the Maire. I will not survive a trial so do not wait for me. Best wishes to my friends, Câ€
â€œWhere is the lady held?â€
The messenger looked frightened, â€œIn the Mairie, of course. But there are armed men.â€
â€œYou can take us there?â€ Marc demanded.
â€œBut there are armed men.â€ The man repeated.
â€œSix and a Sergeant.â€
Jonathon called Andrew in, â€œI will be going ashore with the three Jerseymen Mr Hazard, and the Middy. He needs the experience. All of us with weapons. We will rescue Catherine and meet you at the main quay in Cannes.â€
â€œBut Captain, I should go. You are needed on the ship.â€ Andrew spoke determinedly.
Jonathon looked at Andrew steadily. â€œI will be going. You will take command in my absence.â€ His voice brooked no argument.
Andrew straightened to attention. â€œAye aye, sir.â€
The small armed party was rowed ashore and dropped at the deserted quay. Once ashore the boat was moored off out of easy reach and the crewman swam ashore.
The party formed up and walked to the Mairie in the small square. There were two scruffy men in uniform with muskets standing at the doorway smoking pipes. Jonathon did not hesitate. He walked to the door and thrust his way between the men into the hallway within. The area was empty. One of the guards protested and Marc slapped his face and asked him where the spy was being kept.
â€œShe is below in the cellar,â€ he sneered. â€œGetting reamed no doubt, by those lucky buggers that caught her.â€
Marc hit him again, this time with his pistol, and the man dropped to join his partner, who had been dealt with quietly by Henri.
Marc turned to Jonathon and indicated the stairway downward to the cellar level.
With pistol in one hand and sword in the other Jonathon led the way down to the lower level. The corridor in view had doorways on each side, but the only sounds were coming from the second door on the left, which was ajar with light shining from within.
Jonathon peered through the gap into the room. Catherine was secured to a frame her arms and legs bound apart. There was a well-dressed man standing in front of her with a knife. He was cutting the buttons on her dress, causing the straining material to pull apart revealing more and more of her bosom. This performance was being studied by the other two men in attendance.
Jonathon turned to Marc, nodded and stepped through the door silently. With a casual flip of his pistol hand he smashed it to the side of the head of the knife-wielding man, who dropped promptly to the floor unconscious with blood leaking from his damaged head. The tableau remained static for what seemed like minutes, but in fact, was seconds only.
Marc had a pistol to the head of one of the onlookers. The second, who wore a uniform of some sort, snatched at his sword, but stopped as he felt the knife at his throat, held in the steady hand of Henri.
Jonathon meanwhile cut the bonds holding Catherine in place and sat her down on the chair which, with a table, was the only furniture in the room.
Trying to ignore the now gaping dress that revealed most of her breasts, Jonathon concentrated on finding out if she was injured in any other way.
After rubbing her wrists to restore the restricted circulation, she said, â€œThey were just starting to play. They were not sure that I was a spy. I presume they had arrested me to enjoy a rape session, or something like it. They did not ask any questions. They took Albert along with me. He is in one of the other rooms here. I fear he may have suffered a beating. I heard noises.â€
Henri disappeared with one of the other men. He returned and, out of sight of Catherine, he drew his hand across his throat, the universal sign of death.
Jonathon saw and turned to Catherine, â€œI regret we were too late for Albert. Now we must leave, while we still are undiscovered.â€
Clutching her dress top together, she stood a little unsteadily. Marc held up the jacket from one of the prisoners, and set it round her shoulders. She thanked him and wrapped the garment round her, preserving her dignity as they made their way back to the quay and the still-moored boat. Jonathon and Henri remained behind in the Mairie and found the offices on the ground floor. There they looked for any papers detailing movements in the area. As they searched they threw the discarded papers in a heap in front of the fireplace.
For Jonathon the search consisted of looking for the seal of Government on documents. Henri did the selecting of things to be kept. He stacked a growing pile on the desk ready to take back to the ship for Catherine to examine at leisure.
The pile by the fireplace was growing and time was passing. Jonathon called a halt, and produced flint and steel and set fire to the discarded documents. When it was well established the two men left carrying the selected papers with them.
Before they reached the quay the community was astir. Shouts of alarm at the flickering glow from within the Mairie had brought out the local pompiers and people from their beds in alarm.
As the boat pulled away from the shore, the scene was lit by the first flames burst through the roof while the flickering light illuminated the houses around the square.
Jonathon sat in the sternsheets with his arm protectively around Catherine, reflecting that it had been a good nightâ€™s work.
Human nature is normally a self-rationalising process. Having allowed nature to take its course, Jonathon stopped his self-analysis, and got on with his job to the best of his ability. Andrew was happy to observe the more relaxed attitude of his friend, who was finding the responsibilities of a captain less onerous than he had at first thought. Decisions that were once agonising now came without the process of imagining everyone poised ready to argue. Not that anyone ever did. For that alone Andrew was grateful. The decision itself was the important matter. Right or wrong, the ability to make a decision, decided the right to command.
In the boat, Catherineâ€™s story was re-assuring in a way. She had not been captured as a spy. She had been taken to be ravished. That was the way she put it with a wry smile. It seemed in some less disciplined communities strangers were regarded as fair game by the local militia, allowing licence that would not be accepted by the community otherwise.
Covering their excesses with a charge of suspected spying or suspicious behaviour was usually enough to overcome any criticism from the local populace. The fact that she had been rescued before any harm had been done, was a fair result, and the burning down of the Mairie, suitable retribution. It did however mean that activity in that particular area would be chancy for the present, requiring a new starting point to be found for Catherineâ€™s next excursion into France.
The boat with the rescue party aboard pulled away from the shore. the village of Juan-les-Pins lit by the fire, receded as with the sail up the longboat settled on the offshore breeze, and sailed briskly along westward toward the growing village of Cannes, its increasing popularity apparent, the street lighting an illustration of its importance in the publicâ€™s eye.
Glory had hardly touched the quay as the longboat hove into sight dropping her sails as she ran alongside the ship.
In her guise as a trading ship the Glory had a cargo for the port, and throughout the following day the cargo was unloaded and supplies taken aboard. The part played by the Jerseymen and the French recruits was invaluable in these situations. Henri enjoyed strutting around posing as the captain, and the exposed men played their part. The bulk of the crew stayed below out of sight. Catherine went ashore and contacted the agent in the area. Having told him of her experiences at Juan-les-Pins he understood why his sphere of influence would now embrace that area.
Departure from Cannes was accomplished at dusk of the second day and Glory sailed out into the open waters of the Mediterranean her destination Gibraltar, via Port Mahon in Minorca.
While there was always the possibility of meeting naval ships in the area, with Spanish, French, and British fleets all operating, it was not an everyday occurrence and in general the smaller craft at sea avoided contact at the first sighting of a ship of force. Glory was no exception. Contact with a royal naval ship could be as frustrating as engaging the enemy. Any Captain of a bigger ship, or senior in rank, could order the inferior ship to its bidding. To scout, to carry messages or just to join forces. If the instruction issued by the Admiral to the smaller craft carries specific orders, they may not be interfered with, but on a mission like that of Glory the orders were necessarily vague, to allow for the initiative of the Captain to make on-the-spot decisions. Thus vulnerable, Glory avoided contact unless she needed help.
It happened that privateers from the Spanish coast and the French coast were in operation in the area of the Balearic Islands and her passage to Port Mahon. They accomplished entry into the port with minimum fuss, and were soon tied up alongside.
The cargo was discharged the following day and, as the Glory prepared to leave port, a small fishing boat slipped in. The man had just eluded a Spanish privateer out of Rosas. It was a known ship with a notorious captain. The notoriety was justified. Captain Bruno Perez was of mixed breed. His mother was a slave from Cuba, his father a shipmaster from Latvia who had settled in Spain during the troubles earlier in the century. It seemed that when his mother died he had gone a little crazy. The ship his father owned had been converted to carry ten guns and he had taken to the sea as a privateer. Though he carried a Letter of Marque his actions were those of a pirate. He had been responsible for the rape and pillage of several Spanish ships among the many others of different nationalities that he had taken. The fact that he was in the area meant normally that there was a worthwhile prize to be taken. The only other ship in harbour was another trader carrying naval stores.
Captain Charles Nixon RN had been retired at an early age in the periodic cut-backs experienced by the navy seemingly at the slightest excuse by Parliament. He had been removed from general service for over a year. His tenure as Port Captain at Mahon was short term. It was one of the places that had changed hands on several occasions over the past few years. There was little doubt in the Captainâ€™s mind that it would change hands again. He sat with Jonathon and Andrew in his office. On the desk was a description of the armament mounted on the privateer. The Campoverde had ten guns but she carried 150 men. The guns were nine pounders, and they were mounted in two five gun broadsides. However, she also had a nine pounder mounted in the bow and the stern.
â€œIt seems that he would outgun you, apart from the extra men he carries if he gets close enough to board.â€ The serious set of the captainâ€™s face made it quite clear that he was seriously concerned. â€œThe Paragon is carrying a special cargo for the British Government. We have no idea how the news has reached Perez.â€
Jonathon looked at the troubled Captain. â€œWe have a passenger who has been looking into that.â€
Charles Nixon looked puzzled. â€œI had no advice of a passenger on your ship?â€
â€œShe has a position in the Navy as an intelligence officer. Her presence is fortuitous and the information must not leave this office. Is that quite clear?â€
The Captain was taken aback by the gravity of the order from a junior lieutenant. â€œBut I am specifically in command of this establishment, and I am not at the disposal of a junior officer.â€
Jonathon produced the Admiralâ€™s order, now a little battered. The Captainâ€™s face blanched when he realised that, like it or not, his co-operation with the young man across the desk was not in question.
â€œWhat do you have in mind?â€ He said quietly.
Jonathon said, â€œI have no wish to upset your arrangements, except I suggest we await the findings of my passenger before we decide what action to take.â€
â€œVery well. I can hardly argue with that. We will have to hope and pray that your agent finds the informant, and then we can discover exactly why the privateer is interested.
Catherine slipped ashore without fuss. She was unrecognisable as the pretty woman from the ship. In fact the old lady who limped down the quay was in no way recognizable and attracted no attention from the idlers always visible at sea ports the world over.
Her wandering steps took her to the back street behind the dock warehouses. There were many small businesses in the area and her appearance at the cobblerâ€™s shop with a battered shoe raised no alarm. The wail that her broken shoe was causing her real trouble was lost in the assorted noises associated with the multiple small businesses, including a blacksmith, a weaver and several drinking places/brothels, always within easy reach of the market.
Catherine asked the question and received an answer which caused her to leave through the rear of the shoe shop into the alley at the rear. Her appearance had changed little and now she was a granny anxiously looking for her grand-daughter who had run off with a sailor. Her conversation with the local fixer was not overheard., He was, after all, the person to speak-to about any matter that the police were missing out on.
Her return to the ship was equally unobserved. Her report shocked the Captain.
â€œAs you are possibly aware the people are mainly of Spanish origin. As islanders they are not patriotic, mainly because the Mainlanders treat them like poor relatives and cheat and overcharge in their dealings with the islanders. There is a cadre among the people of Mahon, who demand money and threaten business people with reprisal if they do not do what they are told. They work with Captain Perez, the renegade who commands the Campoverde. Between them they control to a large extent what the local people do and say.
â€œIt does mean that the spy ring for the privateer is useful, as the movements of shipping have to be pretty well known for the purpose of arranging cargoes. The advance advertising of space, with shipping dates specified, is publicised in Rosas almost as soon as it is in Port Mahon.
â€œIn general terms this should be enough but, in the case of the privateer, politics dictate that they are supplied information by a separate spy ring, and that information could lead to the loss of the use of the port by the Royal Navy.
Jonathon suggested that Glory sail with the Paragon. By sailing at night Glory could contact the Paragon the following morning offshore out of sight of the people of Port Mahon then, by sailing under her lee the Glory would be shielded from view of her prey. She would be an unexpected surprise to the privateer lying in wait.
The cargo announcement was announced as usual, In the early hours of sailing day. Glory left port without fuss and stood offshore waiting, guns loaded and boarders prepared. An extra company of men had been assigned to the ship from the pool of seamen in the port, only too pleased to get back to sea for however short a time, and spoiling a fight against the bloody Dons who had caused them to be grounded on this boring little island.
Paragon sailed on schedule and connected with her escort as planned. Their course took them almost due north, past Barcelona. They planned to give the fleet there as wide a berth as they could.
They encountered the Campoverde approaching them from the north-east. As she neared it was plain to see they were not prepared for action. Jonathon turned to Andrew, â€œThey believe their appearance alone will cow the captain of the Paragon whom I notice has had his guns loaded ready to run out. They may be only 6 pounders but they cause damage and injury like any other gun.
â€œAlso,â€ added Andrew, â€œThey are better than no guns at all!â€
As the privateer approached, the people on deck could be seen preparing to board. There were two small-bore guns mounted on the quarter rails, though there was no one attending them at the moment.
Judging the distances involved was not easy but, when he was ready, Jonathon ordered the sheets restraining the sails to maintain her position to be released, and the Glory shot forward clear of the masking hull of the Paragon. The gun-ports were opened and the guns run out.
â€œMark your aim,â€ shouted Andrew. â€œFire when ready.â€
The double-shotted guns fired one after the other, with the reloading accomplished before any of the privateerâ€™s guns was ready to reply.
The second round of fire was grape shot, the small musket balls flailed the deck of the Campoverde causing carnage among the men close gathered there. Prepared as they were for boarding, the gathered men hampered the gunâ€™s crews preventing them from loading effectively. The shouts and screams of the wounded accompanying the mayhem was heard across the water, and despite the fact that two of the privateerâ€™s guns managed to get shots off, it did not prevent the Glory from coming alongside and sending her boarders into the privateer. With the extra men, Andrew was well prepared, and the impact of the disciplined boarders on the privateerâ€™s men was immediately noticeable.
The large number of the privateerâ€™s crew began to make itself felt, though it was a hindrance also. One of the gunners from Glory noted the two small-bore cannons unattended on the quarter-rail. He checked them, and found that they were loaded and there was ammunition and powder in a small keg in a box beside the thwart. He grabbed a man from the boarders. â€œLoad for me.â€ And watched as the man realised what he wanted. The man grinned and crouched ready to load as the gunner chose a group of defenders beside the wheel, and let fly. The small shot smashed the wheel and the shattered spikes of wood flew around wounding the men fighting around the wheel. Their attackers finished the job at that point, the gunner found a target for the other small-bore, and let fly once more. A group of defenders fighting around the mainmast was broken up as three of their members were injured by the shot.
â€œAny grape there?â€ The gunner shouted.
â€œJust small bits and pieces of metalâ€. His helper answered.
â€œBag it. It will spread about better than the single shot.â€
The gunner rammed the bag of metal scraps down the barrel and looked for a target.
His next two shots caused havoc, and Andrew, who was finding it hard work, was grateful for the relief it caused, when the man before him, an officer, flinched as he was struck by a piece of scrap metal, allowing Andrewâ€™s sword to penetrate his shoulder and send him out of the fight.
The fight did not last much longer. The Campoverde had been caught unprepared, and the advantage had been with the British ship.
The prize crew put aboard the Spaniard was commanded by Andrew and the three ships dropped off the prisoners in Port Mahon before sailing for Gibraltar in company. Captain Perez of the Campoverde had been wounded in the skirmish, but was well enough to answer questions, and Captain Nixon was delighted to take him in charge and wring from him the information about the spy ring in the island.
Catherine Ferrar had been doing her particular job for France since the age of twelve. At that time her youth was a cover and her natural abilities soon became apparent to her spymaster. He, it was, who insisted that she be educated in all things expected of a young lady, and that embraced academic subjects as well as social. Between sessions she had been give tasks to perform, infiltrating groups and collecting evidence among others. On two occasions she had found it necessary to remove permanently, people who would have betrayed her. Her spymaster, Etienne Ravel, had approved on both occasions, but advised her that avoidance was often better than removal. On neither occasion had she enjoyed the process, but her own common sense had recognized the need. She would do the same again if the need arose.
Her present situation under the loose control of Madeline Bowen suited her, since it allowed her some leeway to operate as she felt the situation demanded. In view of the unsettled nature of the political situation in France, she could rationalise that the British were actually supporting the royal family, which was being pressurised and threatened by the Republican element gaining support throughout the country. In addition was the pressure exerted by her male handlers who expected sexual favours from their female agents. Though in no way a prude, as far as Catherine was concerned, when she submitted to a man it would be her choice, not at the order of some drink besotted idiot whose sole qualification as an agent was friendship with his equally inept superior. Etienne Ravel had been a professional. He had maintained their relationship at that level. If she feared any agent of the Directorate it would be him.
She lay back in the berth. Here in her cabin she felt safe, and that surprised her. The ship was full of her countryâ€™s apparent enemies. She had to admit to feeling safer that she had ever felt in her life. It was odd. The men treated her with respect, and the Captain and his First Officer were gentlemen who treated her as a lady. She knew little of Madeline Bowen, but she had no complaints. She was aware that had she remained in Italy, or been kept in France without rescue, she would be dead by now.
* * *