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Captain Rundel II - Give Me a Fair Wind (book 7 of 9 of the Rundel Series)

Captain Rundel II - Give Me a Fair Wind (book 7 of 9 of the Rundel Series)

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Captain Rundel II - Give Me a Fair Wind (book 7 of 9 of the Rundel Series)

Lunghezza:
355 pagine
6 ore
Pubblicato:
Jun 15, 2011
ISBN:
9781458089519
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

Captain Benjamin Rundel suffers through the frustration of convoy duty. Then he runs into a nest of ship wreckers and he and his men manage to capture the lot and bring them to justice. On his next assignment, he manages to capture a Spanish ship a day after a peace treaty was signed by the English and Spanish.

Ben is clearly in trouble when the Spanish Captain challenges him to a duel. Dueling is forbidden in the British Navy. Ben insists on naming the weapon. He decides on a drinking duel which is a problem since he is one of the few Captains in the British Navy who does not drink. He finds a novel solution to the problem.

The Admiralty sends Ben off to the Caribbean with a crew of goalies and land lubbers. He is beside himself trying to make sailors of them. Near Bimini, a water spout overtakes and sinks his ship while he is ashore watering out. He and his small crew have a terrible time navigating the Caribbean and Atlantic in a small ship’s boat in winter. They do make it back to British territory and Ben is sent off in a new ship to find a missing captain and his ship. They find it but are reluctant to report to the Admiralty what really befell the ship.

Next he is sent off to New Holland (Australia). He has too few men to man the ship properly so he drops anchor near Plymouth and visits some of the places that he knew as a child. By chance he runs into the lady, Auntie Jo, who raised him for a time. She tells him what his real name is and he is devastated. He is the son of the one man whom he hates.

On the way to Australia, adverse winds send them too far south and they drift into ice fields and are entrapped for a time. Once in New Holland, they discharge their cargo. Tom is attracted to a miner who claims to have found gold. He nearly loses his life trying to mine for gold. Ben rescues him and they sail back to England. Ben is sent to the Atlantic and he ends up near Monomoy where he tries to rescue men trapped on a sinking ship.

Now in line for some time off, Ben heads to Europe in disguise trying to find ‘His Annie.’ He fails to find her in any of the opera houses, but adventure travels with him wherever he goes.

Pubblicato:
Jun 15, 2011
ISBN:
9781458089519
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Nellie Beetham Stark was born November 20, 1933, in Norwich, Connecticut to Theodore and Dorothy Pendleton Beetham. She attended the Norwich Free Academy and later Connecticut College in New London, CT before graduating with a MA and a Ph.D. degree in Botany (Ecology) from Duke University. Stark worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a botanist for six years and then joined the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada where she worked on desert and forest ecology and later tropical nutrient cycling. She has consulted in many countries, working for some time in Russia, Australia and South America. She developed the theory that explains why tropical white sand soils cannot grow good food crops and described the decline processes of soils. She has also developed a science of surethology, or survival behavior which describes how humans must adapt to their environments if they hope to survive long term. She has 96 professional publications and has published in four languages. Her life long hobby has been English history, with emphasis on naval history. Her family came originally from Tristan Da Cunha in the South Atlantic in the early 1900’s. Her grandfather was a whale ship captain for a time which spurred her interest in naval history. She also paints pictures of sailing ships which she has used as covers for her historical novels. She has built several scale models of sailing ships and does extensive research on ships and naval history, traveling to England once yearly. Stark was awarded the Connecticut Medal by Connecticut College in 1986 and the Distinguished Native Daughter Award for South Eastern Connecticut in 1985. She was named outstanding Forestry Professor three times by the students of the University of Montana, School of Forestry. Today she writes historical novels, mostly set in England. She has published some 21 novels in the past twenty years, mostly on the internet. She lives on a farm in Oregon and raises hay and cows. Stark's two most popular book series are: Early Irish-English History 1. The Twins of Torsh, 44 A.D. to 90 A.D. 1. Rolf "The Red" MacCanna, 796-846 2. An Irishman's Revenge, 1066-1112 4. Brothers 4, 1180-1216 5. Edward's Right Hand, 1272-1307 6. We Three Kings, 1377-1422 The Napoleonic Wars at Sea (Benjamin Rundel) 1. Humble Launching - A Story of a Little Boy Growing Up at Sea, 1787 2. Midshipman Rundel - The Wandering Midshipman, 1795 3. Mediterranean Madness - The Luckless Leftenant Rundel, 1797 4. The Adventures of Leftenant Rundel, 1797-1799 5. Forever Leftenant Rundel, 1800-1803 6. Captain Rundel I – Trafalgar and Beyond, 1803-1806 7. Captain Rundel II – Give Me a Fair Wind, 1806-1809 8. Captain Rundel III – Bend Me a Sail, 1810-1813 9. Admiral Rundel – 1814-1846

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Captain Rundel II - Give Me a Fair Wind (book 7 of 9 of the Rundel Series) - N. Beetham Stark

Captain Rundel II

Give Me a Fair Wind

An Historical Novel of the Sea

by N. Beetham Stark

* * * * *

Discover other titles by N. Beetham Stark at

Smashwords.com or at NBeethamStark.com.

Captain Rundel II: Give Me a Fair Wind

Book 7 in the Benjamin Rundel Series

Written by N. Beetham Stark

Copyright 2010 by N. Beetham Stark

Cover art by N. Beetham Stark

Published by Smashwords, Inc.

ISBN 978-1-4580-8951-9

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form

without the written permission of the author or trust agents.

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

* * * * *

Dedication: This book is dedicated to Tintagon, Tarsie and Picotso and our mutual friend, P.P.

History forms a bridge from the past to the future which we dare not burn lest we fall into an abyss of ignorance.

N. Beetham Stark

Acknowledgements

The author is indebted to the Royal Naval Museum, the National Maritime Museum, The Maritime Trust and the Lancaster Maritime Museum for information used in reconstructing the historical events in this novel. Authors such as C.S. Forester, Dudley Pope, Alexander Kent and Patrick O’Brien stirred my interest in stories of naval adventures. Nelson’s Captains by Ludovic Kennedy, Nelson by David Walder, The Illustrated Companion to Nelson’s Navy by Nicholas Blake and Richard Lawrence, and Nelson’s Battles by Nicholas Tracy were all invaluable in providing insights into the life of seamen of the times.

The Benjamin Rundel Series by N. Beetham Stark

This is the seventh in a series of nine books centered around the life of an orphan, Benjamin Rundel, a fictitious character who relates history to the reader as he might have experienced it himself. The complete series includes:

Humble Launching - A Story of a Little Boy Growing Up at Sea, 1793

Midshipman Rundel - The Wandering Midshipman, 1795-1802

Mediterranean Madness - The Luckless Leftenant Rundel, 1797-1801

The Adventures of Leftenant Rundel, 1797-1799

Forever Leftenant Rundel, 1800-1803

Captain Rundel I – Trafalgar and Beyond, 1803-1806

Captain Rundel II – Give Me a Fair Wind, 1806-1809

Captain Rundel III – Bend Me a Sail, 1810-1813

Admiral Rundel – 1814-1846

See NBeethamStark.com for information on how to find all of the books in the Rundel series, as well as Stark’s other works.

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1 - Convoy Duty

Chapter 2 - The Ship Wreckers

Chapter 3 - The Wrong Ship

Chapter 4 - The Other Side of the Bench

Chapter 5 - The Crew from Hell Goes Home

Chapter 6 - Bimini and the Water Spout

Chapter 7 - Ship Gone Missing

Chapter 8 - The Press Gang and Auntie Jo

Chapter 9 - New Holland and Trapped

Chapter 10 - Fire in the Hole!

Chapter 11 - Monomoy

Chapter 12 - Flying Through Europe, Searching for a Nightingale

About the Author

About the Book

Prologue

"I am retired now, an old and broken man. I live in a house much like the one where I was born. It overlooks the English Channel and has a fine garden. I brought my steward, Stuart Gibbs, with me when I left my last ship. He has long been a friend. Molly Kendish, the cook, lives with us too and Tom Murphy lives with us much of the time.

A few years ago Gibbs urged me to write the story of my life. I finally weakened and consented. After all, what else is there to do in the late afternoon of life but to sit by the sea and enjoy the fresh sea breezes as I peruse my past. Now I sit and talk about my life, which is quite unlike that of any other person who has ever lived. I was into too many adventures and I liked to live dangerously. It is a miracle that I reached reproductive age. But when I could not find trouble on my own, King George III, rather, the Admiralty, seemed able to oblige my needs.

I dictate the events of my life to Gibbs who sits dutifully scribbling away. I have cautioned him that there are some events in my life which can only be told adequately in my own words. He was not with me in my early years, and so, I often tell my story my own way. He joined me first aboard the Hawk but I did not know him then. I only met him when I joined the Agememnon. But much of the time, he tells my story as an observer. As steward, he would never be allowed to be more than an observer, standing on the sidelines and offering a clean, dry shirt here, a warm meal there. Such were his duties. He was once a clerk at a large warehouse for the firm of Biggam and Biggam. Now he is my constant companion and it is he who will relate most of the events of my life."

Authors Note: Benjamin Rundel is completely fictitious, but I have woven him into the fabric of history that covers the wars with France during the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Many of the challenges depicted here, Monomoy, Convoy duty, the Ship wreckers, Bimini, and New Holland are reasonably true to the times. Most of the battles and historic events are portrayed with reasonable accuracy. Mr. Rundel is the hero who never was recognized as a hero. No hero could ever outshine Admiral Lord Nelson. Many fine heroes lived in Britain at that time and many have been forgotten because they could not rise above England’s greatest naval officer. In a way, this is their story too. It was all of those unsung heroes who helped to make this particular era the most exciting and challenging in all of history at sea. Ben is a commoner who fights his way almost to the top, but is cut down in his greatest glory. You will love him as he struggles from a frightened, lonely boy to a courageous captain and a disillusioned admiral. This is book 7 in a series of 9. Cut loose your imagination and welcome aboard.

Chapter 1 - Convoy Duty

Ben had finally been able to unload his prisoners from Santo Domingo onto a prison hulk near Deptford. Now, perhaps there would be some time for him to relax, as much as he could. He hated to sail up the Thames because London reminded him so much of His Annie. But as long as he was in London, he decided to enjoy himself. Of course, he made regular trips to the Opera House and to the Constabulary, always asking the same questions, Has anyone seen my Annie?

But no one had seen Annie. She had vanished as if from the face of the earth. The First Lord had said that Ben should stay close by since he expected to have sailing orders for him within a week or two. Ben spent his days collecting food for his next tour, repairing his uniforms and walking the streets. He wanted to go to Portsmouth to see Jon Wills again, but the trip by land was bone-shaking and he dreaded making so long a journey when there was only a week or so of shore leave. He took in a concert at the Opera House. They played some of Beethoven and Haydn which he loved. He was fast becoming addicted to classical music that was well-performed.

Then his orders came while he was sitting in the great room of the Royal Inn at supper. He opened them with some enthusiasm, but as he read, he felt a deep disappointment. He was instructed to board the Explorer at Deptford and sail to Bristol to pick up eleven merchantmen. He was assigned to convoy duty. Of all of the horrible duties, convoy was touted as the very worst. He was to rendezvous with the Sirius at the entrance to Bristol harbour on 10 March. It was now 2 March, so Ben would have a little time to check out the ship and his crew. The Admiralty was doing a little better. At least they were giving him a few days notice before sailing. But what of the Explorer? She was supposed to have been on convoy duty in the Caribbean and his first leftenant, Tom Murphy, was supposed to be her acting captain. He had seen nothing of Mr. Murphy or of the Explorer on his walks to the docks.

It was already dark but Ben decided that he would visit the docks, in spite of the darkness. If he was to sail her in three days, she should be at the dock and ready to provision and refit by now. He finished his meals of plaice and donned his great coat to keep out the ever cloying fog. Ben decided to walk. He seemed to need to walk and besides, his walk would take him past 36 Wild St. where Annie had once lived. There was always just a chance that she had returned and he might catch a glimpse of her.

At the docks, Ben saw the familiar shape of the Explorer bobbing with the tide. She must have just sailed in. Ben went aboard and was met by Jim Bridger, his second leftenant and brother to John.

Good to see you home so soon, Mr. Bridger. Have you seen Mr. Murphy?

Yes, sir. He left the ship at Bristol to go to his home in Ireland. I believe that he has a new son and wanted to see the lad. He did leave you a letter, though, sir. I’ll step below and get it.

When Bridger returned, Ben took the letter and moved nearer to the binnacle light so he could read. It was all Tom.

"Dear Lad:

I have taken a bit of leave to go home to my Mary and visit my new son. I can’t wait to see him, the little imp. We’re calling him, ‘Thomas Benjamin Murphy.’ The priest may balk at the ‘Benjamin’ part a bit since I don’t recall any saintly Benjamins, but I’m going to persist anyway. Now isn’t that a name for you though! He should rise to great position in the Navy with a name like that. I plan to rejoin the ship as first leftenant, yourself approvin’ that is, when you come west to pick up the next load of ‘fat cows’ to take to Barbados. Oh, an’ I may put in an order for another son while I am here, if Mary will hear of it. Hope you arrived safely in London and I will see you soon.

Your Faithful Friend, Tom

Ben folded the letter and thanked Mr. Bridger.

There is another letter here for you too, sir. It came aboard just as we left Barbados. He handed Ben a letter. Ben grabbed the letter, his heart suddenly pounding in his chest, but his handsome face screwed up in pain as he looked at the childish handwriting. It was from Torrance Bailey. For a second he had hoped against all hope that it was from Annie, but the scrawled letters were clearly those of Mr. Bailey. He would wait and read it when he got back to the Inn.

I thought that you were supposed to stay on convoy duty within the Caribbean. At least, that was my impression when I left. What happened?

Well, sir, the admiral decided that the merchantmen that were already in port needed an escort back to Bristol, so we were dispatched off to England. We were all surprised too.

"I should congratulate you on bringing the Explorer safely to port at London. Fine work, my boy. And how did Mr. Murphy like being the captain?"

Well, sir, he’s a fine sailor and a grand ‘first,’ but I think that he was mighty out of his element when he had to make all of the decisions by himself. He seemed to spend a lot of time standing on the deck looking around for you to give the order. Only when things had to be done and right now did he come to himself and give the orders. He said that he would never accept a captain’s job again. He was that stressed by the demands of the position.

Is the crew aboard and up to number?

Yes and no, sir. Six of the officers are still on shore leave until the sixth. I was advised to let any man ashore who gave his parole to return by the sixth. We just docked this evening and tomorrow I’ll let at least half of the crew go ashore. We should sail on the sixth.

Good. I’ll come by tomorrow and check on things. I just received my orders to sail this evening. I want to be certain that we have a full crew and are properly provisioned. I was told that the provisions will start coming aboard tomorrow at 6 a.m.

Very good, sir. I’ll see you then.

At the Inn, Ben read Torrance’s letter. It was little different from the letters that he had written years ago when he was but a boy.

"Dear Captain Rundel: 12/1/1809

I am not good about writing, but I often think of you sailing about on the briny, as free and happy as a lark. Now that the British have beaten Napoleon’s navy, there must be little for you to do. (That was far from the truth, but then Torrance lived a very sheltered life.)

My life here goes on much as it always has. I am having some difficulty with my wife. I think that she loves the poulterer who lives in the next town, but I can’t be sure. My two children are growing up. Michael is now in his studies and Martha will start her studies soon. I live in a small bungalow which is hardly large enough for a family of four, but a clerk’s pay isn’t all that good, you know. I am still earning the same wage that I did ten years ago when I started here. (At least Ben didn’t have to say that of himself.)

Then there is Mum. She’s always in need of money and most weeks almost half of my wages go to support her. She has been seeing several gentlemen, but they are all poor and each seems to want nothing more from her than her money. (That comes as no surprise. What Ben knew of Mrs. Bailey was anything but complementary. He knew that she had made Captain Bailey’s life most miserable.) I still want to get a horse. I never did get the pony that Mummy promised years ago. (Mummy! He was a year or two older than Ben.)

I hope that you are well and continue to keep our shores safe from those awful French marauders.

Yours Truly,

Torrance Bailey

Ben sat pensive as he always did after reading one of Torrance’s letters. He was the sheltered son of Captain Bailey who had taken Ben under his wing when he was found as a stow away and had taught him.

How stifling his life must be! How can any man bear to go to the same drudgery every day and still find reason to live? I pity him. His lot is much worse than mine. Then it occurred to Ben that Torrance’s letters were the mirror into which he could look to assess his own life. That was what he usually did unconsciously after reading a Torrance letter. It always made him feel better about himself. He sat there and took out pen and paper and penned a letter to Torrance. He would have to think out his words carefully so the poor little fellow didn’t become too discouraged, but he had an idea that he should try on Torrance. It could do no harm and it might help him see himself in a better light. He would challenge Torrance to write a sea adventure story, based on what he, Ben had written to him. Perhaps he might become a successful writer and be able to step down from his clerking.

Ben spent the next few days supervising the provisioning of the ship and minor repairs. There was nothing to keep him on land and he was able to let Mr. Bridger go ashore to see his family in Tilbury. The ship appeared to be in good seaworthy condition. Ben inspected her from stem to stern. The purser, Mr. Mindrup, assisted Ben in the inspection of the foodstuffs brought aboard. The muster book showed that they should have 210 men aboard when the crew returned. Only a few older men who had no families stayed aboard. They went into east London to carouse at night, but they were faithful in returning each morning, although some weren’t in the best of shape after their night on the town.

Then on the fifth, Salty Rush returned to cook and checked out his galley stove and wood supply. Ben was glad to have him back and would be happy to see the original Explorer crew back on board. Late that afternoon, a new surgeon came on board. He was Mr. William Sumpter. He seemed elderly for life at sea. He admitted to Ben right away that he’d never been to sea before and that he had little stomach for it. He had an unusually large head of wild, white hair with a pale, lined face and a bulbous nose which was a bit red and fingered with fine veins. Ben suspected that he might be fond of his port. The way he walked told Ben that he almost certainly suffered from gout. Ben saw him settled in his quarters and went about the other preparations for sailing. Why do these old men insist on going to sea when they should be home in their dens sipping a glass of port and playing whist? Ben couldn’t understand what would drive such an elderly man to sail in a ship with young men. The old fellow must be over sixty.

On the morning of the sixth, Ben saw a Mr. Jeffers standing on the dock. Ben recognized him as a staff member from the Admiralty. Jeffers called up to Ben.

I wonder that you have not sailed yet, Captain Rundel. Your orders say that you will sail at dawn on the sixth, I believe.

You are correct sir, but my crew hasn’t all reported for duty yet. I await their return. Can’t sail without them you know.

Ben was perturbed that the Admiralty could afford to pay a man to come spy on his sailing time. Remind me to sail on time next time with a light crew. I can always call at Portsmouth or Plymouth and pick up some extra crew members there away from the prying eyes of the Admiralty.

Soon his men began to appear. It was good to see the men that he had sailed to the Pacific with. They were very much a crew, well-trained and dedicated to Ben. He knew that he could count on these fellows, no matter what happened. He shook hands with each one, welcoming them back aboard.

Eh, there, Mr. Williams. Glad to have ye aboard, said Ben as he patted the fellow on the back.

But Williams caught Ben’s sleeve and drew him aside. His face was grave and there was no grand smile.

I ‘ave a confession to make, sir. When I sailed with ya over two years ago, I signed up under a false name. Ya see, I was havin’ a bad time with my wife. She had a tongue like a rapier and she couldn’t keep ‘er mouth shut. I couldn’t take it any longer, lad. I just couldn’t! I had to run away. I used to go to sea before I met her, and I don’t know what possessed me to tie the knot with that banshee, but I did. So I signed aboard your ship as, ‘Patrick Williams’ so she couldn’t find me. I’m sorry sir, but me real name is ‘William Patrick.’ I didn’t mean no harm, sir. I’d like to correct me name in the muster book, if it’s agreeable with you. I hope you’ll take me back aboard. I wouldn’t miss sailin’ with ya for anything.

Ben grabbed Pat’s hand and shook it. Dear fellow, I wouldn’t sail without you. We’ll fix the muster book, but I may have trouble remembering to call you Bill instead of Pat."

Oh no, sir. I prefer to be called Pat. No never mind about that.

So, what happened to your wife?

Well, she was mouthing around in East London one night and one of them knifer fellows got tired of her dithering and bossing around and did her in. I was a happy man when I heard the news. I’m free now and destined to stay that way too.

Good for you. Come to the cabin and we’ll take care of that problem with the muster book. Ben seemed to remember the day that they sailed for the Pacific. He remembered a fat old hag standing on the dock and swearing worse than any deck hand. She shook her fat fist at Pat and cussed him until the ship left the dock. The old man was telling the truth and probably it was much worse than he had said.

I lied, sir, but it’ll never happen again, I swear.

I might say that you acted in defense of your life. Almost anything can be justified if a man’s life depends on it.

When all of the men had arrived, Ben took a head count. They had 200 able bodied seamen, clean, neat, mostly sober, including ship’s boys who formed the regular crew.

Mr. Bridger, we’re supposed to sail with 210 men. Do you suppose that you could scout up some ten more able bodies to go to sea with us. I hate to sail short handed to the Caribbean where there is such a good chance of loosing crew men to fever.

Aye sir.

Two hours later Bridger appeared on the dock with five men. Each man stood holding his trousers while Jim swung a bundle of belts. These men aren’t going to get away from him, thought Ben.

He called up to Ben as he stood on the deck. Mighty few sailors in the pubs tonight. I’m headed for another pub that I know of which is out of the way and less frequently visited by press gangs. I’ll send these aboard and bring the rest back in an hour.

Very well, Mr. Bridger. Carry on.

When the second group arrived, two of them were so drunk that they had to be supported by their shipmates. Their bodies were dumped none too gently onto the deck. Ben decided not to sail that night. It was simply too late and the tide was beginning to turn. They would make better time in the morning. Old Jeffers could eat his heart out.

It had just struck 8 bells in the evening. Ben was in his cabin reading. Suddenly there was a terrible shouting and ruckus from the waist of the ship. Ben came out to investigate. Two men, both of them new to the ship, were tearing at each other like angry bears with their guts full of hot peppers! The old crew pounced on the two men and set them aside, but it took four men to each of the combatants to keep them apart. The men looked up to Ben for orders.

What is this all about, he asked the two new men.

They both looked sullen and neither would speak.

You there, what’s your name? as he pointed to the more slender of the two men.

Sully, sir. William Sully.

Why are you fighting with this other man?

There was no answer. One of the men slapped Sully to get his attention, but still no answer was forthcoming.

Ben recognized the second fellow as one who had come aboard with the second group and had been stone drunk. He pointed to the man and asked, What’s your name?

Roger Crooks, sir.

Why were you fighting?

He hit me, sir. He hit first.

But Ben wasn’t convinced that that was all there was behind the fighting. It had been too intense, too deadly. Each man seemed to be ready and eager to kill the other. I can always have you flogged and get an answer out of you you know. Don’t forget that gentlemen, said Ben with a flourish of his hand.

Then to Jim Bridger, Take them below Mr. Bridger and assign them to different watches. Get them down in the muster book too. I smell some bad blood here.

Bridger looked at the two men. You are a disgrace to his Majesty’s Navy, both of you! Go below and clean up and I don’t want to see any more fighting. The captain will have you flogged for fighting if you persist. The men who were restraining the two took each one below separately and set them to the slop chest to get some decent clothes, a good washing and a shave.

The next morning sharp at 6 a.m. Ben ordered the ropes loosened from the bits and the sails shook out. It was a cold, foggy morning and he posted double watches to avoid a midstream collision with some other ship seeking to get down stream before the tide changed. It seemed strange to sail without Tom. He was always there and always ready. Ben could hardly wait to see his old friend again.

They hadn’t reached the Channel yet when another fight broke out between the two men from London. By now the crew was tired of their bickering and would jump on them as soon as one looked at the other. Much of the time they were separated because they were in different watches, but there were times of the day when they could still find one another. Ben learned that the two had tried to fight all during the night with the result that many of the men in the forward section didn’t get much sleep.

After the second day of disruption from Sully and Crooks, Ben approached Jim Bridger. I think that we should give one man a good flogging. That may sober the other one up and put an end to this nonsense. Has anyone found out what they are fighting about yet?

No sir. Which one do you want to flog?

Let’s start with Sully. I would bet we’ll have to flog Crooks before another day is out anyway.

They sailed down the Thames and into the Channel and then headed west. The winds were light, but they were just able to maintain headway. They passed the Isle of Wight and then the Bill of Portsmouth. Ben would have liked to call at Portsmouth to see how Jon was doing, but that was not in his orders. The Admiralty has long arms and penetrating eyes, he thought.

Next came Start Point and Salcombe. He noted the position of the light on the south shore that warned ships of the dangerous rocks there. Then early the next morning they passed the Lizard and later Lands End and headed north. Ben’s companion ship was the Sirius under Captain William Prowse.

Sully had taken his punishment like a man and was lying now, with his back cut to ribbons, in the sick bay. Late that night another commotion was heard. Apparently Crooks slipped into the sickbay and grabbed a scalpel and begun to carve Sully into pieces. The loblolly boys, Ted Marsh and Geoff Reeves, had managed to stop him before he did much damage. The marines took over and brought him to Ben’s cabin. Ben was awakened and as soon as he heard the knock at his door, he knew that a second flogging was in order.

We caught this fellow trying to carve up Sully in the sick bay. What shall we do with him, sir?

Put him in irons, Mr. Keene. He’ll get his chance to dance to the cat tomorrow at ten in the morning.

Ben lay back in his bunk. He reflected that he was becoming as cruel a captain as old Pigot of the Hermione. He had ordered two floggings in as many days! Ben hated that. He felt that a good man could often be saved by reasoning with him, and that flogging only turned a good man into one filled with hatred. But there seemed to be no way to reason with these two fools. They clearly planned to kill one another, no matter what happened.

Late that day they made Hartland Point and changed course to sail north northeast past Lundy Island and into the Bristol Channel. The trip took about three days so they made their rendezvous on time on the tenth. Ben sailed as far as Cardiff and then came to anchor. Just behind them was the Sirius, sailing much the same course. She too, came to anchor. The two ships waited for the merchantmen to come down out of the port of Bristol like two impatient gentlemen awaiting their dates to go to a ball. Ben was new to convoy duty, but he was about to learn that the merchantmen are the least reliable sailors on the seven seas. They waited five days for the lumbering old hulks to sail out to meet them.

Now both men, Crooks and Sully, were in the sick bay with marine guards over them armed with guns and bayonets. Crooks had screamed bloody loud when they had flogged him. Ben thought that they might hear him clear back at Lands End. Ben had been toying with the idea of trading one of the two men off to one of the merchantmen or even to the Sirius. There should be no trouble if the other man were absent. As it was, they made poor bargaining material at present. Neither man could do much but lay on his stomach and groan. Ben figured if they were ready for duty by the time that the merchantmen came out, he would trade one of them off. But as it happened, they were both unable to walk or do any work when the ships appeared.

While they were at Anchor, Ben called to Pat. Mr. Patrick, do you suppose that you could do some prying around and find out what it is that those two fools are fighting about?

Aye sir. I could try. Ben knew that Pat was good at putting a man at his ease with one of his funny stories and that he could get information out of a man before he even realized it. He was good at stumping around and everyone talked to him. Ben still clung to the hope that these two fellows could be cured of their unnatural hatred. If only he could find out what the trouble was. But he was beginning to wish that he had traded one of the men off to Prowse.

Bristol brought back sad memories for Ben. It was here that he had been sent as a boy to an orphanage and work house. He remembered his fateful escape all too vividly and wondered how he had ever succeeded with such a daring plan. That’s the story of my life!

Ben watched the merchantmen like fat swans waddling out from Bristol Harbour. There were ten merchantmen, not eleven, all loaded heavily and all older vessels. The shipyards had had little time to

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