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A Secret War

A Secret War

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A Secret War

Lunghezza:
431 pagine
7 ore
Pubblicato:
May 17, 2020
ISBN:
9781393592730
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

In early 1803 a Royal Navy Captain is sent by the Admiralty to Paris as a diplomat. He is also a very experienced espionage agent, and his real orders are to contact and reorganise the underground resistance groups fighting Napoleon. He attends brilliant diplomatic functions as well as many dark secretive meetings, constantly evading police arrest. Just as war is declared he makes a daring escape from France.

Back in London he is ordered to set up cross-Channel espionage activities against Bonaparte's invasion plans. He uses both local smugglers and Navy ships to transport the Royalist resistance groups over to France. However many are arrested including the chief leaders, so he is again ordered back to Paris to attempt to restore the situation. He is betrayed but dramatically escapes back to the coast to try and escape his pursuers.

Based on real historical characters and events.

 

130,000 words

Pubblicato:
May 17, 2020
ISBN:
9781393592730
Formato:
Libro

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A Secret War - Barry Pettman

Pettman

Barry Pettman

www.barrypettman.com 

Text copyright @ 2020 Barry Pettman

All Rights Reserved

One

The dawn signal gun reverberated round the harbour, waking him abruptly. As he turned to lay on his back the bosun’s pipe shrieked above his head, followed by the the morning watch banging their holystones about on the deck. The wind slapped against the cabin windows and brought the faint chimes of a Portsmouth church clock.

Rolling out of his cot, he shouted ‘Hot water, Sturch!’ Sliding his feet into his slippers, he walked into the day cabin and peered at the filthy harbour water through the stern windows. He shivered with the cold, and rubbed the scars on his arm muttering ‘Christ, damn this climate. Three months out of the Med and I’m still not used to it.’ He heard the door open and Sturch lumbered in, with a lantern and big copper kettle. ‘Mornin’ sir’ he muttered, the water steaming as he poured it into the small wash stand bowl. ‘Morning Sturch. Coffee, toast, and don’t burn it.’ ‘Aye, sir, not burnt’ muttered the steward, now aware of his Captain’s mood. He hung the lantern on the basin hook and closed the door quietly behind him. John stropped the razor and shaved carefully. As he finished Sturch brought in the coffee and toast, only slightly burnt, which he ate looking out at the grey mid-March dawn.

After relieving himself in the jakes, he inspected his best uniform coat that Sturch had brushed and laid out on the map table the night before. It had cost him nearly twenty guineas, a month’s pay, in Valletta but the gold edgings and his Commander’s epaulette had not tarnished, even after nine months. He recalled last wearing it at an extremely rowdy ball at Gibralter, and many wine stains had to be removed. He put on the shirt and black silk stock, also from Malta. Finally, pulling his boots on, he stamped hard to get his feet into them. He wound his watch, put it in his fob pocket, and fitted the long curved dirk into the leather scabbard onto his belt. Finally, he put the heavy top coat on, stretching gently to ease the tightness around his shoulders. When dressed, he put on his hat, opened the door, nodded to the Marine sentry standing to attention ‘Morning, Cripps’ and stepped up onto the main deck.

Up on the quarter-deck, he nodded to Hawkey, his dependable First Lieutenant, then to Ferris, the ever morose Master, and finally Chatterton, the youngest Midshipman, all looking out over the crowded harbour. ‘Good morning, gentlemen.’ ‘Good morning, sir.’ they said nearly in unison, touching their hats. He looked along the ship, and up at the yards, canvas furled. He looked around the wide harbour, and the ships surrounding them, most chained to harbour buoys. Over near Gosport, half a dozen blackened prison hulks sat and tried not to think of the stinking conditions inside those. The church steeple in the town gleamed fitfully as the grey clouds first revealed, then covered the pale sun. He stretched his back and arms, slowly breathed in the cold, damp air.

Bainbridge, the young Second Lieutenant, climbed briskly up to the quarterdeck and tipped his hat ‘Morning, sir. Mr Anderson reports the cutter and hands is ready for departure.’ John nodded ‘Tell Mr Anderson I will be with him in a few minutes.’  He looked round ‘Mr Hawkey, a word with you and Mr Ferris in the chart room, if you please.’ Down in the small, plain cabin used by Ferris as his chart room and office, they sat around the small polished table. He looked hard at both of them and said ‘I want the ship secured at all times against the usual harbour bumboats, harlots, and harbour merchants, so make them sheer off. I know we are no longer at war but the Port Admiral may have immediate orders to send us elsewhere. I will be very displeased if any hands run as some did in Malta, so no shore leave for anyone. No women in the barky either, until we know our orders. Mr Anderson will fetch our postbag from the Yard Pay office and we will re-supply as necessary on my return. Keep all the hands busy cleaning ship, ready for ship inspection on my return, this afternoon.’  Hawkey and Ferris both nodded. John pulled out his watch ‘Time to go.’ He picked up the leather satchel containing his logs and other papers, slung it over his shoulder, and they went out, Hawkey in front bellowing at Anderson and the cutter crew. When the bosun and the officers were at the companion way he walked down to the group. ‘Mr Hawkey, you have the ship’. Hawkey touched his hat and said ‘Aye sir.’ John touched his hat to the flag, took hold of the side ropes and climbed down the greasy narrow steps. Reaching the lowest step he waited for the swell, Anderson turned the tiller so the cutter slid under his feet, allowing him to step into the boat.

As he sat down on the thwart opposite Anderson, the boy shouted ‘Give way lads.’ The ‘lads’, four men all old enough to be Anderson’s father, sat facing him, expressionless. They leant forward, dug their blades into the water and pulled back, making the boat surge forward. Anderson moved the tiller so that they headed for the Point. John said quietly ‘Mr Anderson, d’ye see the Square Tower and the Round Tower?’ ‘Aye, sir.’ ‘Then perhaps you would beach equidistant between them.’ Anderson looked at him and nodded, his expression relaxing. John looked back at ‘Cynthia’, and saw the dockyard water boat arriving alongside her with barrels of fresh water. Strong rowing brought them shortly up to the shingle strand which they hit with a sudden, grinding crunch. The bowmen jumped out of both sides into the shallow water and dragged the boat up the stones.

‘Thank you, Mr Anderson. Now go over to the Hard and pick up any postbags waiting for us at the yard Pay office. Ask the Marine at the main gate for directions. Take them to the ship and advise Mr Hawkey that you are to return at eleven o’clock for me here.’ The young man touched his hat ‘Aye, sir.’ John stood up, stepped over the thwarts to the bow, leant on the two bowmen’s proffered shoulders, and jumped onto the pebbles. He turned and watched the bowmen push the boat off and climbing back in, boots dripping. He adjusted his hat, walked up to the green-stained steps onto the cobbled quayside. He walked fifty yards, up and back, to get his land legs, avoiding the carts and horse dung. Groups of sailors, the worse for wear, walked past, some accompanied by women in torn, grubby dresses, complaining about unpaid money. When he felt steadier, he walked through the King James Gate and up the well-paved High Street to the Port Admiral’s impressive house. The Marine in front of the entrance door presented arms, and John touched his hat as he passed. The main door boasted an extremely large brass dolphin door knocker and a pull chain which John tugged carefully. The door was opened by a pasty faced young man who looked at his left-hand shoulder. ‘Yes sir?’ ‘Captain John Wright to see the Admiral.’ ‘Please come in, sir.’

John stepped into a plain reception room, furnished with a desk, shabby green arm chairs, and a loudly ticking long case clock. The clerk walked off down a passage, returning almost immediately with a tall thin man who smiled at John ‘Captain Wright. Very pleased to meet you. I am Joseph Harris, the Admiral’s secretary. The Admiral knows you are here but is finishing other business, so I will take you to my office. I have several letters to give you.’  John followed Harris down the passage to a room in which lay piles of papers on every horizontal surface. Harris sat behind a large desk, and indicated an armchair. Through a door to one side, John could see several clerks scratching away. Harris picked up letters from his desk and handed them over.

The first letter had his name written in crabbed writing, with a large red wax seal impressed on it. This he broke, and unfolded the paper. The heading stated ‘From Sir Evan Nepean, Bart, MP, First Secretary to the Admiralty Board’ It was personally written, dated the previous day, requesting him to be at his office at ten o’clock, Monday, 14th March to discuss ‘urgent naval business’ This code phrase generally indicated secret business, but the urgency puzzled him. The second letter was addressed ‘Via Admiralty to Port Admiral, Portsmouth’, his name written in an untidy hand he instantly recognised.

My dear John, Sir Nepean tells me of your arrival at Pompey. It is imperative I see you before you see him. I am at 19 Curzon Street, close by Hyde Park. Catch the early coach on Saturday to arrive at the ‘Spread Eagle’, Gracechurch Street, at about eight. A carriage will await you to bring you here to stay. Your friend, Sydney Smith

He was delighted to hear from Sydney so soon, especially with accommodation, but again that tone of urgency, which now began to interest him extremely. A bell rang and he looked up at Harris. ‘The Admiral will see you now, Captain.’ John followed him down another passage to a large polished oak door which Harris opened ‘Captain Wright to see you, sir.’ A loud, sonorous voice said ‘Ah, Captain Wright, do come in.’ As John walked in Admiral Sir Mark Milbanke rose from his large chair, behind his even larger desk, and pointed a fat finger at a chair opposite ‘Sit ye down, Captain.’  John knew that the Admiral had been Portsmouth Commander-in-Chief for four years, was in his eighties, and certainly looked it. ‘Welcome to Pompey, Captain. I hope your voyage from the Rock was uneventful?’ ‘As uneventful as any Biscay voyage is, sir.’ The Admiral gave a barking laugh, jowls wobbling. ‘Harris has passed over your letters of course?’ ‘Thank you, sir, much obliged.’ ‘I have received orders from the Commissioners for you to hand over command of ‘Cynthia’ to your First Officer, and proceed to the Admiralty by tomorrow’s coach and report to the Secretary on Monday.’ ‘Yes sir. One of my letters advised me of that.’ ‘Know what it’s about?’ John observed the stare of curiosity ‘No sir. I assume the Commissioners want the most recent information available on the Levant situation’ ‘Ah, probably.’ The man was clearly intrigued as to why such a lowly commander was to see the chief administrator of the Navy so urgently.

The thick fingers picked up a delicate silver bell off the desk and shook it. Harris entered after a minute, was told to immediately purchase an inside ticket for the morning’s London coach, then to send in coffee. ‘Do you have a place to stay near the Admiralty?’ Milbanke asked. ‘Thank you sir, I can stay at a friend’s house, close by.’ Coffee was brought by the young clerk. After the door closed the Admiral leaned back, sipping noisily ‘When was you last in England then, Captain?’ ‘I left in October ’98, with Sir Sidney Smith to Constantinople.’ The bushy white eyebrows raised up ‘Was you at Acre with Smith then?’ ‘I was, sir’ said John. Milbanke slapped the desk ‘By God sir, I wish I had been there to send Boney scuttling away.’ John smiled ‘The Frenchies put up a good fight considering we had stolen their artillery. It was nip and tuck, all the way.’ The Admiral leaned forward ‘But you were vastly outnumbered and the Turkos were surely no good to you!’ John sighed inwardly ‘The Turk is the most ferocious hand-to-hand fighting man you are ever likely to encounter, provided you give him a good reason to fight.’ ‘Hm. Was you hurt at all?’  ‘Aye, shot in the same arm twice, during an attack.’ Milbanke surveyed him ‘Both your arms seem still intact?’ ‘I was shipped to Beirut and looked after by an Arab physician who saved my arm.’

Milbanke grunted ‘Fortunate indeed. Take more coffee before it cools. Let me acquaint you with the latest news. First, the so-called Peace. Things are going from bad to worse. On Tuesday last the King, God bless him, made a speech to both Houses condemning Bonaparte’s actions in Europe. Very anti-French, the journals said it was. Parliament then voted monies to immediately recruit another ten thousand men for the Navy.’ ‘And how many have been discharged during the Peace?’ Milbanke shook his head ‘My guess is probably fifty thousand, enough for thirty ships of the line.’ John leant forward in shock ‘Good God, that must be half the fleet!’ Milbanke nodded, shrugging, ‘Yes. And most of those ships are rotting away in the various dockyards. By the way did you hear about the ‘Despard’ trial?’ ‘I read something of it at Gib, but no details.’ ‘Well, seven traitors were hanged three weeks ago, including Despard, a damned revolutionary. It shows that we will follow the French to Hell if we are not very careful.  All the freethinkers and their mistresses continue their invasion of Paris, all wishing to view Bonaparte. That scrub comes from a family of bandits in Corsica, and acts like one. He will surely try to invade us one day. Well, back to business. As I said before, you will hand over ‘Cynthia’ to your First, Hawkey isn’t it? He has been promoted to Acting Commander in order to take her to Chatham for discharge, except the standing officers of course.’ He again rang the little bell. Harris entered with papers in his hand, which Milbanke waved over to John.

The first document of one paragraph, ordered him to hand over ‘Cynthia’ to his First Officer. The next was the familiar, printed parchment with the impressed Admiralty fouled anchor, promoting Hawkey to Commander, signed by Nepean with three other scrawled signatures, which he could not decipher. The third, printed on thin yellow paper, was his coach ticket to London. ‘So Captain, do you have any questions?’ ‘No, sir, I think everything is clear.’ Milbanke looked sternly at John ‘Good. Answer Sir Nepean straight and short and you will be alright.’ ‘Thank you, I will do as you say, sir.’ Milbanke stood up stiffly, and came round the desk, holding out his hand. ‘Farewell, Captain. A safe journey and good luck at the Admiralty’ John bowed his head ‘Thank you, sir.’ and walked out. Harris followed him down the passage to the door and said ‘The coach fare is a guinea, sir.’ John turned and smiled ‘And there was I, thinking the Admiralty would pay.’ Harris laughed, shaking his head at the witticism, and holding out his hand. John fetched out his purse, and handed over a gold guinea. Harris nodded, opened the main door and pointed up the street ‘The coach departs sharp at eight from the  ‘Blue Posts’ fifty yards up on the right.’ John thanked him, and walked out into sunshine and down the High Street towards the harbour.

As he walked down the street, he looked into the shop windows and at the passers-by. The women, most walking in pairs, were wearing the high-waisted coats and bonnets seen in Malta, supposed to be the latest fashions from Paris. Most of the men seemed little changed from when he was last in London four years before, with the usual tailcoats and waistcoats, although some were wearing trousers to the ankles, instead of breeches. He touched his hat to the few naval officers he passed, none of whom he recognised. Passing through the Gate, he walked to the edge of the worn stone quay and saw the gig being rowed towards him. During the short wait he again looked over the ships in the harbour, some having recently arrived, being still manned with their command pennants fluttering in the breeze. Most had their top masts and yards taken down and black tarpaulins pulled taut over their top decks, having been put ‘in ordinary’. As the gig approached the beach he walked carefully down the worn steps, avoiding the slippery green sea-wrack. Once the gig had slewed up the crunching pebbles, the bow men leapt out as he walked over, swung himself into the thwarts and sat opposite Anderson. He took out his watch, glanced at it then Anderson, and said ‘Mr Anderson. your timing is excellent. It will be eleven in two minutes’ Anderson flushed ‘It was the men’s hard rowing, sir’ John looked at the sweating rowers ‘Well done lads’ The men nodded and tipped their caps. ‘Right, let us return.’ The boat was pushed out, rolling lazily over the low breakers, and they pulled away. ‘Mr Anderson, how much post?’ ‘Two bags, which Mr Hawkey has.’ As John appeared above the rail, the bosun’s pipe shrieked in his ear. Touching his hat to the flag and to the officers either side of the gangway he nodded to Peter ‘Thank you, gentlemen. Mr Hawkey, walk with me.’

In the cabin John unstrapped his satchel, removed his coat and sword, and sat down with a relieved sigh. He pulled out the documents, handing the Admiralty parchment to Hawkey. He watched with satisfaction as the man stared at the paper in astonishment, his mouth open, his face flushing with pleasure. John stood up extending his hand ‘Congratulations Commander Hawkey, and well deserved it is!’ Hawkey took his hand and gripped it hard ‘I can hardly believe it, but why?’ ‘I am relieved of my command and ordered up to the Admiralty tomorrow, for further orders. You will take ‘Cynthia’ round to Chatham for repairs and the crew will be discharged there.’ Hawkey’s face darkened. ‘Half pay then, I suppose, with all the other poor buggers.’ John said quietly ‘Peter. We will all be fighting Bonaparte very soon, and the Navy will need every man jack of us so when war is declared get yourself into the Admiralty like a greased polecat!’            

Two

John looked at Peter ‘Now, tomorrow I will be catching the eight o’clock London coach. At six send both Midshipmen and a bosun’s mate in the cutter with my gear to the ‘Blue Posts’ top of the High Street. Chatterton will return for me. Anderson and the mate will stay there until I arrive so they can delay the coach if I am late. Summon the crew at the half hour past six and I will leave the ship by seven.’ ‘Very well, John. Now tell me, do you pass over command or do I just read myself in?’

John looked out the window. ‘Peter, I don’t know, as neither your orders nor mine give instructions. We may have to improvise.’ Hawkey gave him a surprised look   ‘Improvise? Navy regulations?’ ‘I have always been told if there are no instructions use your best judgment.’ Hawkey shook his head. ‘So, have you issued the post, Peter?’ Hawkey sat back ‘Aye, just finished. The bosun is handing out the letters and packages to the men. I handed out quite a few to the officers and yours to Sturch.’ ‘Good. I shall give a wardroom supper at seven o’clock to celebrate your promotion and announce my departure’ Hawkey looked at him ‘They may celebrate the first, John, but not the last.’ John stood up ‘The wardroom will celebrate anything for a good meal.’ Hawkey laughed ‘Indeed.’ John smiled ‘Pass the word to all without giving reasons, and please shout at Sturch as you pass.’

The steward sidled in, his long grizzled face impassive. John looked up ‘Close the door. Tomorrow I shall be leaving early to catch the London coach. I will take all my kit, with nothing left behind. Now bring me hot coffee, biscuits and cheese, and then you will start packing my sea chest and bags.’ John watched, with increased amusement as the steward’s face changed slowly from puzzlement to the implications of what he was being told. ‘Aye sir. Are you ..?’ His voice trailed off.  ‘Also, I am giving a wardroom supper for the officers tonight at seven so I will give you the menu when you bring my coffee. Please ask Mr Hughes to step in.’ The confused steward left, shaking his head, and John laughed to himself. A knock on the door ‘Come in, Mr Hughes.’

The red-cheeked purser stepped in with his usual care-worn expression ‘You wanted me, sir?’ ‘Yes Mr Hughes. I shall be going up to Town early tomorrow morning, and before I leave, the Ship’s logs, pay-books, musters and the rest, must be up to date and signed off by me. The logs and order books should be up to date anyway as is my personal log, so please finish the duplicate so I can take both copies. Bring everything to me at six o’clock, so I can sign them off.’ Hughes eyed him ‘I have to do the requisitions, sir.’ ‘Not today. We have provisions for our current needs, excepting additional fresh water, which comes tomorrow.’ Hughes stared at him ‘By six, sir?’ ‘Exactly so, Mr Hughes.’ The man stood up and almost ran out of the cabin in panic. After staring out of the windows, John took a sheet of paper, pen and ink and wrote a menu. When Sturch had placed the coffee and food on the table, John handed the paper to him ‘Take that to Billows, read it to him and return with his agreement, or his best substitutes. Everything is to be ready for seven o’clock. You will arrange the drinks.’ Ten minutes passed and the man re-appeared. ‘Billows can do the menu, sir, but suggests pie rather than lobscouse.’ ‘Very well, tell him to proceed, then come back here and start packing.’

John sat down and began his paperwork. As he did so he occasionally watched Sturch packing his clothes and possessions into the large battered chest and the three leather bags ‘Put the flute case near the top, then place the best uniform on top’ he said. His Valetta portrait and his other souvenirs were already sat at the bottom of the trunk. Above his head he heard the call for ship inspection. Standing and putting on his coat, he said to Sturch ‘Be careful how you pack everything. I shall be back shortly for galley inspection.’ He clapped his hat on, went up to the quarterdeck where Hawkey and the master were standing. He spoke up so that the upper deck could hear ‘Mr Hawkey, let us begin.’ then quietly ‘Peter, I wish you to conduct this inspection.’ They began, working their way from the bowsprit and the heads, to the gun-deck, then down into the bowels of the ship.  Noting the slow, constant leakage in the bilge, Baird, the carpenter, said that ‘there was now’t he could do except pump out every day.’ Hawkey deliberately found a number of errors, dirty guns, uncoiled cordage, heads not hosed properly, and reprimanded the officers accordingly. Various crew members were complimented on their neatness of dress and certain well-known others bawled at for their slackness. All was, therefore, as usual. At last Hawkey and he returned to the quarter deck where John loudly approved the inspection but expected better next time. Some of the older hands nodded sagely to each other. Back in the cabin, Sturch claimed he only had to pack his ‘private articles for the morning.’ ‘Well done. Now go and prepare for tonight.’

At seven o’clock precisely, the wardroom trooped in, one after another, with the exception of Anderson who had the watch to up eight o’clock. John had invited them to a number of suppers during their voyage through the Med and Biscay so they all knew the form, and there was little stiffness between him and them. When they had all settled, with a glass of claret in front of each of them, John stood up. ‘Now, before we eat, gentlemen, two official announcements, which, I am sure, you may have been expecting. Firstly, I having been relieved of this command and ordered up to the Admiralty for further orders. Mr Hawkey has been promoted Captain and Commander and will take command when I depart at seven o’clock tomorrow. He has his instructions which he will then discuss with you. Mr Bainbridge will be the Acting First. I am sure you will join with me in a toast. Congratulations to you, Mr Hawkey, on a well-earned promotion.’

He raised his glass and they stood, nodding approvingly, chairs scraping on the floor, and raised their glasses. When the glasses were again full, Hawkey stood. ‘Sir, I thank you for that. I have two toasts. First, our congratulations to Captain Wright, on further orders and promotion at the Admiralty. Second, to thank him for making ‘Cynthia’ a prime example of what a taut barky should be.’ ‘A prime example!’ they cried. John bowed his head, then shouted ‘Sturch, fetch in the sea pie and claret’ ‘Ah, sea pie’ they cried, rather like schoolboys at a midnight feast. The pie appeared, followed by the rest of the menu, and they all ate as if they had been starving for weeks, washing it down with many bumpers. When the food had been demolished, they all sat back contentedly. John raised his glass and said ‘Now, gentlemen, the King, God bless him.’ They sat up straight, raised their glasses and answered ‘The King, God bless him.’ Hawkey stood up. ‘Gentlemen, let us drink the Friday toast A willing foe and sea room! They all rose, some already unsteady, and repeated the toast. This was followed by other individual and  improvised toasts, some almost incoherent, such as that by Mr Hughes in his native Welsh, strictly against regulations. John assumed it to be patriotic so drank to it nevertheless. He noticed young Chatterton drinking far too fast so leaned over ‘Mr Chatterton, you will rate a very nasty head tomorrow if you down glasses at such a rate.’ The glass was then filled more slowly.

Mr Hughes began to sing in his fine Welsh baritone, heard only when in drink, the usual familiar songs and shanties, all joining in. The watch hands on the deck above were joined by others who joined in the choruses, quietly at first, then much louder as the volume below increased. At eight o’clock Bainbridge stood up ‘Captain, I thank you for a right good supper, but I have the watch.’ He bowed, and was cheered by the company. Two minutes later Anderson entered, was welcomed by John, sat, and voraciously ate his supper, which had been kept hot for him. Then followed the usual bawdy gossip and reminiscences about the ship’s actions at Quiberon, and again in Egypt, and how the ‘Cynthia’ had entered Alexandria ‘ahead of the entire damn fleet!’ John had heard all of this many times before, but listened indulgently. At ten o’clock, he stood and thanked them for their good company, and sent them off to bed. Some, finding themselves to be somewhat unsteady had to be helped by their colleagues to their cabins. When at last he was alone, he undressed and fell exhausted onto his cot into a dead sleep.

A loud rapping on the door and Sturch shouting hoarsely ’Tis five o’clock, sir.’ brought him round with a painful jolt. He lay on his back, quietly cursing drink, idiot stewards, and the whole cock-eyed Admiralty. His head throbbed, though he had known worse. Groaning, he sat up, remembering to avoid the beam above him, and swung his feet to the floor. Rain slashed in gusts across the cabin windows. As he slowly stood up, the door opened and Sturch entered in silence. Hot shaving water was poured, and shaving slowly woke him up. Putting on his second-best uniform, he was relieved to see that the sea below was calm. There was nothing worse than an undignified public departure attempting to jump into a heaving cutter. He stamped his boots on and Sturch opened the door almost immediately. ‘Is there any more packing to be done, Sturch?’ ‘Only your night things and the pennant what Mr Hawkey give me.’ ‘Right, put them in. Is my cutlass in the trunk?’ ‘Aye sir’ Sturch pushed the bundle into an open bag. ‘Ask Mr Hawkey to step in, then bring breakfast for us quick. ‘Aye sir’ He checked through his documents in the worn leather satchel and fastened it.

A knock on the door and Hawkey walked through. ‘Morning, Peter, how’s your head?’ Hawkey smiled ‘I am pleased to say that Mr Ferris looks in worse condition than I.’ John smiled ‘I was surprised how he drank, not like him at all.’ Peter looked serious ‘He received a letter yesterday, from his wife I think, which he didn’t receive well. He is not one who would tell his personal news.’ ‘Well, let him take you round the North Foreland and quiz him quietly afterwards.’ John pulled out his watch, wound it slowly, then glanced at Hawkey ‘Is Chatterton fit and able to command the cutter?’ Peter nodded ‘His crew will help him out.’ ‘Yes. Tell Anderson to take my dunnage now and leave, as it may take time to get a baggage cart. And on the way out kick Sturch’s arse for our breakfast.’

After the door closed he inspected the chest and bags, checked on the strapping and locks and that he had the keys. He loaded his two pocket pistols and put them in his greatcoat pockets then checked the twist lock action of his malacca sword stick. A knock at the door and Anderson hesitantly entered. ‘Morning, Mr Anderson.’ ‘Morning sir, we have come for your baggage.’ ‘Who goes with you’ ‘Schmidt and Pickles’ John nodded to the two hands in the doorway who entered, touching their foreheads. Anderson said ‘Right lads, hoist ‘em very careful into the cutter.’ They picked up the sea chest and bags as if they weighed nothing and carried them through the doorway. ‘Mr Anderson, do you have coins to pay for a cart?’ Anderson blushed and hung his head ‘No sir, I forgot to ask Mr Hawkey.’ John felt in his coat pocket and brought out five shillings. ‘That should be enough. Should I arrive late, hold the coach by persuasion or force, and send Mr Chatterton straight back.’ ‘Aye, sir’ ‘The Mid touched his hat and went out. As he did so, Hawkey entered followed by Sturch and the cook’s boy, carrying trays on which were plates of beef, eggs and warmed biscuit together with a steaming pot of coffee. When they had finished he consulted his watch. ‘Well Peter, ten minutes to departure so get Mr Ball to call the hands.’ John was surprised to see Hawkey’s normally tanned, taciturn face redden, his eyes somewhat watery ‘Before I go, John, I would just like to thank you for all the advice and help you have given me during our long voyage.’ ‘Peter, you are welcome and I thank you for all your invaluable help to me.’ Hawkey, nodded, half smiled and went out.

John stood, looking around the cabin that had been his home for nine months, looked at his watch, showing half past six o’clock, and picked up his greatcoat and satchel. The door opened and Sturch stood silently looking at him. John nodded ‘Sturch, farewell. Thank you for looking after me. I would like you to have these.’ and held out two shining guineas. The man stepped forward and shyly took the coins ‘Why thank ‘ee, sir. It ‘as bin a pleasure.’ Just then the bosun piped the muster, and the feet thundered over the deck. John followed Sturch up to the main deck then up to the quarter deck where the officers stood, some looking rather pale, with hats under arms. ‘Good morning, gentlemen. I trust you are well.’ ‘Yes, thank you, sir’ was the muted reply. John noticed, at the edge of his vision, the file of Marines standing to attention by the wheel, winking at each other seeing the state of the officers. The rain had stopped, white clouds racing in from the south-west. As John handed coat and satchel to a white-faced Chatterton, he said quietly ‘Put these in the boat after muster is dismissed, Mr Chatterton. Start taking slow, long breaths now. It will help, I assure you’ ‘Thank you, sir’ the young man said. John looked at Hawkey and inclined his head to the rail, and they both stepped up to it. Sergeant Carter bellowed "Marines, ‘shun!’ The boots and rifles crashed, not quite together.

He looked down at the hands, crowded together in their watch groups, with hats in hand. They covered all the available space on the upper deck, shoulder to shoulder. ‘Good morning to you. I am today ordered up to the Admiralty for further orders, and I depart directly. Mr Hawkey has been promoted to the rank of Commander, and I now officially hand over command of the ‘Cynthia’ to him. I would like to thank you all for your good, seamanlike behaviour through our long voyage from Egypt. Captain Hawkey!’ Hawkey stepped forward, looking at the upturned faces ‘Thank you, Captain Wright. I will now read the order given to me by the Admiralty.’ He read the short document out as John had suggested. When finished he rolled up the paper ‘After Captain Wright’s departure we will take on more water, then proceed to Chatham. Mr Ball, dismiss ship’s company.’ The bosun’s pipe shrilled, followed by a bellowed ‘Man the side!’ John watched the cutter crew run to the port and descend, followed by Chatterton. He waited by the balustrade, watching the officers lining up either side of the port. He looked slowly around the deck then went down to the port and exchanged farewells, shaking hands and touching hats with the entire wardroom, and lastly with Hawkey.  John turned and touched his hat to the flag, nodded at the officers and as many of the hands as he could see, gently slapped the handrail farewell, then gripped the ropes and descended the side.

The bosun’s pipe shrilled above him, and, and the tightness in his throat became almost unbearable. Chatterton held on to the bottom step as John waited until the boat rose up on the swell toward his feet, and he stepped down. After he had sat, the crew shoved the boat gently away with their oar blades. When they were ten yards clear of the side Chatterton said ‘Sir’ and nodded at the ship. John turned round and saw the hands, seemingly without orders, running up and manning the shrouds, the rest lining the side. A loud voice, which he recognise as Ball’s, shouted for three hoorays, which they gave whilst waving their hats. Astonished, John stood up and raised his hat to them. As he sat down, he took his coat and case from Chatterton pretending to rearrange them carefully on the thwart beside him, blinking away the tears in his eyes. When he finally glanced up, the cutter hands all nodded at him, some grinning, whilst Chatterton resolutely stared towards the Point with a barely concealed smile on his face.

They soon came to the now familiar grinding stop on the gravel below the Gate. He stood up, slid his satchel and coat over his shoulders and faced the crew. ‘Thank you, lads.’ He shook Chatterton’s hand warmly. ‘Mr Chatterton, you will wait for Mr Anderson, Schmidt and Pickles to return from the Blue Posts. Thank you all, and farewell’ He stepped forward and was handed over the bow onto the beach. He climbed the steps to the quay, turned, and saw the crew silently holding their oars vertically, the dripping blades glinting in the weak sun, with Chatterton holding up his hat. John smiled, the tightness gripping his throat again, raised his hat, then turned and crossed the almost empty quayside and strode fast up the High Street to the ‘Blue Posts’. He pushed through the inn door and found himself in a large and  completely  empty saloon. A door in the wall facing him opened onto a courtyard, from where came voices. Walking into the yard he was greeted by a cry from Anderson ‘Ah, sir, here you are. We was worried you were delayed.’

He saw that his chest had been loaded, along with others, on the top of the coach and was in the process of being tied down and covered with a glistening black tarpaulin. The coach had ‘Tantivy’ and gold post horns painted on the red door. Anderson, with Schmidt and Pickles following, walked towards him touching his hat. ‘Trunk on top, bags in the fore-boot, all safe and secure, sir. I believe Mr Pleck wants your ticket before you board.’ pointing a finger at a tall, thin man talking to someone inside the vehicle. At the sound of his name, the man turned and stared at him. John produced the yellow ticket and handed it over. Pleck looked up and smiled showing a mouth full of teeth as yellow as the ticket. ‘Please take your seat now, Cap’n, as we will be weighing anchor in two minutes.’ As he spoke, four horses, already harnessed together and whickering quietly and stamping on the glistening cobbles, were being pushed by two young ostlers backwards onto the shafts.

The driver and guard already sat on the front box looking down at him. Three male passengers sat outside on the back box, huddled in greatcoats and wearing various styles of hats. John turned and presented two half-guineas on his palm to Anderson ‘Goodbye John, thank you. One is for you, the other for young Henry. Go directly to the cutter, where they wait for you. Don’t forget to study your navigation and you will shortly be an Admiral.’ Anderson laughed, took the coins hesitantly thanked him, and then shyly shook his hand. John turned to Schmidt and Pickles and gave them two shillings each ‘Good luck to both of you and have a wet with your mates.’ Schmidt, touching his hat, looked at him with a smile ‘Dank you sir and ve vill be drinking your health.’ John nodded, took off his hat and coat, and stepped up into the coach.          

Three

Inside the coach were  two passengers, male and female, sitting diagonally opposite each other.  He bowed his head to each ‘Good morning, madam and to you, sir.’ and sat on the same side as the man. Both of them replied ‘Good morning, Captain.’ After placing his hat, coat, and satchel on the seat beside him, he looked at them

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