Finish the wooden-navy story: A Raking Broadside

English Harbour stank.

There wasn’t a breath of wind to disturb the foetor that hung on the hot afternoon air, a combination of rotting rubbish and sewage from on shore and the sickening smells of a ship that had not long since come out of a bloody battle. Even the few inches of water in the bilges that defied the pump’s best efforts were contributing their own little share, to go with the brimstone stench of burnt powder and the hellish reek of gore from the orlop, where men had died in screaming agony under the cross-eyed Surgeon’s saw or, if they were very lucky and extremely hardy, lived through the purgatory of an emergency amputation and the slapping of hot pitch on the stump. Lieutenant Merriot closed his eyes briefly and wondered if he would ever get that image of the tortures of the damned out of his head.

But, by God, the ship was going to be clean and fit to fight again if the bosun’s mates had to push what was left of the crew until they dropped! The Hector was a hive of activity from stem to stern. The mizzen topsail yard had been fished and sent aloft again, rigging was being spliced and tarred afresh, powder was stowed below in the magazine and shot in the locker, brasswork was being scoured with brickdust, and the frigate was surrounded with a gaggle of bumboats from which food and water were being unloaded. Like any officer worth his salt, Merriot pretended not to notice the whores also being discreetly slipped below decks. If the men had any strength left for wenching by the time it was too dark to work, good luck to them.

And staying on board the ship, in charge of the repair work, was preferable to going on shore on Antigua or any other West Indian pest-hole you cared to name, for all the beauty of the tropical flowers and the smell of the green grass after months at sea. Enemy action was a death a man could face; better a musket-ball through the head or even to be smashed to pulp by a twelve-pound shot than to get the black vomit, which could fall on a man who’d been the picture of health at dawn and leave him puking his guts out by sunset.

As Captain Anselm had discovered, and good riddance to him.

Merriot’s attention was drawn by the pink-cheeked and eager Midshipman Callow. “Yes?” he demanded tersely. Callow flinched visibly. He’d never make an officer until he got the better of his nerves.

“S-sir, the Fourth Lieutenant’s compliments, and the water has been stowed,” Callow stammered. Merriot dismissed him with a nod and turned his attention back to the quayside a cable away, where the press-gang were waiting to return with the sweepings of English Harbour’s gutters and jails and, if they were unreasonably lucky, a few prime seamen that Admiral Sir John Strachan had been able to spare them. His eyes narrowed and he slid out the telescope’s eyepiece, focussing on the short, youthful figure boarding the longboat. A single gold epaulette adorned one shoulder, gleaming as though it hadn’t had time to dull since being sewn on. No more, Merriot cynically doubted, had the ink on this boy’s commission had time to dry since he was made post.

“God!” Merriot muttered, slamming the telescope shut with undue vigour. “What’s the Admiral sent us now?”

David Pearson tugged at his collar as the longboat rowed its way toward the Hector. He checked his satchel for the hundredth time, making sure his belongings and the orders from the admiral were safe.

He’d been caught off guard when he ran into Eleanor Stratchan at the greengrocers. He’d been surprised when he’d found himself hanging around, hoping she’d return. He’d been floored when she invited him back to her manor for tea. He’d been intimidated when he met her parents, the imposing Admiral and Lady Stratchan, and her older brother, John Jr, also in the British Navy.

He’d been humbled when the lovely Eleanor had accepted his proposal, but he was still confused on how, shortly after that, he’d been commissioned in the Royal Navy and assigned to a battleship by her father. David had had a promising apprenticeship at the local counting house, and was still unclear on that particular procession of events. He had a vague memory of asking the Admiral’s blessing, and a great deal of Madeira wine.

Still, if he had to serve aboard a ship to win her father’s blessing on the marriage, he’d do it, and gladly.

David looked up curiously as the longboat drew near, and wondered at the man–lieutenant? He still wasn’t sure of all the rankings—who stared down at him.

Well, at the least, he wouldn’t be bored.

Caleb Wynton had thought that being in English Harbor was the worst thing that had happened to him, in a string of misfortunes not of his making. But he was about to be proved wrong.

He’d been raised in a well-to-do Bostonian home, the son of a businessman, Benjamin Wynton, who owned shares in a number of merchant vessels. His mother had died when he was born, but, child of his father’s old age though he was, he’d had a firm, disciplined, upbringing, and a good education.

Then things had fallen apart. He was not quite nineteen when his father, beginning to go dotty, had remarried. His step-mother was sweet to Benjamin’s face, but in reality a greedy, grasping bitch. And a year and a half later, when Benjamin Wynton had died unexpectedly, Eliza Wynton had produced a fresh looking will that left her everything. She’d laughed in Caleb’s face when he’d foolishly threatened her, and the only concession she’d allowed was to have a Wynton vessel, the Golden Bell take him on as quartermaster, on a merchant voyage to the West Indies. Caleb, seething, had taken the offer, meaning to make enough from his share on several voyages, to eventually return home and challenge that bitch his father had married.

Caleb wasn’t overproud, and he’d managed a creditable job as the ship had sailed southward. But he was *very * surprised when the Golden Bell had set out from English Harbor without him, leaving him with nothing but the clothes on his back. The job offer had obviously been a ruse, he ended up figuring, one engineered by Eliza. So he’d taken any odd jobs and day work he could, sleeping in the back rooms of seaside taverns and eating leftovers from the dockside ordinaries, and, oddly enough, writing letters for sailors who were illiterate. He’d begun to save a few coins, towards his passage out of English Harbor, enough that he’d spent one evening in a tavern as a customer, not a laborer.

That one evening had landed him here, in this wretched hutch, crammed in with four other unfortunates like himself. The rum he’d drunk had been spiked at some point, and now he, along with the others, had been pressed into the British Navy!

Caleb blinked against the sun as the doors were unlocked and he was herded outside. He was desperate, but too smart to protest his treatment just now. The man walking beside him, Isaac, was sporting a puffy nose and a broken tooth, tokens of his own protest at becoming a sailor against his will.

Admiral Strachan sat at his leather-topped mahogany desk and weighed the sheet of paper in his hand meditatively. On the one hand, David Pearson, counting house apprentice and sweetheart to the Admiral’s only daughter. And on the other hand, David Pearson, until three days ago the fourth lieutenant aboard the Leopard, Sir John’s own 74-gun ship of the line, and now “Discharged Dead”, yet another casualty of Antigua’s lengthy catalogue of suddenly fatal illnesses.

Sometimes things worked out better than the Admiral could have asked for in his wildest dreams. He couldn’t fault Eleanor for being headstrong. She was her father’s daughter and when she saw something she wanted she was not easily deterred. Nevertheless, he had his own heart set on a good marriage for her and the very minimum he was willing to settle for was a young and promising officer. It was a long shot that his current plan would result in her getting one, but he was ready to do his best.

The Hector was a ship of fools and a waste of what should have been a good 32-gun frigate – and like any other admiral on any station in King George’s navy, Sir John never had enough of them. But in placing young Pearson in command of her, he was only hazarding money as good as lost already. Anselm, one of the worst bargains the King ever made, had let her go to rack and ruin in a few short months. The ship was almost disintegrating both literally and morally before the useless idiot made the basic mistake of approaching a strange ship at sea without being at general quarters. Taken in by false colours and a faked signal, Anselm had been lucky not to see his ship sent to the bottom while helpless to fire a shot in reply. Only the timely and completely fortuitous arrival of the Leopard had resulting in anything being salvaged from the mess, and then Strachan had absolutely had to tow the crippled Hector back to harbour.

Well, there was a renegade frigate somewhere on the loose out there, successfully passing herself off as a ship of the Royal Navy. There was Anselm, already making a peculiarly unfragrant corpse beneath the earth of a strange country. And there was Pearson, his daughter’s infatuation, heading for the Hector in the vain hope of executing another piece of deception. All highly irregular, but in the likely event that the Hector was lost within a week, Sir John’s little indiscretion was likely to go unpunished.

Of course, there was the thousand-to-one chance that young Pearson might actually accomplish what he’d been sent to do. Personally though, Sir John was only hoping that the young idiot remembered to read his commission to the ship’s company on boarding her - and that her First Lieutenant, who’d already been tested beyond endurance by the useless Anselm, didn’t snap and arrange for Pearson to meet with an untimely accident.

Suddenly a massive ship of the line under the command of Captain Horatio Hornblower hove into sight.
Before Captain Anselm could do more than call the hands to battle stations, a shattering volley from all three gun decks of Hornblower’s ship struck amidships.
Sinking this story! :eek:

Sorry. :o

Don’t worry, Malacandra, sometimes the oddballs come out and try to spoil the fun. I’ll be back later today.

That’s OK, I’ll go and poo all over one of glee’s threads another time, but to begin with, he’s docked three smartyboots points for not noticing that Captain Anselm is most definitely dead. :wally:

The beams of the Yarmouth creaked and groaned as the frigate pitched in the high seas, its sails full and English flags snapping in the wind. Captain Richards had heard the flags and knew something wasn’t right. He rose from his charts, strode toward the cabin door and threw it open with a bang. Then he saw the dark clouds looming dead ahead. “Coppy,” he called to his helmsman, “you’re getting’ too close to that storm!”

“Aye, cap’n: Just a bit more…yes…” Coppy gave the wheel a short spin and the Yarmouth slowly turned starboard to skirt the storm, her sails threatening to tear apart. After a few agonizing moments, the sails slacked a bit and the Yarmouth picked up speed. Coppy turned to face his captain and gave a smart salute, which Richards returned with a smile. That Coppy must have been born on a ship!

“You there!” Richards called to a deckhand, who snapped to attention. “Find Sedgwick and his spyglass!”

The thread title said ‘Finish the story’ and mentioned a ‘raking broadside’.

Don’t you read the thread?! :stuck_out_tongue:

I think you mean poop (deck).

Of course I noticed Anslem was dead! My sentence should have read ‘Before Captain Anselm* could call the hands to battle stations…’

*already I prepare my excuses for the fact he’s not even on the ship :eek:

glee, when I was a lad one of the banes of my existence at school were the braying idiots who would wander by when I was playing chess and knock all the pieces off the board in a devastating display of wit and originality. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is the height of childish silliness.

Please stop knocking the pieces off my board.

hopes the entire damn thread hasn’t been killed off

I apologise.

(I do enjoy CS Forester’s stories and hope this thread goes well.)

(Back to our muttons…)

“…as you shall answer to the contrary at your peril.”

David Pearson rolled up his copy of his commission and looked at the assembled ship’s company. Working in a counting house had not prepared him for the experience of a sea of expectant faces watching him, waiting to hear what he was going to say, and his new uniform, though well tailored and well fitting, felt awkward. He was acutely aware that he was now responsible for the conduct and welfare of several score men and he had only the vaguest idea of how he was going to go about it.

Well, he had to start somewhere. “You know, I was a boy once. When I was at school one day, another boy punched me in the nose and knocked me down. My father wanted to know why I was in the state I was in when I got home, and I told him. ‘Did you hit him back?’ he asked. I said ‘But what if he knocked me down again?’ and my father said ‘Son, it’s not how many times you get knocked down that matters. It’s how many times you get up.’

“Now you’ve been given a bloody nose - ” Pearson paused and indicated the nearly-repaired ship “ – and you’ve been knocked down. But I knew when my father spoke to me that he was not going to be happy until I came home and told him the other boy now had a bloodier nose than he’d given me. That’s how the Admiral feels about this ship, and by God’s good grace I mean to see that we give him what he wants.”

He wasn’t expecting three cheers and a tiger, and he didn’t get it, but there were a few mutterings and men standing up straighter, and maybe he had struck a chord that they could respond to. According to the gossip all over English Harbour, this ship and all aboard her had been caught napping and made fools of, and had to be rescued by the Admiral in person. That had to hurt any man’s pride. Pearson let the silence last for a few seconds before saying “That’s all for now. I’ll see the officers in my cabin in fifteen minutes. Carry on.”

Which meant that his next task was to learn how to command a King’s ship without actually letting on to his junior officers that he barely knew the sharp end from the blunt; and he could start by finding out where his cabin was.

Caleb stood on the deck, with the other pressed hands, and listened to the Captain’s speech. It meant nothing to him, he couldn’t care less about this damned ship, he was an American.

What he did care about was surviving this voyage. He’d already tried protesting his nationality, and gotten only laughter in return. Damned Limeys.

Belowdecks he found he’d have to sleep in a hammock. Too many men had to share the same, dark, smelly quarters, but since they were never together all at once, the pressure was somewhat relieved. His first meal, some almost warm soup and hard bread, made him want to gag. However, it also made him thoughtful. Would being a cook’s helper be easier than being on deck above. He decided he’d have to find out.

There was just barely room for six men in the captain’s cabin, and at that they all had to crouch, except the Third Lieutenant, Tyldesley, who was barely over five feet tall. Thankfully, Pearson noted, his predecessor’s furniture had survived the Hector’s last action largely undamaged, so at least they all had somewhere to sit. Perhaps by design, the lieutenants had sat in order of seniority, the First Lieutenant closest to him and the Fourth furthest away, on two chairs and a small settee; but the second-best chair they’d left for the Master, Mr Chisman. This might have been out of respect for his age; he was at least fifty, with a bald crown fringed by short grey hair that made him look like an elderly monk, and eyes crinkled from long years of peering into the sunlight.

Now he had the ranks straightened out, at any rate. Merriot, over six feet tall, powerfully built and with an air about him of exasperation bordering on fury, was the First and his second-in-command. McVicar, the Second, was nearly as tall but gangly and red-haired. Tyldesley was short and slight, and spoke with measured precision; Pearson guessed that, as someone he couldn’t remember had said, that if such a man said that the sun would rise in the East tomorrow morning it was only after giving due consideration to the possibility that it might rise in the West. Finally Fourth Lieutenant French was a plump young man not long past his twentieth birthday, and of all the lieutenants he seemed the keenest and least distressed by the recent events aboard the Hector. That was good. This ship, Pearson was already sensing, could use all the enthusiasm she could get.

“I was not altogether truthful with the crew just now,” Pearson said. “I shan’t make a habit of that, but I thought it would do more good than harm. The plain fact of the matter is that Sir John didn’t have all that much to say about this ship.”

He paused and looked impressively at his officers, to let the words sink in. Sir John hadn’t told him everything about the Hector, not by a long chalk, but perhaps he had known perfectly well that there was hardly a soul in English Harbour who couldn’t tell David everything he needed to know about her. But if Merriot and the rest wanted to think the Admiral was ashamed of the Hector and all who sailed in her, her new captain wasn’t about to disabuse them of the notion – and it was probably not too for from the truth.

And as for his orders… A ship flying British colours and answering British signals fired on a ship of the British navy. Find her and ensure there is no repetition of this. “…How soon can we be ready for sea?” Pearson demanded suddenly.

Merriot was ready with his reply. “We’re fully provisioned and armed, sir. There are some repairs still in progress but we could sail this time tomorrow. We could do with more hands, though.”

“We’re not likely to get them,” said Tyldesley, in tones that betokened Yorkshire birth and upbringing. “The press raised something under a dozen, none of them topmen, all with an excuse why they shouldn’t be on a King’s ship, including a so-called American.”

Is he an American?” asked Pearson. Tyldesley, inevitably, pondered the question as though considering it for the first time.

“Who knows, sir? He’s got the hands of a seaman and he speaks English. I certainly can’t tell a genuine American accent from a fake, and he wasn’t carrying a Protection. Mind you, if he was picked up by a crimp then that’d be the first thing that got lifted; they go for good money, I’m told.”

“And I’d say he’ll have to lump it, sir,” Merriot put in. “There’s too many of our seamen berthing on American vessels and passing themselves off as Jonathans. I don’t much care for stopping and searching neutral vessels, but they bring it on themselves.”

Pearson nodded as though he understood every word that had just been spoken to him, and said “Well, in that case I want us to sea this time tomorrow. I want to see this ship sailed, I want to see the guns exercised, and I don’t want to have to attend to every little detail myself. Do you understand? I want to see what you can do. After that, I’ll have a clearer idea of how I’m going to carry out my orders.”

Caleb poked his head into the mess. To his surprise, it was gleaming, with every pot in its place and a savory odor emanating from the stove.

A one-legged man glared at him. “And to be sure, what the divvil do you think you’re doing here?” he roared. “It’s not time to eat!”

Caleb blinked at the thick Irish accent. “I was wondering if you’d be needing any help,” he began.

“Help? Help for what? I’ve been cooking at sea for nineteen years, and I’ll be damned if I need any help from a damn Yank!”

Caleb tapped his foot, thinking. This is where he needed to be, he was sure of it.

“Six pounds mutton, marinated in Madeira wine and rosemary. Fresh new potatoes, spiced with salt and chives. Plum pudding, with Jamaican rum.”

The cook cocked an eyebrow at him. “Sourdough bread,” he said. Caleb smiled.

“You need a starter dough, at least six weeks old.”

The Irish cook threw his head back and laughed. He threw an apron at Caleb. “I’m O’Reilly. Welcome to the mess!”

[Interruption in the narrative flow]
I am going to put on my Moderator Hat, and officially echo Malacandra’s comments. glee, you’ve been around long enough to know not to piss in the pool. If you don’t want to play, don’t play, but don’t pull an inane, childish stunt and giggle because you’ve wrecked the game for others.

Consider this an Official Slap on the Wrist. You seem to acknowledge that you’ve done bad, so as penance (and using the type of orders often given to Hornblower): you are hereby requested and required instructed and ordered to donate some sum of money to a worthwhile charity of your choice.
[/interruption]

This is a perfectly justified criticism and I apologise to all who are patiently building this worthwhile thread.
My only excuse is that I was tired (it’s report time at my school) and used inappropriate ‘humour’.
I will happily make a donation to the RNLI (the UK Lifeboat charity - it’s supported entirely by voluntary contributions).

Is it possible to delete my silly posts above?

O’Reilly took another squint-eyed look at Caleb, curious about someone who’d actually volunteer for anything. He noted clear eyes, good teeth, and an educated sound to the young man’s speech, even if he was a Yank.

“So, boyo, what brings you in here? You sound like a proper swell, so how come you got pressed?”

“As to how I got pressed, I think my rum was spiked. Wasn’t drunk, I’d barely started the evening. As to how I got in here, well, to be honest, I was looking for something better than swabbing the deck. I’m not afraid of hard work though, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Hellfire, boy, lots of fellers know how to eat, but they don’t know ta fix what they shovel in. What’s your story?”

“My father had some peculiar notions, for an old man. He’d brought himself up from nothing and I got good teachers. But he said God could send us back to the foot of the line anytime, so best to know about practical matters, too.”

“Hee-hee” chortled the old cook “seems like he knew what he was talking about, 'cause fer sure you’re down now. Why didn’t you just tell them your da could buy you out of trouble?”

“My father is dead.” As the two men began working together to get the current meal finished. Caleb went on to explain his woes.

"Well, boyo, you’ve had a sorrowful time of it, I can tell, but don’t think I’ll treat you easy on account of it. “We cooks 'er up early and go ter sleep late, and from the crew, nary a word of thanks. But I, or we I guess I’m supposed ter say now, get to bunk in here, back there by those drygoods. For sure it beats sleeping in cheek by jowl with some of the dregs they’ll be trying to make into able seamen.”

Anxious to figure out his place on this vessel, Caleb asked O’Reilly about the officers. The cook was a talkative soul, and was more than happy to fill him in the the foibles of the quality. “That Merriott, he’s a tough’un” he began. “Sure and fer certain, he’ll whip this new captain into shape.”

Caleb just kept on listening, taking in what he could. Yep, this would sure beat anthing else on the Hector.

Having traded a desk in a counting house for one in a captain’s cabin, Pearson was slightly surprised to learn that his new appointment entailed at least as much paperwork as the old. Fortunately it turned out that he had a secretary, and a lot of it just meant appending his signature to whatever Worstead, who looked as though he belonged in the office of a slightly unsuccesstul lawyer, handed him.

But the muster book and the watch bill were another kettle of fish. The former bore a distressing number of recent amendments: men “Discharged Dead”, or “Discharged” owing to disabling injuries picked up in the Hector’s latest action and now reduced to ekeing out an existence in and around English Harbour unless and until they could obtain passage home to England. There were a few recent additions, but not enough. Antigua was almost fished out as far as ship’s company was concerned. Occasionally a man might be put ashore from a merchant ship whose master had decided that he wasn’t worth keeping on the books a day longer, and slightly more often one of the waterfront crimps who were little to be distinguished from slavers might manage to lay their hands on an innocent who got careless about where he went for a drink; and finally, a warship newly arrived from England might have a man or two aboard who couldn’t get on with his shipmates and needed a chance on another vessel. None of these was common and none promised to make for high-quality seamen.

Pearson picked up the most recent watch bill and studied. Men were assigned to different stations under way, to different guns in action, to different weapons – cutlass, tomahawk, boarding-pike, pistol – for boarding, and he had very little idea who would be any good at any of these essential tasks. On the other hand, he realized, there was no particular reason why a strange captain ought to.

He picked up a fresh sheet of paper and a ruler, and dipped his pen. “Pass the word for Mr Chisman,” he told Worstead, “as soon as he can be spared.”