THE GUN KETCH
(Lewrie – 05)
To my mother,
Edda Alvada Ellison Lambdin.
Her generous support and unflagging encouragement never wavers, even if she does think that Alan Lewrie is a trifle "lewd" sometimes.
For those readers unfamiliar with the preceding installments in the adventurous (some would say "reprehensible, nefarious, venal, Just Like a Man, rakehellish squanderings of a ruling-class pig"… and, mind you, this chronicler has heard it all at one time or another-but they're all Politically Correct or smugly moral carpers, so who the bloody hell cares what they think?) life of our heroic, if somewhat lazy Alan Lewrie, Royal Navy, allow me to fill you in on some of the highlights of his curriculum vitae.
Epiphany Sunday, 1763: Born a bastard. (Now there's auspicious onset for you!) St. Martin-in-the-Fields Parish, London, of Elisabeth Lewrie, son of Sir Hugo St. George Willoughby, Captain of the 4th Regiment of Foot, The King's Own. Mother died soon after, and the infant was raised in the Poor House, employed as an oakum-picker and flax-pounder, which showed his nautical bent before he was out of "nappies" in support of H.M. Dockyards.
1766: Rescued by his father (since he had discovered that the last viable Lewrie heir to a positive flood of guineas was none other than our lad Alan) and raised as a gentleman in St. James's Square.
There followed the usual hellish childhood, and a disappointing series of schools in which Alan Lewrie excelled at both his studies, and the inventive (some would say inspired) creation of mayhem, one example of which in 1779 resulted in the total demolition, by use of explosives, of the faculty stables and coach house at Harrow.
1780: Arranged to be caught in bed with his half sister Belinda Willoughby so he could be exiled, and never know that he was on the verge of being the last male Lewrie, due that aforementionedgolden shower of "yellowboys," and shoved into the Royal Navy as a midshipman before he could even learn to say "Jack-Ketch."
1780-1781: In 3rd Rate line of battleship Ariadne, sloop of war Parrot, and the Desperate frigate, in the West Indies, where he was thrashed and beaten into a passable midshipman, though of the sort to keep a captain nervous o' nights. Rather a lot of conquests on land and sea, and the theft of a trifling sum of 2,000 guineas off a French prize of war. Devilishly well detailed in The King's Coat.
1781-82: In the Desperate frigate. Participated in the Battle of the Chesapeake, the Siege of Yorktown, escaped, thence to the evacuation of Wilmington, North Carolina, by Crown forces in November of 1781, where he made the acquaintance of the Chiswick family, and the lovely Caroline Chiswick, who figures prominently in this adventure. See The French Admiral.
1782-83: Still in Desperate serving as midshipman and master's mate, participated in Adm. Sir Samuel Hood's Battle of St. Kitts. In English Harbour, Antigua, rated Passed Midshipman by an examining board, February, '82. Promoted Lieutenant and sent aboard the Shrike brig o'war as first officer by clerical error. Commerce warfare on the Cuban coasts, took part in an expedition to swing Muskogean and Seminole Indians into war on England's side, which effort failed (and it was not his fault), participated in Capt. Horatio Nelson's abortive attempt to retake Turks Island from the French in the spring of '83, and ended up in temporary command of Shrike two weeks before the Revolutionary War ended, and sailed her back to England to pay off at Deptford Hard. See The King's Commission.
1784-86: Fleeing an irate, titled, husband who'd caught him in flagrante delicto (which seems to be his way of life) and an allegedly pregnant housemaid, Lewrie takes service in the Far East in the eighty-gun 3rd Rate ship of the line Telesto, now disguised as an independent trader, or "country ship." Voyage to Cape Town, Calcutta and Canton, China, as 4th Officer, where Telesto hunts down and eventually destroys the French privateer captain Guillaume Choundas (a right bastard if ever there was one!) and bis Mindanao pirate allies the Lanun Rovers. Whilst in India, he remade the acquaintance of his father Sir Hugo, now on service with the land forces of The Honourable East India Company to avoid creditors at home. They reconcile as much as they are able, and participate in the final battles together. Ends up with some pirate loot as his personal pelf and sails for England, the secret task complete, in February of 1786. See The King's Privateer.
Lieutenant Lewrie, RN, is now looking forward to the prospect of a peaceful three-year commission in command of a small vessel with the Bahamas Squadron, at least as much as an unwilling Navy officer may "look forward" to continued active service.
But then, with Alan Lewrie's singular inability to keep his breeches buttoned, his hands out of the honey pot, his smarmy wit to himself, or his mouth properly shut, there is the distinct possibility that he's going to come a cropper. Again. And, judging from his own catastrophic past, we may rest assured that somewhere along the line, he simply cannot help getting into both peril and mischief!
Now that we have all this out of the way, then, let us proceed with the continuing chronicle of our ne'er-do-well rakehell.
"Sed tamen, nymphae, cavete, quod Cupido
totus est in armis idem, quando nudus est
Cras amet qui numquam amavit,
quique amavit eras amet!"
"Yet take heed, nymphs, for Cupid is
when Love is naked, he is fully armed.
Let him love tomorrow who has never
and let him who has tomorrow love!"
– Albius Tibullus
"… is not to be entered into unadvisedly, nor lightly; but reverently, deliberately…" the vicar intoned, his voice ringing in stony, rebuking echoes from the transept of St. George's of the village of Anglesgreen.
Now they bloody tell me, Lt Alan Lewrie thought in anguish!
"… and in accordance with the purposes for which it was instituted by God," the vicar continued, casting a chary eye upon the couple before him, which made Alan almost wilt. He directed bis gaze to his right, where Caroline stood flushed and trembling, ready to faint with joy, and the smile she bestowed upon him at that moment was so radiant, so shudderingly glorious, that he found himself quaking as well, not completely in terror of his bachelorhood's demise.
"Into this Holy Union, Alan Lewrie, gentleman, and Caroline Chiswick, spinster, now come to be joined. If any of you assembled may show cause why they may not be lawfully married, speak now; or else forever after hold your peace," the vicar warned, wincing at the words, as if he expected the Hon. Harry Embleton to charge through the doors at the back of the nave on horseback with sword in hand. The crowd… a devilish thin crowd, Alan noted… fairly bristled and stirred, and a sigh or two, a grumbly cough could be heard.
"I require and charge you both, here in the presence of God, that if either of you know any reason why you may not be united in matrimony lawfully, and in accordance with God's Word, you do now confess it," the reverend rushed on in breathy relief.
The tiniest quirk of a smile touched Alan's lips, in spite of his best intentions, as he mulled over his passionate, albeit brief, "marriage" to a Cherokee/Muskogee Indian girl named Soft Rabbit, and wondered if it counted. No, he sighed, no benefit of proper clergy there, he thought; no way out. Damme, and my enthusiasms for quim!
How do I get myself into these predicaments, Alan groaned.
"Caroline, will you have this man to be your lawful husband, to live together in the covenant of marriage?" the vicar inquired, not without what to Alan seemed a cocked brow in amazement. "Will you love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, be faithful unto him as long as you both shall live?"
"I will," Caroline declared without a pause, with a tremulous eagerness and vigor, delivering upon Lewrie once more a visage of pure adoration.
"Alan," the vicar intoned, rounding upon him, and to Alan's already fevered senses seeming to frown the slightest bit, "will you have this woman to be your lawful wife…?"
Forsake all others? Lewrie shivered. Bloody, bloody hell! Be faithful as long as we both … I say, hold on, there! Mine arse on a bandbox! The solemnity crushed in upon him then, and he like as not would have torn out the doors, if his legs would have shown any sign of strength beyond holding him shudderingly upright.
Yet found himself declaring for all time, "I will," with a force born on a quarter-deck that echoed off the ancient stones like a pronouncement of doom.
There was a tentative Giving In Marriage by Uncle Phineas, in his role of paterfamilias for the Chiswicks, before the vicar ordered "Let us pray" and they could thump to their weak knees upon the pad before the altar. And as the vicar recited the short prayer of blessing before the Lesson and Epistle, and the vows proper, Caroline insinuated a slim, cool and soft hand into his and their fingers entwined to squeeze reassurance and strength.
There was no backing out now, Alan thought; in for the penny, in for the pound, ain't I? Ye Gods, it may not be that bad-I do care for her, well as a rogue like me may care for anyone. I might even call it love. Much as 1 know what that's all about!
H''d returned her squeeze, and they secretly leaned their shoulders against each other, and he became enveloped in the light, citrony scent of her Hungary Water perfume again.
It was springtime in England! Springtime in Surrey, and the High Road south from Guildford to Anglesgreen was aflutter with the stirrings of butterflies. Young birds flitted and swooped, or sat and chirped at their good fortune to be young, alive, and English. Bees buzzed, and if one listened hard enough, one could hear green buds and tender shoots sigh with delight in the somewhat warm wind.
Two young men rode along the verge of the roadway to avoid the muddy spatters and deep ruts carved by winter traffic, and the creaking wagons and wains of the local farmers, the occasional flock of sheep being moved from one grazing to another.
One young fellow was a countryman, towheaded and sinewy on a middling hired mare, leading a pack horse upon which were strapped a few traveling bags of cylindrical leather, or pouchlike carpet material. He was dressed in a sailor's slop-trousers, shirt and neckerchief, with a low-crowned, flat-brimmed hat of black-tarred straw on the back of his head, and he gazed with a rustic's fondness on the verdant green countryside, recognizing merit and worth in well-tended flocks and fields, of trimmed hedgerows and woods.