The King`s Commission
(Lewrie – 03)
This One's For
Marrin Mary Delle Fleet in Memphis
We shot our way through Memphis for years when we were all in television production, and sailed our way into more "white-knuckle" experiences than I can shake a stick at. By now they must feel like part-owners in Wind Dancer, one long splice at a time.
And to both my ex-wives;
Don't flatter yourselves-neither one of you is in this.
"He rises fastest who knows not whither he is going."
– attributed to
Before diving right into Alan Lewrie's latest naval adventure (if one may do so without besmirching one's own fine sense of honor by exposing it to such a rogue), it might be a good idea to discover just exactly who in the hell this Alan Lewrie character was.
Of course, for those of you with a taste for stirring action and some salacious wenching, you may plunge right on to Chapter One and elide this brief curriculum vitae. But for the more inquisitive reader unfamiliar with the previous accounts about our nautical hero, a reader not entirely taken in by splashy dust jackets and titillating blurb copy, believe me, this chronicler understands your plight. You have found this tome, and it sounded as though it might contain scads of blood and thunder, shivering tops'ls and timbers (as in shiver me timbers, mate), lots of derring-do, and some naughty bits tucked into the odd corner, but it's a wrench trying to pick up on the middle release of a whole series of nautical adventure in mid-tack, as our protagonist has learned to say at this stage of his career.
So allow me to condense this young Corinthian's past for you before getting into all the sex, swords and sailing ships (not necessarily in that order). I look upon it as a public duty. After all, did C. S. Forester do this for you? No, you had to wait for The Homblower Companion. Did Sherlock Holmes ever have a biography, or did you have to search for clues in the works themselves?
Alan Lewrie was born on Epiphany, 1763, in St. Martin's In The Fields Parish, London. His mother Elizabeth Lewrie passed away soon after this "blessed event" and he began life a bastard in the parish poor-house (quite appropriately, since the sobriquet of "you little bastard" was said about him by quite a few people in his life).
1766-Rescued from the orphanage and poor-house, ending a promising career of oakum-picking and flax-pounding, for no apparent good reason by his true father, Sir Hugo St. George Willoughby of St. James Parish, St. James Square (unfortunately not the good side), Knight of the Garter, ex-captain 4th Regiment of Foot (The King's Own), member White's, Almack's, Hell-Fire Club and the Society for the Diminution of the Spread of Venereal Diseases.
There is a long biographical gulf between 1766 and 1776 for lack of information, but since most childhoods are wretchedly uninteresting, who bloody cares?
1776-The American Colonies rebel. Alan Lewrie discovers what a goose-girl will do for a shilling, and chamber-maids and mop-squeezers may do for free if one can only run fast enough to catch them.
1777-Entered into Westminster School, obviously to get him out of the neighborhood, instead of being tutored at home with his half-sister Belinda and half-brother Gerald. Expelled same year for licentious behavior, though he did post some decent marks.
1778-Entered Eton, expelled Eton, see above.
1779-Entered Harrow, expelled Harrow. As above, but with the codicil that he was implicated in a plot to blow up the Governor's coach house in youthful admiration for the Gunpowder Plot. There was no mention in the school records of licentious behavior this time, so we must assume that such goings-on were not taken as seriously at Harrow as at other places in those days.
1780-Nabbed in flagrante delicto with his aforementioned half-sister Belinda Willoughby. For once, this incident was not his fault (well, not totally, anyway). Booted from the bosom (so to speak) of his family with one hundred guineas a year and told never to show his face in Society or the family digs again. Turned over to an officer of the Navy Impress Service and entered the Royal Navy as a midshipman, in Portsmouth.
January 10, 1780. signed aboard HMS Ariadne, 3rd Rate, sixty-four guns, Capt. Ezekiel Bales. Seven months Atlantic convoy duties. During this time, he became, believe it or not, a passably competent midshipman, which says volumes for the return of corporal punishment in schools and flogging as a spur to proper naval discipline.
July 1780-Ariadne fights a bloody battle with a disguised Spanish two-decked ship, and upon arrival at Antigua in the Leeward Islands is adjudged too damaged to repair. Her captain and first officer are court-martialed for her loss, the third officer for cowardice. None of this was Alan Lewrie's fault, either. In fact, he acquitted himself well under fire on the lower gun deck and won some small fame for his coolness in action (though readers of The King's Coat remember his behavior differently, especially his wish to go below and hide among the rum casks).
August 1780-Appointed midshipman into HM Sloop Parrot, Lt. James Kenyon master and commander. There followed five months of enjoyable duties wenching and swilling all over the Caribbean and Atlantic coast.
January 1781-A new personal best of two older ladies in Kingston, Jamaica, in two days, but, during a week on passage for Antigua, he (1) became second officer when almost everyone senior went down with Yellow Fever; (2) saved the ship from a French privateer brig, burning her to the waterline in the process; (3) saved a titled Royal Commissioner and his lady who were their passengers; (4) almost had the leg over the lady; and (5) came down with Yellow Fever himself (a damned trying week, in all).
February-March 1781-Recovering on Antigua, then staff-serf to Rear Adm. Sir Onsley Matthews. Met, wooed and fell in thrall with the admiral's niece, Miss Lucy Beauman. Fought a duel for her honor (her family was awfully rich), killed his opponent, and was posted to sea before he could say "Jack-Ketch."
April 1781 to present-Midshipman into HM Frigate Desperate, 6th Rate, twenty guns, Comdr. Tobias Treghues (one of God's own cuckoos). Several successful raiding cruises, raid on the Danish Virgin Islands, many prizes taken. Battle of The Chesapeake, Siege of Yorktown (from which he escaped, or we wouldn't be following his career any longer, would we?). Evacuation of Wilmington, North Carolina, November 1781 (see The French Admiral). Made acting master's mate, confirmed in December 1781.
One might just mention in passing a smallish theft from a captured French prize, a trifling sum, really, of, oh, some two thousand guineas, more ren contres with young ladies of the willing or commercial persuasion just to keep his hand (so to speak) in, and one surprisingly chaste bout of amour with a penniless young Loyalist, a Miss Caroline Chiswick. Chaste perhaps because he had served ashore with her two Tory soldier-brothers and knew what he could expect if he ever ran into them in a dark alley; chaste perhaps because there's damned few places to put the leg over even the most obliging female aboard a man o' war; or chaste perhaps because he had seen The Light, become a better person for his service in the Navy, and really did like her and through her found a new respect for Womankind and-but no, we have deduced a pattern here, and a man's usually true to his nature when the blood's up, damme if he ain't.
One more annoyingly minor matter of biographical minutia before we proceed to the flashy stuff (and I promise broadsides before you can promise broadsides before you can say "Jack-Ketch"). The alleged rape of his half-sister was discovered to be a theatric staged by his father Sir Hugo to gain unlimited access to a positive shower of guineas from the Lewrie side of the family, but Sir Hugo was diddled in return by Alan's grandmother who obstinately refused to go toes-up at the proper moment, and Alan Lewrie ended up smelling like Hungary Water with two hundred pounds per annum remittance. Since this last involves so much stupendously boresome legal mustification, we hope the reader will appreciate the chronicler cutting that short, as he goes bleary pondering the matter himself.
It would be impossible for me to begin an Alan Lewrie adventure without the assistance of the U.S. Naval Institute and its reference books-such as John Harland's Seamanship in the Age of Sail, to mention one of many-and the staff of the History Department of the U.S. Naval Academy. To them, my many thanks.
For details about Turk's Island and Horatio Nelson I am grateful to Mr. Iain MacKenzie of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, who was kind enough to dig up lieutenants' journals and material from contemporary accounts, such as Schomberg's Naval Chronology and Beatson's Naval and Military Memoirs.
I would also like to thank Derek Rooke of Memphis, Tennessee, who culled a lot of material for me. I had to repay him by being his only crew when he wanted to race his thirty-three foot sloop, which is the sort of long, painful and humiliating tale I'd rather not go into, ever, even if we did come in seventh in a class of twenty-eight boats.
Clenell Wilkinson's biography, Nelson, provided good insight into the famous admiral's personality. Thanks also to Mr. Herbert Sadler of Grand Turk Island, The Turks and Caicos, who serves as historian to the islands.
John Richard Alden's The South in the Revolution and Gloria Jahoda's Florida, A History provided details on the role of the Southeastern Indian tribes in the Revolution. A debt must be expressed as well to Charles Hudson's excellent one-volume treatise, The Southeastern Indians, for the wealth of information on the social life, customs and language of the Creek and Seminole tribes.
"It is confessed by all that from his youth he
was of a vehement and impetuous nature, of
a quick apprehension, and of a strong and
aspiring bent for action and for great
Life of Themistocle
The French fleet made a brave sight to leeward, twenty-nine massive ships of the line bearing up toward the smaller British fleet on a bow and quarter line, their gunports gaping and filled with hard iron maws, the white-and-gold battle flags of Bourbon France streaming in the moderate winds, and their halyards bedecked with signal bunting.
"If this is going to be anything like the Chesapeake battle, we're about to get our arses knackered," master's mate and midshipman Alan Lewrie observed sourly, comparing the twenty-two English vessels against that bellicose spectacle to the west.
"Frogs like ta fight ta loo'ard," said Mr. Monk, the sailing master, shrugging as he worked on a bite of half-shriveled apple. "But we got 'em this time. Cain't work ta windward of us ta double."