Dewey Lambdin - Sea of Grey
Dewey Lambdin - Sea of Grey краткое содержание
Sea of Grey читать онлайн бесплатно
The near Dutch brig o' war fired one forward gun, to leeward, in a plea for gentlemanly conduct and mercy!
"Mister Wyman, one starboard gun to fire, to leeward."
God, but it would've been beautiful! Lewrie sadly thought, as Proteus ghosted past the brig's stern at close range; one broadside up her stern, and she 'd have sunk before her sister!
But, as a 6-pounder from the forecastle fired, Lewrie only lifted his cocked hat to doff it in salute, and the Dutch captain and his officers solemnly doffed their fore-and-aft bicorne hats high over their heads in reply.
"A point more to starboard, Mister Langlie. Keep us circlin'."
"Aye aye, sir. Poor devils."
"Commissioner Proby at Chatham told me that the Dutch require all their sailors to learn to swim," Lewrie off-handedly informed him. "And if they drown, they roll them over a keg laid on its side, until the victim coughs and spews up what he's swallowed or inhaled, so they stand a decent chance… if they got off that other brig, unwounded."
"I see, sir," Langlie replied. "Damn' odd, though, sir. Never seen the like… not in a full-blown battle, that is, Captain."
"What, the bloody bicorne hats?" Lewrie shrugged it off. "You're right… I've never seen the like, either! They may be all the 'go,' but you'll never see a British officer in one! Too damn' Frenchified."
Proteus sailed on, bearing away, and the two Dutch brigs o' war were enveloped in the gloom and smoke once more. A quick peek into the compass bowl showed Lewrie that their frigate was now headed just a bit West of South, away from that treacherous coast, almost abeam what wind there was, and still turning up to weather, the hull beginning to heel, the sluice of water 'round her gurgling and sighing more urgently. It was a hopeful sound.
"Nine fathom! Nine fathom t'this line!"
That news was hopeful, too; as was the dimly perceptible thinning of the haze, smoke and mist, the sky ahead and North'rd brighter, as if within moments they could sail out into sunshine, and safety.
"Deck, there! Three-master, one point off t'starboard bows! I think she's a frigate! Dutch flags! Bearin' Easterly!"
"Dammit!" Lewrie spat, peering intently into the smoke to spot what the lookout could see from aloft. "This is worse than tryin' to cross the Strand in a thick Thames fog! Coaches to right and left…" "There, sir!" Mr. Langlie all but yelped, pointing. As if a stage curtain had been raised, a Dutch frigate appeared just off their starboard bows, crossing their course almost at right angles, her quarterdeck staff almost leaping with surprise as they also pointed and jabbered, now silhouetted against the mists.
"Ready, starboard battery, Mister Wyman! Helm hard alee, helmsmen! Lay her full and by! Brace in, Mister Langlie! We'll shoot her up the arse, 'stead of that poor brig! Stand by to fire as you bear! Mister Devereux?"
His elegant and aristocratic Officer of Marines stepped forward.
"Lay waste her quarterdeck… your best marksmen in the tops and along the starboard gangway!" Lewrie insisted, his words tumbling out in a rush, urgent from the closeness and quickness of the situation. "I want grenadoes, too… lashings of 'em!"
"Aye sir… two bags full!" Lt. Blase Devereux answered, saluting, but with a tongue-in-cheek joy. "Marksmen!" he bawled, turning away.
Long musket-shot, Lewrie speculated as the Dutch frigate sailed on Eastwards, opening the range, her brailed-up main course lashing as it was freed and hauled down to increase her speed; 'bout a third of a cable as our bows come abeam her transom?
"As you bear!" Lt. Wyman was screeching, sword aloft again. "On the up-roll! Fire!"
First, a 6-pounder chase-gun, shrill and sharp; then one of the 24-pounder carronades, a "Smasher" that Lewrie had shifted forward to the forecastle shortly after taking command, for Proteus had the fullness of form under her bows to bear the weight. The first of the starboard 12-pounders, the long-barreled Blomefield Pattern guns, erupted, followed by a slow blasting as each of the remaining twelve guns along the starboard side came level. Lastly, the quarterdeck 6-pounders and the pair of 24-pounder carronades mounted there also belched and roared.
Muskets aloft and along the bulwarks spat and crackled, as well.
"Uuppp… yours!" Lewrie shouted in mad joy to see his round shot strike, one at a time, with the deadly, metronomic pace of a good gun salute! Quarter-galleries, the sash windows of the Dutch captain's great-cabins, the small ports of the officer's gun-room immediately below, the taffrail and the lanthorns and posts, her transom wood, along with her thick rudder post and rudder, were smashed in! Pieces of her double-wheel and compass binnacle went flying, her mizenmast shuddered and jerked, her lower spanker boom sagged, broken in three pieces, and guns run-out on her larboard side, facing the unseen British battle line, jerked, tilted, and slewed in their ports as they were struck and shifted by the howling weight of metal bowling down inside her at more than 1,200 feet per second!
"Too far for grenadoes, sir… sorry," Lt. Devereux said with a sorrowful expression. "Still… we gave them a good peppering."
"She's turning up, sir!" the Sailing Master, Mr. Winwood, noted. "Can't see just how, with her rudder and helm shot up so thorough."
"To unmask her larboard battery… the one that was manned," Lewrie realised at once. "Mister Langlie, ready to tack! We'll fall below her on larboard tack, and use our ready-loaded larboard guns to serve her another stern rake!"
"Give her the wind-gauge sir?" Mister Winwood queried.
"If Admiral Duncan can fight from loo'rd, then so can we, sir," he replied. "Her starboard ports are closed, she ain't ready, and with any luck at all, they've got the wind up. Quick-around, lads! Hurry!"
"Ease helm, ease off jib sheets… haul weather mizen to windward… tend lee mizen sheet!" Langlie was babbling, too, urgently ordering what was usually a staid rite. "Let go foresheets, check the lee forebrace, check the fore topbowline… rise, tacks and sheets!"
"Be ready, Mister Wyman… as you bear!" Lewrie urged. He went to the nettings overlooking the waist to watch as each gun-captain put a fist in the air to indicate readiness, the trigger-lines to the flintlock strikers taut in their other hands.
Yards, blocks, and parrels crying, Proteus came up to the eye of the wind, hesitated for a dreadful second as if she'd miss stays and become a motionless victim, then slowly swung farther to starboard with a breeze beginning to tickle her sails. "Now, mains'l haul!"
"Yes, by God!" Lewrie exulted, now rapt with battle-fever, his usual state, with all thought of stoicism and the sang-froid of a true English captain quite flown his head.
"As you bear…fire!" Lt. Wyman shouted, slashing down his sword in a glittering arc as they crossed the Dutch frigate's stern once more, this time at an acute angle, left-to-right.
Timber shattered, side planking was ripped away and flung as if a tornado had struck her! Her mizen groaned and shook once more, yards turning and spiralling as the lower mast was shot through below decks, and shedding sailors and Dutch Marines from the fighting top in a tangle of rigging and upper spars, releasing aft tension to her mainmast, that groaned and canted forward, too.
At an angle, yes, but closer this time, at half a hundred yards, and they could hear the screams and howls as their roundshot tore down the gun-deck, open from end-to-end; hear the thuds and crashes of shot
tearing away carline posts and turning stout timbers to clouds of splinters that flew about madly, swiftly, ripping into flesh, breaking bone, as merciless as Col. Shrapnel's case-shot shells that exploded in clouds of musket balls!
Her rudder and her transom post, with the pintles and gudgeons that held it in place, were turned to kindling. And, without a rudder, and with the loss of her balancing mizen sails to counter the pressure on her foresails, the Dutch frigate sagged offwind, falling off to parallel Proteus as she sailed past.
"Damme!" one of the helmsmen gasped as the enemy's gun-ports on her starboard side opened, hinging upward, as here and there the dark snouts of readied guns jerked into view! It would not be a complete or ordered broadside, but at this close range, it would be a blow to the bowels!
"Flat on the deck!" Lewrie shouted to his crew, though standing with his hands behind his back, planting his feet to receive the blow with courage… even if his innards had just turned to gurgly water! B-b-boom!
The Dutch broadside stuttered, perhaps with only ten of her guns. Lewrie had time to count gun-ports, now that she was abeam them.
Ten out of fourteen, he thought with a wince, as the thundrous roar surrounded him, making his heart flutter with its nearness; she's a thirty-six, but thank God those ain't eighteen-pounders!
Proteus sounded as if she was screaming, with those hideous parrot squawks as roundshot tore clean through her sides; Rwwwarrwwk! then thud and crash! She jumped and trembled, juddering enough to toss him inches off the deck, then rise to meet him as he dropped with his knees flexed. Hot gusts of wind pummeled at him as he opened one eye to see if he, and his ship, were still in one piece, or among the living.
Shot his bolt, Lewrie thought, hot anger flushing him that he'd been fooled into reach of the Dutch gunners; now, it's our turn!
"Everyone up! Man your guns! Load, load, load!" he shouted.
The Dutch had fired low, English fashion, "twixt wind and water" instead of emulating the long-range firing of their allies the French, who preferred firing high, to dis-mast and cripple enemy ships, so they could be out-manoeuvred and taken… or fled, if things went against them.
He daren't even look over the side, to see damage done to his beautiful new frigate, how shattered she might be below! Someone would come run tell him, he was mortal-certain.
The Dutch frigate was close, sagging down against Proteus, and Proteus was slowing, with the light, gun-shot wind stolen from her by the sails and rigging of the Dutch, up to windward of her!
Damme for goin ' under, too! he chastised himself; now, we 're to be hull to hull, with no chance of slippin' off!
They would fight like line-of-battle ships, instead of dancing, weaving, and sparring; locked yardarm-to-yardarm, guns blasting with the muzzles almost touching the enemy, taking fire in like manner!
"Load and fire… point-blank! Mister Devereux?"
"Think it's close enough for grenadoes, now, do you?"
"I do indeed, sir," Devereux replied with a slight grin, drawing his smallsword and shouting at his Marines aloft to light fuses, to get their light swivel guns firing like one-inch bored shotguns, filled with langridge or bags of pistol balls. "Sir… pardon my suggesting it, but… were I you, Captain, I'd pace about. Don't give their marksmen a chance at you."
"If it gets thick, Mister Devereux, I'll lurk behind you. With that handsome red coat of yours, I'm sure you're the finer target."
Wyman got his guns going again, firing at will, as fast as the bores could be swabbed out, reloaded, and run out. Thirteen guns, first; then only twelve as one was up-ended, then eleven. The Dutch must have loaded and prepared that one, good broadside, though, and hadn't crew enough still on their feet to serve their pieces quite so quickly. The Dutch response was eight guns, then seven, then six.
It was deafening, howling chaos, loud enough to make sailors and Marines bleed from their ears and noses. Between the titanic blasts from heavy guns, the barks of swivels, the crack of muskets and pistols, and the dull bangs from flung grenadoes created a continual drumming. Ball spanged and caromed from gun barrels, thonked into timbers and tore out gouts of dust, splinters, and lead splatters. Proteus's quarterdeck was quickly quilled with torn-up slivers of holystoned wood, making it hard to walk. The surgeon's mates, Mr. Hodson and the laconic French йmigrй
Mr. Maurice Durant, made continual trips up from below with the narrow, rope-strapped carrying boards borne by their loblollymen to haul shaken and wounded men below. The dead were piled about the bases of the masts!
"Yah pistols, sah," his Coxswain, Andrews, said, fetching him a brace of double-barreled Mantons. "I thought ya might like havin' yer Ferguson rifle, too."
Lewrie stuck the pistols in his waist-belt, slung the cartouche box over his shoulder, and accepted a horn of priming powder, quickly loading the deadly-accurate breechloader rifled musket. Shooting back, he decided, beat pacing about like a fart in a trance, all hollow! He took aim at an officer in a bicorne hat, swung slowly to follow him as he paced about, bellowing and waving a sword, and…
"Got you!" he exulted after the muzzle-smoke cleared, seeing his foeman fall into the arms of a pair of Dutch mates, then drop below the bulwarks and disappear. One turn of the screw-breech lever, below the trigger and lock assembly; lower the barrel, rip a cartouche open with his teeth, shove it ball-end forward into the barrel, then screw in the opposite direction to close the breech. Frizzen at half-cock, the pan open for a touch of priming powder; snap the frizzen shut; draw the lock to full cock, and search for another target… a thickset gunner's mate or something like that, up on the gangway and urging his crews to load… a careful aim, a pent breath…
"Got you!" he crowed again.
"Sir, their fire's slacking!" Langlie pointed out, coming over to his side. "We're shooting her to pieces, they don't have Smashers, and we're turnin' her into a sieve! They're gatherin' amidships, with pikes and pistols. I think they're about to board us!"
By then, Lewrie was half-deaf and it took concentration to heed Langlie's words, mostly by lip-reading. But the only cannon fire he could hear was now under his own feet. He lowered his gaze to see the damage done to the Dutch frigate's hull, and it did, indeed, resemble a sieve or colander-one could not find a stretch of her scantling more than ten feet long without a ragged, star-shaped hole punched in it! He saw sailors and Marines gathering, cutlasses waving, surviving officers, mates or midshipmen shoving them into order…
"Mister Wyman! Last rounds, then take up arms!" Lewrie called down to the gun-deck. "Boarders! Mister Devereux, your Marines, down from the tops, and ready to re-"
Something went Bang-splang-fwee! off a quarterdeck 6-pounder, a blink before Lewrie felt as if someone had just hit his left arm with a waggon-tongue! He was spun about in a half-circle leftward, to trip over his own feet and tumble to the deck!
"Goddammit!" he meant to shout, but it came out rather weakly, even to his ears. 'Cause I'm gun-deaf? he had to wonder. Suddenly, he was shivering cold, with only the cattle-brand heat in his arm to warm him. He looked up at Langlie and Devereux, as if from the bottom of a well, with the sides blotting out most of the sky, and…
"B-boarders!" he insisted, the ringing in his ears smothering his own words.
"Surgeon's Mate!" someone was keening.
"Never fear, sir… we'll take her for you," someone very like Langlie whispered, leaning down over his face as he was jostled by many hands, soaring aloft like a freed soul, with something hard and narrow under him as he was quickly bound with ropes like some damned soul for spitting and roasting on the Devil's rфtisserie.