Dewey Lambdin - A King`s Commander

Тут можно читать бесплатно Dewey Lambdin - A King`s Commander. Жанр: Морские приключения издательство неизвестно, год 2004. Так же Вы можете читать полную версию (весь текст) онлайн без регистрации и SMS на сайте (mybrary) или прочесть краткое содержание, предисловие (аннотацию), описание и ознакомиться с отзывами (комментариями) о произведении.
A King`s Commander
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Dewey Lambdin - A King`s Commander

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Alan Lewrie is now commander of HMS Jester, an 18-gun sloop. Lewrie sails into Corsica only to receive astonishing orders: he must lure his archenemy, French commander Guillaume Choundas, into battle and personally strike the malevolent spymaster dead. With Horatio Nelson as his squadron commander on one hand and a luscious courtesan who spies for the French on the other, Lewrie must pull out all the stops if he's going to live up to his own reputation and bring glory to the British Royal Navy.

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Giles, though… Same age, same build, same ink-stained stricture to his career; but there, all semblance ended. Giles had come up from the orlop, first jack-in-the-bread-room, then assistant and clerk to some purser, apprenticed since his early teens to a dour, penny-pinching trade far longer than Mountjoy, all ledgers and finger cramp; fretting over ha'pence per gallon and stone, Lewrie shouldn't wonder, since his voice broke.

He played the cynical, "wise beyond his years" wizard with his records and sums, an able and efficient administrator down from the Victualing Board at Somerset House, though he sang his "old tarpaulin man" song a bit too often for Lewrie's taste. Confident in his first warrant on his own, wry and acting just a touch "fly," as if it were all a nudging, wink-tipping, cheese-paring game; he reminded his captain of an East End confidence man, with his three walnut shells, and a single pea on a blanket, and suspected Giles had had mentors who'd been real "Captain Sharps," archetypical "Nip-Cheeses"-and quite possibly crooks!-as his teachers.

Sadly, Lewrie could dismiss Mountjoy should he not work out, but he was stuck with Giles. Mountjoy served at the captain's pleasure, paid the same as a midshipman (which wasn't much worth bragging about!) and had no protected status. Giles, though, had an Admiralty Warrant, after performing Mountjoy's job for at least a year aboard another ship, in addition to his long period of training in dispensing food, drink, clothing, and sundries. Should Jester pay off after a three-year commission, officers and crew would depart, while the purser, gunner, boatswain, cook, and a few others with senior warrant would remain aboard to await a new captain and crew. Or should she be laid up in-ordinary, Giles would live aboard, at full pay. Like the Church, it was a lifetime living.

A good purser went far toward developing a reasonably happy ship; a dishonest one could ruin even the best. Giles could be the sort who could, with dexterous and creative ledgering, "make dead men chew tobacco," and continue to purchase china mugs, plates, slop clothing, hats, shoes, and… and, well-plug or twist tobacco, long after they'd been discharged-dead, discharged, or run!

So far, Alan had kept a wary eye on Giles and his ledgers, and could find nothing out of the ordinary, insisting to see, and help account for, the quality and quantity of everything that had come aboard, which Giles would issue in future.

Giles had become even more "salty," more affably wise. But also more amenable and agreeable, as if he'd taken Alan's warning to heart, and realized that he'd met his equal. And would settle for legitimate profits. God knew, that was enough for most pursers, when the Admiralty paid for sixteen ounces, and let him issue at twelve to the pound; and that at twenty-eight days the lunar month, not thirty or thirty-one to the calendar month. Giles should have quite enough profit, thankee!

"Right, then…" Lewrie said, by way of dismissal.

Giles, more used to a captain's ways, rose at once. Mountjoy, however, cast a disappointed (and hopeful-but-sheepish, it went without saying) glance over Lewrie's shoulder to the wine cabinet behind him, where rested a likely looking wide-bottomed porcelain decanter and some upturned glasses, before getting the hint.

Buy your own bloody drink, Alan scowled silently; that's what your Navy pay's for! And that remittance your brother gave you, so you could go a gentleman. Another sad shock for young Mountjoy when he'd first come aboard-that he'd not lodge in the great-cabins and share meals and wine with his "employer" after-hours. He berthed on the rancid, fetid orlop deck, with the surgeon's mate and midshipmen.

Young, Lewrie thought, once they'd gone. Thank God, 'cept for the few like Mountjoy, the fresh-caught landsmen, and the youngest of the ship's boys, we're mostly experienced. His proportion of seamen, ordinary or able, was higher than usual, thanks to generosity back in the Mediterranean. Recruiting had gone extremely well, too, and now he had enough strong backs among the landsmen to do the dumb-ox work of pulley-hauley. And a positive glut of ship's boys, who were young enough to learn the seaman's trade; quite unlike landsmen, who stayed at the rate for years, too old and set in their civilian ways to alter.

Hands and officers young enough, full of piss and vinegar-and ambition-to know what could be done. And not so old they'd turned mossy-backed old turtles, with their heads and legs drawn up in snappish old age, too frightened of departing from The Way Things Had Always Been Done, with a thousand excuses as to why a feat could not be accomplished.

"Maiwee?" Toulon the ram-kitten inquired from atop Alan's wine cabinet, as he poured himself a glass of rhenish. The catling'd been lurking up there in the shadows, wary of intruders into "his" territory. Arching and stretching, flexing sleepy claws as he craned his neck forward to touch noses, rub cheeks, and make lusty purring snorts of gap-mouthed adoration after a good nap.

Lewrie chucked him under his white chin, gave his white chops a thorough rub, then turned to head aft for the transom settee, to take his ease and sip his wine, where the opened sash-windows promised some fresh sea air. "Come on, Toulon," he coaxed. "Playtime!"

"Mummer?" Toulon grumbled as he padded his fore end down the face of the wine cabinet, his haunches still atop, readying for a leap. And announcing his stunt, as an acrobat in a raree show might shout "Hopa!" and clap his hands, to make the feat look more exciting.

Toulon sprang, a prodigious, steel-sinewed leap to the desk.

Unfortunately, the black-and-white catling landed on a sheet of folio paper atop that bee's-waxed and polished cherry surface. He and the paper skidded to starboard. And digging in his claws didn't help a bit! Laid over slightly "downhill" from horizontal, on the larboard tack, the silky surface became a greased slipway.

Toulon sat down on his haunches, as if that might help. Surely, sitting still meant still, right? Then, he sailed off the desktop into space. And a very perplexed, and forlorn Toulon, with a contrite and reverent "Motor?", asked his cat gods just what the odds were he'd not come another cropper. Or how large a fool he was going to look in a few seconds.

There was a bit of midair scrambling, trying to climb the sheet of paper's front end as it collapsed beneath him and went sailing off on its own course of perversely cruel abandonment.

"Urrff!." he grunted as he landed, immediately slinking off to starboard, into the shadows where the brace of candles on the desk and the gently swinging pewter lanthorns overhead could not shed light on his humiliation.

"God, but you're such a bloody disaster!" Alan screeched with laughter, plunking down on the transom settee, too hugely amused to stand. Toulon was almost a yearling now, and still kitten-clumsy. And he'd been a most excruciatingly clumsy kitten to begin with, too!

Andrews his coxswain, and his cabin steward Aspinall, stuck their heads out for a second from the dining coach and small pantry. On the quarterdeck, the watch and the after-guard turned toward the open skylights over the great-cabins and marveled. What sort of a captain we got? they wondered. That wasn't a sound most associated with a sea officer!

"Come out of there, Toulon," Lewrie coaxed, after he'd calmed, and had a sip or two more of his wine. He got down on hands and knees in front of the pewlike sofa, a crude oak construct shackled to the starboard bulkhead between a pair of nine-pounders. Spindle posts on the back, and openings around the corners, held ties for bright damask cushions that Caroline had made for him. "Come on. Tis only your pride's hurt. I hope. Come out, poor puss. Towey?" Another thing Caroline had whipped together from scraps of colorful spun yarn; a rounded oval with ears and legs- Toulon 's favorite plaything.

Two chatoyant yellow orbs regarded him from beneath the sofa, slowly blinking. But mostly slit in mortification. "Meek?" came a mournful little wren-peep. God, but he was so embarrassed!

Lewrie reached under to stroke him, to offer the plaything-but he was having none of that. Toulon folded his arms, tucked his front paws under his chest, and downturned his luxuriant whiskers.

"Moi," he harrumphed testily, past somber jowls. Bugger off, you heartless bastard! 'Twasn't funny, Lewrie interpreted.

"Well, if you won't, you won't." Alan sighed, getting to his feet. He got down his plain undress coat, threw it on, and stalked forward.

"Yer supper be ready not ten minute from now, sir," Aspinall assured him quickly. "Yer cook come t'tell me." Aspinall was one of those unfortunate landsmen some regulating captain and surgeon of the press had passed, when they shouldn't have; a feeble-bodied city-bred footman, who'd lost his last employ. At least he knew enough about householdery to a gentleman for Lewrie to take him off the gangways, out of the waist, and apply his knowledge aft. Where he'd not rupture himself straining at braces and sheets. The lad was a slack, sunken-chested seventeen, ill-featured, but mannerly (mostly). At least, he had been, until he'd realized how grand his newfound stature was aboard a ship. A captain's servant ruled the roost over the stewards to lesser men.

"I'll be on deck, till then," Lewrie said, finishing his wine and setting the glass on the dampened tablecloth, which would keep most plates and such from slipping off in a moderate sea such as this evening's.

" Ill send yer… cox'n, t'fetch ya, sir," Aspinall suggested with lidded eyes, and a jerk of his head to Andrews, the West Indies free black who'd popped up like a jack-in-the-box a scant week before sailing to sign aboard.

"If you would come tell me, Andrews?" Lewrie said to his man directly, bypassing the servant, who most likely resented having a Negro give him orders.

"Aye, sah," Andrews allowed cheerfully, too experienced a man to take notice of the jealousies of a boy; and a fresh-caught "newly" landsman, at that. It was a huge joke, to him.

Alan emerged on the gun deck from the door to his quarters in the substantial, but temporary, wood partitions. They'd come down in battle, struck to the orlop, and his cabin would be stripped of all finery and furnishings, to avoid the danger of splinters. A Marine private, one of the watch who'd stand guard over his privacy 'round the clock, presented his musket, and Lewrie touched the brim of his cocked hat in reply.

Up to the quarterdeck by the larboard, windward, ladder, to the further alarm of his watch-standers.

"Carry on," he called to them affably. "Just up for a breath of air," he elaborated, as he paced to the windward mizzenmast stays. Lieutenant Knolles and Mister Wheelock, the master's mate, shuffled down deck to starboard, yielding the windward side to him, which was his by right, alone, whenever he was on deck.

There was very little left of the sunset his paperwork had kept him from relishing. Just a faint bricky trace of red and umber low on the Western horizon, with towering banks of slag-gray clouds spread to either side Jester s course, and but the slightest sullen primrose glade upon the waves over which the ship's jib boom and bowsprit rose and fell. A touch more wind on his cheek, perhaps a hatful, no more, and veering forrud by no more than half a point from abeam. Jester rose and fell more regularly, now, gently hobbyhorsing as the deeper water hinted the long-set rollers of the Atlantic to come, after the chops of the Channel closer inshore. England was an indistinct razor-thin ebony smudge to the north. France was below the horizon, lost in the companionable darkness. It was almost late enough for the lamps forrud at the forecastle belfry, by the watch, hour, and half-hour glasses and bell, and the large taffrail lanthorns, to appear cheerful and strong. A few faint stars, mostly astern above the lanthorns, were already out.

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