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Dewey Lambdin - The King`s Commission

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    The King`s Commission
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1782 First officer on brig o'war . . . Fresh from duty on the frigate Desperate in her fight with the French Capricieuse off St. Kitts, Midshipman Alan Lewrie passes his examination board for Lieutenancy and finds himself commissioned first officer of the brig o'war Shrike. There's time for some dalliance with the fair sex, and then Lieutenant Lewrie must be off to patrol the North American coast and attempt to bring the Muskogees and Seminoles onto the British side against the American rebels (dalliance with an Indian maiden is just part of the mission). Then it's back to the Caribbean, to sail beside Captain Horatio Nelson in the Battle for Turks Island. . . .Naval officer and rogue, Alan Lewrie is a man of his times and a hero for all times. His equals are Hornblower, Aubrey, and Maturin--sailors beloved by readers all over the world.

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The King`s Commission - читать книгу онлайн бесплатно, автор Dewey Lambdin

"Nothing like that," David replied with a sarcastic expression. "And your grandeur be damned, 'cause you still break the vilest wind of any human I've ever seen. You're miles ahead of me now… Alan."

"I suddenly became your older brother?" Lewrie chid him.

"Something like that." David nodded seriously. "More like you'd come back aboard a commission officer with years of authority about you. You'll make your commission before me, maybe make post before me."

"If I stay in the Navy after this war is over," Alan scoffed. "Damme, I'm sorry you feel that way, David."

"I am, too," Avery grimaced, "but there it is. I still count you my dearest friend, but friendship is based on equality, and we're no longer equal, not as long as we wear uniform. Sorry if I've been acting standoff-ish, but it comes with the Service. If we joshed each other as we were used, then I'd get a caning and you'd get a tongue-lashing. As long as we're aboard ship, at least. Perhaps on a run ashore, things might be different. I hope so, anyway."

"Then we shall have one, soon," Alan promised.

Burney came back from his trip to the heads, and Alan stood up to Finish dressing in waist-coat, coat and cocked hat. He went on deck to leave the two midshipmen to their fledgling friendship.

Damme, how did this come about? he asked himself. I'm not two full years older than David, and he's looking up to me like a distant uncle. Maybe if we both make an equal rank, he'll feel different.

But no, he realized. There was a gulf greater than rank between them now, some perception on David's part that saw him as some older and more competent man. He didn't feel old. He was barely nineteen. Looking back on his life, he wasn't sure if he had ever been young and innocent, but by God he didn't feel as old and competent as David implied. He was still groping for his own way in the Navy, and in life, still making stupid mistakes, floundering about in Society like a drowning man clutching at a floating spar, even if his finances and family background had finally been ascertained.

Neither, he gathered with a smirk, was he the same incredibly callow seventeen-year-old that had crawled through Ariadne's entry port soaking wet from a dunk in the Solent because he had no idea how to manage scaling man-ropes and battens up a ship's side. He admitted to himself that he had made progress in skill and knowledge in the Navy, and had gotten a few glimmerings about Life, but was he not the same shameless Corinthian brothel-dandy and buck of the first head who could roister through London streets like a rutting ram-cat with no thought for the morrow except a vague wonderment about where he was going to awaken, and with whom?

"Jesus, this fucking Navy is making a doddering fossil out of me!" he grumbled. "Let's beat this damned de Grasse and have done with the whole humbug before-my God-before I start taking me seriously!"

The bosun's pipes began to cheep then to break his irreverent reveries. "All hands! All hands on deck! Prepare to anchor!"

"Mister Lewrie, do ya take charge o' the fo'c'sle!" Monk bellowed in a quarterdeck rasp that could have cut through a whole gale. "Clear hawse bucklers, seize up ta the best bower with the two-cable line, un prepare ta let go!"

The next morning, de Grasse had at them again. During the night, Hood had ordered his ships to shift their anchorages, so that an unbroken line stood from the point below Frigate Bay. The van ship was about four miles sou'east of Basse Terre, so close inshore not even a sloop could have clawed inshore of her; she was also inside the point and shoal as further cover. Twelve more ships lay astern of her to the west-nor'west, a mile-and-a-quarter to a mile-and-a-half of line-of-battle ships with their artillery ready. The remaining six liners bent about to curve the last of the line to the north, with Admiral Hood's 2nd Rate Barfleur at the apex of the bend. All ships had springs rigged on their anchor cables so they could shift their fire right or left as needed to take on a foe at extreme range as she approached, and swing with her to pour more deadly broadsides into her as long as she sailed past them.

Desperate had upped her own anchors and gotten underway shortly after breakfast, and was now prowling behind the battle line like a caged wildcat, waiting for something to maul should she be given a chance, ready to pass messages, or bear down upon a crippled British vessel to render her assistance.

The Trades were blowing well out of the sou'east, so an attempt to get round behind the line would involve hours of tacking close-hauled, and the ships drawn up en potence guarded that vital flank from the attempt. The French were presented with one hell of a quandary, and the English waited to see what brilliant maneuver the wily de Grasse would pull out of his gold-laced cocked hat.

"Here they come, damn their blood," Lieutenant Railsford finally spat, after a hail from the lookout at the main-mast cross-trees.

The French fleet was strung out in a perfect order in single line-ahead, a cable's length between ships, aimed like a spear at the head of Hood's line. With implacable menace, they bore down as if they would crash through the anchored ships and smash them in the process. But the lead vessel drifted west, unable to bear close enough to the wind, and now aimed at the third ship in line. When within range, she turned west.

Immediately, Hood's ships returned fire upon her.

"Bless my soul, will you look at that, now!" Treghues rejoiced, slapping his thighs. "Can you mark her, Mister Railsford?"

"Pluton, looks like, sir, 3rd Rate, seventy-four guns."

Alan had access to a spare telescope and was standing on the bulwarks with an arm and a leg hooked through the mizzen shrouds for a better view. The French ship staggered as if she had just run aground, surrounded by a thin pall of dust and smoke as she was savaged by the fire of at least four British ships that had swung on their springs to direct their gunfire into her together.

"I can see scantlings flying from her far side, sir!" Alan said. "They're blowing her to flinders!"

Pluton, if that was her as they surmised, passed down that long mile-and-a-half line, being taken under fire in order. And a cable behind her came a second ship, and a third, and a fourth, all taking the same terrible drubbing. Like sheep to the slaughter, the entire French line-of-battle followed that dreadful course, shooting high as was their usual practice, but doing little damage to ships at anchor, who couldn't have cared less whether their rigging was cut up. The British followed their usual practice as well, aiming 'twixt wind and water to punch star-shaped holes into the hulls and gun decks, to kill men and make the wood splinters fly, scything down crews and dismounting guns.

Desperate's crew was jeering as the lead French man o'war turned away and staggered back toward the south, her masts sprung and rolling, and her hull ripped apart by high velocity iron.

"Now damme," Alan relished over the din, "this is more like it!"

Desperate went about and worked her way to leeward, past the bend of the British line, for a better view of the proceedings, loafing along under reduced sail, away from the predictable thumping that the rest of the French fleet was suffering, to see what would transpire as they bore away. Which was nothing threatening, as they could see after half an hour. The French were making no more attempt to do anything offensive.

"What do you think of Admiral Hood now, Mister Lewrie?" Railsford asked him, cocking one eyebrow in mirth.

"Well, sir, after The Chesapeake, I thought he was the biggest poltroon in uniform, but he's showing well today," Alan answered.

"If he'd been in charge then, we'd have never swung away. We'd have been in that anchorage among the Frogs, and cut them to pieces. Or we'd have winkled them out of their anchorage as we did yesterday, and put up such a wall of gunfire de Grasse would have shattered his fleet trying to reenter."

"And gobbled up their damned army, 'stead of them gobbling up ours, sir," Alan concluded with a wolfish expression.

"Not that we could have really won against the Americans, even after such a victory."

"Indeed, sir?" he said politely, thinking, Mine arse on a bandbox!

"Too few men, too big a country, too much hatred by then. Even if we could have bagged Washington and Rochambeau on the march down from New York, there'd be another Washington come out of the backwoods with another army." Railsford shrugged. "But, we still come out of this Rebellion with Canada. And the important thing now is to beat the Frogs and Dagoes until they scream for mercy, so we'll not have any more of these coalition wars for the rest of the century, if we do it proper."

"De Grasse isn't as good as we touted him to be, is he, Mister Railsford?" Alan asked, feeling as though there had been an exorcism.

"We gave him victory in The Chesapeake. He couldn't help but show well there. To my mind, he's an over-rated clown when up against the sort of admiral we have here today," Railsford opined. "Lord North's cousin, Graves, was a clown, appointed by petticoat influence. Hood is not, and pray God we get him back in the Leewards, neither is Rodney."

"The captain once told me something similar, sir, about getting Hood and Rodney together, and sweeping the seas."

"I'd love to see that. Would you?"

"Aye, sir, I would," Alan said, realizing that it was so, half-pleased by the prospect, and half-startled that he cared anything more for the Navy than getting out of it with a whole skin.

"Well now, if you were this de Grasse bugger, what would you be thinking of about this time?" Railsford asked by way of instruction.

"Well, sir, I'm French, so I'd go below and have me a good sulk. Maybe boot hell out of my servants for starters." Alan chuckled. "Some good fortifying brandy. Then, I'd come back up and split my fleet. Half to attack the ships en potence, half to beat up past our line as far as Brimstone Hill. It'd take hours, but one could make east-nor'east. Then tack and fall back down on the anchorage. Hood would have to shift the van ships closest the shore to counter. If he did, I'd fight both halves of my fleet for a cross-fire, with us in the center."

Lieutenant Railsford studied him closely for a long moment, lips parted as though about to sneer, and Alan felt a total fool. Railsford had been an ally in the early days after he had come aboard Desperate, an ally even after Treghues had turned on him. From Railsford he had learned much more than he ever had from Treghues' teaching sessions, for Treghues was more fond of his own voice and opinions than in imparting anything worthwhile to his charges. What improvements in his behavior and in his nautical lore he had learned for Railsford's sake, and now he had most likely revealed himself a complete, incompetent idiot. Alan blushed and looked away with a shy grimace to show that he was not to be taken totally seriously.

"God be thanked you wear our King's coat and not that of their slack-jawed monarch," Railsford finally commented. "Should this bastard try that, he'd have the Leeward Islands Squadron on a plate."

Fuck me, Alan exulted to himself, have I said something clever?





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