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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

"Finish that verse and then get below," Treghues told his band, and the ship's boys scattered after a final tootle, to stow away their instruments and revert to their roles as powder monkeys who would fetch up the wooden or leather cylinders that held pre-measured charges from the magazines, or to assist the surgeon in the cockpit once the wounded worth saving were hauled below by older men.

"Ease her helm a point free, Mister Railsford, get the heel off her and we'll try our eye," Treghues snapped. "Stand by, Mister Gwynn!"

"Aye aye, sir!" the master gunner said in reply from the waist.

Desperate came more upright by a few feet, the bulwarks seeming to rise up like stage machinery, with the French frigate just slightly aft of abeam, and the range dropping to four cables.

"Quoins half-out!" Gwynn instructed his gun-captains. "Point yer guns! Ready!"

"I leave it to you, Mister Gwynn," Treghues said cheerfully.

"As you bear… fire!"

First the reloaded starboard chase gun, then the first of the long nine-pounders began to bark, the firing rippling down the ship's side one at a time as steady as a fired salute, with Gwynn pacing aft at the same pace as the ignitions. Shot erupted from the black iron muzzles in a rush of flame and sparks and thick clouds of spent powder, and bright beautiful feathers of spray leapt up close-aboard the enemy frigate's side as iron shot ricocheted to thud home below her gunports.

"Lovely shooting, Mister Gwynn!" Treghues commented. "Load with double-shot and hull him this time!"

Alan's legs were quivering with excitement, almost too tremulous to keep him erect as he stood by the wheel with the sailing master. In previous actions, he had been a midshipman on the gun deck, too busy supervising the loading, firing and running out, too intent on gunnery to think much about being afraid, about being maimed or killed, lost in the heat of the moment. But as a master's mate, his main role was to act as a sitting duck of no mean seniority on the bare quarterdeck, which would be the prime target of the French after they got within musket-shot.

Another broadside from the French, a positive avalanche of iron, and Desperate shrieked in oaken agony as things let go aloft. The mizzen royal and't'gallant yards were smashed by bar-shot or chain-shot, and the pieces rained down into the overhead nettings. A Marine and a top-man from the mizzen tops'l thumped onto the nettings like bloody steers, the Marine minus both legs at the crotch and spraying a scarlet shower on the deck.

"Firing high as usual," Treghues noted with a frown of disapproval. "When shall they learn?"

Desperate's guns were thundering once more, slamming four-inch, nine-pounder iron balls into the French ship, this time concentrated 'twixt wind and water, right into her hull. Planks were shattered and nibbles were taken out of her upper-works bulwarks, scattering the enemy Marines who had been gathered for a musket volley or two. But, being bigger and heavier enough to handle 22 twelve-pounder guns, it would take a lot of nibbling to do her damage, for her scantlings were thicker, her beams and cross-pieces were heavier and stronger.

"You've made your point, you damned fool," Alan grumbled aloud under the sound of the cannonading. "Now get a way on and get us out of here. Honor is redeemed and all that shit!"

But Treghues was in nautical Paradise, pacing back and forth in a maniacal joy, oblivious to the blood trails on the quarterdeck, or the hurt Desperate had suffered aloft.

"For what we're 'bout ta receive…" Monk whispered the old saw as the Frenchman's side lit up like red signal fuses seen through a thick fog, a fog of powder smoke that rolled down from Desperate to the foe. The smoke seemed to glow, and then the world was hammered into matchwood.

The starboard bulwark by the ladder leading below to the waist was flung into ruin, and a cloud of oak splinters flicked through the air like startled sparrows. Men were screaming like frightened horses, and Desperate staggered as heavy shot burst through her sides. The deck below Lewrie's feet jumped, almost throwing him to his knees.

"Eighteens if they's a pound!" Monk managed to say, grabbing onto the binnacle and traverse board table to stay erect.

"No more than twelve-pounders, surely, Mister Monk," Alan said in a shaky voice, trying to maintain that maddening sang froid demanded of a professional Sea Officer.

"Felt like eighteens, anyway," Monk spat.

As the smoke began to rag away, Alan could see that the enemy was now on a parallel course, just two cables off. She would not get closer; but then he realized, she didn't have to, for she could lay out there a fifth of a nautical mile away and shoot Desperate to lace unless they did something soon.

"Helm up, quartermaster!" Treghues yelled through the din as the guns belched fire again. "Bear down on her!"

Two loblolly boys stirred the savaged body of a petty officer by the torn-up starboard gangway. They shrugged and rolled the body to the hoie in the bulwarks aid tipped the corpse over the vide.

"That was Mister Weems!" Alan burst out in shock.

"Aye. poor bastard," Monk agreed. "There'll be an openin' fer a new bosun's mate tamorra."

A screaming waister was picked up on a carrying board and taken below to the cockpit surgery as they watched. There was nothing to be done with the dead or the hopelessly wounded but to get them out of sight and out from under foot. Words could be said later from the prayer book.

More shot screamed in, and Desperate reeled with its impact. More screams from the waist, a puff of smoke from the nettings that set hammocks writhing like a box of worms as a round-shot scattered them. A Marine keened and fell from the gangway clutching his belly. Dull flames licked around the torn canvas from a small explosion, and men from the larboard side rushed to pour water on the fire before it could take hold and eat their ship.

One cable's range now; two hundred yards. Alan went forward to the quarterdeck rail to look down into the waist. A larboard gun had been overturned and its crew decimated. As he watched, the loblolly boys dragged another screaming unfortunate to the midships hatch, a man as quilled with jagged wood splinters as a hedge-hog. The dead Marine was being passed out a larboard gunport and someone was retching bile as he used a powder scoop to shovel up the man's spilled intestines. The gun crews labored away with their scarves around their ears to save their hearing, intent on their artillery. Burney, up by the fo'c'sle, and Avery in the waist, were pacing among their men, shoving them to their places and speeding them along. Then the guns were barking and recoiling back against their breeching ropes, hot enough now to leap from the deck instead of rolling backwards on their small trucks.

Another broadside from the French, and this one felt like an earthquake. Alan clung to the hammock-nettings as the ship felt as if she had been slammed to a halt. Something whined past his head, and the hammocks before him punched him in the crotch. He looked down as he was bent over by the pain and saw a chunk of the bulwark, nearly three inches across and a foot long, sticking from the far side of the barrier.

"Bloody Christ!" he yelped, feeling his crotch in fear he had been de-bollocked, and was relieved to feel that his "wedding-tackle" was still.there. The deck continued to tremble with each strike and there was a lot of screaming from back aft as he winced with his pain.

"Lewrie, stir yourself!" Treghues bellowed, pointing behind him to the wheel, where men lay torn and bleeding.

Alan limped aft, bent over. Mr. Monk was propped up by the binnacle with Sedge bending down over him. The rotund sailing master had been struck in the leg with a grape-shot ball, a full ounce of lead that had almost ripped his limb off above the knee, and was now hanging by a few tattered sinews. Sedge was seizing a piece of small-stuff about the upper thigh to staunch the copious spurting of blood, and Lewrie knelt to aid him.

"Sedge, ya've more experience, do ya take charge," Monk gasped from a pasty white face sheened with shock-sweat.

"Aye, I shall, Mister Monk," Sedge promised as the surgeon's assistants rushed to his side with a carrying board.

"At least Dorne won't have ta saw much to take this bugger," Monk tried to jest, too freshly wounded to feel much pain yet. The loblolly boys rolled him onto the board, strapped him down, and made off with him by the larboard ladder, and Monk began to moan as the pain hit him. "Hurry me below, damn yer blood!" he cried out.

"Spare quartermaster to the wheel," Sedge barked. "Hot work, ain't it, Lewrie?"

"God's teeth, yes!" Alan concurred.

Sedge laughed and strode away to assist Toliver the bosun's mate in ordering the afterguard into shape once more, leaving Lewrie by the wheel with two new white-eyed quartermasters who flinched every time something whined nearby, their feet slipping in the blood trails of their predecessors.

"Watch your helm," Alan told them, being careful to station himself to windward, using them and the wheel drum as a shield.

The guns were now firing as fast as the frightened and weary crews could load and run out, all order lost in the maelstrom of battle. Every few seconds there was discharge, followed by one from their foe. Lieutenant Peck and his Marines were now firing by squads from the rail, and the masts of the French frigate were towering alongside, nearly as high as Desperated own; less than half a cable off, perhaps sixty yards and adequate musket-shot. To confirm it, a volley of balls hit the quarterdeck, one warbling off the rim of the compass bowl, another raising a large splinter from the deck before Alan's feet.

Desperate reeled again like a gut-punched boxer.

"Mister Lewrie, come here!" Railsford yelled through a speaking trumpet. "Go forrud into the waist and take charge!"

"Aye, sir?" Alan said, dashing to his side.

"Gwynn is down!" Railsford snarled, shoving him to the larboard ladder. "Go, no time to chat about it! Keep the guns firing!"

Alan hammered down the ladder to the waist. The master gunner Mr. Gwynn was stretched out on the deck to larboard, his shirt and waist-coat sodden with blood, and flecks of bloody spume on his lips as he tried to breathe.

"God save me!" Alan whispered, then mastered himself. "Avery?"

"Aye, sir?" a white-faced David Avery asked, trotting aft.

"I'll take charge. Go aft and tend the gunners there. Is Burney still alive?"

"Aye, sir."

"Good. Quarter-gunners!" Alan bawled, glad to have something concrete to do. "Pace your damned gun-captains! Ordered firing!"

Alan watched as the senior quarter-gunners passed among their charges and stilled their individual efforts, making them work in unison once more, loading and touching off together. He bent down to peer out a gunport at the enemy.

"Direct these guns at the same aiming point, here! Base of the main-mast is your target. Punch a hole clean through her! Burney, do you aim at the base of their foremast!"

"Wait for it, ya stupid get!"

"Prime your guns… point your guns… on the up-roll… fire!"

Three at a time, the guns barked and leaped backwards, first Burney's charges, then Alan's, then the guns below the quarter-deck in the cabins aft.

"Better," Alan snapped. He strode aft to look at the hands as they swabbed out and began to load. Gwynn gave a mournful groan as one of the men did him the merciful favor of smacking him on the head with a heavy mallet to knock him unconscious. He was too badly hurt to live, and the surgeons could do nothing with such a savage chest wound. Out cold and knowing nothing of the indignity, he was passed out through a larboard gunport where he splashed into the sea to drown quickly.

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