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Michael Aye

The Reaper

(The Fighting Anthonys – 1)

“I must go down to the sea

To the lonely sea and the sky

And all I ask is a tall ship

And a star to steer her by.”

…John Masefield

“Fire, fire as you bear.”

“Damme Sir, but this is hot work!”

“Not too hot for your taste is it, Mr. Buck?”

The First Lieutenant turned to his Captain. “Nay Cap’n, but it’s close.”

A hugh splinter cut through the air, making a whooshing sound as it barely missed Buck’s head. Involuntarily, he ducked. “Aye, Cap’n, it’s close!”

“Mr. Trent’s respects, Sir!”

“Yes, Mr. Dean!”

“There’s two pirates approaching aft, Sir, as if they intend to grapple and board.”

“Two pirates, Mr. Dean?

“Ere, two galleys o’ pirates, Sir.”

“Very well!” Captain Gilbert Anthony answered. “Mr. Buck, reinforce aft if you please!”

“Aye, Cap’n, we’ll attend the whoresons. Come along now, Mr. Dean, and do be careful. Your father’d never forgive me if I was to send you home in halves.”

“Yes, sir,” the midshipman answered with the hint of a smile on his face.

Chapter One

The carriage lurched and seemed to twist as it hit yet another pothole. The sudden jolt broke Anthony’s train of thought and felt like it damned near broke his aching bones. Was it only four, no six, weeks ago he had brought HMS Recourse, a thirty-two gun frigate, limping into Portsmouth Harbor? They had repaired as much damage as possible, but the scars of battle were still obvious to all. “Damme, what a fight that had been,” Anthony thought.

The Recourse had been headed home to England when Peckham, the keen old master, commented to those officers around him on the quarterdeck, I hear cannon fire.”

No sooner were the words out of Peckham’s mouth than the lookout called down, “Deck there! Looks like several galleys attacking a convoy, sir!”

Once Recourse waded in, the Honorable East India Company’s fat merchant ships showed their heels as they sailed for safer waters. Recourse’s entry surprised the pirates who thought they only had to deal with a lone escort, making the convoy easy picking. The escort was a ten-gun sloop of war. She had bared her fangs like a feisty dog but was doomed until Recourse showed up with her guns blazing.

Little did Anthony know that one action could set into motion a course of events that would change his life forever. Looking back, things had happened so fast that it seemed a blur…a dream from which he was just awakening.

As he gazed out the carriage window at the dreary countryside, he wondered where the wind and tides would take him. A messenger had come aboard as soon as Recourse had moored in Portsmouth Harbour. Anthony was swiftly escorted to the Admiralty for a quick interview with Lord Sandwich, the First Lord. Then Lord Sandwich took the new hero in tow as they rushed off to a celebration given by the Honorable East India Company in recognition of Anthony’s daring action. One of the directors got up and read the article from “The Gazette,” which was overly lavish in the telling of the bravery and honor demonstrated by Recourse’s captain and crew. Much was made of Captain Anthony being the son of Fighting James Anthony, Vice Admiral of the Red. The speaker ended, declaring, “It appears we have another ‘Fighting Anthony.’”

After the speech, the speaker then turned the presentation over to Hugh English, Anthony’s brother-in- law.

“Captain Anthony-Gil, as a token of our esteemed gratitude, I would like to offer you a small reward.” A purse full of gold coins was then handed to Anthony. As soon as Anthony was given the coins, Hugh continued. “I would also like to present you with this ceremonial sword from Wilkinsons.”

As Anthony set down the bag of coins to accept the sword, he couldn’t help but ponder the remark about a small token of their appreciation. The sword was worth at least a hundred guineas and the reward was certainly nice, but there was no thought of rewards when Anthony put Recourse into the midst of the fight. However, he couldn’t help but think that their rewards were just a token. One only had to look at what it would cost to replace a ship, not to mention the added cost of the cargo had the pirates had their way. A small token indeed.

Anthony was also sure Hugh had something to do with the celebration and reward. Hugh’s father had been a merchant captain for the Honest John’s, as the Honorable East India Company was commonly called. Now Hugh was one of the company’s directors, a Member of Parliament, as well as a close friend to the Prince Regent.

Anthony was certain his sudden bestowal of knighthood was stimulated by Hugh’s relationship with the Prince. The ceremony happened suddenly, with the First Lord escorting Anthony to his Majesty King George’s chamber. Along the way, he had whispered hurried instructions to Gil so that he would not embarrass the family name or the Navy. The episode was such a blur that Anthony could barely recall the events. He remembered kneeling before the King, who said some words he couldn’t remember, and then he was dubbed “Sir Gilbert, Knight of the Bath.” No sooner had he been dubbed and congratulated than he was whisked away, as more important affairs were in need of his Majesty’s attention.

***

Pleading illness, Anthony’s father had not been present for either Honest John’s celebration or the knighting. He had sent his love.

Then came the summons. A messenger had brought word that Gil’s father was in critical health, the reason for his hurried journey home. The driver cracked his whip and the horses labored to keep up a quickened pace as they fought the howling wind and snow.

Gil’s father, Lord James Anthony, Earl of Deerfield, had been a Vice Admiral of some standing, making a name for himself equal to Anson and Hawke. He had distinguished himself at Cape Finisterre and Quiberon Bay, earning himself the nickname Fighting James Anthony. However, an ailing marriage and politics had caused Lord Anthony to haul down his flag prematurely.

Gil’s mother lived in Kent on the family estate with her cats and “medicinal” brandy. Becky, his sister, with the

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