(Lewrie – 14)
To the memory of
Captain Frederick Marryat,
a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, a wry wit, and the man who started
the genre of nautical fiction… with both high adventure and
Law is a bottomless pit.
John Arbuthnot (1667-1735),
How much thou wrong'st me, heaven be my judge.
Die, damned wretch, the curse of her that bare thee!
And as I thrust thy body in with my sword,
So -wish I, I might thrust thy soul to hell!
Hence will I drag thee head long by the heels
Unto a dung hill, which shall be thy grave.
And there cut off thy most ungracious head,
Which I will bear in triumph to the King,
Leaving thy trunk for crows to feed upon.
Act IV, Scene X
Captain Alan Lewrie, RN, stepped out of the doors of the George Inn, just as the watch bells of a myriad of warships and merchant vessels in Portsmouth Harbour began to chime the end of the Morning Watch-Eight Bells, and the start of the Forenoon-in a distant, jangly ting-tinging much like what a rider near London might hear from church bells of a Sunday morning.
Not exactly a sound to set one's pocket-watch by, that chiming, for each ship depended on the turning of sand-glasses to measure hours and half hours, quarter hours for the Dog Watches, the initial turning of the glasses dependent on the vagaries of masters' and captains' time pieces, all of varying quality, accuracy, and cost.
Lewrie unconsciously drew his watch from a waist-coat pocket and found the time to be two and a half minutes
Lewrie merely shrugged, put his back in his waist-coat pocket, and lifted his gaze to savour the morning. And a fine morning it was, by Jove! There was ample early summer sunshine, and the sky was barely dappled with thinly scattered and quick-scudding light clouds. Flags and vanes showed the wind had come about from the Nor'east, and in some strength, too, for the flies of those flags were snapping chearly, the halliards chattering against the flagpoles. Weather vanes on rooves squeaked and jiggled to a relatively brisk breeze.
Lewrie resettled his cocked hat on his head, and, now alone on the walkway as the other officers headed away on their own occasions, allowed himself a most satisfying belch-not a well-stifled, gentlemanly thing, but a rather long, and loud, eructation; for in all of Portsmouth there was no breakfast finer than that served at the George Inn, and his morning repast of two eggs fried not quite to hard, with fried and grated potatoes, a chop-sized hank of flank beef, and bread sliced two finger-joints thick, toasted to perfection, then slathered with fresh butter and Kentish apple preserves, had been perfection…
That belch, in point of fact, was so savoury that Lewrie allowed himself a second before taking hold of the scabbard of his hundred-guinea presentation small-sword to restrict its swinging, and set off towards the quays, and the King's Stairs, where he would take a hired boat back to his new frigate.
The morning was so clear and bright that even before he got to the King's Stairs, Lewrie could espy dozens of sail making the most of the shift of wind to head down-Channel for the Atlantic. Nearer to, at least a dozen warships were falling down to St. Helen's Patch, down to the Isle of Wight and the open sea, after being cooped up in port for a fortnight or more, awaiting a favourable slant of wind and a moderation in the weather.
To be back at sea! Were
The George Inn was one of the better establishments in Portsmouth, the favourite of senior naval officers, so he had been among an host of Rear-Admirals, a Commodore or three, and Post-Captains of more than Three Years' Seniority, like himself, 'salted enough' to wear a pair of gilt-lace epaulets on their shoulders. They'd
'That's Lewrie, don't ye know… pile o' 'tin' in the West Indies… the 'Ram-Cat,' he's called, and God pity his poor wife… at Cape Saint Vincent and Camperdown, both, with the medals for 'em… a fight near Cape Town in early spring, took a bigger French frigate… two-hour fight in a blowin' gale, I heard… got
Lewrie had heard rumours from his new allies in the Society for the Abolition of Slavery in the British Empire, the Reverend William Wilberforce and his coterie, that the Beauman family, already about as fond of him as cold,