Dewey Lambdin

Troubled Waters

(Lewrie – 14)

To the memory of

Captain Frederick Marryat,

Royal Navy


a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, a wry wit, and the man who started

the genre of nautical fiction… with both high adventure and humour!

Law is a bottomless pit.

John Arbuthnot (1667-1735),

The History of John Dull, 1712


Alexander Iden (to Jack Cade):

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.

William Shakespeare,

The Second Part of King Henry VI

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 past 8 a.m. Then he, as half a dozen other officers nearby did, put it to his ear to see if it was still ticking strongly. One much older Post-Captain growled under his breath, gave his a hard shake, and damned its maker with a muttered 'Christ… bloody cogs!' before stalking off.

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… and, sluiced down with three cups of coffee fetched to his table half-scalding, to boot… well!

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 Savage in any respects ready to sail, what a grand morning's departure it would be, but, alas, his frigate still lay to anchor with both bowers and both stern kedges down, with her upper masts and rigging stripped 'to a gant-line' for re-rigging and re-masting to his satisfaction. Her jib-boom and bowsprit had been steeved to a lower angle, whole new sets of inner and outer jibs cut and sewn, and the Sailmaker and his crew ready to make new fore-and-aft stays'ls to Lewrie's requirements, once the upper masts were set in place… all to aid HMS Savage to 'point' just a half, or a quarter, point closer to the eyes of the winds.

The sooner, the better, pray Jesus! Lewrie fretfully thought, his good mood and joy of a good breakfast curdled by the dread that he might not stay free long enough to skitter over the horizon, out of reach of his pending legal troubles… and the adamantine wrath of the Beauman family.

No wonder the others were peerin' at me so odd, Lewrie thought as he reached the stone quays; wond'rin' whether I'm saint or felon.

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 seemed polite and civil enough, some smiling as they pointed him out to their table companions and gave him a nod. Others, well…

'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 his frigate out from the Nore during the Mutiny… oh, in all the papers, and such 'cause he stole Jamaican slaves t'crew his ship… darlin' of the Abolition crowd, and Wilberforce, so please ye! 'Black Alan' Lewrie now, haw-haw… soon t'hang, I heard, God rot 'im! Aye, and Wilberforce, too… demned 'reformers' and 'kill-joys'!'

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,

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