deck. “Sir, do we go about?”

The Captain stood as though in a trance.

Tewsley threw himself toward the wheel and roared, “Down helm – hard! Get that hatch grating overside. Let go lee main braces, main tack and sheet!” Spinning on his heels, he bawled forward, “Flow head sheets – clear away the lee cutter!” Ponderously the ship’s head fell away from the wind. Tewsley paused and looked toward the Captain, who showed no apparent recognition. “Main clewgarnets and buntlines – up mainsail!”

The great mainsail spilled its wind and began to be gathered up to the yard.

Glancing aft to the far-off tiny dot in the sea, Tewsley snapped, “Brace aback – heave to!” The effect of the backed sails balancing those normally set allowed the vessel to come to a stop, drifting slowly downwind. Touching his hat, Tewsley reported to the Captain, “Ship heaving to, sir. Larboard cutter on yard and stay tackles for launching.”

The Captain’s eyes seemed to focus slowly. “That is well, Mr. Tewsley, but I was looking to Mr. Lockwood to act in this matter.” He stepped over to the poop deck ladder, touching it as though curious, and nodded to the young officer of the watch. “Carry on, Mr. Lockwood,” he said, almost without interest.

From his place Kydd saw the boat hoisted from its chocks and lowered overside. It was a complex process and took far more men to achieve than the size of the boat seemed to suggest would be needed. He joined the crowd at the ship’s side to watch.

It was too distant to see what was happening, and many opinions were expressed, but eventually when the boat drew near again, the chatter died away at the sight of a canvas-covered form lying along the thwarts between the rowers.

The bowman stood in the foresheets and neatly hooked the mizzen chains. The boat lay bobbing alongside, oars tossed vertically. The coxswain stood and cupped his hands. “’E’s dead!” he shouted.

Kydd tailed on to the yardarm whip that hoisted the dead man inboard, secured to the grating. The surgeon, a lugubrious man in rumpled black, pushed through the throng and bent over the still form. “Broken bones and morbid cold – there was never any question.” He did not look up.

* * *

The two bells remaining of the exercise time went slowly for Kydd. The sailor’s sudden transition from hero of a lofty world to dead clay was much to take in. His experiences of death previously had been like Old Uncle Peel in a huddle on the high street, and the solemnity of the succeeding funeral. He pulled himself together. There was nothing he could do for the man.

At eight bells – midday – the peal of the boatswain’s calls ended their drill. The Captain evidently did not wish to press the point about times. “Hands to dinner!”

Bowyer turned to him and said sourly, “Let’s get below. I’ve a need to get outside a grog or two after this.”

Grateful for his invitation, Kydd followed him down the fore hatch-way, arriving in the now familiar gloom of the lower gundeck. It was alive with talk, and the tone of the voices and glaring eyes left him with no doubt about the subject.

They thrust past to reach their mess, which Kydd noticed was conveniently not far from the hatchway, just at the point where the round of the bows straightened into the long sweep aft. He thought to count the number of guns from forward. His mess lay between the third and fourth guns. It was already nearly full and now he would be meeting his messmates. What would they make of an unwilling outsider like himself, who knew not the first thing about their strange, dangerous world?

Bowyer grabbed the lanthorn that hung above the table and held it up next to Kydd’s face. “Listen, you bilge rats,” he said against the din, “this here’s Tom Kydd, pressed man o’ Guildford, an’ he’s our new messmate.”

There was a hush, and Kydd watched the faces turn toward him, varying in expression from frank curiosity to blank disinterest. “Pleased to meet you,” he said, in as neutral a tone as he could manage.

A scornful “Pleased ter meecher!” came from a sharp-faced man on one side. “We don’t have that sorta talk here, cully.”

“Stow it, Howell,” Bowyer said shortly. “Don’t you pay no mind to ’im, the old snarley-yow. He is – or was, I should say – a merchant jack and pressed same as you, ’cept he’s makin’ more noise about it.”

Next to Howell a pleasant-faced lad stood up and leaned over to offer his hand. “Dick Whaley, pressed outa the Maid o’ Whitby, same as Jonas here.” Kydd took the hand gratefully.

Howell snorted. “What he’s not sayin’ is that I was bo’sun aboard while he was afore the mast – and don’t he forget it!”

Whaley laughed. “And here we’re a pair of foremast jacks both. At least we’ve a chance fer some prize money. In the old Maid we was just floggin’ up and down the coast with a belly full of sea-coal, and never the sight of a frolic.”

“Let him sit, Joe.” At the ship’s side was a considerably older seaman, nearly covered with faded tattoos. His mild, seamed face gazed steadily at Kydd.

Bowyer thumbed at the old sailor. “That’s Samuel Claggett, fo’c’sle-man to the quality. Been aboard since the last age, so we ’as to keep ’im in humor.”

While Kydd found his place at the end of the bench the conversations took up again. Diffident, he said nothing and tried to listen to the others. His eyes slid to the men opposite and were caught, to his astonishment, by the glittering black orbs of a Chinaman, the first he had ever seen. The man sat without speaking, his shaven head reflecting the lanthorn glow. Bowyer noticed Kydd’s start of surprise and said, “Say ‘how’ to Wong, then.”

“Er, how!”

Ni hau!” the man replied.

“Wong Hey Chee, able seaman and right heathen but a good hand aloft when it comes on to blow.” Bowyer’s introduction did nothing to affect Wong’s steady stare. “Was a strong man in a circus, was Wong,” Bowyer continued admiringly.

Kydd shifted his gaze to the last man, opposite Claggett.

The man gave him a civil nod, but remained wordless. He had a sensitive face, which bore the unmistakable mark of intelligence. His eyes were dark and unsettling.

“Yes – an’ that’s Renzi,” Bowyer said. He leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Says nothing, keeps to himself. A rum cove, if you asks me. I’d leave him be, mate, bit quick on the trigger ’e can be.”

Kydd looked back at Renzi and realized what was bothering him. Although clearly at home in a comfortable but plain seaman’s rig, the man did not have the open, trusting manner of a sailor. Neither did he have the close- gathered tarry queue of the older seaman, or the long side-whiskers and wild hair of the younger. His almost blue- black hair was as short as a monk’s. He was further taken aback when he realized that the man’s gaze could best be termed a glare. He wondered if he had offended in some way.

His thoughts were interrupted by shouts of appreciation greeting the arrival of the grog monkey, a well-used, two-eared wooden kid. It was thumped on the table in front of Claggett, who lost no time in sending an odd assortment of pots and tankards, well filled, back to their expectant owners.

“That’s yourn, then, Kydd.” He slid over a brassbound wooden drinking vessel. Kydd lifted it. It was old- fashioned, the size and shape favored by thirsty countryfolk, but where they would fill it with cider or beer, the sweetness of rum eddied up to him. He was amazed – there was well over a pint of the liquid.

“Here’s to you, Tom lad,” Bowyer said, and upended his own pot.

Kydd felt an unexpected flush of pleasure at the use of his forename. “And Mr. Garrett – damn his whistle,” he replied, lifting his tankard in salute. The taste had an unexpected coolness.

Bowyer’s eyes creased. “Three-water grog, this is only. You’ll be lucky ter get grog twice a week in Royal Billy – you’re catching on, mate!”

They both drank deeply. The liquor spread warmth through Kydd’s vitals and he could feel the anxiety draining from him. A smile broke through.

“That’s the ticket! Can be a hard life, a sailor’s, but there are, who shall say, the compensations!”

Kydd drank again and, amid the animated ebb and flow of talk, studied his shipmates once more. Wong was listening impassively to Whaley describing the hardships of a voyage to Esbjerg, while Claggett was speaking softly to a man sitting next to him.

Вы читаете Kydd
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату