Authors: Richard Woodman
IN DISTANT WATERS
Mariner's Library Fiction Classics
Voyage: A Novel of 1896
The Celtic Ring
The Shadow in the Sands
The Darkening Sea
The Nathaniel Drinkwater Novels:
The Bomb Vessel
In Distant Waters
A Private Revenge
Under False Colours
The Flying Squadron
Beneath the Aurora
The Shadow of the Eagle
First U.S. edition published 2000
by Sheridan House Inc.
145 Palisade Street
Dobbs Ferry, New York 10522
Copyright Â© 1988 by Richard Woodman
First published in Great Britain 1988
by John Murray (Publishers) Ltd
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission in writing of Sheridan House.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Woodman, Richard, 1944-
In distant waters : a Nathaniel Drinkwater novel / Richard Woodman.â1st U.S. ed.
ISBN 1-57409-098-4 (alk. paper)
1. Drinkwater, Nathaniel (Fictitious character)âFiction.
2. Great BritainâHistory, Navalâ19th centuryâFiction. I. Title.
PR6073.O618 I5 2000
Printed in the United States of America
For my brother, Oliver
âIt is very difficult for history to get at the real facts. Luckily they are more often objects of curiosity than truly important. There are so many facts!'
Although he had been waiting for it, the knock at his cabin door made him start. An unnaturally expectant silence had fallen upon the ship following the noisy tumult of reaction to the pipes and calls for âall hands'. Beyond the cabin windows the spring ebb-tide and the westerly gale churned the yeasty water of the Great Nore and tore its surface into long streaks of dirty spume.
snubbed her cable in the tideway, her fabric creaking and groaning to the interplay of the elements.
Somehow these noises, the working of the rudder stock in its trunking below him, the rattle of the window sashes, the whine of the wind seeking gaps in the closed gun-ports and the thrum of it aloft acting upon the great sounding box of the stilled hull, exploited the strange silence of her company and permeated the very air he breathed with a sinister foreboding.
Beyond the vibrating windows the shapes of the ships in company faded and reappeared in his field of view as squalls swept dismal curtains of rain across the anchorage. At least the weather prevented a close mustering of the squadron's boats about
; she could do her dirty work in a measure of privacy.
The knock, simultaneously nervous and stridently impatient, came again.
Captain Drinkwater stood and picked up the paper at which he had been staring. He felt the hilt of his sword tap his hip as he reached with his other hand for the cockaded hat. His chair scraped on the decking with a jarring squeal.
Midshipman Frey appeared in the opened doorway. He too
was in full dress, the white collar patches bright on the dark blue cloth of a new uniform to fit his suddenly grown frame. Above the collar his face was pale with apprehension.
âFirst lieutenant's compliments, sir, and the ship's company's mustered to witnessÂ .Â .Â .Â punishment.' Frey choked on the last word, registering its inadequacy.
Drinkwater sighed. He could delay the matter no longer.
âVery well, Mr Frey. Thank you.'
The boy bobbed out and Drinkwater followed, ducking under the deck beams. Out on the gun deck he raised two fingers to the forecock of his firmly seated hat as the marine sentry saluted, and emerged a few seconds later onto the quarterdeck. The wind tore at him from a lowering sky that seemed scarcely a fathom above the mastheads. In his right hand the piece of paper suddenly fluttered, drawing attention to itself.
âShip's company mustered to witness punishment, sir.' Lieutenant Fraser, his Scots burr muted by the solemnity of the occasion, made his formal report as first lieutenant. Looking round the deck Drinkwater sensed the awe with which this moment was touched. It was one thing to kill a man in the equal heat of battle, but quite another to cut short his life with this cold and ruthless act that ended the judicial process. Like Fraser, Drinkwater sought refuge in the euphemistic naval formulae under which personal feelings could be hidden, and hated himself for his cowardice.
He met Fraser's eyes. âVery well.'
He walked forward to stand beside the binnacle and looked steadily around the ship. She was much larger than his last command, but the same faces stared back at him, an old company that was growing tired of war, augmented by a draft from the Nore guardship to bring his crew up to complement. Well, almostÂ .Â .Â .
They spilled across the upper deck, perched up on the larboard hammock nettings and across the launch and longboat hoisted on the booms to accommodate them. Only the starboard gangway was uncluttered, occupied by a detail of a dozen men, the ship's most persistent petty offenders against
cleanliness and propriety. They stood with downcast eyes in contemplation of their melancholy duty, for the rope they held ran up to the starboard fore-yardarm and back on deck to terminate in a noose.
Beyond the people massed amidships, Drinkwater could see the anxious face of Midshipman Wickham supervising the men closed up round the heavy carronade on the fo'c's'le. He stared alertly aft, awaiting the signal. Behind Drinkwater, dominating the men in the waist with their muskets and fixed bayonets, the scarlet ranks of the
's forty marines stood rigid, bright against the monotone of the morning. In front of them, still wearing the bandages of his recent wound and with his hanger drawn, Lieutenant Mount stood at his post. His gorget was the only glint of brilliance on the quarterdeck. Alongside Mount, tense with expectancy, his drum a-cock and twin sticks held down the seams of his breeches, was the diminutive figure of the marine drummer.
Close about the captain in a ragged semi-circle were the commissioned and warrant officers, wearing their swords and the full-dress uniform prescribed for their ranks. Above them all the white ensign snapped out, jerking the slender larch staff as the gale moaned through the recently tautened rigging.
âBring up the prisoner!'
A ripple of expectancy ran through the assembly amidships. Led by the new and lugubrious figure of the chaplain and escorted by Sergeant Blixoe of the marines, the wretched man was brought on deck. As he emerged, Midshipman Frey hoisted the yellow flag to the masthead, Drinkwater nodded, and Wickham fired the fo'c's'le carronade. The short, shocking bark of the 42-pounder thudded out. A brief, acrid stench of powder-smoke whipped aft and Drinkwater saw the prisoner blench at the gun's report. Despite the liberal dose of rum he had been given, the poor fellow was shaking, though his tied hands drew back his shoulders and conferred upon him a spurious dignity.
Clearing his throat, Drinkwater raised the crackling paper and began to read.
âTo Nathaniel Drinkwater, Esquire, Captain in the Royal Navy, commanding His Britannic Majesty's frigate
at the Great NoreÂ .Â .Â .Â Whereas,
Thomas Stanham, Able Seaman, late of His Majesty's Ship
hath been examined by a Court-Martial on charges of desertionÂ .Â .Â .'