Authors: Lee Rowan
Tags: #Source: Amazon, #M/M Historical
Bristlecone Pine Press * Portland, Maine
DEDICATION: PS, I Love You.
Plymouth, England, June 1796
It could have been a play, Archer thought as he stood in respectful silence, his midshipman’s hat tucked under his arm. The scene before him was like some outdoor theatrical, David and Goliath re-enacted in modern dress. Two men also in midshipmen’s uniforms, the elder burly and red-faced, the younger slim and deathly pale, stood back-to-back in a sunny glade not far from Plymouth harbor. Each held a pistol in his right hand.
The warm breeze and sylvan loveliness of the place were lost on the principals and on two of the three onlookers. Three only, not the four participants demanded by the code of duelling—but the proprieties were fulfilled nonetheless. Archer himself and Mr. Parrish, the purser of HMS
, stood as seconds. Their ship’s surgeon, Dr. Dean, had agreed to also act as referee. Not only were the rules thus properly observed, knowledge of the affair could be kept within the confines of the ship.
The doctor raised his voice. “Mr. Correy, Mr. Marshall... Gentlemen, you are certain you cannot be reconciled?”
“Oh, I could be, easily,” said the larger man. “Mr. Marshall knows well that I would be happy to make our acquaintance a closer one.”
“No,” said Marshall. He bit his lip, pushed a stray lock of black hair behind his ear. “Impossible.”
“Very well,” said Dean. “Gentlemen, take 10 paces.”
“On the count of three, turn and fire. One. Two. Three.”
Both turned quickly; the shots sounded as one. After a moment, Correy toppled slowly to one side. By the time the surgeon reached him, he had breathed his last.
“Best clear out before someone comes,” said Parrish, Correy’s second. His attitude seemed cold-blooded, but Archer knew that Correy had asked the purser to be his second only because Parrish had a cousin who owned a livery stable, and could rent them the necessary carriages cheaply. Why the man had agreed was anyone’s guess—to help his cousin, perhaps. And Mr. Parrish was right in urging haste. Duelling might be common enough but it was still illegal and Captain Cooper disapproved of it.
Archer clapped his bicorne upon his blond head and helped the others carry the dead man to the carriage in which he had arrived. Dean got in with the body; Parrish climbed up and took the reins.
“What—what happens now?” Marshall asked. For all his earlier resolve, he seemed at a loss now, clearly anxious about the possible consequences of his victory.
The surgeon shook his head. “Lad,” he said, rather kindly, “You’ve not been aboard
long, have you?”
“Only since last week.”
“Then my guess is that Captain Cooper will not be sorry to report Mr. Correy’s death in a duel with an unknown landsman. And if Correy’s family is wise, they’ll let it go at that. Every man aboard knew his habits, but he was too clever to leave evidence.”
“You’ve done the ship a service,” Parrish said. “Begone, now. And clean your pistol.” He snapped the reins and clucked to the horse. In a moment the carriage disappeared from view.
“Come, Mr. Marshall,” Archer said. “Quickly, before someone comes to see about the gunfire.”
“Mr. Archer, is he serious?”
“Yes, completely. Come, sir, he was right, we must be off.” They climbed into the light trap they’d hired in town, and Archer skillfully guided the horse back onto the roadway.
Marshall was silent for a long time. “I... have never killed in cold blood before,” he said at last. “Nor ever killed an Englishman.” He turned and met Archer’s eyes, looking for an instant like the 18-year-old boy he was rather than the correct officer and gentleman he had been while facing death. “Tell me, Mr. Archer... what else could I have done?”
“Nothing,” Archer said. “In fact, what you did do—that was more than anyone could have hoped for.” He had liked Marshall from the moment the quiet, serious midshipman came aboard the
even though Marshall’s time in the service gave him seniority over Archer himself. That immediate affinity was part of the reason he had agreed to act as Marshall’s second in this affair; his new shipmate was all alone, but that hadn’t stopped him from standing up to a bully. “The man was a menace, sir. He made life hell for any boy above the age of consent. Younger than 14, a boy could charge rape, so he let the children alone. Older, the victim dared not speak—he could be hanged himself, for participating.”
“In the first place,” Marshall still seemed to be trying to convince someone, most likely himself, that he’d been in the right. “In the first place, the Articles of War specifically forbid sodomy between men, on penalty of death.”
“I’ve never—I have served three years in His Majesty’s Navy, Mr. Archer. On a sloop, to be sure, and under a strict captain. I know all men have human weaknesses, but I have never seen such a blatant disregard for common decency!”
“I believe Captain Cooper has been in an awkward position,” Archer said. “He knew Correy was untrustworthy, but the man was clever and deceitful. He bribed the men under his command to act as his spies and lookouts, and Correy’s family has influence enough to lose Cooper his command if he had acted without ironclad evidence. The Captain did the best he could to keep Correy from power—he never made him acting lieutenant, nor recommended him for the lieutenant’s examination.”
“His family must have been influential indeed, for him to flout the Articles,” Marshall replied. “How could he make such a proposition, bald-faced, and even threaten me? To claim he’d had a boy flogged for refusing him—!”
“He did, more or less,” Archer said. “Correy made his wishes known and the boy refused, so Correy brought him before Captain Cooper and charged that the youngster had made the proposition himself. The boy was so flustered he must have appeared guilty of something. The Captain had him caned, not flogged, for ‘unclean behavior’.”
“He had to do something; Correy swore on the Bible and all the boy could do was deny he’d done anything. At least there’s no death penalty for it. And refusing didn’t even help the lad. Correy had his way with him eventually, poor little bastard.”
“My God.” Marshall let out a long breath. “Thank you for telling me that, Mr. Archer,” he said. “I will not speak of this to anyone, but you have eased my conscience.”
Archer smiled. “You have made the
a safer place for our youngsters, sir. It is I who should thank you.”
They drove on again in silence. Marshall seemed at ease, but Archer’s spirit was now in turmoil. His gratitude was far deeper than that of a concerned officer; Marshall had freed him from a demon who had made his existence a living hell.
He had not told Marshall that the boy he spoke of had been himself.
And he had not, and never could, tell Marshall that he just had fallen in love with a brave and beautiful gentleman who would likely shoot him dead if he ever gave voice to his feelings.
Captain’s Log, HMS Calypso, in for repair, Portsmouth. 16-7-1799
We have been forced to return to Portsmouth to repair major damage suffered during our recent encounter with a French convoy. Two small supply ships (see list) were sent ahead under the command of 2nd Lt. Watson and 3rd Lt. Barnes; 1st Lt. Drinkwater commands the captured corvette
while the two remaining merchantmen are under the command of 4th Lt. Marshall and Midshipman (Act. Lt.) Archer. Due to the condition of the
, we have traveled with these last three vessels in convoy.
His Majesty’s Frigate
limped gamely into port on a hot July morning, half her foremast gone, the mizzen missing altogether, and other damage becoming more apparent as she neared. Two holes gaped in her hull, fortunately well above the waterline. Part of the aft quarterdeck was rigged with a canvas cover whose shape suggested that the captain’s own cabin was no longer habitable, and scorch marks beneath a splintered gunport hinted at worse damage below. But despite her wounds, the
brought a captured French corvette in her wake, much less damaged and now crewed by English sailors.
came two of the smaller merchant ships she had been escorting,
, with an oddly mixed cargo: fine silks and brandy in one ship, and small arms, from pistols to light field cannon, in the other. The unusual pairing had occasioned the expected jokes about the new French high society, but either cargo would fetch a handsome price in England. Adding to that the value of the three captured ships, as well as the two from that same convoy that had come into port earlier, it was clear that Captain Smith had annexed another rich prize to his long record.
From the tiny deck commanding
, Lt. William Marshall had no time to consider what his share of the prize money might be, much less what to do with it. He had his hands full watching the wind, maintaining safe distance from the other ships, and seeing to it that his skeleton crew remained alert. When he finally received Smith’s signal to drop anchor, his order to let go was a tremendous shout of relief. Since earning his rank of lieutenant, he had waited months for the chance to command a prize ship—to be in sole command of a vessel sailing under the flag of England. The prize money that would come his way was fine to contemplate, as well. He would be able to buy a new uniform jacket to replace the one that had been singed in battle not long ago.
His delight was slightly dimmed by the fact that he had been in sight of the
for the entire trip, rather than on his own. If the
had not been so badly damaged, he would have felt like a small boy escorted by an older brother, but Captain Smith had kept the larger vessels in the convoy together for safety; at one point he had been prepared to move the entire crew to the French ships if the
had foundered on her way into port.
Marshall glanced over to where
was dropping anchor under the command of his friend and shipmate, David Archer, who looked up and waved a greeting. The luck had gone their way in generous measure. It was Davy’s first command as an Acting Lieutenant, and with just a bit more luck he might be able to sit for and pass his lieutenant’s examination during the weeks that
o would be in dock for repair. That would be a fine thing—something to celebrate and cash to fund a feast.
But, as always, pleasure had to wait upon duty. Arrangements for turning the prizes over to the Crown used up all morning and most of the afternoon. By the time the two young men reported back to the
, they had received a grueling education in port procedure.
And there was no rest for the wicked. As they climbed back aboard, Captain Smith met them at the rail. He towered over them, as he towered over nearly everyone; his gold-trimmed bicorne added half a head to his impressive six-foot-two. “Gentlemen,” he said, returning their hasty salutes. “Make yourselves presentable and meet me here in ten minutes. You will accompany me to the repair dock... and to dinner.”
“Presentable?” David Archer asked under his breath as they hurried belowdecks. “I thought we were!”
“Look in the glass before you say that,” Marshall warned. “Your hair wants combing.” He felt his chin. His beard, curly and black as a gypsy’s, grew annoyingly fast. “And I need a shave. I didn’t bother this morning, the wind brought us in so quickly.”
“Neither did I, but mine doesn’t show the way yours does. I’d better tend to it, though. It would take a braver man than I to show up unshaven to dinner with Captain Smith.”
They tidied up quickly, as was their habit, sharing a basin of water and a tiny shaving glass in Archer’s cabin, and scrambling into full dress uniform. The Captain—or to give him his due, Sir Paul Andrew Smith, Baronet—never let his officers forget that they carried the full weight of England’s dignity upon their shoulders. Marshall was simply grateful that the Captain did not require his officers to wear an itchy powdered wig or to coat their hair with the stuff. On deck or ashore, there was never a question of who commanded
but he was not the sort of officer to require his men to do anything he would not attempt himself, and he despised wigs. Marshall had always wondered if it was impatience with the time a wig required, or the Captain’s pride in his own abundant mane, still glossy brown despite his having passed 40.