Under Enemy Colors, page 1part #1 of Charles Hayden Series
UNDER ENEMY COLORS
UNDER ENEMY COLORS
S. Thomas Russell
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS
Publishers Since 1838
Published by the Penguin Group
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Copyright © 2007 by Sean Russell
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Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Russell, S. Thomas (Sean Thomas), date.
Under enemy colors /S. Thomas Russell.
PS3618.U7665U63 2007 2007017290
H.M.S. Themis ship illustration © John W. McKay
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
This book is dedicated to my son,
Brendan Thomas Russell,
with all my love.
History and Fiction
Gun-deck (Upper Deck)
Berth-deck (Lower Deck)
Orlop (Cable Tier)
Great Cabin (Captain’s Cabin)
Hold Well (Pump Well)
A hard gale blew in off the Atlantic at dusk, west by south, raising a steep, breaking sea. All through the first watch pale crests surged out of the darkness, lifted in ghostly rumblings, then boomed against the forward quarter, staggering the ship.
Just before eight bells a thin, angular man emerged from the aft companionway, crouched precariously on the slippery planks, and looked anxiously about. Perceiving a cascade of water break along the deck, he made a reeling dash to the windward shrouds just as water spun about his knees. The frigate, deeply laden and labouring, rolled heavily to leeward and a blast of wind struck the man, Griffiths, wetly across the face.
“Is that you, Doctor?” a voice sounded over the wind.
A timely flash of lightning illuminated the sailing master, not two feet before him, face pale and streaming, hat clamped down to his eyebrows and bound tightly in place by a length of blue cotton.
“I must have more hands,” the sailing master shouted almost into Griffiths’ ear.
“I have given you all who can walk, Mr Barthe,” the surgeon responded in like manner. “Those remaining are too ill to stand.”
“Is it the yellow jack, then? That is what men are saying.”
“It is not, Mr Barthe. It is acute poisoning from some substance ingested—likely the pork served this very day. But I have never seen it so severe. Men cannot stand, and have disgorged more fluids than their bodies can bear. It was my hope that you could spare men to aid me…”
“I cannot, Doctor. I have been reduced to sending boys and reefers aloft, where they should not be. I can spare no one.”
The ship rolled again, and water sluiced across the deck, slopping about them. The doctor felt Mr Barthe’s hand grasp his shoulder to preserve him from harm. The master began to speak again, but a gust devoured all human sound.
In the distance, lightning branched down into the sea, illuminating, for an instant, the chaotic waters, the spider-work of rigging. Four men wrestled the wheel, their eyes sunken, faces faintly blue.
A boy struggled toward them, crabwise, hand over hand along the lifeline. In the flare of godly light, he slipped and fell, then dragged himself up on the taut line. He reached them, breathless, dismayed.
“Mr Barthe!” he shouted. “We have lost Penrith.”
“What in hell do you mean, you’ve ‘lost’ him?”
“He went aloft with us, but no one saw him climb down. We do not know what became of him.”
“Did you not number off the men as they reached the deck?”
A second of hesitation. “No, sir.”
The master cursed. “Has he taken ill and repaired below?”
“Williams made a thorough search. We fear he’s gone overboard, unseen.”
“Damn this night! Have Mr Archer go down to Captain Hart!” The master began to struggle forward but turned back to the doctor. “Will you take yourself below, Doctor? There is naught you can do here, and I should be happier knowing you were below in such weather.”
Griffiths agreed, and scrambled toward the companionway, his last view of the gale, Barthe, and some others in the waist, gazing up at the yards—stark, angular, gone. He backed down the companionway stair, which moved with the ship, describing a long, irregular arc. Finding th
Down again they went, to the berth-deck, and as they descended there ensued some shoving at the bottom of the stair so that one man tumbled down the last steps. Voices were raised in anger.
“You men!” Griffiths shouted down. “Do I need to call Mr Landry?”
Several No, sir s came floating back up and the shoving and cursing stopped. The hands went muttering forward as Griffiths descended.
“They’ve done for Penrith,” the surgeon thought he heard one man say. “The fucking blackguards. Penrith!”
Philip Stephens had been First Secretary of the Admiralty for thirty years. Previous to that, he had been Second Secretary. Through his delicate hands passed the correspondence of admirals and captains, First Lords, ministers, and spies. Lieutenant Charles Hayden was well aware that no one in the offices of the Admiralty was more intimate with the details of the Navy and her distant fleets than the little man who sat, mostly hidden by a writing-table, before him. That he should be aware of the existence of one Lieutenant Charles Saunders Hayden, however, was still something of a surprise.
The First Secretary bent over a letter, his spectacles refracting the dull London sunlight from the nearby window into a faint prism on his cheek. The most prominent features of the man’s face were inflamed arteries that spread, crimson, over his bulbous nose. They meandered onto his cheeks and branched into deltas beneath the rainbows from his spectacles. It was not so much a face, Hayden thought, as a landscape.
“Captain Bourne holds you in high regard,” Stephens rasped, his voice throaty and thick.
“An honour I strive to deserve.”
Stephens seemed not to hear this, but put the letter down upon his tidy table, removed his spectacles, and rather directly took Hayden’s measure. Too easily trespassed against, the lieutenant felt heat flush into his face. It was, however, not the moment to take offence; that anyone in the Admiralty building had noticed him was an opportunity not to be squandered.
Hayden had come to think of the Admiralty as a court. The First Lord was sovereign, the Lords Commissioners his ministers, all men of rank. Below him, the courtiers in their tiers, admirals, vice admirals, rear admirals, captains both high and low on the list. Far below these influential personages waited the lowly lieutenants, all desperately hoping to be appointed governor of that tiny outpost of empire known as a ship of war. Those possessing family interest and the skills of a courtier tended to rise. Certainly, the Admiralty would always need a few gifted functionaries, like Philip Stephens, to keep things running smoothly; a handful of stouthearted, fighting captains; an admiral or two who could manage a fleet action; but for the most part the courtiers succeeded and everyone else bowed their heads, smiled charmingly when noticed, and hoped to find a patron who might advance their cause. Hayden was not, by nature, a courtier, but he did his best to appear receptive and amiable, all the same.
Stephens did not seem to notice. “I have a position for you, Lieutenant.”
Hayden took a long breath and released it slowly into the small room. “I should be forever in your de—”
The First Secretary did not allow him to finish. “It is not the sort of position that puts you forever in another’s debt. Captain Josiah Hart has need of a first lieutenant.” A grim, little smile flickered across the pale lips. “I see by your face that you had hoped for a command…”
Hayden considered a tactful response, but then gave in to exasperation and perhaps disappointment. “I had hoped, by this time, to have earned greater consideration than a first lieutenant’s position…But I will not refuse it,” he added quickly.
The little man made a humming sound, produced a pocket handkerchief, and began to clean the lenses of his spectacles. “Captain Hart has at his command a new-built frigate, the Themis, in which he has been cruising the French coast…to damned little effect.”
Hayden feared his eyes widened at this utterance.
“Five weeks ago he lost a seaman in a gale,” Stephens continued, the linen being worked back and forth by the quick cocking of a wrist. “Man fell from the mainsail yard by night. Never found. Not an entirely uncommon occurrence, one must say. But on the morning next, when the course was set, this dropped from the bunt.” The Secretary reached down behind his table and produced a glass jar, stoppered and sealed with wax. In murky, amber fluid, a thick worm lay suspended, washing slowly forth and back. And then Hayden saw the nail.
“It is a finger!” the lieutenant blurted.
“Severed, cleanly, by a blade—or so the ship’s surgeon concluded. He saw it freshly fallen from aloft, so I must give way to his opinion. As everyone aboard had their full complement of digits, except for three men who were known to have parted with theirs sometime earlier, it was assumed that the lost man had left his second finger behind.” Stephens returned his gaze to Hayden, as though expecting a response.
“But severed by a blade, sir…”
“Yes—hardly misadventure. The unlucky man was seen that very day in dispute with a landsman known to be of evil disposition. A knife in a bloody sheath was found rolled up in the landsman’s hammock. He denies all, of course. Says he butchered some poultry—unfortunate bugger. He sits in Plymouth awaiting his date with the courts-martial.”
“Surely he will not be convicted on such evidences as that?”
Stephens shrugged. Apparently the man’s fate did not affect him overly.
“And what was a landsman doing aloft, if I may ask?”
“Half the crew were down with some malady—rancid pork, the surgeon posits. They sent boys and midshipmen aloft that same night.” Stephens waved his hand, as though brushing aside this line of conversation. “Do you know Captain Hart at all?”
“I have not had the honour.”
The First Secretary bobbed his head. “He is, how shall I say…? A man of some influence through Mrs Hart’s family.”
It was the lieutenant’s turn to nod. Interest was something he understood well—due to his utter lack of it. In the court of the Admiralty, having a wife related to a “minister” counted for any number of successful actions at sea.
“There is some concern about this affair on the Themis. Her first lieutenant invalided out at the end of the cruise. He claims to know nothing of the matter, and we pray that is so.”
Hayden felt himself straighten a little in his chair. “If there are malcontents aboard Hart’s ship, why not exchange them elsewhere?”
Stephens meticulously adjusted the position of a tidy stack of papers on his desk. “And suggest that Captain Hart cannot manage his own crew? I don’t think that would answer in this case.” He glanced up at Hayden. “But then you have dealt with a discontented crew before—most ably, I am given to understand.”
Apparently the First Secretary knew Hayden’s service record intimately. “When I was job-captain aboard the Wren…”
Stephens nodded once, but then a crease appeared between his meagre eyebrows. “Are you certain, Lieutenant, that you know nothing of Captain Hart? You are not being disingenuous?”
“I had not heard his name before entering this room.”
Stephens gazed at him a moment, as though gauging the truth of this statement. “Hart’s connexions within the Admiralty are of the highest order…It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that I have received a request to place a lieutenant with…bottom aboard Captain Hart’s ship—after all, even the most skilled captain has need of such an officer from time to time. Do you not agree?”
“What captain would argue against competent officers?”
The First Secretary indulged another grim little smile. “What captain, indeed. It was my intention to find such an officer to serve aboard the Themis…but I am looking for something more. I tell you this in the st
Hayden nodded, liking this conversation less by the moment.
“I require a man who will keep a most accurate record of Hart’s exploits. I’m sure the good captain’s modesty is such that an honest account of his endeavours has never been made known within these walls.”
Hayden sat forward a little. “I will not take this position, Mr Stephens,” he said firmly, but then added, “though I am not ungrateful of the offer.”
“But you have already accepted. Did I not hear correctly?”
Hayden tried to keep the anger from his voice, with only partial success. “That was before I knew you wished to turn me into an informant. Under such a circumstance I do not feel honour-bound.”
Neither man spoke for a moment, but Hayden feared his voice had betrayed him. Philip Stephens’ face changed ever so slightly; drawn in but a little more, it would have formed a scowl.
“Allow me to be uncharacteristically forthright, Lieutenant Hayden.” The First Secretary sat back in his chair and steepled his fingers before him. “You have little future in the King’s Navy.”
Hayden could not hide his complete and utter surprise at this statement—not because it was in the least untrue, but due to its audacity.
“Your friend…” Stephens shuffled through some papers, “the Honourable Robert Hertle, is about to make his post, as would you have, had you half his interest. Despite your manifest abilities—and I am certain Captain Bourne is too shrewd to have misjudged them—you are lodged in your present circumstances with little hope of forward movement. It does not help your cause that we are at war with France and that you are half a Frenchman.”