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THE REAPER

by

Michael Aye


Table of Contents

 

Acknowledgments

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Epilogue

Glossary



Acknowledgments

 

Special thanks to George Jepson formerly of Tall Ships Books for always leading me to the right research material and for a world of encouragement.

To Charles White, editor and publisher, for taking the time to talk to a “wanna be,” and always challenging me, while never allowing me to get away with mediocrity.

To Tracy Bridges for encouragement and taking the time to critique a very rough manuscript and being honest.

This book is dedicated to a very special lady who spent countless hours poring through hundreds of page of longhand, scratch and strike-outs to put together a manuscript that could be reviewed, then corrected my errors and provided a finished product.  Without her labors it would all be still a dream.  This book is for her.  She made it possible.

 


“I must go down to the sea

To the lonely sea and the sky

And all I ask is a tall ship

And a star to steer her by.”

 

…John Masefield


 


“Fire, fire as you bear.”

“Damme Sir, but this is hot work!”

“Not too hot for your taste is it, Mr. Buck?”

The First Lieutenant turned to his Captain. “Nay Cap’n, but it’s close.”

A hugh splinter cut through the air, making a whooshing sound as it barely missed Buck’s head. Involuntarily, he ducked. “Aye, Cap’n, it’s close!”

“Mr. Trent’s respects, Sir!”

“Yes, Mr. Dean!”

“There’s two pirates approaching aft, Sir, as if they intend to grapple and board.”

“Two pirates, Mr. Dean?

“Ere, two galleys o’ pirates, Sir.”

“Very well!” Captain Gilbert Anthony answered. “Mr. Buck, reinforce aft if you please!”

“Aye, Cap’n, we’ll attend the whoresons. Come along now, Mr. Dean, and do be careful. Your father’d never forgive me if I was to send you home in halves.”

“Yes, sir,” the midshipman answered with the hint of a smile on his face.


Chapter One

 

The carriage lurched and seemed to twist as it hit yet another pothole. The sudden jolt broke Anthony’s train of thought and felt like it damned near broke his aching bones. Was it only four, no six, weeks ago he had brought HMS Recourse, a thirty-two gun frigate, limping into Portsmouth Harbor? They had repaired as much damage as possible, but the scars of battle were still obvious to all. “Damme, what a fight that had been,” Anthony thought.

The Recourse had been headed home to England when Peckham, the keen old master, commented to those officers around him on the quarterdeck, I hear cannon fire.”

No sooner were the words out of Peckham’s mouth than the lookout called down, “Deck there! Looks like several galleys attacking a convoy, sir!”

Once Recourse waded in, the Honorable East India Company’s fat merchant ships showed their heels as they sailed for safer waters. Recourse’s entry surprised the pirates who thought they only had to deal with a lone escort, making the convoy easy picking. The escort was a ten-gun sloop of war. She had bared her fangs like a feisty dog but was doomed until Recourse showed up with her guns blazing.

Little did Anthony know that one action could set into motion a course of events that would change his life forever. Looking back, things had happened so fast that it seemed a blur…a dream from which he was just awakening.

As he gazed out the carriage window at the dreary countryside, he wondered where the wind and tides would take him. A messenger had come aboard as soon as Recourse had moored in Portsmouth Harbour. Anthony was swiftly escorted to the Admiralty for a quick interview with Lord Sandwich, the First Lord. Then Lord Sandwich took the new hero in tow as they rushed off to a celebration given by the Honorable East India Company in recognition of Anthony’s daring action. One of the directors got up and read the article from “The Gazette,” which was overly lavish in the telling of the bravery and honor demonstrated by Recourse’s  captain and crew. Much was made of Captain Anthony being the son of Fighting James Anthony, Vice Admiral of the Red. The speaker ended, declaring, “It appears we have another ‘Fighting Anthony.’”

After the speech, the speaker then turned the presentation over to Hugh English, Anthony’s brother-in-law.

“Captain Anthony—Gil, as a token of our esteemed gratitude, I would like to offer you a small reward.” A purse full of gold coins was then handed to Anthony. As soon as Anthony was given the coins, Hugh continued. “I would also like to present you with this ceremonial sword from Wilkinsons.”

As Anthony set down the bag of coins to accept the sword, he couldn’t help but ponder the remark about a small token of their appreciation. The sword was worth at least a hundred guineas and the reward was certainly nice, but there was no thought of rewards when Anthony put Recourse into the midst of the fight. However, he couldn’t help but think that their rewards were just a token. One only had to look at what it would cost to replace a ship, not to mention the added cost of the cargo had the pirates had their way. A small token indeed.

Anthony was also sure Hugh had something to do with the celebration and reward. Hugh’s father had been a merchant captain for the Honest John’s, as the Honorable East India Company was commonly called. Now Hugh was one of the company’s directors, a Member of Parliament, as well as a close friend to the Prince Regent.

Anthony was certain his sudden bestowal of knighthood was stimulated by Hugh’s relationship with the Prince. The ceremony happened suddenly, with the First Lord escorting Anthony to his Majesty King George’s chamber. Along the way, he had whispered hurried instructions to Gil so that he would not embarrass the family name or the Navy. The episode was such a blur that Anthony could barely recall the events. He remembered kneeling before the King, who said some words he couldn’t remember, and then he was dubbed “Sir Gilbert, Knight of the Bath.” No sooner had he been dubbed and congratulated than he was whisked away, as more important affairs were in need of his Majesty’s attention.

 

***

 

Pleading illness, Anthony’s father had not been present for either Honest John’s celebration or the knighting. He had sent his love.

Then came the summons. A messenger had brought word that Gil’s father was in critical health, the reason for his hurried journey home. The driver cracked his whip and the horses labored to keep up a quickened pace as they fought the howling wind and snow.

Gil’s father, Lord James Anthony, Earl of Deerfield, had been a Vice Admiral of some standing, making a name for himself equal to Anson and Hawke. He had distinguished himself at Cape Finisterre and Quiberon Bay, earning himself the nickname Fighting James Anthony. However, an ailing marriage and politics had caused Lord Anthony to haul down his flag prematurely.

Gil’s mother lived in Kent on the family estate with her cats and “medicinal” brandy. Becky, his sister, with the help of a good overseer, took care of their mother and Deerfield.

Admiral Lord Anthony had turned his back on it all, saying, “a man should not tarry in a place where never blows a fair wind.” He had kept in touch with his children, and they had visited with their father in secret. They had once told their mother of these visits, and it was then that Gil found the true meaning of “a foul wind.”

Gil had questioned his father as to the reason for the separation with his mother. Lord Anthony’s only remark was that some things were better left alone. The matter was never mentioned again. Lord Anthony had moved to Portsmouth and bought a townhouse where he could peer out the second floor windows or sit on a balcony and see the ships and the harbor. He also acquired a mistress named Maria, a gypsy woman—with eyes and hair as black as the darkest night. She was twenty years younger than Lord Anthony but their life had been happy regardless of their age difference. Maria was seductive without trying. She was elegant and possessed a quiet humor that made liking her easy. Not wanting to be disloyal to his mother, Gil still had to admit his father had been a lucky man to have shared life with Maria.

 

***

 

Father had never been sick to Gil’s recollection. However, he was now seventy-eight years old. He had looked so robust just a year ago, but this was not the case any longer.

Upon entering his father’s home, Gil was shocked at the appearance of the man before him. His decline in health was appalling. Nothing was familiar except the hand-carved meerschaum pipe his father had clinched between his teeth. Through calm seas and cannon balls, that pipe had always been there.

Upon entering his father’s room, Gil could see his father’s eyes light up. The fire was dimmed but not out. His father’s rough Scottish accent was still plain as he spoke, the voice still commanding though not as strong as it once was.

“I’m glad ye made it. I was about to have this lawyer set things down on paper the way I wanted them to be. I still will, so’s there’ll be a record, jus’ in case something should happen to me sudden like. I pray not, but it could.”

Gil nodded his greeting to the barrister. Lord Anthony paused to catch his breath, then started speaking again. “Now I can see ye be ripe and bursting with questions. However, I ask ye to hold ‘em for now, cause my time is short. There are things that have to be said and agreed upon. You can ask questions later iffen I’m still with the living.’’

Gil nodded his willingness to do as his father requested, thinking all the time that he was still acting like an admiral, in command right up to the end. Lord Anthony called Maria into the room. She came in and sat on the arm of the chair next to him. His father resumed his conversation once Maria was settled.

“You know Maria has been my life for twenty years. I would have married her had there been a way. But it was not to be. Your mother’s family had more influence with the church than I did so my petition for a divorce was never granted. When I’m gone this house is to be hers along with a trust I’ve set aside. You know all this. What you don’t know, Gil, is that you have a brother.”

The barrister had suddenly found an extra burst of energy; his quill flew over the paper as he wrote down this new information.

“Our son has been named after his grandfathers. He’s been entered in my Bible as Gabriel Marcus Anthony. Poor as some may think it, I do want him to share in what little status the name may make in regards to his birthright. I want you, as my eldest son, the son who’ll inherit my title and all of Deerfield, to give me your word that my wishes will be carried out—that Gabe will be accepted as an Anthony. Do I have your word on this, my son?” Lord James Anthony could barely hold back the tears as he asked for his son’s promise.

“Aye, Father, you have my vow,” Gil answered with a quaver in his voice and a renewed sense of compassion and love for the man who sat before him. A deep sigh of relief escaped the old man. Pausing long enough to catch his breath again, Lord Anthony continued, but his voice was weaker. Gil grew concerned, though still refusing to interrupt his father.

“Your brother is a midshipman. He’s spent four years with Captain Suckling on Raisonnable, and the last two years he’s been on a revenue cutter. His papers are all in order. I’ve taught him navigation and seamanship. All he needs is another year or so with a good captain—someone to teach him what it really means to command. I taught ye well enough, I’d like to think. Now I want you to teach him. In a year he’ll be ready to sit for the Lieutenant’s exam.”

 

***

 

Vice Admiral Lord James Anthony died two days later. Gil was overwhelmed with emotion as his father’s friends and shipmates turned out for the funeral. Despite the icy rain mixed with snow, people braved the cold to pay their last respects. When the chapel had filled, people stood in the freezing slush till the service had ended. Even Lord Sandwich, the First lord of the Admiralty, attended.

Gil’s sister, Becky, and her husband Hugh were there with their little girl, Gretchen. Gil thought her the most spoiled little nit he’d ever seen. Maria was there with Gabe. It was the first time Gil had a chance to meet his brother. Looking at Maria during the eulogy, Gil could see the toll his father’s illness and death had taken on her, and he couldn’t help but feel kindly toward her. She had given herself totally to his father, but to some she would always be just Lord Anthony’s mistress. Gil would never forget the look of relief in her eyes when he embraced her at the gravesite and kissed her hand. He wanted her to know she would always be special to him. The First Lord had given him a flag on behalf of the nation in honor of his father. Gil in turn gave it to Maria. She deserved it much more than he did.

After the funeral Gil approached Becky and Hugh. “I see mother didn’t attend.”

“Did you expect her to?” Becky replied.

“No, but I wasn’t sure.”

“Well, it was probably better for all present that she didn’t,” Hugh added as he gazed over at Maria and Gabe.

 


Chapter Two

 

Dampness seemed to fill the coach. Anthony pulled his boat cloak more tightly about him, yet he was unable to prevent a shudder as a gust of wind penetrated the confines of the coach, sending a chill right through him. The sun had all but set, and with its setting, the air would grow much colder. Anthony knew they still had a long journey before they reached London and was going to be most uncomfortable. Gabe sat across from Anthony. Slumped in his seat, Gabe appeared to be dozing. The two had talked little since the funeral. Anthony detected an air of anger about the boy and was not sure of its origin. Was it due to the fact that his birth had not benefited from a proper wedding? He had his mother’s good looks, her darkness and her eyes, but everything else was his father’s. His laughs were quick, but Gil was betting his temper was quicker. He was quiet, but seemed to have wit. He also seemed very suspicious, but under the circumstances, who wouldn’t be? How many times had he been called the Admiral’s bastard behind his back? How many times had he heard? Could this be why he seemed so guarded and quick to anger?

Anthony had given his word to his dying father to take Gabe under his wing and make him a sea officer. This was a promise he didn’t take lightly. However, he wondered how the relationship would play out, and would he be able to accept Gabe, not only as a midshipman but also as his brother. How would Gabe accept him?

Anthony hoped the summons from the Admiralty would be to receive orders, hopefully command of another ship, something to get him away; he needed the sea. While some men detested life aboard ship he found comfort in its confines. Lord Anthony, Gil’s father, had discussed this love for the sea with him many times.

“Gil, ye were born with salt water in ye veins,” Father had joked. Thinking of his father made Gil think of the messenger who had carried the urgent news of Lord Anthony’s ill health.

The messenger, Dagan, was a mystery. He was Maria’s younger brother and Gabe’s uncle. Anthony had guessed him to be in his mid to late twenties, but he seemed much older for some reason. At Lord Anthony’s funeral, Dagan was always close to Gabe like a protective angel or bodyguard. Yet he was at Maria’s hand whenever she needed him. The girl servants all seemed moonstruck when he was around. A few even looked upon him in a mischievous, tempting manner.

“He puts a spell on ‘em he does,” Anthony’s father, Lord Anthony had said half jokingly before his death.

The male servants were all polite but distant, seeming overly cautious when Dagan was about. In a hurried whisper one of Lord Anthony’s long time personal servants, a seaman who’d sailed with the old Admiral, had warned Anthony: “Be careful like, zur, ‘e see’s the future, ‘e does. ‘E talks to the ravens aye, zur. Seen ‘em at it, I have.” Fearing he’d be overheard, the old servant was so close Anthony could feel the man’s hot breath on his ear as he whispered in a barely audible voice. “‘E’s a soothsayer, zur, maybe ‘e’s even a sorcerer.”

“Huh,” snorted Anthony. His father had proclaimed Dagan a “damn’d fine seaman.”

“We’ll have to see about him being a sorcerer.”

Anthony had also been told of “The Vow.” Maria’s father would normally have been Gabe’s protector and confidant.

However, since the death of Maria’s and Dagan’s father, Dagan had taken his place by completing some ritual, and now he was Gabe’s protector. Therefore, wherever goeth Gabe, goeth Dagan, as long as he lived. Anthony had no doubt that Dagan would fill his vow of protection.

Anthony was sure this vow was behind their father’s desire for Gabe to be under his command.

“You’re getting a bargain,” Lord James Anthony had said just before he died. “Besides being a fine topman, Dagan’s got the best peepers I’ve ever seen.”

 

***

 

The coach rattled along toward Whitehall. Even at such an early hour the street was no longer deserted and appeared to be coming alive before Anthony and Gabe’s eyes. The coach’s driver let loose a stream of curses aimed at a pie-man who hadn’t moved his cart out of the coach’s way quick enough to suit the driver.

“Too fat and slow ‘e is, like as not ‘e’s been eating ‘is own wares I’d say, damn ‘em.”

A mob of ragged street urchins was making a peddler’s life hell as he tried to coax his old swayback nag on down the street amid other weary and sleepy-eyed beggars, clerks and shopkeepers. All were starting out a new day. Gabe looked up anxiously as the coach made a sharp turn and passed under the archway into the Admiralty courtyard. Gabe’s knuckles turned white grasping at the window handle as the coach’s wheels slipped on the dew-wet cobblestones and then came to a sudden halt in front of the Admiralty’s main entrance. Anthony smiled at Gabe’s obvious fright, wondering what he was thinking as he visited The Admiralty for the first time.

A doorman opened the coach as soon as it stopped. He looked puzzled when his gaze first fell upon a midshipman. With the arrival of a crested private coach, the man was expecting more than a mere boy. He looked somewhat relieved when he looked further and saw Captain Anthony.

“This way my Lord,” the doorman said.

Anthony still hadn’t gotten used to the title. “Lord Anthony” had always meant his father. As the two followed the messenger up the steps and into the spacious entrance hall, Anthony could see Gabe was overcome with awe.

His first visit, Anthony thought again. If luck serve Gabe well, there would be many visits, all pleasant.

Out of nowhere a clerk appeared. “If you would be so kind as to wait in here, my Lord. His Lordship knows you’re here. He’s tying up a complicated matter and assures me he will be with you directly.”

The messenger turned to leave, and then paused in his stride, saying, “I’m sorry to hear about your father, my Lord. He was a good man, a good leader. If circumstances had been different, many believe he would have been First Lord.”

Gil nodded. “It’s good of you to remember.”

As the messenger left the small room, Anthony approached the small fireplace to warm his stiff and aching bones. As they waited, it dawned on Anthony that he and Gabe were waiting in one of the small private anterooms, not in one of the larger rooms that would he filled with unemployed half-pay captains, commanders and lieutenants, all looking for a berth or a command.

Anthony turned to Gabe who had thus far said nothing. Gabe was staring out the one window The cold February wind whipped against the windowpanes, and Gabe spoke.

“Wind’s picking up, temperature’s dropping, and it’s cloudy. It’ll probably snow tonight. Father would say ‘a night not fit for neither man nor beast and certainly not fit for a sailor.’”

Anthony and Gabe smiled, thinking of their father’s words. At that time, the messenger returned, “The First Lord will see you now, Lord Anthony.”

He hesitated, not wanting to offend Anthony, then found the right words. “Perhaps the young gentleman would like to take a turn through the halls, sir.” It was the messenger’s polite way of saying the room was needed for someone more important than a midshipman.

“I’ll wait outside with Dagan,” Gabe volunteered.

Anthony had forgotten Dagan, who had been sitting atop the coach with the driver. No doubt they had found a warm spot.

 

***

 

Lord Sandwich was staring out the window as Anthony entered.

“Gil—Lord Anthony, I should say—how are you?”

The two shook hands as old friends. Anthony had played cards with the First Lord on many occasions. He had also dined with him and his mistress here at the Admiralty. For a while Anthony had been a member, along with the First Lord, at the infamous Hellfire Club. Anthony knew without Sandwich’s influence, the Navy would be in worse shape than it was. Many blamed Sandwich, but in fact the Prime Minister, Lord North, was responsible for most of the Navy’s shortcomings.

Leaving off the title, Sandwich said, “Ah Gil, Parliament is in love with you, my boy. Having saved the Honest John Convoy from those cutthroats has made you England’s darling for the time. Front page of the Gazette, no less. But the truth be known, the reason for such a display of admiration as you received is because you saved a good many from financial ruin. That includes several members of Parliament, not the least of which is your brother-in-law. It was through his insistence that you were knighted so quickly, not only to honor you, but also something to make your father proud in his last days. By the bye, the Prince sends his regrets about your being herded through his Majesty’s court so fast. He would like some time to visit with you once our business is complete. Speaking of business, have you taken care of your father’s affairs?”

“Yes,” Anthony answered.

“You’ve met your brother?” inquired the First Lord. Anthony nodded. “He has the makings of a fine officer,” continued Lord Sandwich. “But watch out for him. Some will try, and may even succeed, in using him against you.”

Taken aback, Anthony, somewhat roused, asked, “In what way?”

“In many ways! Wherever there’s envy or jealously, wherever there is insult, real or imagined, people will try to hurt you through any means possible. Just be on guard, Lord Anthony. Be on guard.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Now for the business at hand. For several years now, grievances by the colonies have mounted. Most feel it’s only a time before verbal conflicts turn into open hostilities and war. There is growing concern in the House of Commons as to whether the Navy can maintain control of the seas if war does break out. It is most certain France and maybe even Spain will enter along with the colonies. You know how thin we are stretched now. This could be devastating. Right now privateers, who many in Parliament feel are in cahoots with the Colonials, are reeking havoc on our merchant ships.

“This is not to mention the damned blackguards who have allegiance to no country. These damned pirates are a menace. They prey upon the trade lanes in the Caribbean and off the American coast with seeming impunity.

“Your recent success has made you the ideal person to deal with this problem. Yours will be an independent command. You will have leeway to deal with this threat as you see fit. You are to assume command of Drakkar 44. She has a new full complement and should be completing all preparations to put to sea. Her former captain has decided to retire rather than face hostilities with the colonies. The Drakkar already has a full slate of officers, but I’m sure you’ll want Lieutenant Buck and a few others. Just leave a list of names with my secretary and he’ll see to it.”

“When do you expect me to sail?” Anthony asked.

“Within a fortnight.”

“And where are we bound, sir?”

“English Harbour, Antiqua.”


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