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Note: I have freely played with the dates and sequence of real history, events from the books, and the storyline of the movie. The date at the beginning is late fall, 1805, following the movie chronology, and I am assuming that Jack is roughly at the same point in his career as in the book The Far Side of the World, even though that book is set in 1812. Historical notes follow at the end.
Five Things That Never Happened To Aubrey & Maturin
An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.
-- Victor Hugo
The American merchantman Sweet Mary hailed them four weeks out of Rio with a riot of flags, firing guns every half-hour until it was clear that the Surprise and the Acheron had seen the signals and were coming about. Her decks were strangely crowded, nearly a score of obvious passengers and more men aboard than a merchantman would ordinarily carry, and her captain was at the railing waving.
"Nelson dead and forty thousand men landed at Dover before she left port," Jack said, pale and grim, speaking to Stephen in the cabin: it was no secret, all three ships were alive and seething with the knowledge. "The Duke of Clarence has been sent to Canada."
"Buonaparte may be in London by now," Stephen said, almost absently, his eyes fixed on the table with a cold reptilian glare that saw more than the maps scattered over the surface. "By our best estimates, we could hardly have put half so many men in his way, and with all the will in the world no militia will ever stop an army of French regulars under his command."
They fell silent again, the loud savage voices of the crew audible through the cabin door as a wordless roaring noise. Jack had doubled the guard on the French prisoners the moment he had heard the first shouted words from the Sweet Mary; the men would gladly have torn them apart in their present mood.
"My God, Stephen, this is black news, about Nelson," Jack said, low. "It is the only thing that makes me believe a word of it. If he were alive they should never have got so much as a rowboat out of Cadiz."
Stephen looked up quickly and gripped Jack's hand. "I am very sorry, my dear," he said. "I know how greatly you esteemed him."
Jack returned the pressure gratefully, and shook his head. "I should be glad of your advice," he said in a moment, a little hoarsely. "Captain Grissom has offered stores and water to replenish us, very handsomely, and he has forty able seamen he saved out of Plymouth: that will give us more than enough to fight the Acheron, and they are with child to come aboard and be doing something. He advises us to turn back and make for Canada, and perhaps I ought to do it, but I can scarcely bear to run for safety with England swarming with Boney's troops, though what two frigates can do --"
"Two frigates in your hands can do a great deal, brother," Stephen said. "No, the question is how Napoleon's supply stands. If he has taken enough to feed and arm his men, then there is nothing for it but to fall back on the colonies. But if there is enough resistance, and they can be prevented from bringing in more men or stores -- but there is no way to know. If we sail for home, can we make the voyage back to Canada if need be?"
"If one of the ports or Gibraltar is still free," Jack said, "But not without we put in and resupply. Otherwise we should have to surrender, and God help me, Stephen, I think I should rather sink the ship myself than hand her over on such terms."
Stephen's head sank low on his chest in thought. "What do you expect has happened to the fleet?" he asked.
"I cannot conceive of anything other than a very severe blow, the whole line of the blockade blown far out to sea. Even without Nelson: that lackey Villeneuve could never slip past Collingwood either, not without a miracle."
"Not destroyed, then?"
"God forbid," Jack said. "But in all honesty I do not think it likely."
"My dear, I can give you no certainty, but if there is any possibility that the fleet may have cut off the rest of Napoleon's army, then the situation in England will by no means be hopeless, and if so, the activity of a pair of frigates in the Channel may be of material use in repelling the invasion. But it is certainly a dreadful risk to run."
Jack nodded to this, but his face had already brightened perceptibly, and only someone who knew him far less well than Stephen would not immediately have seen that his decision was made. "England, then, with whatever Grissom can give us."
They had fine weather and fair winds, as if Fortune were giving with one hand as she had taken with the other. Less than a week from England, sailing up on the wind with the sun behind them, Bonden caught the first glimmer of sails to the east. She could not be made out yet. Jack studied the vessel through his glass as they cautiously approached: three-masted, certainly, but still too far to tell the real size of her. With luck, they would make her out before nightfall, while she might not glimpse them at all in the blaze of the setting sun.
Pullings came across after dark in answer to the last signal, led by the barest glimmer of night-lanterns. By now they knew the vessel was certainly a ship of the line, a two-decker, most likely a seventy-four. But she moved sluggishly, and her sails were not well-trimmed: badly handled, and Jack suspected undermanned.
"You mean to take her?" Pullings sounded torn, uneasy and eager all at once. "A ship of the line, with two frigates?"
"We have not a hope of sinking her, not with our eighteen-pounders nor even with the Acheron's twenty-fours," Jack said. "But if we can but come abreast of her and board her, we may be able to carry her."
"But sir, surely she will never let us come so close, and she can sink us before we ever come into range," Mowett said.
"I see no reason we should go to her," Jack said, with a grin that owed a great deal to the wolf. "We will bear up close to her during the night, under French colors. Tom, a few minutes past first light, just long enough for them to sight us clearly, you will take the lead and run away from her. Let there be hurry on deck, as if we never saw her in the night, and only sighted her. Both ships to be well-handled -- we are to look like a privateer and her prize, full of prime hands just waiting to be pressed. That will bring her around."
The seventy-four indeed came around, eagerly, pressing on a great deal of sail. Jack studied her covertly from the stern cabin while Stephen put an edge on their swords. She had given the Acheron a signal, and then a gun, but it would scarcely surprise her captain to see a privateer stuffed with treasure running before the wind and doing all in her power to avoid a meeting.
There: she had fired again, a meaningful shot this time, close to the Surprise's stern, and she was too close for any real hope of escape -- if the Acheron and Surprise had really been as slow as they were arranging to be.
"Are you ready?" he asked.
Stephen tested Jack's cutlass one last time and nodded. They helped each other with swordbelts and pistols, silently, and Stephen pulled up the collar of the bulky overcoat Jack wore to cover the gleam of his epaulettes. They went on deck together and stood watching while the seventy-four came up alongside the Surprise, the Acheron coming about now in a slow and reluctant way, men bustling about on her deck swinging the launch over the side, and Pullings standing on the quarterdeck with a bundle of papers in his hands, wearing a cloak over his coat.
The seventy-four pulled a little ahead, and they saw her name: Intrepide, and a tall thin man in a French commodore's coat on the quarterdeck, the sailors shouting cheerful insults in French to the crew of the Surprise, grinning.
"Steady, steady," Jack murmured, and looked down at the cutlasses and pistols heaped by the rail. The Acheron's launch was almost there, almost, and now -- "Hard over!" he shouted, and Bonden flung her against the Intrepide as the British colors went up. The Surprises launched themselves at the rails with a savage roar, scarcely waiting for him, and the French sailors fell back with shocked dismay.
Jack had a moment to see that Pullings and the men from the launch were coming over the larboard side even while the Acheron pressed on sail and swept on past the Intrepide, then the deck was a heaving confused struggle, men boiling up from below. A thunder of guns: the Acheron was raking her across the stern, aiming for the lower decks. He clubbed a man with the butt of his spent pistol and deflected a stabbing thrust with the sword. The crowd thinned in front of him for a moment, and he saw Tom fighting two men, a third running towards his back, then Davis laying the man flat with an immense blow.
Another ten incoherent minutes, the crack of musket-fire dying down as shot was spent, screams of pain taking its place, then a tremendous cheer rising, and he looked up to see the French colors coming down the mast.
The commodore had been killed almost at once. Jack found Stephen in his cabin going through the lead-wrapped bundle of ship's papers, the first lieutenant's body cooling by the windows with a neat bullet-hole in the back of his head. Stephen's face was closed and pale, his eyes darting over the pages intently, but he paused to look Jack over, turning his head this way and that to check for wounds. "You do very well, my dear," he said, satisfied. "And here we have the very treasure of the world. All their signals, and the commodore's orders: he was to rendezvous with two more vessels, Cornelie and Indomptable, and come to Toulon -- our Leviathan is blockading the port and preventing additional transports from embarking."
"The best news imaginable," Jack said, with intense satisfaction. "I know the Leviathan's commander: Henry Baytun, a senior captain and a very fine seaman: he was with Nelson. We will rendezvous with him and learn where we can do the most good. Let me see the orders." Jack looked over the dates for the Intrepide's rendezvous. "I will send Mowett on ahead to Toulon in the Surprise, and shift most of our crew into the Intrepide -- Intrepid I suppose we shall call her now," he said. "Indomptable is a three-decker, an eighty-gun ship, but the Cornelie is a brig, only eighteen guns, and I will tempt fate and say that we can take them both even without Surprise. Where we will find the men to fight Indomptable I cannot think, but in the worst case we will strip the frigates and tow them."
The Leviathan's crew gave the Intrepid a tremendous cheer as she wore near, somewhat battered but less-so than the unfortunate Indomptable, which had taken a vicious broadside all unsuspecting before being raked abaft the stern. Even so, both ships were still eminently seaworthy, and the Acheron had taken scarcely any harm. Standing on the Intrepid's quarterdeck, Jack could scarcely keep a beaming smile from his face, undignified though it might be.
Captain report aboard the flag, the signal came at once, and the pinnace was in the water almost before the signal-midshipman had finished calling it out. But it was followed by another: "Physician report aboard the flag, too, sir," Blakeney called down, and there was a burst of anxious scurrying to make Stephen presentable before they went across.
Stephen grew very grave the moment they stepped into the Leviathan's cabin, the smell of gangrene thick in the air as he unwound the bandages swathing Baytun's thigh and hip. "Doctor Leonid wished to seek your opinion," Baytun said in a thin hoarse whisper, steady despite the glaze of fever in his eyes. "But I have had little hope."
"The injury is too high for amputation, and the gangrene is advanced, but I would not counsel you to accept death as a necessary result of it," Stephen said. "The viscera are undamaged, and there is one treatment which can still be essayed. Though on the side of irrational feeling it is an unpleasant one, it is certainly your only hope. Doctor Leonid, may I speak with you? I think we must consult the ship's medical stores."
The medical men left the room, speaking quietly in Latin, and Jack sat down at Baytun's side so the man did not have to raise his voice. "Your lieutenant told me of the action against the Intrepid," he said faintly. "Famous work, Aubrey; a seventy-four with two frigates! And now another one; it is nearly past belief. But it is all of a piece with your gallant action against the Cacafuego; how Nelson applauded it."
"Sir, I beg you to tell me, how was he lost?" Jack said urgently. "I could scarcely believe the news."
Baytun closed his eyes and lay back against the pillows, looking even more grey and worn. "No more could any of us. Bonaparte replaced Villeneuve, that began it: Rosily took his place, and he began to send out his faster ships in small parties. They engaged us briefly, and fled as soon as they took any severe damage: three times they came out, and we sank Swiftsure and Berwick with no loss of our own, but all the while he was seasoning his crews. It was a clever bit of work, damned clever. In the fourth engagement, Nelson in the Victory engaged the Redoubtable and they took her, but during the fight a sharpshooter in the tops brought him down. Felled him with a single bullet: not twenty other men died, out of the whole crew of six hundred and fifty."
"Dear God," Jack said, appalled.
Baytun nodded. "It took the heart out of the whole fleet," he said. "Collingwood did the best he could, and of course we were all on fire to avenge him. But Rosily sat in port and kept playing his little games instead of giving us a proper engagement, and discipline began to fall apart, little by little. The men took it very bad, Aubrey, very bad indeed."
Jack nodded grimly: such a hideous stroke of bad luck would have set all the hands to muttering at once, and without some decisive action to distract them, to set the feeling of the fleet back to rights, he could easily imagine discipline crumbling.
"Still, we should have kept them penned up until Doomsday, but we had a severe gale 23 October. Two ships foundered, another eight blown far out to sea, and the rest cast all ahoo. Of course Rosily came out at once, sank the Royal Sovereign with Collingwood aboard in a truly vicious way, three seventy-fours hulling her for all they were worth, and ran for Toulon and Calais like all the hounds of hell were on his heels. With our sails still fouled by the storm, by the time we were in any sort of order to catch him, they had ferried a quarter of Bonaparte's damned army over. We put a stop to it, but we have not had even the smell of an order from the Admiralty since, and that fool Bullen in the Britannia was senior: would have it that Bonaparte had conquered the whole country and there was nothing for it but to run to Canada.
"Freemantle and I virtually threatened him: said if he did not leave enough of us to block further troops he would surely be court-martialled and condemned, and made enough of a noise that he was glad to leave us to be sunk, as he thought, with those few other captains who shared our feelings."
"Freemantle is in command, then?" Jack said; he had not met the man above twice, but knew him by reputation: a hard man but heroically brave, and a successful prize-taker, which went a long way to reconciling men to a severe discipline; he was near the top of the post-list.
Baytun looked at him very sombrely. "Freemantle is dead," he said. "Aubrey, if I do not recover, as I dare say is likely, you are the senior captain in these waters: you will be in command."
Stephen and Doctor Leonid returned before Jack had a chance to absorb this, and when he saw the box of squirming white maggots they intended to introduce into the wound, he made no protest against being sent from the cabin. Baytun's first lieutenant, James Gideon, left with him and led him to the gunroom, where he quietly explained the circumstances and disposition of the remainder of the fleet.
"Cooke in the Bellerophon and Redmill in the Polyphemus are both with us, patrolling Chatham; after we closed off Dover some fishermen came down to let us know they were landing troops there as well," he said. "Plymouth Harbor is still ours: the Africa is lying-to there while they reship her mainmast, and the town is alive with volunteers."
"Just as well: we are in desperate need of hands for the prizes. The Surprise can best be spared and is a fast sailer. We will send her to bring us as many men as she can carry." Jack bent to the list of ships Gideon had laid out for him. The British side was pitifully short: the eighty-gun Indomptable, which had been instantly renamed Lady Luck by her gleeful prize crew; for seventy-fours only Leviathan, Bellerophon, and now Intrepid; the sixty-fours, Africa and Polyphemus; the frigates Sirius, Surprise, Acheron, and lastly the Charlotte, the former Cornelie, a neat little brig of eighteen guns. Against them the French could range ten ships of the line at least, all of them seventy-fours or better, with at least seven frigates. But that was only a tally of the ships that had escaped Cadiz: who knew how many others might have been in Toulon.
"What happened to the Bucentaure?" Jack asked, noting the absence of the French flagship.
"Freemantle sank her," Gideon said, after a pause, with an odd, constrained look. "He was patrolling Dover in the Neptune with Africa, and Rosily came after him with four seventy-fours, the coward. He sent his men across to Africa or to the boats, save a handful of volunteers, then he rammed Bucentaure. A fire broke out on deck somehow, both went up in flames, and two of the other Frenchmen, Pluton and Aigle, caught as well when his powder magazine exploded."
"Good God," Jack said, reading between the lines of Gideon's polite fiction: Freemantle had certainly put the torch to the powder magazine himself, to save the Africa and take the Frenchmen with him if he could. It could never be said aloud, of course, or the man could not be given honorable burial, but it was perfectly clear.
"A desperate act, but by God, a noble one," Jack told Stephen later as in the small writing-cabin on the Intrepid, the heavy door sufficient to foil even Killick if they spoke in low voices. "If they had taken Neptune and Africa, we should certainly have no hope of doing anything but harrying them a little: now there is a fighting chance."
Stephen nodded. "Sure it is impossible to condone self-murder," he said, "but I think he may be acquitted: we do not consider men suicides who enter a burning house to save others inside; nor still those who remain at a post doomed to be overrun, and surely his act must be seen in such a light."
"We could ill afford to lose him, though," Jack said. "Stephen, I know you do not care to speak of your patients, but I must know where we stand: will Baytun live?"
"Be at ease, joy, Baytun has given me permission to discuss his condition with you," Stephen said. "In any case it is no more than I would have to do: he must be put ashore. Even should the maggot cure deliver him from the gangrene, careful nursing and a very particular diet will be necessary to preserve his life, and even with the blessing it will be many long months before his leg will heal enough to bear any weight whatsoever. As I understand it, this leaves you in command of the situation."
Jack nodded, a little bleakly. "It is a damned comedy, Stephen: not an admiral in sight, and there are scarcely five men on the post-list between me and Cooke, on the Bellerophon. We will have lieutenants in command of seventy-fours, and I think I will have to put Blakeney in command of the Charlotte. With a crew that knows him out of Surprise and an experienced sailing-master he may do very well, and I can scarcely spare anyone else, unless Mowett finds me some officers on shore."
"He certainly has courage to spare," Stephen said, "It is your intention to keep Mowett in Surprise, then?"
"Yes: he knows her well, and I can be sure of him. I will take Lady Luck myself and shift Prowse out of the Sirius into Intrepid: his lieutenant in Sirius is a captain without a ship, like Tom was, and will have no difficulty; Gideon will take Leviathan, and Tom has the Acheron. Cooke, Digby, and Redmill I will keep where they are: they are senior, of course, but I cannot afford to cast all our ships into disarray under the circumstances. We will have the very devil of a time getting the crews into shape as it is."
They sat silently a while, Stephen tuning the cello while Jack looked through papers describing the stores of powder and shot and food, figuring on scraps of paper. When Jack had at last finished the work and turned to his violin, Stephen said, "My dear, I think I must go ashore as well. We must know more of the situation on land, and if possible make contact with what remains of the Government. I know several men who may have been passed over by Napoleon's forces even if London has fallen, who may be able to give me information."
Jack looked down to conceal an involuntary expression of sorrow and anxiety. "Mowett will sail for Plymouth in the morning, once we have shifted Baytun over," he said heavily, turning the fiddle over in his hands. "He can take you along with him."
Stephen nodded. "Come now, my dear, let us have some music," he said, gently. They said nothing more that night but commonplaces, but played for a very long time.
There was an abrupt break in the muted noise of voices behind the door when Stephen knocked, a quick rattle of chairs and furniture shifting before it was cracked open.
"My God, Maturin!" Sir Joseph Blaine hurried forward from the shadows, and waved away the tall soldier at the door to let Stephen in. A noise very like a collective sigh came from the body of men, and candles were relit as they closed and barred the door again. "Forgive us: we have been living in fear of betrayal for weeks now, and indeed several men have been taken. Gentlemen, permit me to introduce Dr. Stephen Maturin, a most devoted servant of His Majesty who enjoys my fullest confidence."
The gathering was headed by Sir Joseph and Lord Hawkesbury, the Home Minister, who had been ill at the time of the invasion and unable to escape London; the remainder of the gathering consisting of five members of Parliament, several members of the various intelligence services whom Stephen did not know, and the soldier. This last, Captain Johnson, proved to be a messenger from the Prime Minister: Pitt had fled to Scotland with the Prince Regent and Lord Castlereagh, and the British Army was massing at Edinburgh under the command of Arthur Wellesley, the young officer who had made a great success of the Seringapatam expedition.
"Every storehouse of the country seemed on fire as I came," Stephen said, having finished making his bow to the gentlemen, and joining them around the small table.
Johnson nodded. "We have pretty well put paid to his practice of living off the land, I think," he said. "He has not yet ventured north of Birmingham, and I think he must hope to bring more men and goods in through Chatham. We have assembled only thirty thousand regulars, but with militia and our great advantage in artillery, Wellesley has every confidence in our forces. But if Bonaparte can establish a line of supply and bring in another twenty thousand men, our hopes must be materially diminished if not extinguished."
"What are our hopes?" Stephen asked. "Is there any design formed of driving Buonaparte out?"
"That is precisely what we have just been discussing," Lord Hawkesbury said. "Captain Johnson tells us that Wellesley will be ready to march in two weeks."
"We will be in Manchester by 17 December," Johnson said. "Wellesley plans to march through Wales and come at him near Birmingham from the west, and if possible cut his leading forces off from London, so as to divide him into two more digestible masses. But all depends on the supply: if Bonaparte is not cut off, he can come north and establish himself outside Manchester when he learns we are on the move, and then we cannot get past him easily."
Stephen nodded. "Gentlemen, I can promise you that the Navy will do all that is humanly possible to put an end to the continuing flow of men from France, but I must warn you that our forces are sadly outnumbered at present, and our own supply imperilled." He gave a quick sketch of the naval situation, to the great dismay of those assembled.
"By God, may I live to see Bullen hanged for a coward," Johnson cried, passionately: he was a young man, clearly new to his rank and devoted to his commander, and the story of the general retreat to Canada had shocked him greatly.
"It is a dreadful business indeed," Sir Joseph said. "We had word of Nelson's death, but the next news that arrived was that Bonaparte's men were landing in droves and the Navy was nowhere to be seen: rumor had it that Rosily had destroyed the whole fleet at Cadiz."
"Thank Heaven for Captain Aubrey," Hawkesbury said. "Dr. Maturin, I hope you will bear him our deep gratitude. These victories you describe give me the best hope I have had since this wretched invasion was launched. It gives me heart to think he is in command of our forces, although I am deeply grieved to hear of Freemantle and Baytun."
"I share the same sentiment," Sir Joseph said. "With your agreement, sir, I will write him orders as a commodore and confirm him in that command: my authority to do so is somewhat questionable, but with Lord Melville and Lord Keith in Bonaparte's hands, I think it the best that can be had at present, and Captain Johnson can have them confirmed by the Prime Minister. And then, dear Maturin, we will pray that you can get them safely to him."
"You are to take all His Majesty's ships presently in Channel waters or entering the same under your command, regardless of seniority or flag, hoisting your broad pennant in Lady Luck --"
Here Jack stopped reading and raised his head from the papers, astonished. "Stephen, I have never heard such a thing: do you realize that by these orders, if an admiral were to sail into the Channel, I should be his commander?"
"My dear, as you have often told me, the rank of admiral is attained solely by seniority, while post-captains are ranked with respect to each other in the same manner," Stephen said. "Under the present circumstances, with the impossibility of regular communication between the Admiralty and the serving officers in the field, an accidental change of command could easily take place, with disastrous consequences. The possibility cannot be tolerated."
"Well, there is something in what you say, Stephen, but it is rather strange, and I should not like to try giving an admiral an order and seeing if he would obey. But I am glad enough for the orders: we have gotten ourselves in something approaching order while you were away, and sunk a dozen transports, but it has been damned uncertain running about on no authority but our own."
The rest of the small fleet welcomed the orders with equal pleasure, and a cheer went up from every vessel as the broad pennant snapped out into the wind, although Jack had sent around beforehand to prohibit the firing of salutes: powder and shot were their most jealously-guarded supplies. The other captains had all at least acquiesced in Jack's passion for gunnery, and with the French making daily attempts to cross the Channel, there had been no shortage of targets. Stephen watched the morning's practice with Jack from the Lady Luck's quarterdeck, and duly admired the progress, which was indeed very marked.
"I have not quite liked the idea of ordering something very like a fleet action without so much as a by-your-leave, but even so I have been expecting the French to bring us to account at any moment," Jack said very cheerfully, as the Leviathan smashed several floating barrels to pieces while executing what he assured Stephen was a difficult maneuver. "Now that you have brought me my orders, I am entirely at ease: I think perhaps we will even take a turn past Calais and try if we cannot draw them out. I see no reason to leave Boney any reason to hope for anything by sea: if he is discouraged it cannot but help Wellesley."
But by evening, a heavy fog had rolled in across the Channel with a westerly wind behind it. Despite his captains' initial dubious looks, Jack gave orders that would string out the fleet along the coastline from Dover to Chatham. Their faces cleared as he continued: "Bells to be muffled, and drape your sides with grey sailcloth. Sling a lantern over the side at the stern and keep your bows pointing at France. Post men with sharp hearing on deck, and if you hear so much as the single splash of an oar, douse the lantern and go to quarters as silently as mice. Do the same if you see another ship's lantern go out: then wait my signals: blue to come about and rake 'em, red to board."
Jack and Stephen stood on the quarterdeck together into the night, ignoring Killick's mutterings about night damps and greedily drinking the hot coffee he brought them. The lanterns to either side glowed pale white-yellow in the fog, and all about them was silent. Jack said nothing, but Stephen could sense that he was alive with tension, coiled energy awaiting release.
The Intrepid's lantern went out like a blown candle, and Jack turned at once, not quickly, but still giving the impression of tightly controlled motion. "Douse that light there, Bonden, smartly now. Mr. Landen, let us go to quarters."
"Aye, sir," the young man said, eyes shining despite the near-total absence of light: he was a half-pay lieutenant who had been virtually sleeping on the docks in hope of a ship when Mowett had put in at Plymouth, and Jack had taken him as first lieutenant after barely a week's trial.
"I will go below," Stephen said, and drained his coffee cup. "God send you victory, joy."
The splashing of oars was audible now, and Jack's face was alight. "Amen, brother," he said, and handed his own cup to Killick.
The men at their guns, waiting in perfect silent savagery; the small French boats slipping by, loaded with men and sacks; and then, finally, the tall-masted forms of the French ships of the line coming past, their white sails ghostly through the fog: but the wind was still in the west, and as the French moved on towards the coast, they gradually emerged from the misty cover of the fog. The whole flotilla lay in open water, with Chatham straight ahead, and the French troops on shore already waiting for them.
"Send up the signal," Jack said, perfectly calm, "and come about."
The blue flares shot up at once, and through the fog that still covered the British line, Jack could see the shadows as the sails were let fly, the whole line wearing together, with the sterns of the entire French line lying bare and unprotected before their larboard batteries. "Fire when ready, Landen," Jack said.
"Larboard battery, fire!" Landen shouted, and all the guns were speaking, great red-golden blooms of flame erupting in the fog, raising cries of alarm on the French ships as the heavy guns raked them fore and aft. The British ships finished their first pass and broke from the fog to continue on and between the French vessels.
"Ready those bow chasers there," Jack called: the hand-picked crew at the forward guns aimed them at the smaller transports and began to sink them like casks in practice. Below decks, both starboard and larboard batteries were speaking now, and the Lady Luck was shuddering with their violence: Jack had taken aboard enough men on the larger ships to fight both sides, and there were French vessels to either side as targets for them, their decks already mangled from the deadly raking fire.
Now the French ships finally began to launch their own broadsides, but the early advantage was already telling: no steady rate of fire, many guns not firing at all, and their decks shining black with blood. Masts were toppling like a child's matchstick house, the French ships were dead in the water, and the line was broken: the British ships were through, coming about with the larboard batteries ready once again for the bows of the French ships and the starboard for the transports ahead.
Jack's hand had not left the hilt of his sword since the action began, but his eyes remained fixed upon the transports. A tiny ragged handful of the first boats were making it to shore, but of the rest virtually all had been reduced to kindling, and the waters were churning with the last struggles of drowning men. Some who flung off their boots and gear were managing to swim to safety, but at last he was satisfied that there were not enough left to make a material difference.
"Bonden, send up the signal to board," he called, and now, finally, the red flares rose up. Men came pouring up from belowdecks, swords and pistols at the ready: the French ships that could still maneuver were turning tail and running for Calais, but of the twelve frigates and ships of the line more than half remained, and Jack laughed with very delight, standing spattered with blood on the deck of the Formidable, her admiral's sword in his hand, to see the French colors coming down on them all.
There was not a ship without a prize at her heels as they put into Plymouth, and Digby in the Africa had two: his men, many of them formerly from the Neptune and on fire to avenge Freemantle's death, had stormed across the deck of the nearest ship, taken her, then crossed to another seventy-four fleeing too slowly and caught her as well, in a pair of bloody fights.
Crowds lined the docks cheering with almost hysterical fervor as the fleet came in, and Jack and his captains were forced to send the men ashore by watches, or else every last man would have been drunk and debauched in a quarter of an hour, so freely were the taverns and whores prepared to reward the 'saviors of England,' as several hastily-printed pamphlets were already proclaiming them. So joyful was the mood that even this restriction was not grumbled at too greatly, and the men staggering back were cheerfully mocked by those of the next watch going out to put themselves into the same condition.
Stephen slipped back aboard the next morning, his return as little remarked as his departure had been, thanks to the gangplank. Jack stirred very reluctantly under his hand: the officers had celebrated as enthusiastically as the men, if with a somewhat higher caliber of women and wine.
"For all love, Stephen," he protested, plaintive, but he suffered himself to be drawn from his cot and plied with coffee until his eyes were no longer quite so bloodshot as to look a solid red.
"My dear, there is not a moment to be spared," Stephen said urgently, when Jack had revived. "Buonaparte knows of the disaster at sea. He has put every city he has taken to the torch and abandoned them: London, Portsmouth, Southampton, Dover, all are aflame. He is marching every last man he has up the eastern coast as quickly as he can go, and they are on a pace to make twenty miles in a day. If Wellesley is not warned, Buonaparte will slip the entire force past him and reach Edinburgh, and the King, with thirty thousand men."
Jack pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes for a long moment: five minutes later he was on deck roaring orders, and the ships were coming to sluggish life. The Charlotte, being small and trim, and her captain having fallen asleep rather earlier than the more hardened officers, was ready first, and she came up eagerly to the Lady Luck at the signal. "Blakeney, take aboard the Doctor and make for Liverpool with every last ounce of sail you dare to press on," Jack shouted across, even while the cutter swung over and Stephen was lowered away.
"Aye sir," Blakeney called, his bright cheerfulness provoking a somewhat sour look from the other captains: under his lead, his crew even raised a small ragged cheer as they sped from the harbor.
Jack sent the Surprise after them: she was the only other ship who could touch the Charlotte for speed. Every other vessel flung open her holds, men were packed in from the shore like sardines with every bucket they could carry, and they flew down the coast to the enormous smoking plumes that marked the burning cities.
They met again only seven weeks later, in Hampshire, at the start of a wet and cold spring: Bonaparte's army had been intercepted east of Manchester, Wellesley had taken an excellent defensive position and slaughtered half the exhausted men, and Bonaparte himself was reputed to have fled back to France in a fishing boat. But the cost in lives and property had been very shocking. Though Parliament was sitting once again, its halls were still blackened with soot, and there was scarcely a home unburnt in England south of Birmingham.
Nevertheless, it was the first great defeat Napoleon had ever suffered, the invasion had been turned back, and every newspaper was full of raucous praise for the commodore and the general to whom the victory was universally assigned. Wellesley had already been created Duke of Wellington, and a similar honor waited for Jack, who had been sent an order granting him leave: but the days went by, he did not come to London, and finally Stephen went looking.
He followed a trail from Portsmouth to Ashgrove Cottage and stood in the garden for a long time: the cabbages of which Jack had been so proud had been uprooted, his small stable of horses slaughtered so thoroughly only the hooves and teeth had been left behind, and the house and barns left a smouldering heap. There was not a living soul in sight.
He found Jack at last in the yard of the village inn, nearly unrecognizable behind a coating of soot and dirt and drinking water from the bucket of the courtyard well. The inn was half-burnt, and as it was therefore in better condition than nearly the rest of the village or the surrounding manors, it had become both shelter and center of operations. The men were laboring to clear away the wreckage and salvage what they could: a pitifully small amount.
Stephen watched Jack leave the well and rejoin the others, then he silently put his horse in the stable and went inside to work.
They took him to George at once. Sophie was sitting by his bedside, grey and drooping, but her head came up with eyes flashing when the door opened. Her anger changed all at once to welcome, and she held out both hands to him; he embraced her gently, aware of a marked loss of weight and an alarming fragility. She spoke incoherently and through tears: George had shot French officers, George had been shot by them, Jack had not been there --
"Gently, for all love," he said, drawing her back to her chair. "You will tell me all: but first I must examine him."
A single pistol-ball to the shoulder, straight through: it ought not have been a dangerous wound, but there were signs of mortification, and Stephen suspected that some fragment of cloth had been left inside the wound.
"My dear, you must go: no, no argument; I must open this at once, and that is no sight for a mother's eyes. I will need two strong men to hold him."
He turned Sophie out into the hallway and called in two men whose leg injuries had left them unfit for the work outside. It was scarcely necessary: George was quiet, watching him with fever-bright eyes, very evidently determined to make no sound. In a moment, Stephen had cut away the infected flesh and extracted a small knot of threads clotted with pus from the inner wall of the wound. He let the blood run a few moments, then touched the fresh surfaces with a hot iron.
"That will do," he told the men, then put a hand on George's forehead. "With the blessing, you will do very well."
When he told her as much, Sophie stared as if she scarcely believed him, then burst into tears so shattering that he was forced to half-carry her to a bed in another room. Even when he had lain her down and dosed her with laudanum, her sobs did not cease, although they grew a little quieter, and he counted her frantic pulse with a great deal of concern. She made a quick gesture of protest when he would have examined her, and he sat back grimly.
"Where are the girls?" he asked.
"In Bath all this time, with Mother, thank Heaven!" Sophie cried, vehemently, and he knew his suspicion was correct.
"My dear, I must look," he said, very gently. "There is no shame in it; it is an injury and not a crime; but like any injury it may have grave consequences if not treated."
She trembled and would not meet his eye, but made no denial, and she allowed him to look. The assault had been cruel. He knew that Sophie had never taken any pleasure in the act; she would certainly never do so now, and she would bear scars that he thought might well render another pregnancy dangerous to her life. She wept a little more as he worked, and afterwards whispered that she could not bear --
"Hush, listen now, honey, there will be nothing to bear," he said. "You must sleep now: George will need careful nursing these next few days, and you cannot do that if you are ill. I will speak to Jack; you have nothing to fear." Comforted, she fell into a light but natural slumber, and he sat silently by her bedside until her breathing evened out.
There were some other wounded to tend to, and he studied the women with a careful eye and drew some few of them aside as well. Others came to him after he had treated the first, some as badly used as Sophie, and he was very tired and downcast when his last patient left him: he had grown used to treating sailors, men who were at least as likely to deal harm as suffer it; he had not before seen innocents subjected to deliberate and vicious assault to so hideous an extent, and the patient bravery of the women, all of whom had borne their injuries in silence, had affected him greatly.
He did not immediately notice when Jack came in, other than to recognize that someone had entered the room, and for his part Jack had no idea of Stephen's arrival, so that at first the two of them only stared at each other in blank, stupid incomprehension. Stephen was sitting at a small, fire-scarred table: they pushed it aside together and embraced roughly, heedless of dirt and blood.
They went outside together and washed at the well, then walked out past the ring of cleared ground to the commons. They had not yet spoken, and they did not, until Jack led them to a sheltered hollow along the side of a creek, and they sat together in the deepening twilight, breathing deep of the clean, cold air.
"I was going to London, but I came to fetch Sophie and the children first," Jack said. His voice was roughened with smoke: many of the buildings were still thick with it, though the fires had gone out.
Stephen nodded. "I have every hope that George will make a full recovery," he said. "A trifling matter of a few threads in the wound: he has your constitution and I expect him to make swift progress."
Jack did not answer at once, but he breathed deeply, and his shoulders slumped as though a load had been lifted from them. "And Sophie?" he asked, very low.
Stephen bowed his head. "My dear, I am very sorry. There can be no risk of further pregnancy," he said. "No risk whatsoever," and Jack looked at him and nodded.
"Yes, I thought so," he said. "I hope she does not imagine -- she does not think I would ever --"
"No: in her present condition, she is very naturally given to unreasonable anxiety and shame, but I have treated the injury, and I am certain her mind will come to be at ease shortly," Stephen said.
"Thank you, Stephen," Jack said, and then he put his head in his hands and said nothing more for a long time. Stephen stood up and wandered some short distance away, to give him privacy.
At length he returned and knelt in front of him, put a hand on the back of his neck. "Come, brother," Stephen said. "It is too cold to sit here, and you are worn out. To bed, for all love."
The inn was crammed with all those who had no other shelter, and there were large enough numbers of wounded and women to take up the beds. But the two of them rolled up in a single blanket by the fire in George's room and slept warmly enough: and the dark was sufficient to conceal and render permissible both the silent tears and the embrace that comforted them.
The first flush of victory went with the change of the seasons. Summer settled heavily on London, thick and humid, and on the Continent Napoleon had regained his aura of invincibility: an Austrian army captured at Ulm, Vienna taken, and the allied armies of Austria and Russia crushed in a brilliant victory at Austerlitz. It was likely that the defeated nations would be forced to join his embargo against Britain, and the shadow of war grew long once again.
Stephen spent long hours in secret meetings and conferences deep in the bowels of the Admiralty; messengers from abroad with no formal position came and went uneasily, and all ties to Spain and Prussia were being worked on to the utmost. For his part, Jack spent his days on the higher floors, drawn reluctantly into a tangle of military proceedings against the captains who had retreated.
Bullen, to give him some small credit, had turned straight around on arriving in Canada and learning that Bonaparte had not yet taken the whole of Britain, but the early return of the fleet had not saved him or the other captains who had retreated: indignation ran too high among both the public and the Government, and one court-martial after another took place in grim procession at the Admiralty. Jack loathed the process, but his and the slowly-recovering Baytun's were nearly the only voices which could save the lives of any of the men brought up on charges of cowardice.
"I tell you, Stephen, it makes me positively ill to see these civilians they have allowed into the proceedings. They would like to paint the walls with Navy blood, and half the captains convened are so afraid of being called up on charges themselves for not reporting for duty during the invasion that they are inclined to be very severe, the better to cover their own lapses," Jack told Stephen, sad and grim after a long morning. They often slipped away from their respective entanglements to dine together at Black's, where Jack's eminence now ensured them a private room.
"Do you and Baytun not have significant influence?" Stephen asked.
"I hope so, but we may do as much harm as good, because of course Henry stayed and I came back, so they look at us and think those fellows in front of them ought to have done the same. Bullen they would hang if we both went on our knees and begged for his life, and so far as that goes, I don't know that I would do as much: he was certainly nearly the ruin of the country. I think we have saved most of the others, but dismissal from the service is the best that most of them can hope for."
"I am very sorry: for your pains, naturally, my dear; but what you say also alarms me. Will the effective loss of so many officers not leave the Navy at something of a loss for replacing them?"
"It is not so black as that," Jack said. "The one virtue of this wreckage of the post-list and this absurd hero-worshipping is that I have gotten all our acting-captains made, and half a dozen other fine lieutenants who had not an ounce of interest among them. But a new captain does not ordinarily jump into a seventy-four fresh from swapping 'round his epaulette, and when this black business is done, we will have lost near two hundred years of experience at the top of the list. And, too, it casts a ship awry, you know, losing its captain this way. The men cannot help but feel it."
Stephen nodded. "And we can scarcely afford any weakness now, alas," he said. "I do not care to sound alarmist, and we are perfectly safe from invasion at present, but Buonaparte has by no means been defeated. This wicked Continental Blockade of his will tell sadly over time if it is not defied, and at present defiance is in very short supply among those nations that have less effective walls between their territory and his armies than do we."
"I would give a great deal to be back at sea," Jack said, sounding so wistful he surprised even himself: he had not realized how deeply he longed to be away until the words had been uttered. "I do not mean to complain," he added hastily. "Everyone has been as obliging as one could possibly like or even a shade more, but you know, Stephen, I am no political animal, and I should be doing better work for England on the deck of even a single-masted sloop than in a drawing room."
"Sure no one would ever take you for a landsman, joy," Stephen said, regarding him fondly. "But have the pleasures of the coronet and society already palled?"
"Oh, well: so far as that goes, I could do very well without them, although Sophie -- that is to say, Sophie likes them well enough, and so I am very happy for them," Jack said, stumbling a little; he did not like to admit that he did not very much enjoy the whirl of society, thinking it might seem an oblique criticism of Sophie.
Sophie indeed made a lovely duchess, and the rubies Jack had bought her with forty thousand of the prize-money lent their color to her face, its bloom already much recovered: George had left his bed less than a week after the surgery, removal to London had greatly increased her physical comfort, and not even the old servants thought it strange in the least that she should have a separate bedchamber in the new London house. In fact they seemed to think it only due to their new consequence, which preoccupied them far more than Jack's did him.
She had begun entertaining in a very tentative way, encouraged by Stephen, who imagined a moderate course of dinner-parties for Jack's naval colleagues, small affairs that would give her mental occupation. But the Duchess of Cochrane was a very different personage than Mrs. Aubrey, and the small initial size of her dinner-parties only rendered them elite, so that anyone who could claim a connection was soon at pains to obtain an invitation. Sophie was at first surprised and then very gratified to be sought-after, and as she was too sweet-natured to refuse any reasonable guest and had ample funds with which to work, her table grew very long, and she was soon very much in company, to material benefit so far as her recovery went.
Yet her nerves were still under a strain, and it greatly agitated her to see the very blatant attentions paid to Jack by other women. Wellington, being as yet unmarried, was a more openly-pursued target, but the general feeling of society towards both him and Jack was at present so near idolatry that there was scarcely much effort at discretion even in Jack's case. Although she was upset by these advances, some of which took place even in her own home, Sophie said nothing and looked away when she could not avoid seeing; she had very clearly determined not to protest: she still flinched involuntarily at even an accidental touch from Jack's hand.
But for once in his life, Jack declined every offer that came in his path without hesitation: it seemed perfectly obvious to him that while he might have strayed in the past without any reflection upon Sophie, the situation was now materially changed. He had no notion of causing her any such grief as to imply, even by the most discreet of liaisons, that he was not perfectly happy with their marriage under the present conditions. But he found chastity very hard indeed, and it was still harder to bear with constant temptation, so that he greatly preferred to avoid mixed company so far as he was able, and he was at pains to avoid most of Sophie's entertainments.
Stephen had privately refused the rewards that had been offered equally privately: his inherited fortune had been wildly in excess of his needs even before the very large addition of prize-money from Jack's latest string of captures, and he had no desire for a title that he was not obligated to accept, as Jack had been. He had indulged in the expense of taking a fashionable house in order to be convenient to Jack and Sophie, and Jack so frequently retreated there that they were very nearly sharing quarters again. Indeed if they played late into the night, he often slept under Stephen's roof and breakfasted with him before going home, a matter of crossing the street and walking some sixty paces.
They became lovers almost by accident. Another slow misery of a day at the Admiralty had slid into a late meeting over supper with Baytun and a few other close colleagues and then into a still-later game of whist at Black's. Walking home together in the thick July night, they stopped at Stephen's door to part. Jack looked down the street at his own home: Sophie's light was still on, and he knew that if he went home now she would hear him in his room, adjoining onto hers, and that she would not sleep until his light was off.
Stephen saw his face. "Will you come in, my dear?" he asked, abruptly: he had meant only to say goodnight.
"Yes, thank you," Jack said, as hastily.
As soon as they had spoken, they fell silent, suffering some confusion. They were already past supper and it was too late for anything but bed given the hours they kept: there was no real excuse for the invitation with Jack's house only steps away, and they were both well aware of its singularly odd appearance. They went upstairs almost timidly. The servants had long since gone to bed, Jack's bedroom was not prepared, and Stephen's bed was large. It was absurd to do anything but share, but they could scarcely look at one another while they undressed.
Yet having blown out the candles and climbed into the bed, they turned at once into each other's arms, both very urgent. They were a little clumsy in their desperation and from lack of experience, and they managed little more than to make a sticky tangle of the sheets, but they fell asleep entwined, mouths swollen from kissing.
They woke in early morning light, the air already simmering with heat and the covers on the floor where they had flung them off during the night. Stephen rose and locked the door against the servants, came back to the bed with sweet oil from his medicine chest in his hands, and Jack turned onto his belly and put his head down. He meant it generously, feeling that it was his place to go first; then he was struggling to contain the low, hitching gasps that broke from him involuntarily, very shocked, and Stephen's entry drove him deep into the pillows to stifle his cries.
They both spent almost at once. Jack lay crumpled and panting with Stephen draped limply over his back, sweat rolling down his neck, Stephen's deep slow breaths skating over his skin. It was too hot to stay pressed together, too hot to move; at length Stephen rolled off him and fell back heavily onto the other side of the bed. Jack stirred, fumbled for his hand, and their fingers interlaced wordlessly.
Later Stephen rang down for cool baths and breakfast to be brought up and left in his dressing room; they stripped the bed themselves and rinsed the sheets. All was dry by the time they had finished eating, and the bed was easily remade before they dressed. They agreed to meet for dinner at the ordinary time, and then they kissed before parting, the only alteration to their previous routine.
Dinner was in no way unusual: they spoke of the cases finally drawing to a close, of Napoleon's position. Stephen was a touch more distracted than usual, and after the demolished remnants of the pudding had been carried away by the servants, he tapped his cigar out and poured them both another glass of wine. Jack watched him closely; he knew that Stephen liked to organize his thoughts before divulging any particularly interesting piece of information, so as to be sure he was respecting confidences, and Jack could recognize the signs of impending disclosure very well by now.
"I do not care to speak of uncertainties, but the outcome of certain discussions this morning make it very likely that a fleet will be sent to Denmark within the next few months," Stephen finally said. "There are eighteen ships of the line in Copenhagen harbor with which Buonaparte would like to replace some of those elegant vessels you took from him so neatly, and the growing consensus is that we would prefer to take them from the Danes now than from the French later."
"Nelson took twelve of their ships in the year one," Jack said, an eager light already in his eye. "They have been smarting from it ever since, and I imagine they have reinforced the shore battery."
"Significantly so," Stephen said. "This will not be a cutting-out expedition, but rather an assault upon the city itself to force capitulation: bombardment from a secure position, and supported by a significant infantry force. More to the point, I am mindful of what you have often said, that a violent action serves to create harmony among a ship's crew. With new captains certain to be assigned as soon as the courts-martial have rendered their verdicts, it seemed to me that this enterprise might offer an opportunity to put at least some of these distressed ships to rights again."
"It should do admirably, I would think," Jack said, already mentally reviewing what he remembered of the plan of the harbor. "Stephen, do you suppose--"
"Nothing has been decided yet," Stephen said, quellingly, but relented enough to add, "However, I believe your thoughts upon a plan of approach and perhaps even some recommendations for captains would be welcome, purely on an informative basis."
As it happened Jack had his orders only two weeks later, Stephen as usual being more cautious than necessary, and he at once plunged gratefully into the planning for the expedition, glad to have something to take the taste of the court-martials out of his mouth now that they were finally done with. He had been granted the right to have a captain under him in Lady Luck, so Tom Pullings would be sailing with them again, and with his pick of lieutenants he could be sure of a happy ship. While he had some anxieties for the eight ships in his command that had come from Canada, he was reasonably pleased with the captains assigned, and his last month on shore was a happy and busy one.
He and Stephen worked independently on their separate halves of the mission during the days, Stephen gathering intelligence on the Danish political situation, Jack meeting with his captains and reviewing stores and arguing with the Admiralty for higher allowances of powder and shot. Then together they would discuss the concerted plan of action, usually while lying in bed late in the cool evenings, playing out possible battles with buttons on the coverlet for ships and whole armadas coming to grief when they grew distracted.
Killick, who considered Jack's care his proper domain whichever roof Jack happened to be under, knew from very early on: they did not always remember to lock the door, and he had undoubtedly found them in bed together long before the first morning when Jack woke enough to raise his head and demand coffee of him when he came in, muttering about creases, to gather the clothes they had discarded onto the floor. He left and Jack put his head back down; a moment later he and Stephen were both wide awake and hurrying into dressing-gowns.
"It was too much to hope that we should be able to keep it from him," Stephen said with perfect truth, and they consoled themselves with the pleasure of having eggs and bacon and toast in the bedroom without needing to have dressed first.
"But do you know, Stephen, I am a little concerned," Jack said, now dressed and shaved, enjoying a final cup before leaving. "It is not that I am worried about being brought up on Article XXIX myself; we are not going to make a spectacle of ourselves. But if it gets noised about, some fellows may think they can do so, and then I do not know how I shall be able to check them with a straight face."
"My dear, as I recall you were once turned before the mast for hiding a girl aboard, yet I do not recall that you have ever suffered any difficulty in putting a stop to such behavior," Stephen said.
"Well, it has been a long time since I did so," Jack said, smiling with a certain nostalgia. "Still, I suppose there is no sense in worrying about it before the event, and with so much else to consider. It is a wonder to me that we ever managed to stop Bonaparte without all these preparations." He drained the cup. "I must be off. I will see you Saturday, at Dover, before noon?" He stressed the time a little anxiously.
"Yes, my dear; I give you my word I will not cause you to miss the tide," Stephen said, standing to kiss him goodbye. "Give Sophie and the girls my love; I will not see them, for I will come to Dover straight from Edinburgh."
Deprived of Stephen's company and wishing to spend as much time as possible with Sophie before his departure, Jack spent the remainder of the week dancing attendance on her; it had been some time since he had been home for one of her events, and he was surprised to find society much less of a trial and himself better able to fend off unwanted advances. He was pleased with the improvement in his fortitude, especially as Sophie seemed to perceive the alteration and to be made happier by it. It did not occur to him that this was not much of an achievement in a man who was enjoying a heartily passionate affair, nor that it might give rise to any suspicion in those who knew him.
Sophie was not in the least blind, however, and by the time her guests had gone on Jack's third evening home, she looked very thoughtful. He did not notice, however, and it was not until their parting that she said anything to him. He was already inside the chaise, having kissed the girls and shaken George's hand, when she called to him from the door and ran down the front steps to him.
"Jack -- " Sophie hesitated, then very briefly darted in close to kiss him on the cheek. While he was still startled by this, she said softly, "Come back safely, and may you and Stephen take very good care of one another," and went back inside.
He stared after her as the coach rolled and carried him away: very taken aback, for her tone had made everything clear. But on reflection, his brief embarrassment was soon overcome; a deep affection for her suffused him, and relief: he was so glad it did not make her jealous or unhappy. He had formed no real design for what he might have done if it had, thinking he would simply avoid the issue instead; but it made him very glad to have the possibility removed.
Having spent a late and cheerful night with his family, he slept nearly the whole length of the journey, and the coach brought him up to the very end of the dock before Killick woke him. He climbed out: Lady Luck was moored not far distant from shore, the wind stirring her bright colors, and Stephen was already on deck, waiting for him.
- End -
Historical Notes For Those Who Are Obsessive Like Me:
Most of my information came from the incredibly useful and detailed Napoleonic Guide: http://www.napoleonguide.com/
I have horribly maligned poor Captain Bullen of the Britannia, whose only fault was to be the captain in command of the largest ship and a more plausible bad leader than either Nelson or Collingsworth, and also the other captains that I packed off to Canada. Sorry, long-dead people! Nothing personal.
The pivotal historical event that I changed isn't actually even mentioned in the story; it was the wheel that came off Admiral Rosily's carriage when he was on the way to Cadiz to replace Admiral Villeneuve. As a result of the accident, Villeneuve found out he was being replaced before Rosily actually arrived with the order, and in a last desperate attempt for glory, Villeneuve took his poorly-trained and inexperienced fleet of French and Spanish ships out against Nelson.
The real battle of Trafalgar took place October 21, 1805; Nelson virtually destroyed the entire fleet, although he himself died during the battle from a sharpshooter's bullet. Admiral Collingsworth was his second-in-command, and was later blamed for not having properly secured some of the captured ships, so that when a severe gale came through shortly after the battle, several of them were sunk. Napoleon at the time had an army of almost 100,000 men massed at points on the French coast ready to invade Britain, along with almost 2,000 boats for transport. However, without a fleet to protect the transports from the British Navy, he couldn't launch the invasion.
The ships mentioned, aside from Surprise and Acheron, are all taken from those which were actually present at Trafalgar, with the captains and number of guns being as described. Arthur Wellesley was created Duke of Wellington in 1814 after the Peninsular campaign under his command forced Napoleon to abdicate, and he later went on to win the battle of Waterloo. One of his captains in the Peninsular campaign was a William Johnson. At this time in 1805, George III was King and had not yet been confined for insanity, William Pitt the younger was the Prime Minister, Lord Castlereagh was the Minister for War, Lord Melville was the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Hawkesbury was the Home Minister. There was in fact a British attack on Copenhagen in 1806, where the British captured 18 Danish ships of the line.
Aside from that, pretty much everything is made up. It is not at all likely that Rosily's arrival would really have changed the outcome of Trafalgar the way I've described it. Also, any military tactics described are completely my invention and would probably not be a good idea to use if you're planning to invade Britain.