Friday, July 27th, 2018
They clambered down the gangplank, at a sharp angle to the deck with the low state of the tide, as William held on to her collar to stop her slipping off it. After a perfunctory search for Sophia on deck, they realized that she must be hiding in some inaccessible place, probably below, and would not appear until she was sure they were under way.
By then, they had cast off from the dock and had been pushed out from the wharf as the foresail, once hoisted, began to fill with a light breeze, pushing the bow out from the dock. Two of the several men on the dockside clambered aboard as the boat moved out. One leapt aboard and grabbed at the railing while the other swung easily and gracefully inboard with long practice as the boat heeled over a little, away from the dock. The mainsail was then hoisted up the back mast to provide some forward headway. One of the men on the dock retrieved the gangplank from where it had fallen to the end of its rope and pulled it back onto the dock.
“Joe. You can take her out. I’ll see my cousin Andy settled and out of our way.”
“Aye, Cap’n. I’ve got her. I usually do. Don’t let it go to your head, William. You’re only captain temporarily, don’t forget.”
“Watch for that sudden gust as we clear the point.”
“I will. Dammit, William. I been doing this longer than you have been in long britches. Too like your father by far with your eye on detail, but you can still read the wind better than he could, though not near as well as I can, so you just relax. With this breeze pushing us over, we should still have two feet or more under the keel if we’re lucky.”
William showed Annis to the cabin set amidships and opened the door. It was quite a small, low cabin and cluttered with sail cloth and mounds of rope and other things that had been placed there ready for their run across the channel. There was weak light from a lantern swaying in the middle of the small dark room, and there was little enough headroom for anyone. With the suddenly increasing gyrations of the ship, buffeted by suddenly changing winds, she lost her balance and found herself pulled into his arms and kissed again. “Not much privacy on a ship, my dear.” He let go of her. “Mind your head. The beams are all low enough to catch even you.” He put a hand on her arm and looked closely into her face as he leaned in and kissed her again. “Remember, my love. I need you to be alive and well after this.”
“William, I have been on board a boat before. But the same applies to you, you know?”
There was a scuffling and then scurrying of feet as a small body appeared from deep in the shadows and ran to her. “Annis. I thought I heard your voice. What are you doing here? Are you coming with us too?”
She heard William mutter in her ear. “So much for my romantic plans for the crossing.”
She squeezed his arm and then turned to Sophia. “We were looking for you, miss.”
“I thought we would never leave.”
“Well thank goodness we found where you are. Saves me scouring the ship for you.”
“You won’t put me ashore, will you, William, now that Annis is here? You promised.”
“Stow it, Sam. Yes I did, didn’t I? I promised a lot of things if I recall, but it’s too late for putting either of you ashore, young lady—lad.” He corrected himself. “We’ve left the dock, and it would be a wet walk. No turning back now.”
Annis looked at him for an explanation. “What is this about a promise?”
“I’ll explain it later. We have too much on our plates at this moment. Next port of call is in France. You’re coming with us now, like it or not, and so is Sophia—Sam.”
“Good.” At least Sophia was happy with the arrangement.
He looked at them both. “I may not survive with my reputation intact after this if Lady Seymour gets a whiff of this too. But you had better stick with the part of a boy too, Sam. Sam and Andy. You’d both better come with me before we hit the open sea, and let the crew see that there are two of you with me, so there’ll be no surprises beyond seeing two of you now. There shouldn’t be any, provided you say nothing and stay in the cabin. You’d better stay out of their way anyway until we are moving steadily and are well out, for it’s going to be rough as we clear the point and hit that sea. We’ll have to lay her over a bit to be sure of getting out over the bar. The wind is mostly out of the north and will do some awkward things to us for a while. You don’t get seasick, do you?”
‘I don’t, but S-Sam has never been out before, so I cannot venture a guess.”
“I won’t be seasick.” Sophia seemed sure of that.
William looked at them both. “Well some of the crew will be, I suspect, and long before we get there, maybe even me.” They both looked sharply at him for that frank admission. A sailor being seasick? But then even Admiral Nelson had suffered that way, so it would be no disgrace to be in such company as him. “So don’t feel bad if you do, but don’t rush to the rail. Be sick where you are if you are going to be sick. Don’t need to see you go overboard until we need to, so if you need to go on deck, which you don’t, unless I am with you, make sure you have a tethered rope looped about your hand, and do not explore. If you are near the rail and are sick make sure you are on the lea side of the ship or facing that way,” he pointed, “with the wind at your back and with someone to stop you going overboard. I do not have a change of clothing here suitable for you if anything gets blown back onto you.”
“Ugh.” Sophia did not like the sound of any of that. “I don’t see the telltales, William.” She was straining to see up into the sails.
“No. Neither can we against those black sails at night, but Joe doesn’t need to see them to get the best out of her.”
“What are they, William? Telltales? What are you talking about?”
He had his arm about her shoulder to steady her against the increasingly rough tossing the ship was now suffering. Sophia held onto his leg. “Telltales, my love, are little bits of light material, wool usually, attached to the luff of the sails. They show the flow of wind across the sail and tell the crew whether or not they need to bring the sail in more, or slacken it off to get the best out of the wind. With the wind the way it is, we could be across and in France in less than two hours, I would say, give or take, but I can’t say which way the wind will be when we leave France, so we will just have to wait and see. Could be from the east in which case we will delay our return and have a nice run back ahead of it, or could be from the west, and hard in our faces, in which case we will have some strenuous work facing us all the way home.”
He looked out across the whitecaps ahead of them and breaking against the side of the ship.
“It will be a rough crossing tonight. Not good. Best to stay off the deck unless I take you, or you might slip, or a boom or a wave may carry you over the side or you may get fouled up in a rope. Not a good place to be even for an experienced sailor in this weather. You will be mostly amidships here, so you will experience the least rough voyage of anyone and won’t get thrown about quite as much. We will eat well in France if you have not lost your appetite in the crossing, for it will take some time to get rid of the ballast and then to load us. Timing is crucial, so on the way back, we may have to heave too off the coast for a while, and if we do, it will get rough. Eat soft foods if you need to eat again before we leave, and you probably will, for we will be some hours. You don’t need sharp edges if you bring it back up.” He smiled at the pained looks on their faces.
“What a thing to think about, A-Andy.” Sophia looked up at William and saw that he was enjoying it all. “Do you have to talk about being sick, William?”
“Ignore him, Sophia—Sam. He’s enjoying this and said that deliberately. Take no notice. This is typical sailor humor. Eat what you like, So—Sam. It will make little difference. But she is right, do you have to talk about being sick, it’s enough to make anybody feel ill with all of this buffeting about.”
He grinned. “No, I don’t. Come on and let the crew see that there are two you with me, and I will get you to stay in the shelter of the companionway or in here while I try and make myself useful. If you do not feel well, you can lie down on that cot over there or in the hammock, but the way thatwill be moving with you, I don’t advise it, or you really might feel ill. Better to be on your feet or sit on that bunk and keep your minds occupied. Talk or whatever. I’ll be in to see you from time to time when I can.”
“You go, William, and do what needs to be done. We shall watch from shelter.”
“It won’t be sheltered for long once we get out there, for there’s quite a sea running and whitecaps. It will get wet out there.”
He pointed over to one wall of the cabin. “There’s heavy coats hanging there. They are dry so far. Put one on if you need more warmth, but they are no use if they get wet, and will be no help if youare. Try to stay dry and warm. The stove is not lit, so there is no warmth there I am afraid, and it will be too rough to trust lighting a fire in it. We’ll be working hard on this crossing, so we’ll be warm enough, where you won’t be.”
As they moved to the base of the stairs leading up to the deck, they could already feel the cooler and steady wind begin to bite through to their flesh and could even feel splashes of water hitting their faces. “We need to get some running lights out, now that we are further out, though we will dispense with them on the way back.”
After three hours of what turned out to be an unexpectedly rough passage, with the crosswinds causing them to corkscrew in the sea and with wind and water coming at them from the port side, they began to approach the French coast.
Both passengers were on deck by then, near the helmsman, out of the way, and firmly hanging on. They had been thrown about in the cabin more than they had liked and needed to see more than just four confining cabin walls moving in a dizzying way around them. Thatalone was enough to make anyone feel ill.
“There Joe. There. Three lights abreast.”
“I see ’em.” He shouted to William who was at the helm at that time. “Head straight for the middle one, William. We’ll be ready to drop the sails on my signal.”
William spoke to the two figures close by him. “They know what to do and when to do it better than I do. All I need to do is keep her pointed at that middle light. If you look closely, you can see lights from a house or two now, from deep in that cleft. Once we get sheltered from this wind we’ll be fine, and they can pull us in when we get ropes ashore.”
In little time, they still had momentum enough to cleanly enter a small sheltered harbor, shielded by cliffs. The sails were dropped in seconds and ropes thrown off both to port and starboard. The cleft was narrow, only about 150 feet wide, and went in quite far from the opening. Once out into the open area behind the cleft, they could see that there were houses and dock structures on both sides with two ships tied up already and quite a number of men along the side waiting to take over the ropes, even then being thrown out from the stern of the incoming Seamew, to get her turned and berthed by the many bodies that lined the dock side. “We can’t turn easily ourselves in such a narrow channel, so we need to be pulled around. Good job there are no others in here but those two, or there’d be no room for us. I wasn’t sure we’d get in as easily as we did.”
He steered as straight a course as he could as the ship gradually lost way, and the parties of men on both sides of the channel slowly pulled them in. Once deeper into the little cliff-lined harbor, they put other ropes ashore and crews of men on both banks started to slow them, and to pull them around.
“We need to get her nose pointed out to sea again before we load up, so that’s why we have men on both sides, and then we’ll tie securely up to that brigantine there. We’ll need her to hoist for us. She has the rigging and strength for it where we don’t.
“The other boat on the other side” he pointed to a sleek shape across the small harbor, “…is the Seamew that will return as expected in our place. They will leave about the same time we will, or before, just in case there is a ship waiting offshore to intercept us.”
“But she has white sails, William.”
“Yes. We do not mind if she is clearly seen. We would like her to be seen. We are the ones that should not be seen.
“I’ll need to go and see her captain before we finish and warn him what his certain reception when he returns, will be like, and that if his crew has any contraband, they had best put it into our care, or they will certainly lose it. Some of our crew will go with them too.”
Sailors were already furling the black sails and securing them and moving the booms up and out of the way prior to taking the small hatches off, fore and aft and getting ready to off load the ballast that had given them the weight in the keel to put on as much sail as they dared.
“We have at least twenty tons of granite to offload. Take about an hour if all goes well with two winches going, and then as many tons of cargo, or more, to take aboard and stow.
“We can go ashore once we get tied up. The landlord of the Coq D’Or, Monsieur Planchon is expecting us. We’ve planned this trip for a while, and he has food organized for us and the entire village. He is a friend and knows us well, so do not be afraid of him.”
“I wasn’t sick once, William.”
“I’m proud of you, S-Sam. You’ll do. You now have sea legs.” Sophia looked down at her legs but wasn’t sure what he meant, for they were the same ones she started with.
“What are those men doing?” She pointed at two men on either side of a device on the deck and both of them working hard at it, with water flowing across and out of the scuppers.
“Pumping us out. We took on a lot of water coming over, with all the corkscrewing we were doing. Loosened the planking that did. If we don’t have a sea like that to face on the way back, we should be all right, otherwise we will be pumping continuously, for some of the cargo will need to be kept dry or it will be spoiled. She’s an old ship and showing her age. Tiring work and I’ll need to take my turn at it too as I did on the way over. Let’s get you across to the dock and to meet Monsieur Planchon. I’ll need to pay him now once I find out what cargo he has for us and see that there is food and drink for everyone paid for too. That is why we are always welcome here. Nobody works well on an empty stomach.” He hefted a weighty little sack in his hands, obviously filled with gold coins. “They’ll eat and drink well tonight and even ask about the next run that we plan, so that they can be prepared for us.”
“What cargo, William?”
“I think he was getting us brandy, spirits, tea, lace, and silk. There might even be tobacco from Virginia, easier and cheaper from France, for the American colonies will sell to them if not to us. I’ll find out more when we get ashore. They are having tough times after the war and they need gold and a few other things that I can get for them easily enough, including wool and cotton goods. The heavier kegs, barrels, ankers, and half ankers will be loaded first for ballast. The last things to load are all of the lighter things that might be damaged by the sea if they get wet—the silk, then the tea, and tobacco if there is any. We’ll see what else he may have organized for us too. He always manages to surprise me.”
He escorted them across the deck. “We’ll need to cross to the dock over that ship, and we should do it now before they start to hoist the granite out fore and aft. Dangerous place to be if a sling lets go, though we try to hoist about half a ton at a time. We don’t have big enough hatches to do more than that of the more bulky materials, and we don’t need a hole through the bottom. They have enough carts to move it away and pile it inland out of the way, and then they’ll load up with what we want from wherever they have it stored and bring it along to hoist across to us.”
He lifted them both up to the deck of the brig, above them, and then walked with them across the deck and down the gangplank to the dock. “Stay close to me. I’ll let the landlord know you are with me and to put you in a separate room if I can, or out of the way a little, away from all of the rough language, smoke, and noise.”
Sophia was excited by that prospect. “I’d prefer to listen to the sailors, William. They have some interesting sounding words.”
Annis put a hand on Sophia’s shoulder. “Words, which you will not repeat in polite company young la—lad. Yes, I bet you would prefer to be with them. You already have enough disturbing ideas without adding to themand to your language too.”
William passed the two disguised ‘persons’ into the hands of the landlord after a few words of French that Annis did not clearly understand. He turned back to them. “I’ll join you and eat with you once I see that everything is rolling smoothly along as it should, for there are enough hands to help with all of the transfers. Half of the village at least has turned out to help us, and we’ll need them all if we want to get away from here as we should. There are others out on the approach roads to make sure no one else blunders down who should not be here to interrupt us. Well armed too, I might add.” He added a note of caution that only they might hear. “Don’t drink the wine unless I bring it to you. Most of it is strong and not of the best and will give you a headache. They save the best for them as will pay for it. We English. There is a good small beer, and he has good water from a spring up on the hillside. He has an excellent roasted chicken, and his beef bourguignon is memorable. I expect he has had a pig spitted and slow roasting now for some time. It smells like it. If you need something lighter and less fatty, he has an excellent ham soup and good breads and various cheeses.”
“No sharp edges on any of that,” Sophia noted. She was feeling more at ease about not being ill. “What will they do with the rocks, William?”
“Same as we do. They use them to build with, if they get too many, or they’ll use them for ballast on the next ship that offloads and leaves empty and is riding too light.
“With luck, we should be ready to go again in a few hours. We need to time it properly when we get back to England, to get the highest tide of the season, and that will be at about five in the morning, in five hours from now. It doesn’t leave us much time. With the wind behind us, the high water might persist until later in the morning, but we need to be out of sight by five at the latest, if we can.”
He left them with Monsieur Planchon with instructions to keep them apart from the others and to keep an eye on them. Planchon seemed to know all about them, for once, he addressed the elder as “mams…—monsieur” before he switched his gender. Annis had an uncomfortable feeling that everyone seemed to know that they were not what they seemed to be, for there were many curious glances their way and occasional laughter.
Over the next few hours, many men and women passed in and out to eat and drink, but spent little time inside before they were out again. They all began to look increasingly tired as the night wore on. Sophia was attentive to everything.
Eventually, more and more of the villagers showed up to rest, and eat and drink in more leisure, and then William appeared and spoke French with all of those who were in his vicinity as he thanked them for their work. They knew they were being well paid for what they had done, just as they were being well fed and would be for the next day or so too.
He escorted his two passengers back over to the Seamew. They were with him as he inspected the hatches, as Joe had already done, and checked that they were well battened down.
“We can now leave. The other Seamew is setting out ahead of us.” They could see her departing already, being pulled out and away from the rocks at the mouth of the inlet by a line of many men on each side, and then from small boats anchored further out, to hold them. Once out from the shelter of the rocks and able to raise a sail without fear of the wind driving her back into the rocks, she set her own path and cleared the point.
It was then their turn to leave. “When we clear the shelter of the cliffs, you should get back into the cabin, or you can stay close by me, for I shall not be far from there.”