Passage to Mutiny

Passage to Mutiny by Alexander Kent Read Free Book Online

Book: Passage to Mutiny by Alexander Kent Read Free Book Online
Authors: Alexander Kent
where the next move would come. Some lieutenants seemed to soar to post rank and higher, like comets. Others remained at the same level year after year until rejected by the Navy and thrown on the beach.
    If only he had been old enough to have served with men like Bolitho and Herrick in the real way. Against the French, and the American Revolution, or anyone who faced them across the water and challenged a flag as well as a broadside.
    He heard Lakey’s step beside him. “I have been thinking—”
    The sailing master smiled grimly. “My old father on Tresco used to say, leave thinking to horses, Tobias. They’ve bigger heads than yours.” It seemed to amuse him. “We’ve a course to run out, Mr Keen. And no brooding or pining is going to change our captain’s intentions, not by one inch.”
    Keen grinned. He liked Lakey, although their worlds were so different.
    â€œI’ll try to contain myself.”
    Below in his day cabin Bolitho sat at his desk and worked slowly through the day’s affairs. As in most forenoon watches he received a regular stream of visitors.
    Bynoe, the purser, requesting a signature on his ledger of newly opened meat casks. Hard of eye, more so of heart, Bolitho suspected, the purser was better than many he had served with. His rations were fairly issued, and he did not dock a seaman’s meagre pay for some article he had not received and would not remember when the ship eventually paid off.
    The surgeon came with his daily sick report. The hands kept remarkably free of hurt and illness, Bolitho was thankful to discover. But when it struck it was without warning or mercy. As with the men lost overboard, and the two left in the care of the Dutch doctors at Coupang.
    While he studied each book and ledger placed before him by Cheadle, his clerk, he was conscious too of the life above and around him. They were all extensions of the ship herself. If a man died or was removed the ship lived on, gathering replacements to sustain herself.
    He heard the rumble of gun trucks as one by one each cannon, from the long twelve-pounders on the main deck to the snappy six-pounders aft, were hauled inboard and examined by Jack Brass, Tempest’ s gunner. It was Brass’s routine arrangement that every week he would check each weapon, and God help the gun captain whose charge failed to reach his standards.
    Bolitho had been lucky with his warrant officers and more seasoned men, and was grateful for it. Even his four midshipmen, sent to him originally by parents who wished them to gain experience and advancement which was harder to get elsewhere in peacetime, were more like young lieutenants after two years’ continuous service. Swift and Pyper were seventeen, and already thinking of the time when they would be able to sit for promotion. Fitzmaurice, a pug-faced youth of sixteen, had had much of the arrogance knocked out of him. He came of a very rich family indeed, and had imagined apparently that his commission in Tempest was to be something akin to a courtesy cruise. Herrick and Lakey had taught him otherwise.
    The youngest, Evelyn Romney, was fifteen. They all made a change from the usual twelve- and thirteen-year-olds you found in most ships, Bolitho thought. Romney had improved the least. He was a naturally shy youth, and lacked the firmness required when dealing with men old enough to be his father. But if Fitzmaurice cursed his family for sending him packing to sea, Romney, who was less able to face up to the demands made on the “young gentlemen,” seemed desperately determined to do well. He obviously loved the Navy, and his attempts to overcome his shyness were pathetic to watch.
    Bolitho heard the measured tramp of boots as the marines trooped aft from their daily drills on the forecastle and in the tops. Prideaux would not be with them. He would leave the sweat and discomfort to his sergeant. Then later he would emerge and criticize, his

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