For over twenty years, Dewey Lambdin's devoted fans have followed the adventures of Alan Lewrie, Royal Navy, from his days as a midshipmen to captain of his own ship and, though on somewhat dubious grounds, a baronetcy. Now comes the latest in the Alan Lewrie naval series, An Onshore Storm, where Lewrie will take on his roughest adventure: maritime life beyond the navy.
Three mismatched troop transports, lots of 29-foot barges, and an under-strength regiment of foota waste of Royal Navy money, a doomed experiment, or a new way to bedevil Napoleon’s army in Italy? Either way, it’s Capt. Sir Alan Lewrie’s idea, and it seems to be working, with successful raids all along the coast of Calabria.
But it depends on timely information, and Lewrie must trust Don Julio Caesare, a lord of a Sicilian criminal underworld, and his minions, or the amateur efforts of a disorganized network of Calabrian partisans always in need of British arms and King George III’s money.
When at last the fourth transport arrives with reinforcement troops, what seems to be a blessing could turn out to be the ruin of the whole thing! Lewrie has been too successful in his career at sea and he’s made bitter, jealous enemies with powerful patrons out to crush him and his novel squadron, no matter if it’s succeeding. And there are doings back in England that Lewrie would prefer to deal with but can’t.
Lewrie has always been lucky, always finding a way to prevailbut can he this time? And if he is to be betrayed, who will do it?
Lambdin has been praised as the "brilliantly stylish American master of salty-tongued British naval tales" (Kirkus Reviews) and doesn't disappoint with this riveting addition to Lewrie's adventures.
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"Holy shi-i-i-i-t!" came a sudden wail.
"Clumsy bugger!" quickly followed, just before a thump.
"Arr!" from another startled throat, preceding a loud splash, which drew HMS Vigilance's Captain from the forward edge of the quarterdeck to the larboard bulwarks so he could peer overside to find a cause for the commotion.
"Think we might've killed somebody, sir," Lt. Greenleaf, the ship's Third Officer exclaimed, standing on the slide of one of the 18-pounder carronades to look straight down the ship's side.
Vigilance's four 29-foot barges had been drawn up alongside, manned with oarsmen, tillermen, and a Midshipman each so the Marines could practice debarkation down boarding nets, then be rowed ashore.
"Oh, God's balls," Captain Sir Alan Lewrie, Baronet, groaned as he beheld the near-disaster. "Fetch that man out of the water before he drowns!" he shouted down.
One Marine had lost his grip and footing on the nets and had fallen straight into a barge. Fortunately for him, his shout had forewarned the boat crew, and his mates already in the boat, to catch him before he bashed his brains out on a gunn'l, sprawling everyone into a mound of arms, legs, and muskets. The other Marine who had fallen had just missed the same fate, and had plunged into the sea between two barges, had surfaced sputtering and coughing, and was being drawn to a barge's side and waiting hands to haul him up and drag him in. If he'd been carrying a rucksack full of rations, and eighty rounds of cartridge, as he would in a real landing, he might not have surfaced at all! As it was, his full service dress uniform, pipe-clayed cross-belts, and hat, rarely worn aboard ship except for sentry duty, got the worst of it.
"Alright, Private Quick?" Lewrie shouted down.
"Bathed, Captain sir!" Quick chirped back, which made everyone roar in relieved laughter. "Mother'd be happy!"
"Drill's cancelled," Lewrie snapped to Lt. Greenleaf. "Get 'em back inboard ... if they can manage that without more casualties, that is. Christ, those damned nets!"
In 1807, off the southern Spanish Andalusian coast, boarding nets for the few troops that Lewrie had been allocated in one transport ship, re-enforced with the fifty Marines of his 50-gun ship, HMS Sapphire, had worked reasonably well in the raids they had undertaken, the quickest way that Lewrie could devise to get soldiers, sailors, and Marines ashore.
He returned to the middle of the quarterdeck and looked over at the three transports now under his command that lay at anchor in the sheltered bay below the Sicilian fishing port of Milazzo. Nets hung down their sides, too, but the troops of the under-strength 94th Regiment of Foot were ashore at their encampment for a day or two.
"Ahem, sir?" Lt. Greenleaf said, clearing his throat.
"Aye, Mister Greenleaf?" Lewrie said, allowing him to speak.
"It's the tumblehome, sir," Greenleaf said, "the transports are straight sided, for more cargo space, but this barge ..." he ended in a hapless shrug.
"Aye, I know," Lewrie growled, recalling his own experience on the boarding nets a few weeks earlier.
Rear-Admiral Thomas Charlton's squadron, the troops and ships under Lewrie's command, and even more ships amassed to land Brigadier Caruthers's three full regiments had staged a massive raid all along the Italian shore, from the toe of the "boot" halfway up the insole, to take, sink, or burn the many large fishing vessels and coastal trader ships the French would use to make one more try to invade Sicily, and destroy the huge arms and supply depots assembled at the many small ports.
Lewrie had managed to get all of his soldiers, Marines, and armed sailors ashore in short order, whilst Brigadier Caruthers's troops had struggled, only managing to get two of his three regiments ashore and that after two hours. And, he should have withdrawn them once the Navy had accomplished its part in the mission, fired the depots, and gotten away cleanly. But, the stubborn sod wanted a battle just so perishing bad that he had stayed, sent out scouts who'd found him a column of French — foot, cavalry, and artillery — on its way to see what they could salvage. With no artillery of his own, the fool had signalled to Vigilance for gunners to man the heavy howitzers that he'd turned up in one of the depots.
Howitzers! Who knew the first thing about them, their fuses, and their use? Lewrie, for one; the only one! Against his better judgment, Lewrie had scrambled down a boarding net to board one of the ship's barges, which were just returning, and a proper disaster that had been!
Warships, proper warships built for the purpose and not taken into Navy service as converted and armed merchantmen, were the widest at their waterlines and lower gunwales. From there up they tapered in a sweet curve inwards, to reduce top weight and bring the guns of the upper gun-deck closer to the centreline to reduce the tendency to roll too much, and keep the heaviest weight as low as possible.
The effect of that laid the boarding nets so close to the hull that it was very difficult to get a toe-hold or hand-hold, even with no one else below him on the nets dragging them flush against wood.
Mind now, Lewrie had envisioned the boarding nets, but, being a Post-Captain of more than Three Years' Seniority in the Royal Navy, which should have given him some august dignity, he had never really used one 'til then.
Barely clinging by his fingernails, assaulted by his own rucksack, sword, canteen, pocketed pistols, and a rifled Ferguson musket, and cartridge boxes for the aforesaid weaponry, it had been a wonder that he hadn't fallen to his death into the barge, or gone into the sea like a loosed bower anchor. Even un-encumbered, he surely would have drowned, for Alan Lewrie was like many of his sailors — he'd never learned to swim! By the time one booted foot found purchase on the barge's gunn'l, he would have not trusted his arse with a fart!
"Maybe we need jacob's ladders, sir," Greenleaf suggested.
That made Lewrie scowl. In his early days in the Navy, and in smaller ships that did not have wooden boarding battens built onto the ships' sides, with man-ropes strung down each side for a grip, he'd had to use a jacob's ladder, a set of narrow wooden steps with stout ropes threaded through each end, prone to swinging free of the hull when the ship rolled, slamming back as it rolled to the other beam, and with a sickening ability to sway fore and aft as the ship hobby-horsed over the waves. The very idea made him shiver in dread!
"What we need is some way to fend the nets off the hull 'til our people get down to the lower gunwale," Lewrie said, instead, "so one can get firm hand-holds and several inches of free space for the soles of their shoes, so they can't slip off."
"Hmm," Greenleaf pondered, scratching idly on the side of his head. "Perhaps some baulks of timber to hold the nets well off, like the catheads that hold the anchors, sir? Gad, we'd look like a porcupine. They'd have to be permanent, else there's no way to secure 'em firm enough to take the weight of seventy Marines using them at the same time."
"Well, it's beyond me at the moment," Lewrie confessed, taking off his old cocked hat to swipe at his hair. "I haven't a clue as to how it could be done. Perhaps you and the other officers in the wardroom might mull it over."
"Ask of the Bosun and the Carpenter first, I'd imagine, sir," Greenleaf said. "Any way we accomplish it, it's certain to involve lumber."
"Aye, carry on, Mister Greenleaf," Lewrie agreed. "I'll be aft."
"Aye aye, sir," Greenleaf said, doffing his hat in salute as Lewrie made his way to the door to his great-cabins, but was halted by a cry from aloft of "Deck there! Some'un's wig-waggin' ashore at the Army camp!"
"Who's signals Midshipman of the Watch?" Lewrie barked.
"Me, sir," Midshipman Page, a lad of fourteen years, piped up.
"Well, read the signal, lad," Lewrie prompted.
"Should have seen it first, young sir," Greenleaf huffed.
"Aye aye, sir," Page said, reddening.
The 94th's encampment lay along the beach and stretched back inland for several hundred yards, into the fruit and olive groves. A signal mast had been erected right by the beach to speed communication 'twixt ships and shore without the need of shuttling boats. The Army had been loaned a rudimentary book of signals, and seamstresses in Milazzo had made up a flag locker full of the basics for the 94th to use.
"Ehm, ah ... it is Send Boat, sir," Midshipman Page stammered. "And ... Mail!"
"Must have sent a rider from Messina," Lt. Greenleaf supposed.
"Mail, well well!" Lewrie enthused. "See to it, Mister Greenleaf, and Mister Severance and I will sort it out. Carry on."
"Aye, sir!" Greenleaf replied, eager to have news from home as dearly as any man aboard.CHAPTER 2
One of the most frustrating things about being deployed on a foreign station was the irregular arrival of news from home, which had to be gathered and sorted at one of the naval dockyards before being loaded aboard a Post Packet, an outbound warship or transport going to a general area, or an overseas naval base where letters and newspapers could languish for weeks before being sent on.
If Lewrie's wee squadron had been at sea in company with a large portion of a fleet, they might have been able to count upon somewhat regular delivery, once a month or every two months.
Sailing and operating independently from Rear-Admiral Thomas Charlton's squadron, though, with only rare orders coming from that worthy, Vigilance's mail normally came from Portsmouth to Gibraltar, thence to Malta where the larger squadron called and re-provisioned. It was only after that that someone thought to forward orders, bills, letters, and newspapers to the Army establishment at Messina and Sicily, and what was due the warship and her transports "piggy-backed" as an afterthought with the mail for the 94th Regiment of Foot, and that under-strength orphan unit was, as the General Commanding at Messina had made clear, definitely not on the ration strength of the British Army on Sicily. The 94th's provisions, replacement ammunition, and necessary supplies had to come from Malta, where they had been borrowed for Lewrie's "experiment"!
Indeed, whatever HMS Vigilance and her consorts required to keep the sea, feed their people, and continue operations forced them to leave Sicily and sail down to Malta to replenish at Valletta Harbour, leaving the 94th Foot twiddling their thumbs and "square-bashing" 'til the ships could return!
"Mail is forthcoming," Lewrie announced as he sat down behind his desk in the day-cabin, making temporary Sub-Lieutenant Severance, his cabin steward Deavers, and his cabin servants, Tom Dasher and George Turnbow, perk up with interest. Well, nothing would come for Dasher, an orphaned street waif in his mid-teens, but he could read, after a fashion, and could slowly devour the newspapers after everyone else was done with them.
Lewrie looked up from the correspondence that Severance had set into a neat pile for his approval, and fixed his gaze upon the portrait of his wife, Jessica, that hung on a forward bulkhead.
God, how I miss you! Lewrie thought, feeling a real pang of longing; And how much I crave word from you! I'm a hopeless old colt's tooth, but ...
From the brief half-hour of their first meeting, Lewrie had been bemused by her, a young lady twenty years his junior, then, as they had exchanged letters over a year or so, he'd become intrigued, besotted, and hopeful, even though he knew how much a fool he'd look to even consider courting her. He'd been a widower too long, and too much at sea, with only one off-and-on mistress at Gibraltar, then at Lisbon.
Had it not been for his previous ship, HMS Sapphire losing her lower mainmast a second time in an epic fight with a big 40-gunned French frigate, he might still be at sea in her, but HM Dockyards at Portsmouth had stricken her and thrown him ashore on half-pay for what seemed an age, even if it was only a few months. During that time Jessica, a very talented artist (even if her Reverend father did not approve in the slightest!) had done his portrait, as she had offered early on in their letters, throwing them together daily, and he had slowly found the courage to admit to himself that he was, for good and all, in love with her as giddily as a schoolboy, and then the further courage to declare himself, and be both astonished and relieved that she had said yes, enthusiastically.
Seven months we had together, he mused to himself; A joyous but short time, and then ... damn yer blood, fool, you just had to bite at the bait of a new commission!
But, it had been his plan, his scheme, to land troops, Marines, and armed sailors in quick in-and-out raids, and when given the chance to put it into operation, Lewrie simply couldn't refuse Admiralty ... even though he'd regretted his decision as soon as Vigilance and her transports had pounded out into the open Atlantic.
Along with his pang of longing to be with her, Lewrie felt an equal twinge of guilt that his letters to her would be just as slow to arrive as hers would be, and that he could not write at least three letters a week to reassure her. The best he could do were very long "sea letters," page after page done a bit each day in the tiniest penmanship he could manage, the lines as close together as he could scribble, 'til they were not so much letters as hefty bundles, and sure to cost her dear when the Post Office in London sent them to their house in Dover Street, for it was the recipients that paid the post, not the senders.
"Will there be papers, d'ye think, sir?" Dasher asked.
"I hope so, Dasher," Lewrie told him.
"Good, 'cause I'm cur'yus 'bout wot Wellesley's doin' to th' French in Spain this Summer," Dasher said with an expectant grin.
"Enjoys the scandals, too, sir," Turnbow, an older lad, said with a wink in Dasher's direction. "You should subscribe to The Tatler, Tom."
"Likes t'read anything, now that I knows how better," Dasher said, ducking his head, and busying himself with tending to his pet doe rabbit, Harriet, that Lewrie allowed him to keep in the great-cabins alongside his cat, Chalky.
The mail sack was fetched aboard to cheers that Lewrie could hear in his great-cabins, cheers as enthusiastic as the appearance of the red and gilt rum keg when Clear Decks And Up Spirits was piped. It was carried aft to the quarterdeck with solemnity before the Marine sentry without the cabin door stamped boots and musket butt and cried its presence, to which Lewrie shouted "Enter!" most eagerly.
"Our mail, sir," Midshipman Fairfoot announced, hefting the sack with some difficulty with one hand, whilst doffing his hat with the other. "And I am directed to convey word from the Third Officer that boats are coming alongside from the transports for their share of it, sir."
"Very good, Mister Fairfoot, plop it atop my desk, then carry on," Lewrie ordered.
God, it would be so tempting to undo the rope ties and delve into the contents that instant, strewing anything that was not his to the far corners of his cabins, but Lewrie nodded to his aide and clerk, Severance, to get on with it whilst he clasped greedy, eager hands in the small of his back and paced away aft to the transom and his stern gallery where he pretended to gaze shoreward.
Slowly, the mail was sorted out into piles for each ship, then Vigilance's mail was divided into smaller heaps for the wardroom, the petty officers, the Midshipmen's cockpit, and the crew. Lewrie could not help peeking now and then to see if his stack was growing.
"All sorted, sir," Sub-Lieutenant Severance reported at last. "Should I summon the Mids in from the transports?"
"Aye, and let's hope they brought their own sacks," Lewrie said.
They did bring their own, and the Mids from Bristol Lass, the Lady Merton, and Spaniel quickly gathered their mail, doffed their hats, and departed for their boats quicker than one could say "Knife!" Severance stuck his head out the doors to summon Vigilance's Mids standing Harbour Watch to carry the mail to be distributed, and only then could Lewrie pace back to his desk, sit down, and quickly sort through his own letters, looking for the official first.
"Well, damme," he muttered as he actually found one from Rear-Admiral Thomas Charlton. After a longing look at a promising pile of letters from Jessica, he broke the seal, spread it out, and leaned back in his chair to read it.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "An Onshore Storm"
Copyright © 2018 Dewey Lambdin.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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The saga continues
Time for lewrie to take half pay, and lambdin M ong enough