Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Chapter 20 : Correaux

When the watchtowers of Correaux spotted a squadron of four galleys approaching they sounded the alarm. Tales of Spanish raids on the French coast had been coming in for several weeks. Now the raiders were on their very doorstep. Two French frigates were not quite finished taking on their stores and did not have full complements, but they came out to meet the attack anyhow. Word ran swiftly through the city and people lined the shore to witness the encounter. Peering from a distance, they could not see what the frigates saw: a broad purple pennant of a Sallee commodore flying at the masthead of the capitana. Much to everyone's surprise, the frigates rendered passing honors with their guns booming a salute. Three of the galleys replied in kind, but the galley under a white flag did not fire her guns.

The two frigates escorted the Sallee squadron into the harbor. Their signals sent the story ahead of them, "Sallee rovers with prizes." 

It had been a long time since Sallee rovers had been seen on their shores and in their ports; one of the side effects of the war with Spain had been the squelching of a great deal of Moorish and Sallee activity on the Atlantic coast, to the point that when mothers scolded their children, "Behave, or the Sallee rovers will get you," the children had to ask, "What is a Sallee rover?" 

One frigate passed between the towers, then the San Bartolomeo with a tall, dark-faced Turk, complete with turban, dressed all in white on her poop deck. As she cleared the towers, the people lined up on the mole could see the Spanish colors dragging in the water behind her. Although it was the custom of the Mediterranean Sea to humiliate the enemy in this way, it was not done in northern waters. Yet for the Atlantic French who had long suffered at the hands of the Spanish and who had no victories yet this season, the sight of their allies bringing Spanish prizes into harbor was glorious indeed. The vermilion of the galley hulls and the purple flags above them dazzled their eyes and lifted the doldrums in which they had suffered through all the winter and most of the spring. They shouted and cheered and waved as one by one the galleys filed in.
Thorton, standing his poop in his British uniform, felt the elation of victory. Never had he played such a prominent role in such a dashing and daring victory; never before had he been the master of a vessel receiving the crowd's accolades. Hats and flowers were thrown. Women waved their aprons. Crewmen hung over the sides of the galleys to shout and wave. Some of the French on board recognized some of the people they saw on land. On the mole, in the bumboats, and on the quay, shrieks of joy greeted the return of remembered faces.

The official boats came out. The harbormaster, the health inspector, the lord governor of the port and the mayor, too, came out to meet the victorious heroes. The Sallee consul was hard on their heels and just as astonished as the rest of them. The health inspector spent an especially long time on board the Antonio before clearing her to land. 

A French pilot was put aboard the Bart and he lead them into a side channel and from there into a cove. It contained a sloping beach perfect for beaching galleys. A fresh broad stream ran down from the hills above it. The cove was separated from the main harbor by a marshy point of land. As soon as the galleys were in shallow water the French started leaping off and swimming and wading to land. Thorton shouted at them to stand, but there was no holding them. Many of the neutrals, Hollanders, Swedes, Germans, Irish, Italians, and so forth, leaped overboard as well. Even some Spanish galley slaves, dreading the reception they might get from the French officials, leapt for freedom. 

A flood tide of humanity raced onto the shore. They capered and shouted, kissed the ground and kicked up sand. The French officials who came out of the buildings in the cove shouted for order but were ignored. The freed men started streaming along the road towards town. They met horsemen and runners coming out of town. Women and children begged for husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, but most of the names they asked for were unknown. Here and there unhappy news was given and the women fell on the grass beside the road to weep. In other places, families embraced. Few, true, but more would trudge the roads to their own homes and in the next few days or weeks would arrive dusty and footsore to be welcomed by glad arms. They were going home.

That afternoon the French officially released all those who had originally been prisoners in the galleys, which was well since they were already gone. The French did not release those convicted of crimes. Some of those fled anyhow, or passed themselves off as Italians or even Turks. The sick and wounded were taken off to a French hospital, but not all of them wanted to go. An exhausted Dr. Menéndez and his mates and loblolly boys completed the task of conveying two hundred stretchers on deck. They were carefully lowered down into the wagons that were drawn into the water as deep as the horses' breasts to receive the wounded. Captain Guerrero was dead of his wounds; Maynard was alive and well enough to refuse to go. Such were the fates of war. 

Tangle surveyed four galleys pulled up side by side on the beach with great satisfaction. A prize court would be held on the following Monday, but the French assured them it was mere formality. The Teresa lay awkwardly, canted to the larboard due to her deadrise, but the other three sat level on the sands. The Terry was beamier than the other three and her keel was raked so that she was deeper at the heel than the toe. Her three masts carried more sail than her galley consorts, but she had a full complement of oars with which to row. With her greater beam and draft she was not as quick under oars as a true galley, but anything was fast compared to a becalmed merchantman with no wind in her sails.
The Teresa's ancient hull was made of shiplap construction, which was something like lapstrake, except the strakes were routed where they overlapped so that they formed a single thickness. They needed no caulk: the swelling of the wet wood sealed the seams. With no caulk, there was no oakum to work out in heavy seas. Thus she kept drier than most other vessels. Such vessels were too expensive to build anymore—she was a relic of an older age. Her transom was decorated with a handsome sculpture depicting the religious ecstasy of Saint Teresa (complete with seraph and arrows), but the gilding was chipped and faded. She had been mended, but not restored.

Tangle handed over the Maria, Bart, and Antonio to the French to be sold at auction when the prize court ruled, but kept the Terry for his own use. That required all the remaining supplies and personnel to be transfered to the Terry. She was biggest and best equipped: she had been the flagship of the Spanish squadron. Tangle needed to circumnavigate halfway round an Iberian peninsula swarming with vengeful Spaniards to get home; the Terry would give him the best chance of doing so. 

Thorton came on board the Terry last. He found Tangle settled in his new cabin with his wounded leg propped on a chair. Preferring the furnishings from the Bart, he had transferred them to the Terry. Tangle was talking to Ortiz, who had been Thorton's clerk but was now his. With more than half the galleyslaves gone, Tangle was going through the muster roll to pick out staff he needed and wanted. Hizir was there and Foster too, and even Maynard was carried in on his stretcher.

"Put him on the bed," Tangle directed the stretcher-bearers. "And gently, too! Lt. Maynard is a fine officer and worthy of your respect." 

Maynard heard the title 'lieutenant' attach to his name and grinned at it. He was weak and drawn but alive. His stump was well-bandaged. 

Thorton saluted Tangle and received a salute in reply and a warm smile from the victorious rover. Thorton nodded to Foster and Hizir but went directly to Maynard's side. "How are you, Årchie?" he asked in a kindly tone.

Maynard smiled back. "I'm better, sir."

"Oh, you needn't call me 'sir', anymore, lieutenant! My name is Peter."

"I'm better, Peter."

Thorton ruffled the matted blond curls. "Nobody has dragged a comb through this mop in a few days, I think." He turned to Tangle. "May I borrow your brushes?"

Tangle rubbed his own bald head where the hair had grown to a length that could be described as 'new beard' if it had been on his chin instead of his head. "I don't have one, Mr. Thorton." 

The Terry had been Foster's command, so Foster dug into the Spanish captain's sea chest. "I have brushes."

Maynard sat up in the cot and Thorton began to gently brush the long locks. The boy did not normally wear his hair pulled back in a queue like most sailors—he knew what a sight his mop of blond curls was and how it made older men smile kindly at him. This time he was exhausted by pain and unable to attend his own needs. 

Tangle spotted a stranger hanging back of the various officers. His eyes fixed on the Spaniard who reluctantly came forward. "Who are you?" the Turk demanded. 

"Dr. Álvaro Menéndez y Delgado, surgeon of the San Antonio, sir. I presume I have the honor of addressing Isam Rais Tangueli?" His voice was wooden.

"You do." Tangle looked a question at Thorton.

Thorton left off brushing Maynard's hair and came around the end of the cot. "Forgive me, captain. I was so pleased to see Maynard sitting up I forgot myself. Dr. Menéndez has come to take the ball out of your leg, sir."

Tangle relaxed a little. He leaned back in his chair and said, "It was good of you to stay, doctor. We are in your debt." His brown eyes studied the man thoughtfully, much like a naturalist might examine a strange beetle in the effort to identify its place in the Linnaean scheme of the world.

Dr. Menéndez gave a little bow. His manners were stiff but correct. "It was my duty to care for the sick and wounded, rais." He could not bring himself to address the dreadful corsair by any Spanish honorific. "If you wish, I shall examine your wound."

Tangle nodded. "Please." So Menéndez approached. He set his bag on the table and unbound the vermilion bandage made from the coat of a Spanish officer. He took an instrument and probed the wound. Tangle grimaced, but he made no sound.

Thorton spoke, "You gave me orders to run the hospital ship as I saw fit. Therefore I promised Dr. Menéndez that he would not be a prisoner and would be released wherever convenient and provided with some money and what help we could give so he could return to Spain, sir."

Tangle breathed a little easier when the probing stopped. He gave Thorton a slight smile. "If that is what you have promised, that is what you must do. Welcome aboard, Dr. Menéndez. You are our guest. I hope you will join me and the other officers for dinner tonight."

Menéndez did not expect a blackhearted rover to keep faith with him. He had trouble believing the offer. He looked to Thorton to see if a knowing half smile might be on his face, but Thorton's expression was entirely natural. Menéndez had to make an answer, so he bowed slightly and said, "Only if you command it, rais." His voice was cool. The doctor selected another instrument. "Please hold still. I am going to remove the ball." 

He had a loblolly man with him; the fellow came forward in his stained leather apron to clamp powerful hands firmly to Tangle's leg.

Tangle continued studying Menéndez. The other men kept quiet and let the doctor and captain handle their respective businesses. Thorton was never certain of Tangle's temper, but he hoped the corsair would not take offense. Tangle spoke pleasantly. "Carry on, doctor. We can offer you the surgeon's cabin on the Santa Teresa for your berth. You will have a little privacy and can pick a steward from the loblolly boys to attend your needs until your return home is arranged."

Again a cool little bow. "Thank you, rais." Then the forceps plunged into the wound. Tangle stiffened and his chair creaked. His head went back and his eyes went wide. Two bony brown hands grabbed the edge of the table. 

Menéndez said, "Swab," and the loblolly man mopped the blood leaking around the instrument. Menéndez wiggled it a bit and Tangle gasped. "Hold very still, rais." The loblolly braced the Turk's leg hard. 

Tangle grunted and his face went grey beneath his tan. After a moment the forceps emerged from the wound and the ball with it. The doctor laid the ball on the bandage on the table and examined it. "No fabric. I shall have to probe the wound. I need more light. I recommend a second pair of hands to hold the leg."

So Thorton, who had forgotten to brush Maynard's hair during the extraction, laid the brush on the bed next to the boy and came over. He clamped his hands to Tangle's thigh above the wound while the loblolly man held his knee. The doctor told Tangle, "This will be unpleasant. Do you want a piece of leather to bite on?"

Tangle's eyes darkened and he snapped, "I have suffered worse at Spanish hands."

The doctor's eyes met his with an equal anger and his nostrils flared. "But not from my hands, rais. I am a doctor."

Tangle grunted an acknowledgment, then said, "I have ill feelings about my treatment, but you are right. It was not at your hands. Pray continue."

Menéndez put an instrument into the wound and remarked, "This is going to hurt." Then he spread the wound. Tangle's back arched and he gasped and nearly cried out. He grabbed tight to the table and ground his teeth together to keep silent. Thorton turned his face away as blood and pus oozed from the spread wound. 

"You should have had this taken care of sooner, rais," the doctor rebuked him. "Have you been running a fever?"

Tangle was having difficulty breathing. His chest rose and fell in harsh pants. He rasped out, "I was busy, and yes, I have been afflicted with galley fever."

"Angle the light—yes, right there." Foster was holding the chandelier to a convenient position. "I see it." The loblolly man held the clamp open and the doctor reached in with a pair of tweezers and pulled out something that looked like a bloody scab. He laid it on the bandage and examined it carefully. "Blue wool, red satin and a layer of red wool. Looks like a uniform coat with its lining and breeches. Is that all you were wearing, no drawers, rais?"

"Yes," Tangle grunted.

"We have got it then." He laid aside the tweezers and closed the clamp. He pressed around the wound to evict the pus, then packed it with medicine and wrapped a new bandage around it. When that was done, he wiped off his instruments on the old bandage. "If you run a high fever or the bleeding won't stop, let me know."

Tangle said, "Thank you, doctor. I appreciate your services. Gentlemen, show Dr. Menéndez to his quarters and get his dunnage aboard." 

That was a dismissal. Menéndez left the cabin. Thorton got up off his knees and stretched his back. Foster put the chandelier to rights. They gave Tangle time to catch his breath and to rub his sleeve across his sweaty face. He bumped his elbow against Thorton's thigh. When Thorton looked down at him, Tangle gave him an amused look. 

"You and Menéndez are quite alike. You must hate each other." 

Thorton stiffened. "Sir!"

"Stand down, Thorton. And finish Lt. Maynard's hair. He looks a fright." Tangle's voice was gruffly affectionate even though his face was strained. Thorton gave Tangle a reproachful look, but he went back to brushing Maynard's hair.

Tangle took a deep breath to steady himself. "All right. Report. Mr. Foster, how much money do we have?"

"Three hundred and forty-three Spanish reales. That's all of it, out of every galley." 

"Crew, Mr. Hizir?"

"Three hundred and twenty hands, sir."

"Casualties, Mr. Thorton?"

"Sixty-three sick and wounded. I put two hundred and one ashore, sir."

"Powder and shot?"

"A little over two tons, sir," Maynard replied. Much to his annoyance, his voice cracked.


Foster replied, "Eleven tons, sir." 

Tangle sighed. "Not much with this complement. Seven days at most. I want the Terry filled to capacity with water. We'll need provisions as well, but I'll wait until after the prize court to get them. We can't afford food, not with a mere three hundred and forty-three Spanish pieces of eight. How much food have we got?"

"Six tons, sir," Foster replied. "Rice, peas, potatoes, yams, vegetables, dried apples, a little salt beef and pork. Nothing fresh, no eggs, no cheese. No cider, beer, wine or rum. No spirits of any sort." 


"Half a ton." 

"One hot meal a day then. No wasting! See that the trash is all burnt for fuel. See if we can get some firewood. If not, we'll have to cut green stuff."

"Aye aye, sir."

"Now for officers. I'm confirming Padilla as a midshipman. Pity Cloutier went over the side. I could have used him. And what's the name of that lad you had on the Maria, Hizir?"

"Hanash, sir." 

"Hanash. I confirm him as a midshipman as well. Have we got a sailing master?"

"Thorton and you are the best qualified, sir."

"Thorton, I'm putting you up as sailing master and first lieutenant. You can have the sailing master's cabin. I'm sorry to double you up, but that's the way it has to be. Should I put Kassmeyer or Yazid as the acting fourth lieutenant?"

The Ajax had not come in, so Thorton did not know what to do but serve on board the Terry as he was assigned. It was either that or be left ashore with the clothes on his back and no money. He did not care to ask the French for charity when less than a year before England had been at war with their country. 

The blond lieutenant replied, "Kassmeyer is adequate in ship operations. I think he'd make a better boatswain. Bellini would be a better choice for an officer. He can read and write."

"And Yazid?"

"Vigorous and brave, sir. An experienced corsair, but hot tempered," Hizir replied.

"I can cool his temper for him. Make him a sergeant of marines. Very well. Acting Lieutenant Bellini is our fourth." Ortiz wrote out the necessary commissions and Tangle signed them.

So it went. Damage reports, reshuffled staff, new officers made, supplies needed, French requirements. At last they were done. 

"Mr. Hizir, you will be in charge while I go ashore. No shore leave for anyone still aboard. Mr. Thorton, you'll accompany me. Send for Mr. Palma. I'll need a pair of marines and our stewards too."

The Sallee captain's first stop was at a moneylender. The man was happy to extend him credit against the galleys' value at auction. Tangle used that to establish a line of credit for the supply of the Terry. He also drew a private loan of 100 livres, to be paid by his accountant and brother-in-law, Shakil bin Nakih of Zokhara. This would need explanation, so he accompanied it with a letter.

Dear Shakil,

When this letter arrives you will know that I am free. Pray tell Jamila that I am well and that her loving husband is coming home as soon as Allah allows. Do not let her come to meet me! I know her heart—and the seas are very dangerous right now. Tell her that I love her and miss her and want nothing more than to see her again. Tell the children that I love them and will bring them presents. And please remit 100 livres in either Spanish reales or Genovese ducats as the moneylender tells me he cannot easily change Sallee sequins here. I will be home by midsummer, inshallah. 

By my hand, this 19th day of Shawwal, aboard the Santa Teresa de Ávila, Correaux, France, 

Your loving brother-in-law,

Isam Rais al-Tangueli

The bill for the money was bound up with the letter and the two entrusted to the Sallee consul's diplomatic packet.

Tangle went shopping. The limp from his wound didn't slow him down at all. First he bought a bolt of French blue wool, brass buttons, gold braid, a bolt of white linen, a sewing kit, thread, and other necessary items, then sent Palma back to the ship with the chore of making him a new uniform. He bought shoes and boots, silk stockings, a belt and knife, a purse for his coins, a baldric and saber (there being no scimitars in Correaux), a black peacoat, a pair of fine knitted undershirts (one cotton, one wool, both white) imported from the English island of Jersey, an oilskin and sou'wester, a shoe polish kit, a shaving kit ("I cannot abide shaving with another man's razor any longer"), quills, paper, ink, and sealing wax. He bought a sextant, spyglass, slide rule and compass (good ones), tide books, a portolan for the Atlantic coast of France and Spain, thermometer, a thunder glass, and other navigational instruments. He bought a bag of winter oranges (very dear), a bag of new potatoes, turnips, carrots, garlic, onions, leeks, cabbage, eggs, dried apples and pears, almonds, cinnamon sticks and spice grater, a couple of jugs of cherry cider, wheels of cheese, soft white bread, a she-goat and a pair of lambs. He bought string bags to hold them all. The two stewards, Thorton, and a marine staggered under their loads. They lead the livestock on ropes. Tangle bought two wicker crates of pullets and hoisted them onto his shoulders. 

They were on their way out of the market when they passed a booth selling musical instruments. Tangle put down the chickens. His human packhorses waited. The fearsome corsair cupped his hands around a small blue ocarina and blew into it. His long fingers covered the holes and struck an ill note. He tried again. On his third attempt he played a passable scale. Thorton stood with a bag of books hanging from one shoulder and the bag of navigational instruments from the other. A wheel of cheese was tucked under his left arm and half a dozen long baguettes under the other. He watched in amusement as the corsair played with the instruments. Tangle bought the blue ocarina and a red one painted with flowers, a pair of tambourines, and three tin whistles. 

"I must find some tin soldiers and a pair of French dolls," he informed Thorton.

Thorton, being a gentleman, had not read over Tangle's shoulder when he wrote his letter home and couldn't read Arabic anyhow. He stared at him in surprise. "Why?"

Tangle smiled at him. "For my children, Mr. Thorton. I always bring them presents when I go home. Don't you?"

Thorton gaped. He replied, "I'm not married, sir."

"That doesn't prevent a man from having children, does it?" Tangle grinned at him. The golden earrings gleamed against his mahogany skin.

The part of Thorton that had expected to become a preacher was scandalized. "I do not have children," he replied primly. "I have no intention of marrying. I am happy as a bachelor."

"I recommend marriage, Mr. Thorton. It is a very happy institution. And I say that as a man who was as staunch a bachelor as you. I never looked at women and never even lay with one until I married."

Tangle married? Thorton could not picture it. Tangle enjoying the soft tittering of empty-headed women? Tangle pillowing his head on generous bosoms? Impossible! "How many children do you have?" he asked reluctantly.

"Six, by Allah! Four boys and two girls and everyone of them a fine and likely child. The oldest is Tahirah, who . . . ." He stopped suddenly to count up the missing years in his daughter's life. "She will be nine now. I have been gone for a quarter of her life. Hamet is seven. The triplets will be five this winter. They might not remember me. Alexander will be walking and talking. He was a baby when I left . . . ." 

His eyes misted over and he walked blindly ahead without his hens. Thorton touched his elbow and kept him on course, otherwise he would have walked right into a portly woman with a brown bonnet.

Tangle stopped and faced Thorton with a woebegone face. "I am homesick, Mr. Thorton." He was safe ashore, his health was recovering, he would have money for his prizes, he could go home. "I wish I could fly! I would wing south like a stork in autumn!" He turned and faced that direction and longed for the magic power to see all the way to Zokhara.

Thorton was jealous. It simply wasn't fair that the wild corsair should have a home and family he longed to see when Thorton had nothing. The only person he wanted to see was Perry. He turned to the west, wondering if the frigate would be coming into Correaux any time soon. And why was he carrying the corsair's purchases like some kind of lackey? Somehow, through a magical means he didn't understand, Tangle spoke and men obeyed. He wanted to turn to the man and take a step closer to him, but he didn't. His feelings troubled him. He remembered when the delirious captain had tried to kiss him. And he a married man! Well, he had been ill. He didn't know what he was doing. He must be forgiven. Why now when Thorton knew the man was not available did he admit to himself that he found him attractive? Why this awkward habit of wanting things he couldn't and shouldn't have? He sighed heavily. He was an unlucky person. God must be punishing him for the unnatural desires he harbored. He had been neglecting his prayers, too. He must make amends.

"We had better return to the ship, sir." Naval discipline was the thorn Thorton pricked himself with to avoid thinking too much.

Tangle recollected himself and gathered up his chickens. "I must have dolls, Mr. Thorton. French dolls with porcelain heads and velvet dresses. The very best!" So the human packtrain followed him further into the market until he found the dolls he wanted. Big ones with lace bonnets and real hair—very expensive. They were packed into boxes lined with tissue for transport. Tangle was worn out with shopping, broke, and limping hard by the time they returned to the Terry.

No comments:

Post a Comment