Friday, July 17, 2009

Chapter 21 : The Prize Court

The prize court was perfunctory. The Spanish consul's protests were duly noted and ignored. The galleys were condemned, and one was bought on the spot by the French navy for use as a dispatch runner. The other two were auctioned later. All together they brought fourteen thousand livres—a fraction of their value—but it pleased Tangle to have it. Ten percent of the proceeds went to the French government, ten percent to Tangle as the owner of the vessels, and the rest was divided out in prize money to the crew. A single share was worth twelve livres, or about six weeks wages for a working man. Officers got several shares and Thorton found seventy-eight livres awarded to himself. 

The Sallee rovers milled about in front of the naval offices after the prize court. Admirals and lords, captains and commoners plied them with questions, invitations, and even a hip flask. Tangle smiled agreeably and replied, "I do hope to see you at the dinner the Sallee consul is hosting tomorrow," to the offers that were made. 

The triumphant rover was resplendent in his new coat that Palma had labored all night to produce. It was a Turkish coat with full skirts and narrow sleeves with no cuffs. There was enough gold braid on the collar and sleeves to suggest his rank, and the patch pockets in the skirt were likewise decorated. Insignia in the form of a pair of crossed scimitars and a star decorated his collar, cuffs, and the pockets of his coat. A triple row of brass buttons ran down the front and bars of gold braid ran across the chest connecting them. Wool pantaloons of the same French blue tucked into black Hessian boots that came up to his knees. His saber hung on his right hip from a plain black baldric with a brass buckle—Tangle was a left-handed man. He was topped off with a snowy white turban and golden earrings.

Thorton received his share of questions and comments, but his French was not equal to the task. He wished Perry were here. Perry spoke the language with easy grace. He was racking his brains to try to think how to explain himself to some French naval officers when his eyes went past them. The square yards of a frigate could be seen coming in. He knew those spars. "The Ajax!" he exclaimed.

Heads turned. There was some curiosity and confusion. The vessel looked French . . . but they did not know her. The British ensign flew from her stern and a signal gun sounded from the towers. The French officers startled badly—with the treaty less than a year old, they were not comfortable with the entrance of a British warship. 

Tangle bumped elbows with Thorton. "You must tell me what kind of person your Captain Bishop is," he said jovially.

Thorton had a knot in the pit of his stomach. "You will despise him. And he will hate you." Tangle gave him a questioning look. Thorton's face turned to wood as he prepared himself for the ordeal ahead. "I must report immediately."

He started forward, but Tangle put a hand on his arm. "I have not released you from service, Mr. Thorton. You have duties to attend."

"Sir, my duties are to God and King. Captain Bishop, their representative, is receiving the French harbormaster even as we speak. I must go."

Tangle tightened his grip on his arm. "I will not allow it."

Thorton turned and faced him. "Am I your prisoner, sir?" Their conversation was in low Spanish so the Frenchmen around them could not understand.

Tangle released his arm. "No, Mr. Thorton. You are my lieutenant and a damn fine one. I am offering you a commission with the Sallee rovers. You shall be first lieutenant on any vessel I command. In good time, you will be a captain in your own right. There will be prize money and honors for you, Mr. Thorton. All you have to do is turn Turk."

Thorton schooled himself to impassivity. "I have sworn an oath, Captain Tangle. I must decline your offer."

"Let me meet with your Captain Bishop. I will prevail upon him to release you from that oath."

"He will not do it, sir."

"Do you want to return to him? I cannot think that you do."

Thorton hesitated, "No, I don't. But — duty." 

Tangle waited, but there was nothing else to be said. Finally he replied, "I will see you at dinner tomorrow. You have been invited by name and the officials will be offended if your captain denies you leave to do it."

"Aye aye, sir."

"Very well. I'll send your dunnage from the Terry. Godspeed, Mr. Thorton."

"Peace be upon you, Isam Rais." Thorton saluted the corsair for the last time. 

Tangle returned the salute. "And also upon you, Lieutenant Thorton." 

Thorton squared his shoulders and walked down to the docks. He stood on the end of one and waved his handkerchief. He had no hat since he had refused the loot from the Spanish chests. He was wearing the same shirt and coat he'd had on beneath the oilskin that fateful day. He had no cash—Tangle had no cash for his prizes, only letters of credit to draw against. 

MacDonald came up next to him. "'Tis a pity Mr. Maynard won't be coming with us, sir."

"He's happier where he is."

"So sad he didn't survive having his leg blown off, sir."

Thorton turned and looked sharply at him. He replied thoughtfully, "Aye, it was a grievous wound, MacDonald. Would you be so kind as to request Captain Tangle to send the deceased's personal effects aboard the Ajax?" 

"I don't think he had any, sir, just the oilskin and sou'wester he was wearing when we went on board."

"But do request it of Captain Tangle."

MacDonald snapped a salute. "Aye aye, sir." 

So MacDonald ran back and spoke to Tangle, who grinned even while he said, "A very sad thing it was, too, to lose him just when we thought he might survive the amputation. He perished this very morning."

MacDonald had a hard time keeping the smile off his face when he climbed into the jollyboat with Thorton, but Thorton, preoccupied with his own worries, had an appropriately long face. How he dreaded to set foot on the Ajax. How free and useful he had felt aboard the galleys under the Sallee flag! The pipes called and he climbed up the side and onto the deck. 

Perry was there to grin at him. He clapped his hands on Thorton's upper arms and said, "By God, Peter, I think I could kiss you! Whatever have you been up to?"

Thorton smiled at the welcome. "Lt. Peter Thorton, reporting for duty, sir," he replied, mindful of the proprieties. He managed to salute in spite of the impediment that Perry was posing.

Perry let go of him and returned the salute. "Welcome home, Mr. Thorton." 

Home. Someone's home, but not his. Thorton's smile faded.

The bluff-faced boatswain came over the side and Perry greeted him, "Hello, MacDonald. Good to see you back." He returned the boatswain's salute. 

"Where's Maynard?" Perry looked over the side, but there were no blond curls in the boat. 

Thorton had difficulty speaking through his great emotion. "His leg was blown off during the battle with the Spanish squadron. He succumbed and this morning was written off the muster roll, sir."

Perry's face fell. "By God, that's a hard thing! I liked the lad."

"We all did. He was a gallant officer and he handled the guns very bravely."

"But a battle? Wherefore were you fighting?"

"That's a long story. Bishop will need to hear it."

"Of course!"

Achmed and his blackamoor were among the spectators. Once the officers started to break up, he stepped forward to bow. "Peace be upon you, Mr. Thorton. Tell me, is true that Isam Rais al-Tangueli was on board that galley? The Spanish officers tell me that he was, but they claim he is broken in health and spirit. They have been praying to God to hasten his death all the time they have been aboard. Tell me, who commanded the San Bartolomeo?"

Thorton responded, "Aye, sir, he was, but he has transferred his flag to the Santa Teresa. Captain Tangle is recovering his health and is in good condition. He was wounded in the thigh so he limps, but it hasn't slowed him down. He is in high spirits." 

Achmed's face split into a splendid grin. "By Allah, that is good news! Two galleys? He took another of the Spaniards? I can't wait to see him!"

Thorton smiled a little. "More than that. He took four of the five Spanish galleys. They're all laid up in Galley Cove. You should see it! The French are absolutely wild. He is the darling of the moment. The Sallee consul is hosting a dinner tomorrow to celebrate, so I'm sure you'll want to pay a call on him. But if you'll pardon me, I have to report to Captain Bishop."

Achmed's eyes went wide, then he chortled in glee and slapped his thigh. "By Allah, we've missed him! The Spaniards must be pissing in their boots at the thought of the great corsair loose in Biscay!"

The frigate was very crowded with nearly two hundred Spaniards on board. They were huddled in groups to stare at the French shore. Captivity had seemed better than sinking, but now that they were to be captives, they wished they had sunk. They transferred their glares to Thorton as someone among them translated his remarks for them. Some of them spit on the deck and made rude gestures in his direction. It was all his fault. If he hadn't demanded the key, the galleyslaves would all be drowned and Thorton with them. The young lieutenant fancied he could feel the prick of a Spanish poignard between his shoulder-blades already. He must watch his back. 

Thorton climbed the ladder and presented himself on the quarterdeck. Captain Bishop was looking both grim and pompous. He wore his dress coat complete with powdered wig as was his habit in fair weather. His portly form had gained no additional weight in the intervening days, but he looked torpid and lumpen to the returning to lieutenant. Likewise his personality seemed irascible rather than authoritative. Thorton had gotten used to the dark leanness and lively demeanor of the Turkish corsair. 

Thorton stood to attention, saluted, and said, "Lt. Peter Thorton reporting, sir." He was crisp and erect. Strangely, Bishop no longer intimidated him. Thorton didn't like the man, but he seemed a stuffed shirt strutting about his deck. The last few days had given the young lieutenant a great deal of seasoning.

"You have a great deal to account for, mister."

"Aye aye, sir. May I begin with the prize court? The French government has made its ruling, sir."


"They ruled on several points. First, that Isam Rais Tangueli, being a captain of an allied nation, was entitled to use the French court to adjudicate his prizes; second, that he was a privateer of the Sallee Republic, duly commissioned with a letter of marque and reprisal; third, that although he had been seized in the body and condemned to the galleys of Spain that did not invalidate his commission; fourth, because a condition of war existed between the Sallee Republic and the Kingdom of Spain, his seizure of four Spanish galleys was both lawful and admirable. Therefore they have sent the galleys to auction and awarded prize money. The Sallee consul is hosting a dinner for him tomorrow night, to be attended by all the local dignitaries. All the officers that had a hand in this noteworthy undertaking are invited as well. I have been informed that my attendance is compulsory, sir."

Bishop gaped. "The man is a pirate! A mutineer! A barbarian!"

Thorton continued, "A privateer, sir. You may be interested to know, we liberated eleven Englishmen from the Spanish galleys, including the surviving members of the Rebecca of Landsea. They have requested permission to come aboard because they'd like to go home. What answer shall I make to them, sir?"

"The Rebecca? What business is that?"

"She was a sloop hauling rice from Garonne to Plymouth. A Spanish galley stopped her, declared her cargo contraband and enslaved them into the galley."

"What! Send for Captain Renaldo!"

The argument that ensued went on for a long while in French and Spanish. Thorton stood next to Perry and watched the fireworks. Forsythe, milquetoast that he was, ventured to share an opinion with his fellow lieutenants. "Damned arrogant Spaniards!" He kept his voice very low. "You can't trust them."

Perry asked out of the side of his mouth, "Four galleys? However did he do that?"

So Thorton recited the pertinent events in a low voice. He had been below while it all happened, but he had heard about it in great detail from every viewpoint afterwards. Not to mention, the French prize court had wanted to hear all about it, too. "The French savored each and every detail of the Spanish defeat, I can assure you," he concluded.

"Damn me if they wouldn't. But it was an unfortunate business about Maynard, turning corsair and all," Perry replied. 

"He's better off where he is," Thorton replied with a pious look.

Perry and Forsythe uncovered their heads out of respect for the dead boy. 

The crew of the Rebecca was brought and questioned along with the other Englishmen men rescued from the galleys—except Foster, who had thrown in his lot with the Sallee rovers. Thorton saw fit not to mention him. Let Bishop do as he pleased since he insisted on doing so anyhow. If he never thought to inquire beyond what was in front of his nose, so be it. It was his prerogative to be stupid.

At last Thorton was dismissed without any hurt. "But I will want a full written report!" Bishop roared at him.

"Aye aye, sir," said Thorton. He went below. 

Perry followed him into the cabin they were to share again. Out of sight of prying eyes, he took hold of Thorton's shoulders and didn't let go. "I was worried about you."

Thorton smiled happily. He hugged Perry cautiously. He was flush with relief—it seemed he was going to escape a court martial. Everybody was terribly busy with events more important than one wayward English lieutenant. And Perry was holding him and looking happy. 

The silence grew a little awkward. Perry cleared his throat. "Uh, Peter. I have thought about things a great deal, and there's something I'm sorry about."

Thorton gave him a worried look. "What is it?"

"Well, when you were caught on the galley, and we all thought it was going down, I thought to myself, 'Damn it, Roger. He's the best friend you ever had. You could have at least kissed him before he died.'" He let go of Thorton and rubbed his hands on the skirt of his frock coat. 

"But Roger . . . . Do you mean it? Um . . . ." Thorton blushed.

Perry blushed in his turn. "Hell, I've kissed girls for less reason. Do you want me to kiss you?"

Thorton nodded.

"All right. Just once, in Christian fellowship. But don't tell anyone, right?"

Thorton nodded again. His heart was beating faster, wondering if Perry would really do it. The other lieutenant leaned in brushed his lips lightly against Thorton's. It was little more than a peck. Disappointment coursed through Thorton. That was it? 

Perry patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "All right. Let's get your gear stowed," he said in a business-like fashion.

"Roger . . . wouldn't you like to kiss me properly?" Thorton asked a little desperately.

Perry turned his back. "No, I wouldn't, Peter. Please don't mention it again." His voice was cold.

Thorton stared at Perry's rigid back. He had pressed his friend too hard. If he wanted to stay friends, he would have to keep himself in hand. He swallowed hard. "I'm sorry, I overstepped my bounds. It won't happen again." 

He reached deep inside himself for the strength needed to stuff his feelings into a small dark place and lock the lid on them. He was a British officer. Nothing more. God and King had their laws and he must obey. "I'll see if I can bunk with the midshipmen. With Maynard gone they'll have a berth down there."

Perry turned around and gave him a relieved look. "If Achmed goes ashore you can have your own cabin back."

"It hardly seems like mine."

"What in the hell were you doing on the galley anyhow, Peter? We thought it was under your command at first, making English signals like that. I wondered if you were running away. I could hardly blame you. Then we got close enough to see the tall dark fellow in the spyglass. Was that Tangle?"

"Aye, it was. And a damn fine captain he is. He was in charge of the vessel as soon as the Spaniards left her. I never did have command. The men obeyed him, not me."

"You could be in trouble for that."

"Possibly. The French court found no fault with me, so I'm hoping the Admiralty won't either."

Perry balled up his fists and gave Thorton an exasperated look. "You're damned difficult at times, do you know that?"

"I do. Captain Tangle remarked upon it."

Perry laughed in spite of himself. "That's the Peter Thorton I know. A pox on everyone around him. Even the Turks." 

Thorton's feelings were hurt by the remark, but he didn't show it. It was Perry's way to make jests at another's expense. He didn't mean anything by it. He sighed inside. He must get used to the English way of doing things again. How easily he had fallen into the routine aboard the galley! 

"I must see to my dunnage," he replied.

"Aye," said Perry. "I won't get in your way."

"Aye," Thorton replied. Neither had anything further to say.

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