Whenever Lt. William Morris was angry, he would simply swallow and grow a little colder. An intense and disciplined man, he was not given to outbursts, but the anger was still there, each incident taking it a little deeper. Hungry for glory, he had surpassed heroism in several encounters with the Royal Navy, and was known throughout the small Continental fleet. After the last encounter, off the coast of Carolina, in which the captain of the Susquehanna had been mortally wounded, he had fully expected his long-delayed promotion. Now there should be no good reason for him not to become the captain of the ship, a ship he had served on since the very beginning of the war. Morris had twice previously been passed over for this promotion by the Continental Congress-once because of the ordinary kind of petty politics that swirl around all legislative bodies, and the second time because of genuine doubts about his temperament. This third time had been the hardest to take. He looked out over the rail, down the pier, waiting for the arrival of Captain Monroe.
Congress had learned some of the lessons that could be learned from General Benedict Arnold’s defection to the British, but not all of them. One of the lessons they had learned was not to entrust command in the hazards of battle to men who were excessively lean and hungry. And those who knew Lt. Morris knew that he was certainly that. He was an intense patriot, but the intensity was of a kind that under the right conditions could possibly be turned and ridden in another direction. Those who saw this-and who because of it hesitated in bestowing honors apparently well-earned-simply provided Lt. Morris with yet another grievance.
Lt. Morris stood up straight, looking down the dock from the deck of the Susquehanna. Turning off the streets of Jamestown, and onto the pier, were two approaching figures. One wore the uniform of the Continental Navy, and walked with a seaman’s gait, and the other, almost as tall, stayed just even with him. Behind were three servants, two of them carrying a great sea trunk between them, and one carrying a small midshipman’s trunk.
Captain Monroe, for it was he, stepped up on the gangplank, turned and saluted the ensign. He then turned back to Lt. Morris, and said, “Permission to board?”
“It’s your ship, sir.”
“It will be shortly, but not yet. Permission to board?”
Lt. Morris nodded curtly, and William Monroe stepped lightly on deck. Their eyes met, and they each briefly took the measure of the other. Lt. Morris felt he understood his man immediately, but of course he had the bitterness to help him in the task. It had begun with a letter he had received weeks before from a friend in the Congress saying that he had been passed over yet again. The friend had not stinted when it came to his own thoughts on the subject, and they were completely in line with what Morris already wanted to believe. And this meant that not only the stupidity of Congress needed to be enlarged upon, but also a necessary congressional malice and dishonesty had to be attributed to the whole affair. For his angle, Capt. Monroe simply saw a shrewd and intense face, but one with more gray behind the eyes than was good for him.
Stephen was on board a few moments later, oblivious to all such concerns, too excited to notice anything. Lt. Morris directed the servants to deliver the great trunk to the captain’s quarters, and the smaller trunk to the midshipmen’s berths. Stephen clambered below decks, and the two Williams retired to the captain’s quarters to settle the details of the change in command.
When the door closed behind them, all the superficial civility that Lt. Morris had managed to maintain evaporated. His answers to questions were entirely brief, and he volunteered a bare minimum of information.
“Is this the cabinet for the sextant?”
“Do you have the key?”
“With you? May I have it?”
After a few minutes of this conversational heavy weather, Capt. Monroe stopped and cleared his throat.
“Lt. Morris, I am not unfamiliar with your difficult circumstances with regard to the captaincy of this vessel, and I am not unsympathetic. But I am a man under authority, as are you. If you can serve me as an officer of the line, I would be happy to keep you engaged. But if not, I would be willing to write you a letter of transfer to a place that offers broader scope for your legitimate ambitions. However, if you remain with us, I expect whole-hearted service, and no day-labor.”
Lt. Morris said nothing. Capt. Monroe pressed him, and he just nodded. “I want no transfer,” he finally said. “I am honored to have you acknowledge my circumstance.” He turned to go, chafed at having to speak of the matter at all, and something in his heart turned away at the same time. “I will serve you faithfully,” he said. Capt. Monroe extended his hand, and after the slightest delay, Lt. Morris took it, and left the cabin. William Monroe turned back to his trunk, now open on his bunk, and took a handful of volumes out. He looked at the spines, silently counting them. There were Blackstone’s Commentary on the law, Mr. Locke’s treatise on toleration, a small quarto volume by Algernon Sidney, a Bible, and Baxter’s Everlasting Rest, and a handful of others, including a slim and well-marked edition of the Westminster Confession.
They cast off the next day, and put out to sea-a good breeze behind them, and a slight chop to go with it. The Susquehanna had good lines, and took the waves well. Yankee-built, she was as fine a ship as sailed in the world anywhere, and she sailed with sixteen guns. The entire first day Capt. Monroe stood on the afterdeck, enjoying the sea, enjoying his command, enjoying his prospects. The second day he stayed below, helped there by a slow drizzle, going over charts and a few newspapers he had brought with accounts of recent battles in Caroline. The war was prospering there, and he had a free commission to prey on British merchants en route to the Caribbean, or to engage any warships he encountered, as he thought prudent. The third day out, they turned south where Capt. Monroe thought the slowest merchants could be found-where the lowest fruit might be found hanging, just above the water.
With the exception of the rain on the second day, the weather was perfect their first week at sea. The crew showed themselves a lively group, and the only problem that Capt. Monroe noticed was Lt. Morris spending more time than he liked with Stephen. The second in command customarily took efforts to instruct the midshipmen, and Lt. Morris had of course done this, but he would also spend time afterwards visiting with Stephen, leaning on the rail, deep in what appeared to be innocent conversation. And the conversation was innocent, although Morris could not be described that way. He had discovered the first day that Stephen had been one of Maryland’s liberty boys, and that his zeal for the Revolution had something of a different stripe than his brother’s. Morris determined by the second day that it would serve him well to plant some seeds of dissatisfaction, but nothing too obvious unless Stephen took it up.
At the end of the first week at sea, Capt. Monroe had Stephen to his quarters for a private dinner. When they pushed back from the table, William looked at Stephen, arched his eyebrows, and said, “Well, how do you find it? Is it to your liking?”
Stephen looked up eagerly. “Aye,” he said. “Although I will like it best when we see action.” Like many in his family, Stephen had truly taken to the sea. Not sick at all, he was limber in the rigging, and he knew how to work hard. He had studied diligently while still at home, and already knew the rudiments of navigation. In this, he surpassed the other midshipmen, although those two had been on board for six months. Excited, disciplined, and young, he was also pleased with his developing friendship with Lt. Morris-although he knew his brother well enough not to say too much about it. Lt. Morris had loaned him several other books, one by Mr. Paine, and one by a “hothead reverend” from Massachusetts. At least that is what William Monroe had called him some months ago when his name had come up before in Monroe dinner conversations. But Stephen had read through both of them, and found nothing to object to-unless zeal should be thought objectionable. But he said nothing to his brother about the books.
But he did say something about why it bothered him to have to hide what he was reading. “Brother, back in Annapolis, you called Mr. Paine a prodigious fool. But you fought with John Paul Jones. Our family is solid for liberty. Father is one of the leading patriots in Maryland, and he will almost certainly be in the Continental Congress next session. Our brother fought with Morgan’s rifles at Saratoga. You are a captain in the Continental Navy. I don’t understand why you have such distaste for Mr. Paine’s fire.”
“Because it is a strange fire, and this cause is an altar to God. If it is to remain an altar to God . . .”
At this there was a clatter in the passageway outside, and then a sharp rapping on the door. A tousled head came through the door. “Beg pardon, Cap’n. Ship ahoy, abaft the starboard beam.”
The two brothers jumped to their feet and left the cabin, Stephen barely remembering to let his brother go first. Capt. Monroe snatched his hat, and an eyeglass, and took the ladder up without using his hands, Stephen right behind him. A moment later, standing at the starboard rail, Capt. Monroe lowered his eyeglass. “Three masts. But what is she? We shall have to snip in and see. Right full rudder! Sound to quarters!”
In spite of himself, Lt. Morris watched in admiration. Capt. Monroe was making his approach so that if it became apparent that the ship was a British man of war, he could immediately use the wind to cut, turn, and disappear. But the excitement was short-lived, and Stephen was quickly disappointed. The ship was a merchant, separated from her convoy, and as soon as she saw the Susquehanna, she turned and tried to lumber away. Low in the water, she was carrying supplies to Lord Cornwallis-clothes, shoes, powder, muskets-supplies that, apart from the red coats, the rebels could put to a much more effective use. But as soon as it became obvious that the Susquehanna was much more nimble, the captain of the merchant ship struck his colors. He was a prudent man, and not about to go to Davy Jones for the sake of his ungrateful and inanimate cargo. While he was standing at the rail scowling, his irritated thoughts were interrupted by an indignant protest from behind his left shoulder. “Sir, why do you not resist the rebels?”
He bowed his head. “Because, my lady, we have no guns to speak of.” The speaker he was answering was Lady Huntington, the daughter of a British brigadier general serving under Cornwallis. Her father, the good general, had summoned her to come and attend him at their headquarters, which was an unusual request but not entirely unusual. There were several other distinguished ladies there already, and Lady Huntington suspected that she was being summoned because her father wanted to marry her off to Major Smythe, a man she admired and detested in equal measure. She detested him almost as much as she did the Americans. This brought her back to the subject of fighting the Americans, and she started to argue with the merchant captain. She thought to herself that she had seen the cargo hold full of guns, but when she saw the look on his face, she decided that she would say nothing more, and save her indignation for speaking to the rebels when they boarded.
That boarding was accomplished in short order, and in a brief exchange of words, the merchant captain surrendered his ship to Capt. Monroe. “Sir, I relinquish to your rebellious cause most of my worldly cares.”
“Capt. Monroe grinned. “And sir, I accept your kind offer.”
Lady Huntington stood back at a distance as haughtily as she knew how, and the effect of her general disapproval was pronounced. At the same time, the first appearance of the Americans on board unsettled her. At all the fashionable dinners in London that she had attended, where the war was always discussed, Americans were routinely described in such a way as to give her the unquestioned image of the Americans as orangutans, barely able to speak or do business with civilized human beings. But the American captain, standing beside her craven and annoyed merchant captain, provided her with no place in her mind with which to categorize him. She did not know what to say or think, and so she just continued to stand haughtily.
“You were sailing for Charleston?” asked Capt. Monroe.
The merchantman nodded. “Have your men form a work party to transfer as much of your cargo to us as may be. Start with the munitions. When that is done, you and your first mate with come with us.” Turning to Lady Huntington, Capt. Monroe bowed slightly, and said, “M’lady, it is obvious that you are of some rank and station. When we have arrived back in Jamestown, a message will be sent to the place of your intended destination, and a transfer of your person will be effected. May I have the honor to ask where that may be?”
“With Lord Cornwallis, sir. And I thank you.”
He tipped his head slightly, and said, “One of the men will bring your belongings over to our ship as well. A lady such as yourself ought not to sail the high seas on a ship without guns.”
She flushed, and started to reply in a temper, but held herself back in time. “I thank you again, sir, for the kindness.”
The seamen of the merchant vessel, as soon as it became apparent that they were not going to be slaughtered, turned to the work assigned to them with a will. The holds of the Susquehanna rapidly filled, with about a third of the cargo left in the holds of the merchant ship. A prize crew was assigned to the merchant from the Susquehanna, and instructions given to them to sail for Jamestown in case of separation. When that was done, the last thing left was the transfer of Lady Huntington and her possessions. The sea was calm so ships had been lashed together, and several rough planks were serving as a gangway between the vessels.
As she stepped onto the deck of the Susquehanna, she was met by Capt. Monroe again, who took her offered hand, and bowed again. “I have made arrangements for you to take my quarters,” he said. “It is only for a few days, and I am loathe to subject a lady to any unnecessary hardship.”
Her eyebrows went up. “Your manners are most refined, sir.” She thought, but did not say, “for an American.” She did not say this because that was the kind of thing she knew how to communicate without saying it. But she did say, “One would almost think you had spent time in the salons of Paris.”
“I have spent time in the salons of Paris,” he said. And he did not say-because he did not need to say-that the salons of Paris were the native habitat of effete and perfumed sophists. But they were well-mannered.
Two sailors escorted her to her new quarters-Capt. Monroe’s necessities had already been removed to make room for her.
Stephen was standing with Lt. Morris near the after rail, watching all the goods come over. They both watched, without comment, as Lady Huntington came aboard, and the exchanges that followed.
“Your older brother,” Lt. Morris said, “is a very talented man.” The accent of his voice fell slightly on the word older, and with a little more emphasis on the word very.
“I know that,” Stephen said. “But why do you say so?”
“Well, certainly, his gallantry is well known throughout the fleet. Who has not read about it? And the way he approached that merchant just now . . . nothing to call it but smart seamanship. No, he is more than talented-I think the Susquehanna has found a great captain.”
Stephen flushed with pride, still naïve enough to miss flattery in the mouth of an expert. “Thank you,” he said. Lt. Morris hesitated, but the hesitation was not visible. “Why, even our Lady Huntington recognized it!” And Lt. Morris laughed as though he admired what he detested. “Who could blame him for accepting the homage? I certainly would do the same.” Stephen looked across at the Lt. Morris, baffled.
At the same moment below decks, Lady Huntington was staring, equally baffled, at Capt. Monroe’s shelf of books. She reached out and took two of them down, oblivious to the titles. The titles did not matter. He had books, out at sea. She could not have been more surprised if she had discovered that Blackbeard the pirate had been an accomplished player of the cello and harpsichord. Impressed and shaken for a brief moment, she then looked more closely at the titles. Whiggery. Presbyterian rebels. Calvinism. She put them back, and resumed her disdain.
For those who don’t know, I have written a couple of children’s stories for Veritas Press, Blackthorn Winter and Susan Creek respectively. It appears that it is time to write another one, which is entitled Two Williams, and which I have decided to serialize here. That is one of the reasons I had a continue reading feature added — so that the diversity cops who comb through my blog posts looking for yet one more example of my perfidy (a word that should be used more often) need not tie up their valuable time scrolling down through my fiction for kids, however edifying it might be to them. They are already sacrificing a lot of good day-time television to go through my stuff, and I don’t want to be rude or thoughtless.
Because this book (when complete) will be published by Veritas, I need to reserve the right to pull all the posts once it is in print, or not post the last chapter if it is a cliff-hanger. Anyhow, here it is, such as it is, and I hope your kids enjoy it. The intended audience is twelve-year-old boys, and the sisters who admire them, give or take twenty years. This little explanation will be tagged on to the end of each chapter as it is written and posted.