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Bolitho 26 - Second to None by Alexander Kent

Bolitho 26 - Second to None by Alexander Kent

Author:Alexander Kent [Kent, Alexander]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Fiction:Historical
Publisher: Arrow
Published: 2011-06-19T13:01:12+00:00


11 the Last farewell

GALBRAITH stifled a yawn and walked up to the weather side of the quarterdeck. Another morning watch, when a ship came alive again and found her personality. A time for every competent first lieutenant to delegate work, and to discover any flaws in the pat-tern of things before his captain drew his attention to them.

He felt a growing warmth on his cheek, and the ship sway to a sudden gust of wind. He saw the helmsmen glance from the flapping driver to the masthead pendant, licking out now across the larboard bow, easing the spokes with care to allow for it.

It would be hot today, whatever the wind decided. The decks had been washed down at first light, and were now almost dry, and some of the boatswain's crew were filling the boats with water to prevent the seams opening when the sun rose to its zenith. His eye moved on. Hammocks neatly stowed, lines flaked down ready for instant use, without the danger of tangling and causing an infuriating delay.

A brief glance aloft told him that more men were out on the yards, searching for breaks and frayed ends, another daily task.

He saw the cabin servant, Napier, making his way aft, a cov-ered dish balanced in one hand, and recalled the burial, Lovatt's body sliding over the side after the captain had spoken a few words. A seaman, one of Lovatt's, tugged off his tarred hat: respect or guilt, it was hard to tell. Napier had been there also, standing in the dying light beside Lovatt's son. As the body had been tipped on a grating Napier had put his arm around the other boy's shoulder.

Galbraith saw another gust crossing the heaving water, ruf-fling it like a cat's fur. The large ensign was standing out from the peak, and beyond the naked figurehead the hazy horizon tilted to a steeper angle. In for a blow . . . He smiled. As the master had predicted. The wind had shifted, veered overnight, north-easterly across the starboard quarter.

He walked to the opposite side again and looked at the com-pass, the helmsman's eyes noting every move. Due west. Gibraltar in three days, less if the wind increased. He watched a seaman on the gun deck splicing a rope's end, his face stiff with concen-tration. Another, who had been applying grease to a gun truck, reached out and took it from him. The strong, tarred fingers moved like marlin spikes, there was a quick exchange of grins, and the job was done. One of the prisoners, helping a new hand still mystified by the intricacies of splicing and rope work. If only they were not so undermanned. He paced impatiently up the tilt-ing deck. There was still half the morning watch to run, and a hundred things he needed to supervise.

The lookouts had sighted a few distant sails, doubtless fisher-men. It was as well they were not hostile. What would happen if they could get no more men at Gibraltar?



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