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Norton, Andre - Novel 08

BOOK: Norton, Andre - Novel 08
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Yankee Privateer

 
          
 
The author wishes to express appreciation for
the assistance given by Miss Nellie Snape of Heeley Hill, Mottram St. Andrew,
Cheshire
,
England
, and to Laura and John Harris for the
helpful suggestions and source material which they so generously provided.

 

 
          

 
          
 
YANKEE PRIVATEER

 
          
 
Then we each manned a ship
And
our sails we unfurled, And we bore the Stars and Stripes O'er the oceans of the
world. From the proud flag of
Britain
We
swept the seas
clear, And we earned our Independence On the Yankee Privateer.

 
          
 
—THE YANKEE PRIVATEER

 
          

1

 

Right in a Squirrel's Eye

 

 
          
 
If thou hast courage to despise

            
The various changes of the skies,

            
To disregard the ocean's rage,

            
Unmoved when hostile ships engage,

            
Come from the forest and with me

            
Learn what it is to go to sea.

 
          
 
—CAPTAIN JONES' INVITATION

 

 

 
          
 
Ice was breaking up out on the bay, floating
sea-ward. Fitzhugh Lyon gasped as a blast of wind, crossing that rubble, cut
into him like the lash of a slave driver. It carried with it the taint of the
foul, earthy slime which the winter of 1779 had left to clog
Baltimore
's principal street.

 
          
 
The mare, Lady, moved impatiently under her
rider. Fitz could feel the shivers which shook her mud-plastered body. But her
head was still high and gallantly held for all the punishing pace he had kept
her to that day.

 
          
 
Still he hesitated.
Annapolis
he knew well, but this raw, unfinished
city-village was unfamiliar. Which inn now? . . .

 
          
 
Lady pawed the mud and shook her head. She
wanted warm bran mash under her nose and a knowledgeable groom to curry her
clean again. Fitz shifted the weight of the long-barreled rifle which rested
across the saddle before him.

 
          
 
"All right.
We
shall
go "

 
          
 
But the mare pricked her ears as the shrill
piping of a fife and the roll of a drum rose even above the hum of the port.
Fitz's shoulders flattened and his chin went up as he watched a small knot of
blue-coated men march up the street toward him, a rabble of loafers and
half-grown boys trailing behind.

 
          
 
"Recruiting!"

 
          
 
But not for the army—at
least not for the Maryland Line.
They wore brown reversed with red.
Fitzhugh's teeth caught hard in his lower lip. He had excellent reason to
remember that. He did not allow his eyes to stray down the length of his drab
greatcoat and the supple fawnskin hunting smock under it.

 
          
 
Three years ago he should have been in red and
brown. Duty—the pain in his pinched lip did not keep out the thought now so
grooved in his mind that it seemed to run of itself—duty was a thankless
employer.

 
          
 
"All you that have bad
masters
"

 
          
 
The lieutenant in charge of the recruiting
squad caroled out the limping verse in a pleasing baritone.

 

 
          
 
"All you that have bad masters,

            
And cannot get your due,

            
Come, come, my brave boys,

            
And join with our ship's
crew!"

 

 
          
 
Lady tossed her head and sidled away from the
flapping bunting of the flag they carried, showing her dislike for the squeal
of the fife, until Fitz had to exert knee pressure to hold her. So this was a
naval party! And by the number of dropped jaws and bemused eyes to be counted
in the crowd, they might well look forward to doing a smart business. Although,
by all accounts,
Baltimore
was almost stripped clean of able-bodied seamen now—what with the city
gone fair mad over privateering.

 
          
 
Fitz transferred his attention from the
audience to the principle actor. The lieutenant had taken off his cockaded hat
and was blotting his flushed face with a handkerchief.

 
          
 
And to Fitz's critical mind that linen square
was being used with a distinctly staged flourish. Deep within him an old
resentment, one which he thought he had left behind him when he rode through
the gates of Fairleigh, began to prickle into life again.

 
          
 
He studied the officer, trying to reason out
his sudden aversion for the man.

 
          
 
The recruiter was square jawed, and his
regular features were coated with a deep sea tan which bronzed them for the
romantic taste. He carried himself with a swagger, a gallant-enough
example
to tempt others into his calling.

 
          
 
Fitz's dark eyes were bleak. These
"storm-the-bluffs-m'boys" men, you found them everywhere nowadays. He
would have to learn to live with them. And this one had the gift of a glib
tongue, too. Listen to the man now, he was getting down to his business with a
right good will, addressing the crowd from the steps of the house across the
street.

 
          
 
"D'you want to give the lobsterbacks a
proper knock, lads? Do you desire to come home again with a mint of guinea
pieces to clink in your pockets? Sign on a lucky ship—under a lucky master! You
all know Captain Daniel
Crofts "

 
          
 
A ragged cheer drowned him out. Apparently the
crowd did know Captain Crofts and they approved of him highly.

 
          
 
"You may gain a thousand pounds, mind
you," the lieutenant's voice soared again. "One thousand pounds in
your pocket, like as not, for spendin' a few months at sea. And a chance to set
a slow match to Fat George into the bargain 1"

 
          
 
This fantastic promise was at once underlined
by a spirited burst of noise from fife and drum while the officer took a hasty
pull of refreshment out of a flask that one of his listeners thrust upon him.
Again Lady tried to draw away, but Fitz, fascinated against his will by this
first glimpse of recruiting, navy style, was not yet ready to go.

 
          
 
The long monotonous years just behind him made
this bit of color and life almost as intoxicating as the contents of that flask
which the lieutenant still held. Fitz was on his way—
free
at last—to join the army. But that did not mean that he had to embark for the
north that very hour.

 
          
 
"Able seamen," the carrying voice
was developing a slightly husky note, "and sharpshooters needed to serve
as
marines "

 
          
 
Fitz measured the crowd with an eye accustomed
to marking out the usefulness of field hands. Very few of these ragged, dirty
men or hobbledehoy loutish boys looked as if they could qualify for either
post. Too many ships had sailed from
Baltimore
in these past few years. The cream of her
native seamen were gone, either now afloat on privateers, tracking down British
shipping within hailing distance of its home ports, or, if unlucky, rotting in
the filthy prison ships and behind the walls of Old Mill. What was gathered
here now was very raw material, and it would take a lucky Captain and a lucky
ship indeed to make them worth recruiting.

 
          
 
"Plenty of places for
gentlemen seamen, sir.
How about blooding that fine rifle of yours in a
proper engagement?"

 
          
 
Fitz refused to blink and he hoped that the
wooden mask of no expression at all—which he had so carefully cultivated—was
properly in place under the gaze of the lieutenant. But all those other grimy
faces had swung in his direction, too. He forced a shadow of a smile and shook
his head.

 
          
 
"A clumsy landsman such as I, sir, would
be of little value afloat. Best get you men bred up in your trade."

 
          
 
But the lieutenant, as he might have guessed,
thought Fitz, with an inward sigh at his own folly for lingering, was not going
to take that hint. The fellow was afire with zeal, or with the rum he had
swallowed, and he was raising that quarter-deck voice again. The prickle of
resentment in Fitz became a small, steady blaze when the recruiter bellowed:

 
          
 
"By the Blue Peter, sir, if you can
finger that weapon of yours to advantage, we'll soon make a proper marine of
you!"

 
          
 
That boast was seconded by a murmur from the
crowd. Fitz's thoughts raced. He would have to handle this carefully—if he said
one wrong word some one of the rabble might raise the cry of "Tory."
That had happened before. Then there might be a nasty brawl.

 
          
 
"Maybe he can't shoot!" A ragged boy
edged up to stare impudently into Fitz's face. "Like as not he's one o'
them up-country king lovers!"

 
          
 
"Yeah, sonny," a big man crowded
against the mare. From a mat of curly black beard, tobacco-stained teeth showed
in a cruel grin. "Rifle guns ain't fer 'em wot can't make good use o' 'em.
Supposen' yo' show us'ns how that thar pop gun works?"

 
          
 
Fitz noticed that the weapon carried in the
crook of black beard's arm was in some respects twin to his own. He took a
chance and offered a challenge.

 
          
 
"I'll match you. Let our friends here set
the mark."

 
          
 
The crowd took to that with a good will and
some show of excitement. This was a better way to waste time of a long
afternoon than to just listen to recruiting talk. The big man spat a brown
stream of juice and nodded.

 
          
 
"How about a
wager?"
The lieutenant pushed his way into the circle which had
formed around Fitz and the rifleman. "Let the loser sign ship's papers
with me!"

 
          
 
That tickled the fancy of most of his hearers,
and their yells of happy approval made Lady shy.

 
          
 
The stench of sour rum hung thick on the air
as the big man bellowed his agreement. By the greasy hunting smock he wore and
the fox-skin cap pulled down over his uncombed thatch of hair, he appeared to
be one of the fur-trading frontiersmen who now and then drifted down the road
which ran through Upper Marlboro to the western wilderness. And no frontiersman
was a poor shot, not if he wished to keep his hair safe on his head.

 
          
 
Fitz knew that. But something stubborn inside
him said that he was not going to lose. The rifle he carried had been his
companion too long. And his brain was not fogged with pothouse potions.

 
          
 
He urged Lady to follow the willing guides who
led the way to an open field not far from the dank water of the bay. Here the
raw ice-tongued wind had a free sweep, but no one seemed inclined to take
cover.

 
          
 
“I’ll hold the mare for you."

 
          
 
The lieutenant stepped forward to take Lady's
reins as Fitz came reluctantly out of the saddle.

 
          
 
He had been right in his guess. This blue-coat
now overtopped him by several inches. Resentment fed his old antagonism against
all such loud-talking, strutting, uniform wearers. Instinctively Fitz used now
the only answer he ever had against them, that level, cool, measuring stare
which had somehow always managed to disconcert Cousin Francis and even make
Cousin Ralph a little less sure of himself.

BOOK: Norton, Andre - Novel 08
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