Cover image for The king's coat : a novel
Title:
The king's coat : a novel
Author:
Lambdin, Dewey.
Personal Author:
Edition:
[Large print edition].
Publication Information:
Thorndike, Me. : G.K. Hall, 1999.

©1989
Physical Description:
571 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780783804408
Format :
Book

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Status
Audubon Library X Adult Large Print - Floating collection Floating Collection - Large Print
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Summary

Summary

In 1870 Alan Lewrie was a precocious seventeen-year-old living in London. Found in bed with his half-sister, he was sent off to the navy to be out of sight -- and perhaps lost at sea. Much to his surprise, Alan took to the sea, and before long proved himself as a seaman. The King's Coat is a novel of adventure and self-discovery, of breathtaking sea battles and awakening maturity. It introduces Midshipman Alan Lewrie on his premiere voyage and sees him off to a brilliant naval career at the height of the American Revolution.


Author Notes

Dewey Lambdin was born in 1945. He received a degree in film and television production from Montana State University in 1969. He worked for local television stations and in advertising. After being laid off, he started writing fiction. His first novel, The King's Coat, was published in 1989. He is the author of the Alan Lewrie Naval Adventures series and What Lies Buried: A Novel of Old Cape Fear.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Comparisons will be made between Midshipman Alan Lewrie and Forester's Horatio Hornblower, but this auspicious beginning of a series has a very modern sensibility. In 1780, at the age of 17, our hero, bastard son of Sir Hugo Willoughby, is already a practicing rake in London. Caught in flagrante with his sluttish half-sister, he is banished to the Navy in a nasty ploy by Sir Hugo to rob the boy of his inheritance. During Alan's year on the 64-gun Adriadne , on the American-built schooner Parrot and on the frigate Desperate , he becomes an adept, even valiant sailor. There are foes at sea (a snotty fellow midshipman, a sanctimonious captain, American rebels) and ashore (Sir Hugo and minions), but there are also friends, notably Lt. Kenyon, skipper of the Parrot , and Lucy Beauman, beautiful niece of an admiral. Lambdin's crisp, gory action scenes possibly are marred for landlubbers by heavy nautical jargon, but graphic ribaldry involving a couple of older ladies needs no translation. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

Lambdin's Alan Lewrie stacks up well with C.S. Forester's Hornblowe r and Alexander Kent's Bolitho as a fictional naval officer. In this first novel, Lewrie, at 17, is unwillingly made a midshipman in the British navy of 1780. He sails first in a ship-of-the-line, later in a schooner, and finally a frigate. Storms, battles, duels, and difficulties begin to change him from a spoiled fop into a competent officer who is slowly coming to take pride in his hard service. Lambdin makes his character very human and believable. Questions about his background and prospects are left intriguingly unanswered. Lambdin also demonstrates a good enough grasp of sailing and 18th-century sea warfare to satisfy readers of this genre, who are quick to catch any mistakes. A good yarn that promises to become a good series.-- C. Robert Nixon, M.L.S., Lafayette, Ind. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

The King's Coat Chapter 1 A sullen, icy wind blew across the King's Stairs in the city of Portsmouth as Midshipman Alan Lewrie waited for the boat to fetch him out to his ship, the sixty-four-gun 3rd Rate Ariadne. Many naval vessels tossed and gyrated on the heaving grey green harbor waters, and Alan swallowed hard, and became a touch ill just watching them. He was also still in a mild form of shock over his fall from grace, and his sudden banishment. From one moment of being a buck of the first head and caterwauling with his friends all over London, chasing women, eating and drinking his fill, gambling and playing, and with little thought for the morrow, to this seaborne exile was just too hellish a wrench. The trip down had been rough; bad roads and bad company, with both Bell and Bevan eyeing him like hawks. Even a bath and a shave at the inn had not revived his spirits. There had been no chance to escape. To listen to Bevan, it wasn't that bad a fate to go to sea, and over the past few days, the terror of it had slipped away. He would be a midshipman, not a common sailor, a junior petty officer with authority, carried on the ship's books as a gentleman, berthed with others of his kind, with servants and stewards to care for his clothing and his table. Bevan had told him about prize money, and how some ships' crews had become rich beyond measure, and how midshipmen took a larger share; of how fellows much like himself had gone on to fame and fortune and had set themselves up as great men once they came home. And during the process of buying his kit, Alan had reveled in a form of revenge on Sir Hugo. Bevan had a letter of credit from his father--he did not strike Alan as the sort one would trust with a full purse--and since it wasn't Bevan's money, they ended as confederates in spending it properly. Six full uniforms, three of them the best the town could boast, more silk and linen shirts than anyone could need, silk and cotton stockings, breeches and working rig slop trousers, personal stores of extra fine biscuit, jam, tea, paper, and the proper set of books, such as the latest edition of Falconer's Marine Dictionary. Alan was sure that even a royal bastard could not make a finer showing, and secretly, he thought he looked especially handsome in the uniform, even if it was on the plain side. There had been a saucy dark-haired chambermaid at the inn that had thought so, too, his last evening ashore. After a dinner that had filled him to bursting, two bottles of claret and several brandies, he had gone to his room to discover her ready to turn his bed down for the evening and fetch a warming pan. When he suggested she warm it instead, she was out of her sack and stays in a heartbeat. Thankfully, Bell relented and stood guard on the door, and not in the room with him, showing some mercy to him on his last free night. He had no civilian clothing anymore, so he could not have run away. Like a condemned man, he had eaten a hearty meal, and had bulled her all over the room until the sky was grey. Both Bell and Bevan had been tactfully silent after he had washed up and joined them for breakfast, much like executioners who had the good grace not to crack jokes at the wrong time. The girl's send-off, all the drink, and little sleep had damned near killed him, and a cold breakfast had almost finished the job ... and still gave notice of trying. "I am in no shape to do this," he said to Bell, who took no notice. And there was the boat from his ship, approaching fast. "Here, you," Bell said behind him to a waiting bargee. "Help the gemmun with his chest." The sense of shock was gone, also the hope of escape, and Alan's passing interest in prize money and uniforms and littlerevenge faded as reality approached. Here was the end of one life and the beginning of another that felt much like penal servitude. Had he not heard or read somewhere that the Navy was like a prison, in which one had the chance to drown? "Bell, I have money," he said, turning to the coxswain. "Tuppence'll do for the bargee, sir." "No, I mean ..." Lewrie hinted, tipping a wink. "Best do it like a man." Bell scowled. "Sir." Alan shrugged and tramped down to the boat at the foot of the stairs. One man held it to shore with a boat hook while eight more sat with their oars held aloft like lances. There was a boy by the tiller, a midshipman of perhaps fifteen. "Hurry it up, will you?" he called. "Our first lieutenant's watching. Well, get in the goddamned boat. We won't bite you ... yet." Alan stumbled across the gunwale and sat in the boat at the stern by the boy who had addressed him, while two of the oarsmen took hold of his chest and placed it in the bottom of the boat with a loud thump. Alan flipped a coin to the waiting bargee. "Shove off, bowman," the boy at the tiller said. "Out oars. Backwater, larboard ... give us some way, starboard." Alan looked up at Bell, who spat in the water as he waved him a sardonic farewell. Alan sighed and turned to look at the men in the boat with him. The nearest oarsmen were both tanned a dark brown, with skin as wrinkled as a discarded pair of gloves. They also sported impressive scars which stood out like chalk marks on their arms and faces. "Give way all," the boy called. "Stroke, damn yer eyes, or I'll see someone's back laid open for shirking." That could cheer me up, Alan told himself; not like a hanging but possibly entertaining. He turned to look at the tillerman of his version of Charon's Ferry and marked him down for a brutal little git of a type he was familiar with from Harrow (and sundry other schools from which he had been expelled), a right bastard made even worse with power over fags and new boys. At least once he wasaboard ship, he would have the same power, as if he had been made prefect over a whole shipload of fags. But the men in the boat didn't look like the pink-cheeked little victims he had bullied in the past. Neither did they look like the popular illustrations of Jolly Jacks and True Blue Hearts of Oak. In fact, they resembled more last session's dock at the Assizes, surly, uncouth and dangerous brutes, the gutter sweepings from the worst parts of the city, cutthroats and cutpurses he normally wouldn't give way for, unless they were the pimps he knew. These men looked like the sort who would do him in for a little light entertainment. And that brought him full-circle to the dicey situation in his belly. "God, it can't be sick already," the tiller boy crowed. "Oh, hold your tongue," Alan snapped, making sure to keep his own mouth as tightly sealed as possible. "So that's the way you'll be, milord," the boy said with a cruel laugh. "Well, you'll sing a different tune when we're at sea, that I promise you. I said row, you damned sluggards." Within minutes, they were close to Ariadne and steering for its starboard side. It seemed immense to Alan's eyes, much like a country house on a large estate. Unfortunately, a country house that seemed to bob and roll with a life of its own. The bowman grappled them to the side with his boat hook by the mainmast chains. "Up you go, my booby," the boy said. "Up there? How?" Lewrie gawped. "Jump onto the battens, grab hold of the man-ropes, and climb to the entry port." Alan perceived a ladder of sorts, made of wooden strips set into the hull much like a set of shelves, with red baize-covered rope strung through the outer ends to make a most shallow sort of banister rail. This led upwards from the waterline, following the broad curve of the hull along the tumble-home to an ornate open gate cut into the ship's side, very far overhead. "Can't they drop a chair or something?" Alan asked. God, I'll be killed if I try to climb that. I'll bet this is some kind of nautical humbug they pull on the newlies. "You in the boat. Get a move on," a voice shouted down through a brass speaking trumpet which appeared over the rail, then withdrew. Alan realized there was nothing for it but to go. He got to his feet shakily as the boat rocked and rolled and bumped against the heaving ship hellish-lively, which made him swoon. He was also not a swimmer and feared the grey water. A seaman offered a hand and shoulder to steady him as he put a foot on the gunwale of the boat. He waited for the two craft to get in harmony, then leaped for the ladder. But his foot pushed the gunwale down and the ship rolled to starboard as he fought madly for a grip on the sodden man-ropes and slick battens. Clinging in terror, he was dunked chest-deep in the freezing water and screeched an obscenity, also catching a solid whack in his back from the side of the rowing boat. As the ship rolled back upright, Alan scrambled for his very life, and arrived through the entry port with his teeth chattering. There was a hearty general round of laughter at his arrival which didn't do his composure much good, either. "Well?" a person who appeared to be some sort of officer demanded, hands on his hips and his chin out almost in Alan's face. "Sorry about that. Must have misjudged my timing," Alan said. "Is there a place I could change? It's devilish cold." "You'll doff your hat to me." The officer was within an inch of his nose, "you'll say sir to me, and report yourself aboard this ship properly, or I'll shove your ignorant arse back for the fish to gawk at, you simple fucking farmer!" Alan stared at him for a second, shocked to his core that anyone could yell at him in such a manner, and with such filthy language! Not that he was above using it himself, and prided himself on being a true Englishman when occasion demanded harsh words. But to be the recipient was much like his recent cold bath. His lips trembled as he desperately tried to remember what Captain Bevan had instructed him to say. "M ... mid ... midshipman Alan Lewrie," he finally said. "Come aboard to join, sir." He raised and doffed the cocked hat he wore. "You are a young one, ain't you, now," the officer said. "What a cod's-head. You'll never shit a seaman's turd." "Is that required?" Alan stammered, instantly regretting it. The officer stared at him with eyes as blared as a firstsaddled colt, unable to believe what he had heard. "Bosun. A round dozen of yer best for this idiot." "I believe, Mister Harm, that if the midshipman has just come aboard to join, then he is not on ship's books, and is not yet subject to punishment," another officer said after stifling his laughter. Thank bloody Christ, Alan thought wildly; that dozen of the best didn't sound like a round of drinks! "Goddamn you, you'll get your ass flayed raw before the day's out, if I've any say in it," the officer so appropriately named Harm said. "I've my eye on you from here on out, little man." "Yes, sir," Alan replied, galled to give this screeching parrot any sort of courtesy, but thinking it might mollify him. "That's aye aye, sir, " Harm said, but sauntered off. "Sufferin' Jesus," Alan whispered sadly, still standing at a loose sort of attention and doffing his hat. "You are a bit old to be joining, aren't you?" the second officer asked. "Why, you must be all of eighteen." "S ... seventeen, sir," Alan said between chattering teeth. "What were your parents thinking of, to wait so late?" "My father ... he did not agree with my choice, sir," Alan said, thinking his reception could get worse if they knew his real reason for being there; or the fact that if he could get a good knockdown price, he would sell the ship for his freedom, and care less if the crew was carried off in a Turk's galley. "Newlies usually go to the gun room, but you're too old for that. Might be the orlop for you, with the older midshipmen." "The ... orlop," Alan replied, trying the new word on for size. He peeked about the deck to see if he could spot one. "God's teeth, what a prize booby you are. I cannot wait until Captain Bales sees his latest acquisition. You'll need dry clothing. Mister Rolston?" "Aye aye, sir," said the grinning imp who had ferried him out to the ship. "Show Mister Lewrie below to the gun room and see he gets into dry things. And the proper hat. Soon as you're presentable, Lewrie, get back up to the quarterdeck and we'll take you to the first lieutenant, Mister Swift, so you can be properly entered in ship's books. By the way, I am Lieutenant Kenyon, the second officer." "How do you do, sir," Lewrie asked, offering a civilian hand. "Oh, God," Kenyon said as Alan dropped his hand and doffed his hat once more. "Yes, I expect you shall be most entertaining for us. Now get below." He allowed himself to be led below from the gangway to the waist of the ship while a pigtailed seaman named Fowles staggered along behind with his chest, suffering in silence. He staggered down a steep double set of stairs to the lower gun deck, a dank and dimly lit and groaning place full of guns, mess tables, stools, thick supporting beams and the columnlike masts. Glims in paper holders shed light on hundreds of men and doxies and quite a few children scampering about. It was more like a debtor's prison than a ship. Rolston led him aft to an area which was screened off from the rest of the gun deck by half-partitions, and filled with chests and tables. "This is the gun room," Rolston told him. "The master gunner Mister Tencher and his mates berth here, along with the junior midshipmen. You can stow your chest along one of the screens and it'll be your seat. And you'll sleep in a hammock, instead of your soft little feather bed. I trust it will be up to milord's usual standards." The smell of cooking grease, some foul egestion wafting aloft from the bilges, the fug of damp wool and unwashed bodies was fit to make him gag, but he forbore manfully. "It is not St. James's," Alan drawled acidly, turning to look Rolston up and down, "but good enough for some, I shouldn't wonder." "You'll not last long in this ship with your snotty damned City ways, Lewrie. Just you wait 'til--" His tirade was interrupted by the arrival of Fowles with the heavy sea chest. But as the ship groaned and creaked into another roll, Fowles staggered and performed a shaky dance to waddle past them, bump Rolston and crash to the deck atop the chest, almost on Rolston's shoes. "You clumsy fool!" Rolston slapped the man on the arms and chest in anger. "You did that on purpose. I'll see you on charge for it. Laying hands on an officer, for starters." "Beg pardon, sir," Fowles yelped. "Sorry, sir." Alan saw real fear in the man, and was amazed that a grown man of nearly fourteen stone could be so bullied by a mere boy in a blue coat. "It wasn't his fault," Lewrie said, wishing they would all go away and let him be as ill as he wished. "The ship rolled heavily." "Thankee, sir," Fowles said, knuckling his forehead gratefully, "I were clumsy, sir, but meant no harm, sir." "That's all, fellow. You may go," Alan told him. Fowles ducked out like a shot, leaving Rolston blazing. "Goddamn you, Lewrie. Don't interfere like that again, or I'll make it hard on you." "You," Alan said. "Buss my blind cheeks, turkey cock. Pigeons could sit on your shoulder and eat seeds out of your arse, hop-o'-my-thumb. Now go push on a rope, or whatever, before I decide to hurt you." They faced each other for a moment, one frailer boy whose voice had not broken completely, arms akimbo and chin out like Lieutenant Harm; the other broader shouldered and mansized, coolly amused, yet at the same time threatening. Rolston was the one to finally give way. With a petulant noise he whirled about and fled the compartment, utterly frustrated. Once he was gone, Lewrie sank down onto the nearest sea chest and began to strip off his wet clothing. He unlocked his own and dug down for dry breeches and stockings, not forgetting to pack away his cocked hat in its japanned box and fetch out the boyish round hat he had hoped not to wear. Once dry and in fresh togs, he succumbed to misery, letting go a moan of despair and sickness. He clapped a hand to his mouth. "What the hell are you, then?" a drink-graveled voice asked. "A new midshipman? Should have known ... look at yer chest, all on top an' nothin' handy. What's yer name, boy?" "Lewrie," Alan said, ready to spew. "What are you?" "Mister Tencher, Master Gunner. You'll say sir to me, or I'll have you kissin' the gunner's daughter before you're a day older." "You want me to kiss your daughter?" Alan wondered aloud. She must be a real dirty-puzzle if he meant it as a threat. "Are you that ignorant? I've a feelin' you and the gunner's daughter will be great friends right soon." "Not right now, if you please. I'm feeling a bit ill at the moment, sir." "You've a sense of humor, anyway. Sick, eh? Had your breakfast, then?" "Oh, for God's sake," Alan mumbled, feeling his bile rise. "Biscuit n' burgoo'll fix you right up." Tencher grinned. "Where might one ... uh?" "Need to shit through your teeth? Try it in this bucket." Once empty, Tencher had prescribed his own version of nostrum, a hot rum toddy and a turn about the decks in the frigid January air. Lewrie choked down the rum and staggered topside. He had to admit it worked; after an hour, no one gaped at his pallor any longer. He was ice-cold down to his bones, but the cold had a reviving effect, as did the occasional splash of salt spray that plumed off the wave tops and smacked him in the face. Once free of immediate distress, he began to take note of his surroundings, and it was awe-inspiring to see all the miles of rope that made up the maze of rigging coiled on the decks, on rails, all leading upward to the masts that swayed back and forth over his head; all the blocks and all the ordered clutter of the guns and their own ropes and blocks and tackles. It was all so overwhelming, so confusing, that he didn't think he could ever even begin to discover what each did, much less become competent in the use of such a spider web. His physical unease became lost in his anxiety over how he had been received so far, and his nagging fear that not only was hestuck in the Navy for the duration of the war, but possibly for life. What career could he undertake after this? And if it was to be his career, he had a sneaking suspicion that most likely he would be a total, miserable failure at it! What a terrible, shitten life this is going to be, he brooded. And I've made such a terrible start on my first day. Suddenly he jerked to a halt in his perambulations about the deck. Had not Kenyon told him to come back right after he was dressed, to see the ship's first lieutenant? And was that perhaps a whole hour or better ago? Oh, damn me, they'll beat me crippled. He turned to dash aft toward the quarterdeck, where he had seen officers, but before he could, shrill whistles began to blow some sort of complicated warbling call, and the ship became alive with running men. That's it, they're going to hang me as soon as they catch me. He felt a tugging on his sleeve and looked down to behold a very young midshipman, a mere babe of about twelve. "You must be our newly," the tiny apparition said. "I'm Beckett. Better get in line with us. Captain's coming off-shore." "So then what happens?" Alan asked, wondering for his safety, eager for a place to hide. "Get in line here with the rest of us, I told you." "Down here, you. By height. Between me and Ashburn," a very old-looking midshipman told him. He had to be twenty if he was a day. Alan shouldered between him and a very elegantly turned out midshipman, if such a thing was possible in their plain uniforms. The other boy was about eighteen, handsome, with grey eyes and a noble face. "I'm Keith Ashburn," the youth whispered. "That's Chapman, our senior." "Alan Lewrie," he said. Then there was no time for more talk, as all the officers turned up in their blue and gold and white, their swords glistening. There were Marines in red coats and white crossbelts, slapping their muskets about, their sergeants holding halfpikes, and two officers; one very young lieutenant with a babyface, and one very lean and dashing-looking captain of Marines who resembled a sheathed razor. Such members of the crew also appeared, that were not below out of discipline. "Boat ahoy," someone called down to the gig, and the answering shout came back "Ariadne," meaning that the captain was in the boat. After a few moments, the Marines presented their muskets and the officers presented swords while the bosun's pipes shrilled some complicated lieder that Lewrie. found most annoying. A bulky man in the uniform of a post-captain came slowly through the entry port and briefly doffed his hat to ship's company. God, what a face, Alan thought; looks like a pit bull--dog I once lost money on. The captain of Ariadne was in his late forties, a gotchbellied man with very thin and short legs. He wore his own hair, clubbed back into a massive grey queue, and his eyebrows seemed to have a life of their own and danced like bat's wings in the breeze. "Dismiss the hands, Mister Swift," the captain said. "Aye aye, sir. Ship's company ... on hats. Dismiss." "You, there, the new midshipman. Come here," Bales thundered. "Yes, sir?" "You are Lewrie?" "I am, sir. Come aboard to join, sir." "Then why have you not reported to me and you've already been inboard half the morning?" the first lieutenant, Swift, said. He was a reedy, thoroughly sour-looking man with a permanent scowl on his dark face. "I shall see you in my cabin directly, Mister Lewrie, after I have conferred with Mister Swift. Following that, you will not tarry about signing on board in a proper fashion." "Yes, sir," Alan replied crisply as he could, but secretly terrified that he was about to catch pluperfect hell. "And for God's sake, Lewrie, the proper form is 'aye aye, sir,'" Captain Bales said petulantly. "Try it, will you? Even the Marines do so!" "Aye aye, sir," Alan said, turning red. The captain turned to go aft, but the first lieutenant took Alan by the arm and shook him like a first-term student. "Salute and show the captain respect, goddamn you." Alan doffed his hat and threw in another one of those meaningless "aye aye, sirs," ready to weep. After they had gone, and the other midshipmen who had witnessed his ignorance had finished laughing and had gone below, Alan turned and staggered to the rail to look out at the shore, which was rising and falling in a regular pace. Alongside the petulant anger of a spoiled young man who had been humiliated before his new peers like the merest toddler, he felt such a rush of self-pity that he could not control his face screwing up in a flushed grimace, or hold back for long the acid-hot tears that threatened to explode his eyes. How could he stand this? he wondered. How could he survive all the hateful abuse, the wicked laughter at his ignorance about a career he would never have chosen in a million years? How tempting that shore looked, where people safely ate and drank and slept snug at night with never a care for this sort of misery. He contemplated finding a way to run away from all this, no matter what the consequences. He thought of killing himself, his death flinging shame on his family forever. Besides, suicide was damned fashionable these days--everybody did it. But then, who would care if he died? A few of his friends, and a girl or two might sigh over his coffin, but most of London would most likely feel a sense of relief. That was no way to go. He shoved his hands in his breeches pockets to warm them, and leaned on the solid oak bulwark, growing angry and snuffling away his tears. There was no escape--this was his life now, and he would have to make the best of it he could, until he found a way to get out ... and get even. "I'll make you pay for this, you filthy old bastard," he told the harbor waters. "I'll find a way to break you, and Pilchard, and Belinda, and Gerald, and Morton, and even that damned vicar. I'll make all you shits pay. You want me to die, let the Navy kill me for you, but I won't do it. I'll be back." "Lewrie," Lieutenant Kenyon said behind him, making him leap away from the railing and spin to face him. "Aye aye, sir," Alan sniffled, stained with tears but his face hot with anger. "Young gentlemen do not ever lean on the railings. Nor do they ever put their hands in their pockets." "Aye aye, sir." "You had better go aft to the captain's cabins and be ready for your interview," Kenyon said. "What can I do to avoid making even more of an ass of myself, sir?" Alan asked him. "Though I can't imagine doing worse than now." "Follow me," Kenyon said. As they walked aft, he told him to be sure to salute, to remove his hat once in the cabin, to speak direct and not prose on, and to remember to salute before he left. Alan mopped his face with a handkerchief after they had passed the wheel and entered the passage under the poop deck that led to the captain's quarters. Kenyon pointed out the first lieutenant's cabin on one side, and the sailing master's on the other. They stood by the ramrod straight Marine sentry by the captain's door until the first lieutenant emerged. "Who be ye, sir?" the Marine asked. "Midshipman Lewrie, to report to the captain," Kenyon said. "Midshipman Lewrie ... SAH," the sentry said at the top of his voice, crashing the butt of his musket on the deck. "Enter." Alan stepped through the door into a large set of cabins that spanned the entire width of the ship. There was a dining room with some rather fine chairs, table and sideboard to his right, and a study to his left filled with charts and books and a large desk. Far aft, there was a day cabin and another large desk before the stern windows. Lewrie strode up to the desk, and his bulky captain seated behind it. He tried to keep his balance as the ship groaned and rolled and pitched with a life of its own. He came to a halt three paces from the desk, hat under his arm, and gulped down his alarm at the sight of the town swinging like a pendulum beyond the stern windows. "Midshipman Lewrie reporting, sir." "Lewrie, my name is Bales." The captain frowned, as though disappointed with his own name. "A Captain Bevan offered me your services as a midshipman. Ariadne is at present fitting out and so is shorthanded in prime seamen, warrants, idlers and waisters. And midshipmen." Alan didn't think a reply was in order, but he did nod. "To be expected in wartime," Bales continued. "So, I looked on Captain Bevan's offer quite favorably, to get such a wellrecommended young man." And I'll bet someone slipped you some chink, as well, Lewrie thought. What's place for, if you can't make money out of it. "Then Captain Bevan hands me this letter from your family solicitor, a Mister Pilchard of London." Bates gloomed. God rot the jackanapes. What sort of lying packet did he send? Oh God, did he mention Belinda? "He states that you have been sent to sea to make a man of you," Bales said sourly, "that you have been a wastrel, a scamp and a rogue. So you will understand if I feel that I have been handed a pig in a poke?" "Yes ... aye aye, sir," Alan all but whimpered. "Well, I do not intend to allow you to be a bad bargain, for me or for this ship, or for the King, Lewrie," Bales said. "Beggars can't be choosers, especially in what's becoming an unpopular war. We have to take what we can get, by the press gang if necessary, so consider yourself press-ganged if you like, but you're mine now. This letter goes on to state that you were banished." "Aye, sir," Alan said, hoping the reason was unknown. "And that you had to leave ... Society," Bales said, making Society sound like an epithet. "Was it a duel?" "A young lady, sir," Alan said, pretending contrite apology with perhaps the hint of an ill-starred affair. Damme, that sounded right good, he told himself; I said that devilish well! Pray God he eats it up like plum duff. "You may have noticed that we already have the dregs of thehulks and the debtor's prisons. Perhaps next Assize will flesh us out, Lewrie. Now, we have you. You know nothing of the sea, do you?" "No, sir." "You'd much rather be rantipoling about and playing balum rancum with some whores, wouldn't you?" Bales posed. "Well, frankly ... yes, sir." "Believe you me, you shall know something of the sea before I'm done with you, even if it kills you. England needs her Navy, now more than ever. I wouldn't count on our Army to pull a drunk off its sister, much less save the nation. And the sea is a fine calling for a man. I shall not allow you to abuse that calling." "May I be honest with you, sir?" Alan asked. "You had better not ever be anything else, boy," Bales replied, picking up a shiny pewter mug of something dark and aromatic. "I am indeed banished, sir," he began, hoping he could win the man over. He could charm when it was necessary. There were even some addled old fools back in London who considered him a manly, upright young gentleman! "I realize that I know nothing, sir, and I shall endeavor to learn, with all my heart. If this is to be my life, then how can I succeed without knowledge?" "Hmm." And Bales nodded, studying him over the rim of the mug. "I tell you this, Lewrie. If you apply even a tenth of yourself, we can beat you into some sort of sailor. We can do that with anyone." "Aye, sir." Saying it only once sounded a little more English to his ear; saying it twice was like ... "higgledy-piggledy." "Your Mister Pilchard goes on to state that you show some promise as a student ... some Latin ... Greek ... a little French ... mathematics ... had good tutors. If you throw yourself wholeheartedly into your work and your studies, you may make someone much better than your background suggests. And your bottom won't get half as sore." Bales grinned. "I shall try, sir," Alan responded heartily, all but piping his eyes and breaking into a chorus of "Rule, Brittania." "Yes," Bales said, setting his mug down. "You are seventeen." "Aye, sir." "You are much too old for the gun room. And I doubt if we want our younger midshipmen corrupted by any habits you might have picked up in London," Bales said, almost mellowing toward him. "Pity we did not get you sooner. Most midshipmen come aboard at ten or twelve and spend six years before being examined for a commission. At least that is what Master Pepys laid down, though it is not much followed in these times. But since I doubt you have much influence with our Lords Commissioners of The Admiralty, we'll assume you have six years. We will put you in the cockpit with the older midshipmen, where you may pick up their knowledge the quicker with people closer to your own age. When you see Mister Swift, give him my compliments and that you shall shift your dunnage to the cockpit on the orlop." Damn, there's that word again, he thought. "Aye, sir." "Bevan has given me your per annum allowance." "Aye, sir?" Alan perked up. "A hundred guineas is quite a sum--too much, really. I shall hold it for you, and should you have any need for it, you shall request of it through my clerk, Mister Brail. I have deducted five pounds for schooling with the sailing master, and another five pounds for your initial mess charge. As a midshipman you do not receive pay, so I shall ration you to one pound ten shillings per month of your allowance. That should be more than enough at sea." "Aye, sir." Not paid ? Nobody told me that ! "Then be so good as to sign to that effect." Alan bent over the desk and placed his signature to a sheet of paper that banked his money and allowed the deductions. "That will be all for now, Mister Lewrie." "Aye aye, sir." "Dismissed." Alan saluted and got out quickly. He stopped by the first officer's door and knocked. Swift bade him enter. "Ah, Lewrie. Ready to sign aboard now?" Swift asked. "Aye, sir. Um, the captain presents his compliments and suggested that I be assigned to the cockpit on the orlop, sir." "Thought he would," Swift said, presenting him a large bound book. There were many names entered, many with X's for men's marks. "Here. Copy of The Articles of War. Make sure you learn them. I am assigning you to the lower gun deck should we go to Quarters. Sail-making stations shall be the mizzenmast for now. Brace tending will be on the poop with the afterguard." I know it must be English, he thought. I can make a word out now and then. "See Lieutenants Roth or Harm and get a copy of your quarter bills so you may memorize all the names of the hands in your larboard division, and for the afterguard and lower gun deck, especially your quartergunners and gun captains. Got all that?" "If not now, then I shall by morning, sir." "Don't be flip with me, Lewrie. You'll live to regret it." "Aye aye, sir," Alan said, on his guard again. "That's all, then. Dismissed. Get below." "About my luggage, sir?" "Yes?" Swift smiled, almost pleasant for once. "Could you give me some men to help carry it, sir?" "Think it might be worth a penny for me, Lewrie?" Swift asked. "Oh ... I wouldn't presume ..." "Take care of it yerself, fer God's sake! Dismissed!" Alan staggered out onto the quarterdeck, glad to have escaped without a physical attack or something direr. Damme, it's hellish-bad enough just being on this filthy ship. Do they have to be so hateful? He looked about the quarterdeck but did not see anyone exactly menial. It was inhabited by a few people in blue coats, red waistcoats, cocked hats and breeches. It was only below thequarterdeck rail that he saw men in checked shirts and red-and-white-striped ticken trousers, or short blue jackets, some wearing flat tarred hats. He descended to the ship's waist, into that stirring crowd of men, determined to give as good as he had gotten lately. Let's see if this junior warrant power works, he thought, bracing the first man he saw. "You there. What's your name?" "Bostwick, sor," the man replied, startled and suddenly on his guard. "Oim a larboard waister, sor." "Grab another hand and go down to the gun room. I shall want my ... dunnage shifted to the orlop," Lewrie ordered, hunting for the right words. "Roight away, sor!" The man nodded, relieved that the new midshipman only wanted something trifling done. "Here, George, bear a hand, laddy." Had Alan not followed them below closely, he would have been lost. They hoisted his heavy chest and he followed them back to the companionways, down another ladder to the orlop deck, and slightly aft to the cockpit. If the gun room had been gloomy, then the cockpit was the netherpit of the deepest, darkest hell. There were two deadlights of Muscovy glass that let in weak beams of light from God knew where. Glims burned in paper holders here and there to relieve the darkness. There was a long mess table with chests down both sides as furniture. Four minuscule cabins not much bigger than dogboxes were set two abeam. The headroom between the thick beams that supported the lower gun deck over his head could not have been much over five-and-a-half feet. There were several midshipmen lounging about, obviously bored, dressed any-oldhow. The air was thick with the smell of pipe tobacco, bilge odor, sour clothing, mildew, salt, tar, and a generation of peasoup farts. All in all, it was a damned sight worse than Harrow even on the worst days Alan could remember. The hands set his chest down with a crash at an open space near the far end of the table. "Er ... beggin' yer pardon, sir," the fellow known as George asked, knuckling his brow. "Does yer want me ter be yer 'ammockman, sir?" Am I being put on, or does that mean what I think it does? he wondered. I heard the Navy was a bunch of bum wallopers, but I thought it was illegal. "Keep yer togs all spiffylike, sir," George explained. "You already do for the ward-room, Jones," the young midshipman named Ashburn said. "Lieutenants do not get dirty, but midshipmen do. You'd have Mister Lewrie looking like a 'tag, rag, and bob-tail' in a week. Off with you, now." "Aye aye, sir." "Thank you, Mister Ashburn," Lewrie said as soon as they were gone. "Should I have tipped them something?" This drew a chorus of hoots and laughs from everyone. "Christ, no. They're more used to a rope's end on their fundaments," one young man said, looking up from a book he was trying to read in the light of a small candle. Lewrie peeled off his coat and hat and found a spare peg on which to hang them. He also unfrogged his new dirk, an especially showy one with an ivory grip and what the shopkeeper had assured him was a heavily gold plated lion pommel. "Pretty little sticker," Ashburn idly commented. "Anyone ever use one of these things for real, or just prying open jam pots?" Lewrie asked. "I'd sooner have spent the money on a letter opener," Ashburn replied. "Take off your neckcloth and make yourself to home. Pass that toddy down here before this newly gets his death." "Thank you," Alan said, getting comfortable on top of his chest, arms resting on the scarred mess table. "Let me do the honors," Ashburn said, pouring a battered pewter mug full of steaming toddy. "The bookworm over there is Harvey Bascombe. This is Alan Lewrie, I believe. Bascombe is a total waste of time, and doesn't even have a sister, so he's not worth knowing." "Hello." "That's Chapman, our senior midshipman," Ashburn said, indicating the older man who Alan had rubbed shoulders with on deck. "We all toe the line when Chapman speaks, don't we, lads?" Chapman was a carrot-haired lout with not a sign of intelligence behind his eyes, but seemed kindly. Lewrie got the idea that Ashburn was japing the fellow with his comment, a comment that went right over the man's head. "The mathematical genius over there with the slate is Jemmy Shirke. Do not trust his sums, ever. And never let him navigate any boat you're in. Young Jemmy, on the other hand, has three sisters in Suffolk, all willing tits, or so he tells us." "What a reception you got," Shirke said, putting aside his slate and coming to the table to sit down next to Lewrie. "Were you really wandering about adrift without reporting to the first officer?" "Yes, I got soaked coming aboard," Alan said, feeling at his ease for the first time of the day. "Had to go change." "What was your last ship?" Chapman asked as he helped himself to the battered rum pot, pouring a larger tankard than the others. "Uhm ... there wasn't one," Alan had to admit. "You don't mean you're a true Johnny Newcome," Bascombe guffawed. "Right in here with us practiced sinners," Shirke added. "Not a whip jack, much less a scaly fish. Now what got you here at your age?" From hard experience with the cruelty of youth (and he had dished out his share of it, so he ought to know), he realized that he was in for a rough time if he did not establish some sort of standing in their order at once. He was totally ignorant of their chosen trade, while they could sport years of experience at sea. If knowledge could not help, perhaps bravado could win the day, letting them know that he was wise to their games and not to trifle with him ... much, anyways. "It was a bit of a scandal, really," he said with a knowing leer. "There was a young lady I knew who turned up with a jack-in-the-box and all sorts of hell to pay for it. When I refused her, her brother came for me and I had to duel him. Everyone was happy I left." "And did you kill your man?" Shirke sneered. "Honor was satisfied. She and her family weren't," Alan told them cryptically. "Next thing I knew I was buying my kit." "But you've never actually been to sea?" Ashburn asked. "Well, no. Not until necessary," Alan said with a bluff smile. "I think this is going to be fun, don't you?" Bascombe grinned cunningly at the others, and Lewrie realized the game was blocked at both ends. I don't think I'm going to enjoy the next few weeks ... Published by The Random House Publishing Group Copyright (c) 1989 by Dewey Lambdin Excerpted from The King's Coat by Dewey Lambdin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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