<P>We would strike the rocks, the ship would break apart, and we would all<BR>drown. Of this, I was certain.<BR> His Majesty’s ship the <I>Happy Restoration</I> was beating up to Kinsale<BR>harbour, into the teeth of a hard northerly gale that had blown up with<BR>sudden, unforgiving fury. We had weathered the Old Head, somehow<BR>avoided smashing ourselves to pieces on Hake Head, and were now<BR>edging toward the chops of the harbour mouth itself. Vast seas drove<BR>the ship every way at once, the timbers screaming against the waters<BR>that sought to tear them apart.<BR> On the quarterdeck, we three men tried desperately to keep our feet,<BR>clinging to whatever stood fast, fighting the bitter and freezing Irish<BR>rain that drove straight into our faces. There was the ship’s master, John<BR>Aldred, splendidly confident in his ability to bring us safe to anchor, as<BR>drunk as Bacchus after a rough night in Southwark. There was the best<BR>of his master’s mates, Kit Farrell, my own age, watching the shore and<BR>the sails and the rigging with a strange dread in his eyes. And there stood<BR>I, or tried to stand, clinging desperately to a part of the ship I could<BR>scarce, in my fright and inexperience, have named if called upon to do<BR>so. Matthew Quinton, aged twenty-one, captain of his Majesty’s ship.<BR>Strange as it sounds, the prospect of my imminent demise was almost<BR>less dreadful to me than the prospect of surviving. Survival would mean<BR>having to report to my superiors that we had spectacularly missed our<BR>rendezvous with the Virginia and Barbados merchant fleets, which we<BR>were meant to escort to the Downs in that year of grace 1661. They<BR>were probably still out in the endless ocean, or sunk by the weather, or<BR>the French, or the Spanish, or the Dutch, or the corsairs, or the ghost<BR>of Barbarossa.<BR> A torrent of spray ended my aimless reflections in time for me to hear<BR>Aldred’s latest pronouncement. ‘Be not afraid, Captain! Plenty of sea<BR>room, if we tack but shortly. Th is breeze will die from the west as fast as<BR>it sprang up, as God is my judge.’<BR> Aldred’s eyes were glazed, not from the salt spray that stung us mercilessly,<BR>but from too much victualler’s ale and bad port wine. Kit Farrell<BR>moved behind him, braced himself against a huge wave, reached me and<BR>shouted above the roar of the sea, ‘Captain, he’s mistaken – if we try to<BR>tack now, we’ll strike on the rocks for certain – we shouldn’t have had so<BR>much sail still aloft, not even in the wind as it was . . .’<BR> But the tempest relented as he spoke, just a little, and a shout that<BR>Aldred would never have heard before now carried to his ears as clear as<BR>day. The old man turned and glowered at Farrell.<BR> ‘Damn, Master Farrell, and what do you know of it?’ he cried. ‘How<BR>many times have you brought ships home into Kinsale haven, in far worse<BR>than this?’ We would have the <I>Prince Royal</I> next, I feared. ‘Don’t you know<BR>I first went to sea on the <I>Prince Royal,</I> back in the year Thirteen, taking the<BR>Princess Elizabeth over to Holland for her marriage? Near fifty years ago,<BR>Mister Farrell!’ And next it would be Drake. ‘Don’t you know I learned my<BR>trade under men who’d sailed with Drake? Drake himself!’ And last would<BR>come the Armada: Aldred’s drunken litany of self-regard was almost as<BR>predictable as dusk succeeding dawn. ‘Blood of Christ, I’ve messed with<BR>men who were in the Armada fight. So damn me, Master Farrell, I know<BR>my business! I know the pilotage of Kinsale better than most men alive,<BR>I know how to bring us through a mere lively breeze like this, and God<BR>strike me down if I don’t!’ And as an afterthought, as the wind and the<BR>spray rose once more, he leaned over to me, gave me a full measure of<BR>beer-vapour breath, and said, ‘Begging your pardon, Captain Quinton.’<BR> I was too fearful to give any sort of pardon, or to remind Aldred<BR>yet again that my grandfather had also fought the Armada, and sailed<BR>with Drake to boot. Drake was the most vain and obnoxious man he<BR>ever knew, my grandfather said. <I>After himself, that is,</I> my mother would<BR>always add.<BR> The ever-strengthening wind struck us in full force once more,<BR>snatching a man off the cross-beam that those who knew of such things<BR>called the foretopsail yard. He flailed his arms against the mighty gale,<BR>and for the briefest of moments it looked as though he had fulfilled the<BR>dream of the ancients, and achieved flight. Then the wind drove him<BR>into the next great wave bearing down on us, and he was gone. All the<BR>while, Farrell and Aldred traded insults about reefs and courses, irons<BR>and stays, all of it the language of the Moon to my ears.<BR> Kit Farrell started to rage. ‘Damn yourself to hell, Aldred, you’ll kill<BR>us all!’ He turned to me. ‘Captain, for God’s sake, order him to bear<BR>away! We’ve too little sea room, for all of Aldred’s bluster. If we brade<BR>up close all our sails and lie at try with our main course, then we can<BR>run back into open sea, or make along the coast for the Cove of Cork or<BR>Milford. Easier harbours in a northerly, Captain!’<BR> Uncertainty covered me like a shroud. ‘Our orders are for Kinsale—’<BR> ‘Sir, not at the risk of endangering the ship!’<BR> Still I hesitated. Aldred began to snap his orders through a speaking<BR>trumpet. After eight months at sea, four of them in command of this<BR>ship, I was now vaguely aware of the theory and practice of tacking. I<BR>remembered Aldred’s tipsy and relatively patient explanation. <I>No ship<BR>can sail right into the wind, Captain, nor more than six points on either side<BR>of it. To go towards the wind, you must sail on diagonals. Like a comb, sir,<BR>like the teeth of a comb. Make your way up the teeth to the head of the comb.<BR></I>I had seen it done often enough, but never in wind that came straight<BR>from the flatulence of hell’s own bowels.<BR> Kit Farrell watched the men on the masts and the yards as they<BR>battled equally with those few of our sails that were not yet reefed, as<BR>they said, and to preserve themselves from the fate of their shipmate,<BR>our Icarus. Between the huge waves that struck me and pulled me and<BR>blinded me and knocked the breath out of me, I looked on helplessly<BR>at the activity about the ship. I could see only sodden men taking in<BR>and letting out sodden canvas in a random fashion. Farrell, bred at<BR>sea since he was nine, saw a different scene. ‘Too slow, Captain – the<BR>wind’s come on too strong, and too fast – too many raw men, too<BR>much sail aloft even for a better crew to take in or reef in time – and<BR>the ship’s too old, too crank—’<BR> The spray and rain eased for a moment. I saw the black shore of<BR>County Cork, so much closer than it had been a minute before. Waves<BR>that were suddenly as high as our masts broke themselves on the rocks<BR>with a dreadful roaring. I ran my hand through my drenched and<BR>thinning hair, for both hat and periwig were long lost to the wind.<BR> Aldred was slurring a mixture of oaths and orders, the former rapidly<BR>outweighing the latter. Farrell turned to me again, his face red<BR>from whip-lashes of rain. ‘Captain, we’ll strike for sure – we can’t<BR>make the tack, not now – order him to bear away, sir, in the name of<BR>dear heaven—’<BR> I opened my mouth, and closed it. I was captain, and could overrule<BR>the master. But I knew next to nothing of the sea. The master controlled<BR>the movement of the ship and set its course. John Aldred was one<BR>of the most experienced masters in the navy. I knew nothing; I was<BR>a captain but four months. But John Aldred was a deluded drunk,<BR>lying unconscious in his cabin long after this sudden storm blew up.<BR>I knew nothing, but I was a gentleman. John Aldred was old, with<BR>bad eyes even when sober. I knew nothing, but I was an earl’s brother.<BR>I was born to command. I was the captain. Farrell’s eyes were on<BR>me, begging, imploring. I knew nothing, but I was the captain of the<BR><I>Happy Restoration.<BR></I> I opened my mouth again, ready to order Aldred to bear away as Kit<BR>had told me. ‘Mister Ald—’ I began, but got no further.<BR> A great wave more monstrous than all that had gone before smashed<BR>over the side. I shut my mouth a fraction too late, and what seemed a<BR>gallon or more of salt water coursed down my throat. My height told<BR>against me, for a shorter man would have been able to brace himself<BR>better. The ship rolled, I lost my footing and slid across the deck on my<BR>back. Farrell pulled me up, but my senses were gone for moments. I<BR>coughed up sea water, then vomited. I heard Farrell say, very quietly, ‘It’s<BR>too late, Captain. We’re dead men.’<BR> As I retched again, I opened my eyes. The men high on the yards<BR>were climbing down with all of God’s speed – and falling, too, I saw<BR>with horror. The few sails we still had spread were loose, mere rags<BR>blowing free on strings. Aldred was clinging to the rail, staring at the<BR>shore. He was mouthing something, but I could hear barely anything<BR>above the roar of wind and the awful crashing of water on rock. Farrell<BR>took hold of me again, and as I lurched forward through the gale, I<BR>made out Aldred’s words.<BR> ‘Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me;<BR>for my bones are vexed . . .’ The sixth psalm of David. The old words<BR>were a comfort, now, at what I knew was the moment of my death,<BR>and I found myself mouthing them with Aldred, unheard above the<BR>thunder of the seas that gathered at last to crush us. <I>For in death there<BR>is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks? I am<BR>weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my<BR>couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief . . .<BR></I> A vast wave struck our right broadside and turned the ship almost<BR>over, driving the hull across the water. We must have ridden up onto a<BR>great submerged rock, for our frames roared their agony, and I saw the<BR>deals of the deck begin to tear apart as our back broke. The foremast<BR>sprang with a loud crack. The force of the water and the impact of<BR>our grounding threw Aldred across into the nearest mast, the one that<BR>seamen call the mizzen, which folded him like paper around itself,<BR>crushing his innards and backbone as it did so. I saw one of his mates,<BR>Worsley, take the full weight of a cannon that had not been lashed<BR>secure, driving him off the deck and to his maker. I saw these things in<BR>what I knew to be my last moments, as my feet left the deck and I felt<BR>only water, and wind, and then water.<BR> The old mariners on Blackwall shore will tell you that drowning men<BR>see their whole lives flash before them, and see the souls of all the drowned<BR>sailors of the earth coming up to meet them, no doubt as Drake’s Drum<BR>beats out its phantom galliard to welcome them to the shore beyond.<BR>That day, as the <I>Happy Restoration</I> died, I learned more of drowning than<BR>most men. I heard no drum, saw no souls swimming to meet me, and the<BR>pathetic apology that was my twenty-one years of life did not flash before<BR>me. There was only the most unbearable noise, worse than the greatest<BR>broadside in the greatest battle, and the screaming of my chest as it fought<BR>for just one more breath. Then there was the face and horn of a unicorn,<BR>and I knew that I was dead.<BR> ‘Take hold, Captain – God in heaven, sir, take hold!’<BR>I opened my eyes again, and the unicorn bent upon me the unfaltering<BR>stare that only a creature of the dumbest wood can give. Kit Farrell<BR>was holding me fast, his other arm taut around the head of a wooden<BR>lion. Between us lay the harp of Ireland, the fleurs-de-lis of France, the<BR>lion rampant of Scotland and the lions passant of England. It was our<BR>sternpiece. Somehow, the proud wooden emblem of our country had<BR>broken free from the ship, and become our raft. Somehow – by a miracle<BR>of wind and tide or Farrell’s kicks into the sea – we had come into a pool<BR>between two great rocks and wedged there, safe from the worst blasts of<BR>the storm.<BR> I swallowed air as if it were ambrosia, and gripped my unicorn with<BR>all my strength. I looked at Farrell. He was looking beyond me, so I<BR>turned, and saw a sight that is with me to this day, as vivid as it was at<BR>that very moment.<BR> My last sight of my first command was her bow. It reared into the air,<BR>and a great wave pushed it higher still, pushed it toward the heavens. Our<BR>new figurehead, the crown and oak laurels, was suddenly clear against the<BR>sun in the west, as the gale blew itself out and the sky began to brighten.<BR>Then the last great gusts blew the bow onto the western shore, where it<BR>shattered like so much kindling. A moment before, I saw dark shapes<BR>trying to crawl like ants up the deck, up towards our figurehead. The<BR>strike against the rock threw some into the sea, some against the teeth of<BR>the shore. The last of our men were gone. His Majesty’s ship the <I>Happy<BR>Restoration, </I>formerly the <I>Lord Protector,</I> was gone.<BR> I see that sight in my dreams, all these distant years later, as vivid now<BR>as it was that October day. I still see the sight, and I still reckon the cost.<BR>Upwards of one hundred souls, drowned or broken on the rocks. God<BR>knows how many widows made, and orphans cast onto the streets. All<BR>damned to oblivion by my ignorance, indecision, and pride.<BR><BR>Some hours afterwards, we were sitting on stools and swathed in blankets<BR>in front of a blazing fire. We were in a barracks room of the old<BR>James Fort, on the west side of Kinsale harbour. There were twenty nine<BR>survivors from the wreck of the <I>Happy Restoration.</I> Kit Farrell and<BR>I were the only officers. The Governor of Kinsale had been attentive<BR>and sympathetic, sending over bowls of broth and jugs of a fiery Irish<BR>drink, both of which burned the throat in equally harsh measure. But<BR>the victuals served their purpose, and slowly, feeling returned to limbs,<BR>my cheeks began to flush, and I finally rediscovered my tongue.<BR> I drew breath. ‘Mister Farrell,’ I said. ‘Thank you.’<BR> Perhaps I should have said more. This man my own age had saved<BR>my life, perhaps saved far more than he would ever know: the fate<BR>of an earldom, at the very least. But my throat and lungs were sore<BR>from the storm, the seawater, and the governor’s largesse, and I had<BR>no breath for speeches. Nor in truth could I face unburdening myself<BR>to another at that moment, for God knows what depths of anguish<BR>and guilt might have spilled forth. Kit Farrell seemed to know this.<BR>He pulled himself a little higher on his stool. Struggling to speak, just<BR>as I had, he said, ‘It was the sternpiece, sir. It was carried away by the<BR>same wave that swept us from the deck.’ Then he smiled, the proof of a<BR>small private joke, and said, ‘Brazen incompetents, Captain. Corrupt<BR>as a Roman cardinal. Old treenails, probably, so they could take the<BR>new ones bought for the job down to Southwark market and sell them.<BR>Deptford shipwrights, sir. Villains to a man. Deptford yard refitted<BR>her when the king came back, and they took down Noll Cromwell’s<BR>arms and put up the king’s.’<BR> I took another measure of the increasingly attractive Irish drink. ‘So<BR>they cheated when they fastened the sternpiece?’<BR> ‘And much else on that curse of a ship, for it to break apart as it did,<BR>but they saved our lives by doing so. God bless them, Captain Quinton.’<BR> ‘God bless you, Mister Farrell. But for you, I’d never have caught<BR>hold, and never seen this world again.’ I thought of my wife and all<BR>that I had so nearly lost. I thought upon the scores of men who had<BR>perished. I felt an uncontrollable pain; not a wound, but something in<BR>my gut and throat that began to swell and tighten. I fought back my<BR>shame, forced myself to look my saviour in the eye. Then I raised my<BR>cup to him.<BR> ‘My brother is an earl, and friend to the king,’ I said, awkwardly. This<BR>was entirely true. ‘We are a rich family, one of the richest in England.’<BR>This was entirely untrue, though once, things had been different. ‘I owe<BR>you my life, Mister Farrell. We Quintons, we’ve always been men of<BR>honour. It’s lifeblood to us. I am in your debt, and my honour demands<BR>that I repay you.’<BR> He was probably as embarrassed at having to listen to this appalling<BR>pomposity as I was in uttering it. A man of my own rank would have called<BR>me a fool, or boxed me about the head. But a man of Kit Farrell’s rank<BR>would have known nothing of gentlemanly honour, although evidently he<BR>knew enough of sympathy and discretion. He sat silently for some minutes,<BR>gazing into the fire. Then he turned his head towards me and said, ‘One<BR>thing I would like, sir. One thing above all others.’<BR> ‘Name it, if it’s in my power.’<BR> ‘Captain, I can’t read or write. I see men like yourself taking pleasure<BR>from books, and I’d like to know that world. I see that writing makes<BR>men better themselves. Reading and writing, they’re the key to all. I look<BR>around me, sir, and I see men must have them these days if they’re to<BR>advance in life, be it in the king’s navy or any other way of this world.<BR>Knowing words gives men power, so it seems to me. But I’ve never<BR>found anyone willing to teach me, sir.’<BR> I had a sudden memory of my old schoolmaster at Bedford – Mervyn,<BR>the meanest sort of little Welsh pedant – and wondered what he would<BR>have made of his worst pupil turning teacher. Then I thought of other<BR>men, of my father and grandfather, and in that moment I knew what<BR>they would have me say. ‘I’ll teach you reading and writing, Mister<BR>Farrell. Gladly. It’s the smallest of prices for my life, so I should not<BR>ask anything else from you in return.’ I retched up more Irish salt sea,<BR>and something grey and indescribable. I reached for the governor’s<BR>fire-liquid and burned away the taste. ‘But there’s something I’d have<BR>you teach me, too.’<BR> ‘Captain?’<BR> ‘Teach me the sea, Mister Farrell. Tell me the names of the ropes,<BR>and the ways to steer a course. Teach me of the sun and the stars, and<BR>the currents, and the oceans. Teach me how to be a proper captain for<BR>a king’s ship.’<BR> I held out my hand to Kit Farrell. After a moment, he took it, and<BR>we shook.<BR></P> <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>Gentleman Captain</b> by <b>J. D. Davies</b> Copyright © 2010 by J. D. Davies. Excerpted by permission.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.