Winds of Folly

Free Winds of Folly by Seth Hunter

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Authors: Seth Hunter
my having instant access to it at all times?’
    â€˜I did my best, sir,’ the purser replied, ‘but there is only one of them that speaks more than a smattering of English and what she does speak, she speaks with a certain
authority
, if you take my meaning, sir.’
    And to Nathan’s astonishment he solemnly laid a finger against his right eye and pulled down the lid. Just as he was about to berate him for insolence, Nathan realised the significance of the gesture. It was widely known that the Commodore had lost the sight of his right eye at the Siege of Calvi. The lady in question must therefore be ‘Nelson’s dolly’ – Signora Correglia.
    Nathan considered the problem at his leisure. He could, of course, order the Marines to clear the cabin for him, but this was fraught with complications. Injuries might occur and even if they did not, the damage to his character would be considerable. It was the kind of story that could spread. Captain Peake’s heroic action in the Tyrrhenian Sea – against seven unarmed courtesans.
    Nathan’s youth made him overly conscious of his dignity, and such an incident could make him a laughing stock throughout the fleet. Already he was aware that the officers and crew awaited his next move with interest. Of course, it would be easy enough to take over one of the officers’ cabins for the remainder of the voyage, but he felt this would not enhance his reputation as a fighting Captain. He had yet to win the ship’s approval for his skills as a seaman, or a disciplinarian – too soft on the cat, was the general opinion – but he did have some standing as a strategist. Surely he could devise a strategy for this particular occasion.
    It had still evaded him by six bells in the afternoon watch, the time when he usually had his dinner – in his cabin. He was saved from going hungry, or the embarrassment of eating on the quarterdeck, by an invitation from the first lieutenant to dine with the rest of the officers in the gunroom.
    He accepted with alacrity, but the atmosphere would have been more cheerful, he felt, without his presence. No one felt at liberty to raise the subject uppermost in their minds and an uncomfortable silence fell upon the company, which was broken, with an air of desperation, by the first lieutenant.
    â€˜Caught any rats of late, Mr Lamb?’ he enquired of the youngest officer present who, as such, was frequently the butt of his humour. Mr Lamb’s exploits as a ratcatcher could always be relied upon as entertainment, for though young, he was not shy of putting himself forward.
    He replied at length. He had caught six of the creatures during the last twenty-four hours, with a new method he had perfected, and they were now hanging in a cage – two cages, in fact – in the midshipmen’s berth where they were in the process of being fattened with ship’s biscuit. Midshipmen, being composed for the most part of growing boys, were invariably hungry and none too fussy about what they ate. Rats, fed onship’s biscuit, were much prized as a supplement to the ship’s diet.
    Prompted with further questions, Mr Lamb was prevailed upon to describe his patent methods of entrapment and where, in his opinion, the most prominent ‘rat-runs’ were situated. In this he revealed an impressive knowledge of both rodent behaviour and the more obscure regions of the
Unicorn
, but Nathan had stopped listening. He was recalling a similar conversation some months earlier when he had described his own custom as a midshipman of cooking them spatch-cocked – split open and skewered – with a bread sauce. Somehow this story had reached the ears of the Commodore, who had asked Nathan to repeat it for the amusement of the assembled company when next he dined on the flagship.
    It happened to be one of those occasions when Signora Correglia was presiding as hostess, and as he told the story Nathan

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