Charting a New Course

       After they sat for awhile, embracing and renewing the great joy of their reunion, Pierce and Evangeline parted slightly. They both retrieved handkerchiefs from pockets or sleeves so that they might wipe away the tears that both had shed. At that moment a knock came, not from the front or entry door, but from within the suite. It was a gentle rap, not much more than a light tap.
      Evangeline dabbed her eyes one last time and smiled. “A moment?” she asked softly.
       “Of course.”
       “Yes, Gertie?”
      “What the young lad’s awake, Miss Vangie,” came the voice from within the further recesses of the suite. “Might be that he’s looking for his dinner, now you’ve had yours.”
       “You may bring him, if you would.”
       “Yes, ma’am.”
       Pierce had sat quietly during the short conversation. “Gertie is here?” he asked, a smile on his face as well as he remembered the older woman who had acted as cook, maid, and sometimes guiding light for Evangeline and her father.
       “Of course. You think I would travel without companionship? And at times I need her to watch Glenn.”
       “Your child? He is here as well?”
       “But of course, dear. One does not carry a child for nine months, give birth and then set it aside.”
       “I would think not!”
       The far door opened. Gert came in, a grandmotherly smile on her face, carrying the child that nestled in her arms and the blankets that surrounded it. Upon seeing Pierce, her eyes widened and her smile grew more intense. “By God, above, Mr. Edward, it is so good that you are here!”
       “I am overjoyed to see you as well, Gert,” he said. She tenderly passed the baby and it accompanying blankets to Evangeline and then embraced him enthusiastically. He hugged her in return, nearly picking her off her feet and swinging her around the room. That was not an easy task, as Gertie was not a small woman.
       The child fussed and whimpered, then cooed contentedly as he settled into Evangeline’s arms. As Gertie relaxed her rib cracking embrace of Pierce, mother and child turned away for a brief moment. When Evangeline turned back, she had artfully arranged the blankets, the baby, and her dress. Discreetly the child was now at her breast, nursing, taking in the life giving, life sustaining nourishment that she provided. As he suckled, he grew quiet and soon his only sounds were those of his feeding.
       “Would you care to meet him, Edward?” she asked, moving closer to Pierce.
       He noticed the look of peaceful contentment on her face, and the smile directed at him but that was really meant for the child. Or perhaps it was because of the child. “I would be delighted!” he said.
       “Then, Edward Pierce, Royal Navy, meet Glenn Lewis Carlisle!”
       “And how do you do Master Carlisle?” Pierce spoke softly and in a slightly higher pitched voice than he normally did. Glenn Lewis Carlisle heard the strange voice so near at hand and momentarily lost interest in his dinner. His eyes moved to the sound of the voice and he stopped feeding for the briefest of moments. But he was determined to make sure that his feed did not disappear, and he never relaxed the toothless and gummy bite that he had on Evangeline’s breast.
       Upon sighting Pierce, the baby paused, apparently catching his breath, deciding if this stranger was worth a howl of fear or a coo of acceptance. Pierce smiled and the child settled and went back to his dinner.
       “A handsome young man!” said Pierce. She nodded smiled and moved yet closer to him. She turned so that he was behind and to one side of her. Without any conscious thought of it he put it arm around her shoulders. She turned her head, looked at him and smiled.
       It was nearly the end of the evening watch when Pierce returned aboard Island Expedition. He had hated to leave Evangeline and return. She in fact had asked if he would stay. He had wanted to, but as captain of a naval vessel he was required by regulation and custom to sleep on board.
       When Pierce had come ashore earlier in the day, he had not known exactly when he would be returning. Accordingly, he had dismissed his gig’s crew, planning either to signal for them or to hire a shore boat to return him to the schooner. At the hard, he noticed a captain’s barge and crew, waiting to return a commanding officer to his ship. Perhaps he should have bid his gig’s crew wait or return at a specific time for him. Yet there were boats for hire that he could use, although at this instant, none seemed available. No matter, he would wait. While the December air was cool, it was not raining, and the moderate wind did not cut through to his skin.
       Pierce stood idly, lost in his thoughts. His introspection was dissolved when a voice behind him said: “Commander, might I offer you transport to your ship?”
       “I would not wish to trouble you, sir.”
       “It would trouble me more to see you remain here in the cold. Has your boat’s crew defaulted?”
       “Indeed not, Captain. I had no idea of my time ashore, and wished that they not spend it waiting for me.”
       “Commendable, Commander to be considerate of your men. Now, if you’ll join me, sir, we’ll have you aboard shortly.”
       “I do thank you, Captain…Captain?”
       “…Thomas Hardy, HMS Victory. And you sir, are?”
       “Edward Pierce, His Majesty’s schooner Island Expedition. And might I express my condolences regarding your great loss,” said Pierce respectfully.
       Once they were seated in the stern sheets and as the barge began its journey toward the anchored ships, Hardy continued the conversation. “Island Expedition, sir? That is the large jack-ass brig we passed upon entering the roadstead today?”
       “She might be identified as such, but we have always thought of her as a schooner. True be told, sir, perhaps she is a little of both.”
       “But I’m sure she answers nicely to all tasks put before her.”
       “Indeed, sir.”
       “Before I am remiss, I do thank you for your expression of sympathy. The salute rendered by your hands was noted and appreciated as well.”
       “You’re welcome, sir. Many of the hands had served under Lord Nelson in the past.”
       “And you, Commander, Pierce?”
       “I was in Orion at the Nile, sir. Two older brothers were hands aboard Captain at Cape St. Vincent.”
       “I see,” said Hardy. “Then as it is for us, it is a personal loss.”
       “Quite so, I believe, sir. Even those aboard who have never served with him are feeling it.”
       “But I hear you have had some adventures of your own, sir?”
       “Possibly, sir?”
       “I’ve been with the port admiral all evening. I asked about the unusually rigged, large schooner, and he complied by detailing what he could of your voyage. Honestly, sir, I would react the same as he was wont to, had there not been instructions from a higher level regarding your situation.”
       “Believe me, sir, had I not experienced what I did, I would also regard such reports and substantiations in the same manner.”
       “Aye, the possibility of other worlds and nations not unlike those we know here, stretch one’s credibility to the breaking point. Yet in conversation these past few moments, I cannot detect any insincerity or deceit in your being.”
       “Thank you, sir.”
       “And while I may not believe all aspects of your tale, or the parts of it I’ve been made aware of, I’m sure that those in higher places who support you have reasons for doing so.”
       “Most kind of you to say so, sir,” added Pierce. “I am most grateful for their support and belief. I’m sure that whatever comes my way will be for the good of King and Country.”
       “Spoken as a loyal and dutiful, subject, sir. Now, do we approach with ceremony or not, Commander?”
       The barge with its large crew of oarsmen and the tide in its favor was already nearing the Island Expedition. “Port side, if you please, sir.” At this hour he did not have want to disturb the side boys and bo’sun’s mates to provide him the proper ceremonies upon returning. If he had command of a larger ship, a frigate or ship-of-the-line, perhaps he would have made use of a private gallery ladder to avoid the prescribed and traditional return of a ship’s captain. Instead, he used the port instead of starboard boarding ladder to indicate that his return would be quiet.
       Master’s Mate Dial, officer of the watch met him, his hat raised in salute. “Welcome back, sir,” he said.
       “Yes,” replied Pierce with the slightest of smiles on his face.
       “All secure and normal, sir!”
       “Aye, but Victory’s barge should have been challenged sooner!”
       “Aye aye, sir. I shall address and correct it immediately, sir.”
       “Very well. Is there coffee tonight?”
       “Yes, sir.”
       “Then run and fetch some, do you desire it. I will stand by for a moment.”
       “Thank you, sir. The air has a chill at this point in the watch. Coffee would be most welcome. A cup for you as well, sir?”
       “No, Mr. Dial. I’ve had quite enough. Now, be off with you.”
       When the master’s mate returned, Pierce went below.
       Hotchkiss, his childhood friend and first lieutenant sat in the great cabin, reading, a half-finished cup of coffee growing cold before him. He looked up expectantly and questioningly as Pierce entered. Pierce said nothing but nodded slightly and let his slight smile widen a tooth’s breadth more.
       “It went well?” Hotchkiss asked.
       “It did, Isaac. Luck and Lady Fortune have indeed smiled upon me. But, old friend, I find myself tired at this late hour. I would sleep now.”
       “As should I after a final check on deck.” Hotchkiss continued. “Did you notice, Edward, this addition of the Gazette?”
       “I’m not sure I did. What, pray tell might be of interest in it?”
       “Nothing of great import, sir, other than notice that our friend Hornblower has been made post. He is to have command of Atropos, now at London.”
       I’m sure he deserves it, Isaac. Perhaps we will have a chance to congratulate him in the future.”
       “We have orders?”
       “Oh no, we don’t. But I’m sure our paths will cross again.”
       “Aye, I’m sure they will. And lest I forget, His Majesty has declared tomorrow to be a day of celebration and mourning in honor of Lord Nelson’s great victory.”
       “Most appropriate, I would think, Isaac. But do make your rounds now, and allow me the pleasure of a night’s sleep.”
       With suitable reply Hotchkiss left and Pierce stepped into his sleeping cabin. Still with that slight smile upon his face, he shrugged out of his uniform and hung it carefully over the chair. He climbed under the covers, blew out the candle in the lantern and waited for sleep to overtake him.
       However, the Fates had other plans for Edward Pierce. They allowed him to think as he dozed off. At that point that exists between full wakefulness and sound sleep, the thoughts racing through his mind took over and denied him the restful unconsciousness he desired. So many times of late, he had suffered from the same inability to sleep. Usually it was brought on by worrying about his career, his recent completed voyage, his crew, and more importantly, his relationship with Evangeline. To be sure, this night his thoughts centered upon that relationship, although he no longer had the same worries regarding it.
       That was not to say that certain obstacles did not exist with regard to their eventual union. In his absence she had succumbed to the charms of another, had borne his child, and now remained in the last weeks of mourning for him. Not long after wedding Evangeline Smythe, Kenneth Carlisle, a lieutenant in His Majesty’s Navy had sailed with his ship. He had lost his life in a ship-to-shop duel with a larger French frigate, leaving behind a young widow and the newborn Glenn Lewis Carlisle.
       The situation was simple in Pierce’s view of things. When her proscribed mourning ended, he would marry her, if she would have him, adopt and raise the young man as if he were his own son. Being a man of compassion and an underlying gentle nature, he could not think of doing anything else.
       Yet there was the question of Carlisle’s family. Would they claim the person of Glenn Lewis? Would they demand he be raised as heir to whatever fortune they and his late father might possess? What was their relationship with the mother of this heir? Most importantly, what would be her wishes regarding her son? If it came down to it, would she give him up in order to be with Pierce? As much as he wanted her, he would not ask her to do that. If need be he would pass on his own joy and give Evangeline the chance to raise her son.
       If he could push all those questions and concerns into the background and allow himself some sleep, he was sure that the morning would find the situation eased and answers easier to come by. At last he did succumb and fell asleep, a slight smile still playing across his face.

       As he had been the morning before, Pierce was awakened by the returning liberty party. However, he had not been into his cups the night before, and their jovial noise did not disturb him as much. He awoke, freshened up, dressed and went on deck. It was chilly, but clear and he welcomed the warmth of his coffee, both as he drank it, and as the mug warmed his fingers. The smell of frying bacon issued from the galley stove, and he thought about eating breakfast. However he passed on the idea, as he had eaten a superb meal while visiting with Evangeline the evening before. Still not fully awake or in tune with the day, he lingered on the weather side of the quarterdeck. He remained out of the way of the watch standers as much as they remained out of his.
       Pierce returned to the reality of the day, only when the lookout hailed. “Signals from shore, sir,” he helloed.
       “Signals, aye,” responded Tom Morgan the senior midshipman and current officer of the watch. “Mr. Hadley, do you observe them and see who they are sent to.”
       “Aye aye, sir.” The young gentlemen climbed a few feet into the main shrouds to gain an advantage of sight. “Our number, Mr. Morgan!” he shouted. “‘Captain to repair ashore and report to port admiral’s headquarters!’”
       “Thank you, Mr. Hadley,” replied Morgan. He pivoted on the tip of his wooden right leg and approached Pierce. “Sir…”
       “I heard, Mr. Morgan. Hands to get the gig in the water, if you please, and the gig’s crew as well, sir!”
       “Aye aye, sir!” Morgan didn’t say anything, but simply nodded at Davis the bo’sun’s mate, who sounded a call on his pipe. The hands came running.
       While his boat was being hoisted out and its crew mustered, Pierce went below. He stowed his mug, brushed a spot of dirt from his uniform, swiped at a scuff on his Hessian boots, and went back on deck. While he hadn’t requested a ceremonial departure, the side boys had been mustered, and he went over the side and into the gig with the pipes squealing, and the whole of the quarterdeck saluting.
       Years before, when he had been the most junior lieutenant on board Theadora, he had envied those who were ship’s captains, departing and arriving with such pomp and ceremony. Now that he had command of one of His Majesty’s vessels and was afforded the privilege, he found that it didn’t have the luster he thought it would.
       “Shove off, Lofton!” he said as soon as he was seated. “Pull for the fleet landing!”
       “Aye aye, sir,” his coxswain replied. “Do I take the helm, sir?”
       “If you would, Lofton,” answered Pierce.
       While some of the gig’s crew had been ashore the night before and were obviously feeling the effects of their debauchery, nonetheless they rowed with a will, and the small boat sped towards shore. As he was the only officer on board, it was a silent trip. Pierce had no hesitation about engaging in general conversation with the hands, but today his mind was elsewhere. And he knew that with the state some of them were in, it was a case of either row or talk with their captain. He doubted if a couple were recovered enough to be able to do both at this time.
       At the same time he wondered about this morning summons to report to the port admiral. He had checked in with him the day before, and the admiral had had no news or fresh orders for him.
       Once at the fleet landing, Pierce stepped ashore after admonishing the gig’s crew to remain. “Do I catch you ashore, lads, it’ll be the end of your spirits for a week!” He did not care for them spend the day waiting for him, but hopefully it would be a short visit with the admiral. Miraculously when he arrived at the official residence, he was shown directly into the inner office. He was not kept waiting for the better part of an hour as he usually was.
       “Come in, Pierce! Come in!” the admiral said. “Do you care for a spot of brandy?”
       “Why thank you, sir, but no.”
       “Just as well, sir, it’s still quite early. But do sit down, won’t you?”
       “Thank you, sir.”
       “Coffee then, Commander? It’s still quite early, and I believe there are stories floating about concerning your fondness of the brew.”
       “If you please sir, a cup would be most welcome.” Pierce wondered about the flag officer’s overdone politeness this early December morning. Usually his conduct towards Pierce, while proper and polite, was also more distant and cold. After all, his first thoughts upon reading the reports of Pierce’s recent voyage had been that Pierce should be charged and tried by courts martial for the audacity to submit such paperwork. It had only been because of his own orders from the highest echelons of government that the admiral had not pressed forward with such action.
       The admiral rang for his servant, and upon that individual’s arrival, sent him to fetch coffee of Pierce and a cup of tea for himself. Once the hot drinks had arrived, he continued. “I know wonder about this early morning invitation, Pierce. And I know you wonder as to my suddenly more civil conduct towards you.”
       “I did wonder about the former, sir. Of the latter, I hadn’t noticed.” Pierce lied diplomatically.
       “You’re learning, lad.” When Pierce looked at him quizzically, the admiral said, “Oh, never mind Pierce. It’s seems that we are soon to be rid of each other. I’ve not made any secret of my distaste for you and your purported voyage to other worlds and strange lands. You dislike being under my charge, especially knowing how I feel.”
       “If I may be so bold, sir, that is a quite accurate assessment,” agreed Pierce.
       “Again, Commander, I do value your diplomacy and honesty. But it does seem that our time of service together is at an end. I have additional orders concerning you and your schooner. I also have orders for you, direct from the Admiralty.”
       “Aye, sir?”
       “Mine simply state that I am to offer you all assistance with victualling and other stores, so that you may meet a required sailing date.”
       “Aye, sir?”
       “Your orders are here, Commander, still sealed, so you may rest assured I know nothing of their contents.”
       “I hardly think it would be a matter of importance if you did, sir.”
       “No, perhaps not. But I also have letters for you, sir. They are sealed as well, but from the returns listed on the outside, I’m sure you will be astounded at those who have seen fit to include you in their circle of correspondence.”
       “Indeed, sir?” said Pierce. The admiral handed him a packet bearing the Admiralty seal. It was broken. Pierce frowned.
       “Oh, that was the entire bundle, forwarded to me and arriving quite late yesterday. Yours are inside, still quite secure and unopened.” The admiral stood and Pierce did the same. “You may open and read them here, if you wish, Commander. I will step outside, should you wish it. Or you may cart them back aboard that schooner of yours and peruse them there.”
       “If you will permit me sir, I will read them aboard.”
       “Fine, but before you do go, sign here to acknowledge receipt of one set of orders, unopened, and two letters, both of which are likewise still sealed and unopened!”
       “You will allow me to ascertain that that is the case?”
       “Indeed, Commander.”
       Satisfied that his orders and letters were indeed still sealed, Pierce took his leave of the admiral and hastened back to the hard. Along the way, he debated having the gig’s crew wait for him once more, as he had another call to make that day. However, it was early in the day, not yet six bells in the forenoon watch, and he preferred that they not spend their time waiting for him. In addition, he had orders now that he needed to read, and perhaps it wouldn’t be prudent to traipse around Portsmouth with them in hand.
       “Shove off, lads,” he said when seated. “We’ll return aboard.”
       “Aye aye, sir,” acknowledged Lofton. The boatmen put their backs into it and pulled with a will as they returned to the schooner’s anchorage.
       Pierce noticed several of them glancing at the large packet he carried. “Indeed, lads, we have orders. What, I cannot say, as I’ve yet to read them. Perchance you and your mates might want to have a fair turn at your next liberties. We may be underway in the near future.”
       “Aye, sir. Gets a bit cramped being anchored all the time,” commented the bow oar.
       “And you out of what to spend again, mate!” joshed one of the other rowers. “You should be on blockade off Brest. Ne’er a chance of spending nothing out there.”
       “But if I got it, shouldn’t I spend it?” asked another.
       “Keep the stroke, damn you!” shouted Loften with mock severity.
       “By all means, do,” added Pierce. Evidently the time spent waiting while he had been with the port admiral had allowed the majority of the gig’s crew to clear their heads. “I shall have need of your services again during the afternoon watch. Pray that Mr. Hotchkiss has nothing for you until then.”
       “Aye, sir.”
       Once aboard, Pierce hurried below to the privacy of his cabin. There, he removed the packet of orders and the two sealed letters from the larger package. Upon opening the sealed orders he read them silently, unconsciously nodding in agreement with the contents. Then he turned to the letters. The seals of both were intact, but what caught his eye were the indications of whom they were from.
       Having read them, he sat in thought for a few moments and then locked them in his table drawer. He fetched his coffee mug and headed forward to the galley to pour a cup and also to locate Isaac Hotchkiss.
       Back in the great cabin, along with the schooner’s first lieutenant, Pierce said, “It should be a while yet before the other’s are here for dinner. Perhaps you would care to know the results of my visit ashore this morning?”
       “I am curious, sir.”
       “We have orders, Isaac, a situation which does not surprise nor displease me.”
       “Certainly better than dragging our hook here at Spithead. Might I ask if they are Admiralty orders, or those of the British Island Expedition Organization?”
       “One might say they are both, sir. A moment if you will?” Pierce stepped inside his private sleeping cuddy, unlocked his drawer, and returned with all three missives. “Our orders from the Admiralty,” he said handing the opened orders to his friend.
       “Quite straight forward, I would think,” said Hotchkiss upon reading them. “We proceed to London, anchor at the Nore, and make ourselves available to testify at John Sollar’s trial. In addition we are to be available as needed with regards to Nelson’s funeral. You’d think they would have other uses for us once those events are completed.”
       “Perhaps they do, my friend,” Pierce said, handing Hotchkiss one of the two letters. “This might make quite entertaining and thought provoking reading.”
       “My God, Edward, this is from the Prime Minister, William Pitt, himself!” said Hotchkiss upon a quick overview of the document.
       “Aye. You are welcome to read it, Isaac.”
       “Indeed yes!” Hotchkiss replied. For several moments the cabin was quiet as Pierce’s childhood friend studied the letter. Pierce remained silent as well, so as to not disturb his first lieutenant’s concentration.
       “And now this one, Isaac,” said Pierce, passing the final document to Hotchkiss. “As you can see, it is really two letters. There is a cover letter from Mr. Clemens, whom we met at Whitehall last month. The inner message appears to be from our mysterious friend that we met as well while there. I find them both quite fascinating.”
       “I’m sure I will as well, Edward, should you allow me a few minutes in which to read them.”
       “Of course, Isaac.”
       When Hotchkiss finished reading he sat silent for a few moments. “Another voyage, it seems. I’m sure a return to Stone Island and Vespica would gladden Mr. Morgan’s heart.”
       “I’m sure it would. But until details are further along, I would not say anything to him or any of the hands. That we are going to London for Sollar’s trial and Nelson’s funeral should suffice.”
       “Aye, sir.”
       “However, these portends seem to call for increased haste in other matters. If you are not busy this afternoon, perhaps you would accompany me ashore.”
       “I had thought to… no, Mr. O’Brien can attend to that. The two of us haven’t been ashore in some time.”
       “Oh, it’s not your usual liberty, Isaac. I thought you might wish to personally extend your greetings to Evangeline.”
       “As well, your presence might prevent me from acting with excessive haste.”