(#2 in Ned Yorke series)
For the Allinghams who remember Kingsnorth
Although Major-General Heffer unrolled the map with as much ceremony as he dared, the effect was spoiled when he realized that the parchment would curl up again the moment he let go of the ends. He snatched up the flattened pebbles he always used as paperweights and carefully placed them. Then he stood back and looked at the irregular scrawl of inks and colours that seemed like the pattern for a small Wilton rug.
"There you are," he said proudly to the two silent and unmoving men standing the other side of the table, "that's probably the first map ever made of Cagway; I'm sure the Spaniards never bothered."
The two men nodded and waited without comment.
Although the house was large, the room the general used as an office was small and uncomfortably hot, the air so humid it reminded them both so strongly of a wash house that they could almost hear the slapping and scrubbing and the pattering of water as wet cloth was wrung out. The house was stoutly built of thick stone, and most windows had heavy shutters made of bulletwood with loopholes cut in them like giant locks awaiting keys.
Heffer had apparently chosen his office with all the care of a man doing penance: it was on the west side and the single window was small so that although the direct rays of the scorching noon sun did not stream in, neither did the cooling Trade winds usually blowing from the east. Even the flies seemed listless, only briefly interested in the parchment but otherwise content to rest on the flaking whitewash of the walls. With the hurricane season beginning in Jamaica, the blazing sun and humidity drained the energy of anything that moved.
Heffer was a suspicious and bilious man who always kept a door shut; to him an open doorway was only an invitation to eavesdroppers. As one of Cromwell's generals (although as a colonel his role in the Western Design had been minor and the recent news of the Lord Protector's death had left him feeling lost like an orphan), he was ready enough to suffer for the cause: the Lord Protector had first ordered him to the West Indies to serve in the army intended to carry out the Western Design and then later honoured him with the appointment of acting governor of Jamaica. It was given to few men to serve both their God and their Leader, and Hefferwas thankful he had been one of those chosen.
Though quite where he stood at this moment he was far from sure, and he was even less certain about the future of Jamaica. Somehow he had stumbled (or been manoeuvred) into a position where, for the moment at least, his fate and the island's both seemed to depend on the ideas and activities of the two buccaneers standing the other side of the table, Edward Kent and Thomas Whetheread, men who were almost strangers to him. It was in some ways fortunate that the Lord Protector was not alive to hear of it. What would his son Richard Cromwell, who now ruled in his place, think? Or supposing, as Whetheread seemed to think, Richard would by now have resigned or been overthrown by sterner officers in the army? Heffer had never met Richard, but the rumours he had heard in the last few years — that the Lord Protector's son had neither the ability nor inclination to succeed his father — had been more than confirmed by gossip. By reports, he corrected himself.
The man Heffer knew as Whetheread pointed at the map. "Did you draw this?" Heffer nodded modestly.
"But you actually surveyed it some months ago?"
"Er, yes, before you arrived here."
"You were going to send it to the Lord Protector, eh, and when you heard that the Good Lord had suddenly withdrawn His protection from Oliver, you hurriedly redrew it without your original dedication and all the New Model Army embellishments."
Heffer, startled and unsettled by Weatheread's insight, said nothing. He was tall and painfully thin and had a remarkably long face. His head, with protruding teeth and odd tufts of hair clinging to the skull like a monk's moth-eaten tonsure, reminded the other men of a poor-quality drumskin stretched over a sheep's skull.
The heat dried the chevaux-de-frise of teeth so that as he spoke the inside of the general's lips stuck and his tongue, constantly darting round to wet them, gave the impression it was trying to stop loose ones popping out.
Heffer had long ago discovered what he considered the road to success: merely surviving. From being a lowly officer in Fairfax's army he had stayed alive, and always agreed with alacrity with his senior officers. As they were killed in battle, died of illness, or were arrested for showing Royalist tendencies, they left vacancies, steps up the ladder of promotion which the ever-pliant and ever-present Heffer had managed to climb. Having no sense of beauty, history or colour, but an abiding hatred and jealousy of tradition, honour or anything else he did not understand, he never hesitated when ordered to smash all the stained-glass windows whether in a modest church or an ancient cathedral like Ely: having his troops take axes to carved altar rails or mauls to chip away the marble of graven images gave him a thrill he never understood or admitted even to his wife: he needed only to know that he was doing the Lord's work. He recalled arresting one rector who had protested that wrecking the Lord's house could hardly be carrying out the Lord's will, and proved him to be a Royalist and probably a Papist too.
Given command of a battalion and sent out in the expedition to Hispaniola, Heffer knew he was lucky to have so far escaped the cholera that killed thousands of men, and even luckier to escape Cromwell's wrath over the enterprise's failure. He survived... he had been alive and blameless and a colonel when the Lord Protector was looking for a governor of Jamaica, after the expedition's leaders, General Venables and Admiral Penn, had gone back to England (and the Tower) to face a disappointed Cromwell's anger. Promotion to major-general and the appointment as acting governor was not bad going, he told himself, for a man who had joined Cromwell only because he seemed to hate the same things.
It was unlucky that his troops — particularly the officers —loathed Jamaica (the West Indies, in fact) and plotted and schemed to be sent home from the Tropics before they were killed by yellow fever or cholera. All Heffer's attempts to have his troops plant and harvest so that they could later eat, and start doing something about capturing some of the thousands of beeves and pigs that roamed wild across the island, were a waste of time because his officers would do nothing that could lead Cromwell to decide on a permanent garrison for Jamaica. In fact, Heffer also knew that most of the officers had sent letters home by the last ship pleading with everyone they knew in London who had influence . . .
Yet they were fools. Heffer saw clearly enough that the threat that could stop them ever seeing their homes again came not from cholera and the black vomit but starvation and, less imminent, the Spaniards. The only other men in the island who seemed instinctively to understand all this were the buccaneers, led by Kent and Wetheread, who so far had brought in grain (at a price) to feed the garrison and recently captured enough Spanish guns from Santiago in Cuba to build batteries to defend Cagway.
Heffer grew angry and impatient at the thought of it. Everything was in a muddle. Two buccaneers were saving a Jamaica just captured by the Roundheads while the governor himself did not know if he was still the governor, now that Cromwell was dead. Worse still, he could not rely on the loyalty of the garrison: he was half expecting some disaffected officers to mutiny and set up a council to govern the island.
That last fear he had yet to reveal to Kent and Whetheread, who had not heard the latest crop of rumours gathered (almost gleefully, he sometimes thought) by his ADC, Rowlands, who reported that the officers, regarding themselves as freed from their oath of allegiance to the Commonwealth by Cromwell's death, considered that now they were serving only God.
The man known as Kent looked carefully at the map and wished that Heffer's wits were as sharp as his quill. It was strange staring down at the long sandpit known now as Cagway, the English rendering of the original Spanish name of Caguas. Heffer had shown the outline, a long thumb of land sticking out of the wrist of the mainland and almost closing the great natural harbour, with the sea on the south side and the almost-enclosed anchorage, like a great lake, on the north.
Yes, Heffer had translated the Spanish name for the sandspit, Palizados, into the Palisades, and called the tip Gallows Point — a warning, Kent decided, that Heffer intended as much for his own soldiers as for pirates. This little inked-in square represented the house in which they were standing: the next square was the military headquarters. And there was the jetty used by the fishermen and the buccaneers, with a few streets of shops and taverns in between.
The inked-in rectangle was the fish market, with the dotted line showing the lobster crawl built out into the shallow water near the jetty. The shaded section labelled "meat market" seemed a rather pretentious name for a few square yards of blood-caked sand where a bellowing beeve or a squealing pig was lashed to a post to be slaughtered and butchered for the fortunate few who had enough money to catch the eye of the Spanish butcher, a renegade who decided to stay behind when his countrymen fled before Penn and Venables' expedition.
Why had the Spaniards built the capital of the island on that flat land ten miles away, well inland and a long distance from the anchorage? To be safe from marauders? They had named it St Jago de la Vega, St Jago of the Plain, although the English now called it St Jago. Still, the effective headquarters for the island was here at Cagway, and Heffer had been lucky to be able to take over a strongly-built Spanish house and make it his home, with an almost identical building next door as the garrison headquarters.
"This battery," Whetheread said, jabbing a stubby index finger down on a point halfway along the seaward side of the Palisades, almost opposite Heffer's house, "this is going to be the most important one, don't you agree Ned?"
Kent nodded and indicated the arc over which its guns should be able to fire.
"Oh, well now, Mr Kent, I —" Heffer began nervously, and then went on as both Kent and Whetheread looked at him encouragingly, "I thought the most important one would be here, right at the tip: the guns will be able to fire at enemy ships if they try to pass through the channel between the Palisades and the mainland and enter the anchorage."
"No," Kent said, "you're looking through the wrong end of the glass. You have to prevent enemy ships getting as close as that in the first place: you need to keep up a heavy fire on them as they try to pick their way through these cays and reefs." He pointed to the scattering of obstructions in the approach from the south. "While they're trying to conn their way up to the Palisades, your roundshot must be sweeping their decks — and they can only do that from a battery built here." He put his finger down where Whetheread had indicated. "You cover them whether they approach along the coast or come up from the south. Then, if any ships do get through the fire from here, they have to run the gauntlet past another battery at the end. And if they get past that, then a third battery, here, will catch them as they round up into the anchorage."
"You talk like an artilleryman," Heffer grumbled, his tongue flickering across the front of his teeth.
"No, as a seaman," Kent said cheerfully, as though to soothe Heffer. "The best way of planning the defences of a place is to picture yourself having to sail in to attack it. Which batteries could do you the most harm here? You'll find I'm right — this is the one that matters. What are you going to call it — Cromwell's Bastion?"
Heffer flushed but said nothing: apart from not knowing what was happening in England, he was far from sure of the buccaneers: these two, the leaders, were a whimsical pair; quite irresponsible, of course, and one could not be sure if they were serious. "Cromwell's Bastion" sounded well enough, but...
"We brought you twelve culverins and five 3-pounders back from our raid on Santiago," Ned said. "Where are you placing them?"
Heffer hurriedly changed his plans and hoped the two men could now be talked out of the proposed inspection which he had himself arranged, but which put all the emphasis (and most of the guns) on the battery out at Gallows Point.
"I was proposing to put eight culverins in the battery opposite this house, to cover the approaches," Heffer said smoothly, finding it easy to change his plan, "and the remaining four culverins at Gallows Point, to cover the seaward end of the entrance. Then I thought the five 3-pounders would go well at the anchorage end of the entrance."
"Mere saluting guns," Thomas said with a contemptuous sniff. "3-pounders simply make a bang ..."
"You brought them," Heffer could not resist pointing out, but hurriedly added, "and of course we are grateful."
Ned said: "Once the batteries are built, complete with magazines, sleeping quarters, water cisterns and kitchens, we can always change the guns for larger ones as we capture them from the Spanish."
Thomas slapped the table and said heartily: "Quite right, Ned, quite right: with the batteries there, we can always replace the guns. Come on then, let's look at the sites."
Outside the sun was blinding, reflecting up from the almost white sand. "Wait," Heffer said, "I'll send Rowlands for horses."
"Not for me; I want to walk," Ned said.
"Nor me," Thomas said, patting his stomach. "I need some exercise. Diana's complaining about my weight."
Heffer, who hated the heat, also hated the sensation of walking on soft sand, and had planned at most a quick canter round the sites of the batteries, relying on the buccaneers' unfamiliarity with horses to avoid a detailed inspection. Now he followed the two men, gesturing to his ADC. "We're walking, Rowlands. You, too." The youngster was getting puffy faced, and from his bloodshot eyes and lethargy in the mornings, Heffer suspected he was drinking heavily. He wished Rowlands would get rid of that sulky look while the buccaneers were here.
Ned and Thomas walked the hundred yards to the water's edge and then stopped, facing southwards towards the Spanish Main five hundred miles away. On their right the sandspit went on to form the entrance to the anchorage; on their left the sandspit continued until it merged with the mainland, which went on for about fifty miles to the eastern end of the island. Behind them was the great, almost enclosed anchorage, and beyond that the mountains rising higher and higher in gentle ridges to form the distant eastern spine of the island, the Blue Mountains.
The Caribbean was calm; wavelets slapped the sandy beach and occasionally a silver flash caught the eye and showed a large fish leaping out of the water to land among its prey, or a small one trying desperately to escape. Hunter or hunted came up like an arrow rising from the sea and falling amid a shoal of smaller fish which had been innocently feeding, unaware of their danger.
"Watch out for your ankles," Ned said, gesturing at the holes which pocked the beach like small coney burrows. "I've never seen so many land crab holes. Plenty of land crab for dinner, eh General?"
"Er, land crab? No, I haven't tried it. I thought these were rat holes."
Ned and Thomas stopped, staring at the general, hardly believing their ears.
"I thought you said your men were starving?" Thomas said.
"They are. You know we need grain, salt meat, vegetables..."
"Yet you don't bother with one of the great delicacies of the West Indies!"
"Why, are land crab different from the ones found in the sea?" Heffer asked huffily.
"I don't know — ask the crab. But the point is your men can catch land crabs at night with lanterns as easily as breaking stained-glass windows." Thomas watched Heffer and noticed the flush. "The crabs just walk about."
"Nobody told me," Heffer grumbled.
Ned shook his head impatiently, completely exasperated. "That's the epitaph of the Western Design. 'Nobody told me . . . nobody asked.' Your stupid officers let their soldiers drive hundreds of beeves and hogs into the mountains — and then kill the moriscos who know how to capture them. No meat to eat in a land where the cattle are numbered in thousands . . .
"No one has the wit to gather the fruit that grows on the trees or the vegetables which they trample on the land. You chased off all the fishermen and stole their canoes and now you complain you are starving. Can't your damned silly men make fishing lines? Can't they — or you — ask whether these are coney, rat or crab holes? Are buccaneers the only ones who dare go up into the hills and shoot beeves and boucan or salt the meat? How many men will a young steer feed? Your men should be living on fresh meat all the time — there's so much to be hunted that you can kill daily so you needn't salt or boucan it. Ah!" Ned broke off, angry with himself for losing his temper, exasperated with Heffer, although the beeves and hogs had been driven off before he had been made governor. "You'll be running out of fresh water next!"
"We are," Heffer admitted miserably. "That big cistern on the mainland opposite has run dry ..."
"No doubt it has!" Thomas exclaimed contemptuously. "It hasn't rained for five weeks and I don't suppose you rationed water. The Spaniards didn't build that cistern for three thousand troops to use as if it was some magic Fountain of Youth! Have you rationed it now?"
"No — how was I to know it wouldn't rain?"
"Just look out of the window from time to time," Ned murmered, and then said: "It's too hot standing here — let's go over and look at the first battery."
They walked round the stunted shrubs fighting hard to grow knee-high in the sand, and insects buzzed up in clouds, whining and stinging. One or other of the men would occasionally stumble as the sand caved in round land crab holes. Ned paused for a moment to watch a pelican waddling along the water's edge a few yards away, looking like a portly and beady-eyed prelate, slightly tipsy and wearing boots much too large but well polished.
The walls of the new battery, made of rough stone and mortar, were already three feet high and banked up with sand on the seaward side so that from a ship it would look like an innocent dune.
"I've fifty men working on this battery," Heffer said crisply, striving to re-establish himself as the island commander. "I'm bringing in another fifty tomorrow or the next day to start on the magazine and sleeping quarters."
"And the cistern," Ned said.
"Oh yes, of course. Most important."
"And the sloping area of catchment for the cistern," Thomas said, "otherwise the rain will be lost in the sand."
"Of course, of course," Heffer said impatiently. "Well, now you can see our first battery."
"The cistern will hold a hundred gallons per man?" Ned asked.
"Well, I hadn't thought quite as much," Heffer said lamely.
"That's the minimum," Ned said firmly. "Eight guns, five men to each gun, a couple of corporals and a sergeant, cook and a couple of powdermen: forty-six. Four thousand, six hundred gallons."
"But that'll be enormous," Heffer protested. "There's plenty of stone, and your men have nothing better to do," Ned pointed out. "You sit in the sun for a couple of days without water — try that and you'll insist on five hundred gallons a man."
By now the three men, followed by Rowlands, had walked up the slight slope and paused to look over the top of the stonework. Fifty bodies were scattered inside an area which had been pegged out and marked with cord in the shape of the battery and its emplacements and buildings. Several of the men had strung their coats across shovels to make some shade.
"Splendid," Ned said. "If only the Dons could see them now, sleeping peacefully like sheep. Come on, Thomas, it's too hot for all this martial excitement. By the way, I see emplacements marked out for four guns, not eight, and no sign of a cistern or catchment."
As the two of them left Heffer and walked back along the beach, they could hear the general screaming almost hysterically at the soldiers, waking them violently — kicking, judging by the yells of pain — and accusing them of everything from drunkenness to treason and threatening to hang every tenth man as a warning to the rest of the garrison.
"I don't envy him," Ned said, swerving a few steps to avoid a wave surging higher up the beach. "His men verging on mutiny, officers completely unreliable and mostly stupid, and he doesn't know if or when a ship will suddenly arrive bringing orders, let alone supplies."
"If the army has thrown out Richard, he may not get orders for years!" Thomas commented. "In the meantime we aren't getting our batteries built . . ."
"We will: I have a feeling that he wasn't joking back there when he threatened them with the noose."
"What a position for a Roundhead general to find himself in!"
"Just wait until he finds out who we are," Ned said grimly. "I want to watch when he discovers he was saved by a pair of Royalists! And let's hope it's soon; I'm getting bored with our new surnames."
Ned tapped Thomas's arm as they turned across the sand to pass Heffer's house, skirt the fish market and reach the jetty, where they could signal for a boat to take them back to their respective ships. "Don't be too harsh with the poor fellow. He's at last admitting to himself that his garrison of apparently God-fearing Roundheads are really jail sweepings. We knew that, but he couldn't accept it because he genuinely thought Cromwell, Puritanism, the New Model Army, the Western Design, being sad on Sundays, all had magically transformed this dross into pure gold.
"On the other hand," Ned said with ironic emphasis, "he has seen what he considers real scum — people like us, with our former servants, truly wicked men and women who swear, blaspheme, rarely if ever go to church, never spend an hour at prayer, live in a state of sin with our women — sail out, and bring him a cargo of grain, capture a Spanish city and give him guns, powder and shot. . . The poor fellow's world has been turned inside-out!"
"Well, I still think he's a psalm-singing hypocrite and I don't trust him!" Thomas said flatly.
"We don't have to, but you must admit the best way of getting this place fortified so that we can use it as a base is to give him guns and shot in exchange for him building the batteries."
"And you've just seen the soldiers at work!" Thomas jeered. "Wait till I tell Diana: she can't stand the man! She'll want to go off to find our own island to fortify as a base."
"You talk as if he was my hero — hey, what's happening now?"
A horse was galloping along the track from the eastward towards the general's house. The rider was an officer, his style betraying a fairly recent acquaintanceship with horsemanship.
He stopped a few moments at the general's house, where the sentry pointed to Ned and Thomas. Two or three minutes later the officer, his face soaked with perspiration and almost wild-eyed with excitement, reined up in front of the two men with a jerk as though trying to pull off the horse's head.
"The general — quickly, where's the general?" Thomas wagged a finger at the man, pulling at his carefully trimmed black beard with the other hand. "I'm hard of hearing young man," he said querulously. "Did I understand you to say: 'Excuse me gentlemen, but can you direct me to the general?' "
"Er — well, yes sir."
"You seem in a hurry — are you going to trouble the general with some footling emergency?"
"Yes, sir, indeed! Please, where is the general?"
"Before you gallop off you had better tell us what the footling emergency is: we command this island's naval forces."
"That's just it, sir!" the officer exclaimed. "The Spanish fleet has been sighted and — "
"Coming from which direction?" Ned asked quietly. The man turned on his horse and pointed eastward along the coast. "There, sir, from Point Morant."
"How many ships?"
"The message doesn't say, sir: it's been passed from post to post: just that the Spanish fleet is coming!" "You haven't actually seen it, then?"
Ned pointed westward towards the artificial hillock intended as the battery. "You'll find the general over there, rousing his defences."
The man thanked him and galloped off, leaving Thomas cursing and coughing in the cloud of dust. "What clodhoppers!" he exclaimed. "They pass a warning half the length of the island — God knows how many men have been galloping — which doesn't say how many ships!"
"They haven't the wits of our cane cutters," Ned agreed."When you think of what we achieved with that motley crowd we took to capture Santiago . . ."
"We'd better hurry and signal for a boat," Thomas said, "otherwise we'll have Heffer hanging round our necks bleating about a Second Armada with all the fervour of a Second Coming. And the mastheads of our ships are higher than anything else round here — our lookouts can see right across the Palisades and along the coast."
The boat put Thomas on board his ship the Peleus and then took Ned on to the Griffin, where his second-in-command, John Lobb, was waiting with Aurelia to greet him. Lobb obviously had news and Aurelia deliberately stood back while he reported.
Lobb pointed aloft and Ned saw a man perched high in the rigging. "There's a ship in sight, sir," Lobb said. "I've sent Green aloft with the perspective glass."
"Just one, sir. Green is sure it's a frigate."
"A horseman's just arrived at General Heffer's headquarters with news from lookouts along the coast that the Spanish fleet's in sight."
"Aye, belike he has," Lobb said phlegmatically, "but no one's told them poor benighted soldiers that the Spanish 'aven't got a fleet in these waters."
"No, and it's better they don't know: they'll keep a sharper lookout if they think the Dons can come any moment. Anyway, the Spanish king might send a fleet one day and scare us all!" He looked aloft and hailed the lookout.
"Green — what do you see?"
"She's a frigate all right, sir, and just furling her courses as she comes abreast the Palisades: she'll come in under topsails."
"The Union, sir, but no jack. She's English built, too, I'll take my oath on that."
Lobb coughed and pointed across to the jetty. A fisherman's canoe was just leaving with half a dozen men at the paddles and an army officer sitting in the stern.
The man whom General Heffer knew only as "Mr Kent" looked at Aurelia and grinned. "There's your friend Rowlands — coming to warn us the Spanish are coming and asking Thomas and me to go over to see the general . . ."
"I need a walk on the land," Aurelia said, her French accent more pronounced than usual and, Ned noted, her voice more attractive as a result, "and I'm sure Diana does, too. Perhaps the sight of us will take the general's mind off the Spanish for a moment or two."
"You must give up tempting Puritans."
"It's the only sport you men allow us," Aurelia said demurely.
Thomas had seen Rowlands coming out by canoe and one of the Peleus's boats delivered him and Diana on board the Griffin before he arrived. Diana was wearing a dress instead of the more usual divided skirt, a fashion she had started among the women in the English ships, and Aurelia commented on it.
Diana laughed and waved towards Thomas. "He assured me that one of the general's officers has just ridden in to report the Spanish fleet is in sight, so I thought I would dress up to welcome them."
"Always surprise the enemy, Ned," Thomas rumbled. "Just when they're expecting broadsides, fire beautiful women at them."
"Or Mrs Judd," Ned said, referring to his former cook, who was now living on board the Phoenix, a prize they had captured and put under the command of Saxby, once the Griffin's mate and before that the foreman of Ned's plantation in Barbados. Mrs Judd was a very large woman; large in body, large in all her appetites and large in her generosity.
Green called down from aloft: "She's an English frigate all right, sir, twenty guns and they're run out — for saluting," he added. "She's not cleared for action."
Thomas tugged at his beard. "No Commonwealth jack, eh . . ." He pulled out the tube of his perspective glass and looked seaward across the low peninsula of the Palisades. "Ah, there she is. I see they've been painting her up in the last few days. Well, if she brings good news for old Heffer, it'll be bad news for us. There's one thing about this island at the moment — sauce for the goose is bound to be poison for the gander!"
Because the frigate was running close to the beach on the far side of the long sandspit, they could not see the sea. "Looks as though she's running on wheels," Thomas commented. "A Mrs Judd-size carriage."
There was a flurry of movement at the Griffin's entryport on the starboard side, and Lobb came up to Ned to report: "That soldier's arrived sir, the one who usually smells of fish."
"Let him come on board — once you've made him brush off the fish scales."
Diana gave her musical laugh. "One day poor Lieutenant Rowlands will have the sense to order a fishing canoe to be scrubbed out and reserved for his own use."
Thomas shook his head. "Perish the idea: we'd have nothing to bait him about!"
Rowlands was agitated and saluted Ned smartly. "An urgent message from the general, sir!" he said, unlacing the straps closing the leather sabretache he had been wearing slung from his belt. "The general asks that you treat it as particularly urgent," he added, handing over the paper folded four times and closed with two seals.
Because the lieutenant always annoyed him, Ned tucked the paper carelessly into a pocket, nodded a dismissal to Rowlands, and turned to Thomas. "I wish the breeze would get up, it's so damned hot. Drains all one's energy."
Thomas was always quick to join in the baiting of Rowlands. "Yes — what do you say we have dinner on deck under the awning? Too hot below, and you always give such a good meal. I've brought the wine."
"Sir," Rowlands ventured. "The general said —"
"— that it was urgent. But remember, my dear Oarlands, his messages are always urgent: it is the most boring thing about them."
"But sir, this really is urgent!"
"Of course it is!"
"But sir —"
"I know, my dear Rowman," Ned said, in yet another variation of the man's name, "the Spanish fleet is coming ..."
"Yes, sir, but how did you know?"
Ned looked around for his perspective glass, saw it on the binnacle box, and gave it to Rowlands.
"Climb aloft and look across the Palisades and you'll see 'the Spanish fleet'."
Wide-eyed, Rowlands took the glass and then saw the heavily-tarred, thick rope rigging.
"Aye, it'll spoil your shoes and stain your hose," Thomas said unsympathetically. "But by the time you're back reporting to the general, he'll have seen it anyway, providing he looks out of his window."
"Is it within gunshot?" Rowlands asked incredulously.
"Yes, of the general's house and us."
"But I don't hear gunfire."
"You will, you will," Ned assured him, and as if to punctuate his sentence a gun boomed over the anchorage from the western end and a moment later an alarmed Rowlands grasped Ned's shoulder.
"The attack has started, sir! What are you going to do? The Spanish are here!"
"I'm going to have dinner," Ned said, removing Rowlands' hand. "It helps to die on a full stomach!"