“My lord, the Danish ships give us a good beacon,” Schein said.“They are moored at the start of the middle ground.”
“Could we take this channel and avoid them entirely?” Daventry asked, pointing at the King’s Channel.
“We could, my lord,” Schein answered.“It may not be as well buoyed, and it is not as well known.”His answer meant nothing to Granger, who had already decided on his course of action.
“Set a course to pass to the north of those Danish ships,” Granger ordered Weston.“Once we are past them, we will wear ship and then sail down the Hollander Channel.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said, and took control of the ship.The wind was from the Northwest, so they were clawing into it as they headed for the Danish ships, but once beyond them, they would be running before it.
“You are going to challenge them?” Daventry asked Granger.
“I am,” Granger replied.“I am recalling my conversation with the Crown Prince.It seemed that his main motive was to intimidate me into not going into the Baltic, and that became even more clear when we had our discussion with Cavendish.I think that he may be trying to bluff us into doing what he wants.”
“I reached the same conclusion,” Daventry agreed, still not following Granger’s rationale.
“These two ships are clearly here to do the same thing,” Granger said.“So I am, in essence, calling his bluff.”
“And you are not worried about facing those ships in battle?” Daventry asked.
“I think that at most we will have to exchange a few broadsides with the battleship, and while we would incur some damage, I am confident we would inflict more on that Danish ship,” Granger said.
“But she is a battleship, and I have seen what happens when a battleship attacks a frigate,” Daventry objected, remembering how the Success had been pulverized in her battle with Généreux.
“That is true, but Valiant was once a battleship quite similar to that vessel, and has the scantlings to stand up to her in battle,” Granger said confidently.“In addition, while she has some 20 extra guns, our carronades are considerably more powerful at close range. I am confident that we can more than hold our own against that vessel.”Granger did feel that confident, but he was hoping that the Danish ship would hold her fire, because a pitched battle with Valiant would create a lot of damage and casualties on both sides, and Granger still had a mission to accomplish.
“So you think a show of confidence at this point would be helpful?” Daventry asked.
“I do, and I think it will cause Whitworth some problems, and that makes it an even more compelling course of action,” Granger joked.
“And now you know why I would only go on this mission if you were my captain,” Daventry said smugly.
“I am flattered,” Granger lied.“I will be aloft.”That last sentence was directed to Weston.Granger strode to the main shrouds and climbed up to the maintop.
“Lot of traffic, my lord,” the lookout said respectfully. He was a seaman named Soames, an older man who had originally served with Granger aboard Bacchante.He wasn’t very good with most shipboard tasks, but he was an excellent lookout.Granger trained his glass toward the Sound and saw a relatively large group of ships working their way upwind, making slow progress.Some of the ships had their decks piled high with lumber, while even those who weren’t were quite low in the water.
“They appear to be a mixed bag,” Granger said, noticing that the flags they flew were almost all neutral.“How many are there?”
“I make 20 ships, my lord, ten American, three Swedes, two Danes, two Prussians, and three of ours,” Soames said.
“That’s my read on it as well,” Granger said.
“Looks like one of the ships is trying to catch up to the convoy, my lord,” Soames noted.He’d called it a convoy, which was a convenient enough term, but they didn’t have a warship escort.“Maybe she fell behind over the night.”
“Maybe,” Granger said, even as he trained his glass farther down the Sound.Even then, it was difficult to get a feel for that ship from the maintop.“I think we’ll need to go up to the main topgallant.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Soames said.Granger began to climb up higher, while Soames mirrored his moves on the opposite shrouds.They reached the crosstrees and secured themselves, then refocused on this stray ship.As Granger studied the vessel, he felt his blood begin to race, as if it were not already moving fast enough due to their impending encounter with the Danish warships.
“That is no merchant,” Granger said.“And if I’m not mistaken, she’s flying French colors.”
“That’s what I see too, begging your pardon my lord,” he said. “I’d say she’s a privateer, pierced for ten guns a side.”
Granger glanced ahead and saw that they were nearing the Danish ships, and saw a boat preparing to put off from the Danish ship of the line with an officer aboard. He would be needed on the quarterdeck.“Keep your eye on that French ship,” Granger ordered.“As she draws closer, you may remove yourself back down to the maintop.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Soames said.
He watched the French privateer until he saw the boat push off from the Danish ship.Granger grabbed a backstay, and took more care with his descent since he usually didn’t have to climb quite this high, and sliding down on a rope was always a dodgy business.He landed on the deck with a light thud and addressed the officers gathered there.“There’s a group of some 20 merchants working their way through the Sound, with three of our ships included in that number,” he explained.“There’s a French privateer chasing after them.”
“It seems we are to be busy today, my lord,” Weston said with his usual cheerfulness.They hailed the Danish boat, and then prepared to receive the officer she carried.A young lieutenant hauled himself aboard and smartly saluted the quarterdeck.
“Welcome, Lieutenant,” Granger said in English, hoping the man spoke that language.“I am Viscount Granger, captain of His Britannic Majesty’s ship Valiant.”
“It is a pleasure to meet your lordship,” the lieutenant replied in English that was quite good but accented.“I am Lieutenant Willemoes, of His Danish Majesty’s ship Holsteen.”
“The pleasure is most certainly mine,” Granger said, bowing in a courtly way.
“Captain Arenfelt, the commander of Holsteen, has sent me to tell your lordship that he has been ordered to dissuade your lordship from traveling through the Hollander channel,” Willemoes said.He had clearly rehearsed those words, at least in his mind, from the definitive way that he said them.
“That is most unfortunate, since I am tasked to do just that,” Granger said.
“That is indeed most unfortunate, my lord, but those are the orders Captain Arenfelt has been issued,” Willemoes replied.
“When I left Copenhagen a few days ago, my understanding was that our two countries had negotiated a treaty to maintain the peace,” Granger said.“Does a state of war now exist between His Britannic Majesty and His Danish Majesty?”
“The situation is tenuous, as you must realize, my lord,” Willemoes said, grappling with the strange diplomatic status quo.
“I would ask you to convey my compliments to Captain Arenfelt and inform him that I intend to sail through the Hollander Channel,” Granger said firmly.“If he fires on this vessel, then a state of war will exist between our two countries.If he does not, then things will remain as they are.”
Willemoes stared at him, as if he were planning to argue, but the steely resolve was visible in Granger’s eyes, and Willemoes must have realized there was nothing to be gained by further discussion.“I will convey your message to Captain Arenfelt, my lord.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Granger said.Willemoes bowed briefly, then exited over the side, back into his boat, which rowed quickly back toward Holsteen.
“And the attempts at bluff continue,” Daventry said to Granger with an amused smile.
“If they aren’t bluffing, we will soon have some iron about our heads,” Granger commented.Willemoes reboarded his ship, and the result of his return was soon heard as her drums began to beat.They watched as Holsteen, and the frigate beyond her, beat to quarters and then ran out their guns.
“Mr. Grenfell,” Granger said loudly, into the waist.Grenfell was below with the main batteries.
He moved so he could look up at Granger.“My lord?”
“I think it unlikely that we will receive any fire from these Danish ships, but just in case, have your men lie down on the deck,” Granger ordered.That would at least let the men working the 24-pounders on Valiant’s main deck avoid some flying splinters if they were to receive Danish fire. Those on the quarterdeck and forecastle would be much more vulnerable.
“Aye aye, my lord,” he said crisply.
“Tell them not to get too comfortable,” Granger joked.“If that happens, they’ll be required to jump up and return fire.”
“I’ll let them know, my lord,” Grenfell said, grinning.
They drew closer and closer to the Holsteen, and with each inch, so too did the tension increase. “We’ll know soon enough,” Daventry observed.
“Indeed we will,” Granger said.Holsteen would see that Valiant had not run out her guns, which lay ready but waiting behind sealed ports, but she would also be able to easily see that Valiant had cleared for action and that her men were standing ready at their guns.The Danes would know they were ready to respond.
Granger stood on the deck like a statue, with Weston and Daventry on either side of him, acting as if they were impervious to Danish cannonballs, as Valiant drew parallel to Holsteen.Granger removed his hat to salute the Danish ship, his moves matched by Weston and Daventry, while Travers dipped their flag in salute.The Danish officers did not remove their hats, and their ship did not dip her flag, but she did not fire either.Valiant sailed placidly by the Holsteen, then they repeated their salutes as they passed the frigate, which responded in the same way as her flagship by not responding at all.
Flags began to fly up from the Trekroner Fort, followed by flags from the Holsteen as Captain Arenfelt evidently tried to explain what had happened, but that mattered little to Valiant as she sailed beyond them.“My lord, I recommend that we wear ship and enter the Hollander Channel,” Schein suggested.
“Excellent, Mr. Schein,” Granger said.“Hands to wear ship!”
Enough men left their guns to handle the sails, and Granger turned Valiant neatly so she was running before the wind on a southeast course.“Permission to report, my lord!” Soames shouted.
“Come on down,” Granger replied through his speaking trumpet.Soames grabbed a backstay and slid down to the deck.Granger hid his annoyance that Soames landed more gracefully than he had.“Well?”
“My lord, the ships of the convoy have surrounded the British ships,” Soames said.
“They have formed a shield of sorts about them?” Daventry asked.
“Yes, my lord,” Soames said nervously, as he talked to these exalted men.
“That is not unusual, for merchant vessels to assist each other, my lord,” Schein added.
“That will not discommode the privateer unduly,” Weston noted.“She will just force her way past them.”
“But it will accomplish two things that may be helpful to us,” Granger said.“It will distract the Frenchman, so maybe she won’t see us heading down the channel, and it will delay her and give us time.”
“What will you do?” Daventry asked.
“I will remain under topsails, just as we are, so we are less conspicuous, until she sights us, then we will pour on sail and hope we can catch her,” Granger said.In these seas and winds Valiant could not hope to outrun that French ship.They would have to draw the privateer in or she would merely turn about and sail away from them.“While we are approaching the convoy, see if the cook can put together a quick breakfast for our lads.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said.
“I’ll be aloft,” Granger announced.He climbed back to the maintop with Soames, pausing to glance down at the Valiant.She looked like a beehive of activity as her crew tried to dine in a speedy manner.
“That Frog is getting awful close to the convoy, my lord,” Soames noted.
“She is,” Granger agreed, but was nervous, because she was still too far away for Granger to catch her.The smell of food wafted up to Granger.“Soames, go eat.”
“I wouldn’t want to leave you alone, my lord,” Soames said thoughtfully.Granger glared at him, since Soames knew better than to question orders.“Aye aye, my lord,” he said, and obeyed Granger’s order immediately.
Granger sat up there by himself, enjoying the solitude, as he watched the Frenchman catch up to the convoy.He’d thought about lowering their flag and any other bunting that would prove that Valiant was a British ship, but there were very few razees in the world, and the only ones in operation were Royal Navy ships.Valiant’s strange evolution to a frigate damned her to be unique and thus easily identified for what she was.
The Frenchman encountered an American ship between her and an English merchantman, but the American was so good at blocking, the Frenchman put a cannonball into her hull to persuade her to get out of the way.That was a good enough incentive for the Yankee, who swung out of the way, exposing the British ship to the privateer.Then disaster, at least as Granger saw it, struck. The lead ship of the convoy spotted Valiant and signaled to her consorts, and that in turn must have awakened the French ship’s lookouts.She luffed, and prepared to wear ship to escape.
“Mr. Weston!” Granger hailed.“I’ll have the courses and topgallants on her!”
“Aye aye, my lord,” he replied.Whistles blew, and men rushed up the masts to the yards.Those on the main yard smiled at him as they headed out to the ends of the yard to loose the gaskets that held the sails in place.
The French ship had just completed her turn to put her into the wind when the American ship she’d holed decided to tack, and rammed right into her.Granger smiled, and almost laughed, as he watched the irate Frenchmen waving their fists and yelling at the American ship.Soames chose that time to return, so Granger pointed out what had happened, and then returned back to the quarterdeck.“An American ship has done our work for us,” Granger said.
“She has indeed, my lord,” Weston agreed.Valiant heeled over with her increased sail, tearing down toward the privateer.She came up to the convoy, and the ships wisely formed two organized columns to the larboard and starboard sides, all but clearing a path straight toward the privateer.
“You can reduce us down to topsails, Mr. Weston,” Granger said.The Frenchman was just now disentangling herself from the merchant vessel.She frantically tried to trim her sails and get enough speed to escape, but she was already in range.Her fate was already sealed, even if she didn’t know it.
“My lord, those Danes are coming down channel,” the mizzen lookout hailed.
“They will not arrive in time to save their French comrades,” Granger said.“Mr. Grenfell, a ball across her bow.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” he responded.He went forward to personally supervise their long 9-pounder in the bow, the most accurate long gun in the Navy.It only took a few minutes for the gun to fire, and they saw the ball fly through the air and land easily across her bow.
“They don’t seem to be too worried, my lord,” Weston said.
“They should be,” Granger said.Valiant gained quickly on the privateer even as she struggled to pick up speed.He paused to doff his hat to the merchant ship who had made the capture of this ship a possibility, then focused on the Frenchman.“Mr. Grenfell, run out your larboard battery.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” he said.Valiant rumbled and shook as her guns were run out, but the foolish privateer was still not daunted.
“Mr. Weston, we’ll yaw to starboard so the guns will bear,” Granger ordered.“Make that happen.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said.He began to maneuver Valiant to the right.
Granger waited until the privateer was perpendicular to Valiant then gave the order: “Fire!” As soon as the guns had fired, Weston adeptly put her back on her original course.The smoke billowed about them briefly, but as the wind blew it away, it exposed the French ship.She’d been a beautiful vessel, but that one broadside had shattered her.She had lost her foremast, and it was possible to see the huge holes that had been punctured in her side.Still the tricolor flag flew jauntily from her mizzen.Granger assumed that was merely because she hadn’t had a chance to lower it, and he was prepared to cease firing, until two of her guns fired.One of the balls punched a hole in their fore topsail.
“Yaw again, Mr. Weston,” Granger ordered.“Mr. Grenfell, fire as your guns bear!”Valiant turned and this time, her gunners took their time and fired more deliberately.Granger watched as the massive 24- and 42-pound balls slammed into the pretty little ship.He cringed as he thought about how many men would be killed or wounded, since privateers usually carried large crews to give them the extra hands to man their prizes.They were almost up to her now, and that compelled the Frenchman in charge to finally lower their flag.
“The Frog’s surrendered, my lord,” the lookout shouted unnecessarily.
“Mr. Weston, take a party and board the privateer.Make sure to take a large squad of marines with you,” Granger ordered.
“Aye aye, my lord,” he said, and began to organize a party of men, even as they lowered the longboat.Granger hove the ship to when they were half a cable’s length away from the shattered ship, and then watched carefully as Weston’s boat pushed off and headed toward the French ship.
“She looks to be in a bad way, my lord,” Meurice noted, and indeed he was right.He’d first been focused on capturing her, but now that he took stock of the situation, it seemed as if their prize was on the verge of sinking.
“Let’s get the launch and my gig swung out and manned,” Granger ordered.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Grenfell said.He was a very efficient officer.With Weston’s departure, he’d seamlessly stepped right into his shoes and taken over the first lieutenant’s role.
“My lord,” Weston’s voice hailed him from across the water.“This ship is sinking.”
“She cannot be saved?” Granger asked.
“No, my lord,” Weston responded.Weston was a good seaman, so he would be able to assess the privateer’s viability as well as he could.“There are a lot of wounded men here.”
“My lord,” Grenfell said, distracting him.“The Danish ships should be up to us within a quarter of an hour.”He looked at the Danish ships and they were heading toward them under full sail.
“I doubt they’ll be in a better mood this time,” Daventry noted.
“I fear you are correct,” Granger said.“Mr. Weston, I need you and your men back here at once.We’ll return to help the Frenchmen in a bit.”
There was a pause, as Weston struggled to wrap his mind around Granger’s order, and how he was being compelled to leave this ship he’d just been given responsibility for.In the end, though, there was only one response, and Weston uttered it.“Aye aye, my lord.”
“Mr. Grenfell, leave the other boats in the water, but bring the men back aboard,” Granger ordered.“We’ll tow them astern for the time being.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” he said, and went to attend to that.Granger waited anxiously as Weston and his boarding party cast off and headed back to Valiant, as he wanted to have his entire crew here to face the Danes.
“Will they attack us?” Daventry asked Granger.
“Not yet,” Granger said, “The frigate is in the lead, and she would not be in that position if they were going to start firing.”
Weston hauled himself aboard, followed by his crew, who diligently returned to their stations.“That ship is the Juin, sailing from Dunkerque, my lord.She was holed badly below the waterline,” Weston said.“I told them to man the pumps, but there is little chance they’ll be able to keep up with the flooding.”
Granger looked over to the French ship and could see the water cascading out of her, courtesy of her pumps.“How many wounded?”
“My lord, it was like bedlam,” Weston said, shaking his head.“They had no business fighting.They had 200 men aboard, and half of them are dead or will be shortly.”
“That is unfortunate,” Granger said, shaking his head at the idiocy of her captain who had not immediately surrendered.
“Of the remaining 100, 50 are badly wounded.She probably has only 30 fully fit men left at this point, my lord,” Weston said.
“Well, we cannot help her until we deal with our Danish friends,” Granger said, gesturing at the two Danish ships that closed in on them.They hove to, the frigate off Valiant’s larboard stern and the Holsteen off her larboard bow.“Allow us to drift forward,” he said to the helm, which would move Valiant forward enough to cross the Holsteen’s bow.
“They’re sending another boat, my lord,” a lookout called.Granger saw Willemoes in the boat, along with an officer who was probably his senior.
“They’re sending us a post-captain this time, sir,” Kingsdale said with a smile.
“We are evidently now in bigger trouble,” Granger joked back, getting a chuckle from the officers within earshot.Weston hurried to assemble the sideboys and bosun’s mates to properly welcome the Danish captain aboard.He was an older man, but still managed to haul himself up on his own without the need for a bosun’s chair.His entire expression and posture was one of a man who was enraged.Willemoes followed immediately behind him and introduced Granger to the captain of the Holsteen.Arenfelt had no use for such niceties, and began all but shouting at Granger.
“Captain Arenfelt has come here to express his outrage that you would attack a ship in His Danish Majesty’s waters, especially after you were expressly forbidden from traversing them,” Willemoes said.
“Please explain to Captain Arenfelt that we intercepted the French privateer Juin as she was attempting to seize a British merchant vessel,” Granger responded.“If he wishes to express outrage, he should address it to the French who would allow their privateers to prey on British ships in His Danish Majesty’s waters.”
This was interpreted to Arenfelt, who blustered some more.“That does not excuse your seizure of that vessel, my lord,” Willemoes said.Granger had a feeling the young Danish lieutenant was significantly editing the comments his chief was making, based on how long it took Arenfelt to articulate points that Willemoes clipped down to a simple sentence.
“In fact, it does,” Granger said.“His Britannic Majesty’s warships are well within their rights to protect and defend His Britannic Majesty’s merchant ships from attack and seizure in any waters.Further, His Britannic Majesty has the right to expect that when those merchant ships are peacefully engaged in trade in His Danish Majesty’s waters, His Danish Majesty’s ships should work to ensure they are not attacked or seized by other ships.Please point out to Captain Arenfelt that I was doing the job he was supposed to be doing, since he had failed in accomplishing his duty.”
Willemoes swallowed hard before interpreting that.It was amusing to watch Arenfelt’s eyes bulge larger and larger as Granger’s words were explained to him.It seemed as if he must surely explode, but instead, he stood there, fuming for a few seconds, then became remarkably calm.He muttered something to Willemoes, who seemed surprised, the turned to Granger.“Captain Arenfelt suggests that the best resolution to this issue is for you to leave His Danish Majesty’s waters as soon as possible, and that you leave behind this French ship.”
Granger glanced over at the French ship, which was already substantially lower in the water.“That is acceptable,” he said.“As soon as you have left our ship, we will re-stow our boats and continue on our voyage.”
They both bowed, although Arenfelt’s gesture was perfunctory at best, and went over the side.“Mr. Weston, please get us on a course south-southeast, then I will thank you to retrieve the boats.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said.Valiant came into the wind smoothly as she spread her mains and topgallants, leaving the Danes and the Frenchman behind.
“We seem to have lost another prize,” Daventry joked.“I fear Admiral Dickson will be even more vexed with you.”
“I think the Danes think they have acquired something of value,” Granger said, gesturing to where boats from the two Danish ships hurried toward the French privateer.
“It is possible they could salvage her, isn’t it?” Daventry asked.
“It is possible, but I cannot see where they would benefit from the effort,” Granger responded.“They will also have to handle quite a few wounded Frenchmen, and I am quite sure they did not plan on that.”
“Well, it is a most auspicious beginning to our voyage, but we certainly aren’t making any friends,” Daventry quipped.
“I did not think any of these people were pre-disposed to be our friends anyway,” Granger observed.His stomach grumbled, reminding him that he had not yet had breakfast and it was past dinner time.“Pass the word for Winkler!”
It took almost no time for Winkler to appear.“You sent for me, my lord?”
“I am almost starving now that I am in your care again,” Granger said, but less pleasantly than normal, because he was indeed quite hungry.
“And as with most things, my lord, I have anticipated your wishes,” he said in that slightly insubordinate way that only he could get away with.“Since your cabin is not yet restored, we are setting up a table on the poop deck for you to dine.”
Granger looked beyond him to see Jacobs and another man lugging up a table and two chairs, clearly including Daventry in their equation.“I will make allowances for the fact that we all but sank a Frenchman.”
“I am most obliged, my lord,” Winkler said, even as he went to bring Granger’s food up to him.
“Mr. Weston, you may return the ship to her normal state and pipe the hands to dinner,” Granger ordered.“Lord Daventry, would you care to join me?”
“It would be my pleasure,” he said, and followed Granger up to the poop deck.
“I think we should enjoy this weather, as it most definitely will not last,” Granger said, appreciating the warm breeze that blew past them.
“I daresay you’re right,” he said, as he took his seat, then resumed their previous conversation.“I am not concerned about making friends with these Northern Countries, but I have taken Cavendish’s words to heart, and I would note that they mirrored what I had heard in England before we left, and that is that Sweden is most likely to be friendly to us.”
“I would imagine that all four of these allied powers - Russia, Denmark, Sweden, and Prussia – will be eying each other with considerable suspicion and distrust,” Granger said.“Any overt help the Swedes or Prussians give us would infuriate the Russians or Danes.”
“My information suggests that it is a bit more focused than that,” Daventry said.“Russia is the giant in the room, as it were, and has an oversized influence on her neighbors.So even if the other three disagree, they will still make an effort to go along with her.”
“You make her seem much like the school bully,” Granger said.