Granger had known that there was something wrong with Cavendish, but he hadn’t realized the depth of the problem.It had been a week since he’d read the letter from him, and the contents had plagued him on almost all of his off-duty hours.He had grown more irritable, although only Winkler would have noticed.Granger piled the guilt for how he’d treated Winkler onto the overall anxiety he felt for Cavendish.
He shook off his self-torture, walked to the rear of the poop deck and stared off at the line of ships that dutifully followed the flagship.Today, Ville de Paris was leading the lot of them, so he was able to see the twenty or so other battleships arrayed behind her in rigid order.He wondered if he were in London, talking to Cavendish, what advice he would give him?It would be easy to suggest that he surrender and marry Miss Barnett.It would certainly make his father happy, and it would certainly enhance his net worth.Granger thought about those benefits, then compared them to life with Lady Elgin, the person Cavendish had cited as being most like Miss Barnett.Rather than being saddled with such a shrew, Granger would probably have refused to marry her as well, even though that went against all of his training, all of his mores.If Cavendish didn’t marry her, as he was obviously contemplating, he would make an enemy of this woman’s family.Granger suspected that there was more than just money involved in this marriage; there was probably a political bargain attached as well.That would now come apart, and those people would also have knives drawn for Cavendish.And to top it all off, his father was one of the most powerful people in the realm, and to have him irked would make Cavendish’s life difficult, to say the least.
Granger wanted to pace the deck, but the quarterdeck was crowded this morning, and Granger didn’t want company.He couldn’t pace on the poop deck lest it irritate Captain Grey, who was directly below him.He smiled to himself as he realized that he felt like a caged lion, and pondered that this must be how Pellew felt every day he was tied to the Channel Fleet.
“My lord,” Midshipman Bleston said gently, interrupting his thoughts.He was much more polished than Evans.
“This note just arrived for you, my lord,” he said, and handed Granger a sealed envelope.
“Thank you,” Granger said, dismissing him.He tore open the note and found that it was from Captain Sawyer.He had sent an invitation over to Renown for Hornblower to join him for dinner, so he was surprised to get a response from Sawyer instead.
I have denied Lieutenant Hornblower’s request to transit to Ville de Paris to dine with you. His duties aboard this ship require his presence and uninterrupted attention.
Granger stared at the brief note, stunned by Sawyer’s response.Surely Sawyer must have known that Granger invited Hornblower with St. Vincent’s acquiescence, since he was dining with the admiral.To so boldly defy St. Vincent, even indirectly through Granger, was a very daring move on his part, and one that was most likely unwise.There were rumors that Sawyer was slightly deranged, and this seemed to provide some confirmation of that.
Granger took his note and headed down to meet with his admiral, filled with dread at how he would react to this.What should have been a normal invitation would now most likely land him in hot water because he had been impolite in not inviting Sawyer as well, or it would land Sawyer in hot water, and that would no doubt reverberate back onto Hornblower.He walked in to find St. Vincent sitting calmly at his desk, looking as if he were about to explode.
“I was just about to select an officer to work off my bad temper, Granger.Your arrival is most convenient,” St. Vincent snarled.
“I would gladly be your whipping boy, sir,” Granger said, “but I fear I have come instead to vex you further.”
“You’re a brave soul, indeed,” St. Vincent said, but their exchange had the remarkable impact of moderating his anger a bit.
“Thank you, sir,” Granger said.He handed Sawyer’s note to St. Vincent, who looked at Granger, then at the note, then at Granger again.
“This is one of the many reasons why I discourage social calls between ships,” he bellowed.
“Yes, sir,” Granger agreed, even though he didn’t agree with St. Vincent’s approach on that topic.Quite frankly, he’d felt rather cheated, being attached to this fleet without a chance to really connect with some of his fellow captains.He had truly enjoyed his conversations with Pellew, frigate captain to frigate captain, yet here in this very fleet Sir Richard Strachan was commanding Captain, Nelson’s old flagship at the Battle of St. Vincent, and he was another of Britain’s best frigate captains.Nelson had coined the group of captains with him at the Battle of the Nile his ‘Band of Brothers’, and Granger was proud to be part of that esteemed cadre.There were other ‘Brothers’ here as well, including Thomas Foley, who had led the line and ingeniously crossed Guerrier’s bows, then attacked the French from the inshore position.The most senior captain of them all on that day, Saumarez was also here, commanding one of those splendid 80-gun ships, the Caesar. Captain Sutton, the man who had helped Granger deal with the accursed Corsicans, was here in command of Prince.Also part of this fleet were other officers whom Granger knew socially, like Lord Henry Paulet, who commanded the Defense.It would have been a much more pleasant assignment if he were able to interact with his fellow captains, and Granger was sure he could have learned much from the sages who commanded these ships.
“Why would Sawyer deny your request?Does he hate you?” St. Vincent demanded, forcing Granger’s mind back onto the topic at hand.
“He is not among the considerable train of enemies I have managed to accumulate, sir,” Granger said.“At least not that I know of.”
“Well we will deal with this problem later.I have a more pressing issue to handle now.”
“Sir?” Granger asked, as St. Vincent seemed to want him to.
“I have sent Admiral Berkeley a letter advising him that I wanted him to be closer to Brest, farther up the Goulet channel.He has responded by sending me a copy of the charts of that channel, pointing out the limits he has set for his squadron.”St. Vincent tossed the chart to Granger, who eyed it with surprise.Berkeley was indeed being very cautious, staying much further away from shoals than was necessary.“He even had the temerity to question the veracity of these charts!”
“Did he not know that it was you who did the soundings for these, sir?” Granger asked.St. Vincent had created these charts himself.
“Either he did not, which exposes his ignorance, or he did, which means he is clearly insulting me!” St. Vincent shouted.
“That would appear to be a bold approach, sir,” Granger said, then smiled.“I think that perhaps Admiral Berkeley is the bravest of all of us.”
St. Vincent looked at him, trying not to smile, but in the end, he had to let that expression break through.It seemed to clear his mind, and then as it faded, it was replaced by a look of grim resolve.“Come along, Granger.”
“Aye aye, sir,” Granger said, and followed St. Vincent up to the quarterdeck.
“Sir Thomas, Captain Grey, we will be closing with the shore to look into Brest ourselves,” St. Vincent announced.That was an unusual occurrence, but those two officers managed to appear remarkably unfazed by St. Vincent’s orders.
“Aye aye, my lord,” they chimed.
“Sir Thomas, I would be obliged if you would signal the fleet to maintain position on the flagship,” St. Vincent ordered.
“Aye aye, my lord,” he responded.The flags soared up the Ville de Paris’s yards, soon to be acknowledged by the other ships.That was duly relayed back to St. Vincent.
“Signal the fleet to wear in succession,” St. Vincent ordered.“Captain Grey, I’d be obliged if you would set a course due east.”The signal was run up, and as soon as the other ships acknowledged, Grey began giving orders to put the Ville de Paris on her new course, and the signal came down.When the signal was lowered, that was the moment it was to be implemented.Ville de Paris leaned over and put her broad shoulder into the water, as it were, as she turned some 90 degrees toward Brest.Grey was focused on attending to the braces, trimming them to catch the wind on this new course, while the ship behind her waited until she was in virtually the same place as Ville de Paris before she too wore ship and trailed after the flagship.The fleet executed the maneuver perfectly as if they were beads on a string moving in unison, a true testament to the changes St. Vincent had already brought to this formerly somewhat undisciplined force.
And so, on this beautiful summer day, the Channel Fleet closed the shore.Granger could imagine the surprise of the inshore squadron when they found their main fleet sailing toward them, wondering what this unusual maneuver foretold.It took them some three hours to close with the inshore squadron, but St. Vincent made no signals to Berkeley or his ships.Instead, he took his ships beyond them, much closer to the shore than he had told Berkeley to go, then tacked into the wind and sailed around the inshore squadron and back out to resume his station off shore.With that one gesture, he had shown Berkeley that it was perfectly safe to close with the shore, but he had done it by humiliating Berkeley in front of the entire fleet.
HMS Ville de Paris
Near the Black Rocks, Brest, France
A week had passed since St. Vincent’s embarrassment of Admiral Berkeley, one that had not been uneventful.Admiral Berkeley had submitted a letter to St. Vincent, asking to be relieved of his command so he could return home and attend to his health, which he claimed was causing him some significant problems.That was the standard reason for an officer to escape from some unpleasant duty, so it was hard to know if Berkeley was legitimately ill or if he was merely trying to escape the Channel Fleet.St. Vincent had written a gracious response to him, and asked him to remain at his post until the Admiralty named a successor.
Granger had been surprised that St. Vincent had taken no action as regards Sawyer’s letter to him, which was fine with him.If it were up to Granger, he would prefer that the entire matter would just be forgotten.Granger suspected, though, that St. Vincent would nurse his ill feelings toward Sawyer until a time came to fully vent them.It was his way.Granger thanked his lucky stars yet again that he’d managed to get on St. Vincent’s good side and stay there.St. Vincent was the type of person who seemed to get an impression of an individual or an institution, and that impression would remain, unless there was some spectacular event to change his mind.Granger didn’t see Sawyer drumming up anything sufficient to get the old admiral to adjust his perceptions.
Today was a busy day, as St. Vincent was putting the fleet through evolutions.It was a stressful time, but not a hard one, as the officers on board the ships were fully familiar with various fleet maneuvers. They were not learning things anew; they were merely practicing their skills. They were also fortunate in that the seas were relatively calm, and winds were light. “Order the fleet to tack together,” St. Vincent told Troubridge.
“Aye aye, my lord,” Troubridge said, and passed that order onto the flag lieutenant.This maneuver could be relatively intricate, in that the fleet would go from sailing due north, to sailing due south, with every ship all but turning in place.Ville de Paris was in the center of the line, immediately followed by the Defense, the Renown, and the Dragon, all of them 74s.The signals flew up the halliards, announcing to the fleet the intended maneuver.
“My lord, look at Renown!” Mr. Bleston called.They all turned aft to stare at Renown, which had begun her evolution to tack.The protocol was invariable, in that a signal was hoisted to let the ships know what was expected, but it wasn’t to be executed until the signal was lowered.As if in unison, all their eyes looked back up to the masthead to make sure the signal was still flying.Then, seeing that it was, they turned back to watch Renown continue with her tack, while Dragon wore away from her, trying to avoid colliding with this errant ship in front of her.
Dragon was commanded by Captain Campbell, a man Granger had had a very unpleasant encounter with when he’d first taken Belvidera to Gibraltar and Campbell had been in command of Lydia.He had no high opinion of the man, but he had an even lower opinion of Sawyer.Still, Granger had to give Campbell his grudging approval, for he’d been preparing to tack and had been forced to completely alter his maneuver to dodge Renown.He’d done as well as anyone could, but it wasn’t enough, and there was the sound of a crash as Dragon’s bowsprit collided with Renown’s spanker, locking the two ships together.
“Signal the fleet to heave to,” St. Vincent snarled, truly enraged by this collision that had ruined his exercises and damaged two of the ships under his command.He would be even more irritated that the collision was caused by such an idiotic error.The other ships hove to, and all telescopes were aimed at Renown and Dragon, where considerable confusion and evidently a lot of cursing and gesturing were the preferred actions.It took an hour for the ships to separate themselves, an hour during which they endured the intense scrutiny of the other officers of the fleet, although most of those stares were fixated on Renown, as the obviously errant ship.
Granger watched Sawyer, and it seemed to him, at least from this distance, as if the man was coming unglued.It was a surreal moment, as St. Vincent and all the rest of them just watched the nightmare unfold without saying anything.It was as if no one spoke lest they spark a very volatile reaction from St. Vincent.In the end, unsurprisingly, it was Troubridge who gathered the courage to risk such a response.“Sir, shall we summon Captains Campbell and Sawyer aboard?” Troubridge prompted.
“I’m tempted to have a noose run from the main yard first,” St. Vincent growled.Granger stifled his laugh, as did most of the other officers. They were all visibly relieved, since it would seem that St. Vincent’s initial storm, his fury, had broken. “Signal them to come aboard.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Troubridge said, and the signals streamed up the halliards again, this time summoning the collided captains to meet with their irate admiral.
“Sir Thomas, you and Lord Granger can join me as I attempt to determine what exactly went wrong,” St. Vincent said.“You may bring them back when they arrive.”St. Vincent went below to his cabin, while Granger, Grey, and Troubridge huddled together.
“It was an easy enough evolution,” Grey said, shaking his head.
“I suspect that Sawyer will attempt to pin the blame onto his officers,” Troubridge noted.
“I am reminded of the court martial of Captain Haynes in the Mediterranean,” Granger said.That had been his first and only court martial, and it had been his first time serving as a judge.
“Maybe we can cashier Sawyer like we did Haynes,” Grey said.
“Let us reserve judgment until we know all the facts, gentlemen,” Troubridge said severely, trying to be the even-handed sage. It was a wasted effort considering Sawyer had committed such an obvious error.
Granger went to the entry port to greet the first of the captains to arrive, and found that it was Campbell.“It is good to see you again, my lord,” he said in a friendly way.
“It is good to see you as well, Captain,” Granger said cautiously.
“I haven’t had a chance to apologize to you for our encounter in Gibraltar.I was out of sorts, having to deal with Governor O’Hara, my lord,” Campbell said.He was trying to heal the wounds of their first meeting, but his motives were so evidently false it was so much nonsense.Campbell was only being this polite because he wanted and needed allies on the flagship at this point, but he’d tried to blame his prior bad mood on O’Hara, who was a good friend of Granger’s.Granger chose to let the whole incident pass, even though it did nothing to enhance his overall opinion of Campbell.
“Think nothing of it, Captain.We have other things to worry about besides past perceived slights,” Granger said pleasantly, getting a smile from Campbell.Internally, Granger was rolling his eyes.Granger led Campbell into St. Vincent’s cabin, where the admiral sat at his desk, glowering at both of them.
“When Captain Sawyer arrives, I will hear of this collision,” St. Vincent snapped, cutting short any chatter that Campbell may have been planning to utter.Granger used the time to get them all a glass of wine, and prepared one in advance for Troubridge and Sawyer.By the time Granger had accomplished that, Troubridge led Sawyer into the cabin.Sawyer was clearly agitated, so much that there was sweat on his brow.
“A glass for you gentlemen,” Granger said smoothly, handing them their libations, and then took his seat next to Campbell.
“I will hear from you first, Campbell,” St. Vincent said.
“My lord, we were preparing to tack when Renown came into the wind. I immediately ordered Dragon to larboard her helm, and my first lieutenant adeptly attended to the braces.I don’t think we could have avoided a collision,” Campbell said succinctly.
“It must be quite a luxury to have a competent first lieutenant,” Sawyer mumbled.
“Captain Sawyer, I have not directed a single question to you,” St. Vincent said sharply.“Unsolicited comments are not welcome.”
“Aye aye, my lord,” Sawyer said, not completely cowed.
“Do either of you gentlemen have any comments?” St. Vincent asked Granger and Troubridge, even though his tone said he really didn’t want any.Troubridge said nothing, but Granger decided to toss Campbell a bone, as it were.
“Sir, I was impressed with how effectively Dragon reacted, and I think that if a collision were avoidable, she would have dodged it,” Granger said.That comment predictably enough got a scowl from Sawyer and an appreciative look from Campbell.
“A good observation,” St. Vincent said, which all but gave Campbell dispensation for any responsibility for the collision.“And how is Dragon, Captain?”
“Our bowsprit has been damaged, and will most likely need to be replaced, my lord,” Campbell said.That would mean returning to port, a nice consolation prize.
“I think, Captain, that you did as well as anyone could have in dodging Renown,” St. Vincent pronounced.“I will give you leave to return to your ship and attempt to make repairs.If that is not possible, you may return to port.”
“Thank you, my lord,” Campbell said, the relief evident in his voice.“We have been trying to do just that, but I fear we will need the assistance of the dockyard.”St. Vincent’s eyes narrowed, since it was typical of his captains to try to find excuses to return to port, but under the circumstances, he didn’t make an issue out of it.
“Then you will remain with the fleet until I send you dispatches and any additional orders,” St. Vincent said, then stared at Campbell until he realized he’d been dismissed, then he all but fled from the cabin, leaving half of his glass of wine on the side table.With Campbell gone, St. Vincent zeroed in on Sawyer.
“Perhaps you can tell me, Captain Sawyer, how it is possible for you to fail to execute one of the simpler fleet evolutions, an error which has damaged two of His Majesty’s battleships and has all but destroyed the reputation of your ship in this fleet?” St. Vincent demanded of Sawyer in what was almost a shout.
“My lord, I was misled by the ineptness of my officers,” Sawyer said plaintively.
“Indeed?” St. Vincent asked, as if he actually believed the man.
“My first lieutenant, Mr. Buckland, was the one who was working with the signal lieutenant, Mr. Hornblower,” Sawyer said, giving Granger almost a smarmy look as he did.Evidently Sawyer viewed Granger as Hornblower’s protector, which would certainly do Hornblower no good in this situation, and would cause him problems as long as he was serving under Sawyer.“They told me that the signal had been given to tack the ship, so I did.”
“You could not see the signal flying?” St. Vincent demanded.
“I made the mistake of relying on my officers, my lord,” Sawyer said.“They abused my trust, and embarrassed my ship.It is a mistake I will not make again.”
“I wonder if these officers would corroborate your version of events, Captain,” St. Vincent said coldly.
“I doubt that they would, my lord.I’m sure by now, they’ve gotten together behind my back, and they’ve worked out a version of what happened that makes it seem that it was my fault alone,” Sawyer said.“I’ll know if they met, because the crew will tell me.”
“The problem, Captain, is that the responsibility is yours alone, and you were supposed to be aware of what was going on,” St. Vincent said.“You would have me believe that these officers suddenly became mutinous and set you up for humiliation in the eyes of the fleet?”
“My lord, this is not the first time I’ve had cause to question those two,” Sawyer said with disdain.
“Then, Captain, it shows remarkably poor judgment on your part to trust men whom you already considered to be miscreants,” St. Vincent said.Granger had to admire the way the old admiral had conducted this interview.
“My lord…” Sawyer began, but St. Vincent cut him off.
“I do not find your excuses credible, Captain,” St. Vincent said, all but calling Sawyer a liar.If Sawyer had a spine, he’d have challenged St. Vincent, but he didn’t have that kind of courage.“I can only see one reason for you to fail to properly execute such a simple maneuver.”
“My lord?” Sawyer asked, confused.
“You must be ailing,” St. Vincent said.
“I do not feel ill, my lord,” Sawyer objected, which got a frustrated look from St. Vincent.
“Captain, if you are ill, we can dispense with a court martial over this issue, and you can ultimately use that as a reason to save your reputation.I can assure you that disparaging the officers under your command is a much less credible defense, and does more to harm your reputation than theirs,” St. Vincent said coldly.
Sawyer stared at him blankly, not understanding, which is when Troubridge stepped in.“Captain, His Lordship is offering you a reasonable way to put this incident behind you.I would recommend that you take it.”
“I have been feeling out of sorts, my lord,” Sawyer said, with a conspiratorial grin, which was one of the more unattractive things Granger had seen.
“I am sorry to hear that you are unwell,” St. Vincent pronounced.“I am sending Renown back to Portsmouth for repairs, but I will not dispatch her until another ship returns to replace her,” St. Vincent pronounced.
“I will attempt to recover while we are at sea, my lord,” Sawyer said, thinking he was playing along with St. Vincent’s strategy.
“I think that is most unwise, and in fact, for your own benefit as well as for the benefit of the fleet, I insist that you return to England aboard Dragon,” St. Vincent said.Granger was impressed with how deftly St. Vincent had managed to remove Sawyer from his command, and a glance at Troubridge and his barely concealed smile showed he was thinking the same thing.
“But I will be separated from my ship, my lord,” Sawyer objected, his agitation growing as he only now realized the trap he’d been led into.
“For someone as unwell as you, Captain, I think that is for the best,” St. Vincent said.“It will look better if you do this voluntarily, but I am quite willing to make it an order.”
“I understand, my lord,” Sawyer said grudgingly.
“I am glad you finally have clarity, Captain,” St. Vincent said coldly, showing all of them how contemptuously he felt about Sawyer, and then he dropped his next bombshell on them. “Lord Granger, you will assume command of Renown until she is delivered safely to Plymouth or Portsmouth.”Granger had followed and had even anticipated the trap his admiral was leading Sawyer into, but he had no idea that he’d end up commanding a battleship as a result of this whole affair.
“Aye aye, sir,” Granger said automatically, even as he grappled with this situation.
“Captain Sawyer, you will return to Renown with Captain Troubridge, collect your things, and transfer over to Dragon immediately,” St. Vincent ordered.No one moved for almost a minute.“Were my orders not clear?”
“Of course they were, my lord,” Troubridge said, and stood up.Sawyer stood as well, and followed him a bit reluctantly from the cabin.
Granger watched them leave, then was further surprised when St. Vincent got up as well.“Join me, Granger.”
“Certainly, sir,” Granger said, and followed St. Vincent over to his quarter gallery, where they each sat in one of the admiral’s incredibly comfortable leather chairs.
“I think it is important that you understand my actions in this matter, since they directly involve you, and since you will ultimately have to explain things to Lord Spencer,” St. Vincent said in his pleasant manner, one that was so rare it brought Granger’s self-preservation instincts to maximum strength.
“I would appreciate your insights, sir.”
“You are of course aware of how commands are allocated,” St. Vincent said conversationally.“While Spencer certainly is the most influential of the decision makers, Their Lordships of the Admiralty make such decisions collectively.”
“Yes, sir,” Granger said, since he did in fact know that.
“Captain Sawyer is a protégé of Admiral Mann’s,” St. Vincent said.Granger almost sighed in exasperation at having the Wilcoxes cause yet more difficulties for the fleet, something he’d dealt with since his entry into the Navy as a young teen.
“I was not aware of that, sir,” Granger said.
“Only I know all of the secrets,” St. Vincent said jokingly.If he was meeting with Nelson, such a comment would have disarmed Granger, but St. Vincent was no Nelson, so Granger kept his guard up.
“I am truly glad Your Lordship is so well informed,” Granger said with a smile.
“I am telling you this because it is likely that Sawyer will end up back in command of Renown,” St. Vincent said.“The officers on that ship who have any influence will no doubt flee the ship like rats from a sinking ship, but I suspect most of them will be stuck there.”
“That is unfortunate, sir,” Granger said honestly.
“I am giving you command of Renown because I want you to evaluate them.Your opinion will matter when Sawyer ultimately decides to charge them with some malfeasance, which I suspect is inevitable,” St. Vincent said.
“In essence, I am to vouch for their abilities and conduct, sir?” Granger clarified.
“In essence,” St. Vincent confirmed.“I would think you would be glad of a chance to save the skins of otherwise competent officers.”
“I am, sir,” Granger said.
“In any event, it will no longer be my problem,” St. Vincent said.
“Sir?” Granger asked.If Renown was part of the Channel Fleet, then the issue would remain St. Vincent’s problem.
“I will be sending a letter to Spencer and the other Lords of the Admiralty telling them that, personally, I think Sawyer should be cashiered and sent to rot on the shore,” St. Vincent said, his tone now vicious and angry.“And I will further explain to Their Eminences that if they do send him back to the Channel Fleet, upon his arrival, I will be lowering my flag.”
“Then I suspect we will not see Captain Sawyer back in the Channel Fleet, sir,” Granger said, smiling slightly.
“One can hope, but I would like you to make that point very clear to Spencer when you meet with him,” St. Vincent said.“They can send Sawyer somewhere else, and if that means that I lose Renown in the process, so be it.With Sawyer as her commander, this fleet is worse for her presence than it would be without her.”
“I understand, sir, and I will endeavor to make sure that Lord Spencer fully understands your antipathy to Captain Sawyer,” Granger said.
“Then I will leave you to go see what it is like to command a ship of the line,” St. Vincent said with a smile.
“The last battleship I commanded was a first rate, sir, so I will try not to be offended at being given a mere 74-gun ship,” Granger joked.
“Perhaps you would prefer Glory?” St. Vincent asked, referring to the 98-gun three-decker that was a notoriously bad sailer.
“Renown will be just fine, sir,” Granger said hastily, then took his leave of St. Vincent and went to pack his things.