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    Mark Arbour
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Northern Exposure - 21. Chapter 21

October 30, 1800

 

HMS Valiant

 

The Gulf of Finland

 

 

 

 

It had been twenty minutes since they’d heard one of Grenfell’s bombs explode. “I counted fifteen, my lord,” Meurice said.

“That is quite good,” Granger said. That meant that only five of the bombs they’d constructed had failed to explode. “We will hope they find the brig to be just as big of a surprise.”

“I would expect her to be igniting soon, my lord,” Meurice said. And so they stared around themselves, waiting to see the burning brig, or waiting to engage the Boleslav. The darkness and the mist were maddening.

“My lord, I think I see a glow off the starboard quarter,” a lookout called. They all turned their heads as if in unison, and saw that the lookout was indeed correct. The brig had fired herself, and what was a glow rapidly grew larger and larger.

“It’s hard to tell, my lord, but I think I see one of those Russian battleships beyond her,” Weston said.

Granger aimed his glass at the burning brig, but it was difficult to discern. The brig was like a torch lighting up the night, but the mist was a blanket, dulling that light to the area immediately surrounding it. “You may be right, but I cannot tell,” Granger replied. He was of a mind to set off a flare, but it would probably do no good. If a burning brig could not shed light on her surroundings, a mere flare would be much less effective.

After that, the night was calm and cold, with the men mostly huddled below except for the unfortunate lookouts. It was a strange situation, since they could not really relax lest one of the Russian battleships appear in front of them, but the darkness and the mist made spotting such a ship almost impossible. It wasn’t until an hour before dawn that Granger spurred his weary crew into action. “Mr. Weston, send the men to breakfast.”

“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. They allocated thirty minutes to get the men fed, while Granger took that opportunity to go down to the main deck and eat a quick bite himself. It was only when he was out of the cold that he realized how frozen he was, and when he was done breaking his fast, his body all but rebelled against the thought of going back into the bitter weather. He forced himself up the ladder, fueling himself with motivation at the thought of the battle that he would have to fight.

“Let’s get the hands to quarters,” Granger said, and Weston gave the corresponding orders. The men hustled up from below and took their stations next to their guns, braving the piercingly cold weather.

“I think I shall relish a posting to the West Indies after this,” Weston growled to Genarro.

“You will find no disagreement from me on that account, sir,” Genarro said, and so cold was he one could hear his teeth chattering between the words.

A seaman, one of the men stationed on the forward smasher, suddenly appeared in front of Granger. “My lord, I thought I saw the loom of something off the starboard bow.”

“Hercule, let’s have a flare,” Granger ordered. “Stand to your guns!”

Hercule only took a minute to fire the flare, which Granger thought was a good mark on his performance. He’d clearly anticipated they might need a flare and had one handy. The orb of light soared into the air, illuminating the area around them and beyond. “Ship of the line off the starboard bow!” came a shout from the front. The Boleslav was so close, she was within musket range. If they hadn’t launched the flare, Valiant would probably have collided with her. They heard corresponding shouts on board the Russian ship as they spotted their prey. Granger smiled in a mildly sinister way, deciding they would see who was the hunted, and who was the hunter.

“Mr. Weston, a turn on the capstan,” Granger ordered. With the spring, that was accomplished as quickly as if she were sailing. Granger waited until Valiant had moved so that her broadside faced the Russian ship. “Fire as you bear!”

Valiant’s broadside, double-shotted and prepared with care, blasted into the bow of the Boleslav, even as she tried to turn to bring her own guns to bear. “That’s given him a bloody nose,” Daventry commented.

“Mr. Weston, cut the cable and take out the reefs in the topsail,” Granger ordered. Taking men from the larboard side guns, Weston handled his orders beautifully. The starboard guns maintained their fire, even as Boleslav worked to bring her own broadside to bear. Granger was conscious that Valiant’s cable was cut as he felt the ship move gently on her own power, and he felt the slight increase in speed as her topsails were fully loosed. Boleslav was sailing close to the wind, so she turned slightly to larboard, making Granger smile at the opportunity she was going to present shortly. In the meantime, the ships maneuvered slowly in these light winds, and that allowed Valiant’s guns to fire again, then again, before the Boleslav could return her fire.

The side of the Russian ship lit up as her guns fired, and then her broadside smashed into Valiant. He heard the screams, saw the damage, even as he remained focused on the battle. One of the carronades on the quarterdeck had been completely upended, while miraculously no one around the gun had been hurt. “Mr. Weston, we will continue to exchange fire with her, then we will cross her stern,” Granger said, telling Weston his plan in case he was stricken down.

“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. Another broadside from the Russian shot loose their main yard, which dove through the netting and speared a seaman who had been attending to his gun. Valiant returned fire, and that distracted Granger from the horrible vision in front of him.

“Hercule!” Granger shouted, getting the bosun’s attention.

“My lord?”

“Another flare, this one aimed aft,” Granger ordered. He wanted to know what happened to those other Russian battleships, and whether they’d be joining the action shortly or not.

“Aye aye, my lord,” Hercule said, and rigged his flare, aiming it aft of Valiant, while the Valiant and Boleslav continued to exchange broadsides. Despite her lighter guns, Boleslav was still slower in firing than Valiant, and the damage she would be enduring courtesy of her more pliable sides would be significant.

The other flare went off and Granger turned his attention aft, staring into the night to try and see the other Russian ships. The vision that revealed itself made him smile, for their bombs had so disoriented and frightened the Russians that both Pyotr and Vsevolod had cut their cables and run aground. Their fire brig was drifting toward Pyotr, which was well aware of the risk that ship presented. Her guns were firing at the brig, but the little ship had seemingly gotten so close to the battleship that it was questionable whether she would sink the brig before the brig torched her. Granger was about to ask Hercule to fire another flare when the brig exploded. Granger surmised that one of Pyotr’s guns had hit the store of gunpowder left on the brig, but the explosion could just have likely have been set off by the fire on the brig. Regardless, that would have caused Pyotr no small amount of damage. Satisfied that the ships behind him were no longer a threat, Granger turned his attention back to the battle in front of him.

Valiant was moving slowly past Boleslav, and the Russian ship seemed to suddenly realize the predicament that she was in. “Two points to starboard,” Granger ordered, guiding Valiant across her stern. If Boleslav tried to match Valiant’s moves, she would sail directly into the wind and be all aback. If she wore ship, she would expose her stern to Valiant’s broadsides. “Mr. Grenfell, we are about to cross her stern. Prepare your guns with care. Double-shotted and grape as well!”

“Aye aye, my lord,” Grenfell replied. Valiant’s guns fell silent temporarily, even as the rearmost guns of the Russian ship blazed out. Boleslav slowly began to turn away from them, wearing ship, exposing her vulnerable stern with that strange Cyrillic alphabet announcing to anyone who could read it what her name was.

“Fire as your guns bear,” Granger ordered, releasing Valiant’s men to pour their fire into Boleslav’s most vulnerable part. He watched as the forward smasher fired, her ball flying through Boleslav’s stern and bursting inside. That shot alone would cause frightful damage, but the Russians had no time to recover as the rest of the broadside followed the smasher.

“I think that those gunsights on the carronades have significantly improved our aim, my lord,” Weston said conversationally, even as the guns around them roared out.

“I agree, and we must remember to commend Mr. Grenfell,” Granger said.

“Her mizzen’s coming down!” came a shout from the focs’l, and while that did not deter the gunners from continuing to fire at Boleslav, it did attract the attention of the officers. The mizzen had fallen across her deck and draped over her larboard side, so even as Valiant edged past her stern, her rear broadside guns were unable to fire because of they were blocked by the wreckage.

Granger watched the Russian battleship work to repair her damage, just as Valiant’s guns roared out again, and then before the Russian ship could respond, the entire ship seemed to shudder for a second, and then she exploded. The ship seemed to break open like an egg, with a fireball soaring up like a flying yoke. No sooner had that picture been etched in their minds than their ears were rent with the sound of tons of gunpowder going off at virtually the same time. Then finally they were hit with a hot shockwave, as the energy of the explosion traversed the short distance from Boleslav to Valiant. Everyone on deck stared at the spectacle, temporarily stunned and motionless.

Embers and debris landed in Valiant’s rigging and ignited her main topsail, jarring them into action. “We’ll need fire parties at once,” Granger ordered, even as Weston had started rallying the crew to fight this new nemesis. Fire was the biggest danger they could face, much worse than Russian broadsides, and it was all Granger could do to calm the panic flying through his body. He called down to the main deck. “Mr. Grenfell, secure your guns and send your men up here to fight the fires!”

“Aye aye, my lord,” he said. He began a bucket brigade and even more helpfully, rigged the wash-deck pump to pour frigid water onto the expanding flames and the canvas that had not yet been ignited. At the same time, topmen soared up the fore and mizzen masts to take in those sails lest they catch fire as well.

“Mr. Kingsdale!”

“Sir?” the young lieutenant asked as he hurried to see what Granger wanted.

“Take the launch and the cutter and see if you can find any live Russians. You’ll have to hurry. In these frigid waters they’ll be dead shortly.”

“Aye aye, sir,” Kingsdale said, and scurried off to do that. It was easier and faster than might be imagined, since Valiant was towing her boats astern, so they had merely to pull the small vessels up to Valiant and board them.

Granger, along with Weston and Grenfell, supervised the firefighting until they had finally doused the burning sail, and the odd other embers that had tried to root themselves in Valiant’s flammable timbers. Granger barely remembered to stifle his sigh of relief when they’d finally mastered that challenge. “I’ll get a new main tops’l rigged up, my lord,” the sailmaker said, even as the tattered remains of the old one were lowered to the deck.

“I fear there is little left to salvage from that one,” Granger said with a rueful grin. “Mr. Weston, let us return the ship to normal, and light the galley fire.”

“Aye aye, my lord,” Weston said. Granger consulted with Schein, and they devised a new course. Even as the ship was being secured from action, they managed to set the fore and mizzen topsails and mains and point her in the right direction: due west.

Granger took a moment to take stock of their situation, now that it was fully light and the mist had mostly faded. Kingsdale’s boats were hovering around the charred remains of the Boleslav, attempting to rescue the few seamen who had survived the explosion. Granger moved his glass aft to study the other two Russian battleships. The Vsevolod was trying to kedge herself off the shoal she’d grounded on, but even if they could haul her off and get her underway, she was no longer a threat to Valiant. Pyotr was in much worse shape. The brig must have been close to her when it exploded, and Granger fancied he could see boards stove in along her side, a testament to the force of the blast. He decided that based on what he’d learned about Russian ships and their construction, she was unlikely to fight again.

“My lord,” Dr. Jackson said, interrupting Granger’s visual analysis of the vanquished Russians.

“Doctor,” Granger said as he lowered his glass, to let him know he had his attention.

“We lost two men killed, and four wounded, my lord. The wounded will most likely recover,” he said.

“Not too expensive,” Granger said. At least not compared to the Russian losses, he thought silently, as he stared over to what had once been the Boleslav. He saw the boats returning with some bedraggled men in them. “You will have some Russians to attend to as well.”

“I suspect the thing they will need the most is warmth, my lord,” he said. “It is a good thing the galley fire is lit.”

“I will send them to the galley first,” Granger said. Kingsdale arrived on deck shortly after Jackson scurried below.

“Sir, we were able to save ten Russians,” he said. “I do not think that any of them are officers.”

“You did well, but it is unfortunate there was such a large loss of life,” Granger said sympathetically. The Russian sailors began to arrive on deck, some on their own power, but most in a bosun’s chair. They were hustled off to the galley, where the warmth from the fire would hopefully help to thaw them.

Granger continued to tend to the ship until Winkler interrupted him to alert him that dinner was ready. He followed Winkler aft to his cabin, opening the first door that led to an entry area where Winkler slept, and then the second door, into his main cabin. He smiled as he was greeted by the warmth of his stove, and ironically enough found his teeth chattering in response to the warm stimuli.

“I do not think I will ever be fully warm again,” Daventry said.

“When you are next tasked to go to the tropics, you may look back on this and miss this cool weather,” Granger said.

“This weather is not cool, it is frigid, and I do not think there is enough heat to make me wish for it,” Daventry said. They sat down at Granger’s table and began to devour the food Winkler put in front of them.

“We are on course to clear this bay, then we will head to Riga,” Granger told him.

“I fear that with this latest victory, you will have seriously vexed His Imperial Majesty,” Daventry noted with humor.

“He should be more careful about whom he chooses to start a fight with,” Granger said.

“You destroyed one of his battleships, disabled another, and left yet another aground,” Daventry said. “I doubt he will be very forgiving.”

“I will do my best to avoid his clutches, in any event,” Granger said.

“That was really quite an achievement,” Daventry said. He looked at Granger with admiration, coupled with a smile because he knew how Granger hated praise like this.

“It was mostly luck,” Granger said dismissively.

“It was mostly not,” Daventry said, then they enjoyed a relaxing dinner until duty called Granger back up on deck to ensure all was well with his ship.

Schein approached him, waddling his portly figure across the deck to do so. “My lord, the Russian sailors are not Russian, exactly.”

“Indeed?” Granger asked.

“They are from Courland and Livonia, and they are Germans, my lord,” Schein said.

“I guess that stands to reason,” Granger mused, “since the Boleslav was based in Revel.”

“That is correct, my lord,” Schein answered. “I have spoken to them, and they would prefer to sign on to this ship if your lordship would have them, rather than be returned to Russia.”

“And what is your opinion of these men?” Granger asked, wondering if there were Tsarist spies or saboteurs amongst them.

“They are simple sailors, my lord, and I think they would serve us well,” Schein replied. “Most of them are topmen, which is why they were saved from the explosion.”

“Because they were aloft, and the force of the blast threw them into the water instead of blowing them to pieces?” Granger asked.

“That is my assumption, my lord,” he agreed.

“I think that acquiring ten topmen is a wonderful end to this busy day,” Granger said. “I will leave it to you to work with Mr. Weston to have them sworn in and assigned to a mess.”

“Aye aye, my lord,” Schein said, and waddled away to track down Weston, who was probably below enjoying his own dinner.

 

 

November, 1800

 

HMS Valiant

 

Near The Gulf of Finland

 

 

 

“We should find ourselves off the Gulf of Finland tomorrow,” Granger said to Daventry as they supped. They both instinctively glanced out the stern windows, as if in the blackness of the night they’d see some indication they were close to their destination, then logic reasserted itself and they returned to eating.

“Will you be able to take me to Riga?” Daventry asked.

“I am not sure,” Granger said skeptically. “We have seen the ice floes building. If the wind blows into the gulf, it may push us toward the shore along with the ice, which can then ultimately freeze us in.” Granger had spent a great deal of time with Schein trying to ensure he was aware of the pitfalls of the Baltic winter.

“Would that not happen anywhere in this sea?” Daventry asked.

“I am led to believe that if I remain in the Baltic Sea proper, and I am to the south of Stockholm and St. Petersburg, I should only need to remain cautious of weather conditions to avoid something like that,” Granger noted.

“That would seem to be a wise course of action,” Daventry said.

“I was of a mind to find a craft to take you to Riga, a local vessel, once we neared the bay,” Granger said, although he had no idea how he was going to do that.

“I think much of that depends on our reception at Arensburg,” Daventry said obliquely.

Granger’s eyes narrowed. “What is this place and why is it important?” he demanded. Daventry looked at him, as if trying to decide whether to share his knowledge, which just worsened Granger’s mood. “I would submit that you are obligated to share with me what is facing us, so I can better defend all of us.”

“Quite so,” Daventry said, and dabbed his mouth. They finished dining, then after Winkler and his staff had cleared the table, Daventry spread out a map of the Gulf of Riga. The light from the lantern adequately illuminated it, although Granger had thought he’d almost memorized the thing by now.

“We should be in this area,” Granger said, gesturing to the entrance to the Gulf of Riga.

“This city, Arensburg, is here,” Daventry said, pointing to what looked like an island stuck at the beginning of the gulf as if to guard it. “It seems it was constructed in an attempt to control traffic in and out of the Gulf of Riga.”

“There is a fort there?” Granger asked, now thoroughly annoyed.

“There is a fort and a port,” Daventry said, making a joke out of it, then frowned in frustration in the face of Granger’s irritation. “The fort is old and of no consequence. It is effective with merchants, but not useful against warships, or so I have been told.”

“How confident are you that your knowledge is accurate?” Granger asked.

“I am almost certain,” Daventry said. “I am hoping that we receive a welcome reception.”

“We have letters from the Tsar himself banning us from entering his waters, and it is unlikely those orders have not yet arrived here,” Granger said, noting internally how slow they’d been sailing what with all the adverse winds they’d tackled. “How could these people possibly be friendly?”

Daventry stood up and paced up and down the cabin a bit. His agitation was clear. “You are aware that I am to try and either change Tsar Paul’s mind about us, and remind him that the French are the real enemies of Russia, or I am to help elevate a tsar who does understand that?”

“I am aware that you are planning to plot a coup,” Granger said with a bit of humor, to try and help Daventry calm down a bit.

“I am not sure that is accurate, but I will help with that if I need to,” Daventry said. “The Governor of Courland, Count Peter Ludwig von der Pahlen, is one of the key members of the group considering replacing Tsar Paul.”

“He would indeed be an illustrious member of such a group,” Granger acknowledged, recognizing that an Imperial governor was a quite powerful person in Russia.

“Since Paul came to the throne, he has first removed von Pahlen’s offices, restored them, and then this August removed them again, only to restore them again last month,” Daventry noted.

“So von Pahlen is uncomfortable with that much uncertainty regarding his position?” Granger asked.

“Would you not be?” Daventry challenged. “If you were suddenly removed from the Navy and your other offices and titles were removed, then restored, then removed, then restored, would that not test your resolve to defend your sovereign?”

Granger was about to agree, but then worried such an admission may sound treasonous, so he changed his mind. “That is why we are coming to Riga?”

“That is why,” Daventry said. “That is where von der Pahlen is, or at least the seat of his power is here, so that is where I will start.”

“I am unclear how our reception at Arensburg will have any bearing on this?” Granger asked.

“Because if von der Pahlen is serious about his intentions, he will have been able to influence his own minions, like the commander at Arensburg. If he is not, then he will leave it to me to fight my way through, so to speak.”

“Tomorrow should be interesting, then,” Granger agreed. “How do you think your plan will evolve?”

“I don’t like to make predictions, because I am usually wrong,” Daventry said flippantly.

“And while I am floating about in the Baltic, waiting for enough of a thaw to try to escape, I would like to know where you will be,” Granger said more forcefully. “I was led to believe we were a team, are we not.”

“Even if you are a most difficult partner,” Daventry sniffed. “I will most likely be in Riga until I can be stealthily transported to St. Petersburg. There, I can hopefully help the efforts of von der Pahlen and his confreres.”

“Hopefully,” Granger said. They both ended their conversation, and Granger went onto the frigid deck to ponder their words. He looked around, then began to pace. He was relieved to see that as the bell rang, the men on deck were replaced by those from below. One hour on deck at a stretch was enough for anyone in this weather.

Granger had been fairly certain that Daventry was not here to use his charm on Tsar Paul, and that he was in fact here to help overthrow him. Granger wondered if that were amoral, and spent an hour pacing the deck before deciding that it wasn’t his place nor did he have the responsibility for making that decision, and so he wasn’t guilty.

Copyright © 2017 Mark Arbour; All Rights Reserved.
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It was wonderful to see George's strategizing in the previous chapter come to fruition. Thanks for a fantastic chapter. Well worth the wait!

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When can we expect more chapters? I keep rereading all of these stories over and over while waiting on more. Thanks, Merry Christmas

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I agree Miles.  I'm doing the same.  Unfortunately, it seems like the delay between each chapter is getting longer and longer.  Please Mark!  Publish another (or two) chapter(s)!

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I agree with Philippe!  This was my favorite story Mark but I think it is time to delete my bookmark and say goodbye to George!

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The update has certainly given me hope....please Mr Arbour?😍

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A much welcomed return to the adventures of Lord Granger and his men...

thank you Mark and team Arbour😋

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rjo

Posted (edited)

Two things impress me in this chapter. The first is George and his able crew. How they can win even  against overwhelming odds. The second is George's sense of the social order. Not only in Briton but also in Russia. The removal of the Tsar, even a crazy one bothers him. Even if Tsar Paul could cause him and England a great deal of trouble. It only goes to show us who George is. Yes a person of his time and station, but also a brave and noble captain. I think it makes us love him even more. 

Edited by rjo
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