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The Threat In The West Indies

Book Two of The Merriman Chronicles by Roger Burnage.


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Extract - Chapter One

The year 1793

His Majesty’s sloop Aphrodite thrashed along over the waves only four days out from Portsmouth. Captain James Merriman, a dark-haired man of some twenty two or twenty three years of age, was content with the ship and his crew, in-deed the early morning call of ‘Beat to quarters, prepare for action,” had been done in the shortest time yet.  The sun was shining, and the ship was making good time and once the Channel had been left behind no more gales had been met.  He walked up and down the small space of the quarter deck and thought about the last few weeks.  The action in the Irish Sea, the recovery of the stolen Revenue cutter and its crew of Frenchmen and Irish rebels intent on capturing the Lord Lieu-tenant of Ireland, Lord Westmorland, at sea, to use him to try and force the government to give up its control of Ireland.  Then the capture of the smugglers own craft and the unfinished fight with the French ship La Sirene. Then he remembered as if it were only yesterday when he had asked the delightful Helen to marry him and how pleased he had been when she accepted him, but he wondered how many months or even years would go by before he saw her again.

He dragged his mind back from that and considered shipboard matters.  The pressed men, smugglers captured in the Irish Sea, were coping well enough; of course, they were seamen, but more used to sailing small fishing smacks and some of them had been terrified at the prospect of going aloft on the tall masts of the Aphrodite.  The sharp application of the boatswain’s cane to the rumps of the laggards had quickly cured them of that and they were settling in quite well. They had protested violently at first but the reminder that they could have been turned over to the authorities ashore and tried for helping England’s enemies soon made them see the error of their ways.


Merriman had pressed them to take the places of his men killed in the fight with the Sirene, “The Admiralty won’t worry about that, always desperate for men to fill the King’s ships,” the Admiral had said, rubbing his hands.  One man had proved to be a problem, a prodigiously fat man who had been involved with the smugglers and The French in the theft of plumbago mined in Cumberland, used in metal casting, and desperately needed by the French.  The spare fat and tallow on the man was rapidly disappearing under shipboard living and extra duties found for him by the First Lieutenant but he was always slow and resentful of following orders. “Damn it, that was another problem to deal with,” thought Merriman “I wonder what has happened to the poor fellow?”  The poor fellow, being Lieutenant Jeavons who was originally Aphrodite’s First Lieutenant, had suffered a violent blow to the head during the fight with the Sirene but between short periods of lucidity he simply stared into space not knowing who was speaking to him or where he was.


The surgeon’s hopes of an improvement in Jeavons’ condition hadn’t happened and Merriman had been obliged to put the man ashore in Plymouth at the newly built Stonehouse hospital on Stonehouse Creek. Lieutenant Colin Laing was now First Lieutenant, David Andrews the second Lieutenant and third Lieutenant was a new man by the name of William Gorman appointed by the Admiral in Portsmouth.

Merriman’s thoughts were interrupted by the arrival on deck of Mr. Grahame, a tall lean hawk faced individual now bright and breezy with his brief spell of seasickness long past and forgotten.  A hard man and unmarried, working for the Revenue Service under Lord Stevenage of the Treasury Department, which controlled all England’s intelligence agents, he is one of the principal agents that England has.  Merriman's patron is Lord Stevenage. They met when Merriman and his crew saved the passengers on an Indiaman which was being attacked by Algerian corsairs.

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