The Privateersman (A Poor Man at the Gate Series Book 1)

BOOK: The Privateersman (A Poor Man at the Gate Series Book 1)
6.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



Book One: A Poor
at the Gate Series



Listed Publisher


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or present the author's own interpretation, based on research and study.

2013 by Andrew Wareham

Rights Reserved

UK English Spellings and
Word Usage



Young Tom Andrews, a small-time smuggler in Dorset,
escapes the hangman’s noose only to find himself shanghaied onto a privateering
ship. The ship plunders its way across the Caribbean, before he and crewmate, part
Carib freeman, Joseph, flee to America carrying illicitly obtained booty. They
prosper in the vile corruptness of New York - a town destined to be on the
losing side in the Revolutionary War. Betrayed and forced to return to England,
they seek riches in the early industrial boom. Their shady deals and dubious
acquisitions in coal, iron and cotton yield great wealth. Tom relishes the money,
but also secretly yearns for love and social acceptance. His hopes rise on
meeting the beautiful daughter of an impoverished aristocrat.


Author’s Note:
I have written
and punctuated
The Privateersman
in a style
reflecting English usage in novels of the Georgian period, when typically,
sentences were much longer than they are in modern English.
Editor’s Note:
Andrew’s book was written,
produced and edited in the UK where some of the spellings and word usage vary
slightly from U.S. English.


Book One: A Poor
at the Gate Series

Chapter One


Running, never stopping, a slow trot most of the
time, a little faster where the fields were open and he might be seen; it was
easier not to think when you were moving, not to remember the blood and the
screams and the smell of a man’s guts opened and spilling out of his belly; pushing
on and on, never a backwards look, choosing always the quickest, flattest path,
left or right as was convenient to avoid villages or isolated farmhouses,
making sure only that he never turned back on himself. Eyes wide open and his
head turning from side to side, watching to spot every piece of cover in case
he might need to hide, ears straining for the beat of hooves behind him – he
would have a minute at best from the first sound, time to conceal himself, to
hide from the searchers beating every bush or die. They would be angry, their
mates’ blood still wet on their boots, in no mood to take prisoners – discovery
would be followed by a slashing sabre however high your hands might be.

He had to make some miles first, then he could
decide where he should go – somewhere far away, a great distance eventually,
but he had to make for a mid-way point, somewhere to get himself together, to
become inconspicuous. He was a coastal man, known as such, so it made sense to
head straight inland in the beginning, but he would have to get back to a port,
to some place where he would not stand out. He could not hide himself in a
farming village, never having walked behind a plough or dug a ditch or swung a
scythe in his short life – he would stick out like a sore thumb on a farm. Make
towards Yeovil for the hours of darkness and then he would have to turn east or
west, back to the sea, but only after a day’s sleep; he was tired now, two days
of hard sailing followed by the ambush on landing, the energy-sapping fight and
the panicked, immediate flight had exhausted him. You didn’t get to run much on
a fishing boat; you built muscles in chest and arms from the ropes and nets,
and the occasional loading in a French port, but you would not run for more
than thirty foot at most, and his legs were passing that message to him. No
matter, if he was to live then he must push a little harder, force himself not
to stop till the first dawn and sun enough to see what he was doing when he
chose a place to lay up.

He found an area of old woodland just before full
light, down in a shallow valley bottom, mostly blackthorn with bracken and
brambles under it, good cover, impassable to a horse. He worked his way out of
sight, swearing as the briars snagged his skin, heaved bracken fronds up into a
nest and disappeared from view, head and shoulders covered by his old leather
jerkin in case of rain; he fell asleep quickly, his bruises aching, worrying
and grieving his dad, but not enough to defeat the exhaustion and keep him

He was hungry and thirsty when he stirred in
mid-afternoon; there was nothing to be done about the hunger, that would have
to be put up with, but he could hear a small stream a few yards away. He
sneaked through the little coppice, low to the ground, looking around nervously
– there could be children playing or out gathering firewood, this would be just
the place to pick up sticks for kindling, the ground was always dry under the
thick tangle of blackthorn. The woodland filled the little valley but he could
just see the hillsides through the branches, chalk downs, the one empty, the
other running a flock of sheep – never a shepherd in sight, he would be up high
where he could watch over everything without having to walk too far, but his
dogs would check out any movement that might be threatening. He found the
stream, saw that it ran clear over a bed of gravel; no cattle and no village
within sight, with any luck the water would be safe; he had no choice, in any
case, he had to drink. He tasted a handful cautiously, there was no taint and
he could see half-inch long minnows swimming nearby - no fish in foul water,
not as a rule. He drank his fill, knowing that if it was bad then his chance of
escape was gone – if the spotted sickness did not kill him directly, he would
be laid up for a month, with no food or shelter, dying slowly unless he showed
himself in a village and gave himself over to the constable or overseer or
beadle, whichever it might be. He glanced in a still pool, winced at the bruise
showing across his cheek where a flailing backhand had scraped him; there was
blood matted in his hair, contrasting dark red streaks against his light, reddish-brown
mane – it wasn’t his and he scrubbed hurriedly at it, revolted, stomach
turning. For the rest, it was just the face he was used to, square, blue-eyed,
heavy on the chin – a typical local appearance – he didn’t look any different
at all for the men he had killed; nor should he, bloody butchers – they had
shot without saying a word, with no warning at all, no chance to put their
hands up – they had deserved all they’d got.

He had gone out with his father, no other crew on a
thirty-footer, before dawn, as normal, but had headed straight across the
Channel rather than south of west to their normal fishing grounds; three times
running in the past week they had come in with their small fish-hold less than
half-full, the fish weren’t about to be caught so they had to make their money
the other way. Into a small inlet on the Normandy coast on the second dawn,
tying up at the wooden jetty that stuck out into the river, waiting to be
noticed; if they were ignored for a couple of hours they would know there was
no cargo to hand and would cast off, never a word spoken. A villager trotted
out to them in the first ten minutes, glanced at his father’s face and nodded
recognition; a few minutes after that and a donkey cart appeared, fully laden with
small barrels of brandy, a couple of longshoremen walking beside it. Three cart
loads over as many hours and the fish-hold and all the other spaces below the
deck were packed full, even their tiny cabin taken over. The tide turned soon
after noon and they sailed out, tacking slowly against the onshore breeze,
making a slow offing then a long leg to the south-west before beating their way
across almost to the Devon coast so as to pick up with any other boats that
were out, to seem to be just another fisherman. As they opened Torbay next
afternoon they spotted an inshore crabber, their contact, and his father waved
a red-striped jersey three times over his head before tacking a couple of miles
out to sea to wait for full darkness; there would be a shore-party waiting to
take their load when they ran up on the shingle in the cove below their cottage.

The party was there and so were dragoons and
Excisemen, armed and impatient.


It was before mid-summer so the fields would be
empty of anything edible, and he did not dare go into a village to try to buy
bread – leaving aside that there might not be any sort of shop, was none in
most villages so that he would have to knock on doors and ask to buy food, he
would be seen, remarked on, possibly questioned, certainly remembered and
commented on. It would take at least another day for hunger to weaken him; he
had gone longer than this without food in dad’s boat several times when bad
winds had held them out longer than expected and he knew that a couple of days
starvation was a nuisance, no more. The sun was westering and he needed to make
distance and a decision; eastwards, in all probability, was best – Poole was
not too far away, Portsmouth less than a week’s walking, and both were big
ports where there would be a way out. West was too long a walk, whether he
tried for Bristol or the south coast; Poole was better, not only nearer but
home to merchant shipping with a wage and the chance to sign off legally or to
buy a cabin passage, he had enough money for that; Portsmouth meant navy,
heaved aboard ship willy-nilly and off to fight the war in America for little
money and that paid a year late. Getting to America was probably a good idea,
but not in a naval ship, if it could be avoided; desertion was always possible,
but it could be a damned nuisance to organise from all he had heard. Either
way, he had to get there yet and he was probably no more than ten miles from
home in a straight line and the hunt would be up, though he suspected they
would be after the other four who had taken to their pack-horses and gone off
on the highway, making for the Bristol road and hoping to out-distance any

“Not a chance! Bloody fools,” he said aloud, for the
comfort of hearing a voice as he slipped from tree to tree, crouching in the
hope of concealing his six foot frame. He was big, even for a Dorset man, and
he still had some growing to do, he was only just sixteen. He sat in the last
cover, suddenly found tears flowing as he saw his father turning to him in last
night’s darkness and shouting to run and then the blood spurting from his mouth
as he fell and a dismounted dragoon, clumsy in his heavy boots, charging him
waving a sabre, mouth open, panting. Wearing light shoes, slipped on as he
landed, he was much quicker on his feet, grabbed the flailing arm and snapped
it and took the sabre and ran forward at the others stood by his father…

He had no time to weep, not if he was to live.

The woodland came to an abrupt end with a ditch and
then rough pasture with a couple of dozen cattle; he could see the roofs of a
small village a half mile or so ahead; not large, there were no more than seven
or eight cooking smokes visible, and most of the labourers’ wives would have
the stew pot on by this time of day. He did not know the area, but thought it
might be one of the Piddles, not so far from Dorchester. If that was the case
then he needed to keep a bit north of the town before working his way
cross-country – there was a barracks with dragoons in Dorchester, and it was a
fair bet that they would be out, patrolling the highways and maybe poking their
noses down the bigger lanes. He was too well-bruised to deny that he had been
in a fight, had obviously been out all of the previous night, sleeping rough,
and would be taken up on sight. He stared all round, plotting the route he
would take when night fell.

Over the shoulder of the empty down on his right,
the bare turf easy to walk on in the dark and just enough of a moon to see
rabbit holes; it would probably be possible to see the streak of the roadway
down in the valley as well, a guide to follow, to give him a rough direction.
That road would eventually lead him to Poole, he thought; he had seen the port,
but only from the sea, at a distance when they were following the herring run
down the coast. Still, the hills of Purbeck would give him an unmistakable
landmark; he could not get lost.

He kept as low on the hillside as he could, just
above the rough of the valley, so as not to outline himself against the skyline
– there was probably no need to be so careful, none of the locals ventured out
at night further than to the beer house and back, but there was no need to take
any risks at all, not if he wanted his neck to stay unstretched. Five miles,
two hours of slow walking, brought him to the far side of the down where he had
the problem of what to do next: the lowland was clay, waste land in an
unenclosed manor, left uncultivated by tradition and because it was held in
common usage so that it was worth nobody’s while to spend out to clear it and
make fields. It was covered in blackthorn and sloe bushes and brambles and
nettles and patches of boggy reeds and rushes – slow ground to walk in
daylight, impassable at night, so he could stick to the high ground and go
miles out of his way to the north or follow the track through the middle. The
waste would provide plenty of hiding places if he had to run, and he would be
able to hear any party of horsemen in the very unlikely case that they were out
at night; there would be no picket lying in wait, not on so small a lane in
such an out-of-the-way place. He worked his way to the dirt path and stretched
out in a fast walk to the south and east.

He was wide awake, alert, watching everything, head
never still. After an hour he spotted a black shape perched on a low branch
near the track, hunched over, not upright like an owl – a pheasant from its
size, strayed a mile or two from a sporting squire’s coverts. He cast about
him, found a heavy stick, two fingers thick and a foot or so long; a fast throw
from five yards and the bird was down, in his hands, neck wrung and tucked away
inside his jerkin; it was poaching, in the close at that, but he was not too
worried about standing before the Bench for that charge, poaching only carried
transportation and they’d be hanging him first,

Just before dawn the heavy clays ended and he moved
out onto heathland, the sandy soils much drier and carrying only a waist-high
vegetation of furzes and bracken, the gorse bushes just showing their golden
flower, dense and impenetrable to horsemen. A man on foot, however, who knew
what he was doing, could find dry cover in the foot or two of clear space
between the lowest branches and the ground, crawling carefully underneath,
pulling an armful of soft bracken fronds to cover the prickles and provide some
warmth, looking out warily for the adders who also loved this cover. He slept
undisturbed till late afternoon, then plucked and drew the bird, brushing the
ants off it, and moved a couple of hundred yards away, still in cover, and pulled
together a tiny fire of dead, dry twigs and stems, hot but almost smoke-free.
He spitted the pheasant and waited patiently, turning it every few minutes
until he was certain it was cooked all the way through; he dared not risk loose
bowels, not if he was to keep moving fast.

He ate the tough, dry, unhung meat, forcing it all
down despite its lack of flavour, and moved again, a good half a mile away from
the fire and smell of cooked food, laid up a few yards back from the road,
waiting for darkness and safety. An hour before twilight his caution was
rewarded as a large party of horsemen came into view. A full squadron of
dragoons trotted slowly by, looking left and right, scanning the verges, coming
from the direction of Poole and heading towards their barracks in Dorchester,
at a guess. They were heavies, he noted, carrying carbines in saddle buckets
and long, straight swords, not the lights he had met at the shoreline and who
had used shorter, curved sabres. That meant at least two regiments quartered in
the area, and maybe a dozen squadrons out, sufficient to cover all of the roads,
including the highway to Bristol. Fugitives on slow pack-ponies would certainly
have been run down, probably within a very few hours. If he was lucky,
lucky indeed, they might be content with them, might not even become aware of a
fifth on foot; more likely they would question the four they had taken and then
offer King’s Evidence to one so that he could not only save his neck, but could
expect early freedom. The four would obviously blame everything on the fifth,
the one who was not there to give his side of the story – not that he had much
to offer, nothing that would save him from the hangman – and give his name and
all they knew of him. Say one day to catch them and bring them back to barracks
and then another day to wring them dry . . . the hunt would be up with a
vengeance by tomorrow, the countryside aswarm with militia and cavalry combing
the areas they had not covered yet. He needed be lying-up in town by tomorrow noon
at latest, so he must run the most direct road tonight, there was no choice; he
could not risk detouring inland in the hope of throwing them off the scent, he
must get to Poole and on board a ship.

BOOK: The Privateersman (A Poor Man at the Gate Series Book 1)
6.27Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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