CHAPTER 32 - BOSTON OR BRISTOL
Captain Lewis sat at the table in his quarters staring at the map laid out before him. Occasionally he took a quill pen in his hand a scribbled figures on a sheet of paper. Mr. Hagney quietly attended his Captain who occasionally would lift his head and ask another question: how many men are aboard the Goodman? how many men are a board the Essex? how many men are aboard the prize ship? how many French sailors did we capture?
With each question Mr. Hagney gave an accurate response which led Captain Lewis to make another calculation. With each calculation he would shake his head and stare at the map seeking an answer to some unknown riddle. And then in another fit of questions he would raise his head: how many days rations do we have? how many gallons of water do we have? were any of the sails damaged in the storm?
With each question, Mr Hagney gave an accurate answer which left his Captain in silence staring at the map and his calculations. And thus Mr. Hagney spent the better part of the morning, as the crew of the Essex kept busy loading French cargo aboard ship.
At long last Captain Lewis stood up and turned to Mr Hagney:
"Gather my officers together, Mr. Howard and Mr. Marshall, as well as the gentlemen from Boston. Let Mr. Crossland rest in his quarters. And of course tell Kate that she will be needed."
"Aye, Aye Captain!" Mr. Hagney curtly replied and after giving a proper salute, so as to keep with the formalities, he departed and sent word to the Goodman and the French prize ship, that the officers were to gather aboard the Essex.
It took some time for Mr. Howard and Mr. Marshall to come aboard as each had been busy securing and transferring the cargo from the French ships.
When all were gathered in the Captain's quarters, Aaron Lewis who had remained seated at the table stood tall:
"Gentlemen, I have taken inventory of our circumstances and our prospects. I have a proposal for each of ye to consider very carefully as if yer lives depended upon it. For I tell ye that it tis our lives we discuss this hour. The safest course we take today, would be to return to Boston and sell our cargo there. As ye are all aware, those merchants of Boston will drive a hard bargain depriving every man of his just rewards from our great victory over the sea and the French. I am loathe to surrender our hard fought gains. On the other hand, if we make way to England, to Bristol, I can not help to believe that if we can make this passage the silver and gold shall flow into our pockets. I had not thought that we would have had to rescue so many Frenchmen. While we would have plenty of stores for our crews, even if we made a slow passing, with the French aboard ships, even a fast passage would see us on half rations. Worse yet, if we hit the doldrums in the mid Atlantic, with no wind in out sails, I fear for us all. I shall not make this decision alone but I shall abide by what we all agree to here and now. So what say ye gentlemen."
"We could always throw the French overboard." Mr. Howard jokingly retorted.
The men all laughed.
"We shall do no such thing!" Kate chimed in. "This is a serious matter, Aaron I doubt this expedition to England is well advised. I fear in our current state, it is best to return to Boston."
"Aye, the truth of the matter is Captain, in all seriousness, we should not venture forth to England. Tis the wrong time of year for such a passage as this. And it was a simple jest, concerning the French. However, I left hearth and home to gain a fortune, and a fortune is what awaits us all in Bristol not Boston. And though the prudent course is to return to Boston, I say we head for Bristol where fortune awaits us all!" responded Mr. Howard.
Mr. Holmes and the other men of Boston all agreed, while Mr. Marshall remained silent. Captain Lewis had noted that Mr. Marshall had not agreed to the plan.
"Mr. Marshall, what say ye?"
"The furs and the French, that is tis the real issue, as I see it . . . the furs and the French. How do we get both across the Atlantic without starving or dying of thirst, that is the question, is it not? Is there another way, without so much risk to ourselves and the crew. If I may suggest an alternative, a plan that greatly enhances our chances of success. To my reckoning, we should never make such a venture with such a large number of our enemies aboard ship, it is just trouble waiting to happen. What I propose is this, I shall take the prize ship and all the French prisoners back to Boston, with enough of the plunder so as to keep the crew content. We shall leave the French in Boston, and then sail to Philadelphia where I believe Lord Pembroke is in residence for the winter. In Philadelphia, under Lord Pembroke's supervision, we shall outfit the prize ship for war. Come the early Spring I shall sail her to the Azores and rendezvous with the Essex and the Goodman. From there sir, ye shall command three ships of war. We can plunder off the coast of Spain before catching the trade winds to the Caribbean where true fortunes lie. And as a side note, I think it best if Mr. Crossland would join me. A nice warm bed in Philadelphia would be best for his recovery and I fear that if we were to meet any challenges upon our journey he would surely be the first to perish."
Mr. Howard, took Mr. Marshall's words to heart for John Crossland lay in his bed recovering from wounds sustained during the mutiny. A mutiny that Mr. Howard did bear some responsibility for recruiting the treacherous John Talbert.
"Brilliant, Henry, simply brilliant!" Mr. Howard exclaimed.
Aaron Lewis smiled, the idea of dividing his ships and ridding himself of the French had not occurred to him. The word "brilliant" echoed in his mind for it was indeed brilliant. Mr. Marshall had found the answer that had escaped all of his calculations and contemplation.
"Then it is settled, the prize ship shall off load her furs onto the Essex. The Essex and the Goodman shall sail for Bristol while the French shall soon enjoy the comforts of Boston."
The remainder of the day was spent with longboats ferrying the furs to the Essex and upon the return taking the French prisoners below decks of the prize ship, which Mr. Marshall renamed the Hopewell.
With the setting of the sun, the Essex and the Goodman set sail for the west and for England. While the Hopewell, set sail for the south and for Boston.
Mr. Crossland begrudgingly transferred from the Essex to the Hopewell, begrudgingly for he thought it dishonorable that he had caused such a stir. At one point he protested, only to be immediately consoled by Mr. Howard who insisted that Mr. Crossland return to recover properly from his wounds. Mr. Howard assured him that if there was any dishonor in the affair that it was he himself who had to bear that burden.