Four bells of the forenoon sounded as the last few chairs were brought up from the officers' cabins, the wardroom and the gunroom, and they were arranged with the others in the great cabin. Aldrick stood centred in the stern windows, the dull day offering a gentle illumination behind him as the crew was ushered in.
He watched as the unfamiliar gawped at the refined surroundings, then he chose a moment to say, "I regret we have only thirty-eight chairs, so thirty-three of you will have to sit on the carpets, though you may stand if you wish."
When the last had found places, either sitting, leaning against bulkheads or swaying with the movements of the ship, Aldrick called for attention, then he said, "The intensity of the storm has passed, and we may begin to relax. I have left only my First Officer on deck, and he may call down at any moment for assistance. The sea is not a place for complacency."
He paused to survey the demeanour of the crew. "We now have aboard your treasure after fifty-four years of searching. Our main goal is to keep it aboard until we reach London. It has a history of being lost through greed, and we need to ensure greed does not take it again."
The crew nodded almost as a unit. "We have over the years calculated its value, and by our count of the ingots and bars you loaded aboard, the estimate remains near the same. Below, in our holds is well in excess of two and a half million pounds value in gold and silver."
He raised his hand to stop the cheering. "After the King's share, the least amount a family will receive is over eighteen thousand pounds, enough to sustain a large family in great comfort for a lifetime."
Aldrick assessed the response, then continued, "Or to invest a portion. But be wary of the ventures of others where you have no control; those often lose. Invest in your own efforts and those of your family. A ship such as this can be built for one-sixth of a share, and properly used, it can return that much, even double that on each voyage to the Americas and back."
He watched the wide-eyed expressions on many. "But the risks at sea are great, thus the high return. If you choose to remain ashore, consider providing housing for the growing flood of people moving to London. Purchase houses for them to rent, or acquire land and build houses. Bear this in mind; money of itself is only a means of counting wealth. Its true value is in using it wisely to do good and to create more wealth."
Aldrick turned and pointed out through the windows. "I had thought of sailing onward as soon as this storm passes, but my wife suggested we pause here to relax and enjoy for a while, and I now see that as a splendid idea."
Loud cheers erupted from the crew, and when they had quieted, Aldrick continued, "Over the years we have seen that storms in this region are followed by a calm, clear period. We will take the first sunny day to gambol ashore." He swung his arm past the attentive crew. "Who among you remember the reef where the lobsters are the most plentiful?"
Several spoke or raised their hands, and there was a lively chatter among the crew.
"Fine. But after the break, we have much to do. We have aboard the Royal mail, which I am bound by oath to deliver to Kingston, and we have all the crates of copper and tinware to deliver there."
A midshipman asked, "Then, why did we come north, Sir? Kingston is to the south."
"Good question, Reynolds. We had been heading to the anchorage on Inagua to wait out the storm when my wife suggested we seek refuge here. Though it was the wrong direction, it was only sixty miles across the wind, rather than two hundred and forty of tacks into it. Had we not diverted, we would have been out there at the mercy of the hurricane."
There were nodding heads and a quiet buzz of words while Aldrick spoke, then when he finished, Reynolds spoke again, "Thank you, Lady Elizabeth." The buzz grew louder, with many repeats of thank you.
When they had quieted, Aldrick continued, "Many will have noted that we took aboard three sailors from Avenger." There was a murmur, and Aldrick spoke over it. "The three Davis brothers are the grandsons of the Shipwright's Mate in Delfe, and Mick sailed with us three years ago in Delfe VII. They are as much a part of the family as any of us."
When the hubbub had eased, he continued, "We must take great care that none but us know about the treasure. A word in the wrong ear can lose it all for all of us. We are deeply laden, so we appear as a normal ship arriving from Britain with a cargo to offload and a new one to take aboard. We must maintain this image until we depart."
"What about shore leave, Sir? There's some here what canno be trusted to hold their tongue when they's a few tumblers o rum in em." He belted a loud laugh. "I's one of em."
"We would draw attention were we to not allow the crew ashore, and attention is the last thing we want. I had thought we would go in small groups, each with an officer, a midshipman or a mate. We must each be responsible for not only our own conduct, but also for that of our shipmates. Remember, your family share will set you for life and allow you to join the landed gentry, to gain an education and to live in ease."
"Can we divvy it up here, Sir? I prefer this weather to that in London, and I fancy settling in these islands."
"There is no way to do that fairly, Jenkins. The original Ship's Articles are registered with the Courts, as is the roll of the descendants. Once the treasure has been landed to the Tower, assayed, and the King's tax taken, the Exchequer will transfer the value of the shares to accounts in the Bank of England in the name of each family."
"Then I will get nowt. My brother's a greedy lob what kept our father's entire estate to his self. He will do the same with this."
Aldrick nodded. "Did your father pass without a will?"
"He did, Sir. And our oldest brother said everything's his."
"The intestate law applies only to immovable property. The land and the buildings go to the eldest, but the rest of the estate is divided among the male children."
"Not what he says."
"But it is what the law says. We will assist you before the Courts when we return to London." He scanned the faces in the cabin, then he asked, "Any more questions?"
"Sir, you said up the mast that you would tell us how you defeated the whole crew of Avenger. Just you and a dozen. With so many different stories, there's no way of telling which is true."
"I did, yes. Well, it was like this. We were fifteen, and we landed on the south beach of the islet before dawn." Aldrick related the sequence of events as he recalled them, and he finished with, "I offered kindness and support to Roberts, and his response was violence, lunging at me with his sword."
"Is it true you chopped his arm right the way off with your sabre?"
"I ordered the lads to fire to disarm, and the fourteen shot in near unison. It would be impossible at an instant's notice to shoot only his sword. His hand and forearm were in the way, and they were damaged beyond repair."
"So, the others, Peters and the rest? They would be out there in this storm."
"I was thinking this morning of their reckoned position, and I had hoped they found refuge along the coast of Cuba as the weather turned."
"On a lee shore in an open boat?"
"Maybe in a hooked bay or a winding cove. Behind an offshore islet. There are a few possibilities there. Let us all hope they found a haven of some sort, else..." Aldrick shrugged, then he examined the broad range of expressions on the crew's faces. "Any further questions?"
Receiving none, he said. "Right. Let us resume our anchor routine, and at the first calm sun, we will go ashore to swim and gambol."
YOU ARE READING
The Delfe TreasureHistorical Fiction
Aldrick is obsessed with finding his grandfather's treasure. More than half a century and seventeen voyages have failed to locate his ships after they wrecked in Windward Passage, deeply-laden with pirate plunder and homeward-bound from the Caribbea...