49. The Red Lion

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Aldrick and Elizabeth sat with Mick and Tim at the long table in the great cabin, probing for more details. After a long back-and-forth, Aldrick asked, "Would any but Roberts know the Montford name?"

Mick cupped his jaw in his hand and stroked. "All the time we was aboard, we never heard any details. If he even once said the name, I would right the way think of Delfe and the families."

"What about Peters? Would he have told him?"

"After the first few days at sea, they dint get along well at all. Always cursing each other." Mick chuckled. "The talk below was that the only reason Peters dint throw Roberts overboard is that he dint his self know where the treasure was."

Aldrick nodded. "Yes, this strengthens my thought that he would have kept all the details of the treasure to himself. A man of no trust trusts no one." He paused at the knock on the door. "That should be Midshipman Reynolds, James. Bring him in."

"Aye, Sir."

Reynolds entered, out of breath. "Shipwright Mate Johnson says they are all still there, Sir. In the corner, eating like they are starved."

"Thank you. The Coxswain should have mustered our stoutest by now. Have them brought here."

"Aye, Sir. They are waiting outside."

Half a minute later, the steward led eighteen large men into the cabin, and Aldrick rose to greet them. "We have not chairs for all, so we will all stand." He gave a summary of the situation, and after both Mick and Tim described the health, strength and attitudes of the Avenger crew, he summed up, "So, if all of them survived their voyage here, we have twenty-three, with many of them weakened from poor nutrition and scurvy, and wearied from their ordeal in the longboat."

He held up a finger as he paused to think. "And they are most likely unarmed. They had no weapons when they left the islets, and I cannot think why they would see a need to arm themselves here."

"So, we will go unarmed, Sir?"

"Yes, we will, Jenkins. It sounds to be a crowded room with many who are not involved, and we want no harm to any. Often, a clever stratagem or a surprise is all that is required. So, here is the plan, then. We already have the four shipwrights there, so we outnumber them by two or more. And we are in far better health and a fair bit larger." 

He watched the men smile and nod. Then he continued, "You will enter in twos and threes, a minute or two apart and show no recognition of the others. The midday meal will now be nearly over, so there should be many empty tables, but do not sit with the shipwrights. The lads said the men from Avenger are in the back corner to the left, so favour tables near there. I will enter after about ten minutes. Mick and Tim will wait outside until sent for."

"And if Peters and the crew ain't there?"

"Mate Johnson will have followed them, and when we learn to where they went, we will devise a new plan. But let us hope they are too weak, weary and hungry to leave."

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Twenty minutes later, Aldrick stood in the doorway to the common room of the Red Lion, surveying the crowd, looking without success for Jimmy. Then he shouted as he strode across to a table, "Hoy, Captain Johnson. Been a few trips since I have seen you. Looks like the sea still treats you kindly." He slapped his Shipwright Mate on the back.

The Mate rose to shake hands. "Aye, that it does, Skipper. You coming or going?"

"Not long arrived. Weathered a violent storm north of Cuba. Found three shipwrecked hands and brought them here. They told us about a tyrannical captain and so many who perished because of his miserly food ration. Right strange lads, they are. Seem afraid of saying more than that about their ship because of all the bad memories."

"What will you do with them?"

"Been done. Set them ashore this morning. They might never want to see the sea again." Aldrick put a hand to his mouth and looked around the room. "Pardon, all. Seems I am still trying to talk above the wind's roar." He glanced at the near-full tankards of the shipwrights, then he caught the eye of a barman and shouted. "Another tankard of dark here."

He pulled an unused chair from the next table, slid it across the floor to beside Johnson, and as he settled into it, he asked, "What cargo have you this trip?" Then he whispered, "Have you seen Jimmy?"

"Crockery, porcelain, glassware, woollens, linens." He shrugged. "The usual. And what of your cargo?" Then in a low voice, "They took him up those stairs."

"Copper and tinware. Like you, the usual." Then quietly, "How many?"

"Yes, still a strong demand for common goods." Then quietly, "Four of them up, two back down. The tables in corner. That's them."

Aldrick glanced up when his tankard was set on the table, and as he picked a ha'penny and a farthing from his purse, he asked the waiter, "Have you sleeping rooms available for my crew?"

"Only two left, Sir. We's near full, what with the shipwreck crew and all."

"Shipwreck crew?"

"Aye, Sir. That's them in the corner." He pointed. "They's looking for another ship, and I's helping them." The young lad puffed out his chest. "Do you know one that's for sale?"

Aldrick shrugged. "I know of many." He stood to examine the men in the corner. "From their appearance, they cannot afford any that I have."

He sat again, and half a minute later, as set his tankard on the table from enjoying a long, slow draught, a hand tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to see an old man begin to speak, "The lad said you know of a ship for sale?"

"I have several." Aldrick examined the man's dirty and tattered clothing. "But I do not sell on promissory notes; they all require good coin."

"I have that." He gestured to his dress. "Our ship foundered, and we have just arrived. Two weeks in a longboat. This is not my usual attire."

"From southward, then. We were caught in a violent storm last week north of Cuba."

"We weathered that in a tight Cuban cove. We had wrecked in a storm in the Bahamas two weeks before that."

"So, what manner of ship do you wish?"

"Anything with burthen for a hundred tons or more." The man paused, appearing to consider his words. "We want to recover some of our cargo that might not have spoilt."

Aldrick nodded. "We have ships which are no longer fit for passage back to Britain. But they are still sufficiently sound for trade among the islands."

"The old man pursed his lips. "I had hoped to cross to Britain."

"That trade is too lucrative to find a capable ship available here."

"As I have learnt since I began inquiring."

"If recovering your cargo is the priority, a lesser ship will do."

"True." The old man held out his hand to shake. "I am Captain Peters."

He took his hand and shook. "And I am Captain Aldrick."

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