Read The Mahogany Ship (Sam Reilly Book 2) Online

Authors: Christopher Cartwright

The Mahogany Ship (Sam Reilly Book 2)

The
Mahogany Ship

By

Christopher
Cartwright

 

Copyright
2015 by Christopher Cartwright

This
book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any
reproduction or other unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media and
incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used
fictitiously. All rights reserved.

 

This
one’s for my children. Elise and Matthew, who are by far the greatest challenge
and rewarding adventure of my life.

Prologue

Southern Ocean, December 22, 1812

Muttering a vicious oath, Jack Robertson threw up. Again.

It was the most violent storm he’d endured since leaving
England almost eight months earlier. The experience confirmed his vow that once
he arrived at the settlement in Sydney Cove he’d never take to the sea again.

The Emily Rose shuddered dramatically as her entire bow
lifted, losing contact with the white frothy water. It dropped off the edge of
an enormous wave, before the following one swamped the entire back deck.

From below, Jack fell to the wooden floor
hard.
Then
he vomited twice more before continuing to man the pumps.

Jack worked on his assigned pump throughout the night and
into the following morning. His eyes drifted downwards. He, among so many
others, had spewed until all contents of his stomach had been removed. This had
then mixed with the sea water, which now mingled where his unsteady legs stood.

Jack could have guessed at the filthy state of the pump room
by smell alone. Even so, he smiled. The watermark had been reduced by an entire
foot from their efforts. It was disgusting, dirty work, but they were going to
survive.

“Well, I’ll be the son of a whore!” Jack said.

“Pardon me, sir?” Mr. John Langham asked.

“I said, God be praised,” Jack replied, dutifully.

The ship turned abruptly, rocking onto its side, causing a
number of people to fall.

What now?

Leaving the others to continue pumping, Jack ran up the
ladder to the deck and immediately saw the cause of the sudden change.

A massive squall was coming directly from the south, and the
helmsman was struggling with another on the wheel to maintain an easterly
course.

High in the rigging above, a number of men were aloft,
trying to quickly reduce sail area.

Boom!

Lightning struck the mast just before the fore topsail. The
five men who had been attempting to furl it were killed instantly. Above them,
another three men were trying to climb back down when the now damaged mast
snapped under the force of the wind. All eight men fell into the water below.

The top half of the mast crashed into the water, but
remained partially attached high up in the rigging. The sail area, having fallen
into the water, was caught by the current. It was pulling the entire ship
towards the rocky shore.

Jack could hear the screams of the men in the water below,
desperate for someone to help them. On deck, he saw the other sailors’ eyes
were wide open, their faces contorted in horror, helpless to save the men.

“Mr. Mills,” Captain Baxter’s voice boomed.

“Yes, sir.”

“Would you be so kind as to take some of your men and finish
what God started on my mast before the damn thing drags us aground?”

“Aye, aye, sir!”

Jack watched as the young midshipman – maybe just fifteen
years old, certainly no older – eyed the damaged mast, which looked as though
it could snap at any moment in the squall. Mr. Mills organized a rope and
pulley from the main mast to take the weight of the damaged foremast. Next to
him, a man started to swing an axe as confidently as if he were on the ground
in order to sever the remaining shards of wood.

Within seconds, the man had managed to cut through it and
the massive broken mast swung from the rope, looking as though it was going to
clear the deck. But at the last moment, the rope and pulley became entangled on
the very tip of the yardarm.

“Christ, almighty!” the sailor with the axe cursed.

The rope needed cutting, but it was going to be a much
harder, more dangerous job. The yardarm was basically a large tree log that sat
perpendicular to the mast at various points to form a cross. From it, men in
the rigging could unfurl and furl sails that sat directly underneath.

The problem was, now that all the areas above this yardarm
had been destroyed, any person trying to get to the end of it would have nothing
above to hold on to.

Through the downpour of rain, Jack could just make out the
breaking waves upon the jagged shoreline. They were being dragged towards land.
The sailor above must have seen it too, because he appeared to let go of all
reservations and run along the yardarm.

The man pulled the axe up, ready to swing.

At that very moment, a large wave struck the starboard side
of the ship and the man slipped into the violent sea below.

Jack looked to see who would now risk his life to save the
ship.

No one moved.

Men were yelling orders everywhere and the Captain, whose
voice was normally so calm it appeared malevolent, was screaming for the young
midshipman to find a replacement to cut the rope.

And still, nothing was being done.

All right God, I’ll go and save this ship – but then
we’re even.

Jack was an atheist, but fools who are willing to risk it
all believe in hedging their bets.

He picked up the fallen axe, which had landed
unceremoniously, lodging itself into the deck where its previous owner had
fallen to his death. It took the strength of both his arms to pull it free. And
then he started to climb the rigging thirty feet into the air where the others
were trying to create a roping system to support someone when they climbed out onto
the edge of the yardarm.

“Out of my way,” Jack snarled.

No one questioned his authority.

Although no one on board could have guessed as to the extent
of his violent past, most men aboard the Emily Rose kept their distance. There
was something about him that suggested danger.

Jack crawled along the yardarm, his stomach churning. The
damn ship seemed to sway even worse from thirty feet in the air. Crouching at
the very end, he pulled the axe up and swung it at the rope.

The blade only cut one of the three main strands of the rope
and then slipped past, the weight of it very nearly dragging Jack down with it.

He caught himself at the last second and braced himself.

Without waiting, he pulled the big axe once more and swung
it down upon the rope. This time it connected perfectly, and the remnants of
the massive mast and sail broke free. Below, he could hear the helmsman cry “Huzzah”
as he regained control of the ship.

That was close. Christ, but I do hate sailing.

Jack shuffled back until he could hug the top of the
surviving mast and then climb down to the deck below. He was greeted by the
multiple pats on his back by the sailors who had failed to reach it.

“Well done, sir,” the Captain said.

Then came the sound no sailor ever wants to hear.

Wood scraping along the jagged rocks below the keel.

*

John Langham heard the sound.

No sooner had its meaning registered in his mind than he saw
the water spurting through more than a hundred holes below the bilge.

He stopped working the pump, a wasted effort. The ship was
going down and quickly.

Instead of running up towards the deck, he turned and ran
aft where the water was now already waist deep. It was cold, but he’d been
working the pump long enough that it didn’t matter much to him.

John knew he was risking a lot to reach it, but after all
the pain he’d caused to reach this point in his life – somehow he knew, as
though God had told him, that it was important to retrieve it and save it from
a watery grave.

Worth risking his life.

He found his sleeping net swinging in the sinking ship.
Sitting loosely on top he saw what he was after, his Bible.

He took a moment to inspect the vital contents within, then
tucked it on the inside of his trouser pants. John looked at the companionway
he’d come from. Water had now flooded that part of the ship, which creaked as
if it were close to tearing itself apart.

His eyes scanned the other direction.

The water was so deep he would have to hold his breath to
swim through some of the passageways, but it would be his only chance. He
cursed himself for his stupidity and continued pushing through the now flowing
water that was trying to drag him back down towards the ballast of the ship.

There was a loud crash, followed by the harsh vibration of
the bow of the ship grating along sand and rock, which ended when the ship no
longer had any forward momentum.

She’s hit solid rock.

John pulled himself up through the final hatch using a rope
to overcome the weight of the water, which flowed over him from his chest down.

He saw the captain’s eyes – they told him everything he
needed to know. They were done for. The Emily Rose was going to sink. His eyes
cast into the distance – no more than three hundred feet away, he could see
land clear as day.

Well, that’s something, that is. But where on God’s green
earth are we?

Almost in response, the ship broke in two.

John fell into the water.

His hands thrashed about, trying to reach anything that
might keep him afloat long enough to survive. His head went under. As the next
wave pulled him up, he managed another gulp of air before being dragged down
once more.

It was dark, and the wave had spun him around several times
before his hand reached hold of something solid. It was wooden.
Perhaps a
barrel?
He gripped it with all his might and, despite being a poor swimmer,
held on until he reached the shore.

There he quickly stumbled up on land. Sick and exhausted,
John looked back at the wreck of the Emily Rose for the first time. Only the
bow remained, sticking several feet out of the water.

Heads were bobbing near the wreck site. Some of them were accompanied
by the frantic movements of arms attempting to stave off drowning, while others
no longer moved at all.

Lord have mercy.

Lacking strength to help any one of them, he pulled out the Bible
from inside his trouser pants and opened to the middle of the leather bound
book.

Inside the cut pages, he was relieved to see that it was
still there. A single gold ring, a small ruby embedded on top.

He held it up towards the light so that he could read the
inscription.

Rose Mills 1810.

He thought about the promise he’d made to the woman to whom
that ring had belonged.

He would not dishonor his sacred oath.

*

Jack Robertson met the morning’s sun with the confidence of
a man who knew that he’d cheated death once more. Of the entire 138 people
aboard the Emily Rose, he was shocked to discover that fewer than thirty had
survived.

They spent the next few days collecting whatever supplies
they might utilize to reach Sydney Cove. He found a strange happiness in their
plight. A thousand-mile adventure through an uncharted territory. It was the
easiest way to forget about what he’d done back in England.

The days were long and hard. They had to carry large amounts
of food stores using packs. Water was scarce, the vegetation sparse, and the
trees enormous. The country had a number of unique animals. Although plentiful,
the animals had little meat to offer. What meat they found was tough and
gristly. It wasn’t an easy life, but they’d be able to sustain themselves.

After a week, the small party settled into the routine.

Occasionally, Jack caught a glimpse of a native watching
them from afar. In general however, the aboriginals keep their distance.

It wasn’t until their third week that Jack first laid eyes
on her.

The Mahogany Ship looked like a mirage in the distance.

She was so large that her prominent bow and stern were
visible hours before the survivors reached her. From that distance, she looked
like a grand ship sailing through the mountain. At first, Jack mistook their
distance from the ship. It wasn’t until he was closer that he realized just how
large the ship was.

“Christ almighty, I think we’ve just found Noah’s Ark!” Jack
exclaimed with awe.

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