Read Commanding Heart Online

Authors: Madeline Evering

Commanding Heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

Commanding
Heart

 

by Madeline Evering

Text copyright © 2013 Madeline Evering

All Rights Reserved

Table of Contents

 

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

Chapter V

Chapter VI

Chapter VII

Chapter VIII

Chapter IX

Chapter X

Chapter XI

Chapter XII

Chapter XIII

Chapter XIV

Chapter XV

Chapter XVI

Chapter XVII

Chapter XVIII

Chapter XIX

Chapter XX

Chapter XXI

Chapter XXII

Chapter I

Catherine Gibson stood alone at the bustling
naval dock in Portsmouth, amusement and wonder playing across the features of
her lovely face. She turned in a small circle, the starched white petticoats of
her dress brushing the dust in a soft whisper. Catherine was captivated by sights
and sounds completely foreign to a young, sheltered girl of nineteen. All around
her was energy, motion, color and noise that spoke of important work and great
purpose. In front of her, along the length and breadth of the great dock, a
bevy of seamen bent to their tasks, carrying rope or lengths of chain, mending
sails, or straining to load immense cargo into waiting barges. Enormous supply
wagons rolled past her in a continual parade, drawn by teams of stamping,
sweating draft horses whose iron shod feet set the cobbles ringing. One such
wagon rocked past in great haste, forcing Catherine to leap nimbly aside,
skirts twirling. The beautiful young woman drew a shaky breath and wisely chose
a safer vantage point at the water’s edge, a comfortable distance away from the
traffic of the great dock. She turned her back to the sights onshore to marvel once
more at the harbor itself; there in the sparkling water floated such a wealth
of ships of every size and description that the masts seemed to create a forest
on the surface of the sea. Somewhere within their number lay
HMS Triton
– her home for the next weeks. Catherine’s clear blue eyes strained against the
morning sun, seeking the ship with a mixture of excitement and anxiety.  When
she spied the great ship at last her heart skipped nervously against her chest.
What could she expect from the journey to come? And what would be found at its
end? Catherine mind began to run wild in speculation but she would not indulge
her fears. She squared her shoulders resolutely, stifling her worries for the
moment as she made another slow turn to survey the scene. The spectacle filled
Catherine with awe as she took in each curious wonder.

Knowing that their time of departure soon
approached, Catherine raised a hand to her eyes and scanned the dock for sign
of her uncle, Lieutenant Robert Matthews. The lieutenant had urgent business to
complete for his captain before they sailed, and so had left her briefly to
make final arrangements. As she turned once more to survey the crowd, she
caught sight of him at last. Catherine’s rosy lips curled in a warm grin at the
sight of Matthews making his way through the bustling crowd. He was a short but
powerfully built man, strong in body and generous in spirit. When Lieutenant
Matthews had married her aunt twenty years previous it was a matter of great scandal
to his wife’s wealthy family. A sailor of no name, and little means, was not a
welcome addition to their way of thinking.  Her aunt, however, found the young
sailor to be very much to her taste. She made her own mind on the subject,
ignored her family’s wishes, and eloped with Robert Matthews. The end result of
this mutinous act was a long, happy marriage, blessed with several children and
an abundance of love, if not money.

“Catherine!” her uncle cried as he
approached, “There you are you wonderful child! Why you’ve barely moved from
the spot I left you more than half an hour ago! Were you concerned for your
safety? What folly,” he chided himself, “I should have taken you with me to the
storerooms rather than abandon you so carelessly!” Catherine laid a gloved hand
on his arm and gave a small, sparkling laugh at his speech. “Indeed, Uncle” she
grinned, “Make yourself easy, I am completely well! I am afraid I have remained
here out of country ignorance and astonishment at my surroundings, not from
fear or worry. I have spent the entire time starring rudely at every soul that
passed my way, desperate to understand who they are and what they are about!”

Matthews gave a deep rumbling laugh
at her report, his eyes twinkling with merriment at the honest pronouncement. The
lieutenant looked at his young niece, and was astonished anew by her changed
appearance. War with France had kept him away from his family for most of a
year, and in that time Catherine had blossomed from a carefree tomboy into a
startlingly beautiful young woman. She stood before him in an elegant empire
gown of finest muslin, topped by a pelisse of cornflower blue that matched her
laughing eyes. Her thick, golden hair was carefully arranged under a straw
bonnet, but a few stray tendrils escaped to curl loosely about the sides of her
heart-shaped face. Fashion of the day dictated a pale complexion for a woman
but Catherine’s undeniable love of the outdoors produced a deeper rose in her
cheeks than conventional tastes would prefer. “
And all the better for it
,”
thought Matthews, “
For she does not look a silly, wilting hothouse flower,
but a true English rose
.”

“Come,” Matthews said with fatherly
affection, tucking her small hand into the crook of his arm “We must get
underway dear girl.” At his words, the smile that seemed ever present in Catherine’s
face wavered a moment. Matthews’ watchful eye noticed the change and he paused
in his step. “Catherine,” he rumbled softly, “I know how difficult this journey
must seem to you, how frightened you must be…” Catherine pulled her gaze away from
his a moment, but when she next looked at her uncle her features were composed
once more. “You are mistaken, Uncle” she replied with some effort; “I am
prepared…. Indeed, I am more than prepared for what lies ahead….” She trailed
off uncertainly but gave the lieutenant a quick smile of encouragement. The
knowing man was not fooled by Catherine’s efforts, but he could not help but
admire her nerve and firm resolve. With great tenderness Matthews led her to
where an awaiting skiff lay ready to transport them to his captain’s vessel,
the
HMS Triton
. Catherine took one last look at the bustling banks of Portsmouth and nodded her readiness to her uncle. Matthews gave her hand a firm squeeze and
handed aboard this most precious cargo to depart for Jamaica.

Chapter II

The men at the oars set a quick pace
for themselves, piloting Catherine and her uncle over the smooth water with
ease. Despite her reservations about what awaited her at journey’s end, she
thrilled at this exhilarating moment on the open sea. After days spent
traveling in a noisy, crowded, uncomfortable stage coach, Catherine felt a
great sense of freedom as they crossed the sea surface. A slight breeze stirred
the water and tore loose tendrils of hair from her carefully twisted knot. She gave
a small chuckle of delight at the sensation, the salt air stinging her checks
to even brighter color. At long last Catherine was freed from the drab rigor
and routine of her former boarding school. The cold stone buildings, and the
even colder matrons, were but a distant memory on this bright summer day at
sea. Jamaica and all its difficulties still lay ahead, but Catherine was determined
to seize the beauty of this moment, and worry about the future when it made
itself present.

In short order the oarsmen brought
the small skiff alongside the enormous bulk of
HMS Triton
. Catherine
starred up in awe at its immense presence: two towering decks boasting 74 guns and
countless berths made up the lower portion of the ship; topping all of this was
a main deck that stretched over 180 feet in length from stem to stern. Far
above the deck soared three enormous masts that carried the sails of the
square-rigger. Catherine had heard many stories of
HMS Triton
from her
uncle, none of which did justice to the awesome splendor of this magnificent
vessel. The jet black hull with its gold embellishments glittered in the
morning sun like a living thing. Catherine had developed great skill in
sketching and painting while at school, and her eager eyes scanned every detail
of the ship, committing them to memory until her nimble fingers held a
paintbrush once more.

Matthews watched his niece’s
expressive face with delight, thrilled at the way in which she took in the
scene before her. For two years now, the
HMS Triton
had been his home
and he was more than a little proud to show off its beauty to one of his
family. Four hundred men made up the
Triton’s
able crew, and they had
been well tested in recent years in the war against Napoleon. The ship had seen
action countless times, from the coast of France to the Mediterranean, and in
every instance
HMS Triton
had proved victorious. Matthews knew the ship
well, knew how capable a vessel she was to any task the Admiralty set for her;
but Matthews also knew that much of the ship’s success rested in its adept handling
by his captain, John Knight.

Captain Knight was several years
Matthews’ junior, but his skill at sea suggested the wisdom and capabilities of
a man far older. He had rapidly moved up the chain of command within His
Majesty’s Navy through hard work and skilled decision making. Knight was a born
leader, carefully choosing and shaping his crew, working every moment to get
the best out of his men and
HMS Triton
. In a time of war, when captains
necessarily ruled with an iron fist, Knight commanded his men with respect and led
by his own brave example. He demanded much of every soul onboard, but no more
than he demanded of himself. He deservedly held the respect of every crewman
aboard
HMS Triton
for his sound judgment and skill. The men in return
held their captain in the highest esteem, loyally giving their all in tribute
to his careful management of the ship and their very lives.

All these thoughts raced about
Matthews’ head as the skiff made its final approach to the
Triton’s
accommodation
ladder. Matthews stepped lightly up the ladder, watching Catherine’s progress
behind him until they finally came level with the deck. Catherine’s keen eye
was captured afresh by the incredible scene that met her there. Everywhere men
bustled to their urgent tasks, the ship teaming with activity as marines
paraded at drill, men climbed rigging, ropes were coiled, and the business of a
ship of war busily continued. At her uncle’s approach, a handful of officers
stepped forward and stood to attention. Matthews nimbly hoisted his bulky frame
over the side, landing on the deck with the lightness of a cat. Catherine
grinned at the image, seeing in this one movement how at home her uncle was
onboard a ship – more so than he ever appeared to be on land. Lieutenant
Matthews greeted the men quickly, and then returned to his niece. Catherine placed
one hand in Matthews extended grasp and looked down a moment to find her
footing. Her head lifted up in surprise; however, as her other hand was caught
and held in a powerful grip.

Catherine’s startled gaze met with the
imposing frame of the
HMS Triton’s
leader, Captain John Knight. He
towered before her, well over six feet tall and powerfully built, with broad
shoulders that reminded her of a figure from a Classical painting. His jet
black hair was short-cropped and curled about his head to frame a strong,
deeply tanned face with an aquiline nose and sharp cheekbones. He was dressed
in full uniform and Catherine could not help but notice how the captain’s dark
eyes seemed to match the deep shade of his naval jacket; they were the most
intense blue color she had ever seen. Catherine blushed as she realized how she
was starring, and quickly looked down before stepping lightly aboard with the
aid of her uncle and his captain.

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