Anthony Carter and the Admiral’s Daughter - Cover

Anthony Carter and the Admiral’s Daughter

Copyright© 2024 by Argon

Chapter 8: Doña Maria

It was the last evening of the voyage, and Tony had ordered to shorten sails as he did not want to make the landfall at night. He and his guest had dinner with Inés; but the girl had retired and they were alone.

“Don Antonio, you have rarely told me anything about your private affairs. I know that you are not married, but you must have a fiancée.”

Tony’s face must have shown the pain, because she put her hand on his arm.

“I am sorry, I did not mean to stir up sad memories.”

“No reason to be sorry, Doña Maria,” Tony answered with a forced smile. “I really should get over it, but it is not easy.”

“Would you care to talk with me?”

“It is quite simple, Doña Maria. I met a girl when I was 18 years old and second mate in my father’s ship. I fell in love with her right away. She was the daughter of an admiral. I think I joined the Navy mostly because I wanted to be eligible for her.”

“What happened?”

“We fell out a year later over an indiscretion I committed.” Here Tony blushed noticeably. “I only met her again over three years later. I had just been made captain and I met her in her family’s home in London. We made up with our past quarrel and we fell in love again. I was to leave on a journey to the Great South Sea, a year’s trip, but she promised me to wait for my return.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t really know what happened. I only know that when I returned, there was a letter waiting for me from her mother, informing me that she was married to another man, the son and heir of a peer. She did not even wait a half year before she broke her promise.”

Doña Maria put her hand on Tony’s arm.

“Have you seen her since then?”

“Yes, a chance meeting in the street. She was with her fat husband. She nearly fainted when she saw me.”

“And what did you do?”

Tony smiled grimly.

“I exacted a little revenge. She had given me a medallion with her image. I returned it to her in the face of her husband. I suppose she had some explaining to do.”

Doña Maria smiled.

“That was quite subtle. So I take it that you do not trust women anymore?”

Tony found his smile back.

“No. I had the luck to meet a very special woman in London during my last stay. We made no commitment, but it was good to be with her. She restored some of my faith in women. I did something stupid, though. When in Portsmouth, I had an affair with another young woman, too. Now, I am worried that I may hurt either or both of them.”

“You are an enterprising young gentleman, Don Antonio,” she mocked him. Then she became thoughtful. “I have not seen my husband in over three years. I admit to being worried too. What if he, under the assumption I was dead, remarried?”

“Doña Maria, any man married to you will never look at another woman again,” Tony assured her.

She smiled sadly.

“My husband and I were married for political reasons. He is considerate to me, but his love is devoted to his paramour. He has known her since long before me, but he could not marry her, because her father had fallen into disgrace. So he had to marry me, but he has not spent ten nights in my bed.”

“I am sorry to hear that. Are you afraid that he might not welcome you back?”

“No, no,” she said bitterly. “I am much too important for his ambitions. I am related to the Royal House of Borbon. No, he will welcome me, and we shall settle into our previous life again.”

Tony was not sure, but he thought he saw her eyes brimming with tears in the diffuse candle light of the cabin.

“I don’t know what to say, other than I am sorry for you, Doña Maria. You deserve much better.”

Now Tony had put his hand on her arm. A spark of understanding flew between them as Doña Maria put her hand on his. They remained like this for minutes, their eyes locked into each other’s. Then she stood up slowly.

“Give me a few minutes to prepare,” she whispered when Tony scrambled to his feet. She pressed his hand once more before she disappeared into her sleeping chamber.

Tony called for his steward and had him clear the table before he retired to the chartroom where he had his temporary accommodation. He quickly took off his heavy uniform coat and stock. In the dim light of a candle, he shaved and washed the day’s sweat from his body with a wash cloth. Then, in his shirt and breeches, he walked across the dark after cabin to Doña Maria’s cabin and knocked softly.

The door opened immediately and a hand pulled him into the dark chamber. He felt bare skin under his hands as he held Maria’s shoulders, warm skin that seemed to vibrate under his touch, and with his lips he searched for her mouth. They melted together in the dark and felt their way to the cot where Maria sank down, pulling him along and on top of her. This was madness for sure, but sweet and rewarding. Tony lost himself in their embrace, in their closeness. This was not like any of his previous encounters with women, not even his night with Anita. This was two souls merging, not just two bodies. Tony knew that this was his first and only night with this wonderful woman and he let go of himself with abandon.

Later that night, when the morning watch was called, Tony disentangled himself from the sleeping Maria. His arm had fallen asleep, causing him discomfort, but he also needed to clear out of the cabin before he compromised Doña Maria’s reputation. She mumbled in her sleep, and Tony kissed her forehead before he sneaked out of the chamber.

Back in his makeshift chamber, he dropped on his cot. Two hours later found him on the quarterdeck, a dressing gown over his naked body. The startled men of the watch were ordered to rig a deck wash pump, and when they reported ready, Tony dropped his dressing gown and had the pump squad hose him down. The cool water was refreshing and he felt invigorated when he was back in his chamber, dressing in his second best uniform coat. He expected to make contact with the Spanish today, and he did not want to sell himself or the service cheaply.

The wet puddle on the quarterdeck had long evaporated when the lookout called out land. Doña Maria appeared on deck and Tony greeted her with all formality.

“Good morning, Doña Maria! I trust that you slept well?”

She had trouble suppressing a silly giggle, and she looked gorgeous. Her eyes were shining, and there was a happy smile on her lips.

“Thank you, Capitan, I most certainly had a very good night.”

Tony kissed the hand she offered.

“As you will have noticed, we are in the approach to Cartagena. Another two hours should see us in the range of the fortifications. We shall have to contact his Most Catholic Majesty’s representatives first to state our peaceful intentions. Perhaps you may want to write a message to be delivered to your husband?”

She nodded with a sad smile. “I have already foreseen this need. A letter informing my husband of my fate is written and sealed. It can be delivered at any time.”

Reluctantly, Tony let go of her hand. There was so much more he wanted to say, but their time was running out. They could see the mainland from the deck now. On the Tony’s order, the helmsman corrected the course slightly, and HMS Clyde approached the great walled city of Cartagena.

Francis Drake had plundered Cartagena in 1586. Since then, the fortifications had been doubled and trebled to shield the wealth of Cartagena. However, in 1741, Admiral Vernon had again succeeded in subduing the city. When they neared the bocagrande, the northern entry into the Bahia de Cartagena, Tony had the Red Ensign hoisted. In response, a huge Spanish flag appeared over the large fort at the mouth of the inlet. The Clyde hove to, just out of gun range. The cutter was lowered to the water, and the third lieutenant, Mr. Dunn, was entrusted with the letters to the governor.

The cutter sailed towards the shore with the Red Ensign flying. Tony watched the boat through his glass. He could see that there was a Spanish officer on the jetty underneath the walls of the fort. As ordered, Dunn returned with the cutter after delivering the letters, and the Clyde stayed hove-to for more than four hours.

Tony and Doña Maria had a noon meal in the cabin. They both knew they were on stolen time, but they made the most of it.

“I really loved what we did last night, Antonio,” Maria told him whilst they were sipping coffee. The table had been cleared, and they were alone.

“It was one of the most memorable nights in my life,” Tony answered, slightly embarrassed. There had been a lot such nights lately.

Maria grinned. “Don’t worry, Antonio, my dear. It was obvious that you have vast experience. I am not jealous. How could I? I am just thankful that providence has granted me this night of love and passion in your arms.”

“Do you think that we may have started a child, Maria?”

She smiled. “I can only hope. I would love to have a child before I am too old. I would love to have your child. My husband, well, I think he will be pleased, too. After all, he needs an heir. If things get unpleasant, I shall claim that Fra Angelo was the culprit who dishonoured me.”

Tony looked at her. “Do you want to talk about him?”

“No, Antonio, I’d rather not. He was a vile man, a monster. He did things to the prisoners that are too foul to relate. He’s dead now, and I shall not allow him to haunt me.”

“Can you write letters to me? I would like to hear from you.”

“You mean, about whether I am with child?” she smiled. “Yes, I think I can arrange for letters to be sent. I shall not be able to write about my feelings for you; my husband will read them without doubt.” She looked at him. “Antonio, you really should have a wife. Try to put this other girl out of your mind. She did not deserve you. What about the actress you said you met in London?”

“I’ve only met her one evening. She is very popular and she has admirers all the way up to the Royal Family. She cannot possibly harbour a serious interest in me.”

“Don’t be too sure. If she is popular and admired, chances are she is lonely. All those admirers cannot give her what you can give and what I felt last night.”

“What’s that?” Tony asked bewildered.

“Love and devotion, Antonio. Of that you have enough for any woman. If she felt what I felt last night, she will wait for your return. Don’t miss out on the chance for happiness!”

Just then, they heard steps approach and then a knock on the door. Mr. Wilson stepped inside.

“Sir, Mr. Fortescue’s compliments, and there is a boat coming from the shore. A big boat with many officers, Sir.”

“Thank you Mr. Wilson, I shall be on deck presently.”

When the door had closed, Tony and Maria both stood and embraced. Nothing was said. Then he left the cabin and joined his officers on deck.

The approaching boat was large, almost 40 feet long, and propelled by eighteen oars. At least a half dozen officers in red and gold uniforms populated the stern. The boat hooked onto the chains and a Spanish naval officer called up in halting English.

“His Excellency, Don Alonso Christobal Ruiz de Costa y Torquena, His Most Catholic Majesty’s Governor of Cartagena, asks for permission to come aboard.”

“His Excellency is most welcome and we feel honoured by his visit,” Tony answered.

A command brought the Royal Marines to attention, the boatswains’ pipes twittered, and Don Alonso came on board to the tune of a nineteen-gun salute. Tony welcomed him and presented him to his officers. His Excellency, in turn, introduced his suite. After everybody had bowed at least a dozen times, Tony led Don Alonso to the cabin where Doña Maria stood prepared to meet her husband. Tony studied the little scene, and he was surprised to see that Don Alonso seemed genuinely happy about the return of his wife. He kissed her hands, he complimented her, and seemed just as excited as a loving husband could be expected to be. He turned to Tony.

“Don Antonio, you have earned my eternal gratitude. You have brought back the light of my life. For years, I feared that I had lost her. You must visit Cartagena, please! We shall have a fiesta like this city has never seen. Prepare to stay a week at least! If you agree, Capitan Ortega will stay with you to escort you into the harbour. You are hereby invited most cordially.”

That was something Tony had feared. But he could not refuse a personal invitation without raising suspicion.

“Your Excellency is very kind. On behalf of myself and my officers I accept your invitation with the greatest pleasure.”

The procession moved back to the deck. Maria was lowered into the boat using the boatswain’s chair, the governor bade his farewell, and the boat was rowed back to the shore in a hurry. Capitan Ortega stayed behind, and he gave the British captain instructions how to navigate the entrance to the bay. It was late afternoon when the Clyde cast anchor in the harbour of Cartagena and rather close to the shore. Tony could see the huge Castillo San Felipe De Barajas, the city’s main fortification.

Capitan Ortega took his leave then, but promised to be back later. He was replaced, though, by a severe looking elderly gentleman who introduced himself as Don Alonso’s confidential aide and secretary. He spoke passable English and wanted to know as much as possible about the situation in the monastery. He then drafted a report which Tony had to countersign.

Another boat arrived shortly after, to take the remaining female prisoners and nuns to the shore. A grim looking priest oversaw this action whom Tony recognised from his frock as belonging to the Holy Inquisition. The senior nun who had been lying to Tony on that first morning at the monastery, approached him with abarrage of accusing words, but he answered brusquely, and she shrank away, visibly terrified. When the inquisitor approached Tony, he was reluctant. He was used to dealing with heretics, but this particular heretic happened to be armed and an honoured guest of the governor. Garcia had to serve as interpreter again. Although Tony’s Spanish had vastly improved during the evenings spent with Doña Maria, he preferred to use the translator to gain time for his responses.

The inquisitor spoke, and Garcia translated.

“He says one more nun here. He wants her, Sir.”

Tony set his jaw. “Tell him she is my personal guest and that I guaranteed her safety with my word of honour. Tell him that he will have to do without her.”

Garcia translated and the priest looked daggers at both of them. He spoke at length again, and Tony had difficulties understanding him.

“He says, way of church more important than word of honour, Sir, begging your pardon, she must appear before inquisitor.”

“Tell him, no. Tell him, she will stay here. Tell him that I take no orders from him, and that I answer only to King George and the Church of England.”

Garcia grinned and translated. The inquisitor looked around, obviously trying to think of a way to enforce his will. When no idea came, he turned around wordlessly and left over the side of the ship and into the boat. This was the last they heard from him.

Shortly before dusk, Capitan Ortega returned with a barge. The barge carried two freshly roasted bullocks that were still hot. Fresh vegetables and corn bread completed the dinner Don Alonso sent for Clyde’s crew. The men were ecstatic. Fresh roasted beef after months of boiled salt pork was a heavenly treat. Fresh vegetables were the utmost luxury, and soft white bread instead of maggot-infested hardtack was beyond imagination for the average sailor.

Capitan Ortega also brought a message commanding Captain Carter and his officers to a reception at the Castillo San Felipe for the next morning at 11 o’clock civilian time. The message stated that there would be a mass at church to thank for the safe deliverance of Doña Maria, but Don Alonso begged forgiveness, explaining that their British guests could not be admitted there.

Thus, at four bells on the forenoon watch, Tony, with four lieutenants and six midshipmen, all in their best uniforms, was rowed ashore in the longboat. Three coaches with uniformed footmen waited for them, and they were transported to the Castillo San Felipe. When they entered the great hall of the governor’s residence, Don Alonso himself came to greet them. As the guest of honour, Tony was seated to the left of Their Excellencies, across from the Bishop.

As soon as the British officers were seated, Don Alonso gave a long and flowery speech, in which he expressed his gratitude to God, the Mother Mary, the saints in general and the patron saints in particular, His Holiness the Pope, His Most Catholic Majesty, and, wonder over wonder, the Royal Navy in the person of his dear friend Don Antonio, for the great privilege of having his beloved wife restored to him. Don Alonso expressed his hope that in the difficult times ahead, His Majesty King George III and his Most Catholic Majesty would find it in their powers to maintain peace between their two great nations. All the dignitaries clapped their hands dutifully and looked upon Tony for his answer.

Luckily, he had envisioned the necessity to deliver a formal answer, and with the help of the sailor Garcia, he had drafted a short answer in which he pointed out the great honour conferred to his ship by the privilege to give transportation to Doña Maria and the chance to be the first to congratulate His Excellency on the safe return of his wife.

Now the glasses were raised in salute, and toasts were delivered to the health of all the aforementioned deities, saints, monarchs and dignitaries. Tony drank sparingly and he looked sternly at his young officers to call them to their duty to remain sensible. Mr. Fortescue caught Tony’s glance and obviously passed on the order. Tony could see that his young men drank less enthusiastically to the next toasts.

Once all the toasts had been offered, servants swarmed out to load the tables with the first course of the dinner. It was excellent food, if spicy, and Doña Maria looked at Tony with amusement in her eyes when he took his first bite. Tony had spent almost his whole life in the Caribbean, however, and chilli peppers were nothing new to him. In fact he relished the spicy food that was served. When Tony expressed his appreciation of the dish, it was obvious to everyone that he meant it. Again, he ate sparingly, knowing full well that this was the first dish of at least seven courses. When they finished with a sweet dessert and a heavy, sweet wine almost two hours later, Tony had to concede that he had rarely eaten better in his life.

Hot chocolate was served, and then Don Alonso stood again.

“My dear friends,” he began, “yesterday was the happiest day in my life. My beloved wife, abducted by treacherous hands, had been missing for three years. Only my firm belief that the Holy Virgin would hold her protective hands over her gave me solace in those years.” He bowed towards the Bishop who smiled graciously.

“At long last and by the grace of the Almighty, her false imprisonment ended at the hands of our dear guest, Don Antonio. We have thanked the Almighty this morning, now is the time to thank the mortal tool of His Mercy.

“Don Antonio, I shall always remain in your debt. We cannot offer you lands or fortunes to express our thanks as you are a faithful servant of the great King George of England, may God bless him and enlighten him.

“As a token of my eternal gratitude, however, I would like to present you with this sword. It was forged for my younger brother Enrique at the Real Fábrica de Espadas de Toledo, by the best sword makers in the world. He used it with honour until he perished in the service of His Most Catholic Majesty. Let me express the hope that it will never spill Spanish blood. Most importantly, my dear friend, let me hope that this blade, so finely crafted, will never fail you in a moment of peril.”

With this, he presented Tony with a beautiful sword. Tony had never seen the like of it. He knew that Toledo steel was the best in the world and he was aware of the immense value of this weapon.

“Your Excellency,” he started, himself choking a little, “you have just given me the greatest compliment. To be found worthy of carrying this magnificent sword is a great honour indeed. This weapon will adorn my side until my deathbed, and before I shall pass it on to my eldest son, I shall tell him of the great honour conferred to my family with this gift. I thank you, your Excellency, and I salute you and your noble family!”

From the face of his host, Tony could see that his words were well taken. Several servants stepped forward and presented the other officers of the Clyde with beautiful, if less valuable, swords. Even Mr. Fortescue, who came from the nobility and possessed a well crafted sword of Birmingham steel, showed his delight.

When all the thanks had been voiced properly, the reception came to an end. The governor invited Tony for the next afternoon to have a more private meeting, and the British officers were escorted back to the harbour. Heavy with food and wine and exalted over their beautiful new swords they returned to the Clyde. Again, the Spanish had delivered fresh food to the ship, and Tony found his crew almost as happy as his officers.

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