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His face buried in the collar of his greatcoat, Captain Wilkes watched from the bridge. Lines were thrown and the tug was secured to their side. Two uniformed men climbed the rope ladder with some difficulty, then waited on deck as their leather bags were passed up to them. Lieutenant Fairfax reported to the bridge.

“They are Federal marshals, Captain. With orders to report to you.”

“Good. See that they are taken to my cabin. How are our prisoners?”

“Protesting mightily about the weather and the conditions of their quarters.”

“That is of no importance. Are they secure under lock and key?”

“They are, sir. With guards outside their door right around the clock.”

“See that it remains that way.”

The captain went to his cabin where he awaited the Federal marshals. They stamped in, big, burly men; snow melted on their heavy coats.

“You have new orders for me?”

The marshal in charge passed over the leather wallet. Wilkes took out the document and scanned it briefly. “You know what these orders are?”

“We do, Captain. We are to remain aboard and mount a close guard over your prisoners. Then this ship is to proceed directly to Fort Warren in Boston harbor. The only concern of the Navy Department was that you might not have enough coal.”

“My bunkers are nearly full. We sail at once.”

Once out of the shelter of the harbor the full strength of the storm hit them. Waves crashed over the decks and water foamed in the scuppers. The San Jacinto rolled and pitched so badly that, when the waves passed under her stern, the screw lifted briefly out of the water. It was a hard night even for the veteran sailors; disaster for the landsmen. The four prisoners were devastatingly ill with seasickness, as were the Federal marshals. Slidell groaned aloud, praying that their vessel either arrive in safe harbor — or sink. Anything to end the torment.

It was not until the afternoon of the second day that the storm-battered San Jacinto sailed into the smoother waters of Boston harbor and tied up at the wharf on Fort Warren. The exhausted prisoners were led away by an armed squad of soldiers, the Federal marshals stumbling in their wake. Lieutenant Fairfax supervised the unloading of their luggage and their supplies from the Trent. Fort Warren was a secure prison, the fort’s high stone walls running right around the tiny island. When Fairfax returned to the ship he brought the day’s newspapers to the captain’s cabin.

“The entire country is jubilant, Sir. They hail you as the savior of the nation.”

Wilkes did not reveal the pleasure he felt at this news. He had only done his duty as he saw it — though the naval authorities might not have seen it in quite the same way. But nothing succeeds like success. He almost smiled at the good news. His superior officers would find it hard, in the light of public jubilation, to find a way for him to be reproved for his actions. He read the headlines with grim satisfaction.

“Apparently, Lieutenant Fairfax, there is no love lost in this country for our prisoners. Look here. Mason is called a knave, a coward and a bully… dear, dear. And even more — a pompous snob as well as being a conceited and shallow traitor.”

Fairfax was also reading the papers. ” Slidell is treated the same way here in The Globe. They see him as cold, clever, selfish, rapacious and corrupt.”

“And we thought we were just seizing a brace of traitorous politicians. I wonder if the English newspapers will see this matter in the same light?”

“I very much doubt that, Captain.”

Lord Palmerston read the London newspapers as he waited for his Cabinet to assemble, nodding with grim agreement at the bombast and rage.

“I concur with every word, gentlemen, every word,” he said, waving a handful of the journals across the Cabinet table. “The country is with us, the public outraged. We must act with deliberate speed lest these rebellious colonials believe their cowardly act will go unremarked. Now — have you all had a chance to look at the documents from the Trent ?”

“I have gone through them quite carefully,” William Gladstone said. “Except, of course, for the personal communications for the Queen and the French Emperor.”

Palmerston nodded. “These will be sent on.”

“As for the instructions to the dockyards and other documents, they are full proof of the legitimacy of these ambassadors. I know not how the French will respond — but I for one am amazed at the Yankee gall in this seaborne capture.”

“I share your feelings,” Palmerston said.

“Then your proposed action, my lord?” Russell asked.

“After due consideration, and in the light of public support, I feel that something drastic must be done, firm action taken. I have a draft of the dispatch here before me,” Palmerston answered, tapping the letter on the desk in front of him. “Originally I thought that a protest through normal diplomatic channels would suffice, which is why I have called you together. But I have since come to believe that this universal outpouring of rage cannot be ignored. We must speak for the country — and speak with most righteous indignation. I have prepared a dispatch for the American government, and have couched it in the strongest terms. I have given instructions that the mail steamer is to be held in Southampton awaiting the arrival of this communication. The Queen will see it today and will undoubtedly agree with every word. When she approves — then off it will go.”


“Yes Mr. Gladstone,” Palmerston responded, smiling. William Gladstone, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, was a rock of support in trying times.

“It is my pleasure to inform you that my wife and I are dining with the Queen and Prince Albert this evening. Perhaps I might then present her with the dispatch and impress upon her the unanimity of her government in this matter.”

“Splendid!” Palmerston was relieved, almost wanted to pat Gladstone on the back, pleased that he could avoid a meeting with the Queen. “We are all in your debt for this undertaking. The memorandum is yours.”

Though Gladstone left the cabinet meeting in the best of humors, eager to be of some aid in his party and his country’s service, he lost a good deal of his enthusiasm when he took the time to read the document he had so readily volunteered to endorse. Later that evening, as their carriage rattled across the cobblestones and through the entrance to Buckingham Palace, his wife noted with some concern the dour set to his features.

“Is there something wrong, William? I have not seen you look so grim since we were in that dreadful Kingdom of Naples.”

“I must apologize. I am most sorry to bring my troubles with me.” He took and pressed her gloved hand. “As in Napoli it is affairs of state that disturb me so. But we shall not let it spoil this evening. I know how much you have been looking forward to this dinner with Her Majesty.”

“As indeed I have.” Her voice broke a bit as she spoke. Hesitantly she asked, “The Queen has, I sincerely hope, been very well of late? There has been talk, not that I believe it of course, about her, well… state of mind. After all, she is the granddaughter of Mad King George.”

“You must not concern yourself my dear with rumors worded about by idle riff-raff. She is, after all, the Queen.”

They were shown into the sitting room, where they bowed and curtsied to Queen Victoria.

“Albert will be with us momentarily, Mr. Gladstone. He is resting now. I am afraid that the dear man has been terribly fagged for some time.”

“I am devastated to hear that, ma’am. But I am sure that he is getting the best of care.”

“Of course! Sir James Clarke sees him daily. Today he prescribed ether and Hoffman’s drops. But do help yourself. There is sherry on the sideboard if you wish.”

“Thank you, ma’am.” Indeed he did wish for he was not at ease; he patted his chest where the document resided in the inner pocket. He was just pouring the sherry when Prince Albert came in.