When looking to start a war properly one need look no further than Groucho Marx. The next comic may be viewed on the website.
A website: ficuscomic.com
When looking to start a war properly one need look no further than Groucho Marx. The next comic may be viewed on the website.
A website: ficuscomic.com
The next comic may be viewed on the website. Sorry this one took so long to post, I’ve been struggling to motivate myself to do much besides stare at walls for the past couple months. I should be able to finish the next at a much more reasonable pace, and hopefully then I’ll get back into the swing of things.
Also, a website: ficuscomic.com
This blog is not dead, nor are the contributors. I cannot speak for Mikolai, but I know for myself a lot of the silence is because this is just a bad time of year for me. This happens often to me around January. The voices in the back of my head that tell me that all of my ideas are absolute garbage are unusually large this time of year. This year has been an extra bad one however. Normally I am able to still sit down and write. This has not happened this winter. Very slowly I am starting to have ideas again, but at this point I am so out of touch with my own long projects that I have been posting on here that this is going to take a little longer. I am working on it. I really am.
William and Mr. Quince were taken out in the first boat, with what other men would fit, with the boat crew making several other trips before they finally returned to the ship for the last time, to join Mr. Ennis in his watch over their only escape from a colony that was only nominally in control of friendly forces now. William considered marching past Master Hedge’s workshop to let the old man know of his intent, but in the end he decided that was a rotten idea. There would be an undoubted scene, and he did not wish he men to see him arguing with his adoptive father. He always did everything in his power to keep his private life out of his life on the ship if he could, if nothing else because he suspected that his men would look at him as weak if he did let them in too much. They might well begin to mock him and his desperation for acceptance from the two men that he had called family when he had been growing up. They had always shown so much patience towards him, he could not imagine anything worse than being a disappointment, though he was not entirely certain how to act as society wished him to.
The sailors were not by any means military trained, and so while William imagined them a bold army, a force to be reckoned with, who were marching to do battle with the British, they were in truth more of a mob, each man in his canvas pants, and whatever color shirt he had decided he favored. Some of the men did not even have shoes, they were not needed on board the ship after all now that it was spring, and they allowed the calluses on the soles of their feet be planted firmly on the earth now, seeing now reason to change their appearance just because they were going ashore. Even Mr. Quince did not manage complete dignity, having chosen practicality over military splendor. He had chosen to wear only a loose jacket with a calico shirt underneath, and a pair of canvas pants, much like William wished that he could wear without disgracing himself.
The only map that William had of the area was a sea chart, and so he made the only choice he could about which route they would take. If the British had landed near Norwalk, then they simply had to march along the coast in the right direction until they hit Fairfield, which was as close as William felt comfortable getting to the British position, and then asking around until they discovered where the enemy had gone from there. It did not look far, only about eleven miles to walk. Of course he was thinking that before he remembered that his men were sailors, something that he was forced to recall quickly, as they all panted and huffed their way across the coastline towards their destination. All of them were in fine shape, well suited to climbing up and down masts and rigging, but walking for miles across land was a new thing for most of them, William included. That also did not include some other problems that William had failed to consider when he had plotted their course, which was that his sea charts failed to show obstacles on land. They were only about half way to their destination, with the line of seamen thinning to a ragged line according to how well they were able to walk on land, when William hit what was unmistakably, even to his untrained eye, a marsh. There was no chance that they were going to be able to find their way through that, they would have to go around it.
“A rest, ten minutes, men,” shouted William, and as each man came to where he was standing, they gratefully collapsed onto the ground. William was already feeling more gloomy than he had when they had set out, and from the look on his men’s faces they were feeling the same depression. He was now wishing that they had sailed directly from Bridgeport to Norwalk, even though it was such a short distance, and it would add to the danger of their ship being captured by the British. It was too late now though. William walked towards the swamp, hoping to at least manage to get a drink, and was disappointed in that even, one look at the water told him it was stagnant.
“Have some of mine, Captain,” said Mr. Quince, handing him a flask. William took a careful and cautious sip, unsure of what the flask actually held, and was relieved and disappointed all at the same time to find that it was water.
“Thank ya, Mr. Quince,” William said, handing the flask back. Around his men, he could see other flasks being handed around. He was willing to bet that at least a few of those flasks were not so innocent as the one that Mr. Quince had given him a sip of, but he was in no mood to criticize his men for this.
His men having collected their spirits, as well as having likely drank them, they once again set off across the countryside, now leaving the view of the ocean that they had enjoyed before this. They skirted the edge of the marsh, though it put them behind the schedule that William had half decided on in his mind. Not once did his men complain however, for which William was grateful. He was not certain he would have been so generous towards a captain if he was still nothing but a common officer before the mast. Instead his men seemed to find joy in singing any sea shanties that the second mate chose to sing. At first William was concerned that he was encouraging ambush through allowing his men to sing, but then he decided that it was well worth it in order to make the walk more pleasant.
It was only as the smoke from Fairfield that the men grew more quiet, even without William saying anything. Not one of them had any interest in ending their life on a prison hulk. William had expected to find the town in disarray, but he did not. Instead what he found was a militia captain in full control. The signs of it were apparent from the very moment that they entered the town, and there was a guard picket posted. They were allowed to pass, but with great reluctance. William had to assure multiple guards that they were of the Continental forces who had come to help. Even so, they were directed to go speak to the man who was currently in charge of the town’s defenses before they went any further. He had taken control of the inn, which was something that William could admire as a headquarters, since it would give food, shelter, and drink, to anyone who happened to be leading the army stationed there. William paused for a moment before approaching the man, but he felt he had to in the end. It was not as if it was possible to march into a militarily controlled town with a large group of armed men at your back, and not eventually have to explain oneself one way or another. William liked it better when the explanations were on his own terms. It sometimes at least, meant that they were more friendly. Leaving Mr. Quince in charge of the men, William straightened his clothing, which he now wished was his finest, and marched into the inn.
Since the town had been in such good order, William had expected that the inn would be as well. In this he had been wrong. The inn was chaos of the first order, full of men in what looked to be a fine attempt at military uniforms, and men who had not bothered, all shouting over one another as they tried to speak to one man, who was sitting at a table, and looking very tired. William had expected a man older than himself, but instead they were of about the same age. After watching for a moment, William could not help but wonder if that was because older men had been wise enough not to take the job. William studied the flow of the crowd like he might have studied the tides of the ocean, and then dove in. It was because of this preparation that while it looked as though it would take William a half hour at least to get the chance to talk to the man he wished to speak to, he was standing in front of the table that had become his desk in about five minutes, feeling very pleased with himself.
“Greetin’s Captain, my name is Captain William Boyd,” said William, looking into the sunken eyes of a man who had not slept in at least two days. He had had days like that himself, and so he recognized the signs.
“Captain of what?” asked the man at the desk, looking over his mismatched outfit, with less scorn than just confusion.
“The group of armed men outside of here, captain,” said William, unable to resist a touch of humor, and then he came back to the point. “And the privateer ship Beauty.”
“Which now sails on land, captain?” asked the captain of the militia, not to be outdone.
“Not a bit of it, captain,” admitted William, grinning. “But hearin’ as the British had invaded, and bein’ in these parts in any case, I thought it my duty ta help as I could.”
“What will the owners of your ship think of this decision, captain?” asked the militia, looking scornful for a moment. For that William was willing to forgive him. It was true that often the owners of the Privateering ships were penny pinching sorts who did not care so much for the cause as the profit. William was not complete exempt from this himself, but he was willing to ignore this detail for now, and act the loyal soldier.
“As I am both captain and owner, I am certain I’ll be forgiven, captain,” said William, still grinning. “Now what I’m wonderin’ is where it is that the British be headin’, as I’d like very much ta follow after them.”
“With how many men?” asked the captain of the militia, with some curiousity.
“A hundred,” admitted William, who knew it was a small force. Indeed, his force as a bit larger than that, but not by enough to make a large difference.
“And what would you do, other than get yourself and your men killed?” asked the militiaman, with some scepticism in his voice.
“I’d rather be pickin’ off some of the men with musket men than sittin’ safe in a town and doin’ nothin’,” said William, his voice firm, though he knew that the captain of the militia might take it as an insult.
“We are not doing nothing, captain,” said the militia man, his voice still calm and tired, “we are waiting.” William was impressed. Of late his experience with men who were not directly under his control had been full of fire and anger, and men getting angry at the drop of a hat, but this man was clearly not of that sort. It made him far more inclined to listen to the man rather than doing his own thing.
“Waitin’ for what, captain? I have no information other than the enemy has landed near here.”
“Waiting for the British forces to return, Captain Boyd. We had no news of their landing, and so they have been able to do as they please, which proved to be to destroy Danbury, where we kept many of our supplies. You’ll not be affected, but I assure you, my men feel the loss of the food and clothing, not to mention the powder and ball.” For a moment William considered suggesting that they send men to his ship and asking for some of his supplies from Mr. Ennis, but then he decided against it. Not only had it cost him dearly, but it was also likely to be the difference between life and death for him and his men later in a sea battle. In any case, he assured himself, it would be difficult for them to bring them back from his ship on time, and the messengers would stand in danger of being captured by the British, losing the powder and shot forever.
“Sa they are comin’ back this way?” asked William, trying to decide if he was understanding all of this correctly.
“If they would like to reach their fleet, Captain Boyd,” said the militia captain, this time it was his turn to grin, the smile making him look his proper age for a moment, rather than the haggard man that William had seen when he walked into the room. William found himself imagining the man at one of the social functions that he was sometimes invited to by Steven, the man would likely be at home in such a place, most militia officers were gentlemen. Here on the battlefield however, William realized for once he was the man’s equal, something that he had never considered before, not even when he introduced himself as Captain. It made him smile back at the officer, true joy etching his face rather than his normal sarcastic sneer.
“Ya would make them pay dear for ya supplies, captain?” he asked, though he thought he already knew the answer.
“That I would, Captain Boyd,” said the man, smiling back. There was an eagerness to him that made William willing to believe that the man would indeed prove himself on the battlefield, if he had not already.
“Then my men are at your service, captain,” said William, making up his mind. “They are well trained, and well armed, and we’ll da what we might ta show ya a good fight.” He stuck out his hand and the captain of the militia shook it with enthusiasm. If nothing else it would add to his chances of making it back to his ship with all of his limbs and still breathing. Even with skirmishing tactics like he had planned to use, of the sort he had learned as a pirate, leading his handful of men into battle would have cost him dearly. It was still likely to, but maybe less with other targets running around and distracting the British. It was that part of his brain that William was always ashamed of, and yet he was always thankful to it as well, since it had kept him alive for so long, despite everything he had faced. His captain from back when he had sailed on a pirate ship had treated him as a son, but even he had said he thought that William would die a violent death at a young age. Indeed this prediction had been one that William had worn as a badge of honor, and he had tried to live up to it, but at the same time, he had the knowledge that Matthew would look at it as an undoing of everything he had done since he had picked William bodily out of a tavern and carried him home.
“I will review your men later, Captain Boyd,” said the militia officer, nodding. “I have much to take care of, but I appreciate your aid.” William knew that their meeting was over with this, and he could not blame the officer for keeping it brief. Already there were voices clamoring for attention behind them. Indeed, William did not believe they had stopped through his entire conversation, though he had been too engrossed to realize it.
As William stepped out into the sunshine again, he found that his men had all sat down wherever they wanted in the middle of the city square, where they had become the center of much attention and curiosity from passerbys. Several of them were already asleep, stretched out on the cobbles, little caring who might be watching or might see them in such a state. After all, each and every one of the men slept on the deck when they could, out of the stuffy hold, and so sleeping outside was not strange, and they were accustomed to communal sleeping in the forecastle so having strangers walking past them was also not something that bothered them. Mr. Quince jumped up once he saw William walk from the inn, though it took him likely longer than it would have taken the very attentive Mr. Ennis. It was only then that William realized they had no plan at all for where they were going to camp, or for that matter how they were going to camp. As the captain however, it was his role to find out such things, and having led his men off of the ship and onto land, where they had no business at all, he was damned if he admitted to them that he had no idea at all. He might have suggested that they find a nearby woods to camp in for shelter, but none of his men were the sort to be pleased by that and he felt as though he owed them more than that. No, he was going to have to find them a building to sleep in.
Leaving his men to continue happily sunning themselves with no duties, which was not a normal state of affairs for them, William found himself wandering the town in search of someone who had a barn that was not already being occupied by militia forces. Even more difficult was finding someone with a barn who was willing to accept having a group of sailors no one knew sleeping in their barn. William wished that he could dismiss their fears as irrational, but he could not. Most of contact that people on land had with sailors was when they came ashore to celebrate being no longer under ship discipline, and that made the rowdy. Though he had no intention of allowing his men from ship’s discipline while they were in the village, there was no way for the towns people to know this. He had to pay for it dearly, but finally William was able find a farmer a rather long distance from the main troops, who for a price was willing to put the sailors up in their barn provided they did not touch any of the animals and provided all of their own food. William promised the farmer that if any damage came to any of his animals because of his men he would pay for them, and they were allowed to take residence, though his men were not thrilled with the idea that they were going to have to march again across land. This time it was William who initiated the singing, though it made the militia men and towns people stare at him and his men as they marched along. William did have to admit there was something strange about walking on dry land and singing about sailing from port, but it seemed to make his men happier, so he was willing to accept the strange looks.
It seemed to William that he had hardly managed to bunk his men in the straw of the barn in the company of a very confused couple of cows and a very angry rooster William was concerned something indeed might happen to, when the Captain of the militia rode up the farm, in the company of a couple of attendants. The captain jumped from the saddle, but his aids remained out in the farm yard, speaking to the farmer, who it seemed was a well known man in these parts, and friendly with the officers. William had to wonder if it was a coincidence that he and his men had been given room in the barn on this particular farm, or if favors had been called in by the militia, especially considering the ease with which they had been found, even though he had not left a message for the militia captain where they might be found. The captain of the militia might well seem as though he was overwhelmed, but William had to remind himself that it was not necessarily the case. For one thing, with less people shouting at him, the militia captain seemed far more in control of everything, and as he walked into the barn, his attitude of command did not escape William, though he was not to be outdone as he stood to greet the man.
“Captain,” William said, bowing slightly. Then he smiled, realizing something. “I am afraid that I did not think to ask ya name, sir,” he added. The militia captain looked at him in surprise, and then smiled as well.
“Indeed, Captain Boyd, you introduced yourself to me, but I seem not to have returned the favor. It was a rudeness born of preoccupation, I assure you. I am captain Tenney, at your service,” he added, giving William a bow in return.
“I took na offense, Captain Tenney,” William assured him. “This war is madness, and all the rules general on a meeting seem to have gone by the side.” For one thing, William did not generally introduce himself to military gentlemen, not that he would dare say that aloud, lest the man take offense. Instead he turned to Mr. Quince.
“Mr. Quince, I would be obliged if ya would join us,” William said, and Mr. Quince bounded to his feet, undoubtedly with as much acting as Captain Tenney was showing, refusing to look tired, even though he was certainly ready to sway on his feet, or simply fall asleep on them. Still, if William was going to ask it of himself, he was certainly not going to ask less of his second mate. He treated his officers and men well because he treated himself well, but that did not mean that he did not also push himself, and he would push his men in turn. It was true that in a day they had been forced to walk a good deal on land when they were not used to it, and they had started out not expecting it either, but William was not going to allow a land officer to show him up, not even a land officer he suspected he would be friends with.
“Aye, Captain Boyd?” asked Mr. Quince coming to his side.
“Captain Tenney, I’d like it if ya met my second mate. My first mate is lookin’ after the ship with some others of my men, sa Mr. Quince is my second in command for now.”
“Your ship is around here somewhere, Captain Boyd? I should be concerned of it being taken by the British fleet. I am certain that I mentioned it to you,” added the militia captain, his voice becoming slightly doubtful. William kept the unperturbed face, though he did know that there was a chance. It was small enough of a chance that he was going to worry more about his chances than the chances of Mr. Ennis.
“We sailed inta Bridgeport, Captain Tenney, sa I reckon we are well enough away ta protect the ship. Mr. Ennis alsa has the orders ta sail if he sees the enemy approachin’, what with most of our fighten men on shore.”
“These are your men, Captain Boyd?” asked the militia captain, looking about himself with an expressionless face, so William could not be certain what he was thinking.
“They are, Captain Tenney, and well able they are ta fight. I realize they haven’t the military splendor of the men ya have under your command, but they have killed as many British I reckon, and seen as many battles.”
“That would not be hard, I imagine, Captain Boyd,” said the militia commander, his smile going wiry. “Many of my men have seen no combat at all, and though drills are fine, they do little in an actual field of battle as I know all too well. I welcome your men, hardened by combat as they are, more than it is likely you may imagine. I came because I would place under your command my more hardened me, that you might do the most damage.”
“Haven’t they have their own commanders, Captain?” asked William, shocked. It was a large amount of trust for a man who had just met him. Few people who knew him for years would trust him so well, except his adopted family.
“Not as such, Captain Boyd,” admitted the Militia captain. “They are men who were scattered from proper unites, or whose unites took so much damage that there is no unite properly any longer. As it is, they are scattered in amongst my green troops, where they do little good. Most of my men can just about charge, but the men who can fight I would have attacking the enemy flank, where they might do us some good.”
“While ya command the men who can charge, Captain,” said William, looking the man in his eye to try to gather if he actually understood the implication of doing such a thing. He was offering William a risky post, that was true, but it was less risk than what Captain Tenney was taking for himself. It was true that the only way green troops were seasoned were in battle but William liked it better when the mixture was well combined so that the seasoned men could make up for the shortcomings of the weaker and more frightened men. It was even worse, because what the man was offering WIlliam extra men to do just what William had intended to do anyway, and without William ever telling him what his plans were.
“Most of my men would not understand what it was you wished to have done, and would need constant orders, which I doubt you would desire in the middle of a battle when you are trying to surprise the enemy,” said the captain of the militia, as if that was the end of the matter. “They are used to me, and so it is best for me to lead them to their first battle. Nor will we be alone. I am acting under the orders of General Wooster, though we are irregular militia, it is our duty to obey his orders all the same. As you do not fall under his orders, I would ask that you do as you know to be best. I doubt those scars came to you by accident, and if you have lived so long with them, you are a man I would have by my side.”
“Is General Wooster alone?” asked William, his stomach sinking. To have the British invade and only one General in response would have boded poorly for their fledgling nation. If that was indeed the case than William was going to go look for a new nation to serve that was likely to live longer. The militia captain shook his head however.
“There are three generals in all, I take my orders from General Wooster. You take your orders from no man however, and though it might be called into question that I would place troops in your hands, I am doing what I think best.”
“Ya da not care for your orders?” asked William.
“I cannot say,” said the militia captain, which was an evasion if William had ever heard, and it made up his mind for him.
“Na, I’ll not take your men,” he said, his voice firm. It was only now that he realized they had dropped the honorifics, and that on being introduced Mr. Quince had faded to where he would not interrupt them. “It’ll tarnish ya name if ya give me the troops that I ought not ta have, not bein’ a government officer. Na man respects a privateer.”
“I see,” said the militia captain, actually looking rather affronted, as if he had caught himself going too far, too late. William was not going to allow the conversation to end with that however.
“Rather da I place myself and my men under ya command. Better for us ta join ya force and aid ya all in makin’ it back ta this rather lovely bit of coast I’d say, than ta have ya chargin’ with men who only know how ta charge, and not ta fight. We can mix in with the men ya have and we will fight like blazes ‘til the British run, and after that if ya’ll allow it.”
“It would do more good if you would act on your own,” pointed out Captain Tenney, staring at him.
“It might well da good, but it would tarnish ya name beyond all ya would believe,” said William, his voice firm. “In any case, we just met, and I don’t care for men ta take such trust in me just because of my scars. Ya see me fight, then if we meet again in battle ya can take such confidence in me.”
“You are a strange man, Captain,” said the militia captain, to whom William could have said the same. There was a difference however, William knew himself to be strange by the standards of a gentleman and a military officer, because he was not a gentleman, and he was a reformed pirate so he did not think like they did. Instead William could smell the scent of a desperate man who had received orders he did not care for but could not go against. William wondered if it was not out of spite that the man had offered him the troops. William suspected that Captain Tenney imagined himself and his men were being used as cannon fodder, without being asked first if they were alright with that, which was bad manners on the part of their commander. Especially since most men would agree to it if they were asked to be, and even be enthusiastic about it. They had to prove that they were not cowards then, and it was the thing which ballads were made of, which made it seem heroic rather than suicidal. Instead however, it was clear that Captain Tenney felt his life was being stupidly gambled, and William meant to see if he could do something to change that fate.
“Is there ought else ta speak of, Captain?” asked William, trying to prevent the militia man from changing his mind on the subject. “If ya will tell me where we are ta ga, and when, I shall obey. That is all there is ta be said. Best not ta speak of ought else that ya said ta me this evening.”
“If you are certain, Captain Boyd,” said Captain Tenney, looking resigned and tired again. William had not realized just what an escape from his orders the captain had apparently thought of him before, until he now sagged. “I’ll see you and your men assembled in the two center at five in the morning tomorrow. We must march before dawn if we are to charge them as you would have it.”
“What part of the army is it that we are targetin’?” asked William. For them have to get up so early they were clearly trying to change position, for all that Captain Tenney had said before that they were simply waiting for the enemy to come to them.
“The rearguard,” said Captain Tenney, going to turn away. “Where all brave been attack. They are returning to their ships victorious, so we will nip at their heels.” William was amazingly alright with this announcement, though he did not allow the captain to see it since he doubted he would understand. The man seemed the honorable sort who looked to prevent things from happening, who protected. William had to agree that that was a fine thing, he admired it, but he was also a firm believer in revenge. It might not have been the most christian of things, but then WIlliam had never really considered himself to be a christian, so that was just fine. William was a firm believer that you should always make your enemy pay so badly that not only will he never attack you again, but others will also take notice and fear you. In William’s book that was fair war indeed.
Though William was not willing to fly false colors, assuming that it would make his fate even worse if he was captured, he did order that their snake flag be taken down. There would be time enough to fly it if they went to fight. It seemed a poor idea to advertise that there was an American privateer in the waters around a force of ships under the control of the British. What mattered was where the British were going. William had left Master Hedge in Bridgeport, since that was a center of privateering, and therefore a city he felt comfortable in. The Fly had come from Bridgeport though, and that was enough to put William’s heart in his mouth. It meant that the British were likely on a similar course as William was, and they had a head start. He truly wished that he knew what their goal was.
Though William had sailed as quickly as possible to reach Bridgeport, with all sail on, and a strong wind at his back, when his lookout spotted the markings of Bridgeport, he ordered shortened sails. He did not wish to go flying into a British squadron, and for all that he knew, the British force had been sent to clear out the harbor that produced so many privateers. They therefore crept past the harbor before turning to enter it properly, the lookout having shouted that the harbor was almost empty. Matthew was hardly able to stand it as they did turn about, tacking in the wind, which was now against them. As soon as they were within rowing distance of the shore, William called for the ship’s boat to be dropped, and his ship to anchor. They were still at the windlass as he climbed down and ordered the boat’s crew to row him to the wharf. He was leaping from the little boat onto the dock before they could tie the ship to the post, and rushing off down the street to where he had set Master Hedge up in a shop.
It was morning, and William was not certain if Master Hedge would be at work yet, but he could hear the sound of hammering as he neared, and so rather than climbing the stairs to the upper portion of the building, where his former master lived, he headed to the workshop area where the old man made the barrels that went out on the privateers, William’s included. It was only as he ran, unsteady on his sea legs, towards the shop door, that William realized that the sound of Master Hedge’s hammer was one of the few noises in the town, and most of the shutters were closed tightly.
“Master?” called William.
“William?” asked a voice in return as the hammering stopped. It was a voice that had been giving William lectures since he was forteen. He gave a deep sigh of relief.
“I met a ship from this port that said that the British were attackin’, Master Hedge,” said William, entering the workshop to face the old man who still had a mallet in his hands and was looking with some curiosity at his wayward apprentice.
“So all of the town has heard, William,” said Master Hedge, setting down the mallet. “A man rode over from Norwalk to tell us that the British had landed near them. They are marching inland. The militia has already left to try and stop them. What I am wondering is what it is that has brought you to land knowing full well that the British are here in force, unless you are tired of life.”
“I am here for the same reason I sailed ta New York not sa long before, Master Hedge,” said William, folding his hands behind his back. Around Master Hedge however, it made him feel less like he was in command, and more as if he was a naughty boy who was being taken to task. “It is dangerous here, and I da not mean ta leave ya in danger.”
“I cannot say I think this much danger, though my neighbors disagree. A good many of them have already fled, or are hiding in their homes.”
“I thought ya used ta say ya was a coward, Master,” said William, looking sour. It was true that William had said that often when he was growing up, and he had doubted it then. Now he was certain the man had been wrong about himself. A man who could sit in the middle of a community that was preparing for war and calmly make barrels was no coward.
“I have asked you not to call me master,” said the old man.
“Ashamed of me?” asked William, though he knew it was not true. He was frustrated, and willing to play an emotional game if it meant getting some sort of reaction out of Master Hedge. He had come rushing up in an emotional state, and to see the calm old man at work as if nothing was wrong had rubbed him the wrong way.
“I was introduced to you as Matthew, and that is how I would remain,” said the cooper, not raising to the bait.
“When ya and I first met, ya were a prisoner, that was before ya did all ya could ta see that I got a good upbringin’. I’ll not disrespect that with ya first name, master,” added William, half out of spite. Then he realized he was standing here, debating the past with an old man,when he was not certain that the British would not be marching on them at any moment.
“And ya broke me out of a prison for condemned men,” added Matthew, smiling for a moment with some fondness, before seemingly remembering that it was not what ought to be considered a nostalgic memory. “That ought to clear our debts,” he said, seeking to give some reason to bring it up.
“If be equal, than ya ought tha listen ta my advice, which is ta join me on my ship, before the British decide to march back this way,” said William, growing frustrated.
“They never marched this way,” said Matthew, his voice reasonable. “They went through near Fairfield. It has little to do with me, no matter what my neighbors believe.”
“I will still be happier if ya would join me on my ship, where I can be certain of ya safety,” said William, desperately.
“Why would I wish to leave my new home?” asked Matthew, his voice reasonable. “I am growing too old for such changes too often. I would rather remain, and take my chances.”
“And if the British decide ta march through this village after all?” asked William.
“Then God has be fated to meet a violent death after all,” said Matthew, looking indifferent. It was just as William had feared would be his answer. Matthew was one of the greatest fatalist that William had ever met. His reason for not telling the courts that he had been forced to piracy with the crew that Matthew had been a part of was because he had thought that it was God punishing him for what he had been forced to do by them. It was true that Matthew had murdered, drank, gambled, and stole with them, but he had never wished to, and it had always been clear. It was simply dangerous on a pirate crew to behave in any different manner. William did not think much on God in general, but when he did, he imagined him to be rather more forgiving towards a man who had risked his life to get away from the men who were forcing him to commit such sins. Matthew’s escape from the pirate crew had been a bold one, full of danger, and William was not certain he would have tried it himself. Then again, he had enjoyed being a pirate. He just hadn’t enjoyed standing on the scaffold with a rope around his neck and a knot in his stomach. Hanging had acted as a warning and a deterrent, at least for William if not for the audience. William had learned to steal only with a license to do so.
“What would ya have me da, master,” wailed William, truly upset now. “I cannot leave ya as matters are. Steven would never forgive me. He still doesn’t believe I am lookin’ after ya with such care as I ought. If ya will leave with me, I can sail ya ta Boston, and leave ya in his household. That would make him right happy.”
“I’ll not be the awkward poor relative,” said Matthew, his voice firm. “I’m not a disgrace to you in the least, you not being respectable in any case. It would do great damage to Steven’s reputation if it was known about me.” William gritted his teeth, but he did not say anything. Matthew could have called him the illegitimate son of a snail and a sea monster and he would not have argued. If Matthew was still determined he was not respectable, than what was left was to prove to him differently.
“Ya still have the pistols I left ya when ya was left here?” asked William.
“In the trunk upstairs,” said Matthew.
“I’d suggest that ya move the pistols ta a place easier ta reach, while I think on what I might da about this.”
“I am well able to care for myself, as you ought to know,” said Matthew, smiling at the frustrated young man. “You have a crew to look after, and you will try their patience if you continue to look after me instead of prizes.” William sincerely doubted that at this point. He had brought his men a good deal of profit, and he had their loyalty, he could now ask much of them. More importantly was how much he suddenly had to prove. First he would have to return to the ship though. It had been bad enough when it had been Steven and Mr. Hedman who had been criticising him, but now it was Matthew as well, it seemed as though it was time to prove to them just what it was that privateers were able to do.
It was clear by their parting that Master Hedge believed that he had offended William, because he stood and gave him a rare hug, apologizing for his stubbornness. All the same, he made it clear he was not going to leave his new home. It would be to William to do something about it. Now that he had some land legs, having stood in the workshop long enough to remember what it was like to walk on a surface that was not rocking, William was able to run back to his ship’s boat faster than he had been able to run to the cooper’s shop. No sooner was he aboard then he called for all hands on deck. It was almost comforting for him to see all of their faces looking up at him, it was as if he had his own army. He was about to give up some of that power however, if only for a moment. It seemed only fair.
“Men,” he announced, looking down at the assembly from the quarterdeck. “I cannot say that we ought ta attack the British fleet, though it only a few miles from here. Ta da sa would be ta court ruin. We haven’t the power. We might da some good here, however, if ya would desire it. This is not a matter I’ll decide. I will leave it ta a vote.” Here there was muttering on the deck. That was not how any ship but a pirate ship was run, William’s words might well have been the ten commandments, and yet he was giving them the choice. For him it was a simple matter of morals, he had their trust, and he did not wish to use that trust for his own means without asking first, but to his men it was a thing of wonder.
“What good might we do, when we are not strong enough to fight their ships, Captain?” asked Mr. Ennis, the only man who ranked high enough to feel he could ask the captain a question in front of all of these men. William smiled at him, as much to show him that he had not done anything wrong as because the question amused him. It was the question of a man who had spent his life in the world of conventional ships and had never crossed that line. A man who did not understand that men trained to the world of ship fighting might just as well face men on land.
“It is my wish ta fight the British, but on land. I cannot have it said that on decidin’ they was ta strong for us, we slunk away, beaten without ever fightin’. It would be shameful. But there is na profit in it, sa I will have it up for a vote. This is a matter of pride, rather than business. I only have the right ta ya service for business.”
“Do you think it is possible for us to stop the British forces from reaching what they are after, or to stop them from reaching their ships, Captain?” asked Mr. Ennis, though it did not escape William that the words were spoken with more hope than doubt. William was about to dash that hope with realism, but he still looked at it as a good sign.
“I da not,” he said simply. “I am thinkin’ though we might make them pay for their intrusion, and protect some of those who live in these parts. The militia is movin’ as well,” he added, trying to remove the feeling that they would be facing down the whole British force alone.
“What did the town look like, Captain, that it has you all troubled?” asked Mr. Quince, apparently deciding that if it was safe to start asking his captain questions, he was going to join in.
“Scared, as ya would find ya own families if there was the enemy about, with na one knowin’ where they are headin’. Indeed, I reckon the only soul in that town not frightened would be Master Hedge, who is sittin’ a mankin’ barrels, as if he is well used to armies marchin’ past his house,” added William, producing a laugh from his men. Most of the crew had been with him when they had moved Matthew from New York to Bridgeport, and even if William had wished to hide his motives for wanting to protect this piece of land, some of his men would have undoubtedly whispered about it. It was better to be upfront about it all. “Now I am wonderin’ if ya men would join me or if we are ta turn out ta sea and allow the British ta da as they please here.” For a long moment William held his breath as there was a muttering in this crew, who were clearly unsure of what to do with their new power. His mind was filled with potential solutions to what he might do about the issue with his master not being willing to leave Bridgeport. The first thought that came to mind was to go with his men into the community and grab the man forcefully, with any things that could be quickly grabbed, and forcefully carry him onto his ship. It was likely to damage their relationship somewhat, but it was better than thinking he ought to have done it later if something did happen.
“I’m with the captain,” said Mr. Quince suddenly, interrupting the low voices to make the announcement. “I joined to fight the British, and I’ll put a bullet into a few of them for their boldness.” A couple of the sailors responded with shouts at this, mostly shouts of agreement William noticed.
“I will join as well, Captain,” said Mr. Ennis, subconsciously checking the sword he had strapped on when they had sailed into Bridgeport. It reminded William of the figure of a loyal knight, like he sometimes saw pictures of. Of course that would make him a king worth swearing loyalty which William did not believe for a moment. It made up his mind for him. It was clear that Mr. Ennis had been prepared to fight from the start, since they had not been certain but that the town was in the control of the British. It showed more thought that William had demonstrated, he thought with some regret. He had simply run ashore, as if that was not a possibility. Once again he wondered that he was still alive.
“Ya will stay here, and care for the ship, with any men who will not join us, Mr. Ennis,” said William, his voice firm. He was not so good at writing that he felt up to the task of writing Mrs. Ennis a letter explaining to her that her husband had died in a battle he had no business being in, except that his captain was a damned fool who had felt the need to prove himself to people she had never met.
“As your second in command, it is my duty to go ashore with you, Captain,” said Mr. Ennis, looking hurt. William did not have the heart to to tell him that it was his very sense of loyalty that made William reluctant to do anything that would make him feel as though he was taking advantage of the man.
“It is as my second in command that I would have ya remain aboard, Mr. Ennis,” said William instead. “Who is ta sail the ship if I am killed or wounded. Mr. Quince knows nothin’ of navigation. Ya are the only man I can trust ta look after matters if ought happens ta me. If the ship is in danger ya have ta set sail and we’ll meet ya back in Boston. I want all men comin’ along with me ta meet me on deck in a half hour, prepare ta be ashore for a time, so some biscuit ta each man, all armed.” This flurry of orders at least shut up Mr. Ennis, who was forced to enact them, since Mr. Quince was already rushing to go fetch things from his cabin. William followed suit, confident in the knowledge that the first mate would have every man kitted up and ready to go by the time that he emerged back on deck.
William’s first consideration was how he ought to dress. When he had run ashore to check on the welfare on Matthew, he had simply worn his sailor’s clothing, that being what he had been wearing already, and having nothing to hide from his master in that regard. Master Hedge was not the sort of man who would judge a man by his clothing in any case, so dressing as a gentleman would have been a waste of William’s time. Now however, with him going on shore at the front of a force to fight the British, William almost felt as though he ought to wear the clothing of a gentleman again, if nothing else to make an impression on the enemy. The tight pants were not exactly made for running through the woods in. In the end William compromised, wearing pants that were rather looser than was fashion, with a well cut jacket and a fashionable hat. Hunting boots finished off the outfit, rather than buckle shoes. There was not a chance he was going to go into a fight wearing that impractical footwear, catching it on everything and wearing the gold foil off of the buckle in all likelihood. He would have rather gone into the fight barefoot, but that would never do for the captain of a ship, not to mention a man who was trying to prove that he could be a gentleman.
William walked out onto the deck to find that Mr. Ennis had opened the weapon’s locker and was issuing a sea cutlass and a pistol to each man, though several men were issued muskets instead. William had learned the value of having sharpshooters a long time ago, back when he had still been a cabin boy. He took his musket men very seriously and trained them carefully. It was true that they would not be so effective since they would have no fighting top on a mast to fire from, but William imagined they would be more effective on land at hitting their target since they would not be rocking back and forth. Each man carried a bag at his side, which, according to instructions issued long ago to Mr. Ennis against a landing party, contained a spare flint, gun powder and bullets, and ship’s biscuit. William took such a pack for himself as well, though in his case the pistols were dueling pistols he had on ribbons around his neck, and the sword was his regular hanger.
It only occurred to William as he looked over the mass of men who were clearly readying themselves as a landing party that he had not known for certain how many of the men were with him. For all he had known as he had gone into his cabin, he was going ashore with only a handful of men. It turned out however that most of the crew seemed to be ready to join him in his adventure. Mr. Ennis walked over to him when he saw the captain come out of his cabin to report.
“I have asked some of the men to remain behind, Captain,” Mr. Ennis said, looking slightly ashamed. “I needed enough men to sail the ship.”
“So many wished ta join me, Mr. Ennis?” asked William, his voice shocked. This was something that he entirely viewed as his selfishness, and that his men were willing to fight though there was no profit for them other than their normal pay as a strange idea to him. He had something to prove, he had not thought they did.
“Yes, Captain,” Mr. Ennis paused, looking uncomfortable before he finally blurted out what was on his mind. “Should anything happen to you, what shall we do with the ship?” It was a question that came up less often than it might have in the privateering circles, since the owners of the ship were rarely their captain’s as well, or at least they often had investors who would claim the ship if the captain should die. William did not enjoy being told what to do however, and therefore would take no investors, and he had saved up enough through careful living to purchase the ship himself, going from a captain for hire to his own master over the years.
“Steven has instructions, Mr. Ennis,” said William, clapping the man on the back. His instructions to Steven were in fact very simple, but he was not going to tell his first mate all of his business, even though it would have an effect on Mr. Ennis’s life if anything did happen. Steven would own the ship from the moment that he died, but only on the condition that Mr. Ennis would be the acting captain if he lived longer than William did. Steven had not been pleased about being made both executor and heir to William’s estate, but William had been very firm on the subject. He had no one else that he could imagine making his heir. He knew that Steven would look after their former master, and so he was willing to allow Steven all of his money. Particularly because he did not trust Matthew not to throw all of the money in the ocean after William, if he was to die in his trade.
“You will do everything in your power to return, will you not, Captain?” asked Mr. Ennis, which was as close as he would come to showing any sort of sentiment towards a superior officer.
“That I will, Mr. Ennis,” said William, and he meant it. To die on land was something of a nightmare for him. He hoped that if he did, his men at least had the sense to bury him at sea anyway.
William did not see Steven or the shore for that matter for the rest of his stay in Boston. He did not blame his friend for not coming to see him off. After such an uncomfortable dinner, he did not imagine the lawyer wanted to risk William and his wife meeting one another again. When William saw the joy that Mr. and Mrs. Ennis seemed to bring one another he often wished that he had a wife, but when he met Mrs. Nolen he quickly changed his mind. Steven had once admitted to William that he had not married for love, and William was all too willing to believe it. Mr. Gull had arranged the matter for his young student, with the thought that the boy could use all of the help that he could get in ambition, and that having a wife who was ambitious would help to pull him up out of the ranks of the common people. He might have been right at that, but William felt it was a terrible price to pay. He would have thought that Margaret would have been a more pleasant choice, but William did not know the details of the courtship. He supposed she might have already been spoken for. That and she did not seem so ambitious, which was just as William liked it, though he supposed that was exactly the opposite of what Mr. Gull had been looking for in a wife for his adopted son. Harvey Gull had had a son of his own, and three daughters, and though he had been kind to Steven, it did not escape William’s notice that he had not offered Steven one of his own daughters in marriage to his apprentice in order to bring him properly into the family. Instead he had wed the lad who had been placed in his charge to a shrew, saying it was the best for the boy. William had indeed been fond of Mr. Gull, and was forever grateful to him for what he had done for Steven, but he was not entirely willing to forgive the man’s memory for Mrs. Nolen. Not as he sailed out of the harbor without having seen Steven again.
The sea swell under his feet put William in a far better mood however than he had been on land, or even in the harbor, where he was not entirely the master of all that happened. Of course the same was true on the sea as well, where a mixture of nature and God might sink his vessel without him having much say in the matter, but at least then they would not be scorning him as not really a gentleman. They would be looking at him with the same scorn as they looked on any man foolhardy enough to think that he could put two inches of wood between himself and the water and therefore avoid death. For now William was happy to see a wide open sea with no other ship in sight, though by all logic they would wish to see a British ship soon, to add to their catches quickly. The more their catches, the more profitable their cruises.
When the lookout gave a shout that there were sails on the horizon therefore, William rushed from his light midday meal to the deck, shouting that all of the men ought to stand by for action. They were to be disappointed almost a half hour later when the lookout shouted down that he could see the liberty tree flag at her mast. It was true that she might be sailing under false colors, but it was unlikely. It was considered dishonorable, though William had never been reluctant to do so, and he supposed it was possible he had a counterpart among the British. He therefore had his men relax, and ordered them to meet the strange ship, though he did ask that that they remain ready with the guns, just in case of treachery. Much could happen on the sea once a ship left land there were no witnesses after all.
“Ahoy,” shouted a voice from the other ship as they came alongside, and both ships shortened sail so that they could speak. William could see the men on the other deck, just as tense as his own men were. “What port are you last of?”
“We are the Beauty of Boston,” shouted William, stepping forward. “What of ya? What port be ya of, and what news da ya cary?”
Now that he was looking closely at the ship he could see marks of extreme damage, and the jet of water that was coming off the deck in several places looked as though it came from ship’s pumps. He could see several holes that looked as though they had been made from a cannon, but none of them would be causing the ship to sink. There must have been a hole below her waterline that the men were fighting. This ship would not be a threat, enemy or not. If she had been in a sea battle of the magnitude it seemed, she was not likely to have enough men left on her to stand against his large crew of trained fighters.
“Fly, last of Bridgeport,” said the voice from the ship. It had not been the captain who had been shouting, he could see the captain standing nearby, but now the captain did step forward.
“We retreat, with wounded. Have you a surgeon, ours has perished? We met with a British ship, and what looked like several more at that, sailing towards Connecticut, we were not equal to the fight.” William certainly could not disagree with that, though he did have to admire the man for trying. William knew that there was a Continental Navy ship named the Fly, but he did not believe that was who he was speaking to. The last time he had heard that ship was still being dry docked in Philadelphia after an encounter with a British ship. Instead he could spot another privateer, though one that seemed more honorable than he was. The captain in a paramilitary based uniform was a hint at that. A desire to seem respectable, while William stomped around the deck in canvas sailor’s trousers and a calico shirt as often as a coat when he was at sea. It was purely luck that at the moment he could be distinguished from the other men standing on deck, in part because the lack of tar on his clothing. Mr. Ennis and Mr. Quince generally dressed better than he did once they were at sea. If he planned to go into battle though William generally dressed as a gentleman, simply so he could not be accused of hiding from the enemy by disguising himself as a member of the crew. Captains were often the target of enemy snipers, and he would far rather they shot at him than the helmsman for example, though in one battle he had been forced to take the helm himself.
“We have a surgeon we will send over,” shouted William, humanitarianism fueling the response, though his heart was in his mouth. He had left Master Hedge in Connecticut thinking he would be out of the war. Even if they had to remain alongside the Fly for a few hours for his surgeon to do his work, the least he could do was go across as well and question the nature of the British ship heading towards the elderly cooper, not to mention an entire state he supposed.
Going aboard the Fly was worse than William had ever imagined. He had not seen such a shambles of a ship since the pirate ship he had served on as a boy had been taken by the navy. It was no wonder that the pumps were going. Now that he was on the ship he could feel how she sloughed heavily in each trough of water. He had no idea how she normally felt, but he doubted that any privateering vessel naturally was so sluggish to respond. She was sinking. He looked over at the captain, and doubted that the man was in well enough condition to even make a rational decision, though it had been hidden by the ship’s bulwarks, the captain’s side was a bloody mess, and William doubted he should have even been standing, though he had not had the medical advice to tell him that of course. He was a pale man, grasping a piece of wood as a cane for support, while looking feverish.
“We ought ta see ta ya first, Captain, if ya’d ga ta the cabin,” said William, forgetting instantly the question he had intended to ask.
“See to my men first, Captain,” protested the master of the Fly, shaking his head. “They are dying.”
“You ought to be lying down, sir,” said the surgeon, coming over the side of the ship to hear this and assessing the situation in an instant.
“We will look ta the wounded,” said William, looking about himself. Several men were working on the deck, all but a couple of them sporting some sort of makeshift bandage. “What of your officers, Captain?” he added.
“My second mate lives, Captain, last I was told,” the captain said. “My first mate was on the table, having an arm amputated, below when the cannon ball came and killed he and my surgeon as well.” William had to stop himself from nodding. On a man of war they would have put such an operating table, made of sea chests, in the ship’s cockpit, well protected from such incidents. On a sloop such as the one they now stood on, with eight guns that William could count, and therefore weaker than his own Beauty, there was nowhere with such protection. The ship had been wise to have any surgeon at all. It spoke of a captain who cared, and he looked at the swaying man with more favor.
“I will seek out the second mate, if ya will listen ta my surgeon and seek out ya bunk, Captain.” For a moment it looked as though the man would refuse, but already, William’s boat crew was climbing aboard and picking up the men who looked as though they might need a hand to walk.
William had seen many battle wounded and hospitals, that was why he would not allow any of his men to find their way to them. The whole Fly seemed as if it had been turned into one of those hospitals, once they went below the decks. Men seemed to have simply drapped where they could, with the forecastle being full of the worst cases. A few men still able to move were nursing those who were laying the hammocks. William left his surgeon to do what he could there, making use of the ship’s medicine chest. That at least had been spared from the cannon blast that had taken the life of the doctor who had sailed on the Fly. Several members of the boat crew that had rowed William across joined the doctor, mostly holding men down on the galley table, it being the only flat surface they could find on the ship. It seemed most of the sea chests had been blown to bits in the previously mentioned explosion as well. Every where William went, he asked after the second mate. He was finally directed towards the pumps that had been rigged up below decks to try to stop the ship from sinking.
“Any of ya be the second mate, or I’m supposing I ought ta say the first mate now, as ya might well be promoted,” William said, with what he saw as practicality, as he walked up to the largest group of un maimed men he had seen yet on the ship. They were nearly falling over with exhaustion, but they had the grim determination of men who knew that there were none who could save them if they gave up. A man looked up, though he continued at his pump handle, a bandage clotted with blood wrapped around his head.
“Who the hell’s askin’?” asked the man, the cloth around his head giving him a vicious look.
“Captain of the ship the Beauty, at your service,” said William, bowing to the man, well aware that his clothing did not speak of being a captain, and wishing he had changed when they had spotted the other ship. “I am a privateer of Boston, seein’ as ya are in need, I sought only ta see what it is I might da ta ease ya distress. My surgeon is at work in the forecastle. I wonder ya were not aware we had come aboard.”
“I was damned busy stoppin’ this ship from sinkin’ beneath our feet,” said the second mate of the wounded ship.
“I dare say we might be of aid with that as well,” said William, smiling. “If ya can continue with ya pumpin’ for a short time, that I might ga and fetch my carpenter and his mates, and some of my men ta take the pumps from ya.”
“We have a damn carpenter, for the lot of good it does,” the second mate, now releasing his pump handle and motioning to another man who was pumping. “We haven’t the men ta fother the hole.”
“I have,” said William.
It took him longer than he would have cared for to return to the ship and give the orders that were needed. Soon most of his own ship was empty as his men scurried across the wounded privateer. There were men who might have taken advantage of a wounded ship, no matter what side she was on, or perhaps would have just left her. William could not consider it. He might not have much of a conscious, not of the sort that men who were raised in the church seemed to have, where they thought that God would smite them if they did bad deeds, but instead he had the disapproving face of Master Hedge somewhere in the back of his mind. It seemed to fill the gap in his training nicely. He therefore directed the chaos of saving the ship. The fother had to be made, forcing strands of rope through a piece of canvass until resembled a thick mat. He would have liked it had they had one already made, but they did not, and he was forced to wait while it was worked on by several seamen. There was also the men at the pumps to be relieved with his own fresh crew. Not to mention the change of watch on his own ship with most of his crew not aboard. He left Mr. Quince there to run things, while he and Mr. Ennis did what they could to ease the mind of the wounded privateer ship.
“Drink this,” William said, tripping some rum into the mouth of the wounded captain. The captain did so greedily. It was clear that he was in a startling amount of pain. William felt guilty, but his main motive for nursing the man was information. Master Hedge was in Connecticut after all. Still, now he had the captain’s shirt open, and could see what the coat had been hiding on the ship. It was a wonder that the captain was able to stand at all. It must have taken a great force of will. A splinter, if that was what you could call such a large piece of wood, had struck the captain in the side, and remained there. It would have to be removed, and William only hoped that the captain had worn a silk shirt. He had heard that those fibers were easier to remove from wounds. “What happened?” he asked, once the man came up for air.
“I did tell you. We met a British ship, one of several, making for Connecticut, and we fought, though we were not equal to it. Better to die in battle than in a British prison,” added the captain, defending his decision, though he did not have to. William would have made the same choice. He was not much for surrender. Doing so had already nearly gotten him hung. Better to have a death that people would speak of, even if it did make the decks run with blood. As they had not had the men to wash down the decks, William had still seen some of the blood of the battle in the scuppers of the ship.
“Ya are sure they were makin’ for Connecticut,” said William, belaboring the important point in his concern.
“Full of red coats,” said the captain nodding. “It was the only harbor on their course,” he added.
“Ya seen the soldiers?” asked William, now growing even more concerned. That would mean this was not just an anti-privateering concern, this was an invasion.
“They were shooting at us,” explained the wounded captain, coughing in a way that made him wince, as the wound was forced to move.
“Da ya think that we might overtake them?” asked William, now voicing what was truly on his mind. He would not be happy unless he tried to save Master Hedge once again from paying for what he had chosen to do with his life. Their association was too well known. It was all too clear to anyone who was seeking retribution against the new American patriots what side Master Hedge fell on.
“To what purpose?” asked the captain of the Fly, actually lifting his head to look at William with surprise. “You are not thinking that you might succeed where we failed?” he added.
“Na, I’m not sa proud as that,” said William. “I’d not care ta have my ship shot ta hell. I am thinkin’ though, ya got away in the end, which means they be slow. We might yet land afore them and warn some of their comin’.”
“You are a good man,” said the wounded captain, laying back on his bed, while William tried to look like the selfless fellow the man seemed to think him to be. It was just as well that he was called away then to supervise the fother being put in place.
With the two ship’s carpenters working in concert, there was little for William to do in fact, as far as the mending of the ship was concerned. The fother was dragged down to cover the breech in the hull that had done such damage to the original sick bay of the ship, as well as her seaworthiness. With the water pressure pressing the fother in place and against the hole, the water coming in was greatly slowed. The ship might make it the few days into port, with the men having time to sleep in between shifts at the pumps. With this William also no longer felt guilty about leaving her to her own devices. They had done what they could. Having just left port, he had no inclination to return with her now, and certainly not in such an emergency. To his relief, the crew of the Fly did not suggest that they did so. They seemed to know how it went. Time was money for a privateer, they could not ask William to give up more than he already had. Most of a day had already passed. The screams had stopped from the forecastle, and so William imagined his surgeon was done as well. He sent a man to go fetch him. The man returned saying that the surgeon was not in the forecastle, just in time for him to come from the captain’s cabin, wiping his hands and covered in blood from numberless operations. Behind him came the members of the boat crew William had ordered to help the surgeon, looking sick and pale. It was not a job for the weak of stomach.
“I have removed the splinter, captain, and he might live,” said the surgeon, looking grim. “Better for making shore, they have better supplies than what remains in the chest.” William considered offering some of his medicine, but stopped himself. This was a ship that was going to return to port, while he was just setting sail almost. He was not going to handicap his ship and his surgeon through his kindness, not with the value of a well stocked medicine chest.
The second mate of the Fly was the one who saw them off of the ship, though the did not really need anyone and the man was tired enough he might have tipped over and fallen into the sea. It was clear that he felt that someone ought to see them back to their ship, all things considered, and his captain was unconscious, which William considered to be a mercy. On his ship, which felt fresh and healthy under William’s feet, they gave one last wave to the stricken ship, a call of good luck, and William ordered their change of course. The whole crew knew where they were bound, they too had been on the damaged ship, but there was not a word of complaint. It was only natural that they should go where the British were. It was how things should be. It was close as well, far closer than New York. William did not think it was his imagination that his men seemed to pay more attention to their cutlass drill than they had only a few days before. It seemed to come home to them once again that it might be the difference for them between surviving a battle such as what the Fly had faced, and death or imprisonment. William was not spared from this feeling. Once again he began to carry the longer bladed sailor’s knife that was his little quirk. It was not a gentleman’s weapon, but then it didn’t have to be. Not when he was so good with it. He had his proper weapons, his hanger, as close to a cutlass as one who wished to be called a gentleman could carry, and his pistols, but in a close fight he would rather have the weapon he had always killed with rather than a weapon people thought he ought to have.