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.