This chapter took me all week to finish properly.
At that particular moment, “The Admiral”, having taken his ship into an entirely different area of the ocean, had already met with a British frigate. Having sent the men to the men to the mess, he had gotten the cable sprung and the deck cleared for action. When this was finished, he gave the order to stand off and wait for the British to come to them.
Watching through the glass he had borrowed from the mate, Anthony saw that the British did not appear to intend to offer battle. Instead, they appeared content to stand off and wait for him to make the first move, just as he was doing to them. With a cry of disgust, Anthony exclaimed “We’ll wait around all day like this! What do you suppose their firepower is?”
“No less than ours, Sir.” Replied the mate “They’re testing their range now. As soon as they strike a hit, they’ll give us the full broadside.”
“But we’re not the men to squander our time exchanging fire with Brits. We’ll finish them and be done with it. Load the chasers.”
Saluting, the mate left the quarterdeck to have the order executed. Anthony then called to the Master. “Holmes! Bring her around to allow or chasers to bear!”
“Aye, Sir!” Acknowledging the order, Holmes turned the wheel until the ship had completed a ninety degree turn. This position had Anthony facing a full broadside with nothing but his chasers, two long twelves, and fully spread sails.
Testing the wind, Anthony called out “The wind’s coming in a point too far north. We’d best reef our sails for tacking way.” Accordingly, the crew, whom Anthony had spent the previous weeks drilling for nearly every situation, and so knew what was needed for tacking way (for they had learned the ship nearly as well as their Admiral had), swarmed up the ropes to comply with the orders. Meanwhile, the chasers had been brought to bear and fired. The report on the success of the shots was one word. “Unknown.”
“Unknown! What is that supposed to mean to me! You hit them or you didn’t, and I won’t stand to hear any ‘far’s or ‘short’s either! They’re Brits! And they want me dead or alive! You’re to do your utmost to sink that bloody ship!”
The effect of this outburst was to cause the Mate to leave the quarter-deck looking rather annoyed. Anthony could hear him telling the Master “Turn her back around for the full broadside. We’ll never gain any prize-money this way.”
From the quarter-deck, Anthony called “This is fair warning! Overruling my orders again will land you in the brig with no hope of prize-money!” Directing his orders at the Master, he continued “Bring us down under their bow! We’ll run out the guns!”
As he was speaking, his words a broadside aimed a t their original position came whistling by. Fortunately, the Master had already begun to execute his orders, and the balls did little material damage, being necessarily off target on account of their sudden movement. Anthony laughed at the sight. “What is wrong with them, if it takes ‘em five minutes to center their broadside?! Soon they’ll learn the power of firing at will! Test our chasers’ range again! With chain!”
In compliance with Anthony’s orders, the chasers were reloaded, this time with chain shot. As the ship was bearing closer to the foe every minute, the gunners were ordered to hold their fire until the word was given. The word they were all waiting for was given when Anthony’s ship had come within twenty feet of crossing the Briton’s bow. There was an awful crashing sound as the chain shot flew through the side and on through the deck of the English ship. As the chaser gunners began to cheer their success, Anthony gave the order the rest had been waiting for. “Starboard Battery! Ready your guns! We’re coming under them now! Wait for the word!” The deck fell silent, waiting on the Admiral’s word, though the crew remained so tense that Anthony felt he could almost feel the strain the anticipation placed upon them.
Anthony allowed one second, which felt like an eternity to his excited crew, elapse before he released everyone by shouting “Fire!” Only a second later, the whole Starboard battery had fired simultaneously. The men watched in delight as their broadside succeeded in nearly blowing apart the front end of the English ship. “Bring us alongside to board!”
Within minutes, the Master had brought the ship alongside their battered foe. Anthony himself was in the forefront as his crew stormed across. As soon as his feet had touched the deck, Anthony’s blades were out, dealing death indiscriminately to the British marines lined up to oppose them. Having made his way through the marines, Anthony continued, making for the quarterdeck, where he was bound to find the English Captain. He had judged correctly.
As he came charging up the steps to the quarterdeck, the English Captain leveled a pistol at him and fired. In one swift moment, Anthony felt the ball hit him, noted the position of his enemy, and also noted the position of the rope which supported the flag. In the next moment, as he fell, he launched one of his swords at the English Captain and the other at the rope on which hung the flag. In the following moment, both Captains fell to the deck, as the British colors came whistling down to lay draped over the side of the ship.
The dueling crews, who to this point had been too preoccupied with their own fighting to notice what had happened on the quarter-deck, now turned their contest toward that place in efforts to save their captains. After a few minutes of furious fighting, a handful of men from Anthony’s crew reached the spot where he lay prostrate on the quarterdeck. As they knelt down around him, wanting to know where he had been hurt.
“Get off me! Leave me and gather the prisoners! Do you think I’ve been hit! Save your worry for when I really have been hurt! Don’t you worry; I won’t face such a bad shot every time!”
Complying with the orders, Anthony’s crew hauled in the British colors and began disarming the gloomy crew. Retrieving their Admiral’s sword from the body of his slain English counterpart, they lifted the body and unceremoniously tipped it into the ocean.
In the hour which followed, Anthony set his crew to the task of repairing the damage which the British had managed to inflict upon his own ship. As he waited for a report concerning the progress of the ongoing repairs to a shot-hole which had been found below decks after most of the British prisoners had been transferred to Anthony’s ship. After some time on the deck alone, Anthony called “Pass the word for Michael. Tell him I have words for him.”
The crew complied, and a few minutes later, Michael came striding across the deck, marching evenly across to Anthony’s position.
As he watched his son come toward him, Anthony thought to himself “He’s a born seaman, and he’s also the independent type. It’s about time I began teaching him the finer points of seamanship, to put him on the line to post rank.” By the time he had finished with these thoughts, Michael was standing beside him, waiting politely for his father to tell him why he had been called.
“I’m proud of you, my son.” Anthony began. Seeing that Michael did not appear to know what to make of this, he continued. “You’ve shown yourself to be a fine seaman, deserving of a higher rank. I know’ you will say it is favoritism, coming from me, but to tell you the truth, few of the midshipmen I have seen were better seaman. One of the privileges bestowed upon midshipmen, though, is the command of prizes. Let me see you take command of the crew repairing that ship we captured today. Tell them I ordered you to take command.”
As Michael strode away, Anthony caught sight of two shining knives in his belt. Surprised, Anthony called after his son “When did you get those?”
“Looted ‘em off a man I killed in fair combat. Didn’t take anything else from anyone.”
“Reflexes and luck. You’ve had no training in combat yet. Train yourself with those and they’ll save your life many times.”
“Aye, Sir.” Michael repeated, turning and continuing on his way.
“And one more thing.” Anthony continued, causing Michael to stop short. “I put you under no restraint. No orders. Nothing. Except this: survive. You know you’re my only son. As such, you must return to me.”
“If I run a blockade or fight a ship of the line, I would not hesitate. I will come home. I only wish I could be sure of the same for you.” Michael answered as he prepared to disembark from the ship.
Anthony began to pace the quarterdeck once more, saying to himself “We’ll both survive. Don’t worry about that. I only wonder how many dangers we’ll both to have to fight through before we’re back at home again. You’ll be a different boy when we meet again. May your namesake protect you.”