O' Reilly stood silently on the quarterdeck of the H.M.S. Indefatigable. The captain had not yet come on deck, as the sun had just barely risen. He had served for a year aboard the Indy, as the men called it, and that year under the same captain. He had learned the captain's habits quickly, and by doing this he had quickly risen to the rank of Acting Lieutenant Johnathan O' Reilly of the Marines. The sailing master was already hard at work drilling the midshipmen in their mathematical lessons; they needed to know mathematics should they ever become a captain. His thoughts flashed back to the days of when his brother was a measly midshipman, coming aboard the Indy on a cold winter day. The only man on deck to receive his brother and O' Reilly was the latters good friend Jeremiah Garland, who had been his good friend since his childhood. Garland was now the Sergeant of the Marines, just below O' Reilly in rank. They, below the Lieutenant and Captain of the Marines, served as the commanders of the Company A, 185th Royal Marines Regiment. The two shared a close bond together. Suddenly, O' Reilly's thoughts were interrupted. "Mr. O' Reilly, my friend, how are you this fine morning?" Garland asked.
"Good, good. And yourself?" O' Reilly asked. O' Reilly continued to stare blankly ahead, past the bow of the ship. For months he had seen nothing but vast ocean, in the passage to the Mediterranean the only action his ship had recieved was a French merchant ship. A midshipman named Stevenson had taken prize command, and sailed her into Portsmouth. She had sold for a pretty penny, O' Reilly himself receiving 200 pounds in share for the victory. He had sent the money back to Portsmouth to be invested by his mother. He had never been entirely happy at his increase in wealth, he had only kept ten pounds to buy a new uniform, his sergeant's had gotten bloodstained and torn in the boarding of the Foudre, a French frigate of 22 guns that his ship had captured within the first week of sailing when he left Portsmouth. The ship was too far wrecked to be sold, and it was burned off shore near Bordeaux.
After a brief pause, Garland replied "Eh... alright. Its rather bleak this morning and I didn't quite wake up in perfect shape. I've had a small cough for the past few days, you see. Not much, but it's something."
"Well then you better get to the doctor; he has some remedies for that." O' Reilly said matter of factly.
"I would, but I am rather afraid what the men would think of an officer going to the sick bay for a mere cough..."
"That's an order, Mr. Garland." O' Reilly mumbled back. Garland hesitated, but spun on his heels and marched back down the stairway to the gun deck. O' Reilly did not send Garland below out of authority, but merely because he worried for his friend. Although only ten years old, he had seen men die of fever in large groups because mere coughs. He shook his head free of such thoughts; he did not like to think about it. O' Reilly looked at the ocean ahead, and turned to the helmsman. "Keep her steady on her course, there."
"Aye aye, sir." the helmsman replied. O' Reilly knew the unecessary talk did no good, the helmsman knew not to change his course until ordered to do so, and O' Reilly knew it. He walked forward to the companionway and stepped below. The watch on station was going about their duties with ease, the sailmaker and his mates sewing spare sails, the cooper making barrels for supplies, and the coxswain seeing to the longboat. O' Reilly moved forward to the foc'sle, and entered the galley to see the cook and his mate preparing the daily meal of breakfast. The sun was well up now, he could already hear the boatswain rousing the rest of the crew from their sleep. Sailors began to come through the lower companionway from the orlop deck, and two gleeful powder boys began joking with each other, in fact they were not much older than O' Reilly. All was well aboard ship, and O' Reilly was glad to see it.
"Captain coming on deck now, gentlemen! Look lively!" O' Reilly shouted. The hands on deck straightened their backs and paid attention aft, where the cabin doors were being opened and the marine sentry was standing aside. The captain, Captain Hunter Cook, touched his cap to the saluting crew and climbed up to the quarterdeck.
"Mr. Clay, as you are lieutenant of the watch, tell me what happened in my abscence, if you please." the captain ordered.
Clay, the second lieutenant of the ship touched his cap and said with indifference "Something sighted off the port bow at two bells. She was gone before we could make her out. I believe Mr. O' Reilly got a glance at her before she sailed off, correct?"
"Aye, I did, sir." came O' Reilly's reply. "She had the shape of a ship, no doubt. From the ratlines she looked like a sloop, maybe running the blockade? She looked like a French build, moved fast in the water, she was off before I could see anything else."
"Very well. Mr. Clay we will run a course in her direction. With any luck she will be hove too before the wind and will surrender before a shot is fired." said the captain. "Well hop to it, men!" he said lively. As the officers bustled to their stations, O' Reilly eyed the captain carefully. It was not like him to be excited about the capture of a mere sloop, much less a sloop with food aboard. O' Reilly was rather confused, but then he realized that the British fleet hadn't taken a ship in months, and the French papers had been mocking England for their "laziness in taking ships a prize". It was clear that the captain wanted to end that streak.
The captain turned to the companionway, and stepped down below. "Mr. Stabling, you have the deck." the captain announced just as his head passed under the deck beams. Charles Stabling, the first lieutenant of the Indy was a nonchalant man, he only spoke when necessary. Then again, O' Reilly thought, not many Naval officers soke unecessarily.
"Mr. O' Reilly, run forward and get Mr. Vincent, the sailmaker, and his mates." Mr. Stabling said.
"Aye aye, sir."
"And send my compliments to the captain," began the lieutenant, "but we will need him on deck momentarily."
"Aye aye, sir." O' Reilly said, and after some hesitation, "Pass the word for the captain!" O' Reilly listened as the command echoed across the ship, being repeated by the marines in a chain until finally the captain poked his head above deck.
"Captain Smith, sir, I have a plan." announced Stabling with a grin.
"Blanchefleur sighted, sir!" shouted a seaman as he scrambled down the ratlines. "On the starboard bow! She's less than a mile away, must've come on us during the night! I don't know why she won't bloody fire!"
So the sail they had seen that night had been a Frenchie, thought O' Reilly. He ran forward, and opened his glass very abruptly. She was a sloop, sure enough. He noticed how the six gunports on her side were close in, even though the weather was not even a mere breeze. She was swerving on her rudder, and was sailing clumsily to the east. "There is no port that way, just the Atlantic!" shouted O' Reilly to Lieutenant Clay.
"Indeed. Why is she on that course!" replied Clay.
"I don't bloody know! No sloop could make it any farther than a mile from where she is now in the Atlantic!" answered Stabling. The officers on the foc'sle were all training their glasses on the sloop they had sighted. "Mr. O' Reilly, inform the Captain of the Marines, we are heading in close on an enemy sloop. I will want the majority of the marines on the quarterdeck rail, but have a small party ready to board the jollyboat to board the enemy. You will be in charge of them." Stabling said with a nod.
"Aye aye, sir." O' Reilly said, trembling with excitement. This would be his third boarding action, and he knew what it felt like to wield a sabre in the face or the enemy, especially in close quarters. The Blanchefleur looked small, as a sloop should be, so the crew would be just a little less than 70 men. She would surrender at the warning gun, the boarding party would only be to secure the prize. O' Reilly frowned. He wanted to go into action, but he knew his duty. "Captain Howard, sir?" O' Reilly inquired for the Captain of the Marines by knocking on his cabin door. He heard a grunt from the room, and Howard came out in his nightshirt. "Mr. Stabling's compliments, and we are coming up on an enemy sloop. You are requested to form your marines on the quarterdeck rail, while a small party is to be sent to stand-by on the jollyboat for a boarding action."
"Who is to lead this... boarding action?" Howard replied.
"That would be me, sir."
"I am aware of your relationship with Garland, would you like to take him as well?"
"I would sir, I would."
"Very well then, inform him. I shall be on deck in a minute."
"Aye aye, sir." O' Reilly stated with a touch of his shako. A sudden boom was heard, and O' Reilly looked upwards towards the deck.
As O' Reilly headed back up the companionway, he was met by a grim-faced Garland. "Well? What's the word?" O' Reilly asked. Garland motioned for O' Reilly to follow him, and the two walked to the quarterdeck. Without a word, Garland pointed straight astern. "God... the guardships." O' Reilly said gravely. He knew that a sloop of little firepower would be granted a guardship, but two was unlikely. The cargo on board the Blanchefleur must be very important, he thought. "Frigates. Two of em'. Both look like... eh, maybe 28 guns?" O' Reilly inquired.
"Must be. They have been on our stern, didn't notice them until we heard a gunshot from behind." Garland said. A sloop of six guns, with two guardships of 28 each, would easily destroy a frigate of 36 guns. The two guardships would go on the starboard and port of the Indy and the sloop would swing round the stern. The helplss Indy would be taken by force. The only hope she had was to board one of the frigates and ram the second.
"Clear for action! Clear for action, damn you!" shouted O' Reilly at a midshipman, "You men there, make ready your swords! We will have an even chance yet!" shouted O' Reilly. The boarding parties readied themselves, and the Master at Arms unlocked the wooden cases containing the swords, while the bos'un and his mates' pipes twittered the command to rouse the watches from below. The Marine drummers beat out the "beat to quarters" tune, and bare feet pounded the decks while men ran to their guns, and topmen scrambled aloft awaiting the command to shortensail. A Marine detachment under Garland headed to the maintop, while Howard gathered the rest of the Marines on the quarterdeck. A clanking was heard, and the starboard and port side battery was run out. O' Reilly pulled his pocket watch from his vest and turned to Clay. "Nine minutes and four seconds, sir!" announced O' Reilly, stating the time it took to fully clear for action.
"Very good, Mr. O' Reilly. Now let us turn our attention to the enemy." Clay said. The officers on the foc'sle moved aft to the quarterdeck, and O' Reilly scrambled to the deck rail where the jollyboat was hanging overside. The party of six Marines and Garland was ready, in double file. Mr. Garland stiffly pulled his sword, moved it in front of his face in salute, and shielded it again. Because the ship had come about, the foc'sle was still facing the enemy. The sloop swung round the stern, as was expected, and the two frigates split to surround the Indy.
"Mr. O' Reilly, launch the jollyboat!" Clay screamed from the quarterdeck.
"Heave, left and right together now, heave!" O' Reilly shouted. With a spalsh the jollyboat landed in the water, and was quickly manned by a crew of seaman at the oars and Marines with loaded muskets taking their positions. "Swing to starboard!" O' Reilly called, and the boat responded with a jerk. The man at the tiller took the ship to the far stern of the first enemy frigate, and with a lantern and straw set fire inside the stern gunport on the frigate. The crew, all at the starboard side battery, did not pay a note of attention to the small fire, but continued to aim their guns. "Pipe down men, don't let them know you're here." O' Reilly whispered as the jollyboat went around the port of the enemy frigate. She sailed round the bow, just evading a ram from the frigate's peak, and then went towards the port side of the sloop, which was beating to quarters. She hooked onto the mainchains of the sloop and steadied herself. O' Reilly pulled his sword, and slowly crept up the sideladder.
Peaking his head just far enough above the deck to observe the enemy, O' Reilly steadied himself and began to pull himself up. The moment his left knee landed on the deck, a loud gunshot went off, and O' Reilly flew back over the side, the bullet missing him by inches. "What the bloody hell was that?!" he screamed as he began to pull himself up the ladder for a second attempt. The marines in the boat behind him were dead silent, muskets in hand. A french sailor appeared at the railing.
"Etes-vous fidele au Roi Louis?!" (English: Are you loyal to King Louis'?) inquired the Frenchman, stupidly. Bewildered at the sight of British marines in a boat just alongside their ship, when the main enemy was in the completely opposite direction, the Frenchmen waited for a response.
"C'est le Roi George, visage de grenouille!" (English: It's King George, frog face!)