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Warning: Mature Adults only

Harper's Egypt


Chapter 3
Harper ran to the rail of the rolling ship, and leaned over its side. He had long before bequeathed the contents of his stomach to the waves, all that was left now was heaving his guts in time with the heaving deck. He had also learned, after only one mishap, to face away from the wind. The sailors watched him with considerable amusement and little compassion.

"A proper Irishman he is, wearin' the green even on his face, he does!"

"If he keeps feedin' the fish this well, they'll follow us all the way to Gibraltar!"

However, even through his misery, Harper was jubilant. He was on the way.

After three (or was it six?) rounds of punch, things had moved very quickly. A pair of burly marines had hustled him over to the local magistrate for Derry, the Honorable Abijah Hoadley. For some obscure reason he refused to wear his wig, and his reddish pate and thin, wattled neck sticking up above his black robes reminded Harper of some storks he had seen. He asked Harper numerous questions, his name, place of birth, age (over eighteen), trade, condition of health, willingness to serve in the Marines until discharged, and previous service in the military among others. A clerk promptly wrote down Harper's answers. He was then rushed off to a surgeon who was probably less sober than Harper, stripped, poked, prodded, and then pronounced free of illness or disabling injury (aside from the hangover).

When it came time to put his signature down, swearing allegiance to His Royal Majesty, His Heirs and Successors, Harper had insisted that his term of service be specified as limited. He wasn't prepared yet to make the Marines his life, and his family might need him back home when all this was over. He thanked his saints for the traveling hedge-teachers who had stopped each season in Donegal, and from whom he had learned to read and make his mark.

The Marines hemmed and hawed, trying to persuade him to sign for life and get the extra bounty, but Harper was adamant. So the clause was added "for the duration of hostilities." Harper would serve until a peace was signed. He had heard somewhere that the English had once fought a hundred-years war with France. He hoped this one would be a bit shorter. Then, with eager hands, he had received from Sergeant Fulcher his bounty of eleven guineas. Minus of course, the four guineas for his kit, a guinea for his contribution to the punch bowl, a guinea for the drummer's fee for beating the points of war, and the traditional guinea that each new recruit gave to Mrs. Fulcher for a new ribbon for her hat.

"Tradition, lad. You'd not be wanting to break it, would you?"

Looking at Sergeant Fulcher, Harper had decided he did not. Still, four guineas was more money than he had ever had at one time, and he pocketed it thankfully enough.

That very night, he, the marines and the other recruits, along with several other recruiters and their recruits had been bustled aboard the merchantman who had been hired as their transport. She was named the Swift. She was not. Among her crew, her nickname was the "Slop." She wallowed in a light sea like a spastic pig, and Harper's was not the only head over the rail. Still, it was a fine vantage point to see the birds. Thousands of them, there was, flying in the ship's broad wake, or hovering, motionless, just above the deck, Northern divers and Arctic terns, gannets and razorbills, puffins and Great shearwaters, Sooty shearwaters and Boxnie gulls. And they all flew closer when he heaved over the rail


It was three days voyage around Antrim's point and south, towards Plymouth and its marine barracks. Harper had no time to take notice of Plymouth. The "Slop" had no sooner tied up in Sutton Harbor when he and the other recruits were promptly hurried off the ship, up the Barbican and through the town, to the barracks that lay on its outskirts, a series of long, gray, unattractive buildings whose only distinguishing feature was the white naval ensign flying from a pole before the nearest one. Harper and the others were joined by more recruits from the barracks, about a hundred-and-twenty in all. They were pushed and prodded by two marines into some semblance of a line in the packed dirt field that served as a parade ground. Sergeant Fulcher faced them, and his face was not friendly. As before, he didn't need to shout to be heard.

"I am a marine, and you poor sods are not! Let's be straight on that point. The corps does not belong to you, it belongs to me and my mates! If a few of you are good enough, and lucky enough, you may one day be a part of this corps. His Majesty's Navy is in need of marines, and it's my job to supply that need, and quickly. So you'll be worked double hard, until you plough-clods either die or measure up. That is why you have not yet been issued with your uniforms, because you are not yet worthy to wear them! When I've decided you're fit to be seen in them, I'll let you know! We will entrust you with our tradition of excellence. But don't worry, you won't let us down. Because at the first sign that you give me that you will mar that tradition of excellence, I will personally put a musket ball through your thick skulls! That's all."

He turned away, and they were hustled to their barracks.

And so began Harper's training as a marine.

First came foot drill. They practiced standing motionless, both at attention and at ease, for as long as their officers chose to keep them standing. They practiced marching, sliding the feet so low over the ground their drill instructor could not glimpse the soles of their shoes. They practiced how to turn, how to march in column, maintaining the intervals between the parallel ranks, then wheeling ninety degrees, swinging like a gate on its hinges, into an even, continuous line, without embarrassing gaps or confusing interlaps. They practiced keeping the proper distance between ranks and files, in both open and closed order. They practiced how to change time in marching, the length of paces exact and their frequency precise. They practiced how to march in ordinary, seventy-five paces per minute, and how at order to step out in the quick-march, one-hundred-twenty paces a minute. And when they were done they practiced again. And again. And again. In the pouring rain, in the snow, if an earthquake shook the ground or a volcano erupted, it would make no difference. They would still drill. At one point, a recruit made the mistake of raising his hand and asking a question.

"Begging your pardon, Sergeant. But why do all this marching if we're going to be on a ship?"

Sergeant Fulcher was immediately in the wretch's face. "Because King's Regulations says you do! And I'll not have any marine I train outmarched by a soldier! Any more questions, and you'll be marching with one foot nailed to the ground!"

Harper took the lesson to heart. Accept what comes, and ask no questions.

Next, they learned how to salute. "When you see an officer, you will halt and front that officer, bringing your right hand gently to your hat, and standing in that position until said officer passes." They practiced this for a while, until Fulcher got tired of those who couldn't tell their right hand from their left. Some recruits spent the rest of the day with their left arms firmly tied to their bodies, until he was satisfied there'd be no further mistakes. They didn't complain, considering that the alternative he offered them was amputation of the offending member.

The sun was down by the time the recruits, footsore and weary, filed into the mess for supper. Harper's eyes widened in amazement at what the cook ladled onto his plate, a joint of beef such as he had never thought to see, with a green mess called pease pudding and a great hunk of bread and cheese. And then a whole pint of beer! He had been assigned to table number four, and had seven messmates, who tore through their food like ravening wolves, without much talking. As he ate, Harper began to experience a strange, entirely pleasant feeling of well-being, such as he had never known before. For a while, he could not identify it. Then he realized. For the very first time in his thirteen years, he wasn't hungry.

It was towards the end of supper that he ran afoul of the Terrible Trio. Privates Hargroves, Grevins, and Tyler. They had been in the barracks for three months now, and were nothing but trouble. Hargroves was thin, with curly red hair and a face like a human rat. Grevins was almost as big as Harper, blond, and might have been the stupidest recruit in the barracks, if that honor hadn't gone to his buddy Tyler, with black hair shaved short and so near-sighted it was a wonder he hadn't shot his own foot off. They now approached Harper, with Hargroves in the lead. The first Harper knew of it was a voice from behind him.

"What is it? Nothing English can be that 'ideous, can it? It must be Irish."

Harper had just finished and turned around, a mild expression on his face, to see the Trio standing behind him. Grevins spoke next.

"Yer right, 'Argroves. It can't be human. It must be an orrangytang. I seen one in a circus once, I did."

"And worst of all," Hargroves continued, "it's an Irish orrangytang!"

"Maybe it wants some food." Tyler suggested.

Hargroves took him up on the idea. "Yer want some puddin, orrangytang? It's Irish green, it is."

He plucked a spoon full of peas pudding out of a recruit's hand as it was on the way to his mouth and flicked it onto Harper's shirt.

Harper rose, looked at the green blob on his shirt, and then looked at Hargroves' right shoulder. Harper smiled, Hargroves snickered.

"What're yer lookin' at, orrangytang?"

"Just making sure you're not an officer."

"Me, an off-"

Harpers straight left crashed into Hargroves face, knocking out two teeth and flattening him on the ground. Give no insult, but neither accept one from any man, officers excepted, his father had said. Harper was not only big for his age, he was very strong and tough, from years working the forge with his father, and from a rough and tumble childhood. And his father had taught him more than a few things about using his fists, particularly how to hit and move.

The Terrible Trio never stood a chance.

Grevins was next. He swung a wild right hook, which Harper easily evaded. Then he stepped to the left and placed his own right in Grevin's kidney. As Grevins bowled over in agony, Harper followed up with hammer blow to the back of his skull that put him down.

Tyler was next, hurling himself forward in a wild rush of fists and feet that Harper's ten-year old brother could have dodged. He slammed his forearm into Tyler's throat and swept his leg out from under him. Tyler's body paralleled the floor before he slammed down on it, the breath leaving his lungs I an agonized gasp.

After that, it was a simple matter of knocking each of them down every time they got up, until this got boring and Harper began to bounce them off of a nearby wall for variety's sake. They were showing less and less inclination to get to their feet, and Harper was about to sit down again when Sergeant Fulcher and two guards came rushing in. Fulcher's voice was finally raised to a roar:

"Stand at attention, all of you!"

All four combatants stood at attention, though the Trio were rather unsteady on their feet.

Hargroves began, speaking with difficulty through his smashed mouth. "Sir, I and my messmates was eatin' supper peaceful-like, when this Irish lout attacked us for no good reason-"

Fulcher stuck his face in Hargrove's and rumbled dangerously.

"Did I give you permission to speak?"

"No Sergeant."

"You just spoke again, Hargroves! Not a fast learner, are you?"

He turned to the watching crowd.

"Who saw what happened?"

"I did, sir."

A little marine, barely the requisite five feet tall, stepped forward. On his shoulder was the knot of a lance-corporal. He had brown hair and bright blue eyes in a thin face, and a feisty expression that said he'd take nothing from any man. He had the appearance of a brave mouse. His accent was Irish, from the south, Patrick guessed.

"The lad was only defending his honor and Ireland's, Sergeant, and he provoked nothing. He was eating when these three fools picked a fight. And he gave them one, Sergeant, and more than they bargained for, I'll say."

Fulcher nodded and faced the Trio.

"You three have been nothing but trouble since you got here. It's three nights in the guardhouse for you, on short rations. And one more peep of trouble from any of you and it's your balls I'll be having for breakfast. Understood?"

The Trio stood at attention and wisely stayed silent. Fulcher nodded to the guards, who marched them off. Fulcher turned to Harper.

"And you, Paddy, have more energy than is good for you. If you've enough to fight in my barracks, you've enough for drill, out on the field, now, until I tell you to come in. And I'll have no more trouble from you, either. Lance-corporal Finnegan, you shall instruct the recruit in the proper maneuvers for the field."

The little corporal stood at attention.


es Sergeant."

Then he spoke to Harper. "Come on, lad."

As they walked out on to the darkened, rainy parade ground, Finnegan kept up a conversation.

"Truth be told lad, all of us, the Sergeant included, were happy to see those louts put in their places. But he can't let fighting in the barracks go unpunished, t'would be bad for the troops' morale."

For the next few hours, Harper and Finnigan practiced the ordinary and quick march; they marched in an imaginary column and wheeled into an imaginary line, with Finnigan acting as marker for Harper to wheel on. As they marched, Finnigan told Patrick that he came from Kilarney town in County Kerry. He had joined the Marines five years before, when the war with France had started back in '93, because it looked more interesting than scraping out a living on the land his family rented, and because of some problems with the local magistrate over his daughter.

"A month after I joined, I wrote back to my father. 'Da,' I said, 'this is the worst thing I've ever done. It's lousy here. Please sell the pig and buy me out.' You know what he wrote back? 'Dear son, we ate the pig. Soldier on.'"

Harper chuckled, and Finnigan joined him. Harper told him about his own reasons for joining, and how things were shaping up at home. Finnigan nodded in agreement, right or wrong, the uprising looked to be a disaster in the making for the Irish people.

It was nearly midnight when Sergeant Fulcher appeared and signaled them to come in. Finnigan clapped Harper on the shoulder.

"You just stick to old Finnigan, lad. I'll see you through all of this."

They looked into each other's eyes and suddenly realized that they had become friends. Harper and Finnigan, comrades in arms, walked back to the barrack.

Harper joined Finnigan's mess, number 7, and was warmly accepted by the other six members. Harper found the camaraderie of the table a source of strength after a day's hard drill. He could almost forget they were English. Finnigan had a mischievous sense of humor, and would tie a bowlen in the devil's tail if he could get away with it. There was the time when he surreptitiously replaced the tobacco in Hargrove's pipe with gunpowder. Harper was still laughing five days later. Or the time when he sewed Tyler's nightshirt to his bed while he was sleeping in it. It made a grand scene at revile the next morning. Harper got into the act and tied the sleeping Grevin's big toes together, and then shouted in his ear "Fire!" Harper couldn't understand what all the fuss was about, the lump on Grevin's head only made him look smarter.

Laughter was needful, for the days were rigorous. They were up at quarter of seven (half past five if it had been summer). The bunks were wooden pallets loaded with straw, only five inches apart, so privacy was a thing of the past. He had to roll his bedding on the wooden bedstead, fold the blankets, the two sheets and the rug so that the colors of the rug appeared through the folds of the sheets and blankets like streaks of marble ("The Corps way, lad"). Then, it was out to the parade field after wolfing down some cold biscuit, for drill, drill, and more drill. But one thing Harper would say for Sergeant Fulcher, he pushed himself as hard as he pushed them. He was there, watching them drill from morning 'til night. It usually took six months to make a marine; Sergeant Fulcher was determined to do it in three. The need was that great.

They must have showed some promise, because before a month was up, they were issued their uniforms, coat, waistcoat, overcoat, two checked shirts, breeches, bicorn hat with cockade, a leather forage cap, crossbelts and belt plate, bayonet frog, haversack, gaiters and two pair of shoes

Fulcher stood before them as they held all this folded in their arms.

"Well, miracle of miracles, you've lasted long enough to get your duds! But don't think for a moment it makes you marines! If you wear it right, it will make you start to think like one, and then maybe you'll start acting like one. If you don't wear it right, it will show you up for the clowns you are, and I just love dealing with clowns!" "At all times, you will take a military and manly pride in your uniforms, because they represent the Corps! If a man can't learn to dress in a graceful and marine-like manner, then he have more clown in him than marine, and I have methods for driving the clown out of a man!"

That night, Finnigan began the process of making Harper look like a marine. First came the hair, pulled back and greased, first with candle wax, and then with the foul smelling ash and fat mixture the army called soap. The hair was twisted around a small bag of sand into a long queue that trailed down Harper's back, and the whole liberally dusted with flour until it shown stark white. He showed Harper how to pipe-clay his belts until they gleamed, how to spit-polish his shoes. Harper tried his uniform on; he looked splendid in his red and white. Except for his arms, which were too long for the sleeves by a good three inches. Shrugging, he bent down to pick up his haversack and promptly split open his breeches in the back, along the seam. Hargroves noticed this and sniggered.

"Once an orrangytang, always an orrangytang, I always say."

Finnigan promptly found one of the barracks' seamstresses, who sewed a white patch over the tear. However, before the week was out, Harper had torn open the back of his coat while putting it on and then raising his arms. It likewise was patched, this time with red cloth. The Marines simply hadn't figured on such a large recruit when they issued their uniforms. Harper had put on some weight since starting to eat marine grub, and all of it muscle. He had also added another inch or so of height in the process, so more patching was likely in the future. The uniform did make a difference in drill the next day, however. There was just something about wearing it that made a man move smarter on the parade field.

Harper worked hard to keep his gear in good shape, and with Finnigan's guidance, passed muster on Sunday's inspection, which took place before the singing of the psalms and Lieutenant Colonel Haythorne's reading of the Articles of War. The patches were in the rear of his uniform, anyhow, and not as noticeable.

Harper received an additional incentive for keeping his uniform spotless and smart about a week later, in the case of a recruit named Nork, who could never seem or never cared enough to have his uniform in the order Sergeant Fulcher expected. After repeated infractions, the Sergeant took action. The recruits were lined up at attention on the parade ground. Sergeant Fulcher, accompanied by Finnigan and another corporal, called out:

"Recruit Nork, front and center!"

Nork hastened out and stood at attention in front of the Sergeant, trembling in apprehension. His uniform was perhaps a bit dull, the pipe-clay not as bright as could have been, but not what Harper would have called objectionable. Fulcher thought otherwise. He called out to the recruits.

"King's regulations says that if any marine is inclined towards slovenliness, after repeated attempts having been made to induce him to a deportment befitting the Corp, severe methods are called for"

He nodded to Finnigan and the other corporal, who stepped aside, revealing a wooden tub and two buckets. Fulcher spoke again.

"Recruit Nork, you will please remove the uniform you seem so indifferent to."

Fulcher's expression invited no pleas. Nork mechanically began to unbutton his waistcoat, the corporals taking each garment until he stood stripped. He stepped into the tub and sat down. The corporals, carefully laying the uniform articles aside, picked up the buckets and doused him with cold salt-water. Then, picking up two long handled brushes with stiff bristles, they began to vigorously scrub him. Nork bore it in stoic misery. After a few minutes, Fulcher nodded to the corporals, who stepped back as Nork stood and, at Fulcher's nod, stepped out of the tub. He looked to his uniform, folded on the ground. Fulcher shook his head, and held out Nork's civilian cloths.

"You'll wear these until I decide you're worthy of another chance at His Majesty's uniform."

Dull-faced with shock and humiliation, Nork began to put them on. Fulcher turned to address the recruits.

"Let this be an encouragement to you to look smart, like marines. Dismissed."

For the next month, Recruit Nork appeared at drill in his civilian cloths. When Sergeant Fulcher allowed him his uniform back, there was not a smarter dresser on parade.

That next week, they got their muskets and bayonets.

They were summoned out to the parade ground and stood at attention. Before them stood Sergeant Fulcher and two corporals. On the ground were several long wooden boxes, closed. Fulcher nodded, one of the corporals opened the nearest box, took out a musket, and handed it to him. He held it up for all to see.

"This is the Sea Service Brown Bess Musket. It is fifty-seven and three-eighths inches long and weighs ten pounds. It fires a .75 caliber lead ball five hundred yards, though you can forget hitting anything smaller than a ship of the line past one hundred. Treat it right, and it will be your best friend in the field, treat it wrong, and it will see you cold and dead. Let this be the rule you live or die by: three aimed shots a minute."

They were each issued a musket and sling, a scabbarded bayonet, and a cartridge box. Such gear was not unfamiliar to Harper, being similar to the blunderbuss he had used as a Whiteboy. For the next week, from morning till night, they drilled with their muskets, going through each stage. They stood by messes of eight before bales of hay some seventy yards away, which had menacing drawings of French soldiers tacked to them. Lance-Corporal Finnigan took a musket himself, and showed them each step in a deliberate manner.

"Shoulder firelocks!"

"Half-cock firelocks!"

"Handle your cartridges!"


"Shut your pans!"

"Charge with cartridge!"

"Draw your rammers!"

"Ram down your cartridges!"

"Return your rammers!"

"Poise your firelocks!"

"Cock your firelocks!"



Inevitably, some forgot to prime the pan, missed the barrel when ramming down the cartridges so that it fell to the ground, neglected to remove the rammer so that it shot out with the ball, or only half-cocked the doghead so that the musket didn't fire. And so they did it again. And again. And again. Until their tongues and nostrils were full of gunpowder, their faces smeared with it, their hair black with it. And when finally, they all got through the sequence without mishap, Finnigan was not encouraging.

"Congratulations! You actually got through it all without a ball-up. Only problem is, you'd all be shot to hell and back by now by a pack of Froggies who can fire three aimed shots a minute. You'll have to do better than that, lads."

And so it went, hour after hour after hour until sundown. After supper, the corporals continued to drill the particularly slow learners by torchlight. And then the next day, from dawn till dusk, more musket drill. And the next day, more musket drill. And the next day. And the next. All week, it was nothing but musket drill.

But gradually, it began to come together. They could anticipate the next command and be ready for it smoothly, without fumbling their weapons. They began to perform the steps in unison, like a well-oiled machine. And there finally came a day when all Finnigan had to say was "Load" and they went through the first nine steps on their own, from half-cocking to returning rammers.

Now they began to go for speed. They sought that unthinking, automatic rhythm of loading that does not distinguish step from step, but just does it, as naturally and unconsciously as breathing, a machine that does each step one after another because it is made to do it that way. They began to feel a thrill as they fired on command and began the sequence again, wondering if this time, they would achieve the coveted three shots a minute.

They were the third mess to do so, on the ninth day of musket drill. The other messes followed rapidly, and all had achieved it by the end of the second week.

Now they varied the distance of the target, to one hundred and then one hundred and sixty yards. Finnigan explained that even though they had small chance of hitting anything at that range, it was still valuable training in judging distance and elevation. They began to use their muskets in their drilling maneuvers, in the marching and wheeling. On one occasion, Harper's musket was held a bit low as he wheeled, and its stock smacked Hargroves right where it hurt. He fell to the ground, groaning.

"You did that on purpose! You held your musket too low!"

"Oh no, Hargroves," Harper said as he helped him up. "you held your balls too high."

The satisfaction was well worth the dead rat that Hargroves put in his bed that night.

They began bayonet practice with the seventeen-inch socket bayonet, thrusting at bales of hay with pictures of Frenchmen on them, and then in carefully controlled mock-combat with each other, learning to thrust parry, and counter-thrust, then to reverse and strike with the stock.

Twice a week, they did extended field marches with full haversacks and cartridge belts, muskets shouldered, out into the countryside, returning, footsore but proud, at sunset. And once a week, they still had a day of musket drill, to keep sharp their three aimed shots a minute.

They began guard duties, guarding the barracks, twelve sentinels at a time, by day or night. They guarded the dockyards, allowing in only those laborers permitted to work there, seeing that the gates were locked at night. They guarded the commissary's stores and the sickbays medical supplies.

And somewhere, in the midst of all this, they became Marines. It was April, three months after Harper had signed up. Sergeant Fulcher had done it.

The day when he assembled them was a day of a blue sky and scattered white clouds. They stood at attention, muskets at rest, he stood before them.

"Well, well, miracles do happen after all. My delight is exceeded only by my astonishment! Welcome marines, I know you'll do the Corps proud. And if you don't I'll come looking for you. Now the King needs you, straight away, your postings are in the mess hall."

His voice snapped out.

"Shoulder firelocks!"

"Right face!"

Each command was obeyed with flawless precision, a testimony to his training and determination. His voice rang out once more.


They marched off to the mess hall, where several large sheets had been tacked up on the wall. Harper and Finnigan edged in through the crowd. Finnigan's shortness made it hard for him to see, and he turned to Harper.

"Do you see our names, lad?"

Harper leaned over and scanned the close writing. Many of the marines had been attached to tedious duty on guardships, which usually got the lion's share of new marines. A few had been assigned to guard the prison hulks, the most repulsive of assignments. Harper noted with some satisfaction that Hargroves, Grevins, and Tyler's names were thus assigned. Oh well, they weren't the sort he'd like to depend on in a fight, anyway.

But a surprising number had been assigned to the fleet, to ships like the HMS Minotaur, the HMS Alexander, the HMS Seahorse, the HMS Zealous, the HMS Penelope, the HMS Bellerophon, the HMS Irresistible . . .

"Finnigan, what's a Culloden?"

"A great flamin' battle it was, about fifty years gone. In Scotland. The Scots got their arses kicked. Ah, if only they'd had a few more Irishmen with 'em. Why?"

"Because you, me, and our whole number seven mess have been assigned to the HMS Culloden."

"Saints alive! I know her. Third-rater, seventy-four guns. Captain Thomas Troubridge, one of the best, he is."

He and Harper looked each other in the eye, and shook hands fiercely in mutual congratulations.

"Lad," said Finnigan, "we're going to see some action. If we don't have nice little piece of prize-money by summer's end, I'll eat my hat, and yours too!"

They were marines, and they were going to war

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