Warning: Mature Adults only
PART I: ABUQUIR
All hands not previously engaged rushed to the starboard rail and looked out. But as yet, they could see nothing beyond the curve of the point. Nelson's flags were up with a simple order:
"Proceed to attack."
Like eager greyhounds, the English fleet surged forward, in no particular order, all having only one idea on their minds, to close with the French fleet that had eluded them for so long.
But first, all hands not presently on duty were piped to dinner. It would be some hours yet before they closed with the enemy, and an Englishman always fights his best on a full stomach.
As he munched his boiled pork, Harper could barely contain his excitement. Finally, he was going to battle. The spirit of optimism that pervaded the crew had infected him. They were not just going to defeat the enemy; they were going to wipe him off the face of the sea!
The Culloden had been to windward of the rest of the fleet when the enemy had been sighted, towing her prize brig. Now, at Captain Troubridge's orders, a prize crew was rowed over and the brig cut loose. The Culloden poured on more sail and joined the race to be first to close with the French. They had a topgallant breeze, the wind blowing north-northwest, hard enough to ensure ease of maneuver at a fair speed. It would be near dark by the time they engaged, and the breeze could be expected to drop.
The drummers played out "Beat to quarters" and every man rushed to his position, as they had practiced time and again. Hammocks were stowed in the nettings to protect the deck from splinters, and below, the bulkheads had already been knocked down to produce single, ship-long chambers for the gunnery decks. The guns were run out, twenty-eight thirty-two pounders on the main deck, twenty-eight twenty-four pounders on the second, loading with round shot to smash through the enemy's hulls, destroy his guns and butcher their crews. Buckets of sand were placed to quench fires and soak up blood. On the first deck, the eighteen-pounders were loading with chain shot to bring down sails and rigging, and canister to shred the crews who crowded there. Half of the marines swarmed up the ratlines, taking their places in the rigging, ready to snipe at any French officer who came within range. The other half, Harper included, crouched in the foredeck, ready either to repel boarders or to board themselves if the opportunity presented itself. Harper's bayoneted musket was in his hand; his volley gun was slung across his back. His heart was pounding and his mouth was dry. Soon, now, soon.
His height allowed him to look ahead, over the heads of his mates. He could see that the lead ten ships of the fleet were forming a line. Nelson ran up a signal, they would concentrate on the van and center of the enemy. He noticed that a French brig was standing towards them, apparently trying to draw them into shoals where they would run aground. They paid no attention and the brig drew off. Now Harper could see the Vanguard pulling out of the line, the better to direct them. The Zealous was in the lead now, with the Goliath just behind on her lee bow. Tension mounted.
Now the Culloden began to bear to starboard, rounding the tip of the island. And now Harper got his first clear look at the French fleet. Thirteen ships of the line, anchored in a long line that stretched nearly across the breadth of the bay, with cables stretched between them. Harper understood their strategy, anchored, all hands would be free to work the guns, and they would in effect become one long, floating battery that would be difficult to turn. Harper ran his eyes down the French line, and stopped on the seventh ship. It was a monster, a first-rater, three decks, dwarfing any ship in their fleet. Lieutenant Bromley saw where Harper's eyes rested.
"That big one, seven ships down, is L'Orient. One-hundred-twenty guns, bigger than anything we have."
"The bigger the ship, the fatter the prize" said Harper.
Harper could also see the flaw in the French admiral's strategy. By anchoring in place, he sacrificed his mobility, and allowed Nelson to concentrate all his ships on the van, bringing to bear overwhelming firepower, attacking bow and quarter, while the center and rear could do nothing to help. Then he could proceed on down the line and repeat the process.
It was now a little after six o'clock, and the sun was well on its way down. As he watched, Harper could see Goliath pull ahead of Zealous. They cheered a mighty cheer in congratulations. The French shouted in response, a pathetic attempt that drew derisive laughter from the English fleet. Goliath rounded the island and bore down on the first ship in the enemy line. Then suddenly, she bore to starboard, not around the seaward but inside, around the landward side of their line, braving the shoals that could run her aground and helpless under the French guns. If she made it, she would attack the French from the side where they neither expected nor were prepared for it. In many cases, their guns were not even run out on that side. Harper and all others held their breath as she came around, and through! They gave another mighty "Hurrah!" as she crossed the van of the lead French ship, dropped her sheet-anchor out of the gunport room, and brought up along the second ship in line. Her guns fired, smoke obscured them, and Harper heard the "BoomBoomBoomBoomBoom!" of her rolling broadside. At that range, she could not miss. He imagined the French gunners, frantically trying to run out their port guns to meet this unexpected attack, as iron death whistled among them, splashing their life blood all over the deck and bulkheads.
And then the Goliath and the ships following her came under fire from the island! Round shot tore holes in her fore topgallant and main royals. Harper turned his attention to it and could see that the French had set up a battery there, of what looked to be about twelve eighteen pounders and six mortars behind an earthwork that stretched for perhaps two hundred yards. He could see their crews reloading, bringing up more shot, sponging and ramming. They would be an irritant that they would later swat, but they could not affect the battle's outcome in any significant way. In the flash of the guns, Harper noticed a group of Bedouins, mounted on camels with spears in their hands, were watching the show from the tip of the point on which the fort stood.
Harper saw a French frigate, with more courage than good sense, rush in to attack the Goliath. But this time, David did not bring the giant down. The Goliath, seemingly irritated by the frigate's fire, turned on her smaller foe and with one terrible broadside, in which the Orion joined, shattered her as if a giant's hand had swatted the frigate down. She limped inland with her remaining mast, settling into the shallows as she fled.
Now, the next ships in the British line, the Zealous, the Audacious, the Orion and the Theseus followed the path that Goliath had blazed, coming in on the inside of the French line, while the Vanguard was the first to veer off and attack the seaward side, and now the French were being hit from two sides at once. The Culloden was very close now, beginning to round the shoals that surrounded the island. Harper wondered which side of the French line they would attack.
Now a terrible fire from no less than eight ships of the line savaged the French van. They were clearly doomed, but they still fought stubbornly. The Frenchmen may not have been skilled, but they were game. The lead French ship's gunwale had been shot away, the deck beams caving in on the guns. Now came the Theseus, running along in their wake, as the lead Frenchman's shot swept over her. Her Captain closed with them, getting under the arch of the shot, holding his fire until he had her masts and jib-boom in line, then he let fly, his cannons double or even triple-shotted. As Harper watched, he saw her foremast come crashing down, and the whole squadron gave three cheers. A few minutes later, the main and mizzenmasts followed, and the main mast of the second enemy fell as if in response. The Audacious and Goliath were now anchored at an angle where the cables bound the French ships together, and they could rake them stem to stern, the most terrible damage a ship can sustain, as the round shot tears through the vessel's whole length. The Theseus anchored to reinforce them, giving them three hearty cheers which the Goliath returned as they continued to work their guns.
Within fifteen minutes of the opening shot, both lead enemy ships were shattered wrecks, without a mast standing or a gun able to fire. Their gun decks must be charnel houses by now, blood ankle deep, the dead and dying outnumbering those who still lived.
Saumarez in the Orion ran further down the line and engaged the fifth enemy ship, while Nelson in the Vanguard attacked the third ship from the other side, coming under very heavy fire himself from that ship and the next. Harper could see the splinters flying and canvas tearing as she took her hits, but she kept on coming, and he could see in the darkness now the orange flash of her answering broadside.
The next ship in line, the Minotaur, passed the Vanguard to attack the fourth ship in the French line, taking some of the pressure off of Nelson. The Defence engaged the fifth from the seaward side, while Orion pounded her from the landward, while simultaneously attacking the sixth ship. Harper could see small explosions going off on her, apparently boxes cartridges going off. After fifteen minutes of pounding by Orion, her main and mizzenmasts fell, and all the guns on her main deck had been dismounted.
The blast of cannonade was non-stop now; Harper could no longer distinguish the individual "Booms!" The screams of the wounded sounded above the roars, contrasting with cheers of triumph as broadsides hit home. The firing was taking place at pistol range now. Night had fallen now, and the confusion was complete. Both English and French fired on their own ships in the chaos. The moon was bright, but completely obscured by the smoke. The continuous flash of over a thousand guns was eerie and surrealistic, orange shot through with white.
And finally, now the Culloden had rounded the island, within minutes, they would engage the enemy. Harper tensed for the crash of their guns -
And then a completely different crash rumbled through the Culloden, a rending vibration that seemed to come from the ship's bones, one that threw marines to the ground all around him. Harper caught Lieutenant Bromley's arm to steady him as he himself staggered, but kept his feet.
And the Culloden was dead in the water. They were no longer moving forward. Captain Troubridge ran to the rail of the quarterdeck, his face white with apprehension. As men picked themselves up and got their bearings, the livid expression on their Captain's face told them what they feared.
They had run aground!
It was hopeless.
For more than an hour, the sailors in the boats that Troubridge had launched had tried to work the Culloden free of the shoal. Now they came back, shaking their heads at their Captain as he stood watching their efforts from the quarterdeck. They had been working with the brig Mutine and the Leander to try to ease Culloden into deep water again. Now Troubridge waved Leander off, signaling that her captain should join the fight that he could not join. They had not been able to budge her an inch. She had run far up on the shoal, and probably done more than a little damage to her hull and rudder. Even at high tide, they probably would need the help of the rest of the fleet to get her off.
And so Troubridge and her crew, sailors and marines, were reduced to watching the great battle a few hundred yards away. The battle they could not be a part of.
Damn, but it was frustrating!
Harper had shared in the frustration, but eventually, he had shrugged and wasted no more emotion on things he could not change. He simply joined the rest of the crew and watched the drama that was so close, and yet so far.
It was now about eight o' clock. The battered ships of the French van had begun to haul down their colors in surrender. The fifth ship in the line had been dismasted by the Defence and had ceased firing. The Defence, though having lost her foretopmast, continued on to attack the next in line. The Bellerophon had come up against the seventh ship of the French line, the mighty L'Orient, Admiral Brueys' flagship. And this behemoth had been waiting for the chance to strike back, her men ready, her guns double-shotted. Her wrath fell with a thunderclap upon the British ship. Within thirty minutes, the Bellerophon had lost all but one of her masts, with but a few rags of sail. She lay helpless, unable to maneuver, under the merciless pounding of a ship twice her size. With over two hundred dead littering her decks, both officers and men, the Bellerophon cut her cable and drifted away to leeward. Admiral Nelson signaled the Audacious to break off action and go to her aid.
The Majestic, coming through the smoke and confusion, ended up anchoring at angles to the ninth French ship, which raked her bow to stern, causing many casualties. Majestic swung clear, and anchored off the bow of the next enemy ship, beginning another deadly duel. The battle's outcome was still in doubt.
And now, the last ships of the English fleet to arrive, the Alexander and the Swiftsure, plunged into the fight, joined by the Leander. They came across the Bellerophon, drifting helplessly in the darkness, and almost fired on her. And then all three ships bore down on L'Orient. The Alexander made her way down the inside of the French line, while the Swiftsure paralleled her course on the seaward side. They both took position off the L'Orient and began to pound her from both sides. Meanwhile a shot from the Orion cut the cable of the French ship just before the L'Orient, causing her to drift out of line and leaving a gap of a thousand feet. Into this gap glided the Leander, at fifty guns the smallest ship of the line in the English fleet, where she anchored and began to rake both the L'Orient and the fifth ship in the enemy line. They could respond only feebly with their bow guns. Attacked from three sides, the French flagship was being systematically battered apart. Harper could see marines in the rigging of the three ships, blazing away. If only he could have been with them, he would have even gone up into the rigging! Amidst the incessant flashing of guns, he could see that the L'Orient was still flying an immense tricolor at her mainmast. He could also see that a fire was growing near her mizzen chains, but the French seemed to be getting it under control.
From the quarterdeck of the Culloden, Captain Troubridge watched in agony. To have come so far, so close, and no to be denied a part in the battle at the last moment! It was maddening. There had to be a way! There had to be something he could do besides just watching.
And then he saw it. A chance to strike a blow. The French battery on the island whose shoals he had foundered on, and which still poured an annoying fire upon those English ships within their range. If he could silence that battery, then he could claim to have fought in the great battle off of Alexandria.
Inspiration swiftly turned to action. He turned to his flag-lieutenant.
"Mister Youngwaite, have all the marines assemble by the quarterdeck. I wish to address them."
Within a minute, some eighty marines were crowded aft, looking up at him.
"Lads, were not out of this fight yet! There's one way we can strike a blow for England tonight, one way we can get out licks in."
He pointed dramatically at the battery, clearly visible from the muzzle-flashes of its guns.
"That battery has been firing on our ships ever since the fighting began. We're going to silence it. Kill the gun crews. Spike the guns. That will be our blow. And when you're done, I want you to raise a cheer that all the fleet will hear, even over that!"
He gestured towards the thunderous fight.
"I wish the company commanders to come onto the quarterdeck for some further instructions. The rest of you make ready!"
The marines raised a cheer as Lieutenant Bromley and the other two marine lieutenants ascended to the quarterdeck. Harper was thrilled, his heart pounding. They would fight after all! He checked his musket and volley gun again. As before, they were in perfect shape, ready to fire. The leather covers for the flashpans were in place, he wouldn't be betrayed by wet powder. He touched the ammunition pouch at his hip and the scabbarded bayonet opposite it, as if to remind himself that they were there. All around him, other marines were doing the same. Sergeants were moving among the marines, distributing hammers and spikes, the heavy, headless nails that they would pound down into the touchholes of the French cannon, rendering them useless.
Within minutes, the first boat was being loaded, twenty-seven marines on board, and then lowered by groups of sailors easing it down on its ropes. There would be three, each one led by a lieutenant. They would make for the northeastern point of the island, half a mile away. The darkness and the distraction of the battle should give them cover; they would be able to land undetected. The gun crews would be easy to deal with, without an infantry squad in support, just a few minutes work. Then spike the guns, raise the cheer, and back to the Culloden.
Now he made his way to the rail, where the second boat was held by its hoists. Finnigan was next to him, and he saw Lieutenant Bromley directing them aboard. No one spoke, but Harper and Finnigan exchanged a quick grin. It was happening! Then, Bromley took the last seat and the boat was lowered away, foot by foot. They landed gently, with barely a splash. The lead boat had pulled away about seventy feet and was waiting. They took up position off of her port beam while the third boat was lowered. Then silently, the sailors' oars dipping gently in the water, they began to make their way towards the islands, their shallow hulls easily clearing the shoals. All was dark and still, except for the occasional muzzle-flash of the battery, and of course, the holocaust going on off their port side. Harper turned to watch the battle for a few moments.
The fire on L'Orient had spread. And grown, now engulfing the entire deck. The Swiftsure was concentrating every available gun on that spot. Marines firing from the rigging shot down those Frenchmen who tried to quench the fire, but more ran to take their places, their cannons were still firing, and that big tricolor was still flying. You had to give the Frogs credit, they had pluck. Already, Admiral Brueys and his captain were dead; they were now fighting without leadership, but fighting still. But the fire was growing, fed by cans of paint and oil left on the deck. Now burning both fore and aft, the ship was doomed. Sooner or later, the flames would reach the powder magazine. Flooding the magazine was useless; the fire was gaining faster than the water. The order was finally given to abandon ship. Perhaps a hundred men squeezed into the sloop, perhaps double that number were jumping from the L'Orient's sides, and swimming away, to be picked up by the English, or, if they could not swim, simply clinging to debris. Even as he watched, Harper saw her main and mizzenmasts crash over the port side. The heat was so intense that the pitch in the Swiftsure's seams began to melt and drip. The French ship aft of L'Orient cut her cables in an effort to escape her fate. She soon afterwards surrendered to the Minotaur. Some of the English ships began to move away from the expected blast area, but the Swiftsure stayed, continuing to pour shot into the blazing giant. Her captain placed sentries near the cables, with orders to shoot any who tried to cut them. The ports were lowered, the magazines and hatchways closed, every man took cover, equipped with swabs and buckets of water, in order to extinguish any burning fragments that might strike their ship. The moon, cold and placid, had risen above the smoke.
Harper looked back to their destination. They were only a quarter of a mile away now, and they still had not been spotted in the darkness. Just a few more minutes now . . .
They were still a hundred yards away from landfall, a little after ten 'o clock, when L'Orient exploded.
Even years later, Harper could never describe just how stupendous it was. It was as if, in an instant, the sun had risen ten feet from their boat, illuminating everything in a searing, blinding glare. The sound hit them like an avalanche, and Harper was deaf in his left ear for three days afterwards. As the glare began to fade, he risked a look.
"God save Ireland," he said in stupefied awe.
He squinted at the titanic glaring flame that had been the French flagship, whole sections of ship, masts, spars, riggings, human bodies and fragments of wood, iron, and flesh were flung through the air for hundreds of yards in every direction, coming down in a flaming shower that seemed like it would never end. Everyone still onboard, or in the water who had not gotten a safe distance away, were instantly killed. The explosion mounted higher, higher, as if it would shatter the very sky. It was visible in Alexandria and Rosetta, both twenty-five miles away. As the carcass of the great ship sank, it pulled men in the water down with it, and not all came up again.
In the aftermath of this cataclysm, there was stunned silence. As if by mutual consent, every ship ceased fire. It was a pause of wonder and exhaustion. Some men dropped off to sleep where they stood. For the time being, both sides seemed to have been robbed of the energy to continue. The Theseus tried to raise a cheer, but it died in their throats. For the space of some thirty minutes, the fighting all but stopped.
But Harper and his mates had a more immediate concern. The blast had lit up their position. And the batteries had spotted them!
He could see the gunners gesticulating, shouting orders. They began to turn their cannon to meet this new threat. Firing canister and grape at less than a hundred yards, they could not miss.
There was only one chance. The marines had to close the distance, get inside the guns' range, before they were blown out of the water. The sailors redoubled their efforts.
Both the lead boats got hit first, with almost a full stand of canister, and the second boat with Harper got the trailing edge of another one. Screams erupted as jagged lead balls and bits of iron ripped into flesh. Harper started and snarled a curse as one ripped a jagged line across his left arm, shredding sleeve and the skin underneath. Finnigan spoke in his ear.
"Don't worry lad, you'll soon get used to it."
Some five marines in his boat had been badly hurt, one coughed blood uncontrollably, a sign he had been hit in the lungs, while another clapped his hands to his bleeding face and groaned. Some marines were firing their muskets at the gunners, but Harper held his fire. He wanted to make his shot count. But the first boat, being closer, had done worse. As far as Harper could see, at least half of those marines were dead or disabled.
He took a quick look behind him; the third boat was still coming, rowing for all they were worth. That was good. They would be needed. A second round of canister tore another red swath through the lead boat, which now slewed crazily, too few left to row or steer.
Then he heard and felt the crunch of gravel beneath the boat's keel. He leaped out, enraged marines on all side of him, into the ankle-deep water, and raced for shore, up the slight slope. Before him, he saw the French guns, the crews loading frantically. But as if he were in a dream, he seemed to be running so slowly. Then suddenly, he was twenty feet away from a crew leader who was about to touch his match to his twelve pounder. Without thinking, he shouldered his musket and fired. The man was thrown back, his match a glowing comet spiraling through the air. Harper stepped in, ducked the round shot that another artilleryman chucked at him and drove his bayonet into the man's chest. Ripping it out as he had been trained, he turned as a rammer brought his ramrod down towards his head. He deflected it to the left with his musket, disengaged, and stabbed the man beneath the arm. All was very mechanical, just as he had been trained to do.
From the shoals before Fort Abuquir, Captain Jean Calvet watched through his telescope as the marines butchered the gunners. It was as he had anticipated. The British had descended on the battery, who had given a good account of themselves, until it had come to bayonets. But the British would receive a blooding this night.
On his own authority, he had positioned the first company of his demi-brigade, the 18th de Ligne, one hundred men, in boats, positioned to counterattack any attack against the battery. He had wanted the British to get enmeshed in killing the battery, so they couldn't get away.
Now, he waved to the fort with a lantern, signaling them to send his second company in support, and the boats set forth, rowing the half-mile to the island.
He had watched in helpless rage as his country's fleet was destroyed. Now these damned Royalists, these arrogant beefeaters, would face the soldiers of the Republic of France.
And they would face Captain Jean Calvet.
Suddenly, it was over. The gunners who hadn't been killed had fled. The marines, their killing frenzy, let them go. There was a bit over fifty left, perhaps five from the lead boat, which had suffered the worst from French fire, twenty from Harper's boat, and the full complement from the third.
Harper took a hammer and spike from his cartridge box, positioned the latter over the touchhole of the nearest twelve-pounder, and slammed the hammer home. All around him, other marines were following suit. A second, a third, and a fourth strike, and the end of the spike was flush. They would not be using this gun for a while.
It suddenly occurred to him that he had just killed three people. Well, he hadn't really thought of them as people, just Frogs, but lying on the ground, except for the mustaches, they didn't look any different from English dead. He shook his head. Best not to think on those things.
A shout from a marine brought his head up. His jaw tightened. A force of French Grenadiers had just landed on the far side of the island, perhaps a quarter of a mile away. Harper estimated their numbers at about a hundred. Already, they had disembarked from their boats and were forming up into a column twenty wide, five ranks deep. At their side on the left marched a big officer, sword in hand.
Orders rang out.
"Form a firing line!"
They didn't need to be told, they formed into two ranks with the smoothness that comes from long hours of practice, the second rank positioned to fire between the men of the first, with who Harper took his place, near the left end of the line.
As he had done so many times before, Harper bit his cartridge, primed his pan, upended his musket, rammed his cartridge down, and replaced the rammer. The French were now a hundred yards away. He could see their bicorn hats worn en bataille, across the wearer's head, their white waistcoats and crossbelts.
"Prepare to fire by ranks!"
Harper shouldered his musket and aimed it at the officer. The man's sword gleamed in the moonlight, his mustache bristled terrifyingly. Harper had a feeling that bringing him down would quench the ardor of this French column. Seventy yards now . . .
"Front rank, fire!"
The rolling volley started at the other end of the line and worked its way to Harper. He fired, felt the impact, and blinked from the smoke and flame. He heard cries of pain as the full volley slammed into the French, he could see most of their front rank stagger from the impact, and many fell. But the officer seemed to be a favorite of the god of war, for he stood unscathed. The French stepped over their casualties and came on. Instantly, Harper and the others of the first rank dropped to their knees, giving the second rank a clear field of fire. The officer shouted to his column in a voice like a bull.
The 18th de Ligne halted, and the front rank, now mostly the previous second rank, presented arms. Two commands were shouted out almost simultaneously.
Second rank, fire!"
There was not a fraction of a second between the opposing volleys. More Frenchmen went down, and Harper sensed Marines falling behind him. The column had suffered; perhaps a third of its number was down before the line's firepower. They wavered, and another volley might have broken them and sent them fleeing. But it was the misfortune of the marines that night to be faced with an enemy who had a commander that they feared more than a volley of muskets.
" En avencez!" The French broke into a charge, still holding in column, bayonets lowered. There would not be time for a third volley. They were too close. The front ranks would simply have to fire as they finished loading, and then it would be bayonets. Harper rammed down the cartridge, returned his rammer, and fired from a kneeling position into the chest of a grenadier only twenty feet from him, saw him go down, and then rose and thrust as the French were upon them! And though the line had the greater firepower, when it came to bayonets, the advantage was with the column, with its deeper formation. Harper withdrew his bayonet from a grenadier's throat, and frantically parried left and right as gleaming steel thrust at him. He could sense the line bending back around him, and withdrew so as not to be cut off. He could see the wild eyes of the Frenchmen now; smell the garlic on their breaths. They were pressing from all sides, sensing victory. Harper swung his musket in a wide arc to give himself a moment's space, then quickly dropped it and unslung his volley gun. The eyes of the grenadiers before him widened at the sight of the terrible weapon, then Harper fired and the gun bellowed and four Frenchmen were swept away in a blazing instant of flying blood. He had been right to save the Nock for the proper time.
And then, over the shoulders of the grenadiers, he saw a sight that made his heart sink.
The second company of the 18th grenadiers de Ligne had landed on the far side of the island, and was now advancing in column.
In rage, he swung the volley gun, its steel barrels coming down on a French head and flattening it, then followed it up with a back swing that sent a grenadier's teeth flying. The bayonets were jabbing, jabbing, and Harper swung at them, making a "clink-clink-clink" as he knocked them aside. The marines had stabilized their line now, and were holding their own and giving as good as they got, bayonets and clubbed muskets.
But then the second French column arrived, adding its weight to the French push. And slowly, inexorably, the marines began to give back before the overwhelming numbers. Harper stopped thinking, his mind no longer recording individual incidents. He knew that men were dying around him. He kept swinging the volley gun, felt bones break and bayonets bend under its blows. But he was aware that he was steadily giving back before the wall of bayonets that always seemed to be renewed, no matter how many times he knocked it aside.
The chill of water around his feet jolted him back to reality. He looked around him and saw that he and about twenty-five marines had been forced off the island, and were now knee deep in the water. Surrounding them on all sides was a wall of poised French muskets. A voice rang out, speaking English in a French accent.
"Surrender, or be destroyed!"
Harper looked around and saw Lieutenant Bromley. He appeared to be the only surviving officer. He also saw, with real relief that Finnigan was among the survivors. Bromley looked around at the remnants of the marines, nodded wearily, drew his sword, and held it out hilt first to the big grenadier officer. The man took it and nodded. His lieutenant, who had spoken before in English, spoke again.
"All of you, drop your weapons and raise your hands."
They complied. Putting down the volley gun, his gun, was the hardest thing Harper had done since he had said goodbye to his father. The French gave back, and the marines came back onto the beach, where they were surrounded. Grenadiers promptly divested them of cartridge boxes, bayonet scabbards, or anything else that might be of use. Then, with French behind and before them, muskets held ready, they were prodded towards the far side of the island, where the French had landed, towards their boats.
As Harper trudged along through the sand, he glanced out into the bay, where the battle had re-commenced. He could see by the moonlight and the many fires upon the water that the Goliath, although only her foretopsail was flying, was continuing down the French line towards its rear. He could see the Audacious, on fire from L'Orient's debris, running before the wind to extinguish the flames. The French ship that had been moored just before the L'Orient had extinguished her fires and continued the fight, although dismasted, with her few remaining guns and crew. With each English broadside, more of them were mowed down. But even as he watched, Harper saw her strike down her colors. Looking up and down the battle, he could see at least three other French ships that had done the same. And every time a Frenchman struck, he heard the cheer from the English ships.
He looked to the right, and saw the big French officer, who was also watching the battle. Their eyes met. Harper smiled. The officer scowled and gestured for him to move on. Harper marched along; his heart lighter than it had been a moment before.
They were prisoners of the French.
But they had won the battle.