For Love Over Country
Copyright © 2015 by Kyle Aarons
June 5th, 1758 Village of Cancale, France.
Mill owner, Arnaud Pagel, woke the boys early. The grey skies of the prior few days had kept business poor, but the hint of glow on the eastern horizon, coupled with breaks in the clouds, signaled this would be the start of a much better week. Without much in the way of niceties, he pounded on the door of the door where the apprentices slept, "Get up you good-for-nothing whelps! There be work to do on this Monday, and I don't feed and clothe you for free!"
He turned from the door and made his way out to the hen house. Already awake, and tending to getting a morning meal, Arnaud nodded at his eldest daughter, "Gather extra eggs, Marion, I have already sent Henri down to the timber cutters for extra wood and promised to feed them in exchange for first pick of fresh timber.
The fifteen-year-old smiled at her father, "Of course, Papa. Shall I slice extra off the pig you smoked during the storm?"
Arnaud let out a long breath before nodding, "Yes, let's keep them brutes happy. I am sure there will be a need for considerable extra wood with as rough as the seas have been. It would not surprise me at all if some fool captain or ten didn't run aground, and I am sure there will be need for some good wood for mast repairs. The winds have been less than kind the last four days."
Making his way back to the main house, Arnaud took a deep breath of the rain-fresh air. Having the best and largest mill in the area, and being so close to a major trade port, he was constantly busy. However, after hard storms the work and custom orders always came in hard. These were the times where having a large contingent of apprentices, which he only had to house and feed, allowed him to make much more money than the other mills around St. Malo. Employing adults meant wages had to be paid and drinking was ever a problem. Arnaud also kept boys longer, so he had older ones who were almost as good as adults when it came to heavy work. While not noble rich, he was far wealthier than most and he knew his coin box under the floorboards of his bed would swell mightily over the next several days. With this in mind, he moved up behind his wife of eighteen years, and wrapped his arms around her, "Put the books and papers away, Rebecca. There will be no time to study this day or the next few."
"But they are boys who need to know how to read and write, Arnaud. We have talked about this!"
"My wife, my love, today they work, tomorrow they work, Wednesday they work. We churn out the normal things every wind-battered ship needs. By then I will have a good idea of the needs of the port and what was damaged. We can then give you an hour or two while I get with captains of ships with specialized needs. The money they will bring in over the next couple of weeks will allow me a few nights of drink in the village, and for you to waste more of what they help to bring in on paper and even books for the little urchins. Although, you know how much it cost for me to procure nine Bibles in French and three in English." Seeing her frown, Arnaud took in a deep breath, "Yeah, it is to your credit and my labors we have such materiel for the urchins to better themselves. However, I just ask for three days of real labor from their bones before I will rotate some around so you can go to pampering them again. It is then you can sit their lazy butts down and resume their book learning. Besides, and you cannot refute this, the nine lads I have taken in are already well above the levels of the peasant families they come from. All nine can read the Bible in French and a smattering of English, and all know how to work mathematics to a level which is above anything they will need to mill timber."
Rebecca let out a long breath; she already knew there was no arguing the matter. The boys' schooling would have to wait. Over the next several days they would work from sunup to sundown, and probably later. They would need splinters tended to and clothing mended as fingers, shirts, and britches got caught on rough wood. They would eat while feeding wood into the saws and they would take water from barrels coated with sawdust. They would take breaks when they could, but they would be short ones. Breakfast was the only sit-down meal for the boys when things got busy, so she pushed the paper and books back and pulled out a dozen bibles from off the upper shelf of the bookshelf. "At least allow them to each read passages aloud as part of the meal."
Arnaud rolled his eyes, but relented without verbal argument, instead kissing his wife on the top of her head even as she moved back over to the wood burning stove and pulled the lid off the pot. "Cook a second pot, my love. I am feeding the cutters this fine morn."
Without looking back, Rebecca nodded her head in the direction of Jeanne, their thirteen-year-old daughter who was in the other room chopping vegetables and putting them into another pot. "Such was my guess when I heard the wind stop howling through the mill rafters. Seeing Henri heading down towards the woods, verified this."
Before more could be said, the side door opened and the first of the apprenticed boys came in rubbing sleep from their eyes before going over to the water bucket to wash hands with soap. Something Rebecca demanded of any and all before sitting at a table with food.
Arnaud looked over and made sure all nine were accounted for. He frowned deeply as he saw the second youngest one was not to be seen. He glared over at sixteen-year-old Marc, "Boy, were is Octave?"
The teen turned pale as he looked over his shoulder, "Uh..."
Arnaud moved up and glared down at Marc, "Boy, thinking with your gut is for junior apprentices! You are now my eldest apprentice! It is your duty to have all the brats up here. Now where is Octave?"
Fourteen-year-old Jean gulped, but kept his mouth firmly shut. Arnaud was not one to hold back from physical punishments and the man was one of the largest in the Village of Cancale. Truth be told, he was the largest man any of the boys had ever seen. Making matters worse, Arnaud had a military background, having served in the French Army in Austria and had seen hard combat and survived being shot three times! Furthermore, Arnaud was well known for being able to knock a full-grown man onto his back with a single blow, and every boy had felt the thunderous crash of his hand or even his belt on their backsides for any manner of transgressions.
Unfortunately for Jean, Arnaud caught the look of unease, and shoved Marc hard enough to toss the teen out the door he had just walked through. The young man hit the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of him.
Arnaud ignored the gasping boy. Instead, he grabbed Jean by the front of his sackcloth shirt and lifted the boy up even as the material made a ripping sound. "Boy, you are one step away from a stint at the hand-crank saw wheel... By yourself!"
Jean's eyes went wide. The hand-crank saw blade was normally a three-boy job and only used when there was not enough water to spin the waterwheel, which operated the larger fixed saws. A full day at the hand-crank assured the unfortunate boys operating it of hand blisters and aching bodies. With a shaky voice, Jean pointed up the hill from the waterwheel mill. "Octave saw something and went up there!"
Behind Arnaud, Rebecca cleared her throat. She knew better than to tell her husband how to handle the boys he had taken in to teach the mill craft to, but she also knew the massive man had a good heart. As suspected, her single sound of disapproval was all it took for his anger to abate some. She grinned for a moment as Jean was put down much more gently than he otherwise would have been and the hard crash of a hand to buttocks was replaced by a much less painful ear twist.
Jean let out a hiss of pain but held back a yelp, even as Arnaud poked a finger into the boy's breastbone, "You are my third, and soon to be my second. You should be helping Marc in rounding the young brats up! Don't let this happen again!" Arnaud then put his hand on Jean's back and pushed him though the door, "Now go eat. This day has the smell of money!"
Arnaud moved up to Marc and yanked him up. "You, grab a hunk of bread, a bit of butter, a tankard of milk and get your worthless hide to the mill. No warm food for you! I told you last week, after Jules signed on with the Navy ship as a carpenter, what I expected out of you. This is the second time in a week you have let one of the younger ones wander. Once more and you are out. I will not keep a brat your age around as a simple saw monkey!"
Nothing more was said; it didn't need to be. Arnaud's words would be followed by the beggar and peasant boys. They knew better than to disobey. Besides, there was not a single one who was not better off in this mill than where Arnaud had found them. They had a roof, warmth, food, clothes, shoes, and his lovely wife even gave them some book learning! All they had to do was work six days a week and go to church on Sundays. None of them had spent a day with an empty stomach from the first day they walked into the mill. Reduction in quality of food was a decent punishment, withholding was not an option for Arnaud. While food was a major cost, he refused to use it as a punishment. He needed boys in good health and the look of a hungry child was the most heartbreaking thing Arnaud could think of. Besides, a boy with an empty stomach only increased the chances of a horrible misfortune in a very dangerous profession, a profession he was passing onto the urchins he took in. In this Arnaud had an outstanding reputation. Only one boy in the last nine years, since his return from the war, had been killed under his ultra strict tutorage. This was because Arnaud cared enough to make sure not to push the little urchins further than any of them could handle.
The minute he detected a dangerous level of exhaustion, he moved the boy to an easier or safer duty. When a boy did something stupid, which all boys did, punishment was swift and the error was impressed upon their flesh by hand or belt instead of by saw or tool. The removal of little Tarney's arm two years ago and his subsequent loss of life still weighed heavily on Arnaud. The twelve-year-old's parents had been reimbursed and the boy had been buried with an expensive headstone, something far above his social status. The lesson to the other ten boys who had been at the mill had stuck and he still heard new boys told of how quickly an accident could happen. Still, if he could prevent it from happening again, he would.
As Arnaud moved up the hill, he spotted ten-year-old Octave standing and looking out over the waters of the English Channel. "Hey, boy! Work awaits and you cannot do so with rumbles of hunger coming from your gut. Now get your scamp hide to the table!"
The boy didn't turn. In fact, he stood as if petrified. With a frown deepening on his face, Arnaud's deep voice barked out, "Octave, I believe you have mistaken the way to the breakfast table and if your scrawny backside does not wish to be black and blue for the foreseeable future you will get your little tail moving to my table for a meal!"
The boy still didn't turn. Instead his left arm went out and he pointed in the direction of the water.
Arnaud took a bite off the inside of his lip as his eyebrows arched up. Octave was a bright and very gifted boy. In fact, Arnaud had recruited the boy and even paid his parents a fairly large pouch of coins after seeing the boy carving a wooden mug with a broken knife. The rags covering the boy's body and his filth did not hide the bright blue eyes as the boy held up a finished tankard. Most amazing of all to Arnaud, the boy had not been looking for handouts. Instead the street urchin had been trying to sell the mug. After taking a single look, he had given the boy a pair of coins and a hunk of bread, offering more coin if the boy could indeed duplicate his work with an untouched block of wood while he watched. Arnaud sat several paces away from the lice infested child and watched as the boy worked for hours on making another mug, only stopping to move his fingers back to get the cramps out of hands gripping the handle of a broken blade too big for his small fingers, or to take bite of the bread.
After several hours, Octave looked up with hope in his eyes even as his grubby, skinny arm extended the finished mug out to Arnaud, "This for another coin or glob of bread, sir?"
Seeing the skill, determination and innate intelligence within the lad, Arnaud not only paid for the mug, he had infected himself with lice in order to escort the youngster to his home so he could offer the boy a chance to better himself. The drunken father had demanded coin. It had taken a bit of restraint, but after a few words from Arnaud and the very real threat of violence toward the man, an agreement was reached. Arnaud tossed the father a pouch and took Octave. Until today, the boy had not disappointed him either. As a testament to the boy's abilities, both the first mug and the one he had watched Octave carve were still in use a year and a half later, very much functional. A dozen others, of even better quality, had followed once Arnaud had sprung for the blacksmith to make the boy a set of new carving tools made for smaller hands. Unlike any other of Arnaud's apprentices, Octave actually made coin of his own volition and, as his carving skills had grown, his works had become well known within the village. Of all the young ones Arnaud had taken in since returning from front lines in Austria, Octave was the only one Arnaud had more than passing feelings for.
Yes, he cared about all the boys. He wanted all of them to turn into capable men with a real skilled trade. He had given each and every one hugs as fingers were cut or splinters were dug out by his wonderful wife. He had even tended to most while they were sick. However, Octave was different. He was the only one Arnaud had ever allowed to play with his own sons. He was also the only one who he had permitted to earn coin of his own. While he didn't let the boy keep much, Octave's belt had a pouch with a least a dozen coins. The lad was so special, he even fudged on work requirements, allowing Rebecca to give him an extra hour a day inside with his own children for study time. Any complaints from the others were easily squashed by pointing out Octave needed to learn better penmanship to carve names into wood. Since none of the others had his artistic flair, and couldn't hold a candle to the fire pit of money Octave could bring into the mill, it was quickly accepted as it being part of his apprenticeship. While this meant there was some jealousy, Arnaud nipped that quickly and easily by using some of the money Octave brought in to buy bags of sweets, warm coats, and other niceties, pointing out it was Octave's work, not theirs, which made the extras possible. This had an unforeseen change of attitudes, as the other boys actually pitched in to take workload off of Octave, so he could carve more and get all of them more treats. Because of this, Octave's work had only improved since the others supported him in his endeavors.
Even better, Octave and Arnaud's ten-year-old son, Henri, quickly formed a close friendship. Because of this relationship, Octave had opened up a hidden carving ability within Henri, who was not a strong boy and probably never would be. The boy had gotten sick at age two and had simply not fully recovered from he illness, which had nearly killed him. Seeing Henri now being able to carve to a level where some of it was starting to sell, meant his boy would be able to take care of himself and probably earn a decent living. Until Octave, Arnaud had serious questions as to Henri being able to become a man of real use. As it was, most kids two to three years younger could lift more, work longer, and get more done in the mill than Henri.
Mostly because of this softer spot for Octave, Arnaud's anger remained in check. This let reason take over. Octave was a hard worker, so something must be amiss. Arnaud scratched his chin and moved up to see what the boy's arm was rigidly pointing toward. As he put his arm on the boy's shoulder, his eyes went wide as his vision took in what Octave had been looking at. At least a dozen ships were on the water, each with an English flag. The war between England and France had come to the shores of St. Malo, and he knew the surrounding area didn't have a force strong enough to do more than hold the main fortress. The English would easily take the village of Cancale and the surrounding lands. Horrors would follow to those in the line of British march! Arnaud's blood went cold as he noticed dozens of plumes of smoke erupt from the closest ships.
Without hesitation he grabbed Octave and dove back down the hill. The pair rolled several meters even as the sounds of the first barrage of ship artillery could be heard. Behind him, he saw the top of the mill shred as a ship-fired mortar ripped the top of it off. He quickly grabbed Octave and looked into the boy's eyes, even as he ripped off his coin purse and shoved it into Octave's hands, "Take this! Go grab a couple of muskets out of the smokehouse along with powder horns and bullet bags, grab a couple of knives and go get Henri!"
Octave's eyes went wide, "Where is he?"
"Henri went to the wood cutters! Go get him and you two move deep into the forest and stay there until the Army gets here!"
"Octave!" Arnaud's voice deepened and got harsher even as more explosions sounded from the direction of the village. "Muskets, knives, some food, then to Henri and go to the woods! Now!"
Octave sliced off a slab of pork and handed it over to Henri as the two stayed well hidden under a fallen tree deep within the woods, a full five-hour's hike from the small encampment of wood cutters Henri had gone to see five days prior. The long summer day was fading into evening and a light rain fell providing an easy source of water. Taking a second chunk of meat for himself, he looked into the bag with a frown. "We will be down to the bone by tomorrow and the bread is turning black and green."
Henri tore at the smoked pork with his teeth before speaking, "We need to get back to my papa, Octave. Surely the King Louis' Army has come to clear the land of the red-coated devils by now!"
Octave looked into the food sack before reluctantly nodding, "Yes, it has been five days. We should head back. But let's wait till morning. We have enough food till then." Octave then slid the musket he had taken for himself, along with the powder horn, deeper into the natural shelter to keep them dry. While both boys knew how to load and shoot the heavy muskets, neither had since fleeing the shelling of the coast. Game was plentiful enough for hunting, but neither boy liked the idea of the noise of shooting drawing attention in their direction.
Henri let out a sigh as he too moved his musket and powder farther from the rain as well. "I wish we had blankets or something. It's going to be cool tonight and we are both already wet."
"Jean made me sleep with him during the winter. It helped keep both of us warm."
Henri looked confused, "We are already sleeping together under the tree."
"With all our clothing on and not real close to each other. Jean made me sleep with him, under the same blankets, with nothing but nightshirts. This way we had two blankets and pressed up next to each other so we stayed warm. We could do the same and use our jackets as coats."
Henri shook his head fiercely, "It is a terrible crime! Did you not hear what happened to the Cooper Badeaux and the barkeep from St. Malo?"
"They were doing stuff with each other, buggery, not just sleeping with each other. They were also drunk and were caught doing it in an alley. Now come on, you get sick too easy to get wet and cold."
Henri eyed Octave for a moment, but reluctantly pulled off his wet jacket, kicked off his shoes and shucked his pants. "If we get caught we are just keeping warm! I'm not going to be burned for being a sodomite!"
Octave nodded in agreement even as he lightly snickered. "Do you even know what buggery or sodomy is?"
"Man being with man."
Octave snickered, "There is a little bit more to it than that, Henri."
Henri turned to look at his friend with a questioning stare, "Mama told us it was man being with man when Jeanne asked at the table when news of the burning of Cooper Badeaux and the barkeep came to us."
Octave pulled the weaker boy closer and pulled Henri's much nicer jacket over the two of them, using his own poor one to block the mist from coming under the fallen tree. "It is when men enjoy a man or beast like they do a woman, Henri."
Henri's eyes went wide as the second part registered with him far more than the first, "A man with an animal?"
"Yeah. Kind of gross, huh."
Octave snickered, "My papa used to joke about man with sheep for some reason. I never really understood. But man with man..." His words drifted off into an uneasiness as he stroked Henri's hair.
Henri didn't take the hint of Octave being uncomfortable with it, so he pressed the issue. "I have seen Jeanne without clothe, and when Papa found out he explained some to me, but how does a man do with a man like he does with a woman?"
Octave closed his eyes tightly and debated what to tell his well-pampered friend. After a few seconds and feeling Henri shift to look at him, he decided to give the simplest version he could come up with. "Boys have a couple of holes in our bodies where it can be stuck, Henri. Trust me, it happens. Now let's get some sleep."
Henri said nothing for quite some time as he tried to figure out what Octave was talking about. Suddenly, and well after Octave was asleep, his eyes popped open, "Oh... Why would men do that?"
There was no answer from his friend, who didn't even stir at the outburst. Instead the rain hitting the leaves of the forest and the warmth of his friend behind him was enough to let sleep come to Henri as well.
The boys woke several hours later, in near pitch-blackness of night to sounds nearby. Octave was fast enough to grab Henri's mouth and clamp a hand over it. "Shhhhhhh!" He hissed. He hissed then whispered right into Henri's ear, "We don't know what is out there!"
Nearly five minutes with the two huddled in fear in the natural shelter, there was the sound of breaking branches followed by a curse in English, "Damn these bloody French woods!" A second later a flickering light came from only a dozen meters away.
A second voice growled, "Hood that lantern, Private! It will be seen for miles this time of night!"
"Not through this mess of trees," the first voice spoke, but the light vanished nonetheless.
Yet another man with a deeper, tougher sounding voice spoke, "Enough, you two. No light unless there is no choice. We already know the French have a sizable force at Dol. They must have scouts moving this way. I don't know about the three of you, but after what our forces did around St. Malo, I do not want to be captured by them."
A fourth man muttered, "Agreed." The man then let out a long breath, "Are you going to take Commander Burslem up on his offer, Lieutenant?"
"I am considering it, Sergeant" The gruffest sounding man responded, "The pay would be better, but untold weeks and months on a ship is not something I wish to sign off on without weighing the options. Besides, there is no guarantee Burslem will even be able to get the ship seaworthy after the raid on the port. Last I heard, all the ships were burned or have fire damage."
The youngest sounding voice, the one with the lantern, joined the conversation, "I don't understand, Lieutenant. It seems like a huge waste. There had to be sixty or more ships in the port when we hit it. Why burn them like that? We could all be rich if we had taken the ships and cargo back to England!"
"The Duke of Marlborough's decision, Private Groom," the gruff voice answered. "And from what Commander Burslem told me, it was closer to one hundred ships, including over two dozen privateers. One way or the other, the French will have a bloody hard time hitting our shipping after a loss this size."
The sergeant spoke up again, "Being a marine with regular food and increased wages sounds a whole lot better to me than slogging through this French forest. I'm going to sign on if he can get the frigate repaired."
The other two quickly agreed before the lieutenant spoke again, "With the mill owner and his clan under our control, I am sure he will get it repaired enough to get back to England. Even wounded the man shows considerable skill and with us holding his wife, son and two daughters, he would be ill-advised to do anything but accept the fact he is now conscripted to us."
"They should have hung that big bastard!" The sergeant spat. "He singlehandedly moved up to the battery the French abandoned and fired down on us! He took out a baker's dozen with cannon and another half score by musket and hand before we beat the bastard down!"
"If it was you trying to defend our homes, you would not desire to have a noose put around your neck, Sergeant." The lieutenant stated firmly. "He was a French line promoted lieutenant before mustering out and took a pair of bullets while still managing to take the fight to us. Such fighting skill is not a crime. In addition, he is married to a Brit, so Lord Sackville forbade any actions against the man. His son was taken as a Brit to serve Commander Howe as his cabin boy and his wife and daughters are to be treated as women of Britain as long as he accepts his capture and his conscription. Besides, his apprentices have skills and all can read and write to some degree in English and French. Those five boys, six if the one survives, are most certainly going to the ships of the fleet as conscripts as well."
The man who first growled about the lantern light took a deep breath, "I could sure show them girls, or even the bastard's old lady what being a woman of Britain is all about!"
While this got a snicker out of one man and the lieutenant, the sergeant put an end to such talk, "You had your fun with the villagers, Private Shand. Just be glad Commander Burslem pulled us into formation and moved us out before Lord Sackville arrived. From the scuttlebutt, it sounded like those blokes from the Third Company had three hanged and at least ten lashed for their lack of discipline."
"Had they formed a defensive perimeter first or at least had some working on doing so, instead of entertaining themselves with the locals and their property, it would not have been nearly as large of an issue," the lieutenant reminded the others. "Still, I am glad we moved out when we did. The amount of pillaging seemed a little extreme."
Under the log, Henri struggled as he heard the men talk. It could only be his papa and family the men were talking about. However, he was smaller and weaker than Octave and had been sleeping in front of the boy. This meant it didn't take much for Octave to wrap his legs around Henri's, then roll on top of him so he could keep a hand over Henri's mouth, while also pinning the boy's arms. He once again whispered into the struggling boy's ear, "Henri, if they catch us you will not go home. If they don't kill us, they will take you to be a ship boy and me a work prisoner!"
The men continued to chat for a few minutes before the lieutenant ordered them to move out. The sounds of them making their way through the thick woods allowed Octave to know when they had moved well clear. He finally let go of Henri, who was sobbing.
Not knowing what else to do he tried to comfort his friend by rubbing the boy's back, but it did little good. The sounds of Henri's sobs and Octave's concern for the boy prevented him from noticing movement in the direction the men had gone. Suddenly the sound of the sergeant's voice caught his attention but it was too late. The man had heard Henri.
The man's voice boomed out, "Groom, forget about your cartridge box! Lieutenant, I hear crying! We ain't alone!"
Octave's eyes went wide. As the sounds of footsteps grew closer, he rolled under the log, grabbed the loaded musket, and pointed it right over the top of Henri, who was still crying. A second later the outline of a face appeared holding a flintlock pistol in one hand and a musket in the other. Octave didn't hesitate. He pulled the trigger. The loud boom, along with smoke, filled the small shelter. At the same time the sound of a body falling was unmistakable.
From not far away, Private Groom fired his musket in the general direction of the muzzle flash, but where his wild shot went was anyone's guess. Sounds of more movement could easily be heard as well.
Octave rolled back deeper into the hollow, grabbed the second musket, and dropped the first one on Henri. He then rolled right over the top of Henri who was still crying.
Octave almost puked as he realized his elbow had gone into the face of a man with a large hole in his head, but hearing the young sounding private yelling about not being able to reload without his cartridge box, allowed him to pinpoint the young man in the almost inky blackness. While there was nothing but an outline, the man was only a few meters away, so was still visible. He took aim just as the miller, Pagel, had taught him. A moment later, he fired. The flash and boom were followed moments later by a scream of pain as the lead ball slammed into the British soldier's side.
A boom from out in the woods, followed by a musket ball striking the fallen tree he had used for shelter, caused Octave a moment of panic. However, luck was with the young lad. As he yelped in terror, he rolled away from the tree. This took him over the top of the dead sergeant's musket. Without really thinking about it, he secured the long arm and from his back, braced the barrel on his feet, and put the butt up to his chest. The moment he saw another figure, he fired. The kick of the shot left a nasty bruise on his chest and knocked the wind out of him, but the bullet found flesh. There was a howl of pain as the lieutenant grabbed at his right arm.
The man spun behind a tree even while shouting, "Shand, he is right next to the fallen log to our left!"
Octave did his best to pull air into his lungs, but even as he did, he could see a man move from between two trees and aim right at him. He closed his eyes figuring it would be the last thing he would ever see. A second later there was a loud boom, but it was both from in front of him and off to his side. Two shots had been fired within a split second of each other.
The British private saw movement from off to the right of the fallen tree and jerked his head and his rifle, letting loose with a wild snapshot. The sound of the bullet shredding leaves came from above Henri's head.
Henri, with tears still rolling out of his eyes, had learned much from his father. One of those was how to reload with the speed of a frontline solider while blindfolded. This meant, even though he was both filled with sorrow and anger, along with being terribly scared, his hands were able to find the first musket Octave had fired, finger a musket ball, pour powder in the barrel and ram the wadding in place without much thought. Adding powder into the flash pan and pulling the frizzen, closing the pan was all but second nature as well. Thus he had reloaded the first musket Octave had fired, even as Octave had fired the sergeant's musket. However, his eyes were full of moisture and his body wracked with sobs, so his aim was far from steady. Once again, his father's teachings when hunting gave him the advantage he would need. It was almost as if his father's voice was whispering in his ear as he braced the musket on the tree. "Aim for the center, not for just the deer, son. A slight miss is still a hit this way." True to his father's words, his shot found a home. The man's right leg buckled even as the man dropped his musket and grabbed at the nasty hit to the center of his right thigh.
Off to the side, the wounded lieutenant spun and fired his flintlock at Henri. The lead ball didn't miss by much at all, sending a few splinters of wood into the left side of the boy's chin.
Henri winced, but splinters, even to the face, were not something foreign to him, as the spinning saw at the mill sent them flying everywhere. Henri once again acted as he had been taught. Twenty-three seconds from the time he had fired, he was reloaded and spun the rifle back toward the direction of the tree the lieutenant was using for cover.
Off to the side, Octave was doing his best to find the second musket he had fired along with the powder horn and bullet bag. He did not have the intensive teaching of Henri, however. So while he knew how to reload, doing so in the darkness of the shelter while his chest was still throbbing proved to be extremely difficult.
The lieutenant poked his head out from around the tree only to get a face full of splinters of his own to deal with, "Bloody Hell!" He roared, "The only way anyone could reload that fast is if it is a soldier! French scouts must have stumbled on us! Shand, you able to fight?"
"Fight, maybe... walk, don't think so, sir!"
"Groom, how about you?"
"Got a hole in my side, and my rifle is empty, sir!" The panicked shout echoed over the forest.
"Get out of here, Groom! Get word to the captain! We have soldiers less than half a day out!"
"But I'm bleeding bad..."
"The surgeon is back at camp son, get there!" The lieutenant stopped and bit back a cry of pain as he forced himself to reload his pistol with a badly injured arm.
Back at the tree, Henri reloaded and slid the musket back to Octave before taking the one Octave was trying to load from him. Even though his voice was shaking badly, he managed to speak, "Get powder in it yet?"
"Yeah, and lead, but..."
Henri grabbed the rifle, stuck some wadding in and rammed it into place. He then turned it, fed the flash pan, and closed it with the frizzen. He braced the rifle and fired at sounds of the fleeing private. A screech let everyone in the woods know the musket ball had found flesh. The sounds of running and the young man crashing through underbrush also told everyone the shot had not done anything too serious.
The lieutenant, however, cringed. The fact someone could shoot a moving target blind in such heavy woods told him he was up against someone with serious skill. He fired at the log again, hoping to give his man more time to get clear. He also noticed a thin band of light to the east so it would not be long before there would be more light, which meant he and his surviving man could easily be outmaneuvered.
Behind Henri, Octave cringed as he heard the ball fired from the flintlock slam into the tree. However, he took aim and fired at the outstretched hand. His shot missed, but did cause the hand to vanish from sight.
In return, Private Shand fired at the glow from the flash. His round also struck the fallen tree.
By this time Henri had the other musket ready and fired at the private. He then started the reloading.
The lieutenant glanced over in the direction of Private Shand. What he saw told him the latest shot had not missed. The young man was clawing at the ground with one arm as if trying to find better cover without worrying about his musket. Knowing there was little chance of continuing the fight, since his own injury had slowed his ability to reload to a point where those he was fighting could easily get off two shots each to his one, he put his back to the tree and shouted out even as he struggled to reload. "Do you speak English?"
Breathing hard as anger pushed away all the other feelings, Henri continued to prepare his musket for another shot, rapidly shoving the wadding down with the ramming rod, not even realizing the only danger was from the man calling out to him, "You take my mama and papa! You steal my brothers and sisters! Give them back!"
"You're a boy?" The lieutenant's voice did nothing to hide his shock.
Henri shoved the loaded rifle back to Octave and took over for his friend on the second one, knowing by now the boy had the powder and ball in, but had not finished. "Give me my papa back!"
Octave realized he needed to sound as old as possible to give the men they were fighting pause. To this end he lowered his voice as deeply as he could and yelled out, "He wants miller Pagel and his wife freed and his papa showed him how to shoot real good!"
The lieutenant frowned, upon hearing the second slightly older, yet young sounding voice with a heavier French accent. However, the words about the miller told him whom he must be dealing with. "Your papa is hurt, boy. We are tending to him. If you come with me..." The shot and the bullet slamming into the tree trunk only inches from his head caused the lieutenant to jerk back, making certain there was nothing exposed for the little marksman to target. "You have skills, boy. I could get you and whoever is with you a good slot on a ship or even in my unit."
"I am French!" Henri roared with rage, "I will not fight for English dogs! I will kill them!"
"You are half English dog, then, and you will end up fighting your family. Like it or not, boy, they belong to us."
The back and forth continued for almost fifteen minutes, with Henri firing a couple more shots, more in anger and hope than really expecting to hit the English officer. By this time it was also clear to both boys the other man was out of action.
Suddenly, rustling sounds came from the south and a voice shouted out in French, "This is Lieutenant Tebeau of the Dol Garrison. Identify yourselves!"
Octave's eyes went wide as he heard the man shout, "Henri, son of the miller Pagel and Octave, apprentice of miller Pagel! We have at least one redcoat left out here with us!"
Before more could be said, a pair of French Army scouts moved up to the boys, looked them over, noticed the very dead English sergeant and nodded back to someone who was just out of sight while sounds of more men could be heard further back. Getting a signal from his men, a French sergeant shouted out in poor English, "Englishman, you drop arms and show face. You have no places to go!"
The British lieutenant could tell by the sounds in the woods, he was now badly outnumbered and chances of him living now rested on his surrender. He tossed his flintlock out before he moved out holding one hand up while his other hung down with drips of blood falling from his index finger.
The French sergeant moved up even as the two who had moved up to the boys roughly grabbed him. The Frenchman speaking in horrible English asked, "No other wit you?"
The man almost passed out as his injured arm was grabbed, but he managed to nod in the direction of Private Shand.
Octave stood, using the butt of the musket to help himself up, "Henri and me each shot one, but he still ran." He then pointed in the direction Private Groom had run. "I think he got away, but he was saying he was bleeding."
The French lieutenant moved up and looked at the two boys, then peered into the hollow they had been sleeping in. His face twisted oddly as he looked back down on the two, noting powder on both of their shirts and the fact they were not wearing anything else. "Care to tell me why you two are out here?"
Octave pointed to Henri, "His papa told me to get him from the wood cutters and flee to the forest when the English ships fired cannons at us. I took food, muskets, and knives as told and the two of us ran to the woods five days ago..." He looked upwards as the glow of morning continued to spread across the sky, "Um, six now."
Octave stopped talking as two French soldiers came over dragging an unconscious English private with them. "Alive, sir, but just. Leg and shoulder wounds."
The French lieutenant eyed the boys, then stared down at the dead sergeant and finally over to the wounded lieutenant, "Just the two of you?"
Henri continued to glare at the British officer, but managed to speak. "Papa taught us how to shoot."
Much to Henri's chagrin, Henri and Octave were taken to Dol by wagon along with the captured lieutenant. All attempts to allow him to go home were rebuffed. He was told the English were there in force and had a small fleet of ships blocking the whole bay. This only made Henri more angry, since he felt the French Army should have been there, or at the very least trying to push the British forces off French land. While his complaints annoyed the men, both boys were treated extremely well. By the time they arrived in Dol, they were being referred to as the "Little heroes of St. Malo".
The pair spent a pair of weeks at the barracks in Dol, being heavily pampered including being fitted in French Army uniforms. The garrison commander then wrote a 'letter of exception', which allowed them to 'join the Army' while 'under age'. While it was by no means a well-followed law, the fact the boys were clearly below the age of service, and their muskets were considerably taller than they were, he wanted to cover his backside. This meant some kind of paper trail needed to be made. Once he got the local noble to 'sign off' on the 'letter or exception' the garrison commander filed orders for the boys to go to Caen. It seemed like a good fit. Both boys were millers by trade and had proven themselves to a degree in combat. They knew how to shoot, the port of Caen had ships in need of repair, and was in very real danger of being raided by the British. The skirmishes between the French and British forces had not been kind to the French Navy, so the boys could be put to work by the shipwrights. They would be able to finish their apprenticeships and be available to shoot a few more redcoats if the English landed another raiding party.
Orders were thus penned and Henri and Octave joined a military battalion with orders to march to Caen to reinforce the garrison there. This was made more urgent since British ships had been spotted not far from the mouth of the harbor in the weeks following the raid on St. Malo. While many of the men eyed the two new additions to their unit with skepticism, rumors spread and were expanded upon as to their 'victory in the woods' outside of St. Malo. It also helped the two were in uniform and had been allowed to keep some of the spoils of their skirmish. So while most of the men carried nothing but a Charleville musket, both boys carried British Short Land Pattern 'Brown Bess' muskets and both had a British sea service flintlock pistol in their belts. Both boys also had gear taken off the three British soldiers, so they had cartridge boxes, bayonets, and much nicer field packs than what was normally issued to new French infantryman.
The march was grueling and Henri, in particular, had trouble keeping pace. By the third day he was starting to falter. However, luck smiled upon him as one of the three provisions wagon's left wheel developed a nasty wobble, forcing the battalion to stop. As with any military unit bad news spread. The wagon's axel was badly cracked and was close to snapping, yet orders were to get to Caen by nightfall the following day. This meant the provisions would have to be carried by men who already had full packs.
It was at this point Octave spoke up and pointed out both he and Henri had done a fair amount of woodworking, including to wagons and might be able to do something about the problem. The sergeant over the boys gave them half an hour.
While Henri used the time to rest, Octave got under the wagon and found the break was under the wagon, so, with a little ingenuity, it could be patched. Once he explained his findings to Henri, the boy did what he was very used to doing at the mill. Since Henri was not strong, his father taught him how to boss around others who were. This meant he was very used to being given a project and making sure it got done by bossing around apprentices much older than himself. It was also well known by Octave, Henri had a knack for seeing the best use of people and resources. With a bit of deviousness, Octave looked back at the sergeant, "Henri needs to be able to tell others what to do, while I get things ready under the wagon. We have some nails, so he will make this work, but others will have to listen to him."
The battalion captain frowned deeply, "And you can get this done in about an hour? We are already behind schedule."
"With him in charge and others helping me how he tells us, yes."
The captain looked over at the lieutenant, "Your call, but if this does not work, we will have to do a force march to make up time. The lieutenant glanced over to his sergeant who only shrugged.
The lieutenant took a deep breath, "Men, we have two options, listen to the two boys who are guaranteeing me they can patch this wagon, or we unload and partition the contents and add to your packs. I say we give them a chance, but I leave it up to those of you who have the most to lose."
A few of the men grumbled, but more nodded. Taking on more than they were already carrying was not something any of them wanted to deal with. After only a few moments of discussion a corporal moved up with his squad and looked down at the boys, "Ok, we're under you for one hour. If this is a waste, you belong to me and my boys for a spell once we get to Caen! However, if this works we'll split your gear and lighten the load off the two of you."
Octave caught the full meaning while Henri didn't. However, Henri was used to being challenged by his father and didn't know the extent of the implied threat. "Deal! As long as you do what I say, we'll be back on the road in less than an hour!"
This got the attention of the Captain, "OK, let's see what you come up with, cause most of the men who know a thing or two about wood are saying this is a several hour fix."
"I can get us through the day, then we can do a real fix at camp, sir."
"Then you have one hour!" He then twirled his hand around in a circle, "One hour rations and water break! Next stop is nightfall!"
Forty minutes later, even the most skeptical man had to admit Henri's idea was as solid as it was crafty. It took unloading part of the wagon, so the men could get to the boards underneath. One long board was pulled out and cut into three equal sizes. From there, the three pieces were nailed in a triangular shape around the bad crack. Finally, to prevent the added size to that area of the axel from hitting the bottom of the wagon, an axe was used to cut out the wood above, so there was a hole. But this allowed the axel to rotate with no impediment. Octave even managed to convince everyone it would be a good idea if Henri road on the cart in case there were any further problems.
True to his word, the wagon was reloaded and made it through the rest of the day. Henri then took charge of the same men and made a much better fix during the night and thus was allowed to rest in the wagon for the final day of march, since he had spent most of the night working. The formation arrived in Caen with all its wagons and more than a few grateful infantrymen the following evening.
After two days of rest, the captain took Henri and Octave over to the skeptical port master. The man tried to argue, but was shown the orders and told how the two had fixed a wagon on the road and had fought the English outside of St. Malo. With such a story being retold by others who had escorted the boys, the port master didn't push back. He handed the boys off to a junior shipwright, while making it clear the boys were French soldiers, were expected to be armed at all times, and were getting paid by the defending battalion. The implication was crystal clear. To mistreat the two could easily draw the wrath of the entire battalion sent to help defend the port of Caen.
After only a few days of very mundane work, the adults supervising the pair realized they did indeed know wood and even better, how to work wood for ships. By the end of July they were assigned to be gophers and tool boys for a ship repair detail. The two quickly earned a degree of respect as they showed competence with shaving planks to measurements written down by the shipwrights. The fact both could read, knew math, and could work raw timber and then cut it to written specifications only added to the value they provided.
During this time Henri was subjected to his first tastes of men being overtly sexually interested in him. Both the dock master and the lead shipwright flirted with him on pretty much a daily basis. At first the innuendos went over his head, but by the end of August Henri had seen and heard enough from other dock apprentices to know the men were hitting on him and were even willing to pay for a night or more should he allow them to bed him. He also realized he was very lucky, because most of the boys couldn't refuse the advances directed at them.
By late September, the days were getting noticeably shorter and the nights longer. For both Henri and Octave, this was welcomed since their workdays were growing shorter by the day. Unfortunately, they still had to attend drill with the battalion they had been assigned to, so while most of the shipwright apprentices got to take advantage of the diminishing daylight, they had drills. On the other hand, this limited more sexual advances on both boys because they attended nightly drill, while the other boys retired to the apprentice house next to the docks. By the time Henri and Octave got back, those interested in a boy for the night had already selected one.
Having extra time in the evenings, allowed some of the veterans to work with them on everything from sharpening blades to loading and firing. Henri managed to knock three full seconds off his average load time, taking it down to about twenty seconds between shots while Octave was up to two shots a minute. They also learned how to fight with knives, bayonets, and even some rudimentary swordplay.
During this time, Henri's stamina continued to improve, but all the men in the battalion realized the lad would never be particularly strong or tough. On the other hand, Octave was pretty much the opposite. By his eleventh birthday, on September 29th, 1758, he was showing the beginnings of real biceps and his legs had a near sculpted look when he was lifting or practice fighting.
Life took a turn only three days after Octave's birthday, and ten days before Henri's. The thirty-two gun French frigate, Vestale, limped into the Port of Caen, escorted by two other lightly damaged French ships. The foremast of the Vestale had been shot away and the starboard and port sides were full of holes from English cannons. Even as blood was being scrubbed off the decks by surviving crew members, and injured taken off to receive medical care, the ship was inspected and marked as a priority. Since the ship was considered to be a fast repair, and the fact the English were really pushing the French coast, the port master was given orders to get the ship seaworthy 'with all due haste'. All available hands, meaning almost every able-bodied shipwright and apprentice in the port, were pulled off projects to repair the frigate.
Because this was a naval matter, and the boys had shown skill, the French Navy took over the boys' pay and assigned them full time to the Vestale until repairs were made. Once again, Henri and Octave had to deal with a new round of cynical adults who tested them on a nearly hourly basis. The first days aboard the Vestale were horrible. The smell of fire, sweat, blood, along with urine and feces from the wounded permeated the gun deck. Then there was the smell of powder and oil, which depending on how one looked at it, either made the stench better or worse. It was the gun deck where the two were purposefully assigned by the ship's captain, Commander Boisbertelot. The man was both arrogant and nasty tempered as a dull saw blade. The French officer made it a point to publically scoff at the two 'toy soldiers'. He, after all, had fought the redcoats and knew 'for a fact' no boy could possibly stand up against one, let alone two take down four, five, or even eight depending on who was telling the 'tale'.
This initially put the boys in a bad situation. First off, they no longer had the 'protection' of the French battalion. Second, the boys who had seen them excel and get extra privileges were able to turn much of the resentment they felt back on Henri and Octave. There were two things, however, that prevented the other apprentices from going too far. First and foremost, even while working, the boys, by noble decree, were allowed to have musket and pistol with them. Commander Boisbertelot at first tried to take away the weapons, but someone above him made it clear the boys were in the military and they had been sent to Caen in the dual role of part of a garrison force and dock apprentices. This had been signed off on by a noble, and no one really wanted to find his career cut short or promotions denied for overruling the man.
Although Commander Boisbertelot didn't like it, he was a man who wanted to be more than a commander, so he begrudgingly let the boys keep their firearms and blades. In turn, the older apprentices didn't push too hard when dealing with Henri or Octave. In fact, it was flatly terrifying to most of the boys, who had no idea how to use one, to see kids younger than them carrying a pistol on their belts. Second, and just almost as important, the boys carried knives and the vast majority of the boys had seen them practice with blades of all sizes.
However, partially because the ship's commanding officer was so derogatory toward the youngsters, a group of older boys decided to show they were not going to be intimidated. Five days after being put to work on the Vestale, four boys tried to corner Henri and Octave and three of them left the lower hold with nasty cuts, while the forth had to be stretchered off the ship after Octave hit him in the leg with a chisel hammer. While Henri and Octave were confined to a small storage locker, the four youthful aggressors were paid a visit at the dock infirmary by a squad from the garrison. Fearful of further or future reprisals from the local soldiers, the four boys lied, saying they had all been hurt while exploring the lower hold and falling through a weak spot in the burned decking.
Commander Boisbertelot tried several times to push the truth out of the lads, but whatever the soldiers had said or done to the boys assured all four stuck to the bad decking story. At the same time, members of the Vestale noted the damage two younger boys had done to four older ones and decided there was probably some truth to the rumors surrounding Henri and Octave. The next morning Commander Boisbertelot reluctantly dropped the whole issue. Henri and Octave were released and to ease some of the anger of the local garrison, were moved to work on upper deck repairs where the air was infinitely fresher.
With the initial wave of disdain gone from all but the ship's commander, the two were able to show what they could really do. Once again, and in large part because of Henri's mother, the boys quickly stood head and shoulders above the rest. Their abilities to read and write, measure and cut to size, take written directions and translate them into repairs with little to no oversight made them invaluable. After two full weeks, even Commander Boisbertelot had to reluctantly admit the two showed great promise.
This did not, however, remove Henri or Octave from Commander Boisbertelot's mental shit list. In his mind, there was no way two ruffians could be French heroes while he, a French Naval Commander, was stuck commanding a small 32-gun frigate, a vessel the British would call a 'fifth-rate' ship. The fact he had not won a single engagement since taking command of the ship, while the boys on his ship were being credited with winning a land engagement against invading redcoats, only made his resentment burn hotter and deeper. He leaned on the rail of the quarterdeck and observed the two. Seeing them handle papers with the written measurements and take said directions to others older than they were to tell them what to do, only made him angrier. They were low born peasant trash. Reading and writing, ordering men around, it was all above their station in life.
Brooding over the two, while drinking a goodly portion of a flask of rum, Commander Boisbertelot could stand the situation no more. He would remind them of their station in life. All he had to do was find something on the little rapscallions. After more drinking, he moved below into the captain's quarters and summoned a couple of his officers in training, also called midshipmen. Upon arrival, he handed the two young men small pouches of coin and gave them orders to find out more on the two boys. The one who could dig up the most dirt would get a promotion, since one of the more senior officers had lost an arm in the last engagement with the British fleet and was not going to be able to stay with the ship.
It was during breakfast in the officer's mess three days later when one of the midshipmen reported that after plying some of the men from the local garrison with drink, tongues were loosened. One of those who became overly intoxicated let out a firsthand account of how Henri had taken a bet of fixing a wagon or giving himself to a squad of infantry. The mightily drunk man lamented the fact he and his fellows had lost, since it would have given them all great pleasure to enjoy the flesh of the two.
The soon to be officer followed up on this and found more than a couple shipwrights had tried, and failed, to coax the boys into their quarters after shifts. Other than this, the rumors surrounding the youngsters seemed to be weighted in truth. They had, without question, taken down redcoats several kilometers to the southeast of St. Malo and were given full credit for the capture of a British infantry officer. By this point, however, the exact numbers the boys had taken down were lost in rumor. Last, but far from least, at least one lower noble in Dol had taken a degree of interest in the two and reports were being submitted to Dol as to the progress of the boys.
As the discussion continued around the table, Commander Boisbertelot's mood only deteriorated. Several of his men found the work of Henri and Octave to be remarkably good for ones of such a low age, and even his senior officer seemed to be taken with the fact both could read and write. Yet another three of the eight officers and six midshipmen talked about the carving skills of the boys. Two of the men had even purchased wooden mugs with fancy handles carved by Henri. By the time dinner broke up and the officers went to deal with their ship duties, Commander Boisbertelot's elbows were on the table and his head was supported by his chin resting in his hands.
His mind mulled over all he had heard. It never occurred to him, as he continued to sip on another tankard of ale, there was no logical reason to hate the boys the way he did. They had done nothing to him. In fact they were working their butts off getting his ship back to being a seaworthy warship. But for reasons only he could come up with, the man felt as if the boys' very existence was a slight against him. He poured himself another mug of ale before returning to his quarters. There he paced for nearly an hour, consuming more ale and more than a few swigs of rum. His anger and resentment of the two only deepened. Finally, he found an answer. It was not a good one, but it was better than nothing.
He went down to the gun deck and moved up behind one of his meaner seamen, who was seeing to the rearming of the ship and repair of cannons, "Mr. Blanqueman, get your workers assigned a long task, then a word."
The man turned, rather astonished to see the ship's captain below decks. Most of the main damage and char had been removed, but the place was far from being repaired and the air still had the scents of combat and bloodshed. There was also still a couple of areas where cleanup hadn't even been started. However, the man hid his astonishment as he gave the captain a single nod, "At once, sir!" He pointed over to two men and a trio of boys, "Remove those last two guns, get them to the docks, and scrape out the remnants of the powder monkey's leg we found under them guns and toss it over the side. Get it done before nightfall if you want rations!"
The man then turned to follow the captain. Much to his surprise, the man went down, into the bilge, instead of up.
Commander Boisbertelot made sure there were no lingering ears before he turned back to the man who stood a head taller than himself, "Mr. Blanqueman, how would you like to be named Gunner's Mate and have your pay and rum rations increased?"
"Who do you want me to kill?" The large man only half joked.
This got a rare smile on the face of Commander Boisbertelot, "As nice as it would be, doing so would not get the type of attention I wish to have come my way. However, I have heard more than a few of the boys were unfortunate to have struck your fancy. Is this true?"
The man gulped and seriously thought about reaching for his dagger. The crime of buggery or being found guilty of sodomy was not just a death sentence; it was a horrible death sentence with burning being the preferred method. On the other hand, he had been serving under this officer for years and his proclivities had never been so much as frowned upon. In addition, it was all but accepted that such things happened on ships, especially after weeks or months with no female to be seen. Since he was treading on extremely treacherous ground, he ignored his racing heart and spoke as calmly as he could force himself to do so. "I'm not sure I follow, Captain."
Commander Boisbertelot snickered, "Oh, for the love of this navy, Blanqueman, I brought you down here, out of earshot of others, and am offering you a upgrade in pay, position, and rum!"
The man moved deeper into the bilge and looked around, verifying he was indeed alone with the ship's captain, before speaking, "OK, yeah, but I am far from alone in this, Captain."
"I'm sure you are not, however… you, the men tend to fear, so grabbing one or two of the urchins for enjoyment is not going to be stopped. Besides, this whole thing is new to me..."
"You..." The shock in his voice was obvious, "You have interest?"
"Yes, but I need it kept hushed and I need the boy gathered for me. In return you can have his friend."
"What about your cabin boy?"
"Jacque?" Commander Boisbertelot rolled his eyes, "Son of Captain Brouard? Off limits, and not really to my taste. I am trying to get him on with another ship as he tends to use his father's status too much and do too little. Now the temporary boatswain apprentice, Henri... He I would enjoy time with. You get him to me over the next several nights and in return you can take his friend, Octave. For this, I give you use of the watch officer's quarters. It is empty until we get it repaired and the navy sends me a replacement. I don't expect one until we are much closer to sailing health, and they certainly will not send me one until we have quarters for him. You use the urchins to touch up some of the splintering in there during the day, since I hear they have some carving skills, and we keep them there until the cabin is done. Then, once we are seaworthy, you become a gunner's mate and I pass word of you and your mates' future enjoyment with younger crew is nothing more than a trifling matter as long as your duties to the ship remain at the high standards I set for any gunner's mate. I will also let it be well known if there any like Jacque, who are too privileged to risk more than turning a passing eye toward. Also, as you should expect, any midshipmen are officers in training and cannot, without my direct authorization, be infringed upon."
"The garrison will not be happy..."
"I will give you coin to pay for his services. The two offered themselves to men of the garrison if they lost a bet, which they did not. However, they did so. This means they are seen as already open to such matters. Simply let it be known, this is my ship and my laws. They are not on land, so the lads have no expectations of land laws. You deal with Octave and I will do the same with little Henri."
"Very well, Captain, but a few extra coins to get a man or two to help get them to the watch officer's quarters would be helpful. I can keep the deck clear of eyes this way as well."
Without hesitation Commander Boisbertelot handed over a small stack of coins out of his own pouch. "I expect lips to remain sealed from all who assist."
"And remain closed they will, sir, especially if I can assure them of future pleasures with your underlying blessing... Um... if I may, a word of advice?"
"By all means."
"If you really have not enjoyed a boy, be careful. While he is a good sight for the eyes, he is small and could be easily torn if you are not careful. I am not sure how much the garrison would permit, but having him crippled for life or even die of blood loss, is probably not something they will stand for."
"And how would you..." Commander Boisbertelot's words drifted off as his face turned red.
"A small object to open up and work him first," the man held up a finger and wiggled it for emphasis, "then go slow. He will open, but a cloth may be needed to dampen the sounds the first few times. It all depends on your girth. Also, if you have problem in raising your mast at first, use his mouth, but threaten so he does not bite. A tongue will raise the sail for you for certain."
Commander Boisbertelot nodded in understanding, then handed over a pouch of lesser value coins. "For Octave, not you. He will need extra coin to show he was a partner in this. Do this right and I have another for you."
Blanqueman secured the pouch and nodded. "I will have Henri to you at dusk, sir."
The sun was almost out of sight and a cold early evening breeze was coming off the English Channel as Henri and Octave finished dinner and made their way toward the fore deck where most of the apprentices slept. Off to the side, Mr. Blanqueman nodded to a pair of his fellow sailors. The rest of the upper deck was quiet since it was only the three of the men on watch and extra rum had been procured for the men in exchange for a late night of finishing up the scraping of the gun deck, since all the damaged guns had been removed earlier in the day.
One of the men on watch moved up to Henri and Octave while the other went over to the other boys moving across the deck.
The man who advanced on Henri and Octave nodded to the boys, then paused as if suddenly remembering something, "Hey, I hear you two can carve all fancy like. Is this true?"
As the two boys turned to look at them, both wondering if this might mean they could earn an extra coin or two, the other man moved up to the rest of the youngsters and handed them a bag of fruits and fresh bread rolls along with some butter. All Henri was able to make out was, "...as way of thanking you for your hard work! Now get some rest, tomorrow we'll start work on rigging and the foremast."
This distracted the others enough to where the man talking to Henri and Octave was able to escort them toward the aft of the ship unnoticed. The man remained friendly, "The work to the upper deck is close to complete other then the mast, so there is another task which needs more than planking and heavy work. I hear there is extra pay for this too."
This kept the boys' interest. They suspected nothing as they were led past the captain's quarters and to the watch officer's room. A beam in front of it was lifted off of brackets by the man even as he continued to talk to the boys, "We have this sealed off until repairs are made. There are still some belongings of the former watch officer inside, so we don't want people in and out of here too much yet." The man pulled open the door and motioned for the two to enter, even as he stood at the door. Octave sensed there was some kind of problem, but it wasn't enough to fully set off internal alarms. At the same time Henri went in and let out a light whistle. "The cannonball is still in here!"
This got Octave's attention, so he turned and fully stepped through the door. He didn't really take note of the fact the bed had been repaired and was complete with bedding. Nor did he discern the fact the room was already lit with a lantern. Finally, his eyes took in the detail the small closet door was ajar, but it didn't really enter his mind. All he did really take notice of was the hole in the back starboard panel with a clear view out to the bay, the destroyed desk, and the thing that Henri was looking at. It was, in fact, an eight-pound cannonball embedded into the wood of support beam for the decking above. Like Henri, he was surprised the beam had held.
The man at the door spoke up, "I need you two to take a look around and see what you can do in here. This is senior's officer's quarters so we need to do more than simply repair the place. Before it was breached, the edging in here had some carvings the captain would like redone, and it needs a good desk. We'll get a man or two to help with the support and the hole in the hull, but we have coin if you both can get it to look good again."
Henri turned to say something only to see the door close. A moment later the beam was dropped down to lock it from being able to be pushed open again.
Octave's eyes went wide. He bolted over to the door, and tired to open it, but it was already too late. He started to pound on the door when Mr. Blanqueman came out of the closet with another large man. The two big men quickly wrapped their arms around the two boys and pushed them down on the bed. With their full weight on the boys, it was fairly easy to remove their knives and pistols.
Henri tried to yell for help, only to find the man holding him on the bed was able to put a massive hand over his nose and mouth. Next to Henri, Octave was dealing with the exact same thing. Mr. Blanqueman's voice hissed behind Octave. "The only way you take a breath is if we move our hands. We only keep them off your mouths if you keep quiet and don't fight!"
Tears rolled out of Henri's eyes as the hand around his face loosed its grip enough for him to take in air between sobs of fear, "What do you want?"
Nothing was said. Instead, the man holding Henri pulled the boy's hands behind him and quickly tied a length of rope behind around his wrists. Once he was released, he tried one to pull his hands free only to hear the man laugh, "Boy, we're sailors, our knots don't slip!" Seeing Henri start to say something, the man suck a wad of cloth in his mouth and shoved him back onto the bed.
Next to Henri, Octave found a wad of cloth shoved in his own mouth, even as Mr. Blanqueman manhandled him and pushed over to the head of the bed. The man then duplicated the tying of hands but added the ankles as well.
He then stood and went over to the two pistols and knives with sheaths. Seeing Octave trying to struggle, he moved back over and swatted the boy hard on the butt, "Lay there, boy. Just lay there!" Seeing the boy stop struggling, he nodded in satisfaction and carefully dropped the knives and pistols into a cloth sack, which was then tied shut. Finally Mr. Blanqueman walked over to the closet, put the sack in a heavy wooden and iron bound chest, closed it and used a key to lock it. "No need for those until this room is fixed up!"
He then went over and knocked on the door, "Open her up and get scarce."
Everyone in the room could hear the bar as it was lifted and leaned up against the wall. A few seconds later Mr. Blanqueman looked at the other man, "Give the men their coins and go find a boy to each of your likings. Take 'em with you. The inn has paid rooms for the three of you. Make sure you call up the next watch and let them know you three have three days of shore leave and are taking the boys with you to get some provisions for fixing this room. Also pass word that we have the toy soldiers back here doing work under my eye so they aren't missed."
The man took a handful of offered coins and left quickly. Mr. Blanqueman waited a few more minutes, ignoring the tears rolling down Henri's cheeks. Finally, he lifted up on Henri's tied hands, forcing him to stand, then looked back at Octave. "You best be right there when I get back, boy, or the next hand hitting your backside will be with a belt in it."
Mr. Blanqueman stuck his head out of the door, made sure the passage was empty and duck-walked Henri down two doors to the captain's room. He knocked three times, then two as planned. It took only a few seconds for the door to open. Commander Boisbertelot looked both ways nervously even as he pulled Henri in. "Any issues?"
"Of course not, sir. Just make sure he is in the other room by day so he can be seen working, or rumors will get started."
Commander Boisbertelot nodded and closed the door. He looked over Henri's trembling form even as he started to undress. He paused and turned back to Henri before removing the rest of his clothing. He pulled the cloth out of Henri's mouth before twisting the boy's ear and tugging downward. Henri let out a gasp of pain as he was forced down to his knees. "Time to pleasure the captain, boy."
Henri looked up horrified as he realized what was wanted. "This is against the law!"
Even as he stepped forward into Henri's face, he snorted in anger, "You offer yourself to mere soldiers as part of a bet, yet will not pleasure me? I am a naval officer, and you should be honored by this chance! Now get your mouth busy!"
Henri suddenly realized what his bet a few months prior had really meant and he was horrified by it. "No, it wasn't... I wasn't offering to do this..."
"Of course you were, boy! I have it on firsthand accounts you offered both you and your friend to them if you failed! Now you get to do the same for me!"
"No... No... I have never..."
"Even if this is true, tonight you will!"
"But the law.... man with man... this is a death by burning..."
Commander Boisbertelot twisted Henri's ear until the boy let out a squeal. He then forced himself into the open mouth, "You bite, you die. Now, enough of this law crap. We are not on land, we are on the water and the captain of the ship makes the laws. You, just like every member of this crew, belong to me and my law says you do this, and more, every night until the watch officer's quarters are repaired to my satisfaction. However, should you decide to find someone who will try to take the laws out of the sea, to the land, which you will not be able to do... but on the off chance you do... Understand one other thing. You have offered in the past. There are men in the garrison who will testify to this and I have plenty of men who will say you offered this time. I will make sure you leave with enough coin to show this as well. So, if you try to burn me, you will be on the pyre next to mine!"
Henri was trapped. He could do nothing but comply, even when his backside was intruded upon. He tried to beg, but it fell on deaf ears. He cried well after the man had fallen asleep next to him. Morning gave little reprieve. The captain woke Henri early, forced him to perform again, and allowed him to dress in nothing but his shirt and britches. He was then hustled over to the watch officer's room where he found Octave in a ball in the back corner of the bed. The boy was nude and had bruises forming on his side and thighs. He rushed over to his whimpering friend and hugged him, even as Mr. Blanqueman deposited food and water for the boys before dropping the bar in place, locking them in.
An hour later the door was unbarred and enough water was brought in for the boys to clean themselves up with. Mr. Blanqueman entered and 'supervised'. "Get moving you lazy oafs!" He snarled as the boys moved gingerly, wincing with almost every step they made. "I have wood and planking being brought in, in three days and the three of us are going to get everything ready so we can jump into repairs as soon as it arrives. You two need to work around couple of shipwrights as they remove and replace the support beam as well. I will not tolerate you getting in their way. You are being paid extra for this, so one way or the other, neither of you leave this cabin until it is fit to live in by a French officer!"
At the same time word was spread that the boys were being given a chance to make extra to craft the watch officer's quarters, and not to come looking for the boys for the next several days.
The days were long and arduous. Mr. Blanqueman did little, other than to force the boys to stay constantly busy unless there was something the boys simply couldn't do or required heavy lifting. Even then he made the boys try repeatedly before lending a hand. Food and water were brought to them, and a bucket was used for bodily wastes, which was then pitched out the hole in the side. True to what they were told, they didn't get to leave the cabin, at least until nightfall. As soon as the sun was nothing but a glow on the horizon, Henri's hands were once again tied and he was 'escorted' to the captain. The man was quick to open the door and seemingly even quicker to get undressed.
Each night was full of horror. With each passing day the preparation got shorter and the penetration was longer and rougher. So it went for five long and dreadful nights with hard work during the day. By the morning of the sixth consecutive day, Henri stumbled into the quarters to join Octave with sunken eyes with dark rings under them, pale skin, and a quivering body. Truth be told, Octave was little better, but he didn't have Henri's propensity of easily falling ill. Even as he struggled to move to Henri's side he looked up, "Please, you are killing him! Let him rest... take turns with me for a day to two!"
"You can't handle one of us, boy," Commander Boisbertelot scoffed, "let alone both of us!" He moved up and grabbed Henri by the chin and tilted his head up. The eyes looking back at him had lost much of their luster and he could feel a slight wheezing coming out with each breath the boy took. "It just goes to show neither of you have what it takes to be soldiers." He shoved Henri back toward the bed. "But I can't go killing the two of you after all the pleasure you have given us." He snickered as he backed off slightly, and turned to Mr. Blanqueman, "Get them each an extra ration and give them the day to rest. We need the wood for the desk to come in anyway." He glanced back, at the two boys, "But I expect you to spend some time working on the trim today and tonight you take me with no loud cries. You do this and I will give you these quarters for most of each night and extra rations during the day. If not, well... we are on a ship and sickness happens." He then motioned for Mr. Blanqueman to bar the door as the two left the cabin.
He spoke softly, "They are all but broken. Allowing the urchins to sleep in the watch officer's quarters once we get our enjoyment, then extra sleep in the mornings, coupled with better rations will allow us to give them back in a condition good enough to not draw too much ire from the garrison or the nobles within Dol. In the mean time, have your boys find me a suitable replacement. The enjoyment has been too much to simply forgo."
As night fell once again, Henri was taken by the captain. He forced himself to not cry out, even as his backside unwillingly took the warm rod and he felt the heavy breathing on the back of his neck. Two hours later, the man had had his fill. He smiled as Henri weakly wobbled in front of him, while his bowels dripped onto the back of his shirt. There was no fight left in the boy as the captain pulled open the door to the watch officer's quarters and shoved the boy in.
Henri fell and stayed on the floor, keeping his eyes closed as Octave was being hammered on the bed. He refused to watch, knowing to do so would only mean he would get to find out what he looked like with a man impaling him. Mr. Blanqueman finished a good half an hour later, giving Octave a spanking just for spite, then paused to abuse Henri's mouth before finally leaving the room and barring the door. Henri crawled over, pulled himself up on the bed and held his silently sobbing friend as he cried himself to sleep. As promised, they were allowed to sleep in and better food was brought after they had cleaned themselves up to remove the overt signs of what they had been forced to do the night before.
This became the pattern of the next couple of weeks. Yet it was the during these peaceful times late at night, as Octave held on to Henri as much to support himself as his friend, when friendship became something deeper. While Octave had dealt with this before, the savagery of Mr. Blanqueman was nothing he could have been prepared for. Still he was the tougher, stronger, and older of the two and felt it was his responsibility to do what he could to comfort his best friend. Because of this, he managed to twice take both men in a night while giving Henri a full night's rest. Day by day they grew closer.
Henri and Octave were finally handed back to the local garrison on November 13th. The Vestale left port on November 15th, 1758 fully repaired. As the ship left the harbor, Octave draped his arm over Henri's shoulder even as his other hand fingered a pouch of coins given to him by the horrible captain as if money alone could make up for what he had been put through. He was certain Henri had received even more, but his thoughts didn't rest on the lack of fairness, only the fact it was over. With a glare out at the harbor he spoke softly, "There is a ship I hope I never see again."
Henri gave his friend a quick kiss on the hand of the arm over his shoulder, "Unless it is burning, I agree."
The winter of 1758 was not kind and forced the local garrison of Caen to cut extra wood and huddle closely together to stay warm in the less than generous barracks they were assigned. The boys were fortunate enough to have plenty of extra coin, so they bought themselves warmer clothing, extra rations, and better blankets, but the nights were still extremely unpleasant. The fact other men were using the heat of fellow soldiers to stay warm, however, allowed Henri and Octave to sleep together nightly without anyone taking serious notice. Still there were a few who tried to intrude, but once rebuffed, the other men didn't let it go any further. Had it not been for this, the boys may well not have made it without taking their own lives. They went so far as to discuss it a few times.
Their fears of men within the battalion violating them proved to be unfounded. However, even though the men continued to basically treat them well, the boys tended to keep their backs to the walls, and only cleaned when the other was able to watch. On the other hand, they decided to take advantage of whatever they could. To this end, the pair did everything possible to hone combat skills so they would never again be so easily violated. They didn't let lack of supplies stop them. They used much of the coin given them, and earned more with woodcarving. Together, they bought extra powder and longer blades. Both boys worked on skills at every turn with whoever was willing to tutor or teach them and Henri grew stronger. Unfortunately, though, the original trust was gone. They were not able to full reintegrate into the unit as they had before being put to work on the Vestale.
The reasons behind this were very straightforward. In their minds they had been betrayed. They didn't know who, someone within the battalion had talked to someone aboard the Vestale had told of a childishly poorly worded bet. A silly bet, really, with nothing ill intentioned. Yet it had given men full control over them. Making matters worse, rumor had been spread, probably by men aboard the Vestale, saying the boys had willingly sold themselves to the crew. This meant many others would continue to try. In the minds of Octave and Henri, the weapon had been handed over by the men of the battalion they were in and it had been used to its utmost. Neither boy could find it in his heart to forgive.
While everything dealing with their training showed improvement, it was obvious Henri and Octave's attitudes were lacking. This was chalked up to the fact they had been pulled away and forced to work aboard a ship while the rest of the garrison had to do very little. Since they had plenty of extra coin, however, any sympathy was drastically reduced. Finally, the rumors of them selling themselves came as little surprise since they had all but offered on the first march with the battalion. While a few suspected there might have been some coercion, no one bothered to follow up. In the men's defense it never occurred to them just how bad things had been. They had been on a Navy ship, after all, and word had it the pair had been given full credit for redoing one of the officer's quarters.
For Henri and Octave, it wasn't just the time around the men that bothered them. The city of Caen quickly became a nightmare. There were snickers as they walked by merchants and whispers behind their backs. It got to the point where they thought everyone knew, and every burst of laughter or jeer seemed to be directed at them. Everywhere they turned there seemed to be someone with coin thinking they could buy them for a night. Yet there was nowhere two eleven-year-olds could run. Even worse, they figured they would be marked as deserters and would be hunted down. By the time new orders came down to the battalion, they were both more than eager to go somewhere, anywhere, else. They also grew even closer as the only comfort either found was from each other. No one else could be fully trusted.
The mid-February march out of Caen toward Bernay was bitterly cold and nasty. Snow fell on the first full day out and temperatures plummeted. Wind battered their faces and frostbite started claiming fellow soldiers. The battalion commander quickly decided to switch destinations and get everyone off the roads. Five days after leaving Caen the battalion marched into Lisieux and sought billeting with the local garrison.
While this caused some angry ripples through upper command, the men were put up in drafty buildings. At least they had a fire and were given extra rations, while those well above worked out new details. Unfortunately, over a dozen men had to have fingers and or toes amputated due to frostbite. The boys had been spared this fate. The reasons for this were twofold. First, it was because they had bought warmer clothing, and second, while neither gave the men around them credit, they had been given the best natural shelters in their unit.
It was the last day of February before new orders arrived. The unit was to split. Those with abilities in wood and experience on water were to move back up to the coast to help prepare for an attack on the coast of England. The destination, the port of Le Havre. Of course, with Henri and Octave's prior experience, they were put with this group from their own battalion, which was then heavily augmented by a number of other men from various units. While no one could possibly know it, the tenth day of March spelled a new chapter for the boys. It was the day they left Lisieux on the march up to Le Havre, and would set the stage for the rest of Henri and Octave's lives.
The first day of July, 1759 turned out to be warm and calm. It was deep into the day when Henri deftly tapped on a chisel taking a hunk of wood off the end of a board, while slightly above him Octave made a counter notch into another board. A pair of men then pushed the plank Octave had just notched into the new groove Henri had just made. The two pieces of wood came together flawlessly. Off to the other side of Henri, a man handed over a mug of water to the boy, "Drink, and take a break. You are looking tired and we need to let the finishing crew handle the final seaming anyway."
Up on the landing barge Octave let out a long breath as he, too, was handed some water. The crew leader, a shipwright in his mid-forties, smiled warmly at both boys, "Damn fine job, lads! Your work only gets better by the day! Now get your butts back to camp and start us a cooking fire. We'll handle the last bits down here.”
Henri and Octave didn't hesitate. Octave had to hop down and catch up to Henri as it was. Both of them had learned early on, if they stuck around after being released from barge building for the day, someone would find a new task for them. Once well clear of the building area, the boys turned and looked back. The past three-plus months had seen the building area go from three barges when they arrived to now there was twenty-six, twenty-seven if they included the one they were just about to help finish up. Eleven other landing barges were being worked on, but none were as close to completion as these. Seeing their work below them gave them both a strong sense of satisfaction. Even though the day was hot and very little breeze was coming off the water, the two put arms over each other's shoulders and smiled. Coming to La Havre had proven to be a fresh start. Only men from their unit knew anything about them and as best as they could tell, no one had said a word. While both boys had been approached about buying their services for a night, a refusal was all it took. At most, the only consequence was a look of disappointment. After only a few men were turned down, word spread. The two were not interested, so with each passing week, there were fewer who tried.
Here in Le Havre, it was their abilities people learned about. They had not even made it through the month of April before their ability to work finished wood moved them from working rough wood to being on a build crew. A month later one of the shipwrights learned they could read and write, so he started working with them so they could understand design charts. The next step came in early June when they were pulled from their original unit and placed into a crew where men with more ship building knowledge started to teach them the arts and sciences of really constructing a ship from scratch. It was this barge they were now all but completed with. A landing barge they had seen built from the first plank to what it was now. And soon the boat would be heavily laden with troops on its way to land on British soil. It was this sense of satisfaction, which allowed real smiles on their young faces.
The boys moved up the hill and glanced toward the harbor. It was then the look on their faces changed in an instant. For entering the mouth of the harbor was none other than the Vestale. While she was still far away, Octave's sight was extremely good and he spotted damage to the aft rigging. "She's been hit again!"
Next to Octave, Henri shivered as if suddenly cold, and he barked out loudly, "No way am I going back on her! I don't care..."
One of the men on Henri's crew overheard this and moved up to the boys. With some concern, he looked out, saw the ship moving deeper into the harbor, and put a hand on both boys' backs causing them both to jump and spin, while their hands raced down to their blades.
"Whoa, there lads!" The man took a quick step back and held up both hands. "It's just me..." He stopped as he saw the looks in the boys' eyes. "Hey, now, it looks like the two of you had just seen a ghost!"
Henri's upper lip trembled, "If it was a ghost, I'd be a whole lot happier. At least it would be dead!"
With this the man frowned deeply, "You serve aboard her?"
Octave closed his eyes and took a few calming breaths even as he nodded slightly, "You can't send us back to her. We... we can't go... the captain... he... um... hates us..."
The man chewed in the inside of his lower left lip as he saw a couple of tears roll down Henri's face. As this happened he hardened, "You two, stick with me and the men. You are barge boatswain mates and soldiers... our mates and our soldiers. It is unlikely they know you are here and if they should find out, you need to do nothing more than stick close to me and the boys. The Navy wants their barges and to get them, we want you. They can find others to tend their ship. If they come to take you, they come to take all of us. Now let's get your butts up to the camp and get you as hidden as we can. I'll send a couple of men to find out what she is doing here and how long she's staying."
Octave looked up at the man with a great deal of hope in his eyes, "It'll be a few days just to repair the rigging. She looks like she needs a new sail too."
The man turned and squinted, "Damn, boy, if you can spot damage like that from here, you got some fine eyes. Don't you go worrying none, though. Stick close and I'll make sure no one ever lets it be known you are here."
As night came the boys decided to hide close to the barges rather than to risk being taken back to the Vestale. Sleep was hard to come by, so by morning the two were tired, but at least they were not in the clutches of Commander Boisbertelot.
Both youngsters were surprised when the men from the barge crew came down with food for them and moved them to work on a lower section, which didn't really need much effort. However, the location kept them out of view from all but those in the building crew and the dozen soldiers who were brought up to help in finishing up with the details and check it over for any flaws. As it turned out, all twelve men had been in the boys' original battalion.
The sergeant of the men looked over at Octave after noticing the way the boy was eyeing him, "Son, we ain't at all sure what happened to the two of ya. But me and boys hear you don't want to go back to the Vestale, so we're here to make damned sure you aren't forced. If they come looking for either of you, they will soon find it in their best interests to look elsewhere. I rounded up some of the other boys and they are going over the barges on either side of us. While this is probably all for nothing, should any port bastards show an ugly mug around here looking for either of you, they'll get word to us. We'll hide you and they'll be surrounded. They leave standing without you or they leave layin' down, also without you. Odds be beyond damned good they'll take the first."
The next day and a half passed by without incident. Men surrounded the boys, kept them busy, and out of sight of anyone who strolled by. However, by late in the day on the third, the outline of two ships could be seen just outside the mouth of the harbor. Word spread fast of the ships being English and not being alone. Orders were given and French cannons were brought up on the hill overlooking the barges, while the men were told to keep working. At the same time the completed barges were put into deeper water so they would be harder to hit.
In the pre-dawn hours of July 4th, 1759, four more small ships took position in the channel. As the first rays of light streaked across the horizon, Henri, Octave, and the men they had been working with were just starting to make their way down from the crest of the hill. From their vantage point, they could make out all six ships blocking the channel out of the harbor and the tall masts of much larger ships could be seen further out. Eyeing the harbor they noticed many of the smaller ships were off the docks and there seemed to be a general panic. The boys, however, were looking for one ship in particular. Much to their surprise, there was no sign of the Vestale. In fact, her and two other frigates which came in with her, were nowhere to be seen.
Even as one of the men commented the ships must have snuck out the night before to either seek safety in the open waters of the English Channel or to summon help, the six English bomb catches seemingly erupted. Smoke obscured the decks of the six small ships as their guns opened up on the now all but defenseless port and the out-in-the-open barges. From their vantage point they watched in horror as shell after shell was flung from the ships only to fall with horrid effect in the harbor, the town of Le Havre, and in, around and on the barges.
While they watched, all but frozen into place, docks were ripped asunder and explosive shells decimated barge after barge. The eighteen men and boys stayed on the hill for over two hours watching in morbid fascination and disgust as months of work were shattered beyond all recognition. They finally backed down the hill and fled further inland as one of the ships started launching shells further up the hill where a group of French artillerymen set up a battery to fire back and fired a pair of salvos well short. Before Henri and Octave were more than a few meters below the crest of the hill, a massive explosion, followed by screams of agony, told the lads and all those with them the battery had almost certainly taken a direct hit. The group stayed on the backside of the hill for much of the day. During this entire time there was no let-up. To Henri and Octave, it almost sounded like continuous thunder coming from the bay. By late afternoon, a few shells arched over the hill and landed on the back side. This was simply way too close for any within the group. They got a quick drink out of a nearby stream and moved rapidly toward the base of the hill.
Once they got to the bottom of the hill, the group found a large force of French military. Since they were in army uniforms, one of the officers ordered his men to round them up. They were brought before a major. The man didn't even blink as his eyes took in the two boys. Instead, he focused his attention on the sergeant and the military shipwright. "I don't give a rat's ass who you belong to. As of now, you and your men are now under my command. Our orders are to support in fortifying the town of Le Havre and build entrenchments to prevent the town from being taken."
With no real choice, Henri and Octave fell in line and the column of over one hundred fifty men marched toward Le Havre. Well before they got there, they ran into fleeing citizenry. Men, women, and children, some carrying heavy bundles, others pushing carts, some wearing almost nothing, forced the formation to loosen. After nearly a quarter of an hour, the major switched tactics. He had the men form wedges so they could push those fleeing the shelling out of the way. This meant Octave and Henri were separated from most of the men they had been building barges with as the bigger men were put in lead ranks and smaller men, meaning Henri and Octave, were delegated to the back of the formations. Those who got in the way of the 'V' shaped wedges were knocked out of the way and a few were trampled. Octave stopped once help an old woman to stand and was promptly screamed at for it. Still, he, with the help of the shipwright, managed to get her standing and out of the line of soldiers.
The lieutenant in command of Octave's wedge threatened him with lashing should he do so again, but ended up shouting almost the exact same thing to men on the opposite side, who picked up a young girl and physically passed her from man to man until she was out of the wedge. While they left her screaming for her mama and papa, at least she hadn't been crushed. It was clear this only made the lieutenant angrier, but there was little he could really do other than keep his group moving as fast as possible. Suddenly one of the ships adjusted fire and a pair of shells slammed into the ground just in front of the wedge on the left side of the road. Two men on the outer most part of the 'V' fell screaming. Seconds later it became clear to just about all those marching toward La Havre they had been spotted by the ships in the harbor as more shells fell around them.
Within seconds, the fifty man 'V' in the center of the road was ordered to break and take cover, and the one on the left did so moments later, the lieutenant in command of Henri and Octave's formation was either very driven or flatly not bright. He ordered his group on. Less than a minute later he paid the ultimate price as a shell landed less than a meter in front of him and ripped off both his legs and flung the rest of his body into the field of grain on the right side of the road. Another shell hit almost dead center and ripped apart eight more men and wounded another twelve. Both Henri and Octave were knocked off their feet and splattered with copious amounts of blood and bits of flesh, but fortunately for both they were small and the bodies closer to the blast absorbed the shrapnel.
At this point pure instinct took over, Henri grabbed Octave and pulled him off the road. He then rolled off the road into an irrigation ditch, grabbing Octave's leg to get him down with him. They then held onto each other in terror and stayed in the shallow water, with their heads sticking up just far enough to let them breathe. They stayed there until well after the shelling of their area finally stopped. Finally, they, along with some other surviving soldiers, crawled up to the road only to find themselves surrounded with unimaginable gore. There were body parts, chunks of flesh, a head without a body, a head with an eye ball dangling from what looked like a thread that went inside the skull, and a pair of torsos with intestines hanging out. A few of the most unlucky moaned in utter agony. Up in front of them, thick black pillars of smoke could be made out in the glow coming from Le Havre, showing where scores of buildings burned uncontrollably.
Making matters worse, more shells continued to fall on the town and surrounding lands. It had now been over twelve hours since the first shells had been fired and there was no indication the British were going to slow down, let alone stop the carnage.
Both Henri and Octave moved off the road and threw up a couple of times. Around them, the survivors of their fifty-man formation looked around blankly, puked, or simply, like Henri and Octave, moved away in a random direction. While some of the wounded were still alive and a few may have even been savable, the nine men and two boys were too shell-shocked to comprehend this. The boys meandered aimlessly for over an hour, their ears ringing so badly they could not hear the impacting shells falling not far away. Chances are good they would have simply wandered off into the countryside, but fate had other plans for them. As they moved toward a badly damaged farmhouse, the sergeant they had been working with on the barge caught up to them. "Boys! Come with me!"
The two didn't hear him at first. It took him actually catching up to them and grabbing them before they realized they had company. The man had to shout so they could hear, but he wanted them to follow and their addled brains prevented them from even asking why or what was going on. They simply obeyed. Two hours later, with their heads starting to clear, the sergeant led them and nine other stragglers he had found in the surrounding farm fields down to the beach, where there were four small single mast sailing boats with oars on the sides. As they approached, the man glanced over at the sergeant and down at the boys, "You are joking, right?"
"No, they can shoot, use blades, and are soldiers. You wanted who I could find, and I'd take these two over a couple of the others I managed to round up."
"Fine, then take them," the older man all but snarled, even as he reached down into a handcart and pulled up a musket, satchel, and powder horn and pushed it firmly into Henri's chest, then did the exact same to Octave before pushing them both over toward the sergeant. The man then pointed to the furthest boat, "Take these two and those in the fishing boat and good luck."
The sergeant gave a quick nod and pushed the boys toward the furthest boat. Twenty-three of the twenty-four eyed the sergeant with absolute bewilderment as he hefted the lads up and onto the boat before he climbed aboard. While a few started muttering, the corporal Henri had made the wagon repair bet with spoke up, "Them two have hearts of bears and have already killed them some redcoats, boys! How many of you all can say the same?"
While this caused many heads to turn and questions to be asked, it eliminated the resistance of them joining the men on the badly overcrowded boat. To make life a little easier, the corporal shoved the men on each side of him to make just enough room for the boys to sit. He then reached over and opened the heavy satchel Henri had been given, "Twenty bullets, water, bread and some assorted berries and nuts. Eat up, Henri, then load your musket."
While Henri did as ordered, Octave found a duplicate of what Henri had been given. He took a drink of water and bit off a hunk of the large bread roll before he spoke, "What is going on?"
Even as eight of the stronger men used the oars to push the boat off the sandy bottom, then pulled on the oars to get them moving away from shore, the man across from Octave pointed out toward the flashes coming off one of the bomb catches. "We're going to try to take one of those."
Henri felt his jaw fall open, "In this?"
The sergeant nodded and spoke loudly as to cut off any who even thought of making fun of the boy's reaction, "Henri, it's a damn sight better than being pounded into bloody bits by artillery while you try to help build fortifications, which is the other option you have as a fighting man in the French Army in and around La Havre!"
Octave let out a long breath, "At least this way we get to a chance to shoot back."
Henri mulled it over for a few seconds before pulling his pistol out of his belt. "Yeah, good point. You better reload with dry powder. I'm sure it's as wet as mine. Just make sure not to drop the bullet cause it is the only one we have since our gear is still back at camp with our muskets."
The men around Octave and Henri watched with a great deal of surprise as both lads dried and reloaded British pistols, then expertly loaded the muskets they had been handed.
A young soldier, only in his mid-teens, looked down at the pistol Octave had stuck back into his belt, "How'd you get one of those?"
Henri spoke up, "Octave took it off the redcoat he killed. Mine came off the officer we captured." Henri couldn't help but grin at the stunned expressions, but there was something that was really bothering him, "Um, I know it's more work, but wouldn't it be better to drop the sail, cut the mast, and row? Even as dark as it is, that mast and sail will be easy to spot with all the flashes coming off those ships once we get close."
While this got some mutters out of some of the men, the sergeant nodded in full agreement. Without waiting, he slid over to the mast and kicked it over a dozen times until the base at last cracked. He then pointed to two men up front, "Pull her down. We'll row!"
Just before midnight on July 4th, 1759, two of the other small boats got close and their small sails gave them away. The small bomb catch nearest them fired cannons, which ripped into the two boats killing several and sending the rest into the sea. The third fishing boat, which had lowered its sail early, had seen enough and broke off. Unfortunately for those aboard, the British didn't seem to care if they had turned to flee or not. The next closest ship saw the mast sticking up and sent three cannon shots at her. One missed short, the other long, but the third snapped the small boat in half.
The sergeant put his fingers to his lips and motioned for the boat to go wide. The men at oars worked hard, but by the early hours of July 5th, they managed to get on the back side of one of the catches and throw up ropes. The continuous sounds of shelling hid the noise of the hooks hitting the deck. The first five men were aboard before the alarm sounded.
By the time Henri managed to climb the rope, all the others were off the small fishing boat and he was exhausted, but there was little time to worry about it. He pulled the musket from over his shoulder and fired at the first man in a British uniform he saw. The man fell. He then saw Octave fall from a nasty hit to his side from the butt of a musket. He pulled his own pistol and was about to shoot, but Octave beat him to it. The man fell back, even as he was lifting up his weapon for another butt-stroke with the musket. Henri started to reload his musket, only to have it knocked out of his hands by a teen in a nicer British uniform. Without any hesitation, he grabbed his pistol off the deck and fired it into the boy's side. He then had to slash at the leg of another man who moved up to kick him. As the man fell back, Henri saw Octave go down hard from a wild bat-like swing of a musket. The blow hit Octave in the back shoulders and he fell unmoving. Before Henri could move to Octave's side, powerful hands grabbed him from behind and tried to toss him over the side. Fortunately, the man's throw didn't quite make the mark, so Henri slammed into the side rail. Before he could fully recover, Henri found a man with a sword pointing it down at his chest. With racing heart he looked around for help, but the British had beaten back the attack. Henri held up his hands, fully expecting to feel the blade plunge into his chest.
It didn't happen. Instead, he was roughly yanked up by a man, who was then told by the man with the sword to, "Put him with the other lad until we get a handle on things and fully secure this ship!"
Hearing this, Henri stopped struggling. There was only one other lad, and if Octave was alive, he wanted nothing more than to be with him.
He was taken, not so kindly, and shoved into a small room, slightly bigger than a closet. He stumbled over a form on the floor and fell. Before he could get his bearings, the door slammed shut leaving him in near total darkness. He felt around and quickly found Octave's body and worked his way up to the boy's head, there, just below the neck he found a gash that was still bleeding. Without hesitation, he pulled off his shirt and pressed it into the wound while crying softly as he kissed his friend on the forehead. "Octave, you can't leave me like this!"
Over the next twenty hours, food and water was brought to Henri, who had to hand-feed Octave since the boy drifted in and out of consciousness. During this time he kept his shirt pressed up against his friend's back as best he could. Finally Octave's eyes popped open and he grabbed at his back. Feeling a wad of sticky cloth, he took a couple of sharp breaths, "Oh... What happened... Where am I?"
Henri instantly woke from his catnap and pushed hard on his shirt, "Octave, don't! You're hurt!"
"Don't yell... my head it's pounding and I think I still hear explosions..."
"Sorry... but you are hearing booms. They are still shooting at the coast."
"Still... how long... where are we?"
"They captured us and stuck us in this tiny room."
"I can't see..."
"There is just a little light coming in from under the door... I have some bread and water they brought a while back..."
Octave shook his head, "My back really hurts... I'm just going to lay here..."
A few minutes later Octave fell back asleep. Six hours later the guns on the ship finally fell silent; well over fifty consecutive hours of shelling had finally stopped. The sudden silence woke Octave again, but he quickly drifted back off. Another couple of hours passed and Henri was seriously thinking they had been forgotten about when the door opened. A pair of men pushed in a pitcher of water and more food. This time it was more than bread.; it was warm and in wooden bowls. As the men started to turn away, Henri spoke in English. "Please, don't leave us in here, Octave is hurt bad."
This took the two off-guard. They exchanged glances before the smaller one knelt to get a better look at Octave. At the same time he spoke menacingly, "This better not be a trick, boy!"
"It's not. Please, my whole shirt is sticky. I think it is his blood!"
Seeing Henri holding up both hands, which were red with blood, the man leaned in closer, saw the bloody shirt and looked back. "The little pirate is telling the truth. Watch them while I go get an officer."
Less than five minutes passed before the same man who had pointed a sword at Henri appeared in the door wearing a fresh British naval uniform. He pulled his blade in warning even as another man, who had a shirt full of blood stains, came up behind him, slid past, and rolled Octave over, "It's bad Commander Faulknor. As it is, it's a good thing the other lad kept pressure on it or this boy would be dead from blood loss. I need to stitch him up if there is any chance of him living."
This caused Henri to sob, "Please don't let him die... Please... I'll do anything you want!"
"Careful with using those kinds of words, boy," Commander Faulknor spoke in warning. He turned back, "Mr. Hatchett, help the surgeon get the boy up to be worked on. Mr. Mallard, while they attacked us, they are just lads and there is no reason they should have been kept like this, injured and with no access to relieving themselves. Once the wounded lad is situated, I want you to round up whoever put these two in this storage closet and send them to me."
He then pointed at Henri, "You, come with me and try nothing stupid. I will take you to get cleaned up and find something not fouled by urine for you to wear."
Henri once again held up both hands, "I won't... I'll do what you tell me... Please, just help Octave."
Commander Faulknor nodded and used his finger to motion for Henri to come out of the room. He watched the boy limp out with a frown, "You hurt as well?"
Henri looked up and decided to be as nice as possible to the man, "Just my knee, sir. It hit the deck hard when the guy tried to toss me over the side."
Commander Faulknor pointed to steps going up, "Stick close to me, but not too close until we get you clean. You smell awful."
Henri gulped, "I think Octave pooped and I couldn't hold it no more and peed... sorry, sir."
"I blame my men more than I blame you for this. Now while I get you topside and clean, tell me how you know English as if you were born there and how did you end up in a French infantry uniform on my ship with an English pistol in your belt!"
Henri was glared at by some, mocked by others, but since he was with the commander of the Furnace, the crew wisely decided to leave him alone.
Once cleaned, dressed in a shirt and britches of one of the two midshipman aboard, which was still considerably too big for his small frame, Commander Faulknor took him to the captain's mess. He had the cook get him a fresh bowl of stew. As he let Henri eat, he sat across from the boy and started a long interrogation. After nearly four hours, he had a decently clear picture as to what had led to Henri being one of twenty-seven Frenchmen to storm his ship, kill nine, and wound nineteen of his crew of sixty. He stared at the small lad for a while before looking at the pistol his men had taken off the boy. He looked at the inscription on the handle, 'To Army Lt. Kandle for service to HMS Racehorse: Commander Burslem, 1757' and sighed, "So this came off the lieutenant you captured?"
Henri cringed as he whispered, "Yes, sir."
"And you say you were living outside of St. Malo at the time and you overhead him say your family was taken to serve England?"
Henri nodded since he could feel himself wanting to cry and didn't want to be heard doing so.
The commander of the HMS Furnace stood while motioning for Henri to do the same. He then led the boy back to his cabin and pointed to a small side bed. Seeing Henri cringe and start to undress, he shook his head, "Not one of my many proclivities. The men may not be as kind, especially after you killed one and wounded two. They will not bother you in here, however, so get some rest. But let me warn you... you damage or try to steal anything in here and I will have you lashed ten times. Try to grab a weapon and I will double it." Commander Faulknor then turned, closed the door, and made his way to the foredeck. As soon as he found one of the young officers in training, referred to as a midshipman, he looked down at the boy, "I know you are concerned for your fellow midshipman. However, I need you to put this aside for now. I have a task for you."
"Grab a couple of men and have them row you over to the Mortar. Inform Commander Hunt I would very much appreciate it if he could join us for dinner."
Commander Faulknor then made his way aft and stood on the deck, watching the town of Le Havre smolder for a while before making his way back to his quarters, stopping only to inform the cook he needed to have a good meal prepared for six. As he entered his cabin, he was first angry as he found Henri on the small bed with the ship's logbook open and on his chest. His first reaction was to strike, but before he could even take the six steps to get over to the boy, he realized the youngster had done nothing wrong. There was no damage. Instead the boy had found something that interested him and he had grabbed it to take a look and fallen asleep with it. The man chided himself for not being more exact with instructions. "No harm." He said quietly as he leaned over to secure the book.
Henri's eyes popped open as soon as he felt the book move. His hand shot down to where he normally had a knife, only to come up empty. With panic he scooted back as far as the small bed would allow.
With the logbook in his hand, Commander Faulknor shook his head, "Henri, stop. While you are a prisoner, I am not going to hurt you, but this is not a toy..."
Henri calmed just as quickly as he had panicked upon seeing no look of lust or malice in the man's eyes, "I know sir, I was just reading your entries, seeing where this ship had been..."
Commander Faulknor stopped and stared for several seconds, "You, a mere son of a miller can read?" Even Henri nodded, he flipped open the book and handed it back to Henri, "Show me."
Henri looked down at the fancy writing, "You want me to read to you?"
Henri looked down and started at the beginning of the page, "HMS Furnace arrived on station with the squadron under the command of Commodore Kepple on 28th of December 1758 late in the evening.
29 December, 1758 HMS Furnace was directed to fire upon the fort and batteries on the Island of Goree, which were soon reduced to desire to capitulate. The Governor's demands were sent to the fleet: He wished to be allowed to march the French troops out of the garrison with the honours of war. His terms were rejected, thus I ordered the guns to fire in fresh attack; it was, however, but of very short duration, mere hours, when the Island, forts, and garrison surrendered honourless."
Henri stopped reading as the man whistled softly, "And if you can read to such a degree, I gather you can also write?"
"Yes, sir. Mama taught all of us to read and write in English and French." Seeing the man eyeing him in a way he really didn't like, he decided to ask a question which was of minor interest at best, "Sir, may I ask where Goree is?"
This got a slight chuckle out of the man, "It is a small island off the west coast of Africa." Seeing the boy's eyes go wide, he sat on the bed next to him and let Henri ask about other places mentioned in the logbook.
Just as the sun faded on the western horizon, Commander Faulknor took Henri with him as he made a quick inspection of the ship, including letting Henri check in on Octave, who was with fever but his back was stitched and clean. The ship surgeon gave Octave a good chance, but refused to promise anything. Henri was then taken to the officer's mess. As Henri entered, the young midshipman who had been sent to get Commander Hunt made a growling noise, but a quick, yet painful pop on the back of his head by the watch officer cut off any complaints. Henri was then directed to a chair between the watch officer and Commander Faulknor, while the midshipman was directed to sit across from Henri. The last two chairs were for a younger midshipman and finally Commander Hunt of the HMS Mortar.
Commander Faulknor made a quick round of introductions and then made small talk with Commander Hunt as the meal was served. Once everyone had eaten, Commander Faulknor gestured toward Henri even as he spoke to Commander Hunt, "So, now comes the reason I have asked you here. You were on the Badger during the assault on St. Malo, correct?"
Commander Hunt grinned, "As a lieutenant serving under Commander Nightingale, yes. It was a rout from day one. The whole engagement ended with less the fifty casualties in total."
"And this brings me to my other guest at this table..."
Before more could be said the midshipman across from Henri slammed his hand down on the table, "The little French bastard shot Markus! He should be tossed over the side, not eating at the table with us!"
Henri had tried to keep his tongue, but couldn't hold back, "It was your navy who took my mama and papa! Stole my sisters and brothers..."
His words were cut short as a long stick Commander Faulknor normally used in briefings came down over Henri's knuckles. Even as he pulled his hand into his stomach, the teen across from him started to smile, but that was as far as it got, as he too, found his hand violently lashed with the stick.
While both boys fought hard not to cry, Commander Faulknor rolled his eyes, "So is there anything you can tell me about the miller?"
"The one who single-handedly loaded and fired three artillery rounds at our troops before they rushed him and beat him down?"
Even though he was still nursing his hand, Henri managed to mumble, "Papa."
Hunt stopped and looked at Henri, "Your father?"
Even as Henri nodded, Commander Faulknor slid the pistol over to Hunt. "And the fruit does not fall at all far from the tree."
"Lieutenant Kandle... He was ransomed back by a French lord in Dol for a considerable sum of gold. Last I heard, he was serving with Commander Burslem again on the Coventry. Where did this come from?
"Henri, here, had it when he boarded and shot one of my midshipmen with it. He also killed a man with a musket shot and left another with a line of stitches from his blade."
Hunt whistled and nodded at the boy with a degree of admiration. "So you must be one of the two lads who took down his patrol and captured him?"
The younger midshipman interrupted, "So he was taken by two boys?"
"It isn't skuttlebutt," Hunt confirmed. "I heard the good lieutenant say they reloaded with the skill of Englishman! Lt. Kandle was the only one to survive the encounter, although, from my understanding, one of the privates was never found."
"We shot him twice before he ran." Henri grumbled.
"French murderer..." The older midshipman growled.
"English kidnapper..." Henri snarled right back.
Commander Faulknor waved the stick around, "Enough! This is war. In war men fight each other, kill, take spoils, and do so for country. Henri's actions is not of a murderer, it was of a fighting man. Yes, I said man. And our actions and the taking of his family was because we won and to the victor goes the spoils, just like this pistol went to him and is now in my hands! Now both of you refrain from poking the hornet's nest within each other, or so help me I will... Well you are both fighting men, so I will treat you as such and sentence you to lashes! Understood?"
Seeing both boys look at him with wide eyes he gave a single nod, "So, Commander Hunt, What can you tell us of the fate of Henri's family?"
"The father, son, and apprentices all knew woodworking and were impressed into service. The apprentices were impressed onto different ships as low crew since they are French. The son was taken as a cabin boy by Lord Howe once it was discovered the mother was English. This made the boy of English blood and he could read and write in English and French, so was deemed very valuable. Plus, he knew how to work wood for ships. The mother and daughters were taken back to Lord Howe's estate to live as English ladies as long as the boy and father served. I am pretty sure, the father is also serving on the Coventry. If Henri is of the same blood, then he is as much English as he is French and could serve as an Englishman. I had heard rumor the miller had enquired of two other sons, but we didn't have any information on them. It appears we now do. The injured boy, the third brother?"
At this point Henri decided to lie. Somehow he would have to figure out a way to let Octave know of this, though. Henri nodded, "We are twins."
"Twins?" Faulknor stated skeptically. "Other than the dark hair and blue eyes you look nothing alike!"
Henri went back to a large measure of truth, "I got real sick when I was two. I almost died, so I am the weak one. This is why I know how to read and write better than Octave. Mama schooled me more since I couldn't work in the mill as long as Octave."
At this Hunt raised an eyebrow, "Both of you read and write English and French?"
"I am better, but yes, sir."
"Interesting catch you have here, Commander. What are you going to do with them?"
"As much as I would like to keep them, I cannot. They both tried to take my ship and killed members of this crew. If this one's brother makes it through the night, do you have need of a couple of cabin boys?"
"Me, no... But my former commander is on impressment service in the channel, and I am sure Captain Nightingale would enjoy having lads capable of reading, writing, and speaking French with him. I can take them until word gets to him. If the other is fit enough to come with me, I will hand him over to my surgeon."
Life under Commander Hunt was grueling. The man didn't like to do anything except command. For Henri this meant having to keep the man's cabin clean, his boots shined, his bed made, his clothing washed, the officer's mess room cleaned before and after, and even making entries into the logbook of the HMS Mortar by dictation. Henri quickly found out Commander Hunt was not forgiving in missing of a single word, and while he tolerated a misspelled word, such mistakes were allowed a couple of times only. Any continued spelling failures, missed words or even the slightest neglect of any assigned duties resulted in a stick across the back of his legs. By the end of the first week, Henri figured his calves would be crisscrossed with red welts the rest of his life.
However, as he got used to what was expected, the beatings tapered off greatly. He also learned he could ask about spelling and the man would even help him a little. Still, by the third week aboard the Mortar he was seriously wondering if getting tossed over the side of the Furnace would have been a better fate.
During most of this time, Octave stayed below decks. The first week he was in and out of consciousness and came close to dying from the amount of blood he had lost in the storage locker on the Furnace. However, as he grew a little stronger, and Henri became more adept at what was expected, the two did get some time together. Henri used one of these moments of joy to carefully explain his lie about them being twins and, from the way Henri understood it, Octave had the chance of being treated as an Englishman if he just played along. While they were stripped of all their French gear and weapons, Commander Hunt allowed them both to keep their small wood carving tools. Within two weeks, members of the crew who saw what the boys were capable, started asking for items. As they obliged, the men started to show the 'French pirate boys' a hint of respect and acceptance.
It was the end of the first week of August 1959 before Octave was fit enough for 'regular duty'. However, the prior couple of weeks the watch officer took Octave as his own cabin boy and found the boy was not the best in penmanship or reading, but was passable in English and slightly better than passable in French. Octave played along with Henri's story about him working many more hours per day in the mill so schooling was limited. Fortunately, the watch officer bought the story hook, line and sinker and simply worked with the lad in the evenings to get him better at English.
August 30th, 1759 the HMS Mortar sailed toward England for resupply. It traveled with four others from the fleet. Just before midnight, the watch spotted a French merchant ship and broke off to give chase. While the merchant was small, it still had a few cannons. This meant as it tried to flee, it fired when it could bring its guns to bear. A trio of cannonballs struck the Mortar before the Mortar damaged her too badly and closed in. Four more cannon shots hit the side of the Mortar, and there was a brief firefight as the crew did a boarding action on the crippled merchant.
While the boys didn't take part in the fighting, they did contribute to repairs. By September 3rd, when the Mortar pulled in with the captured merchant, the hard work of the two boys had fully broken the ice with the crew. As the Mortar docked at Deptford, England, they were being called cabin boys with no talk of their 'French-ness'. Those who saw and heard the crew interact with Henri and Octave assumed they were English boys and part of the crew. At the same time, the surviving crew of the French merchant was handed over to the Navy. Both Henri and Octave cringed as seven of the crew were handed over to a ship in need of men, while the merchant's son was taken by a commander who knew enough French to 'turn the boy into something useful'. The other commander even paid Commander Hunt for the lad. Seeing this, the merchant tried to plead for his son, only to get a club over the back of the head. The last time Henri and Octave saw the man, he was being dragged away from the dock, unconscious. His son was taken the opposite direction with a hand clamped on the back of his neck while being told he would soon break and forget about his 'French-ness'. This only cemented Octave's desire to be thought of as having an English mother.
While some port freedoms where granted to the boys, they were not fully trusted. At least two crewmembers of the Mortar went with them whenever they were off the ship. Still, the twenty-two days on dry land was nice and they found an easy market for carved goods and they were each able to make enough to have pouches with some coin.
September 25th saw yet another page turn in the lives of the two boys. The English frigate, Vengeance had pulled into port the night before with a crippled Dutch merchant vessel in tow. The crew of the Vengeance disembarked off of both ships forcing a large number of Dutch sailors and a handful of family down the dock and into a warehouse the boy now knew to be an 'impressment hall'. As Octave and Henri finished their morning chores and moved to the deck of the Mortar to watch as dock hands went to work unloading the Dutch ship, Commander Hunt moved up behind them with two men, "A good catch and the vessel who took her is to be your new ship, boys."
As the boys turned, they found themselves face to face with a man in an English ship captain's uniform, a very fancy one. The man was clearly quite wealthy and another man in a lieutenant's uniform was slightly behind him.
The man in the captain's uniform moved up closer, looked down, and spoke in French, "So are you two French rapscallions or fine English boys?"
Henri was quick to pick up on the fact this was in part a trick. He responded in English, since an internal alarm told him if he spoke back in French he would be seen as more French than English by the man, "My brother and me are English blood, born in France and forced to fight for the French, sir."
The man's very hairy eyebrows shot up as he quickly turned to Octave.
Octave was extremely grateful Henri had gone first or he would have totally messed it up. Instead he, too, spoke in English, "This is the land we belong to. Mama is a proud English woman who taught us the love for the land here."
"Then why did she marry French and stay there?"
Henri wasn't going to get sucked in totally, "Our papa is a great fighting man and won her heart. Papa is a hard worker and good man."
"Yes, but good man!” Henri stated as strongly as he could muster, while wondering how anyone could have such nasty looking bushes for eyebrows. It was actually hard not to laugh at the guy.
The man turned back to Commander Hunt, "Good of character and strong of family, with strong looks to add to their attitude and fortitude. You are correct, they are quite a find." He then looked over his shoulder, "Lieutenant, either of them would make me a good cabin boy, what say you?"
"The taller one is more to my liking, plus I like his accent, but I agree. Either would be fine."
The captain nodded, and pulled out a handful of coins, "I'll give you six pounds for this one and four so my watch officer can have the taller one. His accent is too French to be worth as much as the smaller one."
At this Hunt gave a slight chuckle, "Come on Captain Nightingale! They are of age where you can enjoy them for at least a couple of years. They both read, write, and speak English and French, know how to work wood, and carve good enough to have a coin purse with a few bobs to their names. Plus, in a pinch, I have it on good account they can even fight! Surely you can go higher."
Captain Nightingale looked upwards, then down at the boys, "As your prices goes up, so does my expectations." He ran his hand through Henri's hair, noted the boy cringe but not back away, and with a long sigh he nodded and dug back into his pocket. "Ok, you are lucky you served under me with such distinction. Final offer, eight quid for this one, seven for the tall one. Not a bob more!"
Commander Hunt grinned, "At least you could buy your former watch officer a meal and a fine ale!"
"Oh, for the love of country, man!" Nightingale snickered, "Fine, bargained well and done!"
Turning back to the lieutenant, he handed over some more coin, "Get them looking like fine English lads and find them a couple of changes of clothing, along with soft nightshirts. No need to have anything rough in our beds.
"I have seen a sample of what they can carve, so get them new, English quality, tools as well. My cabin would look good with engraved trim. Finally, let them shop some, allow them to make themselves more English and more boy. I want all taint of France erased from them before they board my ship!"
As they were lead away, Octave glanced over at Henri, "Were we just sold?"
Henri looked worried as he glanced back, "I think so."
The lieutenant smiled and ruffled both boys' hair, "Sold for a bloody high price. I don't think I need to tell you if you run, you will be hunted down..."
"We are not stupid enough to run," Octave stated seriously. "We've seen what happens to those who fight impressment and they were not bought like we just were. We'll do what you want, just don't hurt us too much, please."
"Hurt? I do not have any intention of it. Captain Nightingale can be a little rough from what I have heard through my wall, but not nightly. Keep yourselves seen as English and he will go easier on you, too. He will save savage desires for non-English boys most of the time. Still, he paid massive coin, so you both belong to him first and foremost. Small one, you will be his and his cabin boy. And you," he ruffled Octave's hair, "are my cabin boy, but the captain will still make use of you to break up monotony.
“Boys, it is quite simple. Do your duty and you will be part of the crew. Resist, and you will be treated as bought and paid for property. As with any ship, the second you are aboard, the captain makes the laws and the men follow him to and through hell. Wish it or not, you two are now his little men to do with as he sees fit. I have heard him tell more than one boy, you can follow me through hell or I can take you to hell. The first is a much better option.
"I can tell you, there is an upside. For chances are good of rewards if your service is satisfactory. However, for such a price as I saw him pay, I would recommend you push yourselves to be beyond his expectations. Mine are quite low and will come with only some minor discomforts, which you will grow used to. I know I did when I was your age."
The boys remained silent as they were led around. There simply was nothing they wanted to talk about as long as the man's hands remained on them, which they did almost constantly. However, as they were fitted for clothing, the lieutenant was out of earshot. Octave glanced over to Henri, "I sure hope this will not be as bad as the Vestale."
"Me too," Henri responded with a resigned sigh. "But he could have bought a small boat for what he just paid for us, so I'm holding out little hope."
Life aboard the Vengeance quickly proved to be both better and worse than their stay on the Mortar. The actual chores were nowhere near as difficult, nor did either Captain Nightingale or the watch officer have Commander Hunt's extreme expectations. Physical punishments were few and far between, and when they were handed out, it was normally a single strike with a wood stick across the knuckles. However, from the first night both boys knew their places were in the men's beds. The other bed in each cabin was there for looks only. What the boys were told, proved to be accurate. Neither boy was routinely roughed up and while Captain Nightingale was far more demanding, Henri's flesh was only marked badly a few times, always when the captain had consumed more than his share of ale.
Interestingly enough, the man was somewhat apologetic the following days, giving Henri coin and even allowing Henri and Octave to learn other aspects of ship handling in lieu of chores. This allowed the lads to spend time with the gunnery crews where they learned how to load and fire cannons, work with the lower ship boys, called powder monkeys, and even spend a full day with the marines firing muskets and working on fighting and blade skills. One thing Captain Nightingale personally showed the boys, after a particularly rough night with Octave, was how to load a cannon with nails and what happened when said cannon was fired. While the range was extremely short the pattern of nails sticking into the wood made both boys shudder.
The fact both boys showed 'remarkable fighting skills' was even written into the logbook of the HMS Vengeance.
The Vengeance spent four weeks sailing close to the English shore, looking for merchant ships to board and take crew off of. The removed crew were then 'impressed into navy service', while the ship they were taken off of was allowed to sail onward, often times with just barely enough crew to make it to port. Enemy ships, particularly French ships, were attacked. Ships which resisted having crew impressed were also treated as hostile, but seldom damaged. All told, the four weeks saw three merchant ships boarded, one forcefully, and a French merchant captured. There was also a stint on land in Portsmouth where crew of the Vengeance went and took young men for service off the docks and even pulled them out of pubs. The British Navy needed men to fight the French and there were not enough volunteers, after all.
The night before Captain Nightingale planned on leaving Portsmouth, new orders were given. Since it was Henri's job to enter such things into the logbook, he was one of the first to know, "HMS Vengeance, removal from impressment duty and assignment to Commodore Duff's taskforce to aid in the blockade of Brest, France is to begin imminently. Sail with all due haste to join with the HMS Rochester and other ships of the line at Torbay. Admiral Hawke."
Stores were taken on and three of the impressed men were kept to round out the crew. The ship set sail late in the day and sailed hard for three days. As they entered the port of Torbay, Henri and Octave watched with wide eyes as the masts of other warships could be seen for as far as the eye could see. Since Henri and Octave were expected to do much of the writing for Captain Nightingale and the watch officer, they were brought with as Captain Nightingale ordered a small boat dropped. The six sailors rowed them around four huge warships, including the truly massive ninety-gun HMS Duke before they pulled alongside the HMS Rochester. While the men who rowed them were offered a meal with the rest of the crew, Henri and Octave got to go with Captain Nightingale to eat a very fancy meal with Captain, field promoted to Commodore, Duff and five other ship captains plus assorted officers, only three of which brought boys, the others all being Midshipmen.
While Henri and Octave said almost nothing, they did take extensive notes for the men over them. The air in the room was tense as Commodore Duff explained the French had formed a fleet at the Port of Brest large enough to launch an invasion of the English coast. The fleet was being kept blockaded in the port, but more ships were being requested to aid in this endeavor. They were to set sail and join other ships on the picket line, with orders not to let the invasion barges leave the bay. While Henri and Octave were largely ignored, they both heard officers from others ships remark at their abilities in writing and say they would make good midshipmen in a year or two. The fact Captain Nightingale agreed came as quite a surprise to both, since this meant it was possible they were actually being looked at as being future officers.
The Vengeance, along with six other ships, set sail on October 29th, 1759 and arrived to join many other ships in the blockade of Brest. The first few days were relatively boring, and both boys found the men they cabined for eager to work off the boredom in bed. By November 9th, when extreme weather blew in and forced many of the larger ships to make for the safety of Torbay, Henri in particular was glad to see the captain having to tend to matters of ship more. Since there were only a few ships remaining on the blockade, this meant the crew had to be sharper as well, which further took up the captain's time and left him with considerably less energy at night. Twice the two boys were left alone where they decided to find out why men liked to exploit them in the ways they had been used. If they hadn't been in love before, they certainly were by the time the second night together was finished.
The bad weather started to abate on November 13th, which only increased tensions. Eight ships maneuvered in and out of the bay, keeping a constant eye out for either the French fleet or ships trying to gain entry into Brest with supplies.
Early morning of November 20th, Octave's sharp eyes picked up sails to the east deep inside the harbor and shouted warning. It took only a pair of minutes for men up in the masts to verify. It was the French fleet and they were sailing straight toward the inner blockading ships.
Captain Nightingale didn't hesitate. He ordered the Vengeance to sail into the harbor and to alert the other ships of the blockade, fired a full broadside in the direction of the approaching French ships.
With the alert given, Commodore Duff was able to get eyes on almost a score of sails moving toward them. There was no chance his small fleet would be able to hold out against such an armada. He ordered all the ships to cut lines and flee. Throughout the morning the wind picked up and the seas became rougher, but the French were closing in on the trailing ship, the HMS Chatham, which the crew had done a poor job in sailing.
Both Henri and Octave watched as cannon shots fell only yards behind the Chatham. As this happened, Octave turned extremely pale, "Henri! Behind the lead French ship... It's the Vestale!"
Henri climbed a rope on the back mast to get a better view. Sure enough, there she was, the Vestale moving closer to the Chatham with every passing second. At the same time, he noticed the Rochester tack hard to the north, taking her closer to the approaching French ships, while ordering the other ships of the small fleet to do the same. "What is he doing? Trying to save one will only get us all killed! We can't take on almost twenty ships!"
While several of the crew agreed, Octave noticed something to the northwest and moved up the ropes close to Henri. After only a few seconds he pointed and called out with a loud voice, "Sails to the northwest! I think it is the Duke!"
Almost a dozen men climbed rigging to get a look even as Captain Nightingale ordered the Vengeance to tack northward. It took only a couple of minutes, with those on the sailing ropes clinging on for dear life, before a couple of the men verified it was indeed the sails of the HMS Duke and she was not alone. The Kingston, Warspite, and Hercules were right behind her. Just to the west of those ships another grouping of sails including Admiral Hawke's flagship, the HMS Royal George was spotted.
The French fleet was slow to notice the danger and turned to cutoff the tacking ships. At the same time, Captain Nightingale ordered all starboard guns set to maximum range and fired a broadside in the direction of the Calypso, the closest ship to the Chatham. While only two cannon balls hit the small corvette, it caused it, the Vestale, and the Sphynx to break off allowing the Chatham to get out of range and reform up with the hard tacking fleet under Commodore Duff.
By this point, the French ships saw the reason for the radical change of tactics and realized that by giving chase they were putting themselves to sail straight at the bulk of the oncoming British fleet. This created a great deal of confusion as the French admiral tried to get his ships to form up line abreast so they could fire broadsides at the approaching ships, but winds were from the west which made this difficult. After nearly thirty minutes with several cannon shots exchanged between the closer British ships and French ships, the French commander decided to flee since the British had the benefit of good wind and his own fleet was badly disorganized and spread from trying to chase the formerly fleeing ships.
Weather only become worse as the bulk of the British fleet gave chase. Henri and Octave found themselves owing their lives to sailors, who grabbed the boys, preventing them going overboard in the heavy seas. In the distance they could see rocks as the French fleet made toward the Bay of Quiberon. Captain Nightingale ordered sails furled to slow, figuring there was no way they would pursue the enemy ships into such treacherous waters, but he was soon proved wrong as Warspite and the Dorsetshire moved passed with Admiral Hawke's blessings. Both of the massive ships opened up on the rearmost ships of the French fleet.
Suddenly the HMS Resolution caught one of the larger French ships rounding Sholes and hit her hard with a pair of broadsides. The next three ships to go by the floundering French ship did the same, including the Vengeance.
Another French ship turned to support but a large wave hit her just as she opened up gunports and took on water forcing her to close gunports and tack hard away from her gravely battered fleet-mate.
Fighting continued to become heavier as did the seas. One of the largest French ships, with lower gunports open, took a truly massive wave and capsized in mere minutes, leading almost eight hundred souls aboard to a watery grave. Yet even as this happened, Octave and Henri moved to support the gun crews of the Vengeance as she moved up on the Vestale. Waves and wind battered the lads as they helped shove powder and iron balls into cannons. Several cannon shots were exchanged between the two ships, but neither was willing to open lower gunports so the battle was waged with upper deck guns and even musket fire. Neither ship sustained major damage, but as night fell the Vestale had taken a couple of shots close enough to the waterline to where she fled into the darkness. As the Vestale vanished into the stormy night, the watch officer ordered the Vengeance to move into deeper water and set anchor. It wasn't until this point did Henri and Octave discover Captain Nightingale had taken a chunk of wood to his shoulder and would be out of action for a goodly amount of time. Also, while the Vengeance was deemed as seaworthy, she wasn't by any means in great shape.
The next morning, as the French burned their surrounded flagship rather than let her be taken, the Vengeance was ordered back to Torbay. However, Admiral Hawke had somehow gotten word of a certain act of valiantly on the part of two cabin boys aboard the Vengeance and had them taken to Royal George even as the Vengeance set sail for England. As the two boys were brought aboard, they found themselves face to face with the flag officer of the British fleet.
Henri and Octave were escorted into the man's stateroom, and offered mugs of warm rum. The Admiral got straight to the point. "You two have really made names for yourselves. I have it straight out of Captain Nightingale's mouth, it was the two of you who first spotted the French fleet and led to the alarm being sounded in time for the Vengeance to warn the other ships. I also have it on good account that the two of you were on the deck and saw the lead ships of my fleet which allowed the Vengeance to turn and fire at ships closing on the rearmost ship in the fleet, which all but certainly saved her and the men aboard.
"On top of this I have account of you both loading deck guns and even firing muskets at a French ship as if possessed. While I take this all with gratitude for your service to His Majesty's Navy, I have a man aboard my ship who comes to me with quite a tale, a tale of two boys in a French forest... Lieutenant, if you would, please?"
Before more could be said, a side door opened and Henri and Octave found themselves face to face with Lieutenant Kandle. The man took a deep breath, "It is them, sir. Those two cost my family a hundred pounds!"
Figuring he was in serious trouble, Henri decided to get his say while he could. He cocked his head to the side, "And we were sold for only fifteen pounds to Captain Nightingale, so I guess you are worth more than we are, yet we took you down. I'd say Captain Nightingale got a much better deal."
"Yeah!" Octave joined in, "There is something not fair in this."
While the look on Lieutenant Kandle was of shock and rage, Admiral Hawke busted up in laughter, "Hearts of lions, these two!"
Seeing Lieutenant Kandle's hands form into fists, Admiral Hawke moved to stand between him and the lads. "Now, now Lieutenant, These two saved Duff's fleet and quite possibly made this victory! While the writers of history will give those of us in command credit, these two could well be the forgotten keys. We owe them much!"
Lieutenant Kandle took a deep breath, but still glared at the two with narrow eyes. "It seems it matters not who they fight for, they are warriors."
"Indeed they are," Admiral Hawke agreed, "but they cannot serve two masters. Who do you serve, boys, England or France?"
Octave spoke up, "Give me another shot at the Vestale, and there will be no question who I fight for!"
Seeing Henri nod, Admiral Hawke, glanced over at one of his other officers, "The Vestale?"
"French frigate, sir. It was the ship they were fighting when a cannon strike sent decking into Captain Nightingale."
"I sense a deep burning for vengeance in such a tone." The admiral stated seriously, "Now while I give this all some thought, there is something I can do for the two of you. Lieutenant Kandle, I expect them to be treated with the honor they deserve as you take them over to the Coventry." He then turned to another officer, "Just to side with caution, Lieutenant Grimm, go with them. I expect them back for dinner, when I let it be known what decision I come to."
The nervous boys were taken by rowboat to the HMS Coventry where they were met by Captain Burslem. He eyed the two boys for a moment, then noted the look on his lieutenant's face. "So these are the two?"
He moved and lifted each boy's chin, only to find his gaze met with frightened, but unflinching eyes. "Interesting." He turned to two other men on deck, "Take them to the officer's mess and bring up the worker."
The two boys were escorted to the back of the ship and left in the small officer's mess. A couple of tense minutes later the door opened and Henri found himself face to face with his father. Even as he raced to embrace the man, he pulled Octave with him. "Papa!"
Arnaud Pagel felt tears come into his eyes and his arms enveloped Henri in one arm and Octave in the other.
Henri couldn't help but sob and he accepted and cherished the massively strong embrace. After nearly five minutes he managed to whisper, "Papa, I told them Octave is my brother... If I hadn't..."
Arnaud kissed his son on the forehead, then reached over and pulled Octave closer and did the same. "To have made it back to me, even for this short moment, you are... you are... my lovely sons!"
The three were left alone for over two hours, where they were able to tell their amazing tales. Both boys left off the parts aboard the Vestale and sugar-coated the time aboard the Vengeance, but Arnaud was not a stupid man and picked up on more than the boys were willing to divulge. "Boys, your deep love of each other, nor anything you have been through, is nothing to be ashamed or troubled over. You are survivors and you have a chance for a much better life. Still, if you could find it within yourselves, I would not mind a grandchild or two from either or both of you. Also, should you ever get back to France, look in the stonewall I built to take water to the mill. The stone you are looking for has a pair of crosses engraved in it..."
Before more could be said, Captain Burslem entered the room looked at the fact the boys were in the man's arms and nodded, "So, Mr. Pagel, you now know both your other sons are alive and have led quite remarkable lives since our attack at St. Malo. Now, before I have them taken back to the Royal George, I have been ordered to ask you a single question. "Do you want your boys to be French or English?"
The man didn't hesitate, "My wife has the better blood, Captain."
"She is English, of course she does." Burslem remarked, "However, as your entire family is now English, and you know they are safe, how about you? Do you agree to serve as a member of this crew to your fullest?"
"I already have been, Captain."
"To an extent only. However, I have been granted permission to give you a position as assistant boatswain on the Maidstone and the pay to go with it should I sense a willingness to fight for England, which I am now sensing. You would no longer be seen as French and would be able to see your wife and daughters the next time the Maidstone sails into Portsmouth."
He looked down, "And my boys?"
"They will be well treated, and I am sure you will see them both again, not withstanding misfortune of war or sea."
"Then I agree."
"Outstanding. I will see to the transfer and Lieutenant Grill will take your boys back to the Royal George."
Henri and Octave were transported back to the flagship, cleaned up, given fresh clothing, and taken to the captain's mess for dinner. As they were ushered in, they were patted on the back by several officers and even some visiting captains. Admiral Hawke pointed to chairs on each side of him and the meal was served. The boys were actually talked to and asked to recount the fight on the deck of the Vengeance and even the skirmish out in the French woods.
Admiral Hawke remained strangely silent throughout, but as the meal was wrapping up and fresh pie was served to all, he finally stood. "Men of the fleet, I know you are all aware that my guests," he motioned down toward Henri and Octave, "have helped all of us to win the day and possibly even this war. After careful thought, I have decided to make these two an offer. Henri and Octave, would you please stand."
As the boys stood, Admiral Hawke moved up and put a hand over the shoulder of each boy, "I would take serious offence if the two of you did not accept entry into the British Navy as Midshipman."
Henri looked up stunned, "Do we get to serve together, sir..."
The man smiled, "I think I have enough pull to make sure you serve together."
This got some laughter from the surrounding men.
"So do you both accept?"
Henri glanced over to Octave, "Yes?"
Octave quickly nodded, "Yes!"
This caused a grin across the face of the admiral. "As an added act of appreciation, I will even let you pick the ship you serve aboard. Take tonight and talk it over."
As night fell over the fleet, the two boys enjoyed a private cabin and each other as they talked over their options. After nearly three hours Henri ran his hand over his friend's body, "I know he is mean, but he never once touched us or allowed others to touch us. Unless we go back to Nightingale, who can be a little rough, it is the best we can hope for."
Octave took a deep breath, then kissed Henri on the lips. "With any luck he will be a little less heavy on the stick since we will be midshipmen, but I agree. We don't know many captains, but at least we will not be mauled aboard his ship."
It took two months for word to reach Commander Hunt, who had been promoted and moved to the Unicorn. Henri and Octave were taken aboard as Midshipmen and because of their service and letter of recommendation from Admiral Hawke were given a small cabin of their own to share. Life was hard, but Commander Hunt was not as heavy handed on midshipman as he was with cabin boys.
January 8th, 1761, the Unicorn was sailing off Penmark Isles when she encountered a French frigate. Octave's keen eyes were first to catch the sails in the distance and alerted the crew. As Henri climbed up the rigging to get a better look he felt his heart speed up, "Octave! It is the Vestale!"
"Indeed it is, brother!" Octave shouted over from his vantage point, "Captain Hunt! It is the Vestale at thirty degrees starboard! She has yet to see us by the looks of it, but she soon will!"
Captain Hunt nodded, "Henri you have command of port guns, Octave, starboard. Keep on those bloody powder monkeys and don't let them slack! Sailing Master, tack hard starboard so we keep the southerly breeze to our advantage!"
An hour later the port guns of the Unicorn let loose with it first broadside into the Vestale. Fighting was fierce and lasted nearly four hours. Yet it was Henri who went up to the deck, loaded a cannon with nails and fired it up into the Vestale's masts when the two ships were almost touching which caused Vestale's rigging to fail, while killing a half dozen men. This crippled the Vestale's ability to fight. By the time the Vestale struck colors, Captain Hunt had been killed, as had another officer and over a dozen crew. The watch officer took command of the Unicorn and, because of lack of officers, sent Octave and Henri over to Vestale along with marines to accept surrender. As the boys came aboard, they found Commander Boisbertelot in the upper hold with his arm missing and close to death. The look on the man's face as Octave physically took possession of his cabin boy and the man handed Henri his sword and pistol was priceless for both boys. Knowing they had contributed to his death only made the victory more satisfying.
Fifteen minutes later they found Gunnery Mate Blanqueman, pinned in the lower gun bay with a cannon on his leg. Around him, men of the Vestale, some of whom recognized the boys, opened a wide path as they moved up on the helpless man.
Octave looked over to one of the sailors with him, "Mr. Allen, if you would please, I believe he would make a fit man to for keeping the lower storage hold clean. If he resists in the slightest beat him down until he thinks better of it. Better yet, since he looks strong, beat him down now, so he is docile before taking him over to the Unicorn."
At the same time Henri spotted two of the men who had led them back to the watch officer's quarters that fateful night. He pointed to them. "They look fit as well. Mr. Grant. See they are taken back to the Unicorn to serve as well. Strip them of all weapons and it would actually please me greatly if they resisted. Remember they aided in the death of our captain."
Before any of the three men the boys had pointed out could so much as raise their hands, wooden clubs descended on them and they fell unconscious. Henri and Octave exchanged satisfied nods. Henri ordered most of the crew put off on one of the isles, but kept the powder monkeys.
The boys were given men to get the ship back to England and handed command of Vestale. As night came, they entered the captain's cabin. They closed the door, pushed the terrified cabin boy over to toward the small bed, Seeing the boy's trembling hands start to undress himself, they waved him off, grinned at each other, and locked lips.