The early-morning sultry sun simmered in the sky as the light Channel winds playfully tickled the sails of HMS Commander, a 24-gun sixth-rate frigate, as she cruised down the English Channel to deliver urgent orders to the Vice Admiral at Gibraltar.
"Mr Hughes. Have the larboard and starboard guns loaded and run out," commanded Captain Clooney, "It wouldn't do for the men to get rusty on this short voyage".
"Aye, aye sir." Midshipman Hughes walked purposely to the upper gun deck, a short distance on a small 'jackass frigate'. The crew were working hard cleaning the deck all except one man.
"You there! What the hell do you think you're doing?" demanded Hughes. The man turned slowly round, showing his embarrassed face, as he pulled out the wine bottle from his mouth. Dribbling profusely he attempted to save himself: "I beggin' yer pardon sir, I wa jus' inspecting this 'ere wine bottle I found."
Hughes felt the anger boiling up inside him - he could not allow this unruly behaviour to spread throughout the ship. "We're members of the Royal Navy not Frenchmen! Nine whips for this man." He could not contemplate how this delinquent expected to deceive him with such cheap lies. Such men eluded the naval officer. Fortunately the majority of His Britannic Majesty's crewmen were highly professional he mused.
"Sir?" begged Watson, an ordinary seaman, who looked relieved when Hughes finally looked around. "Oh sorry, I did not see you there Watson," he mumbled as his train of thought was disturbed.
"Not at all sir," he kowtowed to his superior, "Should I take him away now to sober up before his punishment?"
"Oh yes. Splendid."
Hughes stood on the spot for a few seconds as he remembered his original task. "Men!" he addressed, "Get out the guns." He promptly walked to the other side of the deck and repeated his command. Then ,taking a place in the middle of the gun deck, so that the men on both sides could hear him, he withdrew his father's recherché pocket-watch. He eyed up the crew on both sides. "Extra tot of rum for the fastest team. Load, fire and reload. Now!"
Enticed by the reward, the men on both sides rapidly ran to their correct positions as the loading procedure began perfectly due to the intense training that had been drilled into them. As if it were a synchronized affair, the wet swabs were rammed into every gun on both sides of the ship and then pulled out in tandem. He watched Simmons pour the gunpowder into his cannon and glanced over as Jenkins followed his gunpowder with a cloth wad. He checked his watch to see that ten seconds had taken place so far - they were executing the steps in good time. All the men rammed in their shots and set off the flintlocks by pulling the lanyards. The guns were run out and there was a deafening roar as thirty two shots were thrown out of the ship, shortly followed by the sound of distant splashes. Hughes smiled at the work of his crew, who he had personally trained. He waited to see which would be the first side to reload. Suddenly, there was a scream from above.
"Unidentified ship spotted sir!" someone shouted. Hughes desperately looked round the deck to find he was the only Officer present. He gulped. "Reload, reload now!" he urged.
He turned to the nearest man to him and ordered, "Rouse the Captain NOW!" The man scurried off to the Captain's cabin. Hughes slipped his right hand into his jacket pocket and withdrew a telescope. Focusing on the distant ship, he estimating a distance of about three miles. She was a 32-gun frigate, far larger than HMS Commander, but he could not make out the flag.
"Midshipman Hughes!," cried a bulky red coated man running towards him. Hughes instantly recognized him as Lieutenant Mills of the marines. Mills continued, "I saw your man running downstairs and instantly came up to see what was going on."
"We've spotted an unidentified ship, sir. Do you know if there are any British ships in the area?"
Mills' face instantly conveyed a look of worry as he replied: "No. There isn't. Have the guns loaded at once!"
"Right, I’ll go get my marines, you take command of the deck till I return."
"Errr, yes. Sir." Hughes found all this hard to take in. One minute ago he was enjoying presiding over the friendly competition in the training of his men and now they were plunged into imminent danger as the ship, their home, was perilously close to a large enemy vessel. And he was, momentarily albeit, in charge of the ship!
there are many new words for me,i read it with some difficulty,but it's a good read.