Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction based on the characters established and defined in the movie and book titled Gladiator It is strictly for entertainment purposes. Please do not copy, publish or alter this work in any way without the written permission of the author.
“Sshhh!” The Captain would have vented a curse at the clumsy lot scuttling up the rocky hillside after him, but the sound of loose rock falling into Willemstad harbour below was din enough. The Surprise had come within sight of the island just as the afternoon watch was replaced by the dog. Whilst Jack Aubrey was pleased that his chronometers had found his longitude to the second — at sixty-five guineas, the pair by Kendall had better be good!, he could not be so sanguine at the sight of the fort barring his entrance into the capital’s fine harbour. There it nested, a bulwark of coral, cannon, and rock, standing between him and his orders.
“The HMS Surprise shall proceed, forthwith, to the Island of Curaçao, seize it, and render harmless all her defences.“
The Admiralty had been as succinct as it had been deaf to his request for another ship or two to fill out his offense.
Jack had voiced the bitterest of complaints about the penny-wise and pound-foolishness of the Admiralty to Stephen just two nights before. The two had just completed a turn on a Haydn Adagio in D. Even in the humid Caribbean air, Stephen was pleased to hear the strings had held their pitch.
“Oh, the Surprise is full of able seaman, and, thanks to you, in as good health as can be expected, following their turn in blockading Toulon and falling into a Biscay gale.”
Stephen noted Jack spoke these words without so much as an attempt at a bad pun. Not like Jack.
“The Dutch are able fighters, you know; they do not fire and run like the Dons. And they shoot low, as we do, to damage the hull.” He rosined his bow. “Between you and me, brother, I think one of the Admiralty Lords wants me to fail.”
“How so, honey?” Stephen had never known his hearty friend to be a suspicious cove.
“Lucky Jack. Lucky,” was the only reply. “I should indeed have the most amazing good luck to take on the fort at Willemstad with one ship. The entrance to the harbour is very narrow, y’know, with the trickiest of currents. Ah, we have a good chart, and our master has more experience than hair-” it was a pale attempt at humour, it being a running jest aboard the Surprise how Hawkins was a fool for every nostrum alleged to bring back fuzz to his bald pate. He shrugged. “Killick! Some port and a biscuit, if you please!”
The nightshirted creature arrived, grumbling, his hands bearing a tray on which rested the requested sustenance. “‘If you please — pah! As if that will make good your shimmying up the masthead this forenoon in your best stockings. There’s a great big ladder in them that I can’t fix.”
“So I shall take Curacao in my second-best.” He grinned to Stephen at Killick’s apoplectic gasp.
“A fine spectacle we shall be, Sir. Why not just wear the cotton ones — or pantaloons?” Killick could not resist that last gibe as he traipsed out of the great cabin.
Now, night having fallen, Jack wedged a hand against the cliff face and pulled himself up. Ugh — perhaps the Doctor was right. A few more turns about the quarterdeck and a few less forkfuls of gammon. No. How was he to keep up his strength on half rations and the pap Maturin had recommended? Still, he could feel the sweat pouring from his forehead and rolling between his warmly-covered shoulder-blades. Hmm. This half-climb, half-crawl had his front powdered in dirt — Killick would be in high dudgeon after this.
At least his invading party were well fed. Right after Jack had directed the master to warp the Surprise just out of possible enemy sight, he had ordered each mess to receive a hot meal. Though it was Wednesday, he had given the further order the men were to eat Thursday rations, salt pork and pease. What skinflint at the Admiralty thought a fellow could fight on pease, oatmeal, and cheese, particularly when the cheese was more rind than not? His own stomach rumbled happily, crammed with the last hen from the forecastle coop, and a bottle of Burgundy, real Burgundy, that Stephen had mysteriously acquired during a fortnight’s alleged stay at Dartmouth. Dijon, more like.
At last they reached the fortress wall. Tackles were thrown out. They held, and even better, no defender launched himself upon the wall to force them off. Up and over each man went, pigtails flying. Each officer paused to brush himself off, for it would not do to attack like savages. Despite Killick’s whine, his second-best stockings would suffice, Jack thought. He only wished he had the ready to spare to replace his epaulettes. They were sadly tarnished. Well, no time to think on that.
“Ready, lads; as I told you.” Captain Aubrey led his troop boldly forward, towards the noise and the light within. From the sound, it was clear the officers, at least, were distracted by music. Jack hoped they were also distracted by their ginever and schnapps.
All warlike thoughts fled Jack’s mind as he peered beyond the curtain separating the outer wall from the inner sound and light. Round and uncovered, save for the wisps of cloth and flummery their owners had cast upon them. Jack swallowed hard. Bosoms!
Babbington would have dashed out, then and there, to capture ahold of the owner of one particularly noble set, milky-rose and as plush as a pillow in a lord’s country house, but his Captain’s gold-laced arm clapped upon him.
‘Pon my word!” hissed Captain Kilpatrick (the captain of the Marines), but that was all he could venture forth. His eyes too, eight months out from the sight of his wife’s firm pair, darted hither and yon before settling upon two ripe ‘uns, the colour of coffee with cream.
The sailors and marines behind their officers were merely to be heard breathing hard, though Williams, a midshipman whose skin condition and odd facial hair disclosed his recent accession to puberty, fainted at the vision and had to be revived by quiet slaps.
Not taking his eyes off the points of interest- so charming were they all, Jack could not yet focus on one, or even two — Jack backed quietly up. Somehow Captain Kilpatrick saw his hand signal.
“This argues for a change in our plan,” Aubrey murmured. “It would not be right to frighten the females.”
Kilpatrick nodded with vigor.
“At my signal, have your men raise their muskets. Surprises, you do the same. Williams, did you hear that?”
“Sir?” replied the midshipman giddily, his eyes almost crossing from their attempt to focus on a set of ripe peaches whirling not five yards away in a spirited country-dance.
“Just follow the rest, Williams. And you can serve on the midnight watch tonight in the maintop. The sea breeze will do you good.”
The crack of musket triggers, drawn back and made ready to fire, sounded a coda to the gay tune. A number of Dutch soldiers and officers claimed partners, or sought new ones, before recognizing the vision of British navy and scarlet for what it was.
“Jan, Jan, what is this?” called out a female voice. A matron, her bosom jutting proudly forth from its bed of rose pink (“a first-rater from the last century,” thought Jack) strode forward, only a slight lurch to her step.
“Pardon me, Ma’am.” Jack did his utmost to bow politely and hold out his sword menacingly in tandem. Menacingly, but not too menacingly. “By the order of His Most Noble Majesty, King George the Third, Sovereign of The United Kingdom and Ireland, we are hereby taking over this island.” With his left hand, he motioned his men forward. They took aim as best they could at the uniformed men in the room.
Even this did not at first register with the lady; perhaps she was too emboldened by the spirits contained within the fruit punch. A grey haired fellow with a bright red ribbon across his noble paunch stepped tentatively forward. The lady pinned her pale blue eye upon him.
“Jan, you did not tell me you had invited guests. We have not nearly enough broodjes or beer, although I suppose the Gouda, rye bread, and koek may suffice.” She returned her cold stare towards Jack. “Do you like saté?”
Seeing that her earnest inquiry was not in jest, Jack replied gravely. “Yes, Ma’am.”