Just before 6 bells of the First watch, Moses informed me that the boats were loaded. I watched as they were cast off, filled to overflowing with men and equipment. With oars muffled, they set off to ferry the supplies, and the first of the landing party ashore. It would take three trips to land all the arms and men. Time was ticking by! Jordan had assured me, that, after checking the inclinometer, the list on the ship, was twelve degrees to port, ideal for his planned bombardment. He had even managed to raise, through the weather hatch, two more cannon from below, to add to the starboard battery. Eight cannon! All 16 pounders! That would wake them up ashore! I had planned to be in the first boat to leave, however I still felt a little groggy from my swimming experience, and so, knowing that the first boats were filled mainly with supplies, I decided to follow in the second landings. With the hour-glass only barely half done, the first of the boats reappeared out of the darkness. Quick exchanges of challenges, in low voices, and she was alongside. Men and more arms poured over the ship’s side and down the rope ladders. I took my place in the bows. We were crammed in like sardines! With barely a splash, we cast off, and the oars began their rhythmic pull towards shore. Ten minutes, and we were grating on the shingle of the beach. Eager hands grabbed at the boat’s gunwhales to heave us up onto the beach. All was quiet save for the sound of feet slipping on shingle. Not a sound from anyone’s lips! Good! We didn’t want to broadcast our arrival. The other boat ground upon the shingle, and more men poured out of that boat into the shallow water.
“Shhhhh! Keep silent men!” Perkins low voice ordered from over to my right. I walked with squelching feet to where he stood.
“Mr Perkins…..I will take eight men with me……we will take as much of the supplies as we can carry…Mr Connors has made us some rigs that will cradle the powder kegs….we will take one of these rigs, plus a barrel of powder with us, and proceed to the hinterland. You remain here on the beach until all are ashore, then follow us! We will be waiting for you somewhere along the path, if there is a path! Keep it silent…and remember…the bombardment starts in less than an hour! So look sharp and get the men moving as soon as they are ashore!”
“Aye aye sir!”
“In the last two boats, there will be the medical supplies. Mr Franklin will stay with those and be responsible only for those items. Everything that he might need, so don’t load him down with anything else”
“Aye aye sir!”
I picked the first seven men I found, and we gathered as much equipment as we thought we could carry. I searched for the man I wanted to help me with the powder keg! I knew exactly whom I wanted! I found him bustling around the supplies, laying them out on the dry shingle in the watery moonlight.
“I would like you to be in the advance party with me. I have to get a keg of powder ashore in the first party! Mr Connors has fashioned a cradle and a bridle, a sort of yoke, he assures me two men can wear this thing and carry the powder handsomely! But I feel you are the man I would like by my side to take the weight with me! Ok?”
We found the cradle rig and rolled a powder keg into it. By slipping the canvas yokes around our shoulders, we found, that it was quite easy to carry the load, as long as we followed one behind the other at the right distance. In fact, it was much easier than I imagined it would be.
I gathered my party around me.
“Right men! Keep silent! No talking! And try and keep the rattle of equipment to a minimum!”
I thought the latter was a little too much to ask, as each man was laden down with as much as he could carry!
One last look around….and we started off across the beach…We needed to find the path! Hopefully it wasn’t a huge climb directly up a cliff!
“Someone run on ahead see if you can spot a pathway!”
“Seaman Lean sir! I’ll go!”
He disappeared into the night. The land to our left dipped down to the shore. This we had noticed as we had first made landfall. So, with any luck, there would be a pathway, or something over on our left somewhere! We trudged on across the shingle. The crunching beneath our feet gradually giving way to another softer sound. Sand!
Lean called out from the darkness!
“Yes Lean….. what is it?”
He came breathlessly out of the night.
“I have found a path sir. Up the cliff! Above that there is a pathway leading inland. A large one! Wide enough to take a horse and wagon! I think it’s fashioned from some sort of marine shell or coral sir! We have to climb about thirty or forty feet up a cliff path, then, when we reach the top, this wide path leads inland! But it is a very noisy footing we will be on sir!”
“Very well! Thank you Lean…we might have to rig a line and hoist the powder keg up the first forty feet then?”
“Looks like sir!”
“Lead on then Lean!” I picked up the cradle strop and replaced it around my shoulders, I felt Jawalla doing the same behind me. We started off, following in the footsteps of the seaman Lean. We soon came to the escarpment that contained a crudely fashioned pathway. It zig-zagged upwards. Footholds had been chopped out of the soil, and it looked to be well worn! I knelt in the pale light of the moon and inspected our “path” It looked to be quite a hazardous path at that! Loose shale in most places!
“Cap’n suh! I take over in front Cap’n! You follow sir!”
I didn’t think it mattered who was in front, or who was behind. We would have to rig a line and hoist the keg from the bottom to the top that was for sure!
“Jawalla go in front Cap’n…you follow!”
Puzzled as I was, we changed places, and, as the others started to climb, we fell in behind them.
I found the going much easier than I had anticipated. Maybe it was because the pathway tacked across the face of the cliff, rather than directly up it. After a few minutes though, I realised just why the climb was much easier than I had thought! Jawalla was taking all the weight upon himself! He was hauling not only the barrel of powder, but me too! Determined not to let this be the case, I redoubled my efforts and soon found the right pace to keep the equilibrium between us! It was working….whatever load he was taking upon his shoulders….the upward momentum continued! Voices….whispering ahead! We were nearing the top?… Yes!…… We were nearly at the top! A few more breathless minutes…and we stood on the cliff edge looking inland. It was a wide path indeed that meandered its way towards the interior. We dropped our burden and I stepped up to Jawalla…put my arm around his shoulder.
“You were right Isaac my friend…it was easier….But I also know why!”
“Cap’n…I have been slave! I know dis work! Is easier!”
“I know…I know! And I also know you took all the load most of the way up!”
“Did I Cap’n?” His white teeth gleamed in the moonlight…he was smiling. This man, a man who was severely injured not long ago, had carried me and our burden most of the way up the cliff! A gesture not lost on me. I would remember!
We recovered our load and headed inland. Suddenly, the moon broke out of the thin cloud and lit up the surrounding landscape. Trees on our left about seventy yards away…nothing ahead…..but there, in the distance, to our right, about two o’clock, a tall tower poked its head above the brush! We must be starkly silhouetted against the moon! Damn!!
I whispered the order to break and head for the tree line! If they had a lookout posted…we had been seen for certain!!!
(To be cont.........)