Outgunned and on their own, the crew of the sloop Annabelle sail into a fight they must win. From the pages of CAPTAIN’S CROSS:
Bear and Michele came up through the forward hatch and moved to the guns on the starboard side. Thomas joined them again and they set about loading first the six pounder then the big nine. They heaved the guns back from the rail and when loaded pulled them back out. The three then went back below to fetch the makings for the larboard set. Ben leaned against the wheel holding it in place as he glassed the fast approaching vessel.
Bear brought up the second swivel gun and mounted it on the starboard rail forward. Michele followed behind and loaded it. The guns were ready. Four against fourteen.
Still no flag showing from the square rigger. They were close enough that Ben could see the sails were not in good condition and were set sloppily. Still the old ship was cutting through the water well and had turned more south to close and cut them off. No good reason for that, Ben knew.
“Thomas, come up here and run up our colors,” Ben ordered. The boy scampered from the cannons up to the quarterdeck and Ben showed him where the flags were kept in the locker next to Suzanne’s canvas chair. “We’ll set their heads to wondering, that one with the white background.” Ben watched Thomas come out with the flag he wanted.
Ben showed Thomas where to tie on the corners of the flag then told him to wait just a bit more. “I want them to see it go up,” Ben said. The men were at the cannons on the starboard side and Wills was forward ready to trim sails. Jovalle stood beside Wills ready to help. Pistols and cutlasses had appeared and Bear’s great rifle was propped near the passageway.
Thomas wondered what the smoke coming from the bow of the other ship was but soon figured it out when a geyser of water erupted from the sea ahead of the Annabelle.
As the roar of the cannon shot echoed past, Thomas shouted, “Oh my! They shot at us!” He could see men on the deck of the two masted ship off to the west of them. They were bare chested or covered in dirty shirts. Most had dark beards and some were waving swords into the air.
The other ship fired their bow cannon again and the ball buzzed across just in front of Annabelle’s bowsprit. Now close enough to hear the shouts from the attacker the older ship turned to run beside them and bring guns to bear. The turn was made too soon though, misjudging Annabelle’s speed and they remained just behind Annabelle a ways.
Ben shouted, “Ready on the starboard guns! Thomas, run up the colors. Wills, coming across her bow.”
Thomas watched the white flag with the four armed red cross in the center fly out in the wind as he pulled the halyard and took it to the top of the mast. It was like no other flag he had ever seen, “What country flag is it, sir?” he shouted as Ben turned Annabelle starboard and began to cross in front of the pirates. The flag had doves in the corners of the red cross and a dove suspended from the lower arm. It stood straight out in the wind that was roaring now that they were hard into it.
Ben could hear the shouting of the captain and the crack of muskets from the attacking ship as he barked orders to his men. He recognized the language. The other captain was urging his men to aim into the rigging to slow the prize then board, in French. Privateers, pirates as well, but under a French Letter of Marque?
The speed of Annabelle jumped up and as they moved in front of the other ship it fired the bow cannon again sending a ball straight across the deck under the boom just missing the head of Bear standing at the six pounder with his slow match at the touchhole.
“Fire!” Ben shouted. Bear touched off the cannon and it roared out right over the bowsprit of the bigger ship. Sails on the attacker crumpled and lines split and flew out into the water. Bear had loaded the guns for a close in fight. Chain shot. He also sprinkled a few grape shot in the nine pounder too. Bear and the others moved aft to the nine pounder and fired that as well. More canvas, wood splinters and rope scattered on the deck of the privateer and two men were launched over the side into the sea.
“She’s the Huguenot Cross, Thomas. They’ll not forget it if they live out the day!”