27. Shipwreck

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Aldrick lifted his telescope and scanned the shoreline for movement as Elizabeth slowly swung around on her rode, snubbed at one shackle. His Officer of the Watch joined him a minute later to report the anchor well set.

"Thank you, Mister Wilson. Did you see from where the shot came?"

"It was very fine to port, Sir. Near the base of the hill." He pointed as the ship swung. "Be in our quarter when we settle to the anchor."

"That is what I saw. Flashed through the port foremast shrouds." The pair moved aft to the port quarter to keep the area in view, arriving as the oiled canvas was being removed from the fourth swivel gun.

"Two loaded with scattershot and primed, Sir," reported the gunnery mate. "Tother two shouldna be a minute."

"Thank you, Mate. Eyes on the notch at the bottom of the hill. What distance do you think?"

"Less than two hundred. Tween there and one fifty yards, Sir."

Aldrick nodded. "Aye. Looks short of a cable. What think you, Mister Wilson?"

"Three-fourths a cable, maybe a bit more."

"Elevate for one eighty, Gunner."

"Aye, Sir. One eighty."

Less than a minute later, the mate reported, "All four loaded, primed, elevated and aimed, Sir."

"Very good. Appears they have quit."

"Or they have but one —" Wilson was cut off by a bright flash.

As the crack sounded, Aldrick ordered, "All four. At the flash. Fire"

His reply was four loud cracks in near unison. He caught a splash to port out of the corner of his eye; then he watched a broad swath of leaves being torn from low in the trees and bushes ashore. Uncovering his ears, he said, "Reload. Continue with grapeshot."

"Aye, Sir."

Less than half a minute later, the mate reported, "All four loaded and ready, Sir."

Aldrick covered his ears. "Fire."

Again, the small shot ripped through the trees, splintering trunks and branches, and again, Aldrick ordered, "Reload."

After the third volley, he said, "Clean, reload and wait for response."

"Aye, Sir. Swab, reload and wait."

While they stood waiting in the fading light, they scanned the shorelines of the islands for movement, then Aldrick lowered his telescope and pointed. "There, near dead astern. Is that a hulk? I thought it a rock, but it now appears as a ship's bottom."

Wilson lifted his glass and focused. "Aye, a ship. I see her rudder hanging. Looks blown into the shallows and capsized."

"Likely dragged her anchor in a storm."

"The crew defending it explains the cannon shots."

"Why would they shoot rather than welcome rescue?"

"Demented from starvation." Wilson shrugged. "Hunger and thirst and fear do crazy things." 

As they talked, it grew quickly dark in the brief tropical twilight. After a long while with no response from ashore, Aldrick said, "We will be their target, a dark shape in the starry sky, and then illuminated by the moon an hour before midnight. Keep the guns loaded, primed and manned. We will arm the watch and post them stem to stern, both sides. No lamps or smoking above deck. No lamps nor candles in any space with portlights or windows. 

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