With huts and other structures surrounding the decks, the hulk no longer resembled the proud warship she had once been. All around her bulwarks, marines with loaded muskets stood guard; any prisoners, for that was what these crewmen were, diving overboard and attempting to escape, were shot. Many chose that way to end their miserable existence. It was within this hulk that Bates hoped to pick up - not necessarily seamen - but fighting men: men adept at cleaving a skull with a cutlass or severing an arm with a hatchet; men skilled in butchering other men.....
More quiescent now, they followed the Coxswain back under the quarterdeck and again sat at the tables. James walked slowly and deliberately towards them stopping short of the first table.
"You may have heard of the name Osprey. Well this is not her; this is the Kestrel, a sister ship. I am her Captain, James Morgan late of the Osprey. At this moment the Osprey is at sea, returning to Plymouth, but she won't make it: she is heading into a trap set for her by the French. We, with your help, are going to her aid."
"In the past, we have had our share... more than our share of success," said James correcting himself.
"Some would say we are lucky. But I'm here to tell you that it has nothing at all to do with luck. Our good fortune is because everyone in the ship gives of his best. Everyone, including the officers: working, striving, fighting as a team; and everyone is treated with respect.
There are few floggings aboard this ship. There are few floggings because no one does anything to deserve a flogging. That is not to say that there are no punishments. The last man to be punished on board the Osprey, a traitor; who betrayed his comrades, was hanged," James neglected to say that that extreme punishment was meted out three years before.
"The clothes you will wear are black. They are not the mark of Cain. They are not the mark of Cain unless you cause them to be. They can be a mark of courage, a uniform to be worn with pride. Make of them what you will.
I chose it for you because you were all 'blacked'. No one wanted you. You are considered less than worthless: but my Coxswain thinks he sees something in you that others do not; and I must listen to him, for he is a man of great experience when it comes to measuring the worth of a man.
Because of your black clothes we will both be able to pick you out more clearly; whether you are on the topmast hauling canvas or fighting on the deck of a Frenchman.
Twelve months from now I would like it if every man in the fleet cursed his luck that he was not chosen as one of the Kestrel Black shirts. As far as I am concerned your slate is clean. Your reputation is what you decide it will be, from this day on," said James with emphasis, "There will not be another chance: any that fail me will be returned to the Service Ship," James looked around slowly and into every face, before turning to leave.
James stopped and turned back. One man his face scarred not by a sharp weapon, but with what looked like beatings with fists or boots, stood up, and before speaking further, looked about him at the men on the tables, now all looking at him. It was Shakespeare Jones.
"Aye you're right. We have heard of the Osprey... and of her Captain, James Morgan. We make no apology for our reputations. We did nothing more than act as men would, when all decency and respect is stripped from them; and we tell you this sir. We will be the men you would want us to be... or die in the attempt."
Author: Glyn Adams
Title: The Sailor Prince
Series: The Face of the Enemy
First Published by: Glyn Adams
Date: 26 February 2015