The Nutmeg of Consolation

The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian Read Free Book Online

Book: The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian Read Free Book Online
Authors: Patrick O’Brian
broken country behind while their friends amuse us with a false attack in front.'
    'They cannot know what the back of the camp is like. We can hold it with half a dozen men: there is a shocking great drop where the landslide swept the earth away.'
    'No, sir. And as the young person came in by the west gate and left by the south, she would not have seen the drop either. No doubt it is all their general's theory; but still I am sure he thought he could rely on surprise.'
    'How many men did you reckon?'
    'I counted twenty-nine, sir, but I may well have missed a few.'
    'Well, I think we can deal with that - Mr Reade, stop that goddam fool pointing at the trees. Stop it at once, d'ye hear me there? You and Harper can pick up the biggest stones you can carry and take them to the north wall steps at the double. Mr Welby, I think we can afford a round apiece to your eight best marksmen. A quarter of your people down before you start your attack is discouraging. It will be uncommon brave men that go on, with such a rise in front of them.'
    Almost at once the diversion began. The swivel-gun and the gingall fired as fast as they could; large bodies of men raced diagonally across and across the broad open slope between the camp and the building-slip, hallooing as they ran or howling like gibbons, and presently there was a furious discharge of crackers along the inner border of the forest. Jack had to shout to make himself heard. 'Mr Seymour, there is a forlorn hope about to make a dash for the silver by way of the north wall. Take Killick and Bonden and the eight Marines Mr Welby has told off together with whatever other men you need to line the wall and deal with the situation while we watch their attempt at amusing us and make sure it don't turn ugly.'
    The feint, the diversion, did not turn ugly: the real attack did. The storming-party had been picked for strength and courage and in spite of a heavy loss the moment they left cover they ran straight on to the steps and the foot of the wall, where Killick, beside himself with pale hatred and fury flung great stones down upon them, helped on either hand by the Marines, all the Captain's bargemen and his coxswain. Again and again a Dyak would make a back for another and up he would come, spear poised, only to be flung back at pike-point, pierced through with a cutlass or smashed with a fifty-pound stone. And presently there were no more to come. Seymour, nominally in command, had to beat on the men's backs to prevent them stoning the few dreadfully shattered cripples who were crawling off among the rocks. Even then Killick stood for a great while, livid and glaring, a boarding-axe in one hand and a jagged lump of basalt in the other.
    The diversion soon lost all conviction. The diagonal running to and fro grew languid, the crackers spluttered away to one last pop. The sun too was tiring of the day - it had been extraordinarily hot - and sloped westward through a deeper blue.
    'Yet even so, sir,' said Welby, 'I do not believe this is the end. Their general has lost a power of men and he has nothing to show for it. They have no water - see how they dig! - and they won't find any there. So they cannot wait. The general cannot wait. As soon as they have rested a little he will launch the whole lot at us, straight at us: he is a death or glory cove, I am sure. See how he harangues them, jumping up and down. Oh my God they have fired the schooner.'
    As the black smoke billowed up and away on the shifting breeze the whole camp burst out in a yell of desperate anger, frustration, plain grief. Jack raised his voice and hailed the gunner. 'Mr White, Mr White, there. Draw those carronades and reload with the very best round-shot we possess. Your mates have perhaps five minutes to chip them as smooth as ever they can: certainly not more. And Mr White, let there be slow-match at hand.'
    This time there were no manoeuvres, no diversions. They came steadily up the hill, at first at a trot and lastly at a

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