Thursday, November 12, 2015

Under the Black Ensign - Chapter 7 - Dishonorable British Sailors

There's a lot of ways to defuse any dramatic tension that your story might be generating.  A couple of chapters ago L. Ron Hubbard showed us how just by naming a chapter "Bristol Finds a Ship" you can neutralize any excitement caused by marooning a character, and in this chapter, "Black Ensign Against Red and White," you can similarly take all the thrills out of a naval confrontation by explaining in the third paragraph how "The Falcon was more than a match for the man-o'-war."  Truly, he was a literary pioneer.

So Bristol's sailing to Nevis, and going slow 'cause it's against the wind, and then there's this English man-o'-war in his way.  He knows he can defeat it easily (see above), he just doesn't see the point of fighting - there's nothing worth taking from the warship, and he'd rather get on to Nevis and try to smuggle Lady Jane out of Charlestown with a minimum of fuss.  Our hero is even willing to forgo teaching Sir Charles "a lesson" if it means getting his second officer back.  Though if Bristol has any deeper motivations for recovering "Jim," they aren't shared with the reader.

Anyway, this ship is in the way, it's sending up the signal flags for "come alongside," and Bristol recognizes it as the Terror - a ship last seen under the command of the pirate Captain Bryce, if you'll remember.  So Bristol decides to have a little chat with the enemy to gather some intelligence.  He's no fool, though, he has his "black gunners" readying weapons on the deck and the "black gun captains" standing by with torches to fire a broadside.  And Hubbard, it's been established that Bristol's crew is African.  You don't have to remind us every single time you refer to them.

When the two boats are close enough to yell at each other, good ole Lt. Ewell demands Bristol's surrender, and says that Bryce is being held prisoner at Charlestown.  This upsets Bristol, not so much because his rescuer now needs rescue himself, but because it means there will probably be additional ships to fight at Nevis.  He ignores Ewell's promise of clemency and says he'll give the other ship ten minutes to back off before he fires the broadsides.

But then, Captain Mannville makes a dramatic gesture, and the Terror's gun crews put matches to their weapons.  Wow, the 'civilized' navy guys are more dishonorable than the 'savage' pirates, etc.  Bristol's able to give his own men the order to fire before the Terror's cannons discharge, and then there's a brief action scene.

The man-o'-war's broadside was deafening.  A cloud of bitter smoke shot out, covering up the Falcon.  Iron smashed into the pirate's hull.  Splinters geysered, as deadly as bullets.

The Falcon's own guns exploded as one.  The rail was high and the hail of twenty-eight-pound shot ripped great holes in the man-o'-war's rigging, made havoc of the decks.  Bristol saw his helmsmen go down and snatched at the spinning spokes.  The Falcon, shrouded in the greasy powder fog, lunged for the Britisher's sail.

Wait, Bristol's helmsman went down during his ship's broadside, not during the Terror's attack?

To make a short story shorter, Bristol sends his borders over, then follows and runs along the Terror's rail "like a tightrope walker," slashing with his rapier all the way.  And there's another way to neuter tension, have your hero do something ridiculous like this.  Bristol dodges Mannville's pistols, menaces the captain, and convinces him to surrender.  The score: eight dead pirates, ten dead Britons.

Bristol goes back to trying to wring information out of his opponents, and Ewell explains that Bryce was ambushed at Martinico a few weeks ago by a full squadron of British vessels, and is now awaiting execution.  When he badmouths the pirate, Bristol reminds him

"Watch your tongue!" said Bristol curtly.  "Those blacks know you fired out of turn.  They'd like nothing better than to string you up by your thumbs and beat you with that cat-o'-nine over there."

Ewell sagged, incredulous.  "But... but you wouldn't!  You're not a barbarian, you're a gentleman!  What of the white prestige!"

In addition to inventing new ways to make an adventure story as excitement-free as possible, Hubbard wrote a whole book on subtlety.  It was three feet wide, weighed seventy pounds, and had glow-in-the-dark ink.

His patience wearing thin, Bristol demands specifics about Charlestown's defenses, and learns that there's only one man-o'-war anchored there that's operational - Bryce's "ships" (I guess he had more than the one he took the Terror with hidden away somewhere) can't be manned because they're short on sailors.  While admitting this, Ewell glances at both Captain Mannville and a nearby cat-o'-nine tails, thus implying that the bad guys' pointless brutality is, as usual for a Hubbard story, undermining their ability to oppose the good guys.  But Ewell rallies and boasts that the settlement is defended by a battery of big thousand-pound cannons that our hero will surely be unable to defeat.

"Ah, well," said Bristol, "it must be chanced.  Amara!  Get these prisoners under the hatch."

C'mon, man, at least pretend that there's a chance you'll lose.  But that might generate excitement over what could happen next chapter, and we can't have that, can we? 


Back to Chapter 6

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