“Here they come!” Shouted a Color Sergeant, “First Rank Ready!”
Over a hill to the south, a massive wave of black bodies came moving forward. Hide shields and long spears held by a human wave.
High in a tower, in a fort, somewhere in bloody Africa, an unwilling American sailor contemplated the sum of all the events that had led him to his current situation. He’d never wanted to go to sea, he’d never wanted to leave America. But he had, and here he was.
Across from the American a British gentleman explorer seemed to be having the time of his life. As a boy from a temporarily embarrassed aristocratic family he’d dreamed of adventure in the vast empire of Great Britain.
Children often dream of adventure on the high seas, and George Smythe was a typical British child in that regard. Like most childhood’s dreams the reality of adventure on the high seas was quite a disappointment. Bad food, bad smells, bad company, but every once in a while you’d have good days. And the good days would linger in memory, and through time the bad days would fade away, leaving the survivors of adventure to wax nostalgic about their exploits and pass on the lie of a dream to another generation.
Francis McGowan (the American) had never dreamed of being a sailor. That just sort of happened. After a cattle drive to the train yard and depositing his proceeds in the Wells Fargo bank in San Francisco, Francis had got rip roaringly drunk at a dockside tavern only to wake up out at sea, shanghai’d into a life of adventure on the high seas. Since then Francis had been around the world one and a half times, and was working his way back to America without any sort of documentation on who he really was.
Traveling is never without complications of course, adventure stories are generally nothing more than people trying to get from point A to point B with fate or other characters intervening along the way to make the journey difficult. And today, on his journey, Francis was experiencing difficulties.
Of course difficulties seem less challenging when you are looking at them down the buckhorn sites of a Sharps rifle, from behind a barricade of thick oak planks.
The Sharps Cavalry Carbine, chambered in the once ubiquitous 50-70 government was out of place in the South China sea. But Francis McGowan had found it there in a seedy dock town some port stops back, and had purchased it for a five dollar gold coin, along with several boxes of ammunition still in the US Government Property marked cardboard. The sailors bag barely held the rifle, but it did and it had followed Francis through several tramp steamers and sailing ships as he tried to find his way back home.
George Smythe’s Martini-Henry on the other hand, was quite at home wherever the British Flag had flown, and the mud walled fort they were currently occupying was of course once a proper British outpost.
“Remember, aim for the ones that look important.” Francis muttered to himself as he killed a native wearing a particularly impressive head dress among the first wave at 150 yards.
“I say old chum, we might actually live through this.” George spoke in a crisp matter of fact tones. His mustache still perfectly waxed into curls that made Francis think of the horns of a water buffalo the natives used as farm animals. The Martini-Henry boomed, and another attacker dropped just shy of 150 yards beyond the outer wall, probably 200 yards total.
“Nice shot.” Francis replied. “Bet you I can hit a man farther.” And Francis raised the rear ladder sight on the rifle to the 300 yard mark, and touched off the trigger. The wind must have kicked up a tad as the bullet just kicked up dirt to the left and beyond his intended victim, so Francis loaded another round, corrected for the windage, and watched in satisfaction as the man dropped from the solid hit.
“Wind must have kicked up there a bit.” George spoke in the same crisp accent. “Hard to tell from this high up though.” And he calmly raised the rear ladder sight on his Martini, and touched off the trigger. His bullet smacked down one of the natives just shy of 300 yards.
Francis raised up the ladder sight to 400, and holding for slightly more wind touched off the Sharps. The round hit low in the savage’s leg, but it was a hit and Francis had a bet going.
“Well done Yank.” George said, the barest hint of approval coming through in his clipped tone. The 450/577 Snyder cartridge plopped home into the exposed chamber and George held high for a 350 yard shot. The round missed, the wind had shifted. George calmly reloaded, corrected for wind, and pulled the trigger. The savage dropped.
Francis plugged another native warrior just shy of 400 yards, hitting him in the chest. A solid hit. George calmly matched, but his round hit lower, in the guts of the old native warrior.
“Seems rather unsporting” George said, almost sadly.
“Getting speared doesn’t suit me.” Francis replied.
The first wave of savages neared the walls of the fort. The small contingent of British Regulars went into their well rehearsed drill in two ranks and wave upon wave of attackers fell in the hail of Martini-Henry fire.
Francis and George continued their long range bombardment, picking off whoever looked more important than normal. The battle shifted, and as quickly as they’d come, the savages withdrew. Left behind were the bodies of the dead, and the carrion feeder birds already pecking at the unseeing eyes of the dead.
“Well chum, we lived through the day, and I dare say you did kill a man further than I did.” George said in his well mannered British accent.
“That horde will be back sure enough.” Francis replied, pulling a jute cord with a thick knot on one end through the barrel of the Sharps to remove the thick fouling.
“That’s a neat trick. Where did you learn it?” George asked as he opened the breach of his Martini and began running oiled patches through the barrel of his rifle using the steel ramrod.
“An old buffalo hunter.” Francis replied. “Of course he used rawhide and animal tallow, but that was what he had on hand.”
“Ingenious” George replied.