barefoot_bard: (Johnson)
[personal profile] barefoot_bard
Title: On Getting One's Step
Rating: K+ (Suitable for ages 13 and above)
Disclaimers: All names given in this story are fictional and any relation to actual persons, living or dead, is purely incidental. No profit is being made from this story.
Story summary: Prompt response: Cross Johnson's reaction to being promoted Corporal. Dominica, April 1802.
Author's Note: Any factual errors that occur within are my own.



There was something to be said for cold water. Even in the deepening twilight, the heat of the day refused to ease. Spring in the West Indies was not so harsh as summer but the it was still draining, moreso after a few days' brisk fighting. Putting down an armed mutiny could never be anything but a bloody business and in the blazing sunshine, the whole business took a particular toll. The number of men suffering from the heat and lack of water attested to that plainly enough. Lads who managed to avoid getting wounded in the actual fighting were brought down by thirst and overheating. Damned West Indies.

Cross Johnson reckoned himself fortunate to have made it through the day without once unstopping his canteen. His throat felt parched to the point of cracking and his mouth and tongue were heavily caked with powder, all of which made the act of speaking, never mind swallowing, a painful exercise. Worse, his lips had begun to crack and in fact were oozing blood. That coppery tang did not mix well with the harsh grit of the grains of powder. He eyed his canteen with an expression not unlike distaste and wondered if taking the smallest sip was such a bad idea after all. He was an old enough hand by now to know that the first swallow of water only sharpened the thirst and made a man want to drink more.

Soon's he finished cleaning his musket, he'd take a drink. The coming of night meant the temperature would gradually drop and then it'd be safer to slake one's thirst. He eased his tongue carefully over his cracked lips and ignored the grating pain of powder in the open splits. Then he bent his head over his musket to resume the work of cleaning out the lock. He'd burned through most of his cartridges over the course of the day and it showed. Had it not been for his flint shattering as the afternoon began to wane, he reckoned he'd have emptied his cartridge box entirely. Then again, that bayonet charge had done the job at last, neatly removing any need to find a replacement flint so he could keep firing.

The lads around him, likewise sitting hunched over their muskets, were a damned fine set of Marines. Not a one of them had wavered or hesitated. If anything, they'd raced against each other, to fire the most, to be the quickest fixing bayonets, to be the man at the head of the charge. The latter distinction fell to the stout youngster Jem Ferris, who'd beaten even Johnson at being the first to advance at the double. Johnson grinned slightly to himself as he remembered it. It'd been a nice show of speed from Ferris, who had seldom been the first to do anything quickly or even voluntarily, the sleepy-eyed farmer that he was. Johnson had been hard on his heels though, with Billy Morgan and Jack Graham close behind him. Amazingly, Ferris had come through the charge unscathed.

Morgan had gone down as they'd closed with the mutineers' faltering ranks, shot through the chest, and Graham managed, somehow, to keep his feet and keep moving despite taking a ball in the side. The rest of the lads had come bounding along behind them, bayonets leading and howling and cheering like madmen. It had been a pretty little fight then, long as it lasted. Other than a glancing slash from a sword across his leg, Johnson had come out of it fine shape. Ferris didn't earn so much as a scratch and in hoarse, croaking voices, the lads were still ribbing him about it. Mad's a hare but untouchable, they said with powder-blackened grins. Of Johnson, the lads just shook their heads in mock-despair and, so he could hear, observed to each other that wasn't it unsporting to stop in the midst of a bayonet-fight to reload and fire, and even his flint had felt so, else it wouldn't have shattered?

The cheerful teasing was a little irritating, but he let it pass unanswered. Instead, he put a new flint in between the jaws and tightened the jaw screw down. Any other time, he might even have joined them, but this evening he saw little point in wasting the energy. Instead, he fitted the lock plate back into place and held the musket up to check that the fit was tight. It was. He was just turning the lock plate screws on the opposite side of the stock when Sergeant Hamilton came tramping wearily up. He looked as filthy and tattered as the lads, which was as firm a point in his favour as it ever was.

"Johnson. Mister Adams wants to see yer."

"Ho, ye'll be for it with the 'tenant now, losin' to Wild Jem!" Somebody called and was immediately told to shut it by Sergeant Hamilton.

Grimacing to himself, Johnson set his musket aside and eased stiffly to his feet. "Yes, Sarn't." There was no point asking what the officer wanted. Even if he knew, Hamilton wouldn't tell him. He was of the old school, Hamilton was. He was thus one of the few men aboard Magnificent for whom Johnson had any respect. With the sergeant leading, he headed toward where a couple of officers stood in hushed conversation.

"Private Johnson, sir," Hamilton announced, stamping his heels together and making a crisp salute.

Lieutenant Adams returned the salute, but his eyes were on Johnson. A lanthorn hanging from a nearby pole cast flickering shadows across the officers' faces, making it difficult to discern their expressions. So, Johnson stood silently to attention and waited for the inevitable rebuke, since he had never before been summoned to an officer's presence for any other reason.

"Private Johnson. You're no doubt aware that Corporal Holloway was killed in today's action. A regrettable loss but such is the price of battle. I'm promoting you into his place, pending of course confirmation from Plymouth. Sergeant Hamilton will instruct you on your new duties. Carry on."

Stunned, Johnson barely remembered to salute before about-turning and marching off. The gruff rasp of Hamilton's voice giving him the commands helped. Christ. What had just happened? Only when they were a safe distance from the officers did Hamilton halt and shove something jumbled and white into Johnson's hand.

"Come see me in the mornin', Corp'l. Yer learnin' starts then. Till then, see the lads finish up their cleanin'. Gardner, Smith, Temple, an' Wilkins are down for sentry-go. Get 'em up an' inspect their kit. Anythin' outta place is yers to answer for. I'll come round agin in ten minutes to collect 'em so they best be perfectly ready. To yer duties, Corp'l."

"Aye aye, Sarn't."

Hamilton shoved off into the darkness, which by now was nearly complete. Lanthorns had been lit and placed at close intervals by a party of seamen. The light thus provided allowed Johnson the chance to study the loops of wool Hamilton had given him. Corporal Holloway's shoulder knot. It didn't bother him in the least to be holding something that had no doubt just been taken off a dead man. Instead, what he held in his hand represented the achievement he'd longed for. Promotion. Recognition. At last.

Grinning, heedless of the flickers of pain in his lips as the cracked skin stretched and began to bleed anew, Johnson reached up to unbutton his right shoulder flap. It took a moment to find the smallest loop and slid the flap through it, but once this was managed, the shoulder knot fell naturally into place. It felt as at home there as if he'd always worn it. Now, Johnson thought with fierce happiness, it was time to unstop his canteen and take a drink.

Date: 2015-05-04 06:41 pm (UTC)
sharpiefan: Age of Sail Marine ringing a ship's bell (Marine bell)
From: [personal profile] sharpiefan
(He'll regret it if he loses it, that's all I'm saying.)

There are some folks who are natural NCOs. Nice to see Johnson's one of 'em - even with his temper.

Date: 2015-05-04 07:11 pm (UTC)
wayward_shadows: (Climbing Marine)
From: [personal profile] wayward_shadows
(He will at that. Eventually.)

Yeah! Funnily enough, he wasn't always quite so grumpy as he is in-game. But hey, rank changes a man... :D

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