The Devil & Georges Servan Aballaird – Part One

Posted: November 15, 2014 in Short stories, starts & writing, The Devil & Georges Servan Aballaird
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Impressment

The Press Gang. Those great servants to the Admiralty.
They were always going to get a hold of me someday. You don’t spend as much time as I had done, all those… How long had it been? It was impossible to say. Weeks? Months? Sodden and unconscious from too much drink. Rum, ale, grog, sky blue, it didn’t matter a hell of a lot what really. Lucky you go a week in some parts without those sadistic bastards getting their paws on you.
But the timing is a blur. I do not remember anything clearly. Nothing since that cold night in January anyways. In the middle of the journey of my life and I found myself within an impenetrable darkness where the straight way was lost, where I turned to grog houses and inns and in the gutter and worse I found my repose.The next thing I knew I had awoken seasick and with a pounding head and some jaw-smith bastard pushing something into my hands and yelling to be ready to move and “don’t get it wet or you’re as good as fucking dead!” I thought momentarily some clap-shoulder had dragged me off to Jericho, but I found no irons when I looked at my feet.
Something else behind this cruel funniment then.
The weeks, months, years of boozing, however long it had been, must then have started to wear off a little for I began to form a picture of what must have happened. My first clear thoughts in a long time. Those bastards must have waited outside an inn for me – which inn exactly I cannot say – and then dragged me off to sea the moment I’d staggered outside.
And now here I was. Sitting in the creaking hull of a boat on the way to I had not the faintest idea where. Impressed but far from rummin’-well impressed.
I found myself surrounded by the smell of shit and something else. A maw-wallop more animal than man and it was overpowering. Most of all I recall the claret banging in my ears and the walls revolving as though I were tied to a great axle at the centre of the cart-wheeling world. That and the lemon-yellow colour of the cracked skin on my hands. I could tell without looking, but in the gloom below deck that yellow skin showed the world and me just what an ill state I was in. Add to that the aching in my skull, the spinning, the smell, and the sickly swish and swill of the bilge below; I was in a bad way. That was even before the realisation that my skin was the colour of sulphur and my aching knuckles a whiter shade for they gripped the length of a bleeding musket! I was in a very bad way. From the look I got from the cheery cove sitting on the floor opposite me I drew even less hope. It seemed that he had long ago come to realise what was only now beginning to dawn on me, and though he was cold-water army sober I gathered from his look that he was feeling as wretched as I was.
Somebody yelled and all around men started dragging themselves upright as a thunderous, head-splitting commotion started up. I somehow clambered to my feet without falling or shitting through my teeth or otherwise disgracing myself, but apart from that small success it seemed very doubtful that things for us were likely to improve any time soon.

In London, the story went, so was I later to discover, that double-tongued Pitt and cakey Dundas had made clear their desire for Dunkirk. To appease their Continental Cousins, thousands of us poor bastards – we the reluctant rag-tag conscripts and unwitting counter-revolutionaries of the Duke of York – were grabbed in the street, or as we stepped out of church on a Sunday, or as we blundered out of the inn at night, and sent on our way to become cannon fodder for some Austrian prince or other; some bastard named Coburg.
We had all heard the stories of the expert marksmanship of the French artillery and this Coburg had us marked for attacks on places called Condé and Valenciennes. Were it not for my poor health and the fact it took all of my focus and strength of will just to maintain control of my feeble body, to keep from pissing or shitting myself or otherwise shooting the cat, let alone force it to stand, move, to keep a grip on the musket, to follow the basic orders barked at me by some highty-tighty child masquerading as an officer, I don’t doubt for a second that I’d have hesitated before blasting my own brains out the moment I got off the boat. Rather that than marching a thousand miles only to be blown into a thousand tiny pieces by a well-aimed French cannonball.
Little did I know my happy immediate fate lay by the sea, in the besieged port town of Dunkirk.
Still, when I consider this scene from the safety of this future tense, I marvel that I was able to get to my feet, let alone do what I ultimately did.

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