“So William, I beat you again!”
“Perhaps you should not brag so Georgina, when we are wed I may beat as often as I like.”
She hotly replied, “No man will ever beat me William Young, husband or not!”
Watching him as he unstrung his bow and started walking towards her, she immediately regretted her sharp-tongued reply. She remembered vividly her parents announcing her betrothal to him, the feeling of elation, the love for him. A feeling she had held from the very first moment they met, each time she looked at him love welled up inside her, so much that she thought her heart would burst.
As he approached her he said, “You are closer to the butt than me.”
“But always a better shot,” she replied.
“When we are wed if I cannot beat you Georgina Adams then it seems that I shall have to resort to the brank if I am to curb your sharp tongue.”
Only to receive the rebuttal of, “You had best be careful if you are to butt obedience in this wife and remember who is the better shot.”
“God’s breath Georgina! Are we to wed in rancour for our parent’s sake with no humour between us, will our love be lost in this a maelstrom?”
Why do I rile him so, she thought, I love him so deeply but love will not make me the chattel of any man.
“You cannot measure the love I have for you William Young and I believe that you love me in equal measure. I long for you to plight your troth and I will return the same but man or not, husband to be or not, I will not be curbed in my thoughts nor in my manner.”
“Oh I know you love me Georgina and I do love you in equal measure, but I would that you were not be so headstrong and quick to take offence where non is intended.”
“So you concede that I am the better shot?”
“Indeed you are: but I am the better man, and if you will not let me be that then no love, however great it may be, can bind us.”
A moment of fear and dread overcame her. She would die without her soulmate. Her spirited manner constantly set her at odds with William, odds she mostly regretted. When her father had announced their betrothal she saw his look of surprise when she acquiesced to it without a murmur of protest. Now here she was, again provoking William who she knew would give his life for her, and her eyes blurred as they filled with tears.
He gently pulled her to his chest, “Whatever is wrong Georgina, why are you so upset? If I spoke harshly to you I am sorry.”
“If I am headstrong and quick with my tongue I never intend to affront you William.”
He gently brushed away a tear from her cheek. “I know you have tried so hard to be the boy that your father wanted and you have certainly not disappointed him in that and neither do you ever affront me. Though you may irritate me to the point of despair and strike the fear of god into your father with your behaviour, I am sure that he would not change you for a son and I would never want for another woman. When we are wed I will not deny you wearing breeches, nor would I think that I could.”
He gently kissed her. In the warmth of his embrace Georgina could deny him nothing, “I love you William Young.’
“And I love you Georgina Adams.”
They held each other close when a voice called out, “William, the beacons have been lit. The French fleet is in the Solent and anchored off St Helens.”
Parting they saw Williams young brother running across the meadow towards them. Panting heavily from the exertion Stephen excitedly repeated, “The French fleet is in the Solent anchored off St Helen’s. It is said to be so large that you could jump from deck to deck and reach Portsmouth without ever getting your feet wet.”
Stephen spotted Georgina’s bow and quiver of arrows lying on the ground and quickly forgetting his news and the imminent danger it presented said, “Can I use your bow Georgina?”
“Only if you replace any arrows that you may lose.”
He picked up the bow and quiver and ran excitedly closer to the butt.
Georgina Looked at William, “What are we to do?”
“If the invasion fleet is as large as Stephen would have us believe, then I doubt that we are in any immediate danger. Such a fleet has been expected and the island’s defences have been strengthened. It is the mainland that they want to invade, I doubt that they will waste their time on us. I suggest that we go to the house, harness a horse each and ride to Nodes Point to see this fleet ourselves.” He called out to Stephen, “Stephen we are going to the house. We intend to ride to Nodes Point and see this fleet for ourselves.”
Their families were both fearful and curious about the French fleet in the Solent. The island had been invaded many times in the past by the French and stories of the looting, raping and pillaging carried out by these marauders had become island lore. They thrilled at Williams description of how carracks Great Harry and Mary Rose had led a much smaller English fleet in the harrying of the their French foe. How the narrow channel of the Solent and God’s gift of favourable tides and winds had enabled the English fleet to prevent the taking of Portsmouth by the French. Relieved that the French fleet anchored off St Helens had not come to take the island they told William and Georgina that the they should return tomorrow to observe and report on the battle.
From their vantage at Nodes Point William and Georgina were able to observe the fleets battling it out in the Spithead they could also watch the big guns at Nettlestone fort and the St Helens barrage keeping the French galleys away from the island. Clearly the French had come intent on capturing Portsmouth but the land artillery kept them at bay making a direct attack on Portsmouth impossible. The English fleet played a defensive game never venturing far from the land defences and refusing to be drawn into battle against a much larger foe.
Nevertheless, the Great Harry and the Mary Rose led the fleet in taunting the French who sent forward galleys to attack the English fleet. This ploy seems to have worked and while the English rowbarges had some effect against the French galleys, the galleys were intent on inflicting as much damage as they could on the English fleet. As they watched the sea battle being played out they both gasped in horror as they saw the Mary Rose tilt and sink. Now filled with despair at what they took to be a bad omen, William and Georgina had seen enough and went home to report on the days events to their parents.
They were sure that their fathers had made an excuse to go outside and cry over the loss of the Mary Rose, their mothers were not so inhibited and wept openly. Whether they cried for all souls that died serving the vanity of kings or whether cried in fear of their own fate now, William and Georgina did not know. Whatever their reason they tried to console their parents as best they could, assuring them that they would be safe from harm.
“You must go back again tomorrow to see what the French will do next,” Williams father had said, but the following day was quite uneventful, boring even. When they reported back Williams father again insisted that they go and observe the fleet movements. On this day they watched as the French galleys instead of attacking the English fleet turn towards the island, bombarding Nettlestone fort and the St Helens battery. Both quickly fell to the French bombardment and unhindered, the French assailed the island at both points. Turning to Georgina William said, “Quickly you must ride and tell our parents what has happened and for them to prepare for an attack or flee inland.”
“I will not leave you at such a time William.’
He embraced her firmly, kissed her on the lips and said, “You must do as I say in this Georgina. We have not time to argue. I must report to the local militia.”
He kissed her again saying, “Quickly now Georgina, mount up and go.”
The French having captured Bembridge Island now found themselves marooned on it when the local militia destroyed the bridge connecting it to the island shore. The islanders hopes of saving their town were destroyed when another contingent of invaders arrived from the South. Having battled with the militia at Sandown they pursued them over Bembridge Down until the militia escaped by destroying the bridge at the village Yarbridge. The French then set fire to the houses in Yarbridge before marching on Bembridge.
From his vantage point above Bembridge harbour William watched as the French troops and their mercenaries ransacked and pillaged Bembridge, realising there was nothing that he could do he looked north hoping that Georgina, his brother Stephen and both their families were safe. His worst fears were realised when he saw palls of smoke rising. Seeking out the commander of the militia, William told him what he had seen. He suggested that they might find themselves surrounded and that as he knew that area well he proposed that he reconnoitre it and report back his findings.
“Very well,” the commander said and while not taken in by Williams offer to reconnoitre the area nonetheless thought it a good idea telling him to make sure that he came back as he did not want to have to come and find him.
“If I am not dead you can be sure that I will return sir and with an archer who is a much better shot then me.”
With that William mounted his horse and set of at a gallop for the farms. He stopped as he approached the copse leading to the farms, he could see the smoke rising and smell the burning wood. Just then a shot rang out followed by laughter. The shot had clearly not been aimed at him, so he dismounted and led his horse through copse until he could see the farms beyond. Tethering his horse he crept quietly forward until he could clearly see both farmhouses. Georgina’s home was ablaze and burning fiercely as were the barns of both farmhouses. Three hackbutters were in the open surrounding the farmhouse and he assumed that there had to be more that he could not see at the rear, there was a body of another hackbuter lying close to farmhouse with an arrow in its chest. He assumed that they had now taken positions beyond the range of any longbow that may fire on them from the farmhouse, but they were now in easy range of his.
William placed five arrows before him in the ground, strung his bow and nocked a sixth arrow. He killed the first hackbutter instantly. The men had stopped laughing and turned wildly towards the copse. One was trying to reload his hackbut and other was swivelling his on its support searching for a target. He fell with squeal causing the third man to panic and turn to run. William took aim but his arrow only caught the man in his buttocks and while it caused him to drop his weapon and its support, it did not slow him down and he was soon out of range behind the farmhouse.
“That must be you William, who else would waste an arrow shooting a man in his buttocks.”
He was elated to hear Georgina’s voice even with its barbed comment on his archery skills.
“What do we do now? How many more of them are there?” He called back.
“There are three more at the rear, not counting another dead one. Once the barn fire cools down we are lost with such an exposed blind spot.”
Just then two hackbutters came into his view, one either side of the farmhouse and beyond the range of his longbow. He called out to Georgina telling her what the attackers were doing. Shortly after the door opened and Stephen came out running towards him followed by Georgina with her bow nocked. She moved towards the corner of the farmhouse away from the burning barn. A shot rang out and Stephen stumbled, Georgina ran towards the hackbutter who was feverishly reloading his weapon. Before he could put it back on its stock he fell with an arrow in his chest. Another shot rang out and Georgina fell.
“Georgina, Georgina,” William screamed in anguish and rushed out of the copse towards where Stephen had stumbled. A shot aimed by the hackbutter on the other side of farmhouse narrowly missed him. On reaching Stephen he found him more shaken than injured, the shot had grazed his skull and he was lying fearfully in the long grass. “Listen carefully”, he said to Stephen. “When I tell you to run you must do so. Run to the copse and do not stop to look back — whatever happens. There you will find my horse. Ride to the militia in the woods at St Helens and tell the commander what has happened here and bring back reinforcements. Now run Stephen — run for your life!”
He ran towards the burning barn waiting for the hackbutter to come into view. Taking no chances this hackbutter had moved in an arc intending to keep beyond the range of an archer, but he hadn’t seen what Georgina had done. He and William viewed each other and fired together. In his haste he missed and William’s arrow lodged in his forked stock splitting it in two. Throwing his hackbut to the ground he fled with his two remaining companions following him — one of them limping badly.
William ran to Georgina who was lying still — her shirt and breeches covered in blood. “Georgina, my dearest Georgina, my dearest beloved Georgina”, he cried, cradling her head in his arms while his tears fell like rain on her face.
“William” she murmured. “I knew you would come.”
He carried her into the farmhouse and without thinking ordered both fathers to post themselves outside and keep watch for any other attackers. Then he found himself ushered outside as the two mothers attended to Georgina’s wound. In a while he was called back inside by his mother saying that Georgina wanted to see him.
Georgina lay in his bed looking very sickly. “Dearest William, I knew that you would rescue us if we held out long enough. I hope that Stephen is safe. Our action may have been a little foolhardy but were both agreed on it and could see no other way out of our predicament. ”
“He is, and hopefully on his way back here with reinforcements. The rescue may have more to do with the bravery of you and Stephen rather than mine.”
“And perhaps a little luck William, my wound is a flesh wound that should heal quickly,” she replied. Adding, “How many of the attackers did we bring down?”
“Five,” he replied. “Three by your bow and two by mine. We will not count the one I shot in the buttocks.”
“Oh!” She whispered, as if to herself. Seemingly wishing that he might have bested her score. He would tell her about the split stock now mounted above the fireplace later.