An American Encounter
By Skihee :)
This story is rated PG-13
Chapter 1 "Attack!"
Mr. Bracegirdle peered through his spyglass. Mr. Hornblower looked in the direction where he was focused. He could see a faint light and a dim image of something on the horizon.
"What is it, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"I'm not sure, Mr. Hornblower, but I believe it may be pirates. Inform the Captain, Mr. Cutter."
Horatio peered through his spyglass. He waited as the flag flapped open on the ship in the distance. Black as night with smatterings of white, the symbols of death and danger.
The pirate ship was next to a smaller vessel which seemed to be on fire. Searching the lines, he found her flag, the Stars and Stripes, American.
On the deck of the American ship, the pirates swarmed seeking what might be taken for their use. The muscular, bearded, pirate captain was dressed in broad black-striped pantaloons, knee boots, and a puff white shirt with a red unbuttoned waistcoat. About his head was a red bandanna knotted above his golden earringed left ear. A scar by his left eye gave history to the permanent squint in which it remained. It was this side of his face that leaned in towards the man he grasped by the collar and offered his query.
"Is this all the powder stores ye've got, man?"he asked, revealing separated teeth, which on closer inspection was not separation at all but blackened left over food from several past meals.
"We are not a fighting ship!"declared the Captain.
"Bah!"yelled the pirate and hit him across the face with the butt of his sword, knocking him to the deck. He wheeled around looking for who else he might assault.
An older man appeared in the hatchway speaking to someone behind. His hair was a neatly queued, silver gray, his eyes blue. He was in his shirt sleeves with a slate gray waistcoat and matching trousers. The pirate pulled him out of the way causing him to sprawl upon the deck.
"A wench!" cried the pirate.
He dashed down the hatchway. A cohort came from below cutting off any escape route for the woman. The captain grabbed her and slung her over his shoulder. The fiend's captive pounded his taught back for all she was worth. Despite the full skirt of the blue satin dress, he grasped her legs tightly in his muscled left arm, carrying her up the stairs.
"Let me go! Let me go! You brute!" she shouted.
"Pamela!" called the older man, recovering on the deck. "I beg you do not take my daughter!"
The pirate back-handed him with his cutlass, serving up a mighty blow to the older man's jaw. He reeled backwards against the gunwale.
"Avast!" he yelled and bounded to the rail to jump to the pirate ship.
Her father jumped onto the side and followed. The pirate put the woman down and she pushed against his chest.
"You beast! You cretin!"
"Captain, ship a windward! Looks like a British frigate!"
"Damn their eyes!"cursed the pirate. "Take what powder stores she's got! Quickly! Shove away, me hearties! Let's be off!"
The young woman joined her father, clinging onto him. "Father, what are we to do?"
"We've got to jump, Pam! Come on!" He headed for the side rail, pulling her with him.
"Avast, there, old man!" He grabbed the girl's arm.
"Let her go!"demanded her father.
"Who asked you on board my ship?" With one yank he pulled the girl out of his grasp, slinging her towards the quarter-deck supporting wall. She ricocheted off the wall back towards her father. The pirate advanced toward the older man and, with his cutlass, ripped it across his throat, nearly severing the head.
"FATHER!" She covered her eyes with her forearm as his blood spurt upon her. The body lay in a heap; its life's blood running onto the deck. Pamela stared at the blood soaking the skirt of her dress.
The pirate grabbed the lifted arm and jerked her to her feet. She beat at him with her fists as hard as she could.
The pirate laughed at the feeble attempts to hurt him, grabbed her wrist, and twisted her arm behind her back, yanking her long, dark hair, pulling her head back. She cried out, her face twisted with pain and sorrow. Her father lay before her, his blood in an ever expanding pool. "No! NO!" she screamed.
"A fiery lass, eh? I like my women fiery!" He looked at her with lusty eyes. " Put her in my cabin!" He pushed her toward his crewman.
"Aye, aye, Captain." The subordinate dragged her down the hatchway, screaming and fighting till he had to pin her elbows together behind her to protect himself.
"Loose those sails, me hearties! We'll out run that frigate yet!" Though as he looked back to see her running before the wind, a slight twinge of doubt seized his heart. Then, he remembered his prize awaiting him in his cabin. "Mr. Hedge, call me if needs be. I'll be in me cabin." He grinned a lusty smile at his companion, gave a final glance to starboard at the British Frigate, and went below.
"It's not enough we have to deal with the French and Spanish navies, but we've got to deal with pirates, as well. Is that an American flag on the ship afire, Mr. Hornblower?"asked Bracegirdle.
"Yes, it is, sir."
"What is it, Mr. Bracegirdle?"asked Captain Pellew as he ascended to the quarter-deck.
"Pirates, sir, attacking an American ship it appears."
"Beat to quarters, Mr. Hornblower. Let's see if we can give our American cousins a hand."
"Aye, aye, sir."
In a moment, the crew came on deck, ports were opened, and cannon readied.
"Prepare to fire a warning shot, Mr. Bracegirdle."
Even as the shot was prepared, the pirate ship was seen to be moving off from the American vessel. It was obvious they were aware of the approach of the British frigate and were making a run for it.
"Mr. Kennedy, get a crew ready to assist the American ship with repairs."
"Aye, aye, sir!"
"Mr. Hornblower, call away a boat for the repair crew."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
The Indefatigable ran swiftly down upon the American ship. Her hands could be seen manning water cannon to douse the fires. Kennedy and an assortment of repair men loaded into the longboat and made their way to the American ship. The Indy reset sail and flew with the wind!
"Do you think the American ship can be salvaged, sir?" asked Hornblower. He watched Kennedy's boat reach the side and the men clamor up the side.
The Captain glanced at him, "Mr. Kennedy, will manage without you, Mr. Hornblower. I have every confidence in his abilities."
"Yes, sir,"said Hornblower shyly.
"Besides I have other plans for you."
"We're going to get those pirates, Mr. Hornblower. Mark my words," Pellew nodded his head sharply. "Mr. Bowles, close haul. I want every inch of canvas to the wind, sir."
When the pirate entered his cabin, the girl was weeping, tears streaming down her cheeks, but to hand, a dagger. She glared, breathing heavily.
"Ho ho! Another fight! Makes the winnin's all the sweeter!" He grinned and then made his lunge. Reaching out, he grabbed the blade from her grasp. She never had a chance to use the dagger. Holding her hands behind her back, the pirate put his filthy face in hers, gone red with rage.
"Give us a kiss, my lovely!"
She spit in his face.
He emitted a low growl as he wiped the spittle, then licked it from his hand. Before she could make another move, he tied her wrists together with ropes. The other end he tied to the bedpost. The fastenings dug into her wrists as she tried to kick him. He grabbed at the bodice of her dress ripping it open to reveal her heaving white breasts. He grinned evilly.
"Lovely!" He began to undo the front of his trousers.
You could feel the Indefatigable surge on the waves in hot pursuit of the pirate ship. She was fleet upon the sea and she was gaining on her prey.
"Guns ready to fire across her bow. Though I know she won't heave to."
Hornblower barely heard the last sentence as the Captain spoke softly to himself. He was right, the pirate ship ignored the warning.
"Very well, Mr. Bracegirdle, fire as she bears."
The door of the cabin burst open. The pirate turned on the intruder with the same dagger she had tried to use on him.
"Cap'n, it's the frigate!" said the cabin boy quickly. "She's nearly upon us!" At that moment the ship shuddered. The pirate threw the dagger into the door post, inches from the head of the boy, and ran out, leaving the girl to struggle with her bonds.
Tears poured down her cheeks. The pain in her wrists and
hands increased as she, with a force of her will, pulled her hands
from the ropes binding them. A cry came as she wrenched her hands
free. Blood poured from them onto her dress and mingled with
the blood of her father. She tugged the front of the bodice closed,
and, with tears clouding her vision, she grabbed the dagger and
ran, she knew not where, in the tween decks. She would find a
place to hide and if hiding would not do, she knew a sure use
for the dagger. The ship shuddered again followed by screams
from the decks above
The Indy leapt upon the pirate ship as a lion, cannons roaring, breaking her masts and holing her hull. Pirates were the scourge of the ocean. No pity was spared them. Dolphin was dismasted and wallowing upon the waves.
"Prepare to board her, Mr. Hornblower. Captain McCann, the marines!"
The Indy was along side. Her marines and seamen flooded over the sides with a shout! Shots were fired, and the clang of sabers rang out. The fight was hot, and more blood splashed the decks. Out numbered, the call was given to surrender.
The damage to the ship was extensive. Cannon shot holes in the hull, masts and spars littering the deck, sails draping into the water, cables and lines like so much spaghetti coiling in the sea.
The marines and seamen soon had the pirate ship swept of her inhabitants. Captain Pellew looked down on the filthy rabble staring up at him, hate in their eyes.
"Put them in irons, Mr. Bracegirdle." The captured men were herded off to their confinement. "Mr. Hornblower, make repairs to this ship, clean her up as much as possible, and meet us in Gibraltar. Take whatever supplies you'll need to repair her."
"Aye, aye, sir."
While Hornblower gathered his men and supplies, Leftenant Rampling with another division saw to the clearing away of bodies from Dolphin's decks.
While a list of repair supplies were gathered, Hornblower took Matthews, Starns, and Styles to Dolphin to survey the damage and give his first orders. Patching of shot holes was of prime necessity. Starns, the carpenter, would be in charge. He assigned Styles to oversee the pump men and Matthews, the cordage and canvas. He made a cursory inspection of food stores and water supplies.
Emerging back on deck, he heard the black flag slapping noisily from the quarter deck Oldroyd was hauling it down and hoisting the white ensign of the British Navy.
"Well, Mr. Hornblower?" called Captain Pellew from Indy's quarter-deck.
"All is well, sir. We will effect repairs and meet you
in Gibraltar. What about Mr. Kennedy, sir?"
"We will be collecting Mr. Kennedy before we sail our prisoners home, Mr. Hornblower."
"Aye, sir. God's speed, sir."
"And to you, Mr. Hornblower."
As the ships separated, the Indy swung round to beat back nor'west, Hornblower looked at the mess of a sailing vessel. "All right men, get to work clearing this raffle away."
Mr. Bracegirdle looked at his Captain.
"You have a concern, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"No, sir. Just thinking what a life we live where we leave one crew on a burning ship and another on one in danger of sinking."
Pellew smiled a wry smile at his First Lieutenant. "Courage, Mr. Bracegirdle, courage. They will be all right."
Deep below the decks of Dolphin, the young woman was tightly jammed between a horizontal shelf and the deck above. She was gently sobbing over the events of the past few hours. She kept seeing the filthy pirate rake his saber across the throat of her father, blood spewing over the decks, even onto her favorite blue dress, now stained and ripped. She shuddered at the thought of her near rape.
Footsteps! Someone was coming!
She pushed herself farther back if that was possible and held her breath. A burly man came in view. He was carrying a lantern and talking to someone. Something about pumps, he said. Three men passed her by, unnoticed. She continued to lay there as one of the men passed by her again. Then all was quiet except for a routine clattering. She listened, tears still streaming down her cheeks, biting her fist to silence her cry. The steady noise lulled her to sleep.
Above decks there was constant activity as repairs continued to the newly acquired British ship. A prize, not of war, but of law and order on the high seas. Hornblower suffered second thoughts, wondering if he kept enough men to do the repairs. There was much to be done.
The mizzenmast was jury rigged to get them headed towards land. He remembered a cove on the Spanish peninsula where they might anchor and have fresh water supplies close at hand. Dolphin was ready to move as soon as the temporary patching was completed. He reassigned Matthews and his small crew to assist Starns with the task.
"Three holes at the water line, sir, two close, one deep." Matthews reported. Hornblower looked over the side at the men hanging there doing the patching. Not easy work, but the sea was being kind to them with relatively gentle swells for this time of year.
"Stephens, let's get these lines squared away as best we can until the new masts are in place." A work party cleared the deck of cable strewn about forward, making room for the new masts to be installed. It was getting late.
"Matthews, how much longer on the patching?"
"Nearly done, sir. Just checking the last one now. She seems to be holding, sir."
"Very well, Matthews. Styles, let's sound the well. I want to be sure we have located every hole and blocked it."
"Aye, aye, sir." The two of them headed down the hatchway to the lowest deck. Opening the cover to the well, Styles dropped in the line. There was a gentle splash as the lead dropped below into the bilge water. He pulled it up gently and the two men eyed the line for wetness. "Looks like three feet, Mr. Hornblower."
"Hmm. I want this checked every hour, Styles, and report to me any changes. Keep the pump men going, as well, until further notice. Have you arranged a schedule for your men?"
"Aye, sir, two on and two off, round the clock, sir."
"Very well." They closed the hatch and returned above decks where Matthews and his men were just coming in over the side.
"I think we've got it, sir. Only time will tell."
"Excellent, Matthews. Let us hope the next report finds the water levels lower. The day is late. Get settled in and send the men to dinner."
"Aye, aye, Captain." Hornblower smiled wryly at his new title. He was, indeed, the captain of this vessel. One day he would be a real captain, but this would do for now. He was part of a wonderful body of men with Captain Pellew. He had much still to learn from his mentor.
Below decks the smell of food wafted toward the sorry figure still pressed between the lumber. She lifted her head. A crease lay across her face where she had been sleeping on the hard wood planking. Her wrists ached and were covered with dried blood. Her hair was stuck to parts of her face, her eyes were red and puffy. She was thirsty. She listened to hear what she might, but the only sound was the steady clatter heard earlier. A dim light cast eerie shadows on the bulkheads. She edged out to where she could let herself down on the deck. Peering around the wall she could see the backs of two figures methodically moving back and forth. On the floor next to them lay a bucket of water. Water! She was increasingly thirsty. She began to creep towards the bucket when she heard a noise behind her. She pulled her hand up before her, with dagger pointed out. She backed into a cranny as tight as she could and held her breath. It was the man she saw earlier.
"Boyd, Andrews. Your relief is on its way down. Come to dinner right away."
Two more men came down passing very near to her. No one knew she was there. Then, the two leaving for dinner passed by her. All was quiet again. She decided the bucket of water was too risky. She would follow these men to see where they were going, creeping up the stairs, stopping to listen.
The voices of men could be heard talking and laughing. Their
voices seemed different from the way they had sounded before,
more calm and steady. Not drunken or coarse. She wondered what
had brought the change about in these pirates, but knew for sure
she would never let them take her alive. She wondered where the
filthy one that wanted her was, surprised that he did not have
his men looking for her. But no one seemed particularly interested
in finding her. That was good.
The food smell interested her slightly but water was most desirable.
She continued her creep until she came to the gun deck. It seemed as though the pirate crew had shrunk. She expected to find many more men here sleeping amongst the cannon. Perhaps it was too early for sleep. She found what she sought and drank deeply from the water bucket. Weary, she again saw the death of her father loom before her eyes. She began to cry. Another hiding place not so far from water must be found.
Hornblower was in the Captain's cabin looking around him at the opulence the pirate had acquired for himself. He saw two ropes dangling from the bedpost. What on earth had he done with those? There seemed to be fresh blood stains on them. He shuddered. What dark thoughts rule men's hearts he could not imagine! He could not stay in here, that was certain. He went in search of other more simple sleeping quarters. Opening a door further down the companion, he found something more to his liking. A simple room with bed, table, chair. He examined the mattress, no bugs he could see anyway. A knock rang out in the companionway, then a voice.
Hornblower looked out into the hallway. "Yes, Matthews, what is it?"
"Oh, there you are, sir, I thought you would be in the Captain's cabin?"
"No, it wants cleaning out. I will be staying here for now. What do you need?"
"The cook wanted to know if ye were ready fer your dinner, sir, an' if he should bring it now?"
"Yes, he may. Thank you, Matthews." Hornblower sat at the small table and pulled out his log, the duty roster, and notes on all the different items that would need seeing to in the coming days. A knock.
"Your dinner, sir."
"Thank you, Hardy."
He ate his meal as he filled in a report of the first days work. He noted the repairs, the findings in the well, the position of the ship. He planned the duties for the morrow, then leaned back in his chair and sighed.
He wondered how Archie was doing on the American ship. He had never met an American before. What were they like? The colonies had been the first of these republican rebellions. Where would it all stop? He shook his head, rose to his feet, and headed topside.
The quarter-deck seemed small and empty compared to the Indy. Only the helmsman and the man on watch were there. He looked up at the starry sky, at the one sail they had rigged, and then at the ship's deck. He felt the ship was thankful to be out of the hands of those blackguards. He noticed a deep blood stain over by the railing. That would need to be scrubbed and sanded out, but it was a low priority item on his list. The ship was settling in for the night. The men had done a fine days work and were deserving of rest. He too felt tiredness descend upon him, and he bid goodnight to the man on watch, with orders to call him if necessary.
The next day saw the ship abuzz with repairs. The well seemed to be holding at a level now and at least no longer shipping water. He would man the pumps continually and keep an eye on the well. The men were working to rig a new main mast which was no small feat considering its size and weight. The foremast had taken most of the day but was now in its finishing stages. No yards would be swung however until the foremast had done its duty, along with the mizzen mast, to sway up the main. It was tricky work. The crew were able, however, and he had little doubt that perseverance would be rewarded.
It was mid morning when Indefatigable returned to the American ship. Captain Pellew had decided to see for himself the shape of the battered vessel. His jolly boat pulled alongside, and he made his way up the vertical footsteps. Mr. Kennedy was there to greet him with a salute.
"Welcome aboard, sir,"
"Mr. Kennedy,"said Pellew, returning the salute.
"This is Captain Mason, sir." Looking at Mason, he said, "Captain Pellew."
The two men nodded at each other. Pellew cast his eyes over the deck of the ship. Burn markings could be seen on the deck, torn and burnt sail strips flapped in the breeze over head, the main mast though still in one piece had shards of wood protruding where cannon ball had grazed it.
"I thank you, Captain, for your assistance yesterday. If you had not shown up when you did, we might all be dead now."
"Glad to be of assistance, Captain Mason." Pellew winced at the black and blue mark on Mason's jaw. "Where are you bound, sir?"
"Gibraltar. This is a merchant ship owned by Mr. Dawson. Did you not take the pirate ship, sir?"
"Oh, yes, we caught up with her."
"Then, is Mr. Dawson on your ship?"
Captain Pellew looked at Kennedy puzzled at what Mason was asking.
"Sir, it seems Mr. Dawson boarded the pirate ship when one of the pirates took his daughter. The captain has been concerned for their safety."
Pellew looked at Mason and breathed deeply. "We took the pirate ship, sir, but only pirates were found to be aboard her. I left a repair crew of my men with her." Pellew's narrowed eyes looked briefly at Kennedy.
"You found no woman nor aging gentleman among them, sir?"
Pellew looked down and shook his head. "No." He looked back at the distraught American captain. "I will question the pirates when I return to Indefatigable. I assure you I will find out what I can."
"I would be most grateful, Captain Pellew."
"How are the repairs coming, Mr. Kennedy? Is there anything else we can do to help?"
Kennedy proceeded to give a report of what had been done and what might be done to aid the repair. He was careful to couch his words in a manner that would not give away more of the Indy's supplies than his Captain wanted.
As Pellew walked over to look at the charred lumber, Captain Mason was explaining that the storm they had weathered the night before had been a blessing in disguise, soaking the decking, thereby inhibiting the spread of the fire that ignited when the pirates fired upon her.
Pellew decided to go all out in aiding and assisting the further repair to the ship so that he might regain his crew with a clear conscience. With the prisoners necessitating the return home, he could acquire whatever he might need to replace what was given to the two needy ships. Another boatload of repair men was sent over from the Indy. The deck of the American ship, Cymbaline, took on a look of urgent busyness.
Returning to the Indy, Pellew prepared to question the pirates about Mr. Dawson and his daughter. Four marines emerged on deck with a swarthy looking, squint-eyed pirate, his arms and legs in irons. He was brought before Pellew.
"What can you tell me about a man and a girl that were taken aboard your ship?"questioned Pellew.
"Didn't take no man on me ship!" The pirate snarled. "He came on his own..." the pirate leaned forward and added, "...uninvited."
"Where is he?"
The pirate laughed heartily. "Hell, I reckon."
"Are you saying he is dead?"
"What of the girl? Did you take a girl from the American ship?"
The pirate contemplated the words.
Pellew was becoming impatient. "Is she dead as well?"he asked angrily, his voice rising.
"She warn't when I last seen her." He paused as he eyed Pellew. "Why? Wha'd you do with er?"asked the pirate as his face formed an evil smile.
"No woman was found aboard your ship, sir!"said Pellew.
"No? Maybe that leftenant o' yours just didn't want ta tell ye."He leered at Pellew.
The British Naval Captain could feel his blood rising at the audacity of what this filth was suggesting. He took control of his temper. "Then, you did not kill her?"
"No. I had somethin' in mind fer er, but killin er wasn't one o' them." He smiled wickedly at Pellew.
"Take him back below."ordered Pellew.
"Yeah, I bet that leftenant o' yours found im somethin' worth keepin' all to imself." He laughed as the marines pushed him back toward the stairs. Pellew watched him go with a look of disgust. Mr. Bracegirdle had been standing by listening to the interrogation. Pellew glanced at him.
"You have something to say, Mr. Bracegirdle?"
"If the woman was aboard Dolphin, sir, she must have been in hiding somewhere. That ship was searched and swept clear of every person on board."
Pellew sighed. "Whatever the case, Mr. Bracegirdle, I have every confidence that Mr. Hornblower will be the soul of discretion, ... and a gentleman," he added.
"Aye, sir. I agree."
Pellew invited Captain Mason to have dinner with him on the Indy. Bracegirdle, Kennedy, Bowles, and his other two leftenants, Rampling and McMasters, were also in attendance. Pellew questioned Mason about his purpose in sailing into waters under siege. He reminded Mason that England was at war with France and Spain and that nations trading with them, even neutral ones, were looked upon with suspicion.
Mason explained that they were not carrying any goods, but that Mr. Dawson was en route to speak with the British authorities about the possibility of trade and what to expect from his, Pellew's, government. He went on to share that Dawson's daughter was recently come out of mourning for the death of her husband and that the trip was meant to cheer her. He shook his head in sadness at the thought that now she would have her father to mourn, if she were still alive.
Pellew glanced around the table at his men. A solemn silence settled upon them. "What will you do now, sir?"
"That is a good question, Captain Pellew. Not knowing the fate of Mrs. Dandridge is a trial, sir, indeed it is. But without Mr. Dawson, I fear our trip to Gibraltar would prove unnecessary. I believe my only course is to return to America to Mr. Dawson's partners to discover the next plan of action. I do not know how to thank you enough for your kindness and assistance, Captain."
Pellew looked down with a nod in acknowledgment of his gratitude. "I wish we had come upon you sooner, sir. If Mrs. Dandridge is still alive, you need not fear. Leftenant Hornblower will look after her to the best of his abilities. I assure you." Pellew looked at Kennedy. "Mr. Kennedy advises me that your ship should be ready to sail in the morning."
"Yes. It will be a tight sail home, but I believe we have the man power to do it."
"We will remain with you, then, until the morrow. Next time, sir, you may want to travel in convoy for protection. It would be the prudent path to take."
"I agree, Captain." Mason stood to his feet. "Thank you for your hospitality, sir." He held out his hand to shake Pellew's and then, Kennedy's. "And, you Mr. Kennedy. I never knew angels came dressed in British Navy uniform until I saw you bounding over the side and onto my deck."
Kennedy pinked and pinched back a smile. Captain Pellew, too, stifled a smile at the picture painted by Mason's words, but his eyes betrayed his amusement. He caught a snicker from his other men.
"All in a day's work, Captain Mason,"replied Kennedy glancing at his captain and feeling the red in his face.
Mason was followed on deck and seen out the entry port. Pellew breathed in as deeply as he was in thought. So, besides repairing a badly damaged ship, Hornblower might have to deal with a passenger, a passenger who most likely was in great distress. Another kind of lesson for his protégé. There was no doubt in his mind that Hornblower would handle the matter capably, if necessary. He had to hope it was, for the sake of the girl. He was aware of Kennedy at his elbow.
"Horatio, I mean, Leftenant Hornblower will take care of Mrs. Dandridge if she is still alive, sir." Kennedy offered.
Pellew looked at his acting leftenant with a raised eyebrow.
Kennedy became uneasy under his stare.
"Indeed, Mr. Kennedy. Another one of His Majesty's angels, hmm?" Pellew turned on his heel leaving his subordinates snickering behind him, and Kennedy grinning.
On board Dolphin, the only strange report was the one a man gave of sobbing he heard in the night. There was murmuring that the ship was haunted by the soul of some murdered woman crying for her father, for that was what the pumpman said he heard. These rumors soon reached Hornblower who questioned if the man had gotten too large a ration of grog, hoping to make light of any such stories.
That night the man who heard the sobbing convinced Styles to come and listen with him, but no sounds but those of the ship came to their ears.
Styles looked at him and said, "You're daft, man! Go to sleep!" And so Styles did just that, leaving the man listening in the dark. About a quarter way through the middle watch the man appeared by Styles' hammock.
"Styles. Wake up. She's started! She has!"
"That wailin' mimi. Come listen!" The two men crept to the lower deck. As Styles strained his ears he heard a sniff and a soft sobbing.
"Wha'di tell e, Styles?"his mate croaked. "Did ya hear it, man?" He knew he had by the look on his face.
"Go get Captain." He told the man.
"Are ye stayin' here alone, then?"he whispered hoarsely.
"I'll be all right. Give me that lamp, and go get Captain!" He ordered. After he left, he listened again and began to creep along the low passage way. He followed the sobs which soon stopped abruptly. He lifted his lantern. There, packed in on a shelf, was a woman. Her face was dirty, her hair matted, and she held a dagger towards him. Her eyes were fearful, defiant, and sad all at once. He spoke to her.
"Ain't no one goin' ta harm ya ma'am. Wouldn't ya like to come out o' there? I promise, no one'll harm ya." He backed away from her as far the bulkheads would let him. He studied her face further in the dim light. Her lips look parched. "Would you like some water, ma'am? I could get you some water." She just stared at him the same way and he wondered if she heard or understood him? Footsteps on the stairs were heard. It was Mr. Hornblower.
"What is all this, Styles, waking me up in the middle of the night for ghost stories..."he stopped as Styles motioned for him to look towards the bulkhead. He was totally taken aback. A woman! His mouth dropped open.
"She hasn't said a word Mr. Hornblower, but from the looks of her, I'd say she hasn't had a drink o' water in a while."
"Boyd, go get her some water." He looked at the figure there, dagger pointing at him. "Ma'am, you've no need to fear us. I am Leftenant Horatio Hornblower of His Britannic Majesty's frigate Indefatigable. We have taken this ship. The pirates are gone, ma'am. You need not fear us."
Boyd arrived with the water. Styles taking a cup offered it to her. She stabbed at him with her dagger knicking him on the top of his hand. He drew back from her, grabbing his hand, blood pouring between his fingers.
"Styles, go get yourself bandaged up!"
Styles muttered under his breath as he left them.
" Boyd, go to bed,"ordered Hornblower.
"But, sir, she might try to kill you!" he protested.
"Boyd, that's an order, and say nothing of this to anyone. Tell Styles to keep it quiet until I can handle this."
"Aye, aye, sir,"obeyed Boyd doubtfully.
Hornblower let out a sigh. How had she come to be in this state? How was he going to coax her out of there without her plunging that dagger into him? He looked at her for a few moments. She did not look like a pirate's woman. And the wounds on her wrists and hands made him think she had been their prisoner. The image of the ropes in the Captain's cabin to mind. He shuddered at the thought and let it flee.
"I know you will want to tell Styles you're sorry once you get to know us. I understand you are frightened with a crew full of men, but we're no pirates. We are navy men and we are gentlemen," he added earnestly. "No harm will come to you." She still stared at him unwavering for a few minutes, then her eyes found the bucket of water on the deck.
"You are thirsty, aren't you? Come and have a drink. I'm going to sit down over here. You are safe. Come. Get yourself some water. I'm not going to leave until you go with me." And so they stayed in this stalemate position until Hornblower thought his posterior would break. He could hear the ships bell ring out the hour. It must be near dawn. Every now and then he saw her look at the water, saw her eyelids droop. Finally, he moved over to the bucket and taking the scoop lifted some water to his lips.
"You don't mind if I have a drink do you since youre not interested in this." He drank down a scoop full letting some of the water spill over onto his chest. Then, he took a second scoop and drank deeply. "Ahhh. Nothing like a drink of fresh water." He watched her and saw tears begin to stream down her face. "Won't you please have a drink, ma'am? It's very good. Look I'll move farther away." He scooted himself another five feet from the bucket.
She began to move, bringing her legs around to drop to the deck. With each move she stopped to watch him. She still held the dagger in front of her, but when she let herself down she lost hold of her ripped dress and Hornblower saw a brief glance of her white breasts before she could snatch the cloth back up to her. He saw the black and dried blood covering her wrists and hands. His heart went out to her. What had those pirates done? She was stooping to the bucket now, her eyes still on him. Hornblower wanted to avert his eyes, but also he had to watch her to be sure she did not lunge at him with the dagger. She used her other hand to pick up the scoop over and over as she emptied it of its contents. He said nothing as she drank, both of them watching each other. Then, suddenly she collapsed onto her bottom on the floor. She leaned against the bulkhead canting her head with a sigh. Her dagger hand wavered and dropped to her lap. She pulled at her ripped dress to cover herself and something went out in her eyes. Hornblower saw it leave, it was the defiance and what replaced it was despond. He moved ever so slowly to get up. She watched him and raised her dagger slowly, but then she turned her hand sideways and slowly moved the blade's edge to her throat.
"No!" He shouted as he sat back down. "Please, ma'am, not that!"
She blinked at him. Something in his voice caught her. Why should anyone care what she did. She did not care anymore. She was tired, sore, weary of life. She did not care, but she would not let anyone touch her. The dagger was heavy. Why was it so heavy? She let her arm drop a little as the man sat back down. He was talking to her, but she could not make out his words. The image of her father was before her again, his head lolling over to the left, blood spurting everywhere, she looked down at her dress through tear filled eyes as she saw the blood covering the front of her dress. And then nothing.
"Mr. Hornblower, are you all right, sir?" It was Styles calling down the stairs. "You've been down ere for hours, sir! Want me to snatch her out o' there for ye?"
"Yes, I'm all right. I know the time and, no, I don't want you to snatch her out,"he said irritatedly. "Get me a blanket, Styles!" He moved over to her. She had passed out.
Styles appeared with the blanket. Hornblower took the dagger out of her hand and gave it to Styles. He looked at her wrists. Rope burns around them and on her hands. Hornblower wrapped the blanket around her to cover where her dress was ripped. "Help me get her up stairs Styles before she comes to." Once on the gun deck, Styles carried her to the room Hornblower indicated. They put her in a bunk and Hornblower covered her. "Get me a bucket of water, some towels, bandages, and wake up Cook and have him heat something for her. Soup or something."
The items requested were brought. Hornblower wiped her face with the wet towels. The hand closest to him became his next object of concern. He began to dampen the dried blood on her wrists.
Suddenly she awoke and pulled away from him. She hugged the blanket to her and seemed to search. The dagger. Where was it? Where was she? Backing herself up against the ships bulkhead, the dampness on her wrist registered the pain afresh, and she winced.
"I'm not going to hurt you. Please, let me bandage your wrists ma'am."
She stared at him. She didn't seem to be able to understand him, though she knew he was speaking English. Her mind did not seem to work, thoughts would not form, her voice would not come. And then the tears. She knew tears were coming out of her eyes running down her face. She could not stop them, nor did she try. They just came. And then a gentle touch of a handkerchief dabbing at her face. She looked at him and a tear ran down her face again. He daubed it again.
Hornblower looked at her with pity. Jenkins came in with a bowl of steaming porridge. "Is that our ghost, Mr. Hornblower?"
"I believe so, Jenkins."
He turned his attention back to her with a sigh.
"I'm not going to hurt you." He moved slowly towards her with a cup of water. "It's water. I want you to drink." He put the cup to her mouth.
She looked straight at him, tears still streaming, and drank the water.
He dabbed at the wetness of her cheeks, stroking his handkerchief lightly over her skin. "I want you to eat, " he said. Taking a spoonful of the porridge, he blew on it, tested it with his lips to be sure it was not too hot, then held it to her lips.
She stared. A single tear ran down one cheek and then the other.
"Please, " he pleaded softly.
She opened her mouth to take nourishment.
He continued to feed her until she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. Hornblower leaned back in the chair, releasing a lung full of held air. Another item added to his already full duty roster.