William Bush's Journal
by PJ

Wellard

I have suffered my share of injustice at the hands of abusive
captains but always the punishment was, at least in some way, merited.

Young Wellard does not deserve what has been inflicted on him.

There, I've said it. And in writing; in heavy black ink that no one
can dispute.

At first I thought it was simply a case of the captain not seeing
what was obvious to everyone else. He is no longer young, and
eyesight does fade as we age. His reaction, even after Hornblower's
explanation, was all out of proportion to the situation at hand. A
simple matter of a reef point caught in a tackle block. Easy enough;
an accident that happens all too often.

And yet....

I knew what was going to happen. I've seen the look too many times
before. Wellard was about to receive his "first kiss".

I am sickened by the whole mess. Physically, yet oddly enough sick
at heart as well. A most unusual state of affairs. I have never
before felt like this. I had suffered beatings as a midshipman, why
should others not do the same?

I had caught a glimpse of Kennedy's face as Captain Sawyer ordered
Hornblower and Wellard down from the rigging. Dread, mingled with a
certain resignation, was writ clearly across his expressive
countenance. That was all I needed to see to understand what was
happening.

But how could I - how could any of us - have prevented it?

And then for the captain to so easily and calmly ask me to send a
hand to clear the tackle! What else could I do? I gave the
necessary orders. Yet even as I did Hornblower and Wellard came down
to the deck. Captain Sawyer ordered them below, making somewhat
strange and unwarranted accusations of conspiracy. I thought for a
moment that Hornblower would respond to those outrageous
allegations. He held his tongue, however. Seems he has enough
prudence to keep his mouth shut when needed. Either that or he knows
his captain well.

I wish I were in as knowledgeable a position.

I fear I am foundering, however. Over the years I feel I have
perfected the art of keeping a blank face when in the presence of
superiors; an important skill for any junior officer to have. But I
was hard pressed to contain my confusion when the captain addressed
the hands.

"Traitors meet their just deserts and loyal hearts get their rewards."

Traitors? Is that how he sees his officers? And the hands are
the "loyal hearts"?

Kennedy had approached and was standing beside me while the captain
spoke. I could almost feel the anger that radiated off of him.
Hopeless, to be sure, but there nonetheless. We are all caught by
the system that declares the captain's word to be law.

A why now, after so many years, am I suddenly questioning that system?

The men are to be given a day of light duty as their "reward". And...

"Rum. On the forenoon watch."

I did not need Kennedy's words to press home to me the lack of good
judgment inherent in such an order. Give them an hour, maybe less,
and every man and boy in this crew would be drunk.

When Matthews, the boson, went below with his mate and the rattan I
could stand no more. I walked as far away from the grating as the
quarterdeck would allow, fighting to keep the distaste that I felt
from showing clearly on my face.

I think the worst was watching one of the hands - Randall, I believe
his name is - take such acute pleasure in watching Wellard's
punishment. Even now, hours later, I feel my stomach clench as I
remember with what relish he counted off each stroke of the cane.
That lack of simple human feeling is, to me, unfathomable.

And I did not fail to notice Hobbs standing with Randall.

I am more confused than ever now. It is clear, to me at least, that
the captain is not completely sound in his mind. But what can I do
about it?

What can any of us do?

One thing I am sure of; we cannot simply batten down and ride the
squall out. Matters have gone beyond that.