Ship of the Damned, part eighteen
by Sue N.

By breakfast the next morning, Resolute was sunk deep into a dark and
dangerous mood. The men worked grudgingly, sullenly at their duties,
and Hale and his mates were forced into an even more liberal use of
the starter than was their custom. Midshipmen shouted themselves
hoarse to get the smallest amount of work done, and the men resisted
stubbornly every order given them.

Yet among themselves they talked spiritedly, animatedly, if in low
voices. Finney, Showell and a few others emerging as leaders seemed
to be everywhere, holding back those too eager, nudging those not
eager enough. And drink and its effects now entered prominently into
the mix...

Matthews, Styles and the men from Indefatigable tried to infiltrate
the groups, tried to learn exactly what was being planned, but all
talk ceased when they approached, and eyes watched them
distrustfully. They were outsiders, an unknown element. No one would
speak a word in their presence.

By noon, five more men had been condemned to the gratings and
sentenced to receive anywhere from forty-eight to seventy-two lashes.
Again, the crew was assembled to witness punishment, again Archie's
soul writhed in horror, again blood fouled the deck of Resolute. And
Thorne presided over it all with an icy satisfaction, deaf to the
ominous rumble rising from the bunched men at every crack of the cat.

Nothing now could halt what had become inevitable. Throughout the day
and into evening it grew only worse, and ever more certain. When the
starboard watch retired, word was passed, assignations made. Men took
to their hammocks, but, once the lights were doused, did not remain
in them long. Shadows rose throughout Resolute, growing larger,
darker, until they were blacker even than the night.

And soon more shadows could be seen departing the deck as men
abandoned their stations and slunk below to join their fellows. A few
chosen ones remained up top, to keep watch, to give warning. The men
had themselves beat to quarters, in a manner no officer could ever
have anticipated or desired.

The hour was all but at hand, a new sense of grim purpose gripped the
silent and sullen ship.
**********

Matthews, Styles, and the men from Indefatigable were huddled
together on the deck in the shadows of one of the ship's boats,
talking in low voices. They still had no definite hour, but knew it
would be tonight. They could wait no longer.

"Right, then," Matthews said decisively, bringing all discussion to a
close. "We've got to warn him now. We can't afford to wait no
longer." He glanced about. "You lads go on back t' where ye should
be. Don't want 'em to see nothin' amiss. Styles, you, too--"

"I'm comin' with ye," Styles said firmly. "I owe 'im that much, at
least."

Matthews sighed, but knew his mate would not be moved. "All right.
We'll both go. The rest o' ye, keep whatever weapons ye got handy,
an' don't let the buggers take ye by surprise. When it starts, make
yer way up here, fast as ye can, and try to find Mr. Kennedy. We got
to keep 'im safe."

A chorus of quiet "aye ayes" met his words, then the men slunk
through the shadows to their bunks and posts to await whatever the
night brought.

"Come on," Matthews said. "Time to sound the knell."

They found Kennedy not on the quarter-deck, but just below it, at the
larboard side, leaning upon the gun there, his head on his folded
arms. Fear coursed through each of them, for he was utterly silent,
utterly still, as if asleep or unconscious.

And sleeping on watch could get him shot...

At their approach, however, he lifted his head, though he did not
turn toward them. Instead, his gaze remain fixed on the lights of
Indefatigable, hanging there in the darkness.

"Yes?" he called softly, dully, still not turning toward them.

They stopped just before him, each deeply anxious. He looked as if
all the strength, all the life had been sapped from him, just when he
would need it most.

"Sir," Matthews called quietly, worriedly, "are ye all right?"

"No," he sighed, "but I have gotten used to that." With an actual,
physical effort, he straightened and turned slowly to them, his face
white and drawn in the moonlight. For long moments, he searched their
faces, then nodded slightly, tiredly. "I suppose you've come to warn
me of a mutiny."

His soft words took them both by surprise, and two mouths dropped
open. Styles was the first to recover, however, and asked, "'Ow'd ye
know?"

Archie lifted two slim brows and smiled wryly. "I am tired, not
stupid. I've known since Thorne cast Dudley's body overboard that it
would happen. One can only beat a dog so long before it turns. And
this dog, I believe, has turned."

"Aye, sir, an' wi' a vengeance," Matthews muttered. "I don't know
exactly when, but it'll be before dawn. When the cannonballs start
rollin', sir, it'll be time to hunt for cover."

Archie stared at the man. "Hunt for cover? You aren't suggesting we
give them Resolute? She belongs to the King. We must hold her for
him."

Matthews nodded, not surprised by the words, but worried just the
same. "You should know, sir, they got us outnumbered. The
Indefatigables will stand wi' ye, ye know that, but I wouldn't count
on many Resolutes. An', sir, you bein' an officer--"

"I know," he sighed, too tired to feel fear, too tired to feel
anything. "They will kill me with the rest. Though not, I hope,
without a fight."

"Sir!" Abruptly, Styles reached out, grabbing Kennedy's arm to steady
him as he began to sway. "I thought I told ye t' rest!" he chided
sharply.

"I tried," Archie murmured, leaning gratefully upon the bigger man.
"I tried, I assure you. But-- I couldn't--" When he thought he could
stand on his own, he pulled himself free and straightened carefully.
"I have to warn Mr. Thorne. Perhaps we can stop it--"

"Will 'e believe you, sir?" Matthews asked softly.

Archie thought a moment, then sighed and shook his head. "No, he
won't. It would be too much like an admision of a mistake, of
failure, on his part. But I have to warn him regardless. It is my
duty."

Styles scowled blackly. Duty. That damned word would get them all
killed!

Archie saw the look, and smiled sadly. "Now, Styles," he said softly,
"you understand, I know you do! You may not like it, but you
understand, or you would not be here now." He gazed at the two men.
"I cannot tell you how much-- how much I appreciate this. I know you
have put yourselves in danger to warn me--"

"We couldn't just stand by an' let the bastards get ya," Styles said
roughly. "I wouldn't like explainin' that t' Capt'n Pellew!"

Archie laughed. "Yes, well, thank you nonetheless. And now, go, both
of you. Get to safety--"

"Ain't no safety in this damned ship, sir," Matthews said. "When it
starts, we'll make our way up 'ere, an' do what we can t' hold 'er
until the Indy comes."

Archie glanced out over the black water again, to the lights of home.
"Pray God she comes in time!" he breathed. "Now, go, please! And be
careful!"

"You, too, sir," Styles said. "An', don't worry, we'll find ye, and
stand wi' ye."

He smiled again. "I never expected anything less."
**********

Thorne stared at Kennedy as if the young man had lost his mind.
"Mutiny?" he repeated incredulously, his eyes wide with disbelief.
"Do you mean to tell me that you roused me from my bed at this hour
to deliver some ridiculous story about the men planning a mutiny?" He
exhaled sharply, angrily, and shook his head. "I do not know whether
to laugh at you or clap you in irons!"

Archie seethed inwardly at the man's stupidity. "Do with me what you
will, sir," he rasped through clenched teeth, "but you must believe
me! The men--"

"MUST believe you, sir?" Thorne snapped. "And are you now giving ME
orders, Mr. Kennedy? Good God, does your impertinence know no
bounds?"

"Is it impertinence to try and save your wretched ship?" Archie cried
harshly, beyond caring about what Thorne might do. "Is it
impertinence to seek to protect the men, YOUR men, sir, from their
own folly? They are plotting mutiny! Does that mean nothing to you?"

"Yes," Thorne hissed, glaring at the young man. "It means you are a
fool who listens far too closely to the wild pratings of drunken
sailors! Mutiny, indeed! As if these craven dogs would have the
courage to rise up against their masters! As if they would have the
wit even to conceive of such a thing! Why should they attempt a
mutiny, when they know they would die in the attempt?"

Archie stared furiously at Thorne, appalled by his arrogance, his
blindness, his stupidity. "Perhaps because they reckon it is better
to die fighting than be flogged to death and flung into the sea!" he
spat. "Perhaps because they have been driven to desperation by
unrelenting cruelty from officers who do not deserve the name--"

"THAT IS ENOUGH!" Thorne roared, slamming two fists violently onto
his desk. "How dare you, sir! How dare you talk to me that way--"

"At least I am only talking!" Archie interrupted hotly, his blue eyes
blazing. "At some hour tonight, SIR, you will be faced by men who
will do far more than talk! Now, will you rouse the ship, or--"

"I will not!" Thorne snapped. "I will not be made a fool--"

"Then, sir, you will be made a corpse!" Archie shouted. "I swear to
you, they are gathering! There is but a bare handful of men on deck,
and not a single man in the tops. Because they are all below, arming
themselves, priming themselves with liquor--"

"There, you see?" Thorne cut him off coldly. "The English sailor at
his finest! There will be no mutiny, Mr. Kennedy, for the cowards
will make themselves too drunk to carry it out!"

"Or too drunk to stop it," Archie answered. He stared hard at Thorne
for long moments, no longer bothering to conceal his disgust. "You
underestimate them again, sir," he said, his voice dripping with
contempt. "And this time, it will be the death of you! Of all of us.
Your blind arrogance will get us all killed!"

"By God, you go too far--"

"I do not go far enough!" Archie shouted, his entire frame shaking
with the force of his rage. "Good God, if it were not for my men--
yes," he spat harshly, "MY men, then I should not care a whit about
this mutiny! God knows, the poor buggers deserve some sort of
retribution for what they have endured at your hands! But I cannot
stand by and watch innocent men slaughtered on your account! So I
shall be forced to fight. But I want you to know, sir," he hissed
softly, "that for whatever butchery transpires this night, for
whatever carnage results, I will hold you entirely responsible. May
God forgive you, sir, for I am certain I never will."

"I will see you court-martialled in Gibraltar for that--"

"We will not live to see Gibraltar!" Archie shouted. "Don't you
understand that? How can you be so God damned bloody blind?" He flung
an arm toward the door. "Out there, somewhere in this God-forsaken
ship, your men are planning to kill you! God knows how many of us
will be dead by dawn, and all because of you! How can you just STAND
there and do NOTHING?"

"Get out!" Thorne ordered harshly. "Get out now, or I shall have you
in irons! And, by God, sir, when we reach Gibraltar, I shall have you
up on charges--"

"IF we reach Gibraltar," Archie countered furiously, "I shall welcome
your charges! For I shall answer them with charges of my own, and if
it takes me the rest of my life, I will see you broken and discharged
from the Service in disgrace! Although to do it I shall first have to
kill God knows how many of your men!" His blue gaze raked scathingly
over Thorne's figure. "Captain Sidney was right," he spat. "You are a
monster! And now, good night, sir! If you will take no pains to
protect your ship, then I shall do it myself. Pleasant dreams, Mr.
Thorne!"

And with that, he turned sharply upon his heel and strode from the
cabin, ignoring Thorne's shouts for him to return, and slamming the
door behind him. And only when he was out of sight of the Marine
sentry did he fall against a bulkhead and give in to his shaking.

Oh, God, they were lost!

**********

Gripped by a mounting desperation, Archie hurried below to the ship's
armoury, where the crew's small arms were stored. Reaching it, he
found no trace of the armourer, and felt a wave of dread engulfing
him. Weapons were never to be left unguarded...

A quick check confirmed his darkest fears. Muskets and pistols were
gone, as were powder and shot. The men were already armed. A wave of
helplessness rolled heavily through him. All hope was gone, then.

He thought briefly of the Marines, but then banished the thought.
Their officer, Captain Harriman, was as useless as every other
officer in this wretched ship, and so rigid in his adherence to rules
and regulations he would answer to none but the captain. And he
certainly would never exert himself or his authority on the word of a
man he knew to have fallen into such deep disfavour with Thorne.

There was nothing more to be done now save await the inevitable...

Feeling strangely light-headed, he made his way back to his cabin and
looked about, idly wondering if he should bother to undress. Would he
even have time to sleep?

He glanced at the table, and saw the notebook he had so carefully
kept. Well, certainly he should have time for one more entry.
marvelling at his own rather bizarre state of calm, he lit the
lantern, pulled out the chair and sat down, then reached for his pen
and dipped it in ink.

"At twenty-five minutes past eight bells in the morning, I warned
Lieutenant Thorn--" He looked at the name, frowned, added an "e,"
frowned more deeply and scratched it out, thougt a moment more and
added it again-- "that mutiny was imminent. He refused to believe me.
I tried repeatedly to convince him, while he threatened me with
arrest and court-martial. Perhaps I deserve the latter, for I spoke
harshly to him, in a manner no subordinate officer should adopt with
his superior. In fact, I must here admit I insulted him, so great was
my anger. If we survive this night, he may well have a strong case to
bring against me at a court-martial...

"Upon leaving his cabin, I went to the armoury and found all the
weapons had been taken. The mutineers now have muskets and pistols,
as well as rum, and so may well take the ship. I do not know how we
will stand against them, or how many of us there will be. I know only
that some few of us, at least, will stand, and attempt to hold at all
cost His Britannic Majesty's frigate Resolute. But I must here state
that my heart quakes at the proposition of spilling English blood..."

He wrote until the last detail had been set down, then pushed the
notebook away. With steady hand and heavy heart he next reached for a
sheet of paper, and, in his best possible hand, addressed it to
Captain Pellew. And with words that poured in torrents from him, he
wrote of his sorrow, his fear, his pain; he apologized for his
failure to avert the coming bloodshed; he commended Styles, Matthews
and all the Indefatigables for their courage in gathering the details
of the plot and bringing them to him; and he expressed sympathy for
the men who might very well kill him.

"They were not bad men, for the most part," he wrote, with not a
touch of irony, "and should likely have made a fine crew under better
officers. But they have been harassed and beaten daily, have seen
their mates killed, and have seen one denied even the dignity of
Christian burial. They have been insulted, demeaned and degraded. And
under it all they snapped. For whatever horror this night brings,
those who led them -- or failed to -- are every bit as responsible as
those who do the killing.

"I know you will deal harshly with them, as perhaps you must, for
mutiny is a crime that cannot be tolerated or condoned. But I ask you
not to hate them, sir. Pity them, rather, for what they might have
been, and for what they have become. And pray that, somewhere, some
lesson might be learned from this...

"If my days in Resolute have brought me no joy, they have, at least,
brought me this: an understanding of what an honour and a privilege
it has been to serve in Indefatigable, with her splendid company of
officers and men, and under a captain whom none could ever rival. I
have learned much from you, sir, and have greatly appreciated your
efforts to teach us all what a true officer of His Majesty's Navy is
called to be. And if I have not turned out to be quite the officer
you had hoped, then the fault lies entirely with me and my own
indequacies. For these, I sincerely apologize, and hope they have not
troubled you too deeply.

"And I would, in closing, trouble you for a favour, sir: please,
tender my fondest regards to Horatio--" he scratched that out and
substituted "Mr. Hornblower," then swore, scratched through that and
re-wrote "Horatio"-- "and tell him he has been the truest friend one
could ever wish in this life. I have learned so much to him, and owe
so much to him, including my very life, that I cannot even begin to
calculate my debt. His friendship has been a greater reward than any
amount of prize money, and I count myself a truly rich man for having
known him.

"I regret only that I could not teach him to love poetry, or manage
to improve what passes for his sense of humour. And if I should not
survive this night, sir, please tell him good-bye for me, and--" he
hesitated, thought of so many things he wanted, needed, to say, but
had neither the time nor the skill to put into words, and instead
settled on what had become their standard parting-- "remind him for
me not to let the ship sink in my absence.

"I pray God keeps you well, sir, and continues to shower you with
success. And I beg to remain

"Your obedient servant,
Lieutenant Archie Kennedy
HMS Indefatigable"

He blotted his signature dry, then folded the paper and sealed it,
and wrote Captain Pellew's name prominently on front. When that was
done, he rose to his feet and went to his sea chest for his pistols.
Rather astonished that he had not yet had either a fit or a headache,
he carefully cleaned the pistols and loaded them, and wondered idly
what his father would think of the use to which they would be put.

He had sent them as a gift upon learning he had earned his
commission...

When all was ready, he laid his sword and pistols, along with powder
and shot, upon the table and extinguished the lantern. And, still
oddly calm, he went to his cot and lay down, to get what sleep he
could before hell erupted to claim him.
**********