Ship of the Damned, part twenty-two
by Sue N.
A pained and heavy silence descended upon Indefatigable as the
wounded began arriving from Resolute. By now, word of the mutiny had
gone 'round, and it was received like news of the plague. Worse
still, it was said some of their own had died in the fighting, that
others had been wounded, including Leftenant Kennedy. More than one
gaze shifted furtively to the quarter-deck at that, curious to see
how their captain was taking it.
Bracegirdle listened in deepening shock as Pellew recounted in a
harsh, tight voice what he had seen, what had transpired, and more
than once he bowed his head and covered his eyes in sick horror.
"Merciful God!" Bowles breathed strickenly. He had seen mutiny
before, knew what madness ensued when bloodlust overcame reason.
"What of Mr. Kennedy, sir?"
Bracegirdle's head came up sharply at Pellew's long silence, and the
colour drained from his face. "Sir, he is not--"
"He is-- alive," Pellew rasped in anguish, unable, for once, to
his feelings from showing on his face. "But badly hurt. I do not--"
He broke off, unable to continue, and inclined his head, exhaling
sharply and clasping his hands tightly behind his back, remembering
all too vividly the dark blood covering the young man.
Bracegirdle and Bowles exchanged pained glances. Both had a fondness
for Kennedy, for his easy wit and light-hearted charm, and both
respected him for all that he had accomplished. They also knew what
his friendship meant to Hornblower, and understood what a blow the
young man's loss would be.
Pellew cleared his throat roughly, trying to rein in his own chaotic
emotions. "I understand," he said in a tight voice, his dark gaze
fixed on the horizon, "that he-- conducted himself with remarkable
courage--" Despite his best efforts, his voice broke, and he closed
his eyes briefly against a sudden rush of pain. "We must hope and
pray that Dr. Hepplewhite is able to save him," he said at last.
"And what of Resolute's officers?" Bracegirdle asked quietly.
question, the captain rounded upon him with such fury that he fell
back a step before it in sudden alarm.
"Officers?" Pellew spat, his frame rigid with the same rage that
burned in his eyes. His fine mouth twisted into a scowl of deepest
contempt. "There were no officers in Resolute! Only cowards, madmen
and brutes! The captain took his own life rather than face what his
ship had become, and her first lieutenant-- Well," he exhaled
sharply, "perhaps I should not damn him until I have heard him. But,
by God, he had better have a most convincing story!"
Stewart had no idea what to do with himself. He had watched Kennedy's
friends and captain bear him away, and now could not stop thinking
about him. The lieutenant had reminded him what kindness, duty,
courage were, lessons all but forgotten during the past year in
Resolute, and he feared he now owed a debt he would never be given
the chance to repay. Yet, thinking of at least one small kindness he
could do, he went down to Kennedy's cabin and began gathering his
belongings, determined to return them to Indefatigable himself.
All was exactly as Kennedy had left it: his sea chest in the corner,
with a fresh uniform and a few books atop it. Stewart quickly packed
these, then turned to the table and saw the items there. Going to it,
he gathered the pen, ink and journal. And, as he picked up this last,
he saw the letter, and the name written across it. Instinctively
sensing its importance, he slipped it and the journal into his
jacket, then returned to the chest and closed it, hauling it out of
the cabin and closing the door behind him.
The wounded quickly overflowed the surgery and spilled out over the
entire cockpit, reaching even into the midshipmen's berth, their
numbers nearing seventy. Yet it was soon clear that of those, twenty
at least would be a waste of anyone's time and attention, their lives
beyond saving. Sailmakers went to work at once, stitching the sacks
that would carry weighted bodies to the bottom of the sea.
Hepplewhite called upon every surgeon's mate, every loblolly boy,
every sailor who had even the slightest experience bandaging wounds
to help tend the wounded. To his relief, it was discovered that two
surgeon's mates from Resolute had survived, and these he immediately
pressed into action. Every bit of laudanum he had in his stores was
brought out, as well as any other medicine that had any pain-killing
properties at all. He even sent to the officers' mess for brandy, and
was quickly and generously supplied, some of it coming from the
captain's personal stores.
With a grim resolve, he rolled up his sleeves, donned his butcher's
apron and went to work. The most seriously wounded were brought to
him, while others were taken to the mates, boys or sailors who were
able to tend their particular wounds. And those whom no one could
help were merely given a draught of laudanum and taken away. It was
callous and it was brutal, but it was also the necessary way of
Now bathed in blood and standing in a pool of it, he turned away from
his table and laid aside his saw, having taken off a leg and done
what he could to save an arm, and now waiting while the poor maimed
wretch was taken to a hammock. His gaze fell upon a bottle of brandy
set temptingly near, and he licked his lips thirstily. Hesitating
only a moment, he grabbed the bottle and tipped it up, closing his
eyes and greedily drinking its fire into him.
God, he needed this...
At a sound behind him, he quickly lowered the bottle and set it down,
though much nearer than it had been before. As another stretcher was
laid on the table, he turned and looked down, seeing a familiar face
dark with bruises and blood, and a lieutenant's uniform soaked
through with the stuff. "Kennedy," he murmured in recognition.
Horatio, as pale as if he himself had been shot, stood at his
friend's side, across the table from the doctor, his eyes wide and
dark with torment. "You must help him!" he rasped. "He is
hurt-- You must help him!"
Without a word, Hepplewhite bent over the silent, unmoving form and
pressed a bloody hand to the cool flesh at Kennedy's throat, feeling
only the faintest, most irregular flicker of a pulse. Still saying
nothing, he reached for his shears and began cutting away the ruined
uniform, through jacket, waistcoat and shirt to the torso beneath. At
the sight of the grievous wounds there, he sighed and straightened,
shaking his head slowly.
"Take him away," he said in a flat, unemotional voice. "There
nothing to be done--"
"You must try!" Horatio cried frantically, staring at the doctor
horror. "You cannot just let him die--"
"He will die whether I let him or no," Hepplewhite said grimly.
cannot waste my time on him when there are others--"
"You must try," Horatio demanded, his face hardening. "You
"You insist?" Hepplewhite barked shortly. "By what right--"
"I insist," Horatio said again, drawing himself up to his full,
towering height and glaring coldly at the doctor. "You will help Mr.
Kennedy, or I shall report you to Captain Pellew for drinking on
duty. And I believe, sir," he added forcefully, "you have already
been warned upon that score."
Hepplewhite stiffened, his eyes widening, his face losing some of its
colour. He had been warned, once before, as only Pellew could do it.
And the captain had made clear that another such episode would find
the doctor swinging from a yardarm.
"You would not dare--"
"Would I not?" Horatio retorted quietly, his brown gaze holding
Hepplewhite fast. "Then order Mr. Kennedy taken away, and let us
Hepplewhite stared at the young man, and knew he was not bluffing.
"He will die--"
"Perhaps, but not from neglect," Horatio maintained. "Now,
before he bleeds to death before us, I suggest you get to work."
Hepplewhite swore under his breath, seething inwardly, but knew he
dared not refuse. Hornblower was cut from the same stuff as Pellew,
would face down God or the Devil himself for what he believed was
right. And Hepplewhite had no desire to hang.
With another curse, he grabbed one of the ship's boys who had been
pressed into action and ordered water and cloths. When they were
brought to him, he washed the blood from Kennedy's chest, stomach and
shoulders, growing more and more appalled by the extent of the young
Good God, he should by all rights be dead already!
"He was standing near a gun when it blew," Horatio said in a shaking
voice, near sickened by his friend's wounds.
"Yes, and it looks like he caught most of it!" Hepplewhite growled.
"The fragments will have to come out--" He frowned and pulled
blood-soaked scarf from the hole in Kennedy's shoulder. "Pistol
ball," he murmured. Then, glancing up at Horatio, he frowned deeply
and said, "If you insist upon standing here, you might at least put
yourself to work! You are a doctor's son, yes?"
Horatio swallowed and nodded.
"I assume, then, you at least know what the various instruments I
shall use are, and can hand them to me as I call for them?" When the
young man nodded again, Hepplewhite sighed sharply. "Then take off
your jacket and waistcoat and get an apron. Unless you want his blood
all over you!"
Horatio hesitated a moment, his insides quivering with something near
the familiar sea-sickness. But Hepplewhite needed him. More to the
point, Archie needed him. And not for anything would he let down his
friend when it was so horribly clear that so many others had already.
Shrugging hurriedly out of his jacket and waistcoat, he grabbed an
apron, donned it, and rolled up his sleeves. "Very well, Doctor,"
said quietly, firmly, "tell me what you require."