Ship of the Damned, part twenty-four
by Sue N.

Horatio leaned over Archie and gently bathed his face with a cool,
damp cloth, racked with worry. His breathing was somewhat easier,
somewhat more regular, and the awful bleeding seemed, for now, to
have stopped. But still he appeared so fragile, and gave no sign of
returning to consciousness.

As if he had no wish to return...

"I am sorry, Archie," he breathed, grieving for still another wound
torn into his friend's already badly scarred soul. "I should have
been with you..." He shook his head slowly, his expressive face a
mask of pain. "You've been through so much already-- You should never
have had to face this, as well!"

"No man should ever have to face what he has, Mr. Hornblower," said a
quiet voice roughened by weariness.

Looking up sharply, Horatio was startled to see the captain standing
nearby, in the shadows, and started at once to his feet.

"No, no, sit, please," Pellew urged, stepping nearer. In the light of
the lantern, his face was drawn and pale, lined with fatigue, and his
dark eyes, usually so sharp, appeared strangely dulled. "How is he?"
he asked softly, his gaze falling to Kennedy's still form.

Horatio swallowed and shook his head slightly, his own fear like a
thing alive within him. "Not good, I fear," he rasped. "He lost so
much blood-- Dr. Hepplewhite does not hold out much hope."

Pellew sighed deeply and closed his eyes briefly. "I feared as much,"
he breathed. "And yet..." He opened his eyes and fixed them on
Kennedy's ashen face, seeing the cuts and bruises there and frowning
slightly. "He held that ship!" he whispered tightly, his throat
constricting painfully. "When by all rights he should have taken his
men and made his escape, he fought and held that ship until we could
arrive! It took... remarkable courage to do that. Courage others did
not have," he added bitterly.

"Sir?" Horatio asked in confusion.

Pellew grimaced, unable to repress his disgust. "Mr. Thorne has been
found," he said harshly, his eyes taking on a hard glint. "Alive, and
with barely a mark upon him. Apparently, he did not share Mr.
Kennedy's notions of honour and duty!"

Horatio's confusion only deepened, and his face showed it. "But...
sir... Resolute was his ship. Surely, he fought for her--"

"He did not!" Pellew spat softly, dangerously. "While Mr. Kennedy and
his men -- MY men -- were fighting, dying, for that wretched ship,
Lieutenant Thorne was skulking in the surgery--" He broke off
abruptly, biting off whatever else he would have said. It had never
been his habit to speak ill of one officer before another, to seek to
poison a man's mind against another, and certainly had no desire now
to add further to Hornblower's burdens.

But, God, how his soul burned with hatred for that man!

Still, what little he had said pierced Horatio's heart like an arrow.
"He hid... and left Archie to do his fighting for him," he murmured
strickenly, bowing his head and staring through dark, haunted eyes at
the deck. "And Archie, who should have fled--"

"Did not," Pellew finished for him, knowing how the young man must
hurt. "As I said, he showed remarkable courage. A courage I would not
have believed he possessed."

Horatio's head came up sharply at that, his gaze flying to the
captain's face. "You misjudged him, sir--"

"I underestimated him," Pellew admitted quietly. Then, raising a hand
to forestall any further protest, he went on, "Oh, I know, he has
performed acts of great valour in the past. We have all seen them.
But those, for the most part, have been done in the heat of the
moment, have been... spontaneous acts spurred more by instinct than
studied, rational thought. Oh, I do not denigrate them, Mr.
Hornblower, and I do not denigrate the man behind them. After all, a
man who would race across a bridge only moments from blowing to save
a shipmate, giving no thought to himself, is a hero by anyone's
standards. But that act, I believe, heroic as it was, speaks more of
friendship than of courage."

Horatio frowned slightly and shook his head. "Sir, I-- I am not
certain I understand."

Pellew sighed, and his gaze again sought Kennedy's battered face.
"Racing across a bridge and back requires little more than an
instinctive response. Your friend is in danger, your nature implores
you to help, and you are off. And only after it is done is there time
for reflection on what might have happened. But in Resolute Mr.
Kennedy had ample time for reflection, ample time to consider what
might happen, ample time to think through and determine his actions.
He knew the men were going to mutiny, Mr. Hornblower," Pellew said
quietly, his voice hoarse, "he KNEW it! Hours before the fact, he
knew it. And he knew he might very well die. Yet he stayed. Against
all rational thought, when every instinct must have been urging him
to take his men and flee, he stayed. Because he considered it his
duty to hold that ship for the King. Courage is not committing a
spontaneous act of bravery, Mr. Hornblower, despite what the poets
and the Naval Chronicle would have us believe. True courage requires
one to make a conscious decision to face one's fears and do what must
be done, whatever the cost." He nodded tersely, his eyes flaring with
emotion. "Mr. Kennedy showed that courage in Resolute, and his
courage does honour to us all."

Horatio swallowed hard, deeply touched by words he knew his captain
did not utter lightly. But no words, not even those, could ease the
terrible anguish that gnawed at his soul. "He has been through so
much already, suffered so much, endured so much-- Why must he be made
to pay for the mistakes and failures of others?"

Pellew saw the unfailingly capable officer reduced to a confused and
hurting youth, and ached for the lad. Ached for both Hornblower and
Kennedy, for the brutal lessons they and so many others were forced
to learn while still so young. "Believe me, Mr. Hornblower," he said
softly, gently, "I wish I had an answer for you. No doubt I could
dredge up some well-worn platitude, but such words would be empty,
and we both know it. The simple truth is, I do not know. To explain
why the innocent suffer and the guilty flourish requires a theologian
or philosopher, and I, alas, am only a sea captain. I know only
tides, winds and ships, and nothing of the workings of Providence.
But there is one promise I can make you."

At the note of grim resolve that crept into the captain's voice,
Horatio looked up, and blinked before the fierce anger smouldering in
those dark eyes. "Sir?"

Pellew stared fixedly down at Kennedy, his eyes narrowing, his jaw
set hard. "If there is any way, any way at all, I can wring justice
from this catastrophe, then, by all I hold sacred, I shall do it, or
die in the trying." Hardly realizing he did so, he reached out and
gently brushed a tendril of blond hair away from Kennedy's closed
eyes. "It is, I believe, the very least I can do for one of my
officers."
**********

Bracegirdle regarded Thorne with deepening anger and disgust. In all
the time he had been aboard Indefatigable, not once had he enquired
about Kennedy, or any of the other men wounded in the battle for
Resolute. It was as if that battle had never happened, as if the men
overflowing the surgery did not exist. Never in all his years at sea
had Bracegirdle encountered a man of such utter and appalling
selfishness, a man whose world began and ended with himself. It
chilled him to his soul to think of young Kennedy under such a
monster's command.

And every moment spent in Thorne's company only heightened
Bracegirdle's loathing for him. After approving rather grudgingly of
the cabin allotted to him -- had he expected to be given the
captain's spare sleeping quarters? -- he had requested -- no, damn
his eyes, he had REQUIRED -- something to eat. As if the Indy were no
more than a public house, with her crew wholly at his disposal! But
Bracegirdle had been able to think of no good reason he could refuse
-- though not at all for lack of trying -- and had asked the wardroom
steward to find something.

Ah, and here Bracegirdle had to smile, Kelly -- God love the man, he
deserved an extra spirit ration for this -- had brought up a bit of
cold, tough mutton left from last night, some hard, sharp cheese and
bread even the weevils wouldn't have. And, to wash it down, a cup of
bitter swill only barely identifiable as something approaching
coffee. And all this when Bracegirdle well knew there was far, far
batter fare to be had.

But this was his way of stating that word of what had befallen the
young lieutenant had run through the crew, and his way of showing
what that crew thought of the man responsible. Kelly liked Kennedy,
as did those of the men who knew him, and thought it highly unfair
that a pleasant and promising young officer should be lying so badly
hurt in the surgery while this insufferable prig sat here, with
hardly a scratch upon him. Bracegirdle had a high regard for the
rigid sense of justice that existed belowdecks, and was delighted to
see his own assessment of Thorne confirmed by such impeccable judges
of character as the crew of Indefatigable.

Thorne stared down at the wholly unappetizing plate set down before
him, then raised a scowl to Kelly. "Is this all there is?" he
growled.

Kelly regarded the man with a lamb's own innocence. "Aye, sir, that
be it," he answered pleasantly. "Ain't no 'ot grub yet, on account o'
Cook ain't been ordered t' light th' galley fires yet. You know,
sir," he added blandly, "since we 'ad t' fire on yer ship an' all."

Bracegirdle cleared his throat to conceal a chuckle. He would have to
see that Kelly received two extra rations, at least.

"This is inedible," Thorne muttered.

"No it ain't, sir," Kelly countered brightly. "It's mutton. Least it
was las' night." His face near beamed as he smiled at Thorne. "If ye
like, sir, I could mebbe find ye some cold burgoo. It's only left
from this mornin'."

Bracegirdle held his hands out before him and scrutinized his
fingernails. Three. Better make it three rations. But he would only
go up to four if the man actually poisoned Thorne.

"Take it away," Thorne spat. "This is not fit for a pig!"

"Reckon not, sir," Kelly agreed mournfully. "'E's already refused to
eat it."

Bracegirdle cleared his throat again, and again, then coughed to
smother his laugh. Not yet able to speak, he merely waved Kelly and
the offensive meal away, but managed to wink just as the man went by.
Trump and game to the ratings...

"That man should be flogged!" Thorne murmured in a low and furious
voice, his pale eyes glittering with rage.

Bracegirdle straightened at that, his good humour vanishing at once.
"For what, sir?" he asked coldly. "For serving bad food? Good Lord,
if that were a flogging offense, every ship in the Navy would have
its cook at the gratings three times a day, at least!"

"We ate well enough in Resolute--"

"Hm, no doubt," Bracegirdle retorted icily. "Yet I should rather have
a dubious meal than a mutinous crew." He fixed a pointed stare upon
his counterpart. "Good food is rarely appreciated by dead men."

Thorne stiffened in his seat, and his face flushed dark red. "You
have something to say, sir?" he rasped through clenched teeth.

Bracegirdle lightly raised an eyebrow. "To you, sir? No, sir."

"Impudent!" Thorne muttered. "Just like that damned Kennedy!"

Bracegirdle lifted his head and narrowed his eyes, his mouth curling
into a deep frown. "I would caution you, sir," he said softly,
warningly, "against speaking so of Mr. Kennedy in this ship. He is a
good officer, and a popular one, highly regarded by the captain and
well liked by the men. Defaming his name when he lies so near death
would be neither prudent nor honourable just now."

Thorne stared at Bracegirdle, his eyes filled with contempt. "Can I
help it if Kennedy was injured? No one asked him to fight--"

"No one, save himself," Bracegirdle said icily, his normally pleasant
face now a mask of barely-contained rage. "He considered it his
duty--"

"Then the more fool he," Thorne said bitterly. "I suppose he thought
the filthy butchers would spare him because he had been kind to them.
Someone should have told him common curs do not understand kindness."

"No," Bracegirdle said evenly, staring hard at Thorne, "no, I suppose
they do not."

Thorne stiffened again and opened his mouth, but, before he could
utter a word, Midshipman Hardy came into the wardroom, looking as
solemn as ever Bracegirdle had seen him.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said quietly, his eyes wide in his young face.
"Captain sends his compliments, and asks you and Mr. Thorne to join
him in his cabin."

"Very well--"

"I have not yet eaten," Thorne reminded him harshly.

Bracegirdle turned to face him, and smiled slightly, his eyes cold.
"Tell that to Captain Pellew," he suggested quietly. "No doubt he
could find something to feed you."
**********

Pellew was not at all certain how he would receive Thorne, was not at
all certain he should have gone down to see Kennedy before this.
Reading the lad's letter, and then his log, had been harrowing
enough, had fueled the fire of his anger to such a pitch that not all
the water in the Atlantic could extinguish it. And then to see him
lying there, so still, so battered, and so damnably young...

But he had needed to know the lad was still alive, if only to keep
from shooting Thorne on sight...

He turned and glanced at his desk, where the letter and notebook lay.
The tale they told was a damning one, yet he knew he must, in
justice, offer Thorne a hearing, as well. He only wondered what
excuse the bastard would -- could -- offer for such infamy.

His musings were brought to an abrupt by the sharp rapping at his
door. "Enter," he called.

The door opened, and young Hardy entered, followed by a hard-eyed,
tight-lipped Bracegirdle and a clearly irritated Thorne. At the sight
of his first lieutenant's expression, Pellew sighed wearily and felt
his heart sink even lower. It was the rare man who could arouse such
an obvious and ardent dislike in Bracegirdle...

"Sir--"

"Thank you, Mr. Hardy," Pellew said, cutting into the boy's speech.
"Take you to the surgery now and tell Mr. Hornblower I wish to know
the moment Mr. Kennedy returns to consciousness. In fact, tell him it
is my standing order. Should Mr. Kennedy awaken, at whatever hour, I
wish to be notified. Is that understood?"

"Aye aye, sir." All at once, a sickening thought occurred to the boy,
and he blanched, but knew he must ask the question. "Beg pardon,
sir," he began softly, his eyes wide, "but what if-- Well, sir, he's
hurt awful bad. What if-- what if he don't-- What if he should d--"

"Then," Pellew answered gently, knowing how Hardy revered his senior
officers, "I also wish to be notified." Another child learning the
lessons of war... "You may go."

Hardy swallowed and nodded, terribly uncertain and frightened of all
that was happening about him. "Aye, sir. Thank you, sir." He saluted,
then turned and left as quickly as dignity would allow. And he had
thought the storms were all behind them...

Pellew turned to his first lieutenant and studied him for long
moments, as if debating with himself. But he prized Bracegirdle's
judgment almost above any other's, and needed his level-headedness
now as never before. He also knew that, however much the man disliked
Thorne, he would never allow his captain to kill him.

"I would count it a favour, Mr. Bracegirdle," he said quietly,
seeking those blue eyes with his dark ones, "if you would remain and
witness all that is said here. And I would invite you to ask any
questions you wish answered."

Bracegirdle bobbed his head in a slight bow. "Of course, sir," he
answered evenly.

Thorne stood apart from the two and watched them only
disinterestedly. He expected that Pellew would enquire as to his
accommodations, his treatment, and was preparing his complaints. He
considered himself mightily ill used so far, and was ready to say so.

But Pellew gave him not the slightest chance to air his grievances.
Caring not a whit for the lieutenant's comfort so far, he rounded
upon the man with a hard, dark stare and demanded, "Why were no
precautions taken in Resolute against the mutiny?"

Thorne was startled by the question, and thrown off guard. Blinking
before the unexpectedness of it, he licked his lips and tried
desperately to marshall his thoughts. "P-- precautions, sir?" he
stammered.

"Yes, Mr. Thorne, precautions," Pellew repeated tersely, long an
expert at gaining the weather gauge in battle. "The Marines were
caught unawares, as were most of your officers. Why? Why were they
not warned? Why was your ship not secured in the face of impending
mutiny?"

"Sir, I--" Thorne looked nervously about, at Bracegirdle, who only
lifted a brow, and back to Pellew, whose dark eyes flashed with
Jove's lightning. He wanted to sit down, needed a drink, needed time
to think. None of those would he be granted. "Sir--"

"ANSWER ME, DAMN IT!" Pellew thundered, his face a mask of unholy
rage. "Why did you not try to stop the mutiny before it started?"

"Sir, how could I?" Thorne gasped, his pale eyes wide, his face
drained of colour. Beads of sweat formed upon his forehead and upper
lip, and a cold knot of fear formed in the pit of his stomach. "How--
how could I prepare for something when-- when I had no idea--"

"No idea?" Pellew asked very softly, inclining his head sharply and
narrowing his eyes. "You had no idea the men were planning mutiny?"

"No, sir," Thorne answered weakly. "No idea at all, sir, else I
should certainly have--"

"You were never warned, by anyone, that the men were plotting?"

Thorne cleared his throat, his mind in an uproar. He could not
concentrate, could not think. "Sir-- No, sir. Had I been warned, I
should certainly have taken steps--"

"No one came to you," Pellew cut in ruthlessly, taking a step nearer
the man and staring into those frightened eyes, "no one AT ALL came
to you, that night, and told you the men were set to mutiny? Think
you carefully upon your answer, Mr. Thorne," he warned. "I expect the
truth, and I shall accept nothing less."

Even so flustered, Thorne was stung by the words. "Are you implying I
would lie?"

"That, sir, depends upon your next answer," Pellew said coldly. "Tell
me, Lieutenant Thorne, are you saying no one came to you the night of
the mutiny and warned you that it was coming?"

Thorne tried to think. Of course, he had not been warned! Who would
have dared carry such a tale to him? The midshipmen all knew better
than to disturb him-- The answer came with unwelcome suddenness,
sending his stomach into a sick lurch.

Kennedy. God damn his eyes, Kennedy.

"Mr. Thorne," Pellew said harshly, "the answer is either yes or no.
And it was only last night. I will have your answer, sir."

Thorne swallowed, his mind working feverishly. Kennedy was
unconscious, and likely dying. From what he had heard, the whelp was
in no condition to have said anything to anyone about what had
happened. And he had been alone that night. No one else could
possibly know.

He drew himself up to his full height and met Pellew's glare evenly.
"No, sir," he answered clearly, easily, "I had no warning. No one
came to me. I wish now someone had, that I could have taken
precautions. Unfortunately, sir, there was no warning, until it was
upon us."

Pellew's jaw dropped, and he stared at the man in stunned disbelief.
A lie! A cold, calculated lie! Merciful God, the man WAS a monster!

Horrified, appalled, almost sickened, he turned sharply away from
Thorne and began to pace, trying desperately to control the chaos
roiling within him. He had thought he had understood the full depth
of Thorne's iniquity, thought he had grasped the black heart of the
man. He saw now he had only probed the surface.

"I underestimated you," he said softly, coldly. "Be assured, I shall
not do so again." He turned slowly about to face Thorne and stood
very straight, very still, his dark gaze intent upon that hateful
face. "Sir, as one officer of His Majesty's Navy to another, I call
you a liar."

Bracegirdle and Thorne both stiffened at that, Thorne in fury,
Bracegirdle in shock. He had never before heard his captain openly
impugn another's honour, had never known the man to challenge another
in this fashion. Yet for him now to do so, Bracegirdle knew, Pellew
must have proof.

Thorne's face slowly reddened, his grey eyes glittering like ice on
fire. "You dare-- I should--"

"Challenge me, and you will be shot," Pellew countered grimly,
"either by my hand, or a firing squad." Seeing Thorne had no answer
to that, he strode to his desk and took up Kennedy's notebook,
opening it to the marked page. Without a word, he went to Bracegirdle
and handed it to him, indicating with a finger where he should read.

After but a few words, Bracegirdle gasped and lifted a shocked gaze
to his captain, who merely nodded once more to the book. With a
mounting anger, Bracegirdle read on, taking in Kennedy's precise
accounting of what had passed between himself and Thorne, marvelling
at the courage and utter clarity of thought it must have required for
the young man to have set down such words.

"My God," he breathed, slowly raising an ashen face and turning it
upon Thorne. "He warned you. Two hours before it happened, he warned
you!" His voice began to shake, and fury flooded him in a boiling
surge. "And you did NOTHING!" he spat. "All those men dead, and all
the men who must hang, because you did nothing!"

Thorne felt the deck shifting beneath him. "I assure you, I have no
idea what you are talking about--"

"THIS, sir!" Pellew hissed, taking the notebook from Bracegirdle and
waving it before Thorne's bewildered eyes. "Before he left for
Resolute, I bade Mr. Kennedy to keep a log of his experiences. And,
God have pity on him, he did. Every hour he passed in Resolute is
recorded here, and every foul deed that transpired upon that wretched
ship is etched upon these pages in damning detail." He stalked
forward until he stood mere inches from Thorne, his dark gaze boring
mercilessly into the man. "God's blood," he spat, "you had a man
flogged to death and then had his body thrown over the side? What
manner of foul creature are you?"

Thorne's mind was reeling. Kennedy... had kept a log...

"He warned you," Pellew said in a low and throbbing voice, "and you
sent him away. You threatened to have him in irons, and sent him
away! You could have prevented that mutiny, sir! You could have saved
all those lives-- SEVEN OF MY MEN ARE DEAD BECAUSE OF YOU!" he
shouted, jabbing a hard finger into Thorne's breast. "Seven of my
men, and God knows how many of yours! AND YOU COULD HAVE PREVENTED
IT!"

Thorne turned weakly away from Pellew, stunned almost senseless, and
lurched on watery knees to the nearest chair. Sinking into it, he
stared into the distance with unblinking eyes, his shoulders
slumping. Kennedy had done this...

"You are a disgrace," Pellew spat, eyeing the man venomously. "Your
ship, your men... All lost because of you! Men forced to take up arms
against their countrymen, my lieutenant forced to kill men he would
rather have led, forced -- God help us all! -- forced to turn a
cannon upon them, and my ship -- MY SHIP, SIR! -- forced to fire upon
yours to subdue her! Ah, God, what has your arrogance wrought?"

"I did... as I thought best," Thorne answered numbly. "The men...
needed disciplining. They were brutes, animals--"

"Only because you made them so," Bracegirdle said quietly,
scathingly.

"Kennedy would have coddled them," Thorne spat. "He was a soft, weak
boy--"

"That soft, weak boy saved your ship," Pellew ground out between
gritted teeth. "That soft, weak boy is a better man than you shall
ever be, and if he dies, I will see you shot!"

Thorne's head came up at that, and his eyes showed a spark of life.
"You cannot--"

"I can," Pellew assured him, "and I will. And whatever happens, I
shall see you court-martialled in Gibraltar and driven from the
Service!"

Anger and hatred seared through Thorne, setting his blood to boil. "I
shall have Kennedy up on charges--"

"No, you will not." Pellew turned away from the man, disgusted by the
sight of him, and made his way to the large stern windows, staring
out at the calming presence of the jewel-like sea. "You are a fool,
and worse, if you believe you can accuse Lieutenant Kennedy of
anything other than attending his duty as any officer worth the name
should do. You have done all to that boy you are going to, Mr.
Thorne, and I will lay waste to heaven and earth before allowing you
to come within a hair's breadth of harming him again. Make even the
slightest move against him, and I will send you to hell myself!"

Thorne sat back in the chair and stared at Pellew's back, hating the
man with everything that was in him. Laying an arm on the desk behind
him, he felt something cool against his hand, and glanced down to see
the small dagger used for opening correspondence. His gaze went again
to Pellew's back, even as his fingers closed about the dagger, and he
rose slowly to his feet.

Bracegirdle started forward in alarm, but Pellew, watching Thorne's
reflection in the window, said calmly, "One more step forward, Mr.
Thorne, and I shall call for the Marine outside my door. And if you
do not drop the knife before I turn around, I shall hang you from the
yardarm and knot the noose around your throat myself."

Thorne's anger left him in a rush, and he dropped the dagger,
defeated. He had not the courage to challenge Pellew, had nothing
save the cold, bitter certainty that he had lost. Everything. Because
of this man.

And one other...

"Mr. Bracegirdle," Pellew said quietly, without ever turning around,
"send for Captain Clarke and two of his men, and have my cabin rid of
this vermin. From now until we reach Gibraltar, he is under close
arrest in his cabin."

Bracegirdle smiled thinly. "Aye aye, sir." With a last contemptuous
glance at Thorne, he left to do the captain's bidding.

Thorne stared down at the dagger.

"You would never have a chance," Pellew told him in a cold,
disinterested voice. "I would kill you before you laid a finger upon
it. But you may do as you wish. God knows, nothing would give me
greater pleasure. And I would count it an honour to rid His Majesty's
Navy of the likes of you!"

"Go to the Devil!" Thorne rasped.

Pellew turned, then, and affixed a cold stare to the man. "I have no
need, sir," he retorted. "For he has come to me."
**********