Ship of the Damned, part three
by Sue N.

Pellew frowned tightly as he waited on deck for the
officer representing Resolute to appear. Kennedy had
told him of hearing no pipes on the other ship, pipes
that would have accompanied a captain's
disembarkation, and his curiosity ñ already aroused by
the shoddy seamanship exhibited earlier and the shabby
appearance of the frigate ñ had been further piqued.
Now he found himself awaiting the arrival of a
lieutenant rather than a captain, and this latest
mystery had him fairly seething with questions. He
felt also a strange twinge of unease, almost of
foreboding, and mentally shook himself out of such
dramatics.

Still, his instincts warned of something not quite
right...

Kennedy and Hornblower watched with an interest
matching their captain's as their visitor at last
climbed through the entry port and onto the deck, and
both studied him intently as he straightened and
saluted the quarter-deck first, then Pellew. In
glaring contrast to the ship he had just left, he was
a figure of immaculate neatness, hat and shoes
pristine, uniform spotless and elegantly cut. He was
as tall as Horatio, but rather more solidly built, and
carried himself with an unmistakable arrogance.
Indeed, his entire attitude suggested that he was
doing Indefatigable a great favour by simply setting
foot on her deck. Cold grey eyes raked ship and crew
with a chilly hauteur, while his wide mouth set ever
harder into a thin line of disdain.

Watching the man, Kennedy suddenly had two images
flash through his mind, both unpleasant. The first was
of his elder brother Charles in one of his most
disagreeable moods, and the other was of a wolf he had
once sighted while hunting with his father ñ lean and
hungry, every muscle tightly coiled as he waited to
spring.

He shook his head to clear it. Horatio was right; he
was reading far too many of those damned novels!

The lieutenant stopped before Pellew and bobbed his
head curtly. "Captain Pellew, I believe?" he greeted
in a cool, cultured voice, his pale eyes sweeping over
the other in frank appraisal. "I am Lieutenant Hugh
Thorne, first of Resolute. Captain Sidney sends his
regrets, but he isñ indisposed at present, and unable
to accept your gracious invitation."

Pellew caught the slight hesitation at the word
"indisposed," as well as the clipped, even peremptory,
tone of that voice, and lifted his chin a fraction,
his eyes and mouth hardening. He seldom rushed to
judgment of any man, but nonetheless took an immediate
dislike to this one. Still, nothing of what his mind
registered showed on his carefully schooled face.

"I am sorry to hear of your captain's illness," he
answered, his gaze never leaving Thorne. "But I
welcome you to Indefatigable. Allow me to present my
officers ñ Lieutenant Hornblower, Lieutenant Kennedy,
Master Bowles, and Captain Clarke of Marines. I fear
my first lieutenant, Mr. Bracegirdle, suffered some
injuries in the recent storms we encountered, and is
still recovering."

"Storms, you say?" Thorne countered sharply, glancing
about and seeing only faint traces of any damage
suffered. "And yet your ship looks remarkably well!
We, too, went through the storms, and fared rather
worse."

Pellew stiffened and frowned at Thorne's tone, an odd
mingling of admiration andñ and what? Envy?
Resentment? Whatever their intended meaning, the words
had sounded almost like an accusation.

"My men have been diligent in their repair efforts,"
he explained with a strained civility. "Knowing the
Dons frequent these waters, it seemed prudent to
ensure we were in fighting shape should we meet them."

The barb struck home, and Thorne's expression showed
it. His jaws clamped and a small mucsle twitched in
one, while his eyes went hard and cold as ice. He was
not, however, sufficiently angry to risk
court-martial, and so managed to control his words.
"Prudent, indeed, Captain," he granted harshly. "And
it would seem your efforts paid off."

Pellew had no desire to stand here and exchange verbal
jabs with a subordinate in full view of his crew, and
dredged up a rather grudging sense of hospitality.
"Perhaps you would do me the honour of joining me in
my cabin, Lieutenant," he invited, praying the man
would find an excuse -- any excuse -- to refuse. "It
has been some time since we have encountered any ship
of our own, and I would... enjoy... hearing of your
ship's experiences in these waters."

Thorne wanted desperately to refuse, but could think
of no acceptable reason. "Sir, I-- I would be honoured
to accept. Thank you."

Damn! thought Pellew sourly. He would be forced to
drink with this insolent fellow... From the corner of
his eye, he caught a glimpse of Hornblower and
Kennedy, looking as awkward and uncomfortable as two
boys forced to watch the adults fight, and decided he
could, at least, spare them.

"Mr. Hornblower," he said, turning to the two, "you
have the watch, I believe?"

Horatio swallowed and nodded, his brown eyes huge in
his face. "Yes, sir."

"Well, get to it, then. Mr. Kennedy?" He turned to the
other, and racked his brain frantically for some means
of reprieve. "Young Mr. Hardy has been delinquent in
studying his mathematics. Now that you are off watch,
perhaps you could assist him?"

Archie gaped at the captain in utter bewilderment. The
captain wanted HIM to help Hardy... with MATHEMATICS?

"Uh, of course, sir," he stammered. "I mean-- aye aye,
sir!" Good God, why didn't Pellew just ask him to
teach Hardy to fly?

"Very well, then," Pellew said gently. "Dismissed." He
returned the rather uncertain salutes the two
lieutenants gave, then turned back to Thorne. "Well,
sir, if you will follow me... "

Horatio and Archie stood rooted to the deck, watching
in helpless confusion as the captain led Thorne to his
cabin. When neither showed any inclination to move,
Bowles wandered over and glanced up at the exquisitely
blue sky.

"Lovely day," he said musingly. "Looks like you two
got the better bargain, not having to be cooped up
inside that stuffy cabin."

"Mr. Bowles," Archie asked softly, uncertainly, "he --
the captain, I mean -- well, he can't really want me
to tutor Hardy-- "

A slight, knowing smile curved about the sailing
master's mouth as he regarded Kennedy with wry
amusement. "Perhaps he was being kind, sir," he
suggested. "After all, whose company would you prefer
-- Mr. Hardy's, or Mr. Thorne's?"
**********