As I See Fit: Homeward Bound
'Enforced idleness: It's a curse' Edward Pellew thought as he walked the quarterdeck at 4:30 in the morning. He had already been to the crosstrees with the big night glass to scan the horizon. Nothing, not a jot of light this morning. 'Good. One more morning without a thought of going to quarters.' There had been five days of this enforced idleness. Five days of glimpsing their pursuer then loosing sight of them again.
Four days with minimal sleep. Four days constantly searching for the Montezuma. The ship haunted him in his dreams. Sailors and officers that he had buried were remembered whenever he closed his eyes. Men who walked the decks with a blank look on their faces and bandages around their limbs and heads walked in his subconscious, only a moment with his guard down brought them back to stare at him. His mistake, his error, Charlie had been wrong. Captains did make mistakes. Captains did make errors. But Charlie was also correct: he had to keep these thoughts to himself.
He could hear the ship coming to life around him. The carpenter was in the waist checking on the repair work from the day before. The three shattered gun carriages had been replaced with solid ones, made from the timbers that were stowed in the hold. The galley fires had been lit and the smell of cooking oatmeal and that burnt biscuit water that passed for the crew's coffee. It hadn't been so long ago that he had shared in that awful brew.
Today, though, he would have real coffee, he could almost taste it in his mouth. He had been awake and on deck since before the watch was called. Restless he had walked the ship, checking on the patch in the forepeak and making his own assessment of the repairs that were still in progress. He had read the burial service four more times since the turn of the year.
Halfway through his walk, he began to think seriously about breakfast. He spun on his heel turning from the stern and stepping toward the upper deck railing. An agonized groan floated up from the poop, followed by a retching sound. "What the hell was that?" he exclaimed, not meaning the comment to be answered by anyone, but the masters mate at the wheel spoke.
"Dunno, sir. Happens every morning. Usually it's a little later though. Won't last long, maybe a half hour. We are above the sick berth now, sir."
"Yes, I suppose so." He turned back to his walk, the retching sounds finally died away, and so did his hunger.
Ships business in the coach kept him busy. The gunner's report on their ball and powder was a bit vague and he had sent Jacobs down to verify the stores. They must be ready for another bout with their adversary. Stanhope came round with the new watch bills to be signed, men were returning from their time in sick berth and were being assigned to new messes as warranted by the deaths and those that were still unable to take up their posts.
He felt his stomach rumble and while he was not hungry, his body was telling him that it needed nourishment. Breakfast should be laid in the great cabin by now. Amanda usually summoned him herself, but there had been no sign of her yet. Stretching he reached for his heavy coat. The barometer swayed gently with the rise and fall of the Altamira. Idly he glanced at it. It had fallen during the night. He would have to compare its reading to the log to know how much, but there was a change in the weather coming. That was for sure.
He almost ran into the swabbies that were working in the companionway outside of the coach. "You boys are early this morning." He said as he stepped over one young sailor, who he belatedly saw was Elder Kirkwood.
"Sorry, sir, we were kept out of the cabin, we usually do that while you and the missus are taking your walk." Their senior replied with a pull of the forelock.
Pellew was also surprised when Grimes bowed to him and walked around him into the coach. "I'll lay for you in here, sir. I've been turned away as well."
"Have you now?" The Captain asked. He took the two steps necessary to put his hand on the handle to the great cabin. "Go ahead and set up in the coach. I'll get Mrs. Pellew, and Mrs. Grimes out of your way."
He started to turn the knob, but then thought he didn't want to walk in on Millie in an awkward moment. He knocked. "Mrs. Pellew?" he called quietly, "Millie?" He heard footsteps, heavier than Amanda's. Mrs. Grimes cracked the door open a few inches but made no move to admit him.
"Captain?" She said.
"I want to come in Mrs. Grimes. Is Amanda ready for breakfast?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I don't think she will be taking a meal this morning." The door didn't budge, and her shape filled the opening.
Pellew gave her a sidewise look, his jaw working back and forth while he considered his words. His hand gripped the knob tighter and his shoulder came to rest against the wood. "I am coming in, Millie, please back up."
Her answer was hesitant, and the woman glanced back into the cabin. "No sir, I'm sorry, but no."
The fire lit in Edward Pellew's eyes. Millie caught sight of it and drew back just a few inches. "I am coming in." He said. The words were determined and were just low enough for the crewmen in the companionway not to hear them. His shoulder pushed against the door and Millie stepped back. It swung open. He entered the cabin and closed the door hurriedly.
Amanda was huddled on the window seat, feet upon the cushion and body wrapped in a blanket against the chill in the air. One of the stern windows was open to the sea, her head rested against the casement. She didn't turn around to look at him. Her nightcap still was in place, but her hair was spilling out on all sides. Her face was as pale as the cream colored posts between the windows. Two cups sat on the table, one half full and the other empty, a biscuit with one small piece gone lay on a saucer.
"Oh no.not ag" Amanda said and stuck her head out the window, leaning against the post and thrusting her shoulders and upper body out over the waves. The ship heaved in the growing seas and her fingers came loose from the molding. Edward was across the deck in seconds, grabbing her around the waist holding her poised out the window until she was finished then pulling her back into the cabin.
"Amanda, be careful. You could be overboard in seconds and no one would know." Millie was at his elbow with a basin of cool water and a cloth. He arranged Mandy back against the pillow that cushioned her from the inside posts. Millie started to wipe at her face, Edward took the cloth away from her. He nudged Mandy's legs over and sat on the seat facing her.
"Mrs. Grimes, you may go." He said, never looking at his wife's companion. He heard her footsteps recede and the cabin door close. "Now, what's going on?"
"Edward, I'm so sick." It wasn't even an exclamation it was a simple statement of fact.
"What is it? We have had rough seas before and it's never bothered you. Was it something you ate?"
"We ate the same things for the past two days, Teddy, you are not sick."
He heard the door open again but he did not look around. "Mrs. Grimes, what is it?" He asked, not unkindly, but his orders had been disregarded.
"Captain, you really ought to try to get her to eat something. It will help. She's had no food since last evening." He heard the clatter of a tray with their breakfast things, turning to the door he saw Grimes setting the table and pouring his coffee. The smell of the fresh brew was no longer inviting. The servants withdrew.
Rising and crossing to where the tray waited, he pulled the chairs aside and moved the table over to the stern windows.
"I don't want anything, Teddy. It will just not stay down. I don't want you here to see this. Leave me alone. I don't even want Millie here." She turned her head to stare out at the bottle green waves, whitecaps were beginning to show and they intrigued her. "Don't you have something to do with the ship?"
"No, I'm here for awhile. Stanhope needs the experience and we are still out of sight of that ship. You know, Amanda, richer or poorer, in health and sickness. Here." He held a piece of biscuit in front of her face; the bread was still hot and steamy, the butter, not yet rancid for it's crock had been hanging over the stern in the frigid waters, melting quickly and running off the edges. "We certainly have the riches. Here, together having this adventure, battles and all." She had not taken or responded to the offering, he opened his own mouth and popped it in. Her eyes followed the morsel and watched him chew and swallow it. He broke off another piece and spread about half the butter on it. Once again he offered it to her. His eyebrows rising and his head bowing so he was looking at her from under his brow. "So I guess I can put up with the sickness." She leaned forward and he put the bite on her tongue.
She chewed slowly almost as if not wanting let it out of her mouth, she finally did swallow. Edward prepared another bit. She spoke: "Not quite so much butter. Could I have a little of the jam?" He smiled and reached for the jam jar's spoon.
"Going to stay down?" He asked.
"I don't know. I think so."
She stuck her toes under his thigh, just as she had done on their wedding night. The memory sent a thrill though his body, he fought it back, trying to convince a sick wife to make, well, it just wasn't feasible and there would be no enjoyment. He fed her the bite of biscuit and jam and started to prepare another. He found himself staring into her eyes, trying to figure out why she would not tell him of the child to come.
He managed to feed her the remainder of that biscuit and poured her a cup of coffee cut with some fresh milk and sugar. "Better?"
"No, I don't think so."
Pushing the table back into its place he turned back to her, reaching down to unfasten his shoes. His eyes crinkled at the corners in companionship with the hint of a smile that turned up the edges of his mouth. Removing his jacket he laid it aside. She did not object when he latched the window partially closed, and then straightened her out on the window seat. It was just barely wide enough for him to lie down, spoon fashion with her and draw the blanket up to cover them both.
They watched as the sea rolled, taking the Altamira under the stern and lifting her up, gently rolling her from side to side and making the lantern swing in a circle above them. She snuggled closer to him as he pressed on her, his right hand encircling her waist and drawing her back against his belly and thighs. His left snaked its way under her pillow and pulled off the nightcap, leaving her hair free of any restraint.
"Edward!" She whispered to him.
"Well you said you weren't sick anymore."
He nuzzled her ear; tongue teasing the thin upper rim, and then biting at the lobe. His kisses ran down the tendon of her neck and his chin bared her shoulder under the blanket.
His right hand ran down her thigh, finding the edge of her gown, his fingers slipping beneath the cloth, trailing their fire up the inside of her thigh. He stopped at the edge of downy hair that hid her secret places. He was sure she could feel his need, straining as it was, to escape the rough duck breeches and reach the object of its desire.
She pressed back again, her foot straying over his ankle and calves. His hand, continuing its upward journey brought a gasp of pleasure as he made circles around her navel and moved upward to tease her nipples into mountains, hard with her response to his touch.
Leaving the gown around her waist he withdrew his hand and whispered to her, "Are you sure you are up to doing this. You were sick only a few moments ago."
Her breaths were taken in long in draughts, held then released "Yes, Edward, don't leave me like this." Her back arched bringing her bottom in closer contact with his rock hard manhood.
His fingers dislodged the buttons of his breeches flaps and he freed himself from the tangle of smallclothes that held him prisoner. She began to turn in his arms. "No, this way, back to front, there is not enough room." He drew her right thigh up over his, molding the other to his lap. He insinuated himself between her nether cheeks.
She was ready for him, wet and open; he thrust gently, gaining a hold in her most secret of places. His hand reached over her hip, fingers straying to the rosette of soft, yielding flesh, teasing it as he had her nipples just minutes before.
He began to move in her gently, the crown of his manhood massaging her inner lips, he could feel its edges pop as he withdrew and thrust again. He began to move his fingers in a tiny circle in rhythm with his hips.
She began to moan, answering his movements as best she could. Each breath brought a louder groan of pleasure. She had forgotten where she was. "Shhh." He whispered in her ear. "The watch can hear you."
'I cannot wait to get her ashore and somewhere private. I long to hear those sounds. I love to give her pleasure!' This was his last conscious thought of her as his own need began to take control of his movements. His strokes delved deeper, he could feel her body begin to ripple with her answering passion. His hand, never stopping its movements had found that place that drove her mad.
His own breaths matched hers, violent, tempo increasing. He found himself repeating her name over and over into her ear. "Amanda.AmandaAmanda!" The sounds of her ultimate pleasure muffled by the pillow held against her mouth were barely audible to him.
"Oh, Amanda, Wife!" His hand stilled, holding her close to him as his emission flooded her. Deeper, deeper he fell into her. She received him with equal eagerness, her muscles rippling to draw him closer, joining them as one.
As he slowly came back to reality, his hand remained wrapped around her belly, touching her, loving the child that he knew must surely be there. 'Your papa loves you very much little one.' He thought, almost voicing the words, but stopping short. Amanda must have some reason for keeping this news to herself.
'Maybe she really does not know.' He looked at her face, eyes closed in the light sleep of passion expended. She breathed easily, a little smile playing over her mouth. 'She can be so intelligent over so many things, but blissfully ignorant of others.' He shook his head at the thought. "Mrs. Pellew," He savored the words, "I love you." He sighed as he joined her in the doze of loves afterglow.
"Sir, Sir?" Something was making a dent in his dream. Sleepily he opened his starboard eye to find Grimes touching him lightly on the shoulder. "Sir?"
"Yes, yes, what is it?" He answered.
"You are wanted on deck sir, weather's getting up."
Indeed it was. He could feel the greater heave of the stern as it slewed around into the waves. "I will come. Get my coat."
He threw the blanket off, and slipped into his shoes. Taking advantage of Grimes working on brushing his coat into something like orderliness, he leaned over to caress Amanda's hip. "You'd best get up and get dressed. We have foul weather. I'm going on deck."
She sat up, her arms going around his neck. He, burying his face in her hair; kissed her neck and shoulder.
"I will, Teddy." She said, her arm falling to her blanket covered lap. "Be careful."
He nodded to her and slipped into his jacket.
Stanhope had started the change of course that would ease the working of the ship. Pellew gazed into the binnacle; the glass was continuing to fall. Off to the northeast he could see the beginning of a squall line. The rain was falling in sheets into the sea. He held to a shroud as the deck rolled beneath his feet. Quietly he gave the orders to secure the deck, erect safety lines and lash the guns tightly into their places. Very reluctantly, and with a glance over his shoulder across the signal lockers and the stern lantern, he gave the command to shorten sail to the foul weather canvas.
There had been no sign of the Montezuma when he had looked back.
He considered the patch in the forepeak then looked at the lashed guns. He shook his head, biting his tongue between his teeth. 'We are in trouble.' He thought. His hands automatically found each other behind his back. 'We cannot fight again. I don't have the men to fight the ship.' He looked at the few seamen who were finishing up weaving the safety lines across the waist. "Come storm." He muttered to himself, "Come and hide us."
He paced the deck his tread even and measured. 'Captains don't make mistakes. Don't make errors.' When he turned westward he gazed into the mist. 'Where is she? Even with her storm canvas, she's not mortally wounded like we are.'
The rain started to drip down. It was not the cascade he wanted to hide their turn to the south. He almost started to curse the weather, then thought better of it. The God who ruled the rain and the wind might turn against him. 'No, pray for what you need. The turn must be to the south, where warmer water might keep the rain from freezing in the rigging.'
"Send word to the cook, Mr. Stanhope, we need a meal served out. Both watches. Turn them out of their hammocks if you have to, but get them fed. It might be a long time before we can light the galley fires again."
"You expect action, sir?"
"Let's just be prepared, Mr. Stanhope. The weather may change for the worse."
Two hours later, he was still pacing the deck. The idlers were lollygagging in the waist, foul and cold weather gear piled on their bodies. The rain was misting now, Pellew hoped that the Montezuma could not see any better than he could. His own oilskins were laid out in the coach; Grimes had seen that the glassware and china had been packed away. He and Amanda had eaten another breakfast off of tin ware.
She had changed her clothing too; she was back in her breeches. Her riding boots were stashed in a corner and she had her stoutest shoes, ones that almost looked like a man's brogans on her feet. The only thing that told him she was a woman was her shawl, knotted around her shoulders and her hair that was tied up in a scarf.
Everyone seemed to be waiting. The men were obeying orders instantly, sometimes the idlers attending with the on duty watch. Waiting. Even the ship was silent; the only noise was the creaking of the ropes and yards. Pellew could feel the muscles in his face working with the strain of a too active mind.
Quiet, too quiet. The ship was lifted on a roller; she slid down into the trough, her decks canting to starboard at almost a forty-five degree angle. Everyone grabbed for something to hang onto as the wave released her.
Boom, boomboomboomboom boom.
The shot sang through the rigging and slammed into the deck.
"BEAT TO QUARTERS, MR. STANHOPE! BEAT TO QUARTERS!" Pellew yelled over the whining of the chain shot.
"Oh hell!" Charlie Hammond yelled as he was flung against the bulkhead in the wardroom. Just allowed up the day before, he was hobbling around the ship with the aid of a stick. He had heard the drums and was trying to join his division on deck. Now he sat on it instead. A red eye opened on his right thigh. "Oh damn." He gasped as he clapped his hand over the wound, the blood welling up through his fingers. "Oh damn."
Younger Kirkland poked his head in the open door of the cabin. "Captain Hammond?" His voice was timid and his eyes just cleared the doorframe. "Captain Hammond, are you all right?"
"No, damn it! I'm not all right. Lend a hand here!" Charlie roared at the little boy.
The boy was not afraid, he had been roared at by the watch officers, the petty officers and the cook for the whole voyage and had found that their roar in most cases was far worse than their bite. He came around the edge of the bulkhead and asked what he could do.
The little boy supported Charlie and Charlie held on to him as the shot bit into the Altamira. The child jumped every time a ball slammed into the hull. It seemed to take them hours to descend into the makeshift sick berth.
The lanterns swung with the roll of the ship causing the shadows on the bulkheads to cast reflections of the hell that was the surgeons workplace. Younger Kirkland shrank back against Charlie as they turned into the orlop. "Younger, where are Amanda and Mrs. Grimes?"
"In the lady hole sir!"
"Why don't you go see if they are.." Charlie ducked as a spent shot fell through the hatchway and crashed into one of the rungs of the companionway ladder. The boy hid his face in Charlie's coattails. Edward had been right, this child was too small to serve as a powder monkey. "All right and make sure that they stay that way! Here. Take this to protect them." Hammond produced a small pistol from his coat pocket. "Now you be careful with that, it's loaded."
"I will sir!" The boy knuckled his forehead as he had seen his brother do to Edward.
"Go on, get out of here!" He slapped the child on the rear and sent him down the next ladder.
The sick berth truly was a scene from hell. The crashing of the guns above, shot tearing into the hull, deck and masts, the screams of the men here and those being brought down. Charlie considered that this probably was the worst fighting of the battle with the Montezuma. He heard the Altamira answer back again, her broadsides still firing with discipline.
"Charlie! What are you doing here?"
"Amanda?" Hammond was startled, "What are you doing here?"
Her laugh was immediate, somehow wrong in the surroundings. "I have escaped the hold, as you can see--" She stopped, her hand going to her mouth. "Oh no, not again." Her hand came away and she started to unbuckle his knee band. "Charlie, you are going to have to get down and drop your--'scuse me." She turned away and was sick into a bucket on the deck.
Hammond balanced on one leg and unbuttoned his breeches. "My small clothes aren't in the best of repair, but then, you are married now.Amanda what's wrong?" He interrupted himself as he boosted himself back up onto the stacked sea chests. Part of Pengarth's name, spelled in domed tacks, bit into his buttocks, he moved over an inch or two.
Amanda shook her head, biting back another spasm of nausea as she cut away the sodden bandage. "I don't know. I just cannot keep anything down. Nerves I guess." Both of them looked toward the entry as Stanhope was carried in with a splinter wound. "Charlie, what's going on up there?"
"My guess is that Edward trying to run and when he can't he's hitting back, hard enough to make that ship stand off. We have to keep them from boarding us."
She wrinkled her nose and started to turn away again, "Charlie, the smell!" She turned back to the bucket and retched into it. He held the fresh bandage, waiting for her to finish securing it around his thigh. He smiled, seeing her hands studiously avoid touching his privates as she tied the dressing in place.
"Amanda, you can't stay down here." He swung his legs off the chest just as the Altamira heaved and bit into the waves again. He stumbled and she caught him.
"Charlie! What are you doing?"
"Amanda, I can no more give up the fight than Edward can. I'm going to relieve the gunner in the magazine. Can you give me a hand, I may not be able to work a gun, but I can pack cartridge."
He put his arm around her shoulders. Together they stumbled out onto the main deck. She said wasn't startled by the incoming cannon shot, but by the fact that the guns of the Altamira were silent. The few men that were serving the guns were running from cannon to cannon to reload. The remaining men were aloft spreading all the sail they could in the worsening weather.
The Montezuma fired. Charlie jerked her down to the deck as he heard the change in the tenor of the last salvo.
"What?!" She exclaimed as she sat down abruptly.
"Chain and balls! They are trying to dismast us!" Almost in answer the mizzen was hit three times, each shot sheering off sails, wood and cordage. Two more balls slammed home. With a resounding crack the remainder of the mizzen went over. Splinters sailed along the quarterdeck leaving no one standing.
"Edward!" She screamed into this ear and started to stand up.
"NO! Down!" He drew her ear closer to his mouth. "You must stay down! They are going to try for the other masts, we have to get below!"
"But Charlie!" She started to lurch to her feet; Hammond grabbed her shoulder and turned her head to look directly into his face.
"You made him a promise! To obey orders! You have to go below with me! You have to save the child you carry!" With one last look at the ruined quarterdeck, she turned to start below in front of him.
Charlie glanced back over his shoulder, he could see the two surgeons working there, one amputating an arm, an arm that held a man pinned beneath the cross trees. Beyond that he saw Pellew on his knees, his arms held out on either side by two of the quartermasters while the surgeon made an incision under his right arm. Edwards's eyes and attention were not on his own pain, but were steadily watching aft at the Montezuma. Pellew had not even flinched as the cut was made.
Amanda's head had come back up and turned aft as she waited for him to lead her below. Hammond tore his gaze from the quarterdeck scene, his body blocking any view of Edward from her. Amanda didn't need to see her husband hurt.
Whatever quarrels he had with Edward until now, he could not doubt the man's courage. He would not want to stand in Pellew's shoes at this moment.
They had relieved the gunner. Charlie explained what she was to do when the ship's boys came below. She worked outside the magazine, taking cartridge from Hammond's hands while he made sure there were enough ready loads. When the Altamira surged forward she was to go inside and help pack the powder into the charges.
It was during one of these quiet times that they were able to talk as they worked. "Charlie," She said as she tied the casing closed. "I saw what happened with Edward. I know he's hurt."
Charlie shook his head.
"How do you know I am with child?" She asked.
"Amanda, I have five sisters and no brothers, and two of those sisters are married and I have six nephews and nieces. You have been showing all the signs. You go to sleep if you get quiet and are you sick everyday?"
"Oh yes, almost all day. I usually can keep supper down, otherwise I'd die of starvation."
"Can I ask you a personal question? Remember I have a mother and sisters, have you uh.missed?"
She stopped tying the cartridge, her face thoughtful. "Maybe. I don't keep track of that. Charlie, we've only been married a couple of months, I didn't expect anything that quick."
"Babies don't come on a time table Mandy." He handed her the next filled bag. "And it has nothing to do with how long you've been havingumrelations. Surely you know that, you are no fool." He looked at what she was doing. "Square knot, no bows."
"Oh." She retied the last five cartridges making sure the knots were tight. Two muffled booms sounded. Amanda and Charlie were safe far below the water line. The ship shuddered. She was hit again in the hull. Charlie staggered into her as the Altamira lurched forward.
"We are running again. We didn't even fire back this time. God. What's going on up there?" He looked at the deck above his head.
"Charlie," Amanda said, "How many more people know I'm pregnant?"
"Doesn't matter. You are the captain's wife, people watch you. That's probably why Grimes changed into giving you tea instead of wine, and why Millie, oh I am sure Millie knows. That's why she put that "horrid" as you call it, milk at every meal."
The ships motion eased and to Charlie's way of thinking, she had no way on her. But no other noise. Either they were taken or Edward had another plan. The thought of Pellew reminded him, "In fact, I think the only person who does not know is Edward Pellew."
"Charlie, Edward does not want children."
"How do you know?"
"He told me, on the way from Kingston to Boston."
"Man's a fool." He turned back to scooping gunpowder into the casing.
The gunner burst into the magazine, two of his mates following. "Roust out three of those full kegs." The mates pushed past Hammond.
"What's going on?" Hammond asked.
"Cap'n's got a desperate plan. If it works, we'm going to live through this."
"Well, master gunner, what?"
"We'm going to play dead. Really dead." The man was pulling other supplies from some shelves in the rear of the magazine. "We'm hit into a rain squall. We can't see the other ship, and he can't see us. Cap'n's getting ready to launch a raft with a lot of wreckage and a bomb. That's what I've been told to prepare for."
Charlie pulled Amanda out of the magazine and up to the main deck. "I've got to see! What a plan!"
They were not able to go further than the hatchway. Pieces of the wrecked mizzen had not been thrown over board. Edward stood with his uniform jacket thrown about his shoulders. He was reading the service for the dead over several corpses who were not sewn up in their hammocks. Stanhope was among them. An ensign stretched by four crewmen, was held over their bodies.
A pile of various types of wreckage was building amidships, shattered gun carriages, empty casks, hammocks, old cordage and three casks of powder. The gunner was fixing slow match to the barrels an old ensign lay across the wreckage, its flagstaff still attached. Three barrels of pitch were aflame on the bare quarterdeck, the smoke and flames beginning to dance in the deepening twilight. The rain still fell in short, violent showers, sometimes obscuring the forecastle and the poop from Hammond's view.
Hammond looked up; there was not a sail spread. Edward had brought the ship to, and it was almost deadly quiet. Even the burial service had been done in a whisper.
The service completed, the men began to clear the deck, passing the offal over the side to a group of seamen in the ship's boats, then into the water. The stump of the mizzen was going to cause a problem, Hammond thought. It still had part of the yard attached and it trailed it's rigging over the side.
The deck was finally clear. One of the two boats was hoisted
back in. The blocks greased to be silent. Pellew himself went
over the side, holding the slow match to the fuse.
Hammond was pushed out of the way as the men poured into the tops. Every sail on the main and foremast bloomed. He had lost sight of Pellew when the Captain had left the deck.
Hammond stumped up to the quarterdeck, Amanda in tow. He peered into what was left of the binnacle. They were headed due north. A course opposed to their earlier one. Rimble, arm in a sling and still as pale as death, stood next to the broken wheel, the forward one gone again and no replacement had appeared yet. "Where's the captain?"
"There, Sir!" Rimble whispered and pointed up to the main topsail. Edward was the fourth man from the end of the yard.
Edward half listened to the whispered commands from the midshipman in the top. He wore a tarpaulin jacket but not the oilskin and sou'wester that would have kept the rain from his neck. He was as wet and cold beneath the jacket as he was where he was not covered.
'She's not going to take this sail very long.' He thought as he laid a hand on the yard, feeling the wood give as the sail filled. 'Come on sweet girl, fly. Get us out of here.' He was again aware that he was using the same tone of voice as when he made love to his wife.
"Hey there mate!" His companion to the left hit him in the shoulder. "They want us down! Mr. Harkin says last man down gets a dozen."
Pellew moved his feet on the horses, the right foot slipped on the rope. The rain was freezing on the lines. The man to his right was not so lucky, both his feet slipped; the man lost his hold on the yard as well. Pellew wrapped his left arm around the yard; he instantly reached for the man's arm, catching it. The man hung, twisting in the air. Edward felt the stitches under his arm tear out, the warm wetness flooding down his back. He choked back the cry of pain.
"Help me!" He hissed at the man on the end of the yard. The top man grabbed the back of the twisting man's shirt, hoisting him up and placing his feet securely back on the horses.
When Pellew got both hands back on the yard, he vaulted up to straddle it. He motioned the others off the lines, making him the last man off the yard. 'This is not the time I would pick for settling this matter, but may be now is the right time for this officer.' He came off the yard, the last man off either side. The older middy raised his ropes end.
Harkin's arm was on the down stroke and could not stop. The blow landed squarely across Pellew's lower back, throwing him off balance in his reach for the shrouds, he caught them and swung back into the fighting top. He was face to face with Harkin.
"My God, he's started the Captain." Rimble hissed to no one in particular.
"Oh, Edward. Not now." Hammond added. They watched as Edward grabbed the young man by the collar and breeches waist, and held him out over the deck, feet resting on the edge of the platform.
The captain of the top, watching from the deck, ran toward the quarterdeck begging Rimble to let him come up. "Mr. Rimble, Sir, Mr. Harkin promised a dozen to the last man down. I reckon the Captain was a little annoyed."
Rimble's eyebrows show up in astonishment. "A little?" The words were a whisper but every eye was turned upward.
Edward stood still, the anger washing away with the water on his back. He still held the man over the deck, but he knew now he would not harm him. "These men are tired. These men are cold and the rain is freezing in the rigging. Most have not slept for two days, and I am going to have to order the sails in a few moments from now. These men are doing the best they can. They don't need to be started!" The words came rasping out between his clenched teeth. "Do you understand?"
The man nodded. The need for silence was more pressing than speech.
"Very well." Edward set the man down on the top then leaned out looking down at Rimble to be sure that the first saw the middy was safe. When Rimble waved, Edward reached again for the backstay.
The middy struggled up, his feet sliding on the ice covered wood. In turning to slide down the backstay, Pellew saw the man slide forward as the ship heeled over.
He came off the stay and slid across the top, his fingers grabbing for the open spaces between the timbers to stop his own deadly slide. He held out his hands to Harkin but it was too late. The man shot over the side to land spread eagled across one of the starboard cannons.
The ships company stood open mouthed staring up at Edward who was now trying to stop his own desperate slide.
"For God's sake, Thomas," Charlie Hammond whispered to Rimble. "Get the men back into the tops. Get that platform cleared of ice. Then, if' he's too incoherent to give an order, get the courses and everything but a jib and her topsails in. If we are not far enough away, we will deal with it later."
Rimble turned to issue the orders.
'He thinks he's killed that man.' Hammond thought, 'And may be he did.' Hammond felt a hand on his arm. Amanda had seen it all. It could be that she needed to see her husband in this light. "Amanda, Edwards a hard man. He has to be for the position he holds."
"Charlie, he hasn't slept in three days except for some naps with me or at his desk. He must be near collapse. What is he trying to prove?"
"I don't know, Amanda, perhaps he's trying to prove he is worthy of this ship." They stood watching the canvas disappear from the yards and the men make their way back to the deck.
"I can't watch him kill himself. I'm going below." Amanda left the quarterdeck, the wind flaring out Edward's boat cloak around her. Hammond followed her.
"Amanda, wait." He limped towards her, his breeches staining pink with rain and new blood.
She looked at him with a strangeness he had never seen before. "Charlie, you need to go somewhere and get off that leg."
"I will, in a minute." They descended into the wardroom, still cleared for action, but vacant and seemingly warm. No rain or wind blew through it. "I'm getting the surgeon, Amanda, I'm going to have him declared unfit."
Her eyes grew wide with disbelief. "No, Charlie, it will destroy him. He has pinned so much on this ship."
"Amanda, I'm talking of the good of the ship."
"Charlie, you are speaking for yourself. You are senior will you--"?
"No! Rimble will take her." He grimaced as the ship rolled, heaving him into a support. She grabbed his arm, pulling him upright. Her face was expressionless. He knew she was trying to understand what he was trying to do. He believed that he didn't want Pellew declared unfit permanently, just to get the man to rest. There was nothing more Pellew could do. Either that ship would be there when the storm cleared or it would not. Edward Pellew had done his best.
But tiredness caused that man's death in the rigging, while not directly at Pellew's hands, at least by reason of his exhaustion.
'It's a good thing it's raining, they can't see me cry.' Edward Pellew thought as he slid with the top men to the deck. 'I'm so tired.' He looked at the quarterdeck, seeing Charlie and Rimble standing there watching him. 'It would be so easy to turn the ship over to them and lay down on the deck and sleep. But I can't.'
He took a step aft and stumbled over a gun's tackle, falling to his knees. Pengarth, the closest officer, grabbed his right arm, causing a gasp of pain that was cut off quickly.
"Captain?" Pengarth bent over him. Pellew held his arm close to his body. Pengarth pried the watch coat back. Edward shaking with cold and exhaustion could do nothing to stop him. He looked down as the coat was opened; the crimson stain had widened to cover half his chest and the circle extended almost to his waist. "Surgeon! Pass the word for the surgeon!" Pengarth rasped.
Pellew struggled to stand up. Finally he regained his feet, but could not move. "Mr. Pengarth?" His words were barely audible.
"Tell Mr. Rimble--"
"Here's the doctor, Captain."
His coat was pulled off. Several seamen helped to shelter him from the freezing rain. As conscientiously as he could, the doctor peeled back his shirt. His waistcoat had gone long ago. He could feel the needle, but no pain. The surgeon looked up from under his arm. The Reed's face bore a worried look.
"Captain, do you not feel this?"
"I think I'm too cold, frozen."
"There, that's it." The doctor pulled the last stitch tight. Edward cried out, more in surprise than pain. "Felt that?"
"Yes, damn it."
"Good, at least you are not insensate." The doctor tied a rough bandage around his shoulder that bound his arm to his torso. "Maybe you won't pull that out." Edward picked at the linen cloth. He had seen it before. "We are out of bandages, Captain. Mrs. Pellew brought us some old dresses and shifts."
"Doctor, this isn't old." The surgeon looked askance. "This is her wedding dress." One of the seamen held his jacket out, the surgeon took it and leaned in to drape it around his shoulders.
"Captain, no one could have done more for this ship. Lieutenant Rimble has had a good laudanum based sleep, and while is not back to full potential, is able to take the ship for awhile and can watch after the crew. Edward, please, get some rest."
The man's words were true, Edward knew. His stumble over the gun tackle was a good reminderand a rested Captain would not have challenged a junior officer. 'I have lost my shipI will never be confirmed into her now. But it's not only me this time.' He thought touching the strip of cloth across his chest. 'It's her and the child too.'
But, for this moment he still commanded the Altamira. He took an unsteady step toward the quarterdeck. The doctor disappeared from his side. The top men of the main mast pulled their forelock to him as he made his way to the wheel.
'Don't they know I killed that man? I could do the same to them. Don't they care?' He studied the looks on his crew's faces. The faces were filled, not with the revulsion he expected, but with respect.
The surgeon, carrying his kit, hurried toward Amanda and Charlie. They were still standing in the deserted wardroom. "I was called to the quarterdeck again, Captain Hammond. I just finished up sewing the Captain's wound for the third time. I'm sending him below for some rest.
"Mrs. Pellew," the Reed continued, ""He needs to be warm and he needs to sleep. Could you have your servants," Hammond started to interrupt, the surgeon shook his head and held up a warning hand, "I know we are going to stay cleared, Captain Hammond, Mrs. Pellew, have them make up a pallet in your cabin?"
Amanda's face changed to a look of apprehension. "You want me to bed him now?" She asked incredulously.
"No. I want you to sleep, really sleep with him. Comfort him, not make love. That's what he doesn't need. Be a wife to him."
"I can do that." She hurried aft, sending Younger Kirkland for Millie.
Hammond turned to the surgeon. "Thank you doctor, I was coming to see you about him. You saved me the trouble, and probably saved a friendship as well."
The doctor shook his head, "If the man does not get some rest, that scratch will not heal, it will become infected and I will not be responsible for that. Now, you get your breeches down. I want to check your leg.
"We are alive, Captain!" Rimble whispered when Pellew stood next to him. "We are still alive!"
Both men turned forward as a bawling sound came from the forecastle. "What the hell was that?" Pellew said to Pengarth, who was still in the waist.
"Mrs. Pellew's cow, sir." Came the hushed reply. "Its calf was killed in this skirmish."
"Kill that cow." Pengarth turned forward to carry out the order. "Quietly, Mr. Pengarth."
"Yes, Sir." Pellew glanced at Rimble with a pained expression, rolling his eyes slightly.
"Mr. Rimble?" Pellew said.
"For now, the ship is yours. I'm going below. Call me
if you think necessary."