Life Aboard Justinian - parts 12 & 13
The next afternoon, Archie noticed Matthews fixing a sail. Archie approached him tentatively. "Hello there, Matthews."
"Good day, sir, anything I can help ye with?" Matthews asked.
"How long have you been at sea?"
"Longer than you have been alive it seems. Did Styles talk to you about us helping ye? Do you want us to lend you a hand?"
"Well. . . yes, I would, if that won't cause you any trouble."
"If it was any trouble, we would not volunteer to assist you. You just come to me with your studies and I can help ye in any way I can. I can't promise you the moon and the stars, but I can show you something about making a living on the sea."
"Thank you Matthews," Archie said, and went on to his business.
Archie spent his free time with Styles and Matthews. They set up a small corner in the hold for their practice. Styles showed Archie how to use weapons. They had dirks, cutlasses, and a tomahawk that Matthews got during an enemy boarding. For tomahawk practice, Styles told Archie to pretend he was aiming at Simpson's head. Oldroyd thought it was interesting how adept Archie became after that bit of advice.
Archie especially enjoyed using the cutlass. He made believe that he was a pirate or the legendary Robin Hood. He wondered why nobody had thought of making learning fun like this. Archie felt he was soaking up knowledge this way.
After supper one night, Matthews took Archie to the quarterdeck. Matthews showed Archie how to steer the ship. "Everyone should know about steering a ship. What if you are given command of a prize ship and you don't know how to get where you're going?"
"It seems that way with everything aboard a ship. You have to know how to run everything yourself. I say that this ship is too big to be run by just me. I need to have men
run it for me." Archie told Matthews.
"Aye, but if you don't know how to run the ship, how will you command your men? You don't have to be an expert at it. A good captain knows the ways of his ship and his men. I want you to make a good captain someday."
"Yes, if I ever make it that far."
"You will, I have faith in you and your abilities."
"I am glad someone does. I am not so sure I have faith in myself."
"You should. Now, take the wheel. Feel its power in your hands. When you are steering the ship, you are its master, even if you aren't the master of the men."
Archie took the helm of the ship. He could feel the power that Matthews spoke of. It made him feel that he could take control of his life. Running a ship and running one's life could not be that different, could they?
Archie was so happy that he agreed to have Matthews and Styles help him. Both of them
showed him so much about the sea.
Through the darkness of the night, a lone figure stood watch.
"A common seaman showing a midshipman how to run a ship? There is something not quite right about that."
The figure waited until Archie left the quarterdeck then followed him.
"Hello, my sweet boy." Simpson said.
Archie stopped in his tracks. He was trembling as he slowly turned around. The nervousness disappeared when he saw someone standing behind Simpson.
"Hello, Jack. Fancy meeting you here." Styles said smugly.
"I hear you and that Matthews are teaching our boy to be a sailor. Are you sure that is all you are teaching him?"
"I am showing him how to do more things than you ever did."
"Are you sure it is proper for a common seaman to show a future officer how to run a ship? What if you teach him the wrong things? We all could be doomed."
"With you on this ship, we already are."
"Remember Styles, what we spoke of the last time. Cross me and I will say it is you abusing our sweet boy, here."
"You only pick on the weak. I would like to see you try to pick on me. You don't have the nerve to pick on me OR carry through on any of your threats."
Archie spoke not a word. He didn't know quite what to say. Though he did hear another set of footsteps walking down the hallway. Archie quickly turned his head to see who it was. It was Lt. Eccleston, who was not at all pleased with what he saw.
"What is this? What are you men doing dawdling between decks?"
Simpson graciously volunteered a response. "I am sorry to say this, but something disgraceful has been happening aboard this ship. It is something disgraceful between Styles and Mr. Kennedy."
"Don't believe a word he says, sir, whatever he says is a lie!" Styles exclaimed.
This was too amusing for Simpson. He watched as Archie and Styles played into his hands, obligingly digging their own graves.
Archie knew he would have to act fast. "I was fighting with Styles. I admit it. I know fighting is not allowed on the ship."
"Yes, but what were you fighting about?" Simpson prodded.
Styles clenched his fists. If Simpson continued, there would be a fight, but Archie would not be involved. Archie saw Styles' fist and continued with a stutter. "I -- I --"
Archie took a deep breath and looked from his tormenter to his champion. "I asked Styles to advise me on measuring the speed of the ship and he refused. That is what you were hearing, us arguing."
"A common seaman help a midshipman? Why do you need additional help? If you need help, ask Simpson, not Styles," Eccleston told Archie.
Simpson added, "That is what I was trying the tell the poor misguided lad."
Eccleston glared at Simpson. "Be quiet Mr. Simpson, let Mr. Kennedy finish," He turned to Archie. "Mr. Kennedy, first you say you were fighting with Styles and then you say you were arguing with him, which is it -- fighting or arguing?"
"Fighting. We pushed each other. He promised he would help me, then he didn't. I guess my temper got the best of me, sir," Archie lied.
"A member of His Majesty's Navy has to learn to control his temper. I guess a night in the rigging will teach you some patience, Mr. Kennedy," Eccleston hissed.
"Yes, sir," Archie said. He felt desolate as he stared at the floor. He knew he was doing the best for not only him, but for Styles. A night in the rigging would be better than a hangman's noose, if it was found out what was going on between him and Simpson.
Styles was speechless. He didn't want Archie to pay for something that never happened. But he knew that if he spoke, worse things would surely happen. Simpson, on the other hand, was overjoyed, though he tried to keep a serious front. Only his eyes betrayed his delight in seeing that injustice was once again served on the Justinian.
"Come along, Mr. Kennedy," Eccleston said as he led Archie away.
Simpson smugly announced to Styles, "That was easier than I thought it would be. Our sweet boy has gotten himself into a lot of trouble trying to protect you."
"I don't need protecting."
"You may not, but Kennedy does. Do you want to see Archie safe? Stay away from him. If you stay away neither of you will be harmed."
Styles heard Simpson loud and clear. He grimaced and then pushed him aside as he walked past him.
Styles could not sleep that night and went out on the deck. There was Archie asleep
in the rigging. He was a fly caught in the web of a devious spider. Styles wanted to protect Archie. Maybe the best way to protect him was to leave him alone.
The next morning, Archie was released from the rigging. His wrists and arms ached, but he thought it was for the best. He wanted to see if Styles was all right. He hoped that Simpson had not done any harm to his friend. It seemed to Archie that Simpson made all his friends suffer. He wanted to make sure this would not happen yet again.
Archie hurried to the galley, where Styles sat with the other men during breakfast.
"Styles?" Archie asked tentatively. "I did my best, Simpson didn't harm you did he?"
Styles ignored Archie and continued talking to Oldroyd and Matthews.
Archie called out to him again. "Styles? Is there anything wrong? Did I do anything wrong?" Archie felt a dull ache in his stomach. It could not be. They could not be ignoring him, could they?
"Styles? Speak to me!" Archie pleaded.
Styles casually turned to Archie and coldly asked, "You want me for something, sir? I didn't think that ëa common seaman' could speak with an officer."
Archie quickly walked away. He was not going to add to his disgrace by crying in front of the men.
"Is he gone?" Styles asked Matthews.
"Yes, but are you sure you should be doing this? That lad needs help," Matthews told Styles.
"I am hurting him more than helping. I don't want Simpson hurting him because of me. I don't want that bugger to hurt him at all."
Archie could not understand what had happened. Last night, all seemed fine. Archie remembered the power of the ship in his hands and wished to feel that power again. Once again, he had put his faith and trust in someone. Once again, that faith had been trampled into dust.
Archie damned himself for trusting and damned Styles for betraying his trust. Simpson must have gotten to him in just the way that Simpson got to Cleveland and Hether. Damn Simpson! Damn everyone! Bridget was right, you can only rely on yourself. He would show himself and everyone that he could succeed. He would make himself a sailor if it killed him.
Life Aboard Justinian - Part 13 : The Conclusion
Styles kept his distance from Archie, addressing him as "Mr. Kennedy" now. Archie felt it was a dagger to his heart every time he heard Styles refer to him as such. It only proved that he was wrong to trust another person.
He walked to the midshipman's berth and saw Cleveland was there. Cleveland profusely apologized for what he saw as his fault in Archie's torturing. Archie couldn't help but think that Cleveland was right. Both Cleveland and Hether put him in this hell. Yet it was he himself who had goaded Simpson. Archie often wondered what would have happened if he had taken Simpson's "gift". Would it have been different?
Archie seriously doubted it. The mere fact that he made friends with Reggie Fleet and Kevin Lowe made Archie a target for Simpson. He thought long and hard about it. If Simpson was going to harass Clayton, he would have done it ages ago. Hether and Cleveland accepted Simpson's gift and were now his toadies. That left only him. Archie wasn't a toady and presented no physical threat to Simpson. That was why Simpson chose him.
Archie heard a rumor that Simpson was to be transferred to another ship. He had to know if the rumor was true. Since Cleveland was thick with Simpson now, Archie assumed that he would know.
Archie asked Cleveland, "Is it true that Jack is about to be transferred to another ship? I feel you owe me that much, considering it was YOU who told Jack things about me."
"Archie, I told you I was sorry. I wanted to help you, but. . ."
"But, you were afraid, yes, I heard it all. I have experienced it all. I want to know if it is going to end. It will end when Simpson is off this ship. Is he leaving?"
"I am not completely sure, but I know Captain Keene has made him an acting lieutenant."
"Acting lieutenant? They are promoting him? How? Why?"
"Don't tell anyone I am telling you this. Talk is that they want to kick Simpson upstairs. They want to advance him and get rid of him by transferring him to another ship. If Simpson passes his lieutenant's exam, he will be transferred to the H.M.S. Ardent. If not, it is back to the Justinian."
"The Ardent is a 64 gun ship. Let's just hope he passes." Archie grinned.
Surely everything would be all right once Simpson was gone. One of the many reasons that Archie had not tried to reconcile with Styles and Matthews was that they had been placed under the command of Jack Simpson. Keene and Eccleston wanted to keep Simpson occupied and out of trouble.
Maybe with Simpson gone, the stigma of associating with underlings would be gone, too. Maybe he could even be friends with them again and resume his lessons. It hurt Archie when they rejected him over the rigging incident a few months ago, but perhaps he could make amends.
Meanwhile down in the cable tiers, Styles, Matthews and Oldroyd stood at attention with Finch and Williams as Jack barked his orders.
"All right men, we need this place tidied up. Finch, I want you to get with Williams and clean up this mess," Jack ordered. Then he leered at the three and said, "I have a special project for you three."
Styles whispered to Matthews. "This doesn't look good."
"I am putting you men on rat patrol," Jack said as he waved his hand around the room. "You are going to get rid of the rats aboard the ship. You know that rats not only eat our stores of food, but they also eat holes in the side of the ship. If we are overrun with rats, this ship may sink to the bottom of the sea with us in it. I know we would not want that to happen."
"But how are we going to kill all the rats?" Styles asked.
Jack snapped at them. "I don't care HOW you do it. Stab them, shoot them, hell, make a game out of it, if you want. Just get it done!"
"Yes sir!" they said in unison.
"Get back to work!" Simpson told them, then hesitated for a second. "Not you, Styles - stay here. The others may go."
"You wanted to speak to me, sir?" Styles asked.
"I do like this ësir' part. I see you have learned your place aboard this ship. By the way, have you seen our sweet boy lately?"
"No, I haven't. I remembered your threats."
"Good, good, it amazes me that you DO have a brain to go with that brawn of yours."
"Is that all you wanted to know, sir?"
"No, there is something else. You have heard that Captain Keene is slowly dying. His doctor has a son. A son, who wants to be in the Navy. He may even join our ship. If he does, you will be making his life miserable, understood?"
"Why should I? What will you do if I don't do as you command?"
"Then Archie pays. I have been nice to our sweet boy. Lately, I haven't touched a hair on the lad's head. But, that could change. That will change if you don't do as I say. You may be able to break me in two, but I can do much worse to you. I can hurt you and all those you care for. I will be a lieutenant by then and may be far away, but I won't be too far away to get you and the ones you hold dear. Do yourself a favor. If this doctor's son comes aboard, do all you can to make his life a living hell."
"That won't be hard to do, as long as your stench hangs about," Styles looked down his nose at Simpson. As an afterthought, he added the ësir' part, just before walking away.
Styles was steaming. Bloody Simpson! Why should he swing from the yardarm for what Simpson did? He would do as Simpson requested, maybe if he did, Simpson would not bother him again.
Archie had watch that night and saw Styles leaning on the deck's rail as he looked out over the water.
Archie approached Styles, "Lovely evening, isn't it?"
"What is so lovely about it?" Styles growled.
Archie took a breath and said, "About the rigging incident. I am sorry that we parted ways. All I ever wanted to do was to spare you a punishment you didn't deserve.
I need all the friends I can get. I would like to count you as one of them."
Styles looked at him. He was puzzled how the lad could still be optimistic about things, even after all that he had gone through. Archie's bright blue eyes and smile seemed to reflect the cool blue water that surrounded them. But all Styles could see was a dark cloud. He saw the hangman's noose and Simpson laughing with delight. That was how it would be if Styles ever accepted Archie's friendship. It ripped out his insides, but he had to do it. He had to keep Archie away from him -- it was for both their sakes.
"You may want all the friends you can get, but life is not like that, Mr. Kennedy. I don't have time to be your friend. I don't need any nancy boy middie tagging along. It will only get me in trouble. I put myself into enough trouble without the likes of you! Best you be getting back to your watch, Mr. Kennedy." Even as Styles snarled the words at him, he wanted to lay a comforting hand on the lad's shoulder. That would not do, it would blow his cover. Therefore, he just glared.
Archie's eyes grew wide from shock and dismay. All those lessons, that easy camaraderie from months ago, did it mean nothing? Why would Styles call him a nancy boy? Simpson's poison touched everything and everyone. Fine, if Styles didn't want to associate with the likes of a lowly midshipman, so be it! Getting in trouble indeed! It was he who had spent a night in the rigging for associating with the likes of Styles, not the other way around. Archie left Styles and made sure that he would not make the mistake of dealing with the likes of a common seaman again.
Archie worked hard to succeed on his own. Maybe some of the lessons did help. Though he was too proud to admit it. The Captain had noticed and summoned Archie into
"Mr. Kennedy, please come in and sit down," Captain Keene said.
As Archie was shutting the door, he heard the Captain wheeze for breath and give a hacking cough.
"Mr. Kennedy, I have seen you make progress these past months. This is very good. If you keep on this path, you will go far."
"Thank you, sir!" Archie smiled at the Captain.
"The reason I ordered you here -- " The Captain stopped when another coughing spell attacked him. He pulled out his handkerchief and wiped his mouth. "There is a new man coming aboard the ship. His name is Hornblower. His father is my doctor and tells me of how his son has yearned to go to sea. I want you to show him around the ship."
"Certainly, sir!" Archie said.
"Hornblower is a solitary boy. He wants to be a sailor and his father wanted to see his son happy. This is also my way to pay my debt for his services."
Archie wished his father wanted to see him happy. Maybe this solitary lad was the person Archie was looking for. He longed for a friend, who had the eagerness of Reggie Fleet and the steadfastness of Kevin Lowe. Kevin had been a solitary boy. Archie wondered if Hornblower would be like him. He hoped that this Hornblower would not meet the same fate.
The Captain's wheezing cough brought Archie out of his reverie. Archie rushed over to the Captain's water pitcher and gave him a glass of water. The Captain took it with a nod, then said, "Next week, when the new man arrives, I will be in port. I want you to report to Lieutenants Eccleston and Chadd. They will advise you on your duties for the day. I am trusting you with this responsibility. Please don't disappoint me."
Archie stood at attention. "I won't let you down, sir. You can depend on me."
"You may go," Keene said as he waved Archie away.
What with Christmas, Captain Keene transferring Simpson, and a new man coming aboard, there was cause for celebration aboard the ship. All were sure that Simpson would pass his Lieutenant's exam and would be permanently transferred to the H.M.S. Ardent.
Cleveland sat at the head of the table in the midshipman's mess and mockingly said, "I'm master now, the head of the table is mine!"
Hether sarcastically replied, "Just what we need, another Caesar."
"I am not Caesar, I am Wally the Great!"
The whole room burst out with laughter. It was almost like a new ship without Simpson there. Archie felt as if the last two years of his life had never happened. He loved the feeling of gaiety aboard the ship. He wanted that feeling to last forever.
The morning the new midshipman arrived, a winter storm raged. A thick fog
hovered over everything and the wind driven rain felt like needles when it hit the skin. Archie walked out on deck and saw Chadd on watch. He had recently passed his lieutenant's exam, and this was his reward: four hours out in freezing rain. At least Chadd had some company; Eccleston was standing beside him waiting to welcome Hornblower aboard.
Archie saluted Eccleston and Chadd, then walked to the side of the ship. He squinted through the fog and rain. There he saw a dinghy bobbing up and down. It had
to be Hornblower!
"Shore boat ahoy!" Archie cried out.
"Aye! Aye!" cried the woman rowing the boat.
Archie stared at the soaking wet youth getting all tangled up in his cloak. As the tall, lanky lad climbed over the side of the ship, he almost knocked his hat into the sea. Archie laughed despite himself. He thought, 'This poor fellow actually wants to be in the Navy? Does he really know what he is getting himself into?'
Archie watched as Hornblower surveyed the ship. Hornblower was beginning a new life. Would there be a place in this man's life for Archie?
Archie smiled brightly as he held out his hand.
"Welcome to Purgatory!"
The Beginning . . .