THE LIFE AND TIMES OF BARTHOLOMEW KENNEDY, MIDSHIPMAN
by Liss Hamilton

*Part One: Plymouth, 18__*

This was going to be unpleasant. Very, very unpleasant. Standing
outside the King's Arms, his tutor's large hand clamped to his shoulder,
forestalling any thoughts of escape, Bartholomew Kennedy knew that for a
fact. And after all, that's why he was here, wasn't it? Because his
father had known exactly how unpleasant it would be. Gulping nervously,
Tolly's arm tightened round the bicorn hat he was holding, and the
previous month's row with his father replayed in his head.

"Well, Bartholomew? What have you to say about this?"

"Please, sir, it wasn'tÖ"

"Wasn't what? Come on, boy, speak up!"

"It-it wasn't me, sir. It was Duncan."

"Duncan? Duncan! By God, sir, I have no room in this house for a boy
who can't accept a thrashing without trying to palm it onto his brother!
Doesn't matter, boy! Take your punishment like a man, boy!"

"But, Father, that's not-"

"Not what, eh? Fair? Life ain't fair, boy, and better you get used to
that. Fair? Ha! You want to see unfair, do you? Eh? Well, I can
arrange that for you. Ha!" His father had been roaring by this stage,
and, what with Lord Arlington's propensity for apoplexy, Tolly had
merely stared at him mutely, having no desire to exacerbate whatever
punishment his father would contrive for him.

And what a punishment it had been. Tolly, at the age of thirteen, was
to enter into Her Majesty's Navy. The Navy! He cringed at the thought,
clutching his hat tighter, as if that action alone could save him from
the horrors that awaited him. The horrors his elder brother Duncan had
taken delight in predicting.

"They'll probably beat you death," he had announced cheerfully one
morning as Lord Arlington's children had partaken of breakfast in the
old nursery. "Hasn't been a Kennedy in the Navy since You Know Who.
They'll want to take it out on you." It, of course, was The Mutiny.
The Mutiny (always referred to with capital letters) had been the work
of Great Uncle Archie, who had pushed the great and glorious Captain
James Sawyer (hero of the Battle of the Nile and Cape St Vincent) into
the hold, taken over the ship, and eventually faced a court martial and
been hanged. It was the family's greatest scandal, and all Kennedy
children had had it drummed into them that they must never, ever, on any
account, behave like Great Uncle Archie, and bring shame to the house of
Arlington.

Duncan, who, in Tolly's somewhat bitter judgement, would have been a
mutineer twenty times over were he ever allowed on board a ship, had
given it as his opinion that the whole of the British Navy was lying in
wait for the first Kennedy who was fool enough to join their auspicious
ranks, so that they could exact revenge for the death of Captain Sawyer.
Tolly, who had been caused much grief within the family circle on
account of his considerable resemblance to his late, unlamented Great
Uncle Archie, saw no reason to doubt Duncan's veracity on this point.
True, Duncan's veracity was not something upon which one could ever rely
with total confidence, but, given the heinous nature of Great Uncle
Archie's deeds, it seemed more than likely that being beaten to death
would occur, "sooner," as Duncan had remarked, "rather than later."

It was thus not with any sense of excitement or anticipation (unless it
be the anticipation of his impending doom) that Tolly gazed upon the
little boat that had pulled up by the side of the dock. Mr Hewlett, his
tutor, pushed him forward, and he stumbled, earning himself a cuff on
the ear. He swallowed, painfully, then carefully stepped into the boat,
moving gingerly along to the stern, and watched as his sea chest was
lowered into the boat behind him.

And before he seemed to have time to blink, the little boat had reached
the ship that lay at anchor just outside Plymouth: the Caledonia.
Standing, Tolly gulped again, staring at the peeling black paint in
front of his eyes.

"Going to stay here all day, love?" He smiled weakly, then craned his
head back, noticing the wooden steps in the side of the ship. At the
very top, he could see a head silhouetted against the early morning sky.
It was a rosy blush (the sky, not the head), and the old rhyme, "red
sky in the morning, sailors take warning" floated through his head. Not
a good omen, then.

"Per-permission to come aboard, sir!" The head bent down, and then a
hand gestured.

"Aye, come on up!" He clambered out of the boat and swung onto the
steps, then climbed up, and over onto the deck. The other man, who
looked no more than about twenty, grinned at him.

"New midshipman?" Tolly nodded, nervously. It was comingÖ

"Well, report, then." And it was here.

"M-midshipman Bartholomew K-kennedy, reporting for duty, sir." Should
he salute? Anything, at this stage, that had the faintest chance of
stopping him from being beaten to death, seemed like a good plan. He
saluted. The man grinned again.

"Welcome to the Caledonia, Mr Kennedy. My name's Lieutenant Hardwick,
the Third Lieutenant on this ship. Well, come along then. I'll show
you to the midshipmen's berth." Tolly followed him, in a daze, not
noticing the tortuous twists and turns their progress took. Hardwick
hadn't said a word. Maybe he was waiting until they reached the
midshipmen's berth so that he could be beaten to death in private.
Maybe he didn't realise it was the same Kennedy. Maybe - and a tiny
flicker of hope burned in Tolly's chest - maybe he didn't know about
Great Uncle Archie and The Mutiny. Maybe Duncan had exaggerated, and
most people had forgotten. God, please let them have forgotten. He
didn't want to be beaten to death.

*Part Two*

An hour later, Tolly had to strike "waiting until they reached the
midshipmen's berth so he could be beaten to death in private" from his
list of options. Hardwick had escorted him to his hammock, showed him
where to stow his chest when it arrived, and then returned to the deck,
leaving Tolly alone. Not for long, however, for almost as soon as he
had left, there came the sound of flying footsteps, and another boy
entered, out of breath.

"I've been here all along," he panted, then threw himself into a
hammock, and reached for a leather-bound book from a little shelf above
his head. Thirty seconds later, and footsteps sounded again, and a
carefully groomed head poked round the oak beam that formed the doorway.
While the first boy had been about Tolly's age, from the looks of him,
this one was older, in his late teens most probably. He raised an
eyebrow, then, when no response to his entrance was forthcoming, cleared
his throat meaningfully. The boy in the hammock looked up from his
book, his expression that of one who has been deep in some internal
philosophical debate, and objects to being disturbed.

"Did you want something, Stewart?" he asked coolly.

"You little devil!" came the uncomplimentary reply. "I've half mind to
throw you overboard."

"I don't know what you're talking about, old thing." Stewart gave vent
to a snort of indignation.

"You jolly well do, Marlowe!" He advanced, looking as menacing as was
possible for a teenage boy to do with flour all the way down his left
side. Ah. So that was what he was talking about. Young Marlowe's lips
twitched in amusement, and Stewart pounced, hauling him off his hammock.
"Oh, think it's funny, do you? It would serve you right if I went to
Lt Bromley - or the Captain!" Marlowe pulled free, not without some
effort.

"Let go, you big brute! What on earth have you been doing to end up
looking like that?" The innocent question incensed Stewart further, as
well it might, for he was perfectly well aware of Marlowe's perfidy. He
advanced again, and Marlowe hopped back nimbly, then gestured towards
Tolly, who had been watching the proceedings with interest. "Ask him!
I've been here the whole time."

"Er, yes," offered Tolly, hopefully.

"Tommyrot!" was Stewart's only response. But the introduction of a
third party calmed his ire, and he looked at Tolly curiously. "You're
our new midshipman, then?" Tolly nodded, slowly.

"Cat got your tongue?" But it was not unkindly spoken, and Stewart
continued with a grin. "Well, I'm Nicholas Stewart. That human louse
over there is Charles Marlowe. What's your name, and have you reported
to the Captain yet?"

"No, not yet; just to Lt Hardwick," replied Tolly, ignoring the first
question, his stomach lowering. Lt Hardwick might not have heard the
name Kennedy, but the Captain was bound to be old, and know things like
that.

"Well, Hardwick's a good sort, so if he brought you down here you'd
better wait till the Captain sends for you. Have you been to sea
before?" Tolly said that he had not, and before long, he was in the
midst of a most informing conversation with his new shipmates. It was
clear that, although Marlowe felt no qualms about playing the most
outrageous practical jokes he could devise on his unfortunate fellow
midshipmen, there existed no real acrimony, and Tolly relaxed, feeling
that perhaps life in the Navy might not be quite as bad as he had
expected. Then Marlowe asked his name, and the lowering sensation
returning to his stomach. The other two boys looked at him expectantly.
There was no hope. Perhaps, after all, he was going to get beaten to
death.

"Tolly Kennedy," he announced, very much in the tone of voice which one
imagined the reckoning angel used to send people straight into the fiery
furnaces of Hell. Stewart's brow creased in concentration, as if
pulling up a memory from the depths of his mind, and Marlowe let out a
soundless whistle.

"I say!"

Rescue was swift, as Lt Hardwick appeared in the doorway. Ignoring his
stricken expression, he hailed Tolly with a smile.

"Come on, Kennedy! Captain wants to see you."

Tolly hovered outside the Captain's door waiting for further summons.
This was it. The Captain was bound to know who he was. He hovered some
more, then jumped when an abrupt, "Enter!" was issued from behind the
polished door. He entered.

Sitting behind a wide desk, with charts scattered upon it, a decanter
of brandy at his elbow, and a large and ornate brass compass taking
centre stage, was the Captain. Or, to be more precise, Captain the
Honourable Anthony Richard St John Fielding, celebrated member of Her
Majesty's Navy. He raised a querying brow, and Tolly leapt forward as
if he had been stung from behind, and saluted.

"Midshipman Bartholomew K-kennedy, reporting for duty, Captain, sir."
And then he saluted again, for good measure. The Captain waved it
aside.

"Yes, yes, at ease, Mr Kennedy." He fingered the letter lying before
him. "I see your father's decided you belong in the Navy."

"Yes, sir."

"Hmph. Well, we'll see. Now, Mr Kennedy, as midshipman you will be
under the command of Lt Hardwick, whom you have met, I believe."

"Yes, sir."

"He will direct your studies. Mr Andrews, the ship's Master, and I
will do much of the teaching that you boys get. I trust you will try
your hardest, and do your duty aboard ship."

"Yes, sir." Fielding restrained a smile at the grim monotony of young
Kennedy's answers, perhaps recognising in his newest midshipman a
nervousness he had experienced in his first post. And as for young
KennedyÖ

"You are, I believe, a connection of Lt Archie Kennedy, of the Renown."
Tolly's eyes flickered closed, and then opened, and his jaw squared.
Well, if he was going to get beaten to death, he was damned well going
to face it as a man. You could squash a Kennedy flat, chop him into
little bits, but you jolly well couldn't make a coward of him.

"Yes, sir. He was my great uncle, sir."

"Hmph. Well, that will be all, Kennedy." Tolly turned to leave,
thankful to get out with his skin intact, though trepidation filled him
as he thought of his likely reception back in the midshipmen's berth.
Then, as he reached the door, the Captain spoke again.

"Archie Kennedy was known to have been a brave and true officer, Mr
Kennedy. Try and live up to him, won't you?"

The door closed behind him, and an almost disbelieving smile curved
Tolly's mouth. Brave and true. Brave and true. A Kennedy to be proud
of. He straightened his shoulders, and walked back to the midshipmen's
berth, head held high.

 

THE END