Homeward Bound - Charlie's Problem
The Honorable Charles Hammond had missed most of the action after he had fallen through the hatchway to the gun deck, breath knocked out of him, wound hurting like hell and a knot on the back of his head that felt like a robin's egg. He had struggled back up the ladders to the quarterdeck to find Edward trying to stand with Amanda's help, a rapier through his shoulder and a dead man at his feet.
"What have you done, Pellew?" He asked, shaking his head and reaching for Edward's elbow.
"Gotten myself into trouble, as usual." Amanda stood hip to hip with her husband, supporting him, his right arm draped around her shoulder and her arm around his waist. "God, Charlie, pull it out!" He had never seen Edward Pellew's face as pale or as contorted as it was now. The cords stood out on his neck and his fingers bit into his wife's shoulder until the nails were white.
The surgeon had reached them by this time and was inspecting the wound, both front and back. Reed nodded and Charlie grasped the sword, placing his left palm against Edward's chest. "Ready, Edward?" A nod of the head was his reply.
'This must hurt like hell.' He thought as the blade came out, Pellew gasped with a muted groan as long as the sword had been. The steel was coated with rich red blood and now a stream of it welled up through the fabric of the coat. Reed immediately pulled the uniform jacket back and down, cut through the weskit and shirt and began to dress the wound. How Pellew had stayed on his feet was a question beyond Hammond's ability to answer. He turned away from the captain and his lady.
Pellew's glass rolled around in a half circle with the rocking of the Altamira. Hammond scooped it up and looked toward the now motionless Montezuma. All the sail had been struck except for the fore course and topsail and the ship was beginning to overtake the two launches that were being pulled to the Altamira's side.
"Charlie, what's going on?"
"Looks like they are bringing over some prisoners."
He saw Pellew look forward. The cant of the deck was definite now, slanted to put what was left of the feathered serpent figurehead in the water in minutes. Hammond could tell by the look on Edward's face, now the intense pain had gone, that he considered his ship sinking and his command a loss, regardless of the richness of the prize taken.
"We took her then. Good." Pellew said. "You can put 'em on the pumps, chain 'em there if you think best."
Charlie turned around, eyebrows rising, to look at his friend. Edward had just turned the Altamira over to him. "Aye, Captain." The Pellews began moving slowly toward the larboard deck ladder.
Hammond saw Edward and Amanda sit on the ladder, Pellew staring forward. Charlie's attention turned elsewhere as he began to call for the ships boys to carry orders to the hands that were coming up from the boats hooked on to the Altamira.
Across on the Montezuma, Rimble brought the ship to. Slowly losing headway, the sails being taken in, orders were passed to pass a cable to Altamira to take her in tow. Hammond reached for the speaking trumpet. "Mis-ter Rim-ble!"
"Ahoy Captain Hammond!" the prompt reply.
"Don't take us in tow. Do you still have Mr. Johnson aboard?"
"Make haste to get him across, that damn hole has come unplugged and as you can see sir, we're taking on water."
"Charlie! Doctor Reed!" Hammond's head came round, away from Rimble, it was Amanda's screaming his name. She was kneeling on the steps of the ladder, Edward hanging from her arms, unconscious. Pengarth had come up the starboard ladder. Charlie grabbed his shoulder.
"Mr. Pengarth, do you know how to get a sail over the side to stop up a hole?"
A moment of confusion then his answer: "Aye, sir!"
"Well then, do it. That hole is open to the sea. Take whatever men you need and get started."
"Webley! Smith! Get your gun crew and roust out one of the topsails from the locker." The two men turned to their work and Pengarth followed them forward.
Hammond made his way across to where Pellew lay sprawled on the ladder, his head in Amanda's lap and the doctor checking his wound again. "Jacobs!" Hammond cried as the clerk stepped on the deck. "Carry the Captain to his cabin."
"No!" Reed interrupted. "I need to work on him, I need to stop this bleeding. Help me take him to the coach, his cot is still swung there. You there! Powder monkey!" a lad ran up. "Get below into the wardroom, tell my loblolly boy that I need the brazier taken to the coach immediately. Don't ask questions, just tell him I need it to stop up a wound. He'll know what to bring." The boy streaked below.
Jacobs and Reed lifted Pellew from Amanda's lap; her gunpowder stained white breeches were now sodden with her husband's blood. The two men carried him away from Hammond's sight. Amanda following them, her hands as red as her trousers, walked with a sure step. Charlie was sure that she was ready to faint away dead herself.
Hammond's first responsibility was to the ship. The doctor would take care of his friend.
"You there!" Thank God there were men beginning to come from the Montezuma. Some wore ragged clothing, more fit for sopping up messes on deck than covering a human, and they were unfamiliar faces. The language was pure English from various places and Hammond gloried in it. "Get below and start bringing up the water casks and beef barrels, we have to lighten the ship. Open 'em, dump what's inside and stop them up again. Then take them below to the forward hold. Mr. Baines, thank goodness! I want the guns forward of the main jettisoned. Send word to the gunner's mate that the powder monkeys are to start moving the shot to the lady hole. We need to shift weight to the stern."
Baines went below with quick steps; Hammond returned his attention to Rimble who was sending across more men. "Mr. Rimble, pass a line over now and tow us around so the sea is breaching on our stern." Those orders given, and the quartermaster, only one returning so far, at the wheel, Hammond mopped his face with a handkerchief. So many things to think about and so many men were depending on his orders.
"Captain Hammond, sir?"
"You'd better come below, sir. We have problems in the lady hole. I have a marine there, holding up anyone entering."
Hammond threw down the trumpet. "What next? Bloody murder?"
he muttered as he stumbled down the ladder.