Life Aboard Justinian - parts 5 thru 8
As weeks went by, the light started to fade from Reggie's eyes. It did not go unnoticed by his friends, Archie and Kevin. They knew that Reggie's bruises were not from awkwardness, for Reggie was not one to be clumsy. There had to be a reason, something they meant to find out.
Archie found Reggie working with his face to the wall. He was preoccupied, or so Archie thought, because when Archie gently touched his shoulder, Reggie jumped out of his skin. The youth turned to Archie and Kevin with a terrified look in his eyes. When Reggie saw it was just Archie and Kevin, he calmed down a little, but was still apprehensive as he said,
"What do you want? What are you doing here?"
Kevin asked, "What has happened to you, Reggie? Why are you so jittery?"
"Those bruises can't all be from falls. Tell us. We are your friends; we want to help you," Archie told Reggie.
Reggie stammered as he replied, "I don't want to cause any trouble. I am fine, please, leave me be."
"You should listen to your friend and not be the source of his troubles. You are fine, aren't you, Admiral?" Jack Simpson said as he joined the men.
Both Archie and Kevin noticed Reggie cringe in fear. Was it Simpson? What was he doing to Reggie? Jack was a bully, but it could not be all that bad, could it?
"Please, leave me alone, there is nothing you can do," Reggie told his friends. He didn't want them to get involved. Reggie wanted to protect them from Simpson and the torment that seemed to follow wherever Jack walked.
"Are you sure you are all right, Reggie? We can leave if you want, but I want you to know that if you need us, just call. Come along, Archie, let's join Cleveland in the middies berth," Kevin said.
When Reggie saw that Kevin and Archie was actually going to heed his words and leave him alone with Simpson, he panicked and said in a choked whisper, "Wait, don't leave me, please."
What Reggie feared most was being alone with Simpson. Why hadn't he heeded Archie's advice and stayed clear of Simpson when he had the chance.
Archie and Kevin met up with Cleveland, Hether and Clayton in the berth. When they told the three about what had just happened, it seemed like no surprise to them. Clayton, Hether and Cleveland looked at Archie and Kevin with all too knowing looks. They knew exactly what was going on between Reggie and Jack and preferred to avoid the topic all together.
Hether changed the subject by saying, "Reggie can take care of himself, no need to worry yourselves about him. I say we should all take the night's leave that Eccleston gave us and go over to Cochrane's Pub. We can get away from the business of this ship for one evening, what do you fellows say? Clayton, I am sure that you would want to take a bit of gin, eh? Cleveland, I am sure you and Archie can find some entertainment, if you know what I mean. What about you Lowe? Are you coming with us?"
"I told you that I don't partake in spirits," Kevin replied.
"You don't have to drink, just come for the company," Cleveland told Kevin.
"Thank you for inviting me, but I will stay and read my book," Lowe told everyone.
"Well, if you change your mind, we will be over at Cochrane's," Archie said as he left with the other men.
Kevin Lowe was interested in reading his book and lost all track of time. It seemed like hours when he saw Reggie Fleet stagger in.
He was covered with blood and bruises as he mumbled, "Help me!"
Kevin dropped his book as he saw Reggie collapse unconsciously to the floor.
"Reggie! Reggie! Tell me who did this to you?" Kevin said as he tried to shake him awake. It was no use, so Kevin picked him up and took him to Dr. Hepplewhite's sick berth.
Dr. Hepplewhite took one look at Reggie and said, "There is nothing I can do for this man, but wash him up and send him back to his bed. Why did you bring him to me? It only wastes his time and mine. Take him away!"
"But, you have to help him! This man was severely beaten and needs medical attention!" Kevin yelled at the doctor.
"Don't tell me my business! Take this man back where he belongs!" Hepplewhite thundered. Kevin picked up Reggie's unconscious form and had just left the room when he heard voices. They were the voices of Hepplewhite and Simpson.
"For your services, sir, here is a bottle of the finest claret. I do hope you will continue to keep up the fine job you are doing," Simpson said smugly.
"Thank you, sir. Anything you want, just let me know. I don't think that pest Fleet should be causing anymore problems for you. Just watch out for that one, who just left," Hepplewhite told Simpson.
"I noticed that. Straight-laced Lowe is becoming quite a trouble maker and I will deal with him in my own fashion," Simpson said.
Kevin was horrified to hear that Simpson was the cause of Reggie's problems and worse yet that he was next in line for the abuse.
He held Reggie closely and made an oath to himself and to Reggie. "I promise to protect you, Reggie. I will protect you to my death."
Life Aboard Justinian - part 6
Jack Simpson thought about what Hepplewhite told him, namely to watch out for Lowe. Jack could not understand. Why didn't people behave and render to Caesar? If they just obeyed, no harm would come to them. Or at least, that is what Jack's father used to tell him, right before he beat him and his mother.
Jack remembered life when he was young. He was happy when his drunken sod of a father was found dead. Happy, until he found out that his father had gambled the family fortune away before he died.
In one day he'd gone from being the son of landed gentry to barely scraping by as a homeless pauper. One family helped him and his mother: The Edringtons. Lord Edrington was a neighbor and a friend to the late John Simpson. Lord Edrington's family gave Mrs. Simpson a job as a maid and paid for Jack to continue his schooling.
Jack found the degradation of his situation unbearable for his sensibilities. What made it worse, was that the schoolmaster would make an example of him. The schoolmaster would often point out that Jack was not much of a scholar or anything else for that matter.
One day, while in the library with the Earl's son Alexander, Jack discovered a book about Roman Emperors. The book fascinated Jack. This made the curly haired, Zandie laugh, as he asked, "You can't seriously wish you were Caesar, do you?"
"Why not? Your father says you can do anything you set your mind on. Why can't I be just like Caesar or Caligula?" Jack asked.
Zandie Edrington just shook his head and left the room. Jack learned all he could about the Emperors, yet when the fascination for his role models grew dark, he was sent away to the Navy. Jack considered it a fresh start in life rather than a slap in the face.
He made the impression on people, which HE wanted to make: a suave, cunning man, who knew what to do and how to do it. He achieved all he wanted in life as the undisputed master of his domain.
That is, until the last batch of midshipmen arrived for duty.
Reggie Fleet was the Captain's favorite, Kevin "straight-laced" Lowe, who never did anything wrong and finally there were Cleveland and Kennedy. He didn't think he would have any trouble with those two. Jack did know that if Kennedy or Cleveland EVER crossed him, they would receive double or even triple of what Reggie Fleet received.
But, it was Kevin Lowe that Jack worried about right now. What did he know? Would he tell anyone? These questions he meant to find out, one way or another.
Jack sauntered over to Kevin, who was just ending his watch and said with mock enthusiasm, "Hi, Lowe!" He looked downcast and said with earnest, "It was a pity to hear about the beating that your pal, Reggie, received. I do hope he will get better soon."
Jack Simpson was the last person that Kevin Lowe wanted to see. He glared at Jack and snapped, "Please leave me alone and while you are at it, leave Reggie alone, too!"
"Being the Admiral's protector? Funny, I didn't think he needed protection."
"I didn't think so either, but there is someone who is perhaps jealous that they are not as smart as Reggie. I think this person is using Reggie as a punching bag. You don't know who it is, do you Jack?" Kevin asked.
"Me?" Jack asked as he held his hand to his chest, "How would I know?"
"How indeed?" Kevin asked as he left without another word.
Jack sneered at Kevin as he walked away. He knew, the tall, skinny bugger knew what he had done to Reggie. Jack would not give him time to tell anyone. Although, he would be decent enough to let Kevin Lowe be with his worthless friends for one more night.
Captain Keene had Acting Lieutenant Chadd put together groups to furl the sails. Lowe, Kennedy, Cleveland and Simpson made one group. The men climbed the ratlines up to the mizzen topgallant sail, with Cleveland and Kennedy to the right side and Lowe and Simpson to the left side. All went smoothly as the four of them stood on the footropes and pulled up the sail to tie on the yardarm.
Kennedy remarked to Cleveland, "We should do this neatly, because I'm sure they are watching and judging us."
"I thought this was why we had ratings! These sails are heavy!" Cleveland said.
Archie tried not to laugh at Cleveland's melodramatics. "At least the wind is calm. I have seen able seamen have trouble with furling the sail in the wind." Archie glanced at Kevin and Jack, who seemed to be in deep concentration on their task. Well, it looked like Kevin was - but, Simpson?
Jack was listening to Kennedy and formed an absolutely perfect, yet deadly plan. A smile came to his face, making him look anything but jolly. Jack feigned difficulty, moaning, "I can't get this sail up. Lowe, can you help me? It seems to be stuck on something. Give us a hand, won't you, please?"
Lowe didn't trust Simpson, but he felt like he had to help. He let loose his grip on the yardarm and shimmied his way on the footropes to assist Jack with the sail.
Suddenly, Jack exclaimed, "I got it!" He swung his right arm into Lowe's chest, putting him off balance. Lowe flailed his arms in the air, he tried to grab hold of anything, but was unable to reach.
"Bye, Lowe," Jack hissed.
Kevin's body crashed onto the poop deck with a sickening thud.
Cleveland and Archie heard Kevin scream as he fell. They quickly looked over at Jack, who barked, "What are you looking at me for? Can I help it that man has no balance? We have to finish furling these sails!"
"Kevin is our friend! We have to see if he is all right!" Archie cried.
"That is the problem with doing the sails -- men fall and men die. Shame, isn't it?" Jack shrugged.
"Look down there!" Cleveland pointed. "Some men are tending him. I am sure they will take care of him. Oy, look at all that blood."
"Do you think he's still alive? I have to see! We're finished our side anyway. Are you coming with me, Wally?" Archie asked in anguish.
Jack mumbled under his breath, "Still alive? Not bloody likely."
Archie turned sharply. "What did you say?"
"I will follow you shortly, Archie," Cleveland nervously said as he looked over at Simpson. Cleveland knew it was no accident, but he knew better than to say it was not.
Archie's only thoughts were of his friend, Kevin. He carefully climbed down the ratlines and went to Kevin's side. "Take him to Dr. Hepplewhite!" Archie cried. He, Styles and Matthews took Kevin to the sick berth.
Dr. Hepplewhite took one look at the broken, bloody mess that used to be Midshipman Kevin Lowe and bellowed, "His back is broken! He will be dead soon. There is nothing I can do for him."
Archie held Kevin's hand and whispered, "Kevin, it is me, Archie. I am here for you, if you can hear me, open your eyes."
Kevin slowly opened his eyes and struggled to speak. "I can't feel my hands, Archie. I see you are holding it and I can't feel it. I can't feel anything. Archie, he pushed me. Why did he do that, why?"
"I don't know," Archie said as Kevin coughed and shut his eyes. Archie grabbed Kevin's shoulders and yelled his name over and over again.
Midshipman Clayton went over to him and calmly said, "He's gone, Kennedy. I am sorry, but there is nothing you can do."
Archie looked up at Clayton and babbled, "There was trouble with the sail, he fell. He just told me he was pushed. Simpson couldn't be that evil, could he?"
As Clayton looked into the innocence of Archie's bright blue eyes, he knew he should not tell Archie the truth. Therefore, he lied and tried comforting him instead. "No one is that evil, Archie. It was an accident and unfortunately accidents DO happen. I am sorry you lost your friend."
"Kevin was a good man. Why do bad things happen to good people?" Archie asked.
"If I knew that, I would be a wise man, indeed," Clayton sighed.
Cleveland, Hether and Simpson came into the sick berth to look on Kevin. Simpson saw his plan had succeeded. Kevin Lowe was dead. He would never tell anyone his secret about Reggie Fleet and what happened in the dark corners of the ship.
Lt. Eccleston gave the burial service for Lowe. Jack snickered when Eccleston forgot Kevin's name and had to have it whispered to him by Chadd.
During and after the service, Reggie was inconsolable. He kept mumbling, "It is all my fault. It is all my fault."
"What was your fault, Reggie? You didn't push Kevin, he fell," Archie said trying to reassure Reggie.
"He was trying to protect me and now he's dead! You were right, Archie, stay away from Jack Simpson at all costs. He is an evil, evil man. If he does anything to upset you, ignore it, forget about it. Promise me you will," Reggie pleaded as he tugged frantically at Archie's jacket lapels.
"I promise!" Archie shouted.
"Calm down, Reggie!" Hether said, "Death is part of life aboard a ship."
"Hether is right, it's not that we don't care. We were all friends with Kevin. We all mourn his loss. You just have to go on with life," Cleveland told Reggie.
Archie didn't realize that Reggie Fleet would take Kevin Lowe's death so hard. All he seemed to do was mope and mumble to himself. A few days later, Reggie was found at the base of the steps in the hold. His neck was broken.
A note written in an illiterate scrawl was found by Reggie's body. It said:
I can't go on! It is all my fault. Kevin Lowe's death is all my fault. He is dead because of me. Please forgive me for what I have done.
The death was ruled a suicide because Reggie was so distraught over Kevin's death.
In the course of a week, Archie had lost two of his friends. Both of them had tried hard to succeed in life and now their lives were over before they really had a chance to begin. Reggie would never become Admiral Fleet of the British Fleet. But, that in itself made Archie wonder. Did Reggie kill himself? He didn't seem to be the type to kill himself no matter how depressed he was. There had to be something more to the story, but what?
Life Aboard Justinian - part 7
Ship life was nothing that Archie expected. He hoped for adventure and excitement. What was the adventure and excitement of being dry-docked in Spithead?
Cleveland walked over to Archie and said, "Since we are free tonight, how about going over to Cochrane's?"
Archie smiled. "Yes, it has been a while since I went to see Bridget."
Cleveland smirked. "I knew that would brighten your night. You've been down as of late. Sailing is more than just friends, Archie, it is work."
"You're telling me. Why are you asking me out and not Hether?"
"Hether is on watch tonight and you aren't," Cleveland grinned.
Archie returned the grin. "I am so honored to be your second choice."
"Come on, the drinks and girls are waiting for us!"
Once on shore, Cleveland headed over to the bar keep and Bridget immediately joined Archie.
"Hello Archie, I hoped you would come to see me again. Is this business or pleasure? You know it is my business to give you pleasure," She slid her hand up and down his chest.
"I just want to talk. You did say we could do that, didn't you?" Archie inquired.
When Bridget saw the solemn look on Archie's face, she held his hand and said, "We can do whatever you want, Archie. Is anything the matter? Come upstairs to my room, we can talk there."
They walked upstairs and sat down on her bed. "It has been over a month since you saw me last. What has happened since then? Has this something disturbed you? Please, you can talk to me, what is it?" She asked.
"Bridget, how do you handle death?" Archie asked her.
She cradled him in her arms. "Death? Is that your problem, my dear sweet boy?"
"I have some friends on the ship, but, recently, I lost my two best friends - Reggie Fleet and Kevin Lowe. The last words that Kevin said to me were that he was pushed. He was pushed from the yardarm of the topgallant sail. Reggie broke his neck falling down a flight of stairs. I can understand dying in a battle, but this?" Archie said with fierce intensity.
"I can see it saddens you to lose your friends, but you must be strong, Archie. Say you will be strong for me. You asked me how do you handle death? You have to be numb to it. Remember that you are the only one that you can count on. You should not rely on others, because you will end of hurting yourself. Friends come and friends go, but, you will always have yourself," Bridget explained.
"That seems so cold," Archie said in a bewildered tone.
Bridget looked into his wide eyes and gently touched his cheeks, "Archie life is not a marvelous thing. It is like purgatory. You do know what purgatory is, don't you, Archie?"
"It is that place between heaven and hell."
"Yes, and we are living in it. Don't get too close to anyone, you will only get yourself hurt," Bridget told him.
"I can't even get close to you?"
Bridget sighed. "I can't promise I will be here for you, Archie. But, I can be here for you tonight. Would you like that?" She asked as she snuggled next to him.
"Yes, I would like that more than anything," Archie said drained of emotion.
Bridget kissed him tenderly. "Archie, you are such a sweet boy, you know that?"
She snuggled up to Archie as they slept. She needed him as much as he needed her, but she was afraid to say anything. Most men used and abused her, but with Archie, she felt almost like a real woman.
Archie felt Bridget next to him. Her soft, warm body seemed to fit his perfectly. He could not understand how she would say one thing and do another. She spoke as one disillusioned with life, yet wanted to be close to someone. Close to him. Archie thought of her words: life was purgatory. Life was far from perfect, but purgatory? He couldn't see life in that way. Life was not that bad. What harm could befall him as long as he had his health and his girl by his side?
The next morning Archie and Cleveland headed back to the Justinian. "Well, Archie, you looked quite refreshed this morning. I was right about coming here, wasn't I? How was Bridget last night?"
"A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell, you know that full well. Let's just say, thank you for suggesting that we come here," Archie said with a wink in his eye.
"Anytime. I enjoyed myself, too, old friend," Cleveland said with a smile.
"Bridget was telling me that I should only rely on myself," Archie said. "It sounds good, but I believe that what a man needs is a friend. I am glad I have that in you, Wally. In fact, I think of you as a brother. More like my brother, Bobby, than that of my eldest brother, Joe. Joe would always beat on me and call me a nancy boy because I never fought him back. I knew that it was no use to fight back. He was a brute."
"I never had a brother, I had three sisters, though," Cleveland said with a sigh, "I know what you mean by being picked on by bullies. When I was little, the neighborhood boys would bully me. Me Mum always gave me sweets when things went wrong."
"By the size of you, I see that those neighborhood boys picked on you as much as my brother, Joe, picked on me," Archie said lightheartedly as they climbed into the jolly boat.
"Yes, I want to come back home to show those boys that I am a member of His Majesty's Navy. No one will bully me again. What about you, Archie? You enjoy the Navy?" Cleveland asked.
"It's not what I thought it would be. I thought I would be sailing around the world, seeing the sites and living one big adventure. Instead, we are moored here in Spithead. There is no war, we have no where to go."
"I would not wish for a war. If that happens I will gladly go and fight the frogs or anyone who dares try to attack our king and country. But, I would not wish for it to happen. There are different types of wars -- wars against other nations and wars against other men."
"Other men?" Archie asked curiously. "What do you mean?"
Cleveland shook his head, "Fleet and Lowe didn't have to die. They got on the wrong side of the wrong man. Pray that you never do the same."
"Who? Simpson? Are you talking about him?"
Cleveland quickly looked around to make sure they were not being observed and whispered, "He pushed Kevin off that yard arm on purpose. He was also responsible for Reggie's demise."
Archie remembered Kevin saying, *He pushed me, why would he do that?* Fury burned in Archie's soul. "That man must be stopped! What does he want to do? Kill anyone that gets in his way?"
"Don't do it, Archie!" Cleveland pleaded. "You can't tell him I told you!"
"I've had to deal with bullies all my life, I think I know how to deal with this one! Where is he now? Where?" Archie was almost incoherent with rage.
"I - I don't know," Cleveland stammered.
By now, the jolly boat reached the Justinian. Archie left Cleveland's side in search of Simpson.
Cleveland trembled with fear. Fear for himself and Archie. He knew what would happen to Archie, when he faced Simpson. He had to stop him, but he needed help. Cleveland ran to get Hether.
The two of them searched the ship and found Archie and Simpson fighting by the steps in the Orlop deck.
Archie hissed, "I don't even know why an animal like you exists! Is it to try to destroy decent human beings?"
"Are you decent?" Jack taunted. "I have heard about you, Kennedy. I know that a lot of things are beyond your comprehension. You have a lot more to learn. I will give you a gift. I never gave this gift to your friends, you are special, Archie. It is simple; You don't talk about what happened to your friends and I won't hurt you. You don't want to end up like your friends, do you?"
"You killed Reggie! I knew it couldn't be suicide. Reggie would never do that! He had too much to live for. He had so much he wanted to do, and you killed him!" Archie shouted as he balled his fist at Simpson.
Cleveland and Hether held Archie back. Archie struggled to get loose.
Jack sneered, "Ah, yes, the Captain's favorite. He was an annoying little boy, always trying to prove he was better than anyone else. An exercise in futility if there ever was one. He had to be stopped, you see I am the best. I rule this ship and I will be obeyed."
"Bah! I know about you and your Caesar. You know what happened to Caesar, don't you? He was killed by his own men!" Archie spit back at him.
"Yes, but that was Julius, I am Augustus. You know what happened to Augustus, he was one of the greatest emperors ever known."
"You are delusional!"
"And you are a dirty little sod! You are like a thorn in my side. You know what I do with thorns? I pull them out and throw them away just like this!" With a swift movement, Jack grabbed Archie by his jacket and pushed him backward down the stairs.
As Archie fell, his head made contact with each step. He seemed to be falling in slow motion. Hether and Cleveland watched in horror, almost yelling in unison: "NO!!!!!"
Archie's unconscious form lay at the bottom of the steps. Cleveland yelled at Jack, "You killed him, too!"
"You want to join him?" Jack quickly snapped in return.
Hether stared at the huddled figure; it seemed that Archie's body was convulsing. "He's not dead! See? He's moving! We have to get him to Hepplewhite."
"Help him and I will send you down those steps! Now, gentlemen, I will give you the same gift that Kennedy refused. Talk and die, don't talk and live. Are you ready to render to Caesar?" Simpson asked the two.
Hether reluctantly agreed, but Cleveland dared to ask a question.
"Are you saying that if Archie survives, we can no longer be friends with him?"
"I'm not saying that at all. If he lives, then you two will keep me informed of his whereabouts. Got to keep an eye on the boy. Stand with me and you will never end up like that man at the bottom of the steps."
"I'll stand with you, Jack. But what about Archie? We can't just leave him!" Cleveland begged.
"Yes, we can. Let someone else find the wretch. They found Reggie, didn't they? Let's leave before we are implicated in this matter." With one final smirk down at Archie, Simpson stalked off.
Hether started to leave, but Cleveland stayed behind to look on Archie, whose body was still in spasms. Hether turned and pleaded with Cleveland to follow. Yet, Cleveland replied, "Something's not right. Look at him!"
Simpson turned and hissed, "It is none of your concern. Let the bugger die!"
Hether and Cleveland were a bit stunned, yet quickly obeyed their master. They went back on deck and pretended like nothing happened. Henceforth, the two of them would render only to Caesar.
Life Aboard Justinian - part 8
Archie lay at the base of the steps that led to the hold of the ship. It was hours until Styles and Matthews found him.
Styles slowly approached Archie. "Matty, that's one of the new fellows."
"Yes, it is, I believe that is Mr. Kennedy. Let's see if he is still alive. These new fellows keep getting themselves in a lot of accidents," Matthews said.
Styles leaned over him and replied, "I don't think they ARE accidents."
"I hear ye, mate. But for our sakes, we'd best to think of them as accidents. Good, the lad is breathing."
"That's good, help me take him to Dr. Hepplewhite."
"Check to make sure he has no broken bones and be careful of his head when you lift him," Matthews told Styles.
Styles gently and carefully picked Archie up in his arms. He carried Archie as if he were a piece of fine china. He noticed Archie's head and remarked, "Poor lad. Look at this huge bump on the back of his head."
Archie felt soft but strong arms envelop him. He felt safe, warm and comfortable. He snuggled a little closer in Styles arms and felt a surge of pain go through his body. "Ow!" Archie moaned.
"That be all right, sir, I be taking you to be patched up by Dr. Hepplewhite."
Who was speaking to him? The voice sounded faintly familiar, yet he could not place it. Archie opened his eyes and looked in surprise. Styles, the same man who made snide comments about him when he boarded ship, was the same man helping him right now. Why would this burly seaman with the pock marked face want to help him? Archie had to admit that he was grateful for the protection of the seaman with the tender soul.
"Here we are, sir," Matthews said as he opened the door for Styles.
Styles placed Archie on a table. A drunk Hepplewhite looked up and slurred, "What you got there?"
"Mr. Kennedy is badly injured," Styles said. "We found him at the base of the steps. He needs to be looked after."
"I see he's awake," Hepplewhite poked at Archie's body. "Can you walk, boy?"
"He has a nasty bump on his head," Matthews said.
"Most likely a fall from being drunk. Get up, boy! Let's see if you can walk!" Hepplewhite shouted in Archie's face.
Styles helped Archie to his feet. Archie took two steps and collapsed into Styles' arms. Styles held onto to Archie, who was numb with pain racking his body. All Archie wanted to do was sleep. He was so tired and achy.
"You see, he needs your help!" Matthews pleaded.
Hepplewhite shrugged. "So, put him in one of the beds and let him sleep it off."
Styles said to Archie, "You will be all right, now. Matty and I will come and visit you, if you like."
"He ain't need no visitors! You both can leave," Hepplewhite snapped as he pushed Styles and Matthews out the door.
Archie expected Hepplewhite to attend to him. Instead, Hepplewhite went back to his desk and drank more. Archie was alone and lonely. He tried to sleep, but as tired as he was, the sleep would not come. He could only wonder about what happened to him.
Archie tried to put the pieces together, but all he got was a puzzle. He remembered talking to Cleveland and then was in the arms of seaman Styles. Just then, he heard a voice ring through his head, *just like this!* Simpson! Jack Simpson had pushed him down the steps and tried to kill him just the way he killed Reggie Fleet! Tears filled Archie's eyes. What had he done so wrong?
The only crime he, Kevin or Reggie ever did was to confront Simpson with the truth. The truth almost killed him and did kill Kevin and Reggie. Archie survived Simpson this time, but what about the future?
Archie recovered in the sick berth. Talk had spread around ship about what had happened. But the talk wasn't that of what Simpson had done to Archie. It was about how Archie fell down the stairs and had a fit. The men whispered behind his back asking if a man who suffered from fits was fit to be on a ship of the line.
Clayton could see that Archie was unaware of anything wrong with himself. He pulled Archie aside and said, "Do you have any memory of what happened the night you were put into the sick berth?"
"Yes, Simpson pushed me down a flight of stairs and tried to kill me. I notice that little fact has been erased, most likely by Simpson, himself," Archie replied curtly.
"Then you don't know? Nothing else happened after you fell down the steps?"
"The next thing I know, Styles and Matthews were taking me to the sick berth."
"Cleveland and Hether said that you had a fit at the base of the steps. That is why all the talk has been going around."
"But I don't suffer from fits, why would they say that?"
"Because you fell. My cousin, Jenny, suffers from fits. She fell from a horse and was dragged behind it. It was a miracle that she even survived."
"What has this to do with me, Clayton?"
"It has everything to do with you, Archie. She was fine before the accident. The doctor told me that people who suffer from violent acts, such as a fall, can develop seizures. Archie you had one at the base of the steps."
"Why didn't Cleveland or Hether try to help me?"
"What happened to Kevin when he tried to help Reggie? What happened to you when you confronted Simpson? I don't think that Cleveland or Hether wanted to chance anything."
"But, Cleveland is my friend, he wouldn't do anything to hurt me. I would be there for him, I am sure he would do the same for me."
"Then why isn't he here now? Why didn't he come to visit you at while you were in the sick berth?" Clayton pressed.
Just then, Cleveland and Hether entered and walked over to Archie's side. Cleveland placed his hand on Archie's shoulder and asked, "How are you feeling today, Archie? I am sorry I could not stop by while you were ill, both Hether and I were very busy. We finally have some free time, how about going to Cochrane's with us? I know you enjoy going over there."
Hether added, "You DO feel well enough, don't you, Archie?"
Archie looked at the two of them curiously. "Of course I feel fine. I would love to come with you. Do you want to come along, Clayton?"
"Yes, do come. The more the merrier," Cleveland said joyfully.
Clayton agreed and the four of them went to the pub. Archie looked all around for Bridget, but did not find her. He walked over to the bar keep and asked him, "Have you seen Bridget tonight? Is she occupied?"
The bar keep seemed to pay more attention to the glass he was cleaning than to Archie. Yet, he responded to the question. "Bridget? She is gone. Just up and left me last week. She didn't even give an excuse for her leaving. I assume it was because a man came in and threatened her."
"A man threatened her? Who?" Archie asked.
"A sailor man like you. In fact, he was with that man you usually come here with. Yes, that chubby fellow sitting over there," The bar keep said as he pointed to Cleveland.
Archie felt faint and leaned against the bar for support. He trusted Cleveland and thought of him as a friend. Did he join forces with Simpson? Why would he do such a thing? And why would Cleveland bring Simpson to Bridget, who was the only refuge he had left in the world. There had to be a reason or an answer to his question. Archie steadied himself and gulped down his drink. Then he went to sit down with his friends.
Cleveland smiled at Archie. "Is Bridget busy with someone else?"
"You tell me!" Archie could barely contain his anger. "She's gone, and that bar keep over there tells me that you and a mutual friend of ours is the reason why!"
"What are you saying, Archie? It seems that Simpson really messed with your head when he pushed you, didn't he?" Cleveland said.
"I am not crazy, if that is what you mean. I know the tales you have been spreading aboard the ship!" Archie shouted at him.
"Tales? I told the truth! You were having a fit at the base of the steps!" Cleveland shouted back.
Hether came between them and faced Archie calmly. "We didn't want to upset you, Archie. Jack came to Cochrane's with us while you were sick. Cleveland innocently made a remark about you and Bridget. Jack wanted to see what you saw in her. The next thing I see is her running out of the room with tears in her eyes. We didn't and still don't know what happened."
"But you still told him. Why? Why is it any of your business?" Archie asked as his eyes raged in self-righteous indignation.
"You told us a lot of things, Archie. I thought I could tell Simpson. Bridget was a whore, you should not get insulted," Cleveland tried to explain.
"Yes, you are acting like you were her man," Hether joined in. "She had lots of men, Simpson was just one of them. Cleveland is right; she was only a whore."
"Kevin Lowe and Reggie Fleet were only men. Jack Simpson murdered them and he tried to kill me," Archie said, he voice cracked with pain. "Who knows what evil he did to Bridget to make her want to run for her life. Why would you choose to be with a known felon? What hold does he have over you?"
"He has no hold on us. I think your fears of him are unfounded. Archie, let us help you," Cleveland pleaded.
"You want to help me? Leave me alone! We have to live together on the ship, but I no longer want to associate with either of you outside of the ship. Is that clear? Good day!" Archie exclaimed as he left the table.
Clayton, who had been quiet to this point, spoke up. "You say you are just trying to help. Who are you trying to help, yourselves or Archie? I do have one more question before I leave, are you going to tell Simpson about this conversation, too?"
When Archie stormed out of the bar, one of the bar wenches followed him. She found him with his back against the alley wall.
"You are Bridget's boy, aren't you?" She asked.
Archie stopped and turned around. "Do you know where she is?"
"She told me all about you, Archie. My name is Moira, we met once. Bridget said she cared very much for you. She gave me this letter to give to you. I hope it answers your questions."
"Thank you, miss," Archie said as he took the note.
"Bridget was right, you are a sweet boy," Moira said as she kissed Archie on the cheek and left him alone.
Archie went to stand under a street lamp to read the letter, which said:
Dearest Archie -
I wished I could have said good bye to you in person, but I hope this will do. I tried to visit you when I heard you were injured, but I wasn't allowed on the ship. I hope you are feeling better.
My sister, in Wadebridge, needs my help. Her husband's a miner and is feeling poorly. She wants me with her to watch her children. Therefore, I am taking the next available coach out of Spithead. I hope you can understand why I must do this.
Chin up, Archie and remember me as fondly as I will remember you.
With all my love,
Archie searched the letter for a reference of Simpson. The closest reference was ëyou must understand'. Yes, he understood that Simpson scared Bridget away. Maybe the story about her sister was true, but he could never be sure.
Archie thought about the last time he and Bridget were together. She thought of life as purgatory. Hopefully she would find a better life in Wadebridge. Part of him that wanted nothing more to join her.
As it was, he was on his way back to the unjust Justinian. Just do your duty and you will not be harmed, Archie told himself. If only he could believe that.