A Letter from Hell - Eccleston's Reply
by Joan C.
In the months since I departed this mortal coil, I have had ample
opportunity to reflect on my myriad faults and failings; that is is the
purpose of Purgatory, after all.
I was a child of wealth and privilege. The Navy was my destiny from the
day I was born. I did not disagree with the choice of vocation. I went
obediently, serving as an officer since the age of fourteen. Perhaps I
should have reacted differently to my familyís expectations, but
I was too
young to object, and too entranced by the entire adventure.
It was not difficult at first; my studies advanced quickly, as did my
rank. We were at peace, and the Navy was not a place of danger until I was
so firmly entrenched in its custom, that I had no way to escape when we
went to war. I was seventeen when I saw my first man die. He was a fellow
midshipman and a French cannonball tore him apart. I can still feel the
warmth of his blood drenching my clothes. I was slightly wounded in the
encounter, as well. My wound festered, and I was sent home to convalesce.
When I returned to service, I was assigned to a ìsafeî posting,
Spithead, with Port Admiral Henty. I did not object. I passed my
examination for Lieutenant with ease, and served as Hentyís Aide
years, until the threat of war once again sent me to fleet duties on the
Captain Keene was not yet seriously ill; but he was not a strong
commander. The crew I inherited -- including you, Jack, was perhaps the
most dispirited I have ever seen. You recall how those days were -- weeks
spent in the Channel with nothing to show for our time; then the return
Portsmouth where we rotted in Spithead for months. I became complacent.
longer required to prove my worth, I began to doubt my worth, as an
officer and as a man. The Navy placed low value on human life, and so did
The Justinian was my honourís graveyard. Keene was waiting to die.
no care for his crew as long as the ship did not rot beneath him. So I
kept the wooden beams sturdy, and ignored the progressive decay of the
I cannot blame Keene for your faults, or my own. But, you were the source
of evil, Jack. You were the maggot that devoured our humanity. I see that
now. God! Had I only seen it before you corrupted everything you touched.
Even that innocent boy, Kennedy. You will burn in Hell for that alone.
My greatest torture is to relive those days; to see the signs of your
perversions and not act to stop them. The bruises, the pain, the fright
Kennedyís eyes, and then worse by far, the blank stare of utter exhaustion
and defeat. Why did I not see that? Why did I not care enough to protect
him from your abuse? If there is a scourge in this place, then I am tied
to the gratings every moment of my sentence here. I pray it is the same
for you. But I fear that you are incapable of feeling such pain.
Then Hornblower came, and God help me, I cared not that he, too would come
under your thrall. I did not know that he alone would have the heart to
defy you, Jack. And I hung that boy in the riggings! How could I have been
I could have stopped the duel. But I was willing, nay, hoping, to give
Hornblower that even chance to save me. Had I displayed such cowardice in
battle, I would have been hanged!
God apparently had other plans. I was given an all too brief glimpse into
the life I should have aspired to live. A Captain who was both heroic and
human; whose trust was earned, not purchased by favors, and who believed
all of his men deserved that trust and respect. Even craven Lieutenants,
such as myself.
Even then, I was not above failure, or cowardice. If I had refused your
presence during the Papillon raid, how different things might have been!
Kennedy, that poor soul, might still be with the Indefatigable. He lies
now in a hellish Spanish jail waiting to be rescued. Yes, I hold myself
blame for that, as well. It was that last failed judgement on my part that
stripped away the final layers of self-delusion. When Hornblower stood
before me, masked in blood and quite literally shaking with repressed
rage, I knew how wrong I had been.
I gave the command of the Papillon to Hornblower with my dying breath
because I believed him. When I looked into his eyes, there was nothing of
the fear, the cowardice, the self-serving malice that I have seen in
yours. He has a good soul, that boy, better by far than mine. I cannot
mention yours in the same breath.
I could damn you, Jack. But I fear you have already done so. And if the
only suffering you can feel is the knowledge of Hornblowerís continued
existence, then I wish you much pain -- for I believe that he is indeed,
I have much to expiate, much to endure before I can rest in the blessed
peace of the Almighty, but I someday I shall be released, while you writhe
in envy and hate. I bid you farewell, Jack. For I will not spare you one