Ship of the Damned, part ten
by Sue N.
Archie reeled heavily as the deck seemed suddenly to
drop away beneath his feet, and had to reach quickly
for the edge of the table to keep himself from
falling. He stared at Thorne in a sick and horrified
silence, his eyes wide, his mouth open, his face
draining of colour. Great waves of nausea churned in
his stomach, and his heart hammered frantically
against his ribs.
Thorne gave a thin smile at the young man's stricken
reaction. "I suppose you were not expecting that, were
you?" The smile turned into a grimace, and he shook
his head. "No, of course not. It is our dirty little
secret here in Resolute." All at once, he laughed
bitterly. "I wonder, Mr. Kennedy, if you can grasp the
supreme irony of a ship called Resolute being
captained by a simpering madman? Of one of His
Majesty's ships of war having for her commander a man
who cannot even bring himself to leave his cabin? Oh,
come now!" he said sharply. "Surely, sir, a young man
of your background and breeding, of your education,
must appreciate the delightful drollery at play here!"
Archie only swallowed and shook his head slowly,
dazedly, unable to see anything delightful in this at
all. He suddenly felt as if he had fallen overboard,
into heavy seas, and were drowning. His head would not
clear, his mind would not function, and he was finding
it difficult to breathe.
The captain... insane...
Thorne scowled at the young man, deeply disappointed
in his reaction. Had no one besides himself an ounce
of wit? "Perhaps a bit of brandy, then," he suggested
sourly. When Kennedy still gave no answer, he exhaled
disgustedly and crossed the cabin to the small table
where sat the decanter and glasses. "You needn't look
so grief-stricken," he said bitingly as he poured two
glasses. "It is not as if the Navy has lost one of its
prize captains! He was never much of a man to begin
with, so I dare say his loss to the Service will be
felt even less keenly than would yours be." He went
back to Kennedy and held a glass out to him. "Here,
drink. And, for God's sake, man, pull yourself
Archie accepted the glass woodenly and drank as
ordered, trying to rouse himself from his shock. To
his relief, the brandy helped. Slowly, slowly, the
thick fog clouding his mind began to lift, gradually
restoring his ability to think.
"Yes, yes, I suppose you want to know what happened,"
Thorne sighed. He began to pace, a trim, elegant
figure of cold disdain. "To be blunt, his mind
snapped. Some men simply are not suited for command,
are unfit for it by nature. There is some weakness in
them, some flaw or affliction, that impairs them and
makes it quite impossible for them ever to measure
up." His thin lips curled into a sneer. "Such men are
a disgrace and worse, and should never be allowed into
the Navy, much less made officers!"
Archie flinched violently and paled, very nearly
dropping his glass as Thorne's cruel words seared
through him. In that moment, he was all too painfully
aware of his own affliction, his own "impairment," and
knew he would stand not the smallest chance if Thorne
ever discovered it for himself. He remembered how it
had been in Justinian -- how Simpson had taunted and
tormented him, how Cleveland and Hether had pitied
him, how even Clayton and Horatio had regarded him
differently once they had found out -- and knew with
sick, instinctive certainty it would be exactly the
same with Thorne.
Yet Thorne was wholly indifferent to Archie's
distress, did not have it in him to recognize
another's pain. That was his impairment. "Captain
Sidney," he went on in that cynical, scornful tone,
"had no stomach for the rigors of command. He misliked
seeing a man punished, and was loath to order it done.
He feared the men, y'see, feared they would rise up
against him as had happened at Spithead and the Nore,
and in Hermione*. So he spared them whenever he could
and treated them far more gently than they deserved,
thinking this would make them love him. He would even
take their part against his officers! What he failed
to see," he spat harshly, his pale eyes glittering,
"was that discipline was the surest -- indeed, the
only -- means of keeping such rabble in their place.
And we who had to make the louts work, who had to see
to the order and proper running of the ship, without
his support, without his backing, soon found our
authority over the men ebbing."
He turned abruptly to Kennedy, his pale eyes blazing
with raw fury. "Have you ever seen, sir," he spat
between clenched teeth, "what happens to a ship when
there is no discipline, no order? Have you ever seen
what rot contaminates the crew, what ills infect her
officers? Have you, man?" he demanded sharply. "Have
Archie shuddered and bowed his head, closing his eyes
tightly against a painful surge of memories.
Thorne exhaled slowly and resumed his pacing, his
anger now under tight control. "The men grew
increasingly insolent, sullen, and refused to do their
duty because they knew they would not be punished. And
to make matters worse, the captain kept them soaked in
rum to placate them. He was blind, and worse than
blind! And he would not heed our warnings..."
Archie listened in deepening horror, knowing he had
stepped into hell. An insane captain, an undisciplined
crew-- God, how would he protect his men from this?
"And matters were made only worse when we took that
frigate," Thorne continued. "God, how I wished we
would sink her! But, no, she had to strike, had to
surrender, and we had to take her as a prize. Captain
Sidney dispatched far too large a prize crew into her,
hoping a stint in Gibraltar would further pacify the
men. But it left us dangerously short-handed, and with
all the dregs remaining in Resolute. When our
condition necessitated that the men work all the
harder, they refused. Rebelled. I had to summon the
Marines just to make them work!" he snarled. "And then
one of them, a brute named Lambert, dared strike the
bosun-- He had to hang. Discipline, justice and the
Articles of war demanded that he hang! But Captain
Sidney wanted to wait until we reached the Gibraltar.
He said seeing a shipmate hanged would anger the men,
stir them to mutiny. But Lambert was doing that while
chained in the hold! I told him if he did not order
the hanging, I would have him placed under arrest in
his quarters, hang Lambert myself and see him
court-martialled in Gibraltar! And, by God, I would
have done so!" he declared harshly.
Archie took another desperately needed drink,
horrified to see his hand shaking and to realize he
could not stop it.
Thorne smiled thinly. "Well, he had no choice after
that. He ordered Lambert hanged from the yardarm. But
it was too much for him. Afterward, he began hearing
the man's voice, then seeing him-- One morning, he
looked up into the rigging and began shrieking. He
said Lambert was still there, that we should cut him
down and bury him at sea-- Well, we had done that at
once, of course! But he would not believe us. I myself
had to summon the Marines to lead him, sobbing, from
the quarter-deck. And when the storms hit, his mind
broke completely. He said it were the judgment of God
against us." He laughed shortly. "As if God has ever
cared a damn for what happens on this ship!" He turned
and smiled slightly at Kennedy, waving toward the door
that led into the captain's sleeping cabin. "And there
he has remained ever since, sinking ever more deeply
into madness and leaving his ship, his command, to
deteriorate into the dismal mess you see now. It is
Archie stared at that door, wondering about the poor,
haunted soul who lived behind it. "And does he show no
sign of recovering, sir?" he asked softly.
Thorne laughed harshly and stared at him in outright
disbelief. "Show-- Good God, how should I know? I am
not his nursemaid or his physician! I have a ship to
run, Mr. Kennedy. With our dear Sir Reginald Sidney
out of his mind and seeing ghosts, someone must act as
captain! I merely send the sentry in from time to time
to make certain he has not hanged himself. I have no
time for conversation with a lunatic!"
Archie stiffened and stared past Thorne, trying not to
show his disgust at such brutal callousness. Surely
even a madman deserved some small kindness...
Thorne seemed to see the judgment in those blue eyes
and inhaled sharply, inclining his head and scowling,
as resentment coursed through him. "You have the watch
in less than two hours, Mr. Kennedy," he said harshly.
"I suggest you go below and take what rest you can
Knowing he had managed -- again -- to earn Thorne's
wrath, Archie sighed softly, then straightened and
lifted his chin, meeting those hard and hateful grey
eyes without flinching. "Aye aye, sir," he answered
evenly, his voice crisp and clear. "Good evening,
sir." He bowed slightly, and with a careful respect,
then straightened and turned on his heel, leaving the
cabin without looking back.
"Arrogant little bastard!" Thorne snarled when he had
gone, flinging his glass against the door. "You will
see who runs this ship, viscount's son or no!"
*The Hermione was a frigate cruising the Caribbean in
September, 1797, under the command of Captain Hugh
Pigot, known as possibly the worst and certainly one
of the most brutal captains in the Royal Navy. On
Sept. 21, 1797, the men rose against him in what has
become known as the bloodiest mutiny in the Royal
Navy. With cutlasses and tomahawks, they hacked to
death Pigot and most of his officers, then took
Hermione to Spain where they handed it over to the
Dons. Some men who claimed they had not been party to
the mutiny but prisoners of it returned to England.
The Hermione herself was taken back in a cutting out
mission by the frigate Surprise. The mutineers, who
scattered, were hunted down for years by the Navy and
tried and executed when caught.
Captain Sir Edward Pellew himself sat on one of the
courts-martial when one of the leaders, a man named
Redman, was captured. Redman was naturally found
guilty and sentenced to hang. The court-martial board
wanted the execution postponed until a warrant could
be gotten from the Admiralty, but Pellew said a delay
would only give the condemned man time to arouse
public sentiment in his favor. Still the president of
the board asked for time, but Pellew pressed his
point, saying an immediate execution would serve as
example to the rest of the fleet. At his insistence,
the board voted to hang Redman at once, and, indeed,
the fleet took note.
It just goes to show... you don't mess with Sir