DISCLAIMER: ALL OF THE CHARACTERS AND SCENARIOS BELONG TO PATRICK O'BRIAN AND/OR MIRAMAX
Cicely boarded the boat at Sao Paulo that would take her to the ship. Luck, she thought, as she swing her pack onto her back, must be behind it. Here she was, eight months into her search for her brother and the ship upon which he was commissioned required crew.
The trip was painfully long in the hot sun. Heat beat down on Cicely and she could feel the top of her scalp bristling under its intense glare, as perspiration soaked into her undershirt. They glided upon the glass-like water until eventually they reached the wharf where men, seemingly refitting the ship, bustled around like ants, fetching, carrying, nailing, painting.
As the ship came more into view, Cicely glanced at the stern reading the name of the ship, and she sighed with relief. H.M.S. Surprise. After eight long months, she had begun to give up hope of ever finding him; after many false turns, dead ends and vain optimism. Not that it bothered her; Cicely was determined to find her brother and convince him to return home and nothing was going to stand in her way.
Her father should have known her better. More fool him. Having escaped from what was to be her fate; her impending nightmare of a marriage to a fat rich widower almost three times her age by force that she had thwarted by her own cunning, taking with her enough money until she could support herself; that had been the worst part.
No, thought Cicely. The worst part had been knowing that their father had written to Edward and informed if of her death. Knowing that he would be distraught. Knowing that he would be even less able to carry out his commission than before.
This quest to find him had been something she had been dreaming of since she had realised what her father had in mind in order to secure more wealth for himself. Getting Edward out of the way the first step; emotional blackmail and overbearance; forcing him into a life that didn't suit him was his first step and how she hated him for that. But their father had little counted on the lengths Cicely would go to escape; burning down the family home whilst pretending she was still inside it and having people believe she was dead was the only way she knew she would be free of her father for good. And she made a good Robert Young all in all; and didn't actually make a bad mizzenlad either.
Her thoughts were interrupted however, as the huge Brazilian boat captain thrust a filthy hand under her nose.
"Dos pesos," he said, shaking his palm. "Dos," he insisted.
Carefully, Cicely extracted two gold coins from a purse inside her tunic. The crew mate looked at her leeringly, his eyes darting left to right, following the bag. Two pesos for such a journey; daylight robbery.
"The Surprise," said Cicely to the captain, looking at the ship, much larger now as they approached it. "They definitely need crew?"
"Crew?" replied the Captain. "Si, si. Capitanos." He said, pointing in the direction of a stocky, middle-aged man. "Capitanos Aubreys. He need men."
"Then I am obliged, sir," said Cicely, trying not to inhale the stench as she stepped over the detritus of rotten fish which lay at the bottom of the fishing boat and clambered over the side. She walked over to the end of the wharf, and gathered with other hopeful recruits who all, Cicely supposed, also desired work upon the Surprise.
Just then, at the front of the queue four beuniformed men escorted a tall, stocky man who surveyed the first couple critically. Automatically, the rest of the gathered men aligned themselves neatly. Cicely joined them nervously.
Here it was then, she thought as the man neared. Closer, she could see he wore a captain's uniform; though not the most up-to-date it was impeccably clean and bright; not one thread out of place. So, this was Aubrey, thought Cicely, the man I need to convince that I am worthy to work aboard his ship. Nervously, she hopped from one foot to another as he approached.
"Name?" she heard Aubrey say as he scrutinised the next hopeful three places along from her and Cicely leaned forward in order to catch anything that would help her cause.
"...and what about reefing..."
"...three times, sir..."
"...teeth good...no eye problems..." Aubrey turned and beckoned another man, much taller with darker hair to his side.
"...would you say this man was a fine specimen, Stephen?" Aubrey questioned the other man, who also looked critically at the man too.
"Indeed; a fine choice for gunner; the best of this collection, Jack," he said, casting a woeful glance at the rest of the line. Cicely dropped her head automatically as his look passed over her, then wondered why she had done so. Chiding herself as she remembered what she had been through to get here, she held her head high and jumped as Captain Aubrey stood in front of her.
"Name?" he barked, scanning her up and down. Cicely shivered slightly at his authoritarian tone. Aubrey was indeed as stern as the Spanish captain had attempted to convey in his broken English on their way there.
"R..Robert...Y...Young, sir," she stammered, making herself glance to the bleached planks upon which she stood.
"Young, eh? No relative of... Lieutenant Thomas Young?"
"N...no, sir," she said quietly.
"And, how old are you, Young? Young, by the looks of you, what?" he said jocularly, nudging the man Stephen who had confirmed the suitability of the man near them as a gunner. He nodded and smiled, clearly indulging the captain of his joke.
"Er...fifteen, sir." Cicely looked between the men, hoping they wouldn't detect the lie. The Captain bent closer, as if examining her face.
"Doctor," he prompted, looking at Stephen. "Teeth?" Aubrey nodded towards Cicely, and she pushed her jaw forward. The doctor moved her chin downwards and appeared to be counting her teeth.
"Twenty eight," he said, looking back at Aubrey. "All healthy. No sign of scurvy in the gums. And stance..." he continued, loosing her jaw and pulling her up sharply by the shoulders, "well; if a little underdeveloped in the leg. Bright eyes..." he said, staring into hers. "No glaucoma."
"I should think not at fifteen," said the Captain, a little impatiently. "Tell me Stephen, will he do as gunner?" Both men looked back at her. Cicely held her breath.
"No," the doctor concluded. "No strength," he said, holding out her right arm, then allowing it to fall. The captain shook his head, then turned, as did the doctor, and began to move away to the next man. Cicely felt her heart fill with despair; she'd come all this way, just to be judged unfit for service by this doctor.
"Maybe not a gunner, sir," she felt herself saying to the retreating back of the Captain. "But I can mizzen. Perhaps you can promote a mizzenboy?" The Captain stopped, and turned slowly. Cicely swallowed.
She knew she was out of line; no-one of her supposed station should address an officer unless invited to do so. Cicely knew this, and as Aubrey turned, she also knew she had failed to be chosen.
"Begging your pardon, sir," she added, looking down with feigned humility. "I can mizzen." Aubrey stood before her, and looked at her again.
"You can mizzen, Young, but not gun. Therefore you are of no use to me." His tone, as stiff as his posture, Aubrey turned away and proceeded to examine the next hopeful.
"Bad luck, boy," whispered the doctor as he passed. Cicely hung her head further still, watching the sea beneath the wharf planks swirl tempestuously.
Half an hour later and Cicely folded her arms and watched eight men from the line be called forward to become members of the Surprise's crew. She watched mainly out of ebbing hope of seeing her brother before its inevitable departure but as the sun moved rapidly across the sky, her hope began to fade, and she looked desperately at the gang of ship hands as they made finishing repairs to the vessel.
Maybe the Captain would change his mind and accept her on board at the eleventh hour, she thought, more out of desperation than actual possibility. If she appeared keen, maybe she could at least be set on in another post.
Watching further, she could feel the heat of the sun beating down on her. Ordinarily, she would glory in it; a nineteenth century female was expected to be pale and keep her skin free of tan; the correct and proper appearance as an indication she did not have to labour for her keep. As such, Cicely felt happy with every reflected beam that her very exposure to the sun added to her projected façade as well as her actual one. Now though, she just felt its intense and cruel rays highlighting her failed plan; illuminating it to the whole world.
As the Royal Marines ushered the eight men onto the Surprise, she could see, in her ever growing despair, as she searched in vain for a glimpse of her brother again, the Captain and the doctor engaged in conversation.
The doctor was pointing towards the end of the sparse line of unsuccessful men, and the Captain towards the gangplank. A glimmer of hope set in as the doctor gesticulated, only to be dashed moments later as the gangplank was withdrawn.
"Dos pesos," Cicely heard behind her. "We go now."
The Spanish fisherman, the captain of the boat who had brought her, with his huge frame blocked out her view of the diminishing Surprise. Cicely hung her head.
"No," she said, quietly. "That is too much. Dos pesos." She turned her back to the retreating ship and glanced at the other failures who were piling back into ships of other sizes and shapes. "Maybe they are less?"
"Maybe you not return so successfully as you come," said another voice; the first mate. Cicely turned and felt fear enter her chest as the man darted towards her tunic. Her money.
With the number of people on the wharf decreasing quickly Cicely knew if she didn't act the very least she would be robbed by these brigands and the most, well; it would be quiet soon. Who would know she was missing? And what would happen if they found out what she really was?
Cicely made a step towards another of the fishing boats, but the Spanish captain stood in front of her.
"Dos pesos," he insisted again. Cicely heard the first mate step behind her. There was nowhere to run.
"Far too expensive," said a voice behind her. Cicely turned. Before her was one of the men from the queue, but she was sure he had departed on one of the other boats. Slowly, the first mate moved from his proximal position to her as the man strode near.
"I think two pesos is more than enough for both of us," he said, smiling at the now-relieved Cicely. She looked harder at him. Yes; he was one of the first to be scrutinised by Aubrey. Obviously some or other flaw had made him unsuitable as a gunner, though not weak arms, evidently.
"Shall we?" he continued, stepping towards the boat. The two Spanish fishermen looked at one another as he handed them two gold coins. Cicely followed him ovinously.
"Here," she said, proffering a coin in the man's direction when they were in the small boat. They had left the wharf ten minutes ago, but had said little more to her than wishing her the time of day. The man frowned.
"Not at all," he said affably, smiling in her direction. "I wouldn't hear of it."
"But I would," said Cicely, as firmly as she could. Now she was sitting calmly in the boat, heading back towards the small village a Sao Paulo, her fear had been replaced by her usual persona. "Or at least if not, a reason why." She frowned slightly as the man broke into a laugh.
"Betting is a sin," he said, "so I believe it is only right to redistribute the profits. And by the looks of your clothes I should say you need all the money you can get."
"And why do you say that?" insisted Cicely, still holding out the coin. The man looked down at it and pushed away her hand.
"John Fotherington," he said, still smiling. He didn't look much better dressed than her, thought Cicely. In his thirties, maybe; he was dark tanned with mousy-blonde hair. But life had not been kind to him and he sported a large scar across his cheek.
"You've determination, lad. What makes you want a job on board The Surprise?"
"Robert Young," replied Cicely. "My brother," she began, then swallowed. She wasn't about to tell a perfect stranger that he was aboard the ship and began again.
"My brother served with Aubrey at the Nile," she said, hoping the lie wasn't too big to be transparent. Said if ever I were to be in need of work, I'd never serve under a better captain than he, so when I heard the Surprise was out here and he was the captain of it, thought I couldn't do worse."
"And right you were," said the man, laughing again. "I 'aint never served under a better captain neiver. Was at the Nile myself; though didn't make it very far. Knew Jack Aubrey well, though; he said I was the best boatswain he'd ever seen. Offered me a job as Master once he became an officer. That was on the Sophie."
"Well, not much chance now, Mr. Fotherington," said Cicely, politely. "It seems like Captain Aubrey has his full complement of gunners." She sighed and glanced in the direction of The Surprise's wane. "Tell me," she continued, "do you know the doctor who was with the Captain? Was he at the Nile as well?"
"The doctor as was with Aubrey?" said Fotherington, scratching his stubbly chin. "No, can't say I never had. We had Higgins on the Sophie, we did; not that you could call him a doctor mind; he's still with Aubrey now. But that doctor who was with the Captain; no. Seemed like quite a knowledgeable sort of man, though. Could tell of old wooden Betty without even an examination."
"Betty?" said Cicely, curiously. "Who's that?" Fotherington laughed again, and tapped against his left shin.
"Not who," he said, smiling at Cicely. "Though I did want to name her after the wife or sweetheart of the Frenchie who gave her to me; but in my impetuosity, I stabbed him before I thought of askin'! But she were the reason I weren't no good as a gunner for Lucky Jack." Fotherington inhaled. "What were yours?"
"Strength," said Cicely, glumly. "Not strong enough. But I can mizzen," she said, hopefully.
"'s no doubt, I'm sure," said Fotherington, surveying the approaching coast. "But I know Jack Aubrey; he wants what he wants; no compromises. Now," he said, as the Spanish captain steered the boat towards the village's tiny jetty. "Get yourself smartened up; there's an outfitters at the end of the street that'll fix you up a treat. That peso will set him up a treat. Then meet me in the square at six."
Instead of following Fotherington out of the boat, Cicely looked straight back at him.
"Why?" she asked. "We weren't wanted, " she added, almost breathlessly; the binding on her chest seemed almost to be smothering her as the realisation began to hit her.
"Just you meet me at six," said Fotherington, tapping the side of his nose. "There's more'n one way onto The Surprise. If Jack Aubrey hasn't his full complement of crew by the time he is ready to sail he'll be recruitin' again and this time, we can more'n double our odds by working together."
Cicely waited nervously in line again. The crisp sail-hand's uniform she'd purchased itched at the neck but she resisted the urge to scratch it. Following her unsuccessful recruitment the day before, she had taken Fotherington's advice, meeting with him at 6pm.
His information had led her to be standing now on the Sao Paulo dockyard, for he had indeed been correct: Captain Aubrey did not have his full complement of crew. This time they were after deckhands.
Cicely leaned forward again; there were more than thirty men here this time; more than yesterday and she supposed it was because Aubrey had docked with a select crew at the village.
The party from the Surprise, led by the Captain appraised the line again. Fotherington stood next to her; he'd suggested they stand near the end so as to gain information, such that they could.
"Don't keep on lookin' at 'em, lad," whispered Fotherington, as she scrutinised them for the dozenth time. "Patience!"
Eventually, Aubrey was just two men away from Fotherington, and Cicely couldn't resist looking once more. It wasn't until Fotherington elbowed her sharply in the ribs that she realised she'd been staring. Edward! He was there, with the captain, the doctor and lieutenants.
Edward, she thought, tearing he eyes away. Her beloved brother. She looked down, her heart glowing. He looked well Cicely thought, considering the illnesses and diseases that were ex Britannia. Cicely's thoughts were averted when she heard the doctor alongside her and Fotherington.
"No, no," she heard him say. "The wooden leg makes him totally unsuitable."
"What do you have to say about it?" Cicely heard her brother say. "It is you who will be doing the job, after all. Could you manage it?"
How like him, she thought. Edward was always the most reasonable of the two of us. He's hearing both sides of it before he makes a decision. Cicely smiled to herself, happy she had found her brother once more. The captain snorted, as if disdainfully. Cicely rankled.
"Can you swab the decks, Fotherington? You were a good sailor under Captain Mason on the Swan, as I recall."
"Good of you to remember, sir," said Fotherington, a tinge of pride in his voice. "However I cannot swab. Do you not have place on board for shipwright?"
"I do not; I look only for deckhands. My my, Stephen," he said turning to the doctor. "What is the world coming to? Two impudent suggestions as how I should run my ship in as many days!" He chuckled to the doctor smiled back. "What do you make of that, eh?"
"I should wonder that you might take them, seeing as it may be a third you receive shortly, albeit from this Young hopeful." Cicely instantly looked down as Aubrey turned to look in her direction, like the doctor had been doing for a good many minutes, she believed.
"Young, eh?" remarked Aubrey, as he looked he up and down. "Come to try your luck again, lad?" Cicely nodded nervously, trying not to look at Aubrey; not through fear but because she knew her gaze would drift to her brother and she would not be able to help but drop the disguise.
"Y..yes, sir," she mumbled, eyes firmly fixed on the slowly lapping waves she could see through the wharf.
"Speak clearly lad, chin up," he ordered, and brought her chin up to face him. "There. Now, we are after shiphands today, Young. Dr. Maturin here gave you a clean bill of health yesterday; you're just what we're looking for." He stood back, loosing her jaw.
Cicely looked down; why was she acting so reticently? She had come halfway across the world to seek her brother; begged, borrowed and stolen clothes and money to do it. Cicely glanced across at Fotherington; it had to stop here, the thought. The captain doesn't want him. But he could want her.
"So, you wish to be a shiphand with us, Young?" Aubrey's tone was its some authoritative tone, but Cicely thought she detected something in his tone.
"Yes, sir." Cicely looked down. She was determined not to repeat yesterday's outburst.
"Would you mind telling me why it is you are so keen to take work on the Surprise?" Aubrey looked her up and down. She said nothing.
"Speak, lad," encouraged the doctor, who took a step nearer the captain. "You've nothing to fear."
"My brother," said Cicely quietly. "He served with you for a few years, before he...died. He said if ever I were in need of work I could do worse than Captain Jack Aubrey." Cicely glanced upwards slightly, an arrow of meaningfulness aimed right into the captain's subconscious. It hit its mark.
"High praise indeed," said the doctor. "At such a statement of respect I would not be able to refuse, even such a feeble specimen." Aubrey looked her up and down critically again. He frowned.
"However we do not need a mizzen, Stephen," he turned towards the doctor. "We need a deckhand." He turned back towards Cicely. "Not today, Young. However I am honoured that I come so highly recommended." Aubrey turned again, and in the space between him and the doctor, she saw Edward.
"I could make a deckhand, sir. So could he" she replied, trying with all her will to remain calm, gesturing towards Fotherington. She felt the older man stand straighten next to her, as if to reprise what he had to offer. Cicely swallowed.
"Not today, Young. You are too weak to be of use to me."
She could feel her face fall; the others must have noticed it too. But Aubrey was walking away; his men following them
Are they going to sail off a second time? Without her? Panic began to rise in her. This time, she was held back by Fotherington.
"Hey, thanks for trying; seems they didn't want either of us." Aubrey turned back, small frown on his face.
"We will be sailing back in a few years' time; some of our men may have lost their lives in battle. Perhaps your strength will have developed into something I can use."
Cicely started to feel sick and dizzy: a few years before she could be close to Edward; her beloved brother? When he was standing no further than 5 feet away from her? When she could reach out and grab him?
"Sao Paulo a good town to stay in, if you have the discipline. Wait till you're grown." This time, Aubrey and the doctor, Edward and the rest of the party did not turn back, and dread returned to haunt her.
"A few years?" Cicely exclaimed, after they had gone out of earshot. "I need..." Cicely raised her hands to her head, then stopped. Whatever she was about to say she mustn't; not to Fotherington. Already her mind was working, trying to work, trying to think what to do.
Just then, the group passed back again. It seemed Aubrey had his crew, who trailed behind the officers in a haphazard fashion. She turned to Fotherington; about to ask him whether he had any other ideas, when something caught her shoulder. Or someone. Edward.
"Listen, boy," she heard her brother say behind her. She spun round and saw Edward leaning over her. "I don't know why you wish to be aboard the Surprise so badly; what are you running from?"
Cicely turned round. Edward, his piercing blue eyes staring straight into hers, was looking straight at her. A flash of an expression crossed over his solemn features. She fought her feelings.
"Not running, sir," she said, deliberately making her voice baritone, and lowering her gaze submissively. "Trying to get home." She thought quickly. "My former captain bought me from my mother in London when I was four. He abandoned me here when I was too old to be a cabin boy."
Despite the fact she was still looking past his knees, she could feel Edward's heart soften. She was his sister; she knew how he worked. And despite the fact he tried his utmost to act like an officer, his inner compassion would out. Edward cleared his throat.
"Hold fast," he said. "Remain here."
"What was that all about?" Fotherington was standing by her now and she looked back at him. She glanced down the wharf and saw that Edward had stridden off, and he appeared to be in conversation with the Captain.
"Nothing," she said. "He spoke to me. Asked me what I was running from."
"Hm," said Fotherington, glancing in the direction she was looking. "Maybe good news. Not often the commissioneds speak to the salts. Look." He nudged her, and gestured in the direction of the Captain and the doctor, who were pacing determinedly towards them.
"Young," intoned Aubrey, speaking directly to her. The doctor lingered in the background.
"Midshipman Hollom. He has..." Aubrey turned towards Edward, who seemed to be in conversation with another midshipman. He looked back at her.
"He has championed your cause quite strongly. Is what he tells me true? Young?" Cicely jerked her head back at the Captain's strong tone.
"Yes, sir. They are."
"Then you are in luck. I am, of the last five minutes, in need of a mizzen lad. One of ours has sadly succumbed to a fever." A feeling, that had dulled in the pit of her stomach started to rise. Cicely glanced down the wharf towards her brother. He flicked the corners of his mouth in her direction before continuing his discussion with one of the smaller midshipmen.
"Subject to fitness," Aubrey continued, nodding towards the doctor. "And pay commencing third week. I need to see you work first." Cicely nodded back, and glanced back at Fotherington. He nodded at her, and smiled, which she took to mean he wished Robert Young well.
"Young!" Midshipman Blakeney stood over her; an eleven-year old officer berating her for the fifteenth time that day for not swabbing correctly.
"You'll waste the water that way," he said, a bit less sternly. Cicely looked back dumbly at him; an expression she had practiced to perfection.
"Yes, sir," she said, bowing towards him and saluting. "Sorry sir."
Fifteen days into the sailing and she had got pretty much used to her routine; keeping her head down; answering only when requested to; working long hours in filthy conditions. In all her efforts though, there was none so gruelling or more exhausting than mere effort of remaining anonymous.
Cicely's first few days had been the worst; she had to think on her feet in order to escape recognition as a female; washing with what little ration she had when no-one else was around; keeping herself to herself as much as possible so as not to let her guard down.
Their second day involved a more intensive examination of fitness from the doctor and while she queued, her mind worked hard to think how she could get through it without her true identity being discovered. She was second from the front, however when had quarters had been beaten to warn all aboard to be alert. The examination had been abandoned, and subsequently forgotten.
However, she consoled herself, as she lay aching in her hammock each night after ropes, heat and exhaustion gnawed away at her; she had done well so far to evade recognition and the tedium of the tasks involved had given her time to consider how she could approach Edward.
She had refused to drink the grog however; it was a vile poison and caused men to act as fools. She needed to keep a clear head if she was to persuade her brother to forego his commission and turn him to the idea that they could earn a living somewhere else in the Empire.
Cicely glanced from the young Midshipman to the tankard of another man a few feet from her. She knew why it was taken of course; to anaesthetise the pain caused by this way of life. However she knew that sooner or later she must decide on the best course of action with Edward, and in the meantime either tolerate the pain or ignore it.
"Left to right," Blakeney imitated the gesture in mid air. "Left to right, not front to back. You won't waste as much, boy." He nodded as he retreated and Cicely nodded with ample humility displayed then bent her head lower and began to scrub.
Nevertheless, the extreme physicality of the work appeared to diminish when she knew her brother was not far away, and it had been easy to blend into the background of salts: foremasthands, deckhands, powderboys and mizzenlads, especially with the commotion and excitement about the French ship that had been able to pinpoint their position with taciturn accuracy.
Cicely watched Blakeney's feet cross the oak planks and she considered how well, after all this time, picking up leads which had brought her to Brazil, getting aboard the Surprise, that she had managed to accomplish her goal of finding Edward. Now all she needed to do was to formulate a plan to get them both far away from here.
Just as Cicely's mind began to ponder their options, her rhythmic scrubbing was stayed by a filthy beplimsolled foot. She didn't need to look up to know who it was, but she did so anyway.
"And they told us you knew how to mizzen, Young." Joseph Nagel folded his arms mockingly. "Waste of space, if you ask me, what do you say, Pizzy?"
"Ar," said the young boy beside her, not eight years' old. He had dirty blonde curly hair and a face to match; screwing it up scornfully so as to reinforce the mocking words of his crewmate. "Are you goin' a' show 'im, Joe?"
Cicely looked between the boy and the man; what had they in mind this time? It was one thing her fruit ration to be taken, but this morning it had been her whole day's food and grog.
How dissimilar to the crews of both the Invincible and the Rose, who had welcomed Robert Young, allowed him to work alongside them, abiding his faults and watching out for one another. Of course there were times of jocularity, often though at others' expense it was never malevolent.
Now, she had to face malevolence from this man; whether because he was showing off to the younger boy, or for another reason. And if she couldn't own it like a man, this would lead to questions and suspicion. Cicely put down her soap.
"And just what do you mean by that, Nagel?" she said, taking him aback at her forwardness. "I do my job as well as I can."
"Not good enough, by my reckonin'" concluded Joseph Nagel, surveying the work she had completed that morning. "This is one job on any ship that needs the least skill. A woman could do it better than you, and, " he continued, glancing at the quarterdeck, "you still managed to bring attention from the officers. So, I'm here to see you right, just as I seen Fillings."
He put his arm round her, in a mock-friendly gesture, as if offering advice. Cicely glanced up to the quarterdeck, and saw Edward, Callumy and Blakeney nod at one another before turning their backs on them; clearly showing that they thought mizzenlad Young was being assisted by one of his own.
"Now," said Nagel, wheeling her round so their backs faced away from the retreating officers. "Show me those pretty hands of yours." Without waiting for Cicely to respond, he held out both of them in one of his own, forcing them palm upwards towards the hazy sun.
"Well," he said mockingly, addressing Pizzy and gesturing towards her hands. "That'll be the reason. No toughness, there. What we need," Nagel continued, as Cicely glanced at her hands then back at him, "is summat rough," he said, pushing her to her knees and placing her hands palm down onto the bleached planks.
Cicely's heart began to beat faster, but still she said nothing in response to his actions. Nagel pulled her to the deck, and forced her hands, palm down onto the planks and dragged them back.
Cicely's head began to spin as she felt the pain of a layer of skin being removed and bit her lip to prevent her from screaming. She looked up quickly but there was no-one around; she knew this was probably what was considered acceptable in the Service. Seconds later a hot angry throbbing coursed through them.
Once Nagel had released her hands, she thrust them, balled, by her sides, refusing to look at them. Cicely tried to focus on Edward, on her need to remain undiscovered, holding in her fury and outrage at what he had just done.
She turned carefully, holding back her will to shout out in response to her pain and tried to lift up her arms to struggle out of his hold, but Nagel was too fast. He turned her back round, gripping her shoulder.
"Pizzy," said Nagel, unpeeling her hands from each other and exposing the raw flesh to daylight as he addressed the boy. "The salt, if you please." This time, Cicely knew it would hurt; her arms began to quiver and she could feel her face bead in cold sweat. The young boy looked up at her, and hesitated.
"Go on," encouraged Nagel. "This'll toughen your hands, right enough," he said, as if doing her a favour. But Pizzy did nothing, continuing to stare at her, past her, then slowly lowered the tin box containing large-grained sea salt.
"I would oblige you to provide me with an answer." The words came from by Cicely's right shoulder and as she felt Nagel's grip loosen, she wrenched her hands out of his grip, clenching her hands into fists.
"Now," said Stephen Maturin, in a mildly admonishing tone of voice. "Hand me the salt there," he said, addressing Pizzy. The boy held out the box, dumbly. Cicely looked down at the planks more out of embarrassment than anything.
"I agree this method of making a man up-to-scratch is effective; however I do not believe it is one with which your Captain would agree." He eyed Nagel, who dropped his head, mumbling something under his breath.
"I am correct, am I not?" The doctor glanced to the quarterdeck where some of the midshipmen had assembled, alert to his interest in the crew. Nagel nodded, reluctantly.
"We'll be, er, back to work then, sir, " he added, ushering Pizzy back to their own deck area.
"Hm," nodded Maturin, turning to Cicely. "Young, isn't it? The young man who was so determined to be a member of this ship's company?" Cicely nodded in astonishment: that was over a fortnight ago.
"I don't believe we've completed the examination from when you joined the ships' company, Young," he continued, taking her by the shoulder. A feeling of mild dread filled Cicely as she looked into his eyes.
"Then I think now would be an appropriate time; I need to ensure the Captain's crew are all Bristol fashion, as they say" he said, aiding her elbow then walking in the direction of the lower decks.
Cicely paused, before following; it would be useless to refuse; he was the type that would remember and call her back. However, she could not possibly work without drawing further attention to herself and here was the chance for rest, even if she would have to make up the work later.
The deck below was cooler than above; a rank breeze of decomposing food wafted past her as she followed the doctor across the gun deck and into his cabin-cum-surgery. The room was lighter and airier than the berthing decks where the men slept; indeed it looked as if Stephen Maturin kept the place clean personally, by the barrel of potash and buckets residing in the corner near the huge oak work desk.
The doctor picked his way across the room to the far end of the desk and reached over for an old leatherbound ledger. He glanced his way down the right-hand page near the end of the book, looking between names and Cicely.
"Sit down, sit down," he encouraged as he retuned to her with the book, putting it down heavily on the desk beside her. "You came aboard…the fifteenth, wasn't it?" Cicely nodded, and then swallowed, looking down at her inflamed hands.
"If you please sir, you did examine me." Cicely swallowed again as she spoke, as directing his attention to the entry that she was sure no-one had seen her add to the doctor's record on the day the examination had been abandoned; altering some of George Taylor's details, whose entry she'd copied.
"Sorry?" replied Maturin looking up distractedly from his task of assembling his examination equipment.
"Here…" she said, pointing towards the ledger entry which she had written herself. The doctor stopped what he was doing, and looked where she was pointing.
"Indeed so, Young. But I could've sworn…" Then doctor glanced across the pages at the book.
"You did, sir," Cicely said. "I remember. You didn't finish, and you swore to Jove about the shortcomings of the Service." She smiled briefly, before wincing as Maturin took her hands, placing them palm-up on the desk.
"I did?" He eyed her carefully before looking at her hands then looked back at the entry. "That seems likely; besides I did not - complete - your - height." The doctor looked back up.
"Nevertheless, it is your hands that concern me now. Tell me," he said, looking at her face as he examined her fingers and span, "is there any particular reason for their treatment of you?"
"Not tough enough, sir," she said, looking down. "The lads thought I needed a help, so to speak."
It was quite true, though it wasn't just her. However the benefits of her apparent weakness outweighed any mistreatment. No man aboard insisted she remove her tunic; it was accepted that the weaker crewmembers remained fully clothed because they were scrawny.
As Albert Downing, a fellow mizzenlad aboard the Rose pointed out, sometimes they drew attention to themselves by being fully dressed. The wrong sort of attention, concluded Cicely, if her treatment by Nagel was anything to go by.
"I can see why; you are indeed a weak specimen; but there is hope for you yet," he laughed, pulling her up firmly by the shoulders. "You are not the first by any means to be subjected to this," he added, looking her straight in the eye. "However we are in a new century, and as such I am concerned we should put out-of date practices aside. Now," Stephen got up, slapping her on the shoulder.
"And I am concerned about your overall health. Within a month, on a ship's diet, you should make a fine specimen. Make sure you eat your entire ration, Young." He looked at her hands again and unpeeling them from the wrist. Cicely felt them pound as the blood coarsed beneath them.
"They'll heal, but you won't be able to mizzen. I'll speak to the Captain." Cicely looked up, horrified.
"No sir, please!" she begged, then looked down, hoping to convey her shame at being too scrawny for the service to the doctor. The last thing she wanted was the Captain to enquire after her health. How long would her secret last then?
"May I ask before I consider a third option, is the choice of yours to forego the ship's grog ration a religious one?" Cicely nodded; she'd planned this one. Non-Conformist Protestants, Puritans and Methodists were amongst those Christian denominations who shunned alcohol.
The doctor stood up. "In that case," he said, before pausing in mid-sentence to reach into a chest just behind his table. He pulled out a bottle which Cicely eyed with suspicion.
"Take no more than a sip of this," he said gently. "Don't worry, it's only laudanum." Cicely took it from his hand. The cylindrical bottle reflected the midday sun, and glowed amber. She looked down and sipped, nearly spitting the bitter liquid across the doctor's cabin.
"There now," he consoled, taking the bottle back off Cicely and stowed it away. "I don't advocate it only in the direst need; despite what the Captain thinks, many sailors for religious reasons do not drink. Young Fillings, for example," he added, smiling kindly. Cicely nodded as if agreeing, and then a thought struck her: Nagel had mentioned he had given the same advice to him. Did that mean…
"Er, Doctor?" she said meekly. "Do you mean James Fillings? Is he well now?"
"Certainly, certainly," confirmed Maturin, "although the Laudanum did get the better of him. He's recovering on the berth-deck. You and he are pairs, am I correct?" Cicely nodded again.
As with many jobs aboard, two men were often paired together covering the same work, but on alternate watches. James was at work when she wasn't, which meant they although they had effectively the same job, they had barely spoken. But he appeared very similar to Robert Young in demeanour, and herself in character.
Maturin stood up, and Cicely made to, swallowing against the now-diluted taste of the drug but flopped back down onto the oak chair. Clearly the laudanum was already taking effect.
"He will be fit tomorrow evening, as will you be yourself to resume duty the morning after." He noticed the look of panic cross her face. "I will merely inform the captain you have been treated for work-related injuries, and being of a particular faith compels you to reject the grog." Cicely watched as a small satisfied smile crossed his face, as if somewhere a small victory had been won.
"You are to remain here, Young, until the effects wear off. Fillings has had the only recuperation bunk and I did not anticipate more of this."
Placing a kindly hand on her shoulder and helped her up with the elbow Dr. Stephen Maturin gestured towards his own bunk, waiting until she sat down on it before leaving Miss Cicely Hollum in his cabin.
On returning to mizzening two days later Cicely was surprised that Nagel or any of the others were not bothering her.
She had awoken muzzily in a dark cabin, not being able to place where she was. It wasn't until the her eyes had adjusted to the dark as she lay still in the bunk that her eyes focused on the doctor poring over a book, magnifying glass in one hand and spectacles upon his nose.
Maturin had helped her to her feet before summoning assistance from a deckhand to take her to the crew berths where he confined her to quarters on a thin broth and citrus until the doctor was happy that she could work, reassured her that while he had informed the Captain of her injuries had not disclosed how they had occurred.
Cicely's confinement had allowed her time to think, and also become frustrated: she had time to notice with growing ill humour that her brother was by far the least popular middie aboard; the night before she was declared fit to work she forced herself to furiously devise plans of their escape as a bastion against the open contempt she had heard.
Why, she thought, as she worked away at the oak planks of the Surprise, has Captain Aubrey not seen how entirely unsuited to the work on board ship? Why has he not reassigned him or suggested other duties for him to do?
Such thoughts nagged at Cicely, along with their unknown destination and as long as it remained a mystery this frustrated her as she could not set into action any firm plan for herself and Edward. It would appear as though she must wait; carry out her duties as Robert Young until she could reveal her identity to her brother and they could leave the Surprise.
However the crew seemed to have the idea that Aubrey was about to take them round the Horn and, as every day appeared to Cicely to grow ever colder and shorter, she was inclined to agree with them.
The motivation for the crew's beliefs, she discovered, stemmed from an incident, she learned one evening, involving a French ship. She approached James Fillings on the lowerdeck, who had told her he was off watch through illness. They sat close to then main group of men not on duty, who were drinking, singing and carousing and he told her that most of the sailors believed it to be cursed, and that someone aboard was the cause of it.
"Do you believe it?" asked Cicely, that same evening. Many of the other mizzens and foremasts had retired a-hammock; but Fillings appeared rather less inclined to do so. Cicely had seen Nagel, Warley and the others return there an hour ago and though they had not bothered her since the day of her "toughening-up" she preferred not to be reminded.
"Oh no," he said, smiling at her and chuckling slightly. "I am a Non-Conformist," he added, in rather more hushed tones. "We don't believe in curses. You?"
"Church of England," she said nodding slightly, though with some degree of reservation; since she left England she hadn't been to a Protestant church to worship, and even before that she had rather doubted God was on her side. She rubbed her palms together as a sharp-cold breeze leaped the side of the Surprise.
"So how did you end up in Brazil? It's rough business being away from those you love," she added, looking wistfully in the direction of the quarterdeck.
"My father," said James, glancing out to sea now, across ice-covered straits and rivulets. "I was originally aboard another ship, the Emerald. Her captain, Fitzherbert grew ill and died, and the rest of the crew abandoned the ship. I was mizzened in Emira. That's where my father was born, in Portugal. My grandfather was exiled to Madeira and stripped of his wealth in the '30s. It was his boat that Charles James Stuart honoured to bring him to Scotland". James sighed with wistful pride.
Charles James Stuart, Cicely thought. The Young Pretender. Many of those loyal to the Jacobites; who would see a Scottish Catholic on Britain's throne than a Dutch Protestant, had been soundly driven out of England and Scotland once Bonnie Prince Charlie had been defeated.
"My father fought for Nelson, though. Nearly broke my grandfather's heart. But father said he was doing what he believed in, like his father before him. Grandfather couldn't argue with that, though."
"And what is it, you believe in, you little tyke?" The voice neither Cicely's nor James's cut cleanly through the bitter air. She turned and behind them both Harris and Bonden stood. pewters in hands, leering drunkenly at them both.
"I see Nagel has managed to toughen you a bit," said Harris critically, dropping James's palm. He looked at Cicely. "But there's nay hope for those as don't want to be helped, eh, Barrett?"
Cicely glanced sideways quickly to James, and she saw he had his head bowed, and his hands clasped together. Clearly Nagel and his gang had toughened one of the mizzenlads to their satisfaction.
"I don't see what business it is of yours," replied Cicely, instinctively defending James Fillings. "We get on with our job well enough."
"Ar," said Harris, looking her hard in the eye. "And leave the slack to the rest on us. 'Aint that right, Bonden?"
All three of them turned to Barrett Bonden: by the look of him, Cicely thought, he was the less intoxicated of the two. It was he who she would look for sympathy then if matters looked like they were turning for the worst.
"Aye," agreed Bonden, looking back at Harris. "But yer can't expect 'em to do their best on next to no rations, Bill. You know 'e's takin' em, eh?" Harris looked back at Bonden, his stance changing now to more stiff and formal.
Cicely glanced at James: so that was it. Nagel and his lot were stealing rations from the sailors, and would explain why hers had disappeared on infrequent occasions. She'd heard about that before, how it was one of the worst crimes recognised by the Service; it needed fit and healthy men, all of them, to operate efficiently.
However should any man report such a crime his subsequent treatment by the rest of the crew amounted to almost total social exclusion. Plainly, it was better to put up with it than lose fellowship.
"Ar, agreed Harris, backing down slightly before C and James. "You do your best, lads. And don't forget, what 'its 'em 'ard is what 'its 'em 'ard. Sometimes it's the only way." And with that, both of the older men returned to the main crowd.
"You too?" said Cicely when they'd been left alone. She sat down on an empty rum barrel, next to James. He nodded. "Can't be much helped," he added glumly. "The doctor thinks I need to increase my fruit ration. Made me promise to eat all of my limes every day, and this would make me better. But how can I do that when I haven't got them?"
He looked beseechingly at Cicely, who patted him on the shoulder. She nodded in agreement, feeling almost guilty for latching onto this convenient excuse.
"I know," she said, a little more brightly. "We've got to look out for one another. We take our meals at the same time. I could pass you mine, or you could give me yours. The one of us that's empty handed could be awkward about it when Nagel takes them, pretend we've forgotten them, or given them to Pizzy already. This would give the other a chance to hide eat both. Then the other could eat double the next day." Does that sound right, I wonder?
James nodded. "Sounds like a good plan," he said, seeming slightly happier. "So," he said, changing the subject. "What is it you're running from?" Cicely stopped. "What?" she asked, taken aback.
"We're all running from something, eh? Warley from Mrs Warley, Richards from the King, Bonden from the debtors. What's yours, Robert?"
Be careful, she warned herself. Don't let anything go. You haven't come all this way to be defeated now. She glanced at the waxing moon, and considered her choice of words.
"My past mistakes," she said eventually. "There are things that I have left too long that need putting right."
"And you're going to do that in the Royal N?" said James, doubtfully. "Well, at least you'll have some thinking time. I did think the Captain was taking the ship back to Cadiz, but it seems like we'll be in the South Seas before we see Spanish ladies."
He coughed and stood up, shifting his bandaging round his waist until it was more comfortable.
"Yourself?" she asked, more out of a desire to remove the opportunity for James to press her further.
"My father was taken into service before Nelson when they needed men for the War. My mother refused to leave him, but the captain, a cruel man, said she would be lashed if she remaining aboard." He sighed, looking out onto the midnight seas.
"She took me to my grandfather, and we remained there until my father returned. He went back to sea again, under Nelson, but that's the last we've seen of him. I went to sea at eight. I'm looking for him, if truth be told," he said, muttering this last sentence under his breath towards her.
"By the fact that you are still aboard, does this mean you haven't found him yet?" James shook his head sadly.
"No," he confirmed. "I've not found him. But I won't give up," he said, looking back at the ocean. As he did so, Cicely sneaked a glance at her brother. Neither will I, she thought.
No-one had seen her sneak down to the Officers' deck one Sunday night. She'd crept down after prayers given by the Captain to all his men and had been able to leave quite quickly as she was near the quarterdeck. It was James's turn for the limes, so once she had been given her ration and had quickly given them to him, Cicely decided to forego supper choosing to allow Heald, Nagels's other accomplice, to pursue her across the mess, where he was waylaid by Warley, who engaged him in conversation.
She was sure it was getting worse; James mentioned in passing, when they swapped shifts that powderboys were talking about similar acts of thievery, which had caused her to feel indignant. But she put it to the back of her mind now as she approached the door; shafts of grey light outlined the door in the failing light and the stench of rotten meat wafted along the corridor.
What she had been the worst now was the sheer amount of energy needed to carry out such a demanding job. It wasn't surprising the Captain cared about their wellbeing and strength for he needed as much brawn and muscle to carry out the jobs that a lad like her, like Robert Young, would be a poor return for his valuable food ration. Which is why she was creeping carefully towards the Doctor's cabin.
If she was caught, she reasoned, she could just say she was looking for him; that she had toothache. No sailor would invent such a tale as the removal of a tooth, like everything here was crude and brutal.
Cicely put her hand on the cabin handle, twisting the iron latch at the centre and leaning on the oak. It opened easily and she scurried in, closing the door behind her and standing with her back to it. Her eye caught the chest in which the doctor had pulled the bottle of laudanum a week ago, which had made her drowsy and taken away every last ache.
She looked at the bottle momentarily before putting its squat neck to her lips, taking a small sip and dampening her lips. Cicely had heard many horror stories about the medicine, and she knew it could be like grog – make you want it and need it.
Since she had been given it by the doctor, three weeks ago she had resolved determinedly that she would not think of its relieving effects however following their arduous toil in the hot sun as well as the captain's insistence they mastered the ropes the thought of her aches melting away had decided for her.
Cicely looked around the cabin momentarily. The doctor was astute, she knew, and would realise some had gone so she replaced the bottle back in the chest, making sure she replaced the cork ineffectively, so some of its contents would leak.
Placing the trunk back down on the wooden planks, Cicely froze as she heard footsteps above her. The ship's crew had finished suppering, she realised, so the night crew were about to begin their shift and day to retire to the crewdeck.
Just as she was about to open the Doctor's door, she heard voices which were getting louder. Someone was coming this way.
"I realise the significance of your course of action, Jack," she heard the Doctor say, "but I really do believe you should consider the effects upon –"
If they find me in here, Cicely's mind raced, I'll say…yes…toothache. They would take pity on a humble illiterate thing like Robert Young, and I would vow never to repeat the transgression…
"We need to take on supplies; there is no two ways about it."
"And the men?"
"If you are implying Stephen that I would deliberately endanger the crew…"
"Not in the least, however it is my opinion that you should release from the Service that which would not suit your purpose then I am wholeheartedly behind you." Cicely looked at the door latch, and saw it moving down. She held her breath as the two men continued to converse.
"This evening then," she heard the Doctor say. "Allow me to leave this in my cabin, and I shall be to the foredeck immediately.
In the darkness, Cicely's heart sank. He was going to ask what she was doing there, maybe even smell the foul medicinal liquid. The door opened, and she huddled behind it as Stephen Maturin, dressed in his daywear strode in and lay a pile of papers and a bag on the desk, before turning round.
Cicely looked down, her heart thumping in her chest. She was just about to speak when she felt the door next to her close as the doctor made his way out.
He hadn't seen her! The dread within changed immediately to elation as she heard his footsteps retreat along the corridor. That was far too close, she thought as she herself stepped out, and made her way towards the crewdeck above vowing to herself she would never do it again.
Minutes later she was sitting amongst the salts, swigging their grog ration and endeavouring to rest before their next shift began. They sat in groups under the stars, on rails and stairs; cross-legged on planks or leaning by the railings.
She sat next but one to Old Joe, a sailor nearly fifty years' old and as the night breezes swept over the deck he described the surgery he had just received from the doctor.
"Fifteen stitches, right enough," he told her, pointing towards his forearm. "On a lanyard spike near the stern. Took 'im a minute a stitch, Young," he added, looking down and giving her a nudge. "
And this 'ere," he held up his chin to show Cicely scars running from his chin down his throat, "was when I were cleaning the larboard side of the ship an' the rope caught round me neck. So I reckon you should stick with us crew on the Surprise 'ere, so that when you first come for a Burton, you'll have the best surgeon in His Majesty's navy to look after yer."
"Yes, sir," said Cicely meekly. She had learned too that older sailors preferred to feel as if they were giving advice, so she took it with grace and decided not to argue. As it was, a little thought reminded her as she glanced across to the group of sailors where Nagel was sitting, she had already come for a Burton and the doctor had looked after her.
However if what she had heard the captain saying was correct and they needed to get supplies that they may be docking soon, she could approach Edward and they could desert the ship together.
"'ere," said Chell, joining Joe and Cicely. "'e's not showing you 'is battle wounds, is 'e?" Cicely looked at Joe.
"'e means me battles with the ship," laughed Joe heartily. "Never 'ave I 'ad as much trouble aboard 'ere as any others. Been in more trouble with this lady Surprise than any other lady, wooden or otherwise." He laughed again, and Chell, a foremasthand, joined him.
"'tis my fortune to have served with the Captain most me life though," continued Joe, "'an we seen many a war together." Cicely smiled. She knew where this was heading. Like many sailors Joe's age, sailors liked to tell their tales of adventure, bravery and courage so she anticipated the tale that was to come…
…and was nearly taken aback when he revealed the name of the hero of the story who had sailed with…this man with two others who were salts under Lucky Jack's first command, the Harriet, had jumped ship and taken a rowing boat to Cadiz. They spent three days dressing as Spaniards, in an effort to convince the French authorities that although they were English, they were Catholics wishing to fight for Napoleon.
Their disguise completely took in the French, who gave them in return for their honour the exact specifications and number of the French navy in the port, which they then took back to Captain Aubrey. With the information, he was able to hold a small portion of the port with other naval vessels before Nelson's fleet entered and successfully passed through the Straits of Gibraltar. It would seem that without this, the Victory would never have made it to the north coast of Egypt to fight the battle of the Nile, with which the Harriet, under Aubrey fought successfully.
But Cicely's heart was still racing when she heard the name. The Frenchman who had passed on the information had done so to John Fotherington! Surely it must be the same man who helped her gain acceptance aboard the Surprise almost a month ago. And despite all that, he was too old now to be acceptable to serve.
"Three cheers for Lucky Jack and his crew!" cheered Dan Cooper, who had also sidled over to hear the story.
"Aye," called another man. "Three cheers for the Captain." Cicely joined the cheer too, feeling proud to have met John Fotherington.
She spent the next hour listening to the stories of the men as the evening wore on, joining in a chorus or two of "London Bells a'calling" and watching a couple of them tell a story using a worn set of playing cards, showing how it could also be thought of as the bible, with four Apostles, 52 books and so on (gambling was forbidden aboard on a Sunday.)
This gave her time to decide how to approach Edward and tell him she was still alive. If she had not been thinking of her brother she would have noticed Heald shift over to Nagel and whisper something in his ear, which made the man fix his stare on Robert Young.
Though her absent mind was totally lost on thoughts of her brother, her conscious mind heard the tolling of the warning bell. She looked around as the sailors, who had until then been relaxed and carefree, rise and become alert at the sound.
"Four bells," said one of the men. "Does that mean we've got it behind us again?" There was mumbling amongst the men, and they shuffled towards the edge of the ship, looking into the darkness.
"What have we got behind us, Joe?" asked Cicely quietly, as the man moved with the others.
"The Phantom," said Joe. "A ship, behind us almost a month ago, just before we stopped in Sao Paolo. Faster'n us and bigger. One minute was behind us, and the next, t'was on top of us."
"Ar," said Bonden, who was close to them both in the group, "the Phantom, as bringin' us all bad luck, isn't that so, Warley?" The other sailor looked at Bonden, and whispered back: "It's not the ship, Bonden, you know who it is, bringing us bad luck aboard."
Just then, Midshipman Donnelley approached the men and addressed them.
"We are alerted," he said, as they turned with respect whilst he spoke. "It is likely that you will be asked to join your pair on duty shortly."
"It's 'im!" An undisguised whisper emanated from the back of the crowd once the officer had departed. "'e's done it again!"
Who? Done what? thought Cicely, and the crowd parted. In the centre of the group stood Nagel.
"Old Joe," he said, having gained the crowd's attention, "you told us all this evening that you have never had such misfortune. We 'ave 'ad our men dying of illnesses as we crossed the Capricorn, The Acheron finding us now, don't you see, that's another of 'is doings?"
The men continued to talk amongst themselves, nodding in agreement.
"What?" asked Cicely to Bonden, who was still standing next to her. "Who does he mean?"
"Hollum," said Bonden simply. Cicely said nothing. Edward?
She knew he was not popular amongst the crew; his lack of natural leadership was unfamiliar to them. But this was just superstition! They must know he couldn't be responsible, and that it was just fate.
Her heart began to beat faster and she knew what she had to do: find Edward and tell him she was alive. Tell him she was here and they could make plans to leave. Her mind raced at the thought; how would he react? Here she was going to inform him she was his sister.
Cicely took a few steps towards the staircase where the middies would be receiving orders from one of the officers. That was, until she felt a hand on her shoulder.
"And just where do you think you're going?" Joseph Nagel tightened his grip as she struggled.
"Get off!" she yelled, trying to shake him free.
"Bunking off work again, mewling like a kitten to the doctor that the work is too hard? Tell me that isn't why you went looking for the doctor tonight!" He turned to Pizzy, who began to laugh, and she glanced just behind him and saw Heald.
"We know of your plans, young Young, make no mistake," Nagel continued, smarmily. "And I must inform you that Mr Fillings went without his fruit this evening." He pushed her up against the mast bedding, and she stumbled back. Nagel picked her up bodily, looking over his shoulder and laughing towards his cronies.
"How dare you!" Cicely was shocked to hear the words coming from her own mouth. The indignation she had felt for his bullying ways had been tipped when she had heard him speak of her beloved Edward and she could feel anger welling in the pit of her stomach.
Nagel turned back and stared at her, then she saw him raise a fist, bringing his arm back. All at once the anger overcame her. Cicely had never hit anyone in her life, well not counting a young man into whom she had naively put her trust in London, and even then, it was no more than a slap.
Now, she raised her right arm, and swung it back, without thinking; or rather thinking how this would solve her rising anger and frustration with the situation, of her miserable condition made worse because of him and his lies stemming from his own disrespect of Edward: she wanted to make Joseph Nagel sit up and take notice.
As he reeled back from his own failed blow hand flailing in the air, her arm struck his collar bone, and he went flying backwards. She looked at the man, now on his back, and she stepped aside towards the hatch realising that every man of the crew were around them, looking between her and Nagel.
Nagel opened his eyes and stared at her; a trickle of blood running from his forehead which he dabbed at quickly as he got to his feet. Her blood ran cold: she had hit him. What was he going to do now?
"Stand aside here!" Lieutenant Pullings spoke loudly to the men as he analysed the situation. He looked at Cicely and she felt two hands on her shoulders.
"Robert Young, you are hereby under arrest for assaulting a sailor in His Majesty's Royal Navy."
"Young, do you have anything to say for yourself?" Captain Aubrey sat behind his desk in his cabin, flicking his quill pen as he sat behind his leather-top desk. Cicely shifted between her feet and looked down.
She was guilty of the crime, whatever anyone had to say about it. She had lost her temper when she was about to be attacked herself, and took out her frustrations in an ill-timed jab. Cicely continued to hang her head: she had not slept last night since she was taken to the dungeon cell in the very bowels of the ship by Pullings and the two Royal Marines, who had manhandled her into manacles.
She felt embarrassed at being brought to the Captain of all people, and being present before him in his own cabin still filthy and dishevelled and angrier now with herself than she had ever been at Nagel for allowing herself to be brought to his attention.
"N…n…" she stammered, still looking down. Aubrey got up from behind his chair. Cicely refused to lift her gaze from the floor.
When she was told he had requested to see her, this did not surprise her. The type of captain he was showed that he was fully involved with his crew, and did not delegate responsibility to his lieutenants, as many other captains did. Perhaps this was the reason he was so well-loved.
"I understand from Lieutenant Pullings that you did not resist arrest." He walked over to her and raised her face so he was eye level to her, and Cicely glanced at the Lieutenant who had retrieved her this morning and brought her to see the Captain; his face expressionless and remote.
"That's better," he said in more gentle a tone. "Now, I don't believe from what I have seen of you so far, Young, that you would deliberately attack a messmate. Nor were you drunk because as I understand it from Dr. Maturin you are of an intolerant religion." Cicely nodded, but still said nothing.
She had decided that, following the possible sighting of the Acheron the previous night, and now her situation, to reveal herself to Edward would be unwise: indeed it would seem that many aboard agreed with Nagel, and if they were to know she was a woman, their suspicions would be confirmed. He would be blamed for the ill-luck because of her, his sister's presence. Therefore for her plan to work, she still needed Robert Young. Whatever punishment he decides she thought, I will take.
"Hm-hm" coughed Aubrey, walking over to Pullings. "Did you say in fact that you saw Young strike Joseph Nagel, or was he on the deck when you saw him." Pullings glanced at Cicely.
"He was on the deck," said the lieutenant, "however two of the men notified the marines of the incident, and they notified me."
"I see," said the Captain, looking Cicely up and down. "Indeed. This is a very sorry business, Young; I've been assessing your skills and ability as a mizzenlad, and believe you to be most capable. I would ask Lieutenant Pullings," he gestured towards Cicely, and Pullings strode towards Cicely, "to escort you outside. I need to decide on the most appropriate punishment. You understand that such a crime usually fetches a lashing?"
Cicely looked up sharply, trying to hide her look of alarm. If that were to happen, her secret would of course be discovered. Pullings took her by the shoulder and turned her round, opening the door to escort her out.
"Ah, Stephen," said Aubrey, as Cicely stepped aside for the doctor to pass. "Do come in." The doctor glanced at Cicely, and she looked briefly into his eyes; pale green bounded by black lashes. Pullings shut the door behind them.
"Wait there," he said firmly, and walked away. Cicely stood with her head down. There was no doubt about it; her beloved brother's reputation would be ruined because of her hot-headedness. Perhaps it would have been better to have married William Howard, first Lord of Cambridge, that big oaf of a man, and have her spirit crushed than to have to endure Edward's sorrow.
"Young." She looked up. Edward was standing before her, his beautiful features outlined by the shadows of the morning sun.
Why was he here? Why did he torment her so? Cicely tried not to look at him, as was the custom, and saluted him, before looking down. Do you know how close you are to your dear sister, Edward? she thought, concentrating on a knot-hole just by her right foot. You are pained because you thought I'd died. But I didn't! I'm here!
"I have just spoken to Fillings," he said, his voice softening, as if trying to break good news gently to a young child. "He has informed me as to the extent of the situation of…" he stopped. Voices were raised in the cabin.
"…and this is common practice, Jack? I do not believe that any Service should condone any treatment of - …"
"…mistake to have brought him aboard. He is far weaker than any I have had in the service…"
Edward glanced and Cicely, before knocking on the cabin door.
"What? Yes?" The captain yelled irritably through the door. "Who is it?"
"Er, if you please, sir," said Edward. "Midshipman Hollum, sir."
There was a scraping of a chair across wood and some shuffling.
"Come, Hollum." Cicely watched out of the corner of her eye as her brother went in, and closed the door behind him before dropping her head back to the knot-hole. A couple of minutes later the door opened again. The doctor opened it, and looked at Cicely.
"The Captain would like to see you now, Young," he said, holding open the door, and he closed it behind him after she walked in. Edward was standing by the table, and the captain behind it.
"Before I say anything regarding your punishment, Young, Mr Hollum has brought to my attention a serious issue, something to which I have to admit I have not noticed. Is it true that men aboard this ship have been taking yours and others' rations?" Cicely looked at Edward. James, she thought, you fool. Those men you have betrayed will never let you rest for this.
She looked at the captain and nodded. The doctor let out a "hmph" of indignation. The captain looked at him, and then back at Cicely.
"This does somewhat colour the water, Young," he said, stepping over towards the doctor. "You are dismissed, Mr. Hollum," he added, and Edward saluted, before pacing over the planks oak planks. The captain stared at Cicely for a moment, before getting up from behind his desk.
"You have endured this for how long?" This time, it was the doctor who spoke to her. She turned to look at him.
"If..if you please sir," she stammered, Cicely Hollum now, not just the dim-witted Robert Young she was pretending to be. "For three weeks, sir."
"And did they take all your food every sitting?" The captain looked at the doctor. Cicely paused.
"N..not at first, sir. They took my fruit. The limes. Then they would take all of it, sir." She looked at Aubrey.
"However, this does not excuse your crime, Young," he said sternly.
"I…I will take the punishment, sir," she said meekly, dropping her head and biting her tongue hard. She longed to tell the Captain he was wrong about Edward, and that to allow such shaping up as she had endured to pass blindly was a failing on his part. The captain stood up.
"There will be none this time, save your making up your hours lost to us through your imprisonment today. Let this is your warning, Young. You have sailed close to the wind, and I believe you were provoked enough by this. I guarantee this ceases now, every man's ration is his own. Please take the time you need to become ship-shape, but remember, it is added to your work time. I will see to it that Mr. Mowett is informed of this."
"Stephen," he said, addressing the doctor. "Would you be good enough to find Pullings? I would be grateful if we would were to continue earlier our conversation at another time. Oh, and could you ensure that you would examine Young, for signs of malnutrition? I will organise other men to be sent along once I know which have been deprived of their ration also."
"Oh, Young," said the Captain, chuckling a little as if for his own amusement, "you may be still young, but on a ship's diet, I expect to see you now grow into a fine strapping example of a man."
"I do not feel unwell, sir," she said for the time since Dr Maturin began his examination of her for signs of malnutrition. "Tired…sometimes."
"On the contrary, Young, you do not appear to be growing as expected. You are what, fifteen?" She nodded.
"Yet on Service rations, on your old ship, you should be at least stronger and bigger now." She looked at the doctor, who narrowed is eyes in that same analytical way he had done before after her toughening up by Nagel three weeks ago.
"You are…" he held out the string that he had got her to stand on just now, next to a measure stick, "five feet four inches. Chest," he held his arms out horizontally, indicating that Cicely should do the same, then looped the string found her back, meeting it at her front.
"Twenty eight inches," he picked up a pencil, and on the page with the crew details on, where Cicely had copied George Taylor's details into her own. He wrote down her height and chest, glancing back at the entry.
"Hmm," he said, shaking his head. "This doesn't seem quite right. However," he said, looking at her closely. "You'll be as right as rain before the week is out, mark my words"…
…and to his word, she was. Cicely went back to her duties, hard and long toil that day, and that evening, she was welcomed back amongst her crewmates as one of them. Bonden slapped her on the back that night, telling her he would have done the same thing and even Nagel bobbed his head when she joined them. It would seem that as the Captain's word was law, and he had seen fit not to punish her, then she was one of them again.
Yes, she thought that evening, as the wind turned chillier and the gloom drew in. Camaraderie is necessary here. They were about to round the Horn before they took on supplies and even if they got to the south seas in one piece, it would take a lot of all their strength.
Cicely could see James Fillings near the top of the mast. She could not reach him, but she was damned sure she was going to be the one to get him down.
"Young!" She could hear Blakeney shouting at her to come down, but she feverishly battled on up, as the ropes dug into her hands.
"Young! Come down at once! Otherwise you'll both be killed!" Cicely looked down at the men below her. She had come to begin her pair change, but James had not been at morning mess. She had been halfway through her biscuit and fruit, when she heard shouting, and a crack of splintering wood.
Running onto the deck, she had seen disorder: men were running hither and thither, calling for more men, pointing and shouting. It appeared as if the top arm of the mainsail mast had come loose, waving the sail loose from its sheet.
"Are all free?" shouted midshipman Callumay, rushing underneath the sheet, and looking between the mastheads. "Mr. Blakeney, if you please!" Cicely hurried over to Chell, who had also been on the night watch.
"What happened?" she looked around at the men.
"The mast, it just…" He stopped as another crack brought down a piece of wood. Sailors scattered, just in time as it hit the deck with a huge thud. More crew appeared now.
"Fillings!" she heard someone yell. "He's still up there!"
Cicely hurried too, and saw her friend in danger. He was hanging by his leg, the mainsail sheet wrapped around it. Fifty feet up.
"James?" she yelled herself. "James!" He was not moving.
"The mast hit him," someone shouted.
The rest of the middies gathered round Callumay. Lamb approached Blakeney, and whispered something.
"We must get him down," said Edward, looking around. "We must..." Cicely looked at him quickly, then back at James and gasped. The second half of the cross-mast was moving now, as if threatening to join the first half. If that happened, James would go with it.
Taking to her station side of the ship, she got onto the middle sheet and began to climb, catching the ropes above her and pulling herself up feverishly.
"No!" she heard someone shout. "Don't be foolish, Hollum! Look at the mast! If someone goes up, they'll both be killed!"
"But we can't just leave him," she heard Edward shout, "we can't lose another man!"
Not after all the misfortune and bad luck the ship had been subjected to in this last week. She looked up at the mast through the haze of the baking sun. Cicely and James were the lightest crewmembers, so out of all of them, she was his best chance.
Hurrying underneath the masthead, she glanced at James, hanging limp between the sheets. She would not let her friend die, and she would have her brother know that someone respected his opinion. Using all the effort she had she began to scale the ropes.
"Young!" she heard Blakeney yell. "No, stop where you are, come back!" Cicely stopped looked down to a sea of faces so far down. She climbed the mainsail once a day, but only to check the line-end, and then, se was the slowest up and down.
Above her she heard the wood bow and creak and looked back at James. She could see his face, pale and small, with some blood leaking form his temple, and at the back. How could this have happened? The carpenter had just this week replaced it, after William Warley was lost in the Straits of Magellan, and he had been doing the job thirty years. There was no reason for it to break like that, especially in the becalmed seas they had been experiencing.
Without looking down she continued to climb, before stopping just underneath him, holding on.
"What's he think he's doing?!" exclaimed Pullings to Callumay, before striding over to Aubrey. "He just climbed the sheets, sir." The captain marched over to the debris, looking up.
"Young!" Cicely looked down. If he told her to come down, she would not disobey a direct order. But she prayed that Aubrey would show himself the true leader he was by allowing her to get him.
Aubrey said nothing for a moment, and assessed the situation: that damned fool boy.
"Mowett," he said to his sailing master. "Round the men up, will you? I am not going to lose another man so soon after young Warley. We need to move this cross-mast and sever the line." He looked back up at Cicely who was beginning to tie James's clothing round her own, to secure him.
"James," whispered Cicely, up in the sheets to the unconscious boy. "It's Robert. When I get you down, the doctor can take a look at your head." She took hold of the rope, and pulled it to one side, to release his leg. She gripped him round his waist, draping his floppy limbs round her neck and interlinking his fingers.
But the sheet hadn't moved completely, and it was still attached round his foot. Worse still, she could hear the wood around her bend and creak in the cold wind. Without looking down, she unlocked his fingers. He was still attached to her clothing, but Cicely could climb a bit higher to release his foot.
"Young!" yelled Aubrey, "we're going to shift the other half. Then his leg will be free. Do you understand?" She looked down and tried to nod. Cicely hoped they could see her, as she held onto James.
"One, two, three…heave!" she heard Mowett shout at the sailors below. The mast moved to one side, and the sheet round James's foot was released. This meant she could now clamp his fingers together round her neck.
"One, two three…heave!" she heard from below again, and the sheet was pulled straight, so James's poor unconscious frame was free to hang on hers.
"Ahh!" she yelled, as the sheet slipped between her fingers. This second tug had manoeuvred his body too vertical, and as such, its mass hung round her neck, causing her to lose hold. Cicely desperately gripped onto the sheets she could reach, but had fallen ten feet until she could regain her grip. She heard a gasp beneath her.
"Young," she could hear the Captain talking to her. Cicely swing herself round so she could face him. "Can you see the loose line below you?" She nodded. "I want you to grab it," he said, "and we'll pull you down."
Cicely breathed, the adrenaline of the excursion going up to get James was beginning to wear off and suddenly thirty five feet to the hard planked deck seemed a very long way. She didn't move.
"Young!" shouted the captain again. "Do as I say. It is just to your right." Cicely looked across at the ocean now, into the glare of the dazzling hot sun. If she moved, she knew, they would both be killed.
"Robert Young." Cicely's heart began to pound as the soft gentle voice planed through the hot air. She recognised it. It was the same calm voice which had encouraged her down from a tree in their back garden when she was eight years' old. The same cool manner telling her their mother had died.
"Robert Young, there is a line to your right. Take it with your right hand, and keep grips of Mr. Fillings with your left." She heard muttering from below.
"Do as Mr. Hollum says, Young," shouted the Captain. Yes, she thought. It's just there. All I need to do is catch it.
She shifted her weight to her right hand side. This is going to hurt, she thought. She took the sheet and wrapped it round her wrist; the more grip she could get the better. Then she placed her left hand on James's back, letting go of the sheet on the left. She closed her eyes. This was it, she thought. Either they both lived, or they both died.
The rope in her right hand shifted them both away from the centre of the mast. At the same time as they swung pendulously towards the furthest point on their trajectory, the second half of the mast came down, impacting on the first with a thud. If Fillings was left up there on his own, he would have come down with it and been crushed to death.
Cicely yelled with the pain; despite James being a small lad, her arm was in agony as she held on for dear life.
She looked down and could see crew members scurrying round the debris again, this time, following orders the midshipmen were giving them, but that she couldn't hear. They lurched into the space where the cross-mast had been, and became entangled momentarily in the sheets that had come chaotically apart.
"Young! Can you hear me?" She heard the b'o'sun shouting below. She refused to look down. Any moment now and she would lose her grip. They would both be going to the deck.
James, she thought, looking at the brown mop of hair in front of her, matted with blood and wood chippings. She looked down, and saw the deck coming towards them both.
"Hang in there, lad." The speed she was falling was slow and regimented, but she could feel the rope slip in her right hand. She screamed, trying desperately to wrap her leg round the rope to prevent them from falling. If she could – just – hang on, then they would be safe.
Ten feet from the deck, and her grip finally gave way. James landed on top of her, as she thumped onto the tangle of mainsail below. Men gathered round her, untangling the ropes round her hand and leg. She looked at the bright sunlight, and her head began to ache.
"Stand aside!" she heard the Maturin say, and the men shuffled back from her. He rolled James off her, and looked into her eyes. She blinked, eyes fuzzy, and tried to focus on his.
"Hm" she coughed, before staring at the doctor in alarm; he was feeling down her sides and legs. Then he felt her arms firmly before pulling he forward. She slumped into a sitting position.
"No broken bones, Jack," he said, turning back to the Captain, who stood just behind him. "Just be careful of your head today, Young," he added, looking at her forehead.
"James," she said hoarsely looking at Fillings. "He's still alive," she said, trying to divert the attention to him. "I could feel his heart beating just now."
Maturin crossed over to James, and tore open his jerkin and shirt, examining his ribs. Cicely glanced across, and began to get up. Chell held out an arm to help her.
"Hm" she sighed, nodding in gratitude, as she got to her feet. "He's – still – alive!" she continued, looking at James Fillings.
"As are you," said her brother, next to her ear. "Well done, Young," he added, giving her a smile. She glowed, and one or two salts came across to pat her on the back, causing her to stagger slightly.
"Well done?" The Captain crossed the deck, and looked keenly at Cicely. "Well done?!" he repeated. "You disobeyed orders from a superior Young, and as such, should be severely reprimanded. Hmph!" he added, looking across to the scene where Stephen Maturin, with the help of John Ball, was carrying an unconscious Fillings down to the lower decks.
"As it is, you saved his life and since the Straits, I need all the souls we can get against this hellish misfortune that has ailed us. Hmph!" he snorted, before leaving Cicely standing on the deck.
"Three cheers for Young," shouted Chell, to the sailors around them. "Hip hip-"
"Hoggett," shouted the Captain to the top decksman, interrupting the cheers from the salts.
"Salvage all that you can, and make as good as repair as you can for now, will you? It's not as if we are going anywhere that our mast must be oak stable."
"All back to work!" shouted Hoggett, and the midshipmen sparked back into life, cajoling the men into work. "And you, you lazy lot," he yelled at some of the men leaning against the deck railings.
I rather think it was he who saved my life, thought Cicely. He's alive now, and if he hadn't told Edward about Nagel, I would have been discovered.
She felt a little glow of happiness inside her as she stooped as she staggered; her head did seem a little light, and the fierce eleven-o'clock sun wasn't helping matters. Feeling her knees give way under her and the deck meet her body again for the second time that day, she passed out.
Sound, on the very tip of her consciousness filtered through into Cicely's mind. She lay where she was, resting, and tried to work out what it was.
"The doctor doesn't think the Captain ought to do it."
"I know we all hate Hollum, but he failed to salute him. No matter how much you hate a superior, you got'a salute."
"You just get back to 'im, over there."
Light, now filtered into her eyes. Cicely blinked wondering where she was.
"H…hello?" She recognised where she was; on the second deck, just above the sailor's berths. The shape of the planks told her that; they were thinner than those further down, and chinks of light from above told her that the mizzendeck was just above.
"Robert!" Into her view came James, grinning. "You're awake! Thank heavens!"
"James," she gasped, her chest aching. "You 'right?"
"Yep, thanks to you, Rob," he said, punching her playfully on the shoulder. "The doctor said my head'll heal in a while," he pointed to his forehead. "And now you're back with us, maybe we'll be out of the doldrums." Cicely coughed, trying to raise herself up in the hammock.
"Did I hear something about Nagel and Hollum?" she asked quietly, trying to sound casual.
"Refused to salute," said James, with sensation. "Can you believe it? Not salutin' an officer, well! It's no wonder the Captain's thinkin' a floggin' 'im. Bonden and Harris were just here tellin' me! "
"Nagel didn't salute?" she swallowed. God, what's been happening, she thought. "Well it's no wonder the Captain wants to thrash him," she added loyally. "When was that? It's a wonder he had time what with the mast." She coughed, before continuing. James thumped her on the back.
"The mast?" he said, then laughed. "That was three days ago, Rob; it's all been repaired now, and asail; not like there's much wind to fill it. But lashes for not saluting," James continued. "I mean, it's like he said, isn't it? He's the bad luck." There was a cough behind them.
"I do believe, Fillings, I asked you to remain in bed until this evening." The warm tones of the doctor filled the berth as he strode over to Cicely. Robert said nothing, but scuttle back to his own low-slung hammock.
"Young," he said, leaning over her. "Glad to see you are in the land of the living. You gave us all quite a start, Young," he said, looking at her throat and ears. "You have earned the grave disappointment of the Captain," he said, looking her up and down, "though I must say I think bravery alone saved your friend. And I am not alone," he continued, "I had to all but bar the door to prevent them coming to see you." He smiled. "How are you feeling?" She swallowed and coughed.
"I think you may have caused some damage in here." He looked at her stomach. "This may explain your growth, or lack of it," he added. "However that is likely the reason you managed to get away with your brave but impetuous stunt."
"If there are any internal injuries, then you may be here for some time." He began to push up her jerkin near her stomach. No! thought Cicely, freezing at his touch. Say something!
"I..i..if you please sir," she said, with as much force as she could manage. "It's just my head," she said, pointing to her head, and near her neck and hoping her lie would sound convincing. "It only hurts here."
"I see," said the doctor, touching her neck again. "In that case," he pulled up a blanket from underneath her hammock. "You need to remain here for the rest of the day, without moving. You may have some problems with your back, and if you move it sharply it may make it worse. Do you understand?"
"Ye…yes, sir," she said quietly. Stephen Maturin turned to go, nodding at James as he went, to indicate he should also remain where he was.
"Sir?" she asked, to his retreating back. "Is it true? Did Nagel not salute Mr. Hollum? Is he the cause of our bad luck?" The doctor stopped, hand on latch, before turning to address Cicely.
"I believe we make our own luck, Young," he said, smiling a little in her direction. "No man can cause bad luck, however there are consequences for actions done. Now, as I say, not one muscle, Young."
There, she though, as she lay there in the darkness, Edward could no more cause them to be windless than any other person. She glanced to one side.
"Do you believe it?" she said to James, who was standing near her again, grinning. "Is this bad luck? Can't it just be chance?"
"We're in the doldrums for a reason, Robert; something's caused it, and it's delaying the Captain in finding the Phantom, to destroy her. You know the bible as I do. I know you're not Non-Con; but you know the story of Jonah. Anyway, whoever it is, they know they're the one 'as done the wrong thing. It'll be someone, the wickedest person on the ship. And that person shouldn't be here."
He whacked her on the shoulder again, before Cicely heard the fibres in the hammock creak as he got back on it. Cicely nodded slowly, before staring back at the planks above her. Though she cared little of the captain's plans, her heart agreed with James. Someone was causing it. A Jonah on the Surprise. The wickedest person on the ship. The person who shouldn't be there.
Over the rest of the week she watched as the Captain held reign over the whole affair, issuing drought orders to preserve their water supply, the men, along with James and herself grow increasingly filthy. Nagel had been flogged, which caused the men to harbour a growing hatred and insubordination for Edward, not in action, but in thought.
It was one mealtime when Cicely looked at her crewmates, eating the meagre rations and grow increasingly restless and agitated she realised with a sense of relief and growing dread that the salts had got it wrong; it wasn't her beloved brother who was the Jonah– it was her.
The night the after the Phantom was seen again, and the days that followed were two that Cicely would never forget, even when she was an old woman, nursing her grandchildren. She cold still recall the moonlit sky that illuminated the deck, the smell of the ocean, and the unnerving calmness.
Cicely had been declared fit to work almost a week ago, and the Captain had continued making preparations for war with the Acheron that they had begun following their successful sailing round Tierra de Fuego, and following their sighting the previous night, the men had been drilled for the action; through artillery, and practice quarters and motions to battle.
Though she knew she would have the strength and will to fight the French, she couldn't help wondering whether the Captain was merely continuing in order to boost morale for it was not possible for the Acheron to be sailing; if the Surprise had no wind, then neither had she. But just the mention of her possibly being there, called out by Callumay the previous evening was enough to terrify the men, and continue their talk of the Jonah aboard.
As she worked her duties and drills only two thoughts were on her mind – to remain as inconspicuous as possible from now on, and what she could do to let Edward know she was there. Once she could tell him, she told herself, the curse would be lifted and the bad luck she had brought to the Surprise would disappear.
That evening, they had eaten a pathetic brown sludge and James had been sick, undoing Chell's work that day of cleaning the outside of the ship. Cicely had rubbed his back, feeling guilt slowly fill her that it was her presence that had caused her friend to be ill.
Even later, Edward had run through the crowd of men on the lower deck, sweating profusely, before rushing back above decks. On recalling the scene years later, Cicely had always wanted, in her mind's eye to have rushed forward, and tell him, tell the whole of the crew, that they had the wrong man, so to speak, and they should be punishing her for their misfortune, not him.
But James had held her back from going, wondering aloud where it was she was intending to go, and this had made Cicely's plan of revealing her identity to her brother that night evaporate in her mind. Minutes later she heard the news that he had gone to the doctor and telling him he was ill.
I can't tell him now, she thought, mind thinking deeply as James dragged her off in the direction of the berths before returning to carry out the duties as her pair. Tomorrow, she decided finally, following the rest of the men down to the lower deck. It'll be tomorrow.
They had been asleep when default of four was rung, and the captain called the men to deck.
He was wearing a black cloth covering his collar, and the doctor, far from his usual dressing gown attire that she was used to seeing him in when he appeared at odd hours, was dressed formally. First and second lieutenants stood to the left of the Captain; middies to the right.
Silence reigned as they stood there, for such a long time, maybe an hour or more it had seemed to Cicely, and she scanned the faces as best she could form her proximal position.
The first thing she noticed was Midshipman Blakeney. His skin shimmered in the moonlight, as if ghostly, like he was in shock. It wasn't until sometime later that she realised Edward was not present.
As if a dream played out, the captain recalled the incident to them all; that Hollum had taken his own life and it was being investigated. The words didn't register to her, not until the crew were eased of the formality of rank and began to return to their berths. That was when she heard Nagel.
Even to her last days, when she recounted the story to her youngest grandchild, when he asked her what Nagel had said, she could never remember exactly. But it was abhorrent enough for her to take hold of her hammock, throwing it in his direction with such force that when it bounced off his shoulder it knocked the oil burner from its hook, causing it to smash noisily onto the floor.
Again, she could never remember exactly what she had said, but she had lunged at him, her dumbfoundedness turning quickly to rage and anger. Whether she actually intended to kill him, she would never be sure, but one thing she did know; he was the cause of the only person in her life, her reason for following the life she had done for almost a year, the cause of Edward's death.
In the confusion that followed, men around her began to yell. She could hear James beg her to stop; the men around her restraining her when they realised how violently she was assaulting Nagel.
After his initial surprise, he hit her back, making her fly across the berth, so Cicely landed with a thump against the wall. When she got to her feet she lunged again, feeling blood on her face now where Nagel had landed a few well-landed blows.
She did not feel the pain as he retaliated now, matching her blow for blow as the men stood around, aghast.
Nor did she recognise the officers that eventually restrained her, carrying her by the arms out of the lower cabin to the top. It was only when she felt the cold night air on her face that she began to slowly stop struggling and lashing out and anger replaced by bitter sobs.
Neither did she hear the officers arrest her again before throwing her manacled into the keep, slamming the double oak doors onto her crumpled form.
No-one heard Cicely Hollum as she threw her sorrow and pain from her body and as dawn broke over the Pacific Ocean and the Surprise, her tears continued, wild and erratic until she was asleep.
"I've set him to work on the ropes, Stephen, and to be quite frank; I really do not know what to do." Jack Aubrey paced across his cabin, addressing his friend who sat calmly in a Queen Anne chair near the door.
"I ask you, in the keep, three days, refusing food now, not speaking. I should just have him out of it and flog him, before throwing him back into work." Huffing as he sat back down behind his desk, he slammed his fist in frustration onto the thick oak table, causing his silver letterknife to leap six inches into the air before embedding itself into the wood.
"Damn!" He cursed, looking at it, before looking at Maturin. "And I don't know why you're so placid; it's caused you some work, has it not? Delayed you from your naturalistic pursuits."
Maturin looked across at his friend. He had sympathy for Jack, his friend at his most agitated because he was unable to understand why his crew, who adored his skill and talent as their master, would behave in a manner which he had not considered.
"His friend, Fillings," Maturin spoke carefully and deliberately. "Not even he, for whom Young risked his life, has been able to coax a word." He swallowed, and sat forward in the chair. "There is something other than the happenings aboard the Surprise that made him act in this manner."
Jack got to his feet quickly, glaring at Stephen, before striding towards the door, pulling it open, and calling for Pullings.
"I'll have Blakeney inform him. He's Young's middie, after all. That should get the lad talking, if nothing else." Now it was Stephen's turn to get to his feet.
"You can't be serious?" He looked at Jack in alarm, placing a hand on his collar. Jack looked at it, and then at is friend, questioningly.
"The lad is still recovering from his injuries. As is Nagel. Don't you want to get to the bottom of it first?"
"We have just picked up sail, and have begun to move. Three days ago, we may or may not have sighted the Acheron, who may or may not be looking for us. Two days ago a midshipman, my midshipman, tortured out of his mind, brought his own life to an end and now, a mizzenlad, who has crossed the line before injures one of his crewmates for no apparent reason. I have far more to deal with than a wretch like Robert Young, Stephen. You may deal with him afterwards as you wish. I need him in my crew if we are to be fit to fight, and I am determined that we will be so. Ah, Lieutenant Pullings," he said, to the officer as he appeared in the doorway, looking between both Jack and Stephen.
"You are to inform Mr. Blakeney that it his duty to inform Young that he is to be flogged adecks tomorrow for his behaviour last night." Pulling saluted, acknowledging the order.
"And now, let that be the end of the matter."
Cicely pulled apart another strand of fibre, as she sat, knees bent with her back to the wall. Her mind could not stop thinking about Edward; how he'd gone, and how it was her fault for boarding the ship in search of him. God did want to punish her; he wanted her to suffer because of this. And he had his wish.
Even now they had got their wind back, and the ship strained at its anchor, her heart ached as she sat there, stinging and aching at the mere thought of her brother, at her own stayed hand and why she hadn't ever told him. Edward had gone to his grave, thinking she was gone too, and would never know the difference.
She had even told Blakeney the truth, when he had come that afternoon to inform her of the Captain's orders, that she would be flogged for her attack on Nagel. Blakeney seemed taken aback that she was accepting her punishment so lightly, and he asked her why she had attacked a fellow shipmate. She'd replied that it was because he had murdered her brother.
Blakeney had patted her on the shoulder and kindly but politely informed her that it could not have been Nagel, for he had been in the service of Aubrey for three years and prior, had never served on the Imperius. Cicely had patiently corrected him, saying that she had no brother called Henry Young, and how Edward was her brother, and she had come from England looking for him.
She felt even more sorry for Blakeney when he broke with Service protocol by informing her that he was sorry for her loss, and he had been the last person Edward had spoken to before he died before adding that he had spoken of a sister, but no brother to them, and Cicely calmly told the boy that she had only become aware of his presence after he had gained his commission.
She had then smiled slightly before looking away, and waited until she heard both doors close until she sobbed into her hands.
"Mr Blakeney," Stephen Maturin gestured towards the table as the young midshipman stood before them. "May I be so bold as to ask you to reveal the information you gave me moments ago to the Captain?"
The thirteen-year old stood in Jack Aubrey's cabin, looking less than happy at the circumstances. He swallowed before speaking.
"If you please, sir," he said, glancing around the cabin; anywhere but at the Aubrey. "This concerns Young." He looked back at Maturin, who smiled and nodded, reassuringly.
"I gave him the orders as you commanded, sir. And he took them with good grace. He revealed to me the reason for his actions, sir." Aubrey looked at Blakeney, raising his eyebrows.
"I see," he said, coughing slightly and glancing at Stephen before and giving the young man his full attention. "What is his reason, Mr. Blakeney?"
"Well, sir," he said, shifting from foot to foot, "he told me it was because Nagel killed his brother, Edward Hollum."
Silence reigned in Jack's cabin for what seemed like aeons. Finally Jack spoke.
"I see," he said, looking at Stephen, then back at Blakeney. "This does indeed need close consideration. I do thank you for bringing this to my attention." Jack got out of his chair, and opened the heavy door at the latch, holding it open for him. "That will be all," he said, dismissing the midshipman, and watching down the corridor as Blakeney went about his duties.
"I don't like this, Stephen, I don't like it at all," said Jack, frowning at his friend as he closed the door behind him. "What would you have me do? I must punish Young, though I am sorry for his loss. However there are no circumstances which arose to excuse last night. He will be lashed for his attack on a fellow."
The doctor coughed slightly, before sitting down in the Queen Anne chair near the door. Jack knew what was coming; Maturin only did that when he felt there was room to negotiate.
"You have a question, Stephen?" he prompted, leaning against his desk, looking at his friend as a prompt.
"You need all of your men, am I correct?" Aubrey nodded. "And they need to be fit for battle?"
"Hhm," coughed Aubrey again, "Indeed."
"And…do not take this to mean I wish you not to flog Young, for that is indeed my wish, however that is not my intent, what is your reason for it?"
Jack stood up, stepping towards the large glazed windows in his quarters, and looking out on the ocean.
"He has committed a crime, one of utmost seriousness. He has assaulted a man of similar rank. Whatever the reason, I cannot condone it."
"I see," said Maturin, reasonably, shifting his weight forward in the chair. "In that case, I have a suggestion which means you gain what you need, Young will be able to withstand the blows of the lash…"
"…he will be lashed, Stephen…" Jack turned to his friend, arms folded.
"…withstand the blows, so you still have another fighting man."
"…I have a responsibility to this ship, this crew, and His Majesty…"
"…and you need all your men, I know that Jack. Allow him to recover this, however he sustained them, you have another man to fight when you attack the Acheron, and then Young can be punished later."
"Is it true, Robert?" James's voice echoed in the sick berth as he stood over his friend. "Was Hollum your brother?" he pushed.
"Edward," she said, slowly. "He was."
"Enough now," said the doctor, re-entering the berth and leaving the door open as he strode over to her. "Your friend must rest so he can regain his full strength." James glanced back at her before leaving, closing the door behind him before climbing to the top deck, where he met the waiting crew.
James exhaled quickly, looking at the sailors around him, and swallowed before he spoke.
"Yes," said James, nodding. He heard a gasp echo from the back and all around. "He was Robert's brother." He glanced round the men.
"He sought him out…"
"I would, if he were my brother, however mizzlin' 'e were as an officer…"
"Harris, you shouldn't go speakin' of the dead like that…"
As Bonden spoke, Nagel strode forward. His face didn't look as swollen as it had done a day ago, and James stepped back, thus was the force with which he strode. He stared at James for a few moments, before looking in the direction of the sick berth.
"Ar," he said, looking back to the men. "'s right enough. I reckon we all would 'ave done the same for our kin. And I be saying this now in fer all of those I hold nearest and dearest," he nodded round at the assembled men. "that though he deserves the whip, in the Captain's book, 'e ortn't get it."
A cheer went up a-decks, in agreement.
"I mean, 'e's such a weakling, 'e won't stand more than two at the most. Then what're we to do for our mizzen?"
"Aye!" went the cheer, all round from the crew before Callumay and the b'o'sun shooed them to work.
Cicely got out of the hammock, carefully and slowly that night. The doctor lay in his bed, sweating profusely from the bullet wound that had been inflicted on him that afternoon. She stared at the door, knowing that an officer would be posted there to prevent her from leaving, though she wondered what the point was, since there was no-where for her to go. Not tonight could she see her brother. Not for her the shining light in his eyes, her only brother's eyes as his sister was brought back from the dead. Not for them both a new hope for the future. Only a cursed future, through her impetuosity.
Cicely looked at the doctor, lying so peaceful, though she knew he wasn't: that afternoon she had heard him cry out as the men had lain him down on his own bunk, which they had brought down from his cabin.
Saved again from discovery, she had thought; a bitter, ironic thought. Here the doctor was, having argued her case to the Captain, or so an eavesdropping James had told her, wanting her to get better and having brought Blakeney in to tell him about Edward.
Such care from a doctor for the crew, she had thought, as she watched his hands that afternoon, touch her arm, skilful, like an intricate carpenter, tearing her sleeve at the shoulder, bathing and treating the wound, watching his dark green eyes analyse and conclude a course of action in the same way Captain Aubrey would about the Surprise.
As he worked, the doctor had spoken to her and reassured her as he stitched a cut on her forearm that the Captain wanted her fighting fit, as if Aubrey's approval was what she sought. It was what all of the crew sought, another part of her mid thought. Aubrey's men. Lucky Jack's salts. These were the ends of the earth, all right, and they were still unquestioningly following him.
Cicely looked back at the doctor again, her decision racing through her mind, as it had been all afternoon whilst the men, Higgins, Blakeney and even the Captain had come to the sick berth, despite the malodorous air to care for the doctor.
She would fight, and it did make a difference that the Captain wanted Robert Young. He had also added that the flogging would take place after the battle with the French ship, as if this was a sort of comfort. They would discover she was a woman then. Not that it should matter now, she thought, looking down at her own filthy, dishevelled frame. The reason for her disguise, her Edward, was gone.
Cicely stepped towards the doctor, looking at his face and torso, dripping with sweat, as he lay delirious, and her heart sank at his pitiful state. She wouldn't have been afraid to tell him that afternoon, after he had told her to strip to the waist for the examination of her back, for she felt completely at ease with him, and she could imagine him listening to her reasons too. A totally different manner than the Captain.
As it was, this had not been necessary; Blakeney had entered, all fired up with excitement about land ahead and fabulous sea creatures, and the doctor had gone above, returning…like this.
Cicely stepped towards the bed, leaning over it, and stretching out her hand. His forehead was blazing, and she withdrew her hand quickly. He needed cooling, she knew, or the fever he was suffering through the gunshot would worsen before anyone could do anything about it.
Throwing off her shirt, she unpinned her bindings that held her breasts flat to her chest and uncoiled them, standing in the sickberth momentarily naked before slipping back on the dirt-ingrained shirt, and dampened the cotton strips in the ice-cold water that lay in a wooden bucket next to the bed.
"There," she said softly, as the glistening sweat from his brow and face was absorbed by the cloth. "Much better. A bit closer to getting well," she added, wringing out the cotton in the water. She paused just as she was about to wipe his neck and chest on the second pass, looking at his face.
Cicely had never been attracted to a man before, not romantically. She had hated and despised Benjamin Wigg, the man whom her father had intended she marry for the financial connections he would make. She also knew enough to be wise to men's amorous advances, and their true intent.
Now, looking at the doctor, his dark hair cut into a fashionable widow's peak and sideburns, knowing his kind but firm nature, and his evidential intellect in matters medical she knew if she were to fall in love, it would be with someone like him.
"Someone like you," she said aloud, turning round the cotton fabric to a dry part, "not Magistrate Wigg, with the three women in court circles. Not Magistrate Wigg who was reputedly with a harlot when his wife died in childbirth. I would far rather be flogged for an honest crime I'd committed aboard a Navy ship than have spent the rest of my life with him."
Cicely looked at the cloth, which she was about to wring out for the third time, its filthy fibres staring back at her.
"That won't do," she said, dropping it, and tearing two inches of fabric from what remained of her shirt, tying the rest in a knot, "there," she said, soaking it in the water again. She moved left arm which was covering the wound, and placed in on the sweat-soaked sheet. When Cicely saw the wound, she gasped – it was already beginning to fester; the skin round the wound was beginning to darken, where the blood supply was much reduced.
"How ever would Father believe I would fall in love with Wigg," she thought, pressing lightly on the skin near the wound. She smoothed the water across, in the dim light, she saw him twitch and shudder under her touch. Cicely looked down, realising she was pressing probably too hard.
"Not when there are men like you in this world that I could fall in love with…" Cicely dropped her shirt-end on the deck now, and looking back at the doctor. She leaned over him, and looked at his face again before bending over "…not when…when…" she touched his forehead with her lips "…I've fallen in love with you…"
Cicely jerked up with a start, kicking over the bucket of water and catching her head on the lower-slung beam. She landed on all fours, before finally getting to her feet.
"I, er…I was…" she began, a tremble in her voice as she reverted back to the submissive mizzenlad Robert Young.
"Get away!" he shouted at her. "What were you doing?"
"He seemed so hot…I…" She stopped, as William Blakeney looked between her and the doctor.
"You said loved him…" he said, putting down a second bucket next to the bed, kneeling beside Maturin, touching his hand softly.
"Please, Mr. Blakeney," she said, and he pulled his eyes away from the doctor sharply so as to chastise Robert Young for being so bold. "You have been too kind on my part as to champion my cause to the Captain, so I hear, as did the doctor. My love is for his charity, where I have none for my own indiscretions." There was a pause.
"You are not Edward Hollum's brother, are you?" Blakeney stood back up from the doctor and walked back round to face Cicely, who was now shaking slightly.
"Are you?! Answer me!" he demanded. She shook her head, bowing it, before looking at the worn oak planks beneath her bare feet, and before the tears spilled onto them. She sank down near the door, head in her hands.
"Please tell me," he asked, in an altogether warmer tone, walking towards her and crouched down near her, placing his hand on her shoulder and patting it gently. She looked at him and saw, not her superior, but a young boy, looking at her with the kindness of a childish comfort.
"You are right," she said, coming down to his level and looking at the lad. "I am not Edward's brother." Cicely looked at him, wondering whether this would suffice, and she saw the wind fill the sail of the boy's mind.
"He told us about you!" said Blakeney, light glimmering in his eye and all trace of rank dissolving before them. "Edward! When he was commissioned a middie two years' ago! And he told us of you. How your hair was long and golden, and your eyes were blue. And how he wanted you to marry an honest man." He looked into her eyes, his own glimmering with comprehension, as he scanned her face. She pulled off the material covering her hair and it fell round her face, filthy and matted.
"Cicely Emma Hollum," she said, sticking out her hand as an invitation for him to shake it. "Pleased to meet you." Blakeney grinned.
"William Thomas Blakeney, a pleasure to meet you too." He grabbed her hand, shaking it, before suddenly dropping it as real life permeated their politeness, and he stepped back from her.
"But," he said frowning, "you can't do that! You can't have been Robert Young for all these weeks? And rescued Fillings…"
"…and done all the work of a boy, as you asked, Sir," she added, reminding William Blakeney of his station.
"Did…was he…did the he know?," he said, looking over at Maturin.
"…no," said Cicely. "I don't know why I said it. A foolish dream of the girl who I'm not," she added softly. "And…please don't tell the Captain," she added, looking back at the boy.
"But you're due to be flogged after the battle with the Acheron! The Captain can't flog you, Miss Hollum!" Blakeney looked at her in horror.
"Why not? Because I'm a woman? I deserve it," she said, laughing lightly. "Robert Young deserves it for avenging the murder of his brother," she added "but he'd rather fight tomorrow with the crew of the Surprise, against the Frogs, Mr Blakeney, on my behalf, to repay some of my debt of ill-luck. Nagel didn't kill him, I did." She looked to the ceiling before back at Blakeney. "I brought this bad luck to us all for being here," she said aloud, "and if I hadn't come aboard, Edward would still be alive…
"That's what he said about his sister when he got your father's letter," said the boy…
…and Cicely Emma Hollum told William Thomas Blakeney everything, from the moment she had knocked over the red pillar candle onto the oil-soaked books in the sitting room of her father's Gloucester home to the moments before she had walked across the sick berth and began to tend the doctor whom she had come to adore. Through it all, Will sat next to her, chipping in with details of Edward aboard, patting her arm reassuringly and touching her shoulder like a younger sibling as he listened intently, and often in horror at her sorry tale.
"Miss Hollum," he said eventually.
"Cicely," she interrupted. William Blakeney looked at her in awe.
"Miss Cicely, knowing what you've told me, I want to help you. Your family is far superior to mine yet you chose to face such difficulties to find your brother, you're tough enough to fight, I can see. But when the Captain finds out, and he will, he will," he added, as she looked at him sharply, "he will be very angry, especially as it is illegal for a woman to be aboard a naval ship whilst it is on a mission, even though unscrupulous captains do use them as powder monkeys and the like. The Captain is so proud of never using women and he's earned our respect." Cicely stood up, looking down on the young boy.
"How old are you, Will?" she asked, looking kindly at him. "Ten? Eleven?"
"I'm thirteen," he said proudly, "and I've been with Captain Aubrey for seven years."
"Then you must understand I have to do this for Edward, and for myself. It's like when you told Edward that no matter how much your mother hated Captain Aubrey for taking her only child away from her." Blakeney looked at her aghast. "It's in the only letter I received from him," she added sheepishly. "He said you had to do it, to prove yourself. Like your care for the doctor." She looked across at Maturin; perspiration bespangling his brown again, and his chest rising and falling, laboured and pained with the fever. Blakeney got to his feet, passing over to the doctor.
"You love him too," she added, looking at Will, whose strong exterior was close to breaking as he looked at the man he held in such high esteem. He nodded, sniffing. Cicely held him close, giving him a much-needed motherly hug.
"If he dies," sniffed Blakeney, "I don't know what I'll do. He's teaching me to be a naturalist you know," he said, looking up at Cicely, "the study of animals. He's already taught me the taxonomies, and I've learned about habitats and how to collect samples without damaging the land. He says I am a natural naturalist… if he dies…" Cicely stroked the back of his head.
"He's a remarkable man," she said, not to Will now but more to herself. Stepping away from the lad, she looked at his water bucket and cotton swabs. "He just needs our help to get over the worst of it."
Cicely dipped the cotton swabs into the water, handing it to Blakeney, before grabbing her own bindings, and dampening them. Together, they soothed the doctor's fever as he moved unconsciously, working together for almost an hour. Will smiled briefly a couple of times as he took the cloths from Cicely, interspersed with worry on his forehead. Cicely stepped back, allowing him to finish and the care and tenderness the young boy showed to Maturin was astonishing.
"He's going to be all right." Will dropped his last cloth with a thump into the bucket, and looked at Cicely when he had finished. It wasn't a question. "Timmins didn't intend this." He collected the cotton together, throwing it all in the bucket.
"Now I suggest, Young that you return to your sick bed. You will need all your strength if you are to fight the enemy with your comrades tomorrow."
It was late afternoon, a nine days after Edward Hollum's suicide. The Captain of the Surprise had had his crew working double pairs for a week. This meant the two men that did identical shifts at different times of the day were doing both shifts, working alongside one another, thereby doubling each man's productivity.
"And fire. Reload. Double time. Master-at-arms…get the front row anear…down!"
Jack Aubrey strode across the foredeck giving orders to his officers, who in turn managed the co-ordination of the attack plan.
"Don't just stand there, Callumay, move your men down!" The young midshipman looked at his quarter of men, realising his order hadn't been given loud enough.
"As I said, drop two! Drop two!" he shouted, as they dropped down, and went behind the main body of the men, having practiced for the eighth time that day taking out the French front line.
Cicely and James crouched down, scuttling with six other men low to the oakum until they reached the back.
The morning after Cicely had told Blakeney her secret she had peered out of her bunk and had seen the boy had slept on the floor next to the bed of the doctor. He had said good morning to her before departing, and minutes later returning with four of the crew, Higgins and the doctor, who had taken him off the ship. Cicely had only moments to redress herself as Young, binding her chest and slipping on her one-sleeved shirt before they'd arrived.
That afternoon, she had been visited by Higgins herself who had assessed her for fitness by his asking her how she was feeling, before summoning Pullings who had her across the deck to the Captain's quarters.
Cicely had stood silently before the Captain who had said very little to her, other than she was to return to her duties for they were to fight the Acheron before waving her out of his sight. Before dismissing her Aubrey had expressed regret for Robert Young's loss before stating that her punishment for brawling would be the lash, carried out following the battle.
Following that exchange, she'd returned to the crew who had stopped their work momentarily as she walked slowly on deck. She had looked towards Blakeney uneasily and as Young's midshipman he had crossed over, showing her where she needed to work first. As she was about to bend to the deck, she saw a shadow cast on it, and she looked into the face of Joseph Nagel.
He looked somewhat sheepish, an expression, Cicely decided, that didn't suit him, and he spoke briefly and succinctly in his Yorkshire manner saying he was happy to see Cicely back as the mizzendeck was a downright disgrace.
And that was that: Cicely resumed her duties aboard doing as Blakeney told her (though she had a slight suspicion he was not chiding her as often as he should have) and with the salts treating her as ever they had done; as one of them.
That afternoon the Captain had made a speech to the whole crew, announced the double pairs, rousing the men to cheers and nationalistic pride, and the tide of euphoria had continued for a week, as the crew were shaped into the fighting force Aubrey required.
And though she needed to be there, to do what she needed to do, the bitter biting agony, whether through unhealed injuries or her feeble form, was beginning to return and she knew if ever she was to face the enemy without crumpling with the pain, she would have to take more drugs in order to combat the pain.
And today, finally, after three hours of manoeuvres, the Captain called a halt to the proceedings, declaring that the day be won, and the crew should rest as they would face the Acheron soon enough. Cicely watched the man evoke respect in his crew so easily on the quarterdeck, and she fixed her stare on him and on the tasks he was describing to stop her mind from looking at the now-recovering doctor to his left.
Laudanum, she thought, after slipping out onto the deck with her food. The food ration had improved greatly since they had anchored by these exotic islands, and Cicely suspected, as she tucked heartily into the meat, that she wouldn't recognise the animal it had come from.
She noticed James heading her way, so slipped down onto the first deck, with her meal plate. Now was her chance, she thought, just one last sip to ease these aches, then Robert Young could fight with the Surprise against the enemy.
Cicely crept down into the officers' deck walking quietly across the planks to the doctor's cabin again. No light emanated from the door this time; she knew if he was not inside he would be dining with the captain. Carefully, she turned the handle, wincing as the door creaked open, before closing it behind her and putting her back against it.
Early evening moonlight began to shine through the glazed window, and by the light, Cicely could just about feel her way through the cabin.
She came across the trunk, opening the lid carefully, and took out the boxwood case which had contained the drug those weeks ago, and lifted the lid. A sip; just one drop on her lips would dull her pain.
No, said a voice inside her mind, you cannot take this. The battle will mean too many men will need it. Cicely closed the lid and returned the medicine box back to how she had found it before turning and kicking her toe on the table.
As she shook her foot at the dull pain, her eye caught something which made her stop…and stare…at the fabulous illustrations, technical drawings and diagrams of animals from the Galapagos Islands, all carefully illustrated in the doctor's own handwriting.
She stared them for a few moments more, picking up one, and then another, looking at the shapes of the strange and bizarre creatures and reading his descriptions of their appearance and habitat. Cicely looked harder; the doctor was indeed intelligent, for he had named these exotic creatures by the New Latin Taxonomy, although Cicely was sure he must be the first to have seen them.
Wonderful images of the exciting world just a quarter of a mile off shore filled her mind, where most of the Surprise's crew had been able to explore whilst she was still recovering. When the doctor had performed surgery on himself, or so the crew had each other the evening they had returned from Albemarle; a remarkable feat even if they had been in civilisation.
Her mind swayed, she looked at the other books on the table. One detailed insects of the South Americas, and though its pages were tidy, the doctor had made some of his own notes inside, cross-referencing to other pages with bookmarks and drawings. Then another book caught her eye: it lay almost hidden under a few unrolled pieces of parchment which would have gone unnoticed had she not been prying.
The book had the title, "Crustaceans and Invertebrates of the Mediterranean", and was written by Dr. Stephen F. Maturin, of the Royal Society. Cicely pulled it nearer, recognising the significance of such a volume instantly. The Society must have been at least partially funding the doctor's work aboard ship she thought as she opened the first page, in order for him to be able to travel to such places in the world to investigate such wonders. Only one or two commissions were granted a year, Cicely knew, and she marvelled again at the man's talents.
Sitting down at the table, Cicely held the book closer to the light, reading a couple of paragraphs, and looking at the illustrations. The doctor appeared to be describing an animal in Sicily whose habitat depended on volcanic extrusions for its survival, a groundbreaking suggestion.
She flicked over a few more pages before her hand was stayed by a beautiful etching near the back of the book of Maturin himself holding a large egg. The description below it read, "Largest ostrich egg of the genus reticularde discovered off the coast of Heard Island, by Dr. Maturin, January 1798." She flicked a few pages and swallowed as she read the corresponding paragraph to discover that he was the first to land with Gough in 1796 on the island.
Cicely jerked her head towards the sound before getting to her feet quickly and dropping the book, cursing herself as Stephen Maturin entered his cabin, placing the yellow sheep-fat candle in its holder on the edge of the large table for reading the book so intently that she had forgotten herself.
Bending to retrieve his book, he placed it back on his desk. Cicely stood up quickly and scuttled towards the door, before stopping and hanging her head automatically, as the doctor turned to address her.
"Your talents amaze even me," Maturin began as he looked across at his papers which Cicely had moved out of place. "And I am not easily amazed." Guilt began to eat into her heart; she hadn't taken the laudanum, or even touched it.
Why do you feel so wrong, then? she asked herself. Because of your vast overstepping of the mark by entering the doctor's quarters when you should be adecks with the men and looking through his possessions. She shifted from one foot to another; and her mind dwelt momentarily on Edward.
"It is unusual to say the least to find a lad of your age and rank literate…"
It's not as if the other men don't do it, another voice told her; they wait for the doctor in his quarters, right enough.
But in the medical quarters, not his cabin, she reminded herself sharply. And I expect they are not after what I was.
"…as well as being able to carry out your duties within the ship. For a mizzenlad, that is altogether remarkable," he continued warmly, smiling a little before grimacing as he adjusted his weight, leaning on his walking cane. Clearly the wound was healing enough, thought Cicely, that he was able to more or less carry out his medicine.
"And even more so that you were reading my own humble writings…here…" he held the volume towards her, and she looked at him, in pretence of ignorance.
"Er…" she began, then stopped, shaking her head. Humble writings? This is Society work! You were the first naturalist on Heard Island!! Cicely bit her tongue before the words had a chance to tumble out.
"I can only read a little, sir," she whispered, hating herself for deferring to his superior status, both in rank and gender. "I was looking at the pictures..." Cicely shook her head. Maturin sighed heavily, as if a glimmer of pedagogic hope he'd been carrying had withered and died.
"I'm sorry, sir," she added.
"Sorry, Young?" He looked questioningly at her, and she dared a glance in his direction.
"Sorry to have to disturbed you, sir," she clarified. "And I'm sorry for your injury." The doctor looked at her.
"And I am sorry too, Young, for your loss. Please, sit," he added, gesturing towards the small kick-stool by the chair. Cicely glanced at him quickly before obeying automatically.
"If I may speak frankly, Young, I do not believe Edward Hollum was suited to life aboard ship. He knew his work well enough, but in these surroundings one must have a certain viewpoint on hierarchy to be successful." He looked at her carefully; his green eyes shimmering by the light of the candle as he spoke.
Yes, thought Cicely. The rules must be obeyed. Everyone is your master or your slave. It's how it works. But it's not how Edward worked, and that's why he's gone. She looked back and their eyes met. It's not how you work, either.
"The loss of a loved one is very great indeed." Maturin let the comment hang in the air between them. A few moments passed before Cicely spoke.
"I failed my brother, doctor," Cicely whispered quietly, trying to let the words come out sensibly and unchoked.
"I've searched for nearly two years to find him and tell him to leave the service. He is gone, sir, and I never told him that I was here to save him so when we fight the enemy I am determined to redeem his honour."
"Battle is a terrifying place, Young, as is a flogging. Are you not scared?"
"God will be with me, sir." He will forgive Edward for his selfish sin, she thought, and my penance will earn his place in heaven.
"God?" Maturin laughed, twisting a little in his chair towards her. Cicely looked up as he held his lower stomach, where she knew his wound had been.
"Don't you believe in God?" Cicely looked at him in awe.
"I believe in him well enough, Young…now…" he sighed, and got to his feet. Cicely watched him cross to the window, the flickering lights reflecting off the glass and the gold fibres in his evening jacket.
"All that religion brings is conflict; the results of which I have attended daily for several years of my life. But…when I was shot…when I was…close to the edge…I knew God was with me. He sent an angel to save me whom I saw standing near me…bending down…looking after me." Maturin turned to face her quickly and his expression returned from frankness to reason. "Even after all this science and reason, there is still room for God." He coughed.
"Well, Young," he said, in an altogether firmer voice, and Cicely found herself getting to her feet. "I find you in my cabin looking at my papers…explain your presence," he continued sharply, frowning in her direction; a gesture at odds with his mild nature.
"I was looking for Mr. Blakeney," she said slowly, getting to her feet and looking down again. "He said to find him if I was still in pain…" at least that wasn't a lie, she told herself. Will had indeed told her to find him.
"Ha, so Mr Blakeney is fancying himself as a doctor these days, then?" he asked jovially, pacing round to the other side of the desk, eyeing the rest of the documents laid thereon. Just then, there was a knock at the door, and Midshipman Blakeney opened it.
"If you please sir, you must – " he began, then stopped when he saw Cicely. She looked at him urgently, before looking back down.
"Ah, Mr. Blakeney," said Maturin, looking at the boy. "This man said he was looking for you, I am to understand, for he is in pain?" Cicely could feel her neck inflame, as a blush brought on by the lie infiltrated.
"Yes, sir," said the midshipman. "I told all of my men to report to me as you were recovering from your injury. I think he took my meaning literally." Cicely felt her heart relax as the boy's story explained her presence. Maturin smiled, before sinking painfully, Cicely noticed, into his chair.
"Your consideration does you credit, Mr. Blakeney; a fine quality in an officer. What is troubling you? Your head still?" He looked at the desk for his large ledger of crew, and pulled it forward, flicking to the appropriate page. "Hm, as I thought, we didn't perform the full fitness examination when you boarded. We shall do this now." He looked at Blakeney. "Perhaps you wish to stay?"
Cicely continued to stare at the floor, an action she had learned to stop herself from showing her reactions.
"That would indeed be an advantage in my training," she heard Will say to her left, "however I was sent to inform you of an accident upstairs. James Fillings," he added, and Cicely looked at him quickly. James? He was fine at supper, she thought.
"Dove was dropping the sail and the counterweight fell from the rig," continued Blakeney calmly, looking back at Cicely and informing her as well as the doctor. "Fillings was on ropes, and it came down on him." He held the door open and the noise above infiltrated the lower deck.
"Good Lord!" exclaimed Maturin, ignoring Cicely now and rushing out of the door that Blakeney had held open for him. Cicely tried to follow him, but Will stood in her way.
"It fell on his chest, Cicely…you don't want to see…" he said as Cicely tried to get past him.
"Will, he's my best friend here," she said, looking at the young lad in the eye as he barred the doorway.
"He won't make it," said Will slowly, trying to make her see reason. "The doctor'll just have to make him comfortable until the end…"
"No!" shouted Cicely, "I have to be there for him! He has no-one! Look, I'm sorry for what I'm about to do…" she darted forward and picked up the young William Blakeney round the small of his back, swinging him out of her way, then making a run for it above decks.
An hour later she was in the sick berth. James's breathing was getting even worse now, more laboured and ragged. The lamp in the room flickered as Maturin left, walking through the crew who were packed inside the small room, but Cicely didn't turn from James Fillings, his poor broken body lying in a low-slung hammock.
She stroked the back of his hand lightly and brushed some of his blood-matted hair from his forehead. His injuries were far worse than she had imagined and if it had been another man, Cicely probably would have thanked Will Blakeney for his consideration of her: she had become light-headed when she saw her friend, his right leg crushed with the force of the hundredweight, and his abdomen now concave.
However this hadn't stopped her from ignoring the doctor's request for all to move back, and though Pullings had prevented her from rushing forward. As his pair however she had been allowed to accompany James to the sick berth.
And now he was lying there, perspiration soaking his greying shirt as they waited for the doctor to return. He had told those present that the boy would probably die from his injuries, however he would do all he could to prevent the pain.
Before he left, the doctor had warned Pullings that he was probably going to have to amputate the leg, to give James the best chance of survival, and Old Joe had nearly wept there and then.
"He was such a brave lad, so brave," he said, as the doctor left, to the crew who remained in the berth as well as Cicely. "Done nothing to no-one he, and look."
"Don't be so downin'" said Chell, quickly. "He 'aint done for yet. The doctor said he had a chance with a 'namputation. You know the doctor can fix anyone."
"Aye!" said a few men in unison, but the call was dull and hollow.
"Come now, lad," continued Chell, tapping Cicely on the shoulder. "You've done what you can for your pair, right enough." Cicely got to her feet and turned to the men, stepping back with Chell as Old Joe approached him.
"You know, lad," he said quietly to James, "there's summat I been meanin' to tell thee since ya mentioned your father. I recall a young man by the name of Fotherington who turned spy for the Captain here…"
"Yes we all know this tale, Joe," said Bonden, scornfully.
"But 'ere's the bit I been 'aving trouble with since my 'ead was shot at by the Frenchies them months ago…Fotherington told us was married to a woman called Louisa Fillings, and was commissioned in Spain and 'ad to leave 'is family…"
Cicely listened intently as Old Joe told the tale again to James, that when he returned, having fought in Alexandria, Louisa had left their home through impoverishment, dying in a convent in Almeira.
When he heard his son was the cabin boy of a captain in the Navy he boarded the next ship, working wherever he could, vowing never to give up searching for his son. Cicely's heart glowed a little, knowing that John was still out there, looking for James, and that at least, when her friend pulled through part of a family may at last be reunited.
"I do not believe it!" Stephen Maturin through the boxwood chest at the cabin wall as he searched for the amber vial.
"Sir?" Blakeney was standing in the doorway, looking in alarm as the ship's surgeon became more and more irate. He turned to the midshipman, and held pointed towards his medicine chest.
"I never believed that I would agree with the Captain that flogging a sailor was appropriate, but he has crossed the line. And I believed the lad was here because you sent him."
"Who?" asked Blakeney, daring to take a step into the cabin as the doctor slammed the bottle of laudanum onto the oak table.
"Young, that's who; here tonight! Tell me, Mr. Blakeney, did you send him here through illness?" He stared at the lad, his anger bubbling under the surface. Blakeney shook his head, dumbly.
The doctor pulled out a small packet of what looked like brown powder, throwing it onto the table.
"If I make it now there will be just enough till we get back to England if we don't have the battle. I had more than enough here, and now Young has the audacity to come into my cabin and steal."
"But – "
"When will he be sorry for his actions, Mr Blakeney, can you tell me that? He has to have stolen medicine out of his friend's mouth for his own selfish needs…"
"Sir, it wasn't – "
The doctor pushed the medicine chest out of the way before reaching underneath the table and extracting a large flask with an arm. In the darkness, the candle Blakeney was holding glinted off it.
"Mr. Blakeney, would you be kind enough to reach back under there and pull out my oil burner and spigot? They are at the back, and since my injury I can't bend low."
"I will sir, but if you'll just let me explain – "
"I gave him the benefit of the doubt before, through his weakness and injuries, but this is theft, clear and plain. I'll recommend to the Captain at least two-dozen lashes to be carried out before the battle..."
Blakeney stopped stock still in the process of pulling out the equipment Maturin needed to distil more laudanum, and faced the doctor as he began to prepare the cannabin.
"Sir, she didn't take the medicine, I did."
"What's all this about, Young? The doctor here claims that Mr. Blakeney believes you to be a woman. Can you shed light on this preposterous notion?"
Cicely looked amongst the faces of those assembled in Jack Aubrey's quarters as the mid-morning sun flashed its beams through the bays. That dawn, she had been awoken from her hammock by Pullings, who told her she was required by the Captain immediately. She had asked why and the lieutenant had told her informally just before they entered that this type of request came when one of a pair had died.
Her heart had begun to pound, thinking about James lying in the sick berth and guilt overcame her. If she hadn't been in the doctor's cabin last night, and she had been with him…perhaps she could have prevented it from happening…he would have been with her going to the mizzendeck instead of him on the quarterdeck…
She had seen Blakeney first, standing by the Captain's Queen Anne chair and the doctor next to him, near the oak panelling. However Cicely had not expected what the Captain had said to her next and she stood open-mouthed, gaping at the room.
"Speak up, Young," Aubrey insisted, "or perhaps I will have the lash on you this morning rather than the morrow."
"Cicely." She turned her head to look at Will who had spoken her name so softly. Why had he cause to tell the doctor? What was she to do now? Maturin cleared his throat.
"Mr Blakeney informed me last night that it was he, not you, who had taken the last of the laudanum from my cabin. Furthermore, it was for my own benefit however I alleged you to be the thief, as I believed no other knew of its location." Cicely looked at the doctor, then back at Will.
"James," said Cicely. "He's not dead?" Blakeney shook his head.
"My complement of crew appears to be complete, Young, however I implore you to tell me of your own free will of your gender, in order for my battle plans to be put into place. Surely you wish to see the Frenchies at the bottom of the ocean, what?" Cicely nodded.
"Then tell me, Young. Did you inform Mr. Blakeney that you are, as it were, not a boy? And if you did not, are you in fact attempting to avail yourself of punishment?" Cicely swallowed.
"Not at all, sir, for I deserve the punishment I await. I should not have attacked Joseph Nagel. However, it is true. I am Edward Hollum's sister. A woman," she clarified, when Jack Aubrey's expression continued frozen.
The words hung in the air for what seemed to Cicely like an eternity. The waves lapping mischievously around the edge of the ship were what filled the vacuous space where dialogue wasn't.
"In that case, hm," said the Captain, coughing slightly and striding to the other side of the desk. "I will need to see this evidentially before I revoke the punishment, as requested by Mr. Blakeney. If you indeed are as you claim, a woman," he added, looking at her up and down to which Cicely felt for the first time since she was seven self conscious, "I cannot in all faith carry this out…"
"But sir," began Cicely in protest.
"…carry this out as it negates the contract you a mizzenlad and I as your captain made." Jack folded his arms, glancing briefly at Pullings.
"I have done all that you have asked," continued Cicely, ignoring now the protocol of rank.
"You would not be fellowed to us…" argued back Aubrey, unused to being argued with.
"I will take this punishment…" she insisted, looking at the doctor. Hadn't she declared it openly to him last night? Didn't God know it? It was for Edward now that she was here, working in his stead, in his place as she could.
"You are a woman, Cicely, unsuited to life on a warship." It was the doctor speaking now, and the men and Cicely turned to look at him.
"I choose to be Robert Young. I will repay my brother's debt." She looked defiantly at the doctor now. He should understand. He must!
"Had I not allowed foolish emotion to rule," she continued, glancing at Blakeney…what else had he told the doctor…"I would not have been discovered."
"However, when you would bare your shoulders, Young…Cicely...you would indeed declare it openly to the world," Maturin continued reasonably. "And as it is illegal as well as and immoral for Captain Aubrey to allow you to work for him; that would be impossible."
"Enough," interjected Aubrey, determined to wrest control of the discussion. "I need evidence before I can proceed. Turn to face the door and remove your tunic and shirt." Blakeney caught Maturin's shocked look.
"I need you to satisfy me of this fact before we proceed," continued Aubrey, folding his arms tighter, still staring at Cicely.
"Either way you are in a great deal of trouble; this is man o' war…we carry men for fighting for his Majesty and as Captain my word is law." Cicely looked back at the Captain, but did not move.
"Mr. Pullings, kindly avail Young of his clothing, will you?"
The lieutenant saluted Aubrey, and took a step towards Cicely. She shot him a look of warning, and began to unbutton the dark red cotton tunic that was covering her shirt, before throwing it and her ragged one-sleeved shirt onto the floor.
She stood before the captain, in her britches that John Fotherington had encouraged her to buy almost two months ago in Sao Paolo and the cotton bindings round her chest.
Just as Cicely was about to undo these as well the Captain shook his head; clearly he had enough evidence that Robert Young was indeed a woman.
"I came to rescue my brother, Captain Aubrey, but I failed. You are an intelligent man, sir, however you must have seen that Edward was not suited to life in the service." Cicely bent to collect her clothes and began to redress. "My brother told me that to work with Captain Jack Aubrey was the greatest honour a man could have bestowed on him, and he took his life because he was ashamed."
"Nevertheless, the law…" interjected Aubrey, now lost for words.
"Hang the law!" shouted Cicely. "I came to work on this ship as a mizzenlad, and though lad I may not be, you are fighting this ship, full of enemy. I implore you Captain, allow me to fight alongside my fellows. You cannot ask any of them to be spared on my account. And have I not proved myself as worthy as another mizzenlad?"
"No," said Aubrey, firmly. "You are a woman and as such you belong to your father…"
"…you are his property, Miss Hollum. I have no choice but to detain you in my cabin until the battle is over. I will not subject my men to the indignity of fighting with a woman! Hmph!" Aubrey paced back round to the other side of his desk, and surveyed the horizon. Just then, there was a knock on the door.
"Yes?" said Pullings, as all but the Captain turned to see who was there. "What is it, Bonden?"
"With respect, sir, we have come to ask Mr. Blakeney whether it' were true." Barrett Bonden looked at his midshipman with questioning eyes before they settled on Cicely.
"If what is true?" Pullings glanced towards the Captain, who remained with his back to them all. "Speak up man!"
"With respect, sir, have come to say that he has worked hard for us, and, begging your pardon, we don't think he's stolen anything."
"Have you?" Aubrey turned to face the foremasthand, face glacial in appearance.
"And I come to tell you sir, on behalf o' all the men. James included," he added, glancing at Cicely. "that we believe him to be the best mizzenlad we have ever had. A good lad all round. We, er, wants you to know that."
Bonden looked at the Captain, who looked back at Cicely.
Aubrey stepped past Maturin and Blakeney, before taking a step outside his cabin. All of the salts were crowded there; mostly in their day clothes, some with their brushes and chains. At the back, the middle-ranking officers were trying to shoo them into work, but stopped when they saw the Captain.
"Hmph!" he said, before stepping back inside the cabin again. "Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Bonden. Mr Blakeney," Aubrey turned to Will. "Please direct these men to their morning work. We have a battle to win later today, and I will not have my ship looking a disgrace."
"Yes, sir," replied Blakeney, sneaking a look at Cicely before scuttling out of the cabin. The Captain resumed his position by the bay windows, scanning again the horizon, before turning to Cicely.
"You have put me in a difficulty, Miss Hollum. If I am to accept you as a crew member, regardless of your gender, I must punish you for your actions against Nagel. However, you are indeed not a lad, and I could not compel any man here to punish a woman in such a way." Aubrey turned from the window and addressed Cicely directly.
"Furthermore, your reason from attacking Nagel originates from your being a woman, not a man, which disqualifies you from being a member of the crew, as it is illegal for me to employ you as a number aboard the ship. I must take this stand, as you are a woman, and legally belong to your father, and I must return you to him. Do you have anything to say before I escort you to my cabin?"
Cicely looked at Maturin, and Pullings. Both men returned her glance but said nothing. They clearly deferred to the Captain, as rank and commission decreed.
"Only that, it is my dearest wish to remain as one of your men. My father believes I am dead, sir, and my reasons for wishing never to see my home again are my own."
"Nevertheless, Miss Hollum. You will return to England, once this battle has been won."
Jack Aubrey sat up the Captain's chair, in the Captain's cabin of the HMS Surprise. Alone, he surveyed the oak panelling, the desk containing maps and charts, a pair of compasses, a page of trigonometric calculations and his tricorn hat.
That afternoon's manoeuvres had gone successfully, he told himself. Had the Admiral been aboard, he certainly would have commended him.
However there had been an air of discontent; the crew had not been as buoyant as the previous days'…no previous weeks' routines, and while Jack could put the mood down to lethargy and his working of them too hard, he knew the real reason for it.
Aubrey looked at his desk for his quill pen and the yellowblend paper he had been writing on, before looking over the words he had written an hour before. Just then, there was a knock at the door.
"All of your men are fit and well," declared Stephen Maturin as he entered, before looking towards Jack analytically. "However the same may not be said of the Captain. May I?"
Aubrey nodded resignedly, and got to his feet, allowing the doctor to check his stance and respiration as well as his eyes and mouth.
"All Bristol fashion," he continued, stepping away from Jack, and the Captain nodded wanly. "Physically at least. It is Miss Hollum that is worrying you." It wasn't a question: Stephen Maturin knew his friend well enough that when he was disengaged from ship life there was something on his mind.
"You have given her your cabin; that is very generous," he continued when Jack did not reply.
"How long have you known, Stephen?"
"As long as you, give or take a few hours. When I came to you early this morning it was after I had attended Fillings, who will live, and also after Mr. Blakeney had acceded to reason. He did put up a fair fight on her behalf," Maturin added, seating himself in his usual chair. "I think the lad is taken with her."
"Indeed," replied Jack. "Which is why Cromwell, God rest the man's soul, saw fit to deny men temptations which may stand in the way of their duty to the country. And that included barring women from the Service." He saw the doctor baulk but remain silent.
"And – " But before the Captain could continue, there was a knock at the cabin door. Mowett, the sailing master entered the cabin.
"Mr. Mowett, what can I do for you?" He saw the man look uncomfortable, standing near the door and ushered him forward. "Out with it, man," added Jack, impatiently as his sailing master became lost for words..
"Er, sir," said Mowett, his ruddy round face lined with concern. "Have we decided whether Robert Young is a woman or a man? Only…I have to get the lines correct for the battle, you understand, the gun-cotton to cut and – " his voice trailed off to nothing, and he glanced at both the Captain and Maturin uncertainly. Aubrey got to his feet.
"Robert Young does not exist. A foolish girl by the name of Cicely Hollum resides in my cabin." He began to pace back and forth along a well trodden set of oak boards between his desk and the bay windows of the Surprise. He coughed.
"She is in fact a woman, Mr. Mowett. Please inform the crew that they are short of a mizzenlad."
"The crew will be shaken, sir," said Mowett, daring to comment at the captain in such an uneven mood. "I am concerned about morale before the battle…" Jack was about to open his mouth to rebuke the sailing master but thought better of it.
"A woman, Mowett!" snapped Aubrey.
"Very good, sir," said the sailing master, saluting before hurrying quickly from the room.
"So you will return her to England, Jack?" Maturin asked eventually, noticing the half-written letter to the Admiralty on his desk. The captain turned to address his friend, when another knock came.
"What is it now?!" said Jack loudly towards the door, and it opened. The doctor stood and opened the cabin door, allowing the visitor to enter.
"Nagel," said Aubrey, looking at the foremasthand. "What can I do for you?"
"I'm 'ere on behalf of the crew, sir." The man did not look abashed as his superior had done. He spoke with confidence, looking at the Captain forthrightly.
"Mr Mowett told us that Young is in fact a girl, sir."
"Yes, yes, a woman, indeed, Nagel. What of it?" He looked questioningly at the mainsailman, his arms folded.
"I'm come for the whole crew, and we say, well: we don't care, sir. If she's a woman, that is. We want her fighting alongside us; she's a good man…" he clarified quickly, as if he had a whole monologue prepared, "…excepting the fact when she hit me, and tried strangle me, which I would have done in her place, sir, if Mr. Hollum had been my brother even though, begging your pardon sir, he wasn't all that cut out to be a sailor, but a soul he was. But still, we want our mizzenlad, even if she's a mizzenlass. And I don't think she should be flogged on my account, neiver."
Nagel exhaled once he'd finished, looking enquiringly at Jack and hoping all he had said had gone in.
"That is not possible." Jack walked to the front of his desk and addressed the man directly. "Miss Hollum is no longer a member of this crew. She will not be flogged and she will take no part in the battle for her presence is not proper. As a delegate for the crew, Nagel, please inform the men, tell them: that while I acknowledge she served us well, Miss Hollum's work had ceased and she will return to England."
Nagel nodded, glancing briefly at the doctor before nodding deferentially and saluting. Once the door closed, he turned to his friend.
"You see the damage that is done? Her presence here has caused problems already; and this the very eve of battle. What choice will I have other than to lock her in the hold when we fight and defeat the French?" He turned and looked at his friend. "I do not carry passengers, Stephen" he continued, ignoring his friend's look, "this is a man-o-war. A fighting vessel of men."
"But no matter her gender, Jack she has worked for you without complaint or consideration for her own inadequacies as a woman. Surely you can find her some worthy job aboard the ship? Besides if you speak of passengers, I am not subject to these rules of war."
"Hm!" sighed Jack, forcefully. "I make concession for you, Stephen which I cannot make for a woman. I never have," he added, walking over to his friend. Maturin stood up.
"Not even a woman who had the commitment to seek her brother, to have faith in something she believes in? Blakeney informs me that she feels compelled to redeem her brother's soul in heaven by fighting in his stead; a Non-Conformist belief."
"No out of the question! She is her father's property. He will choose the life he thinks fit."
"What about as the wife of the ship's surgeon; would that not be acceptable?"
Aubrey looked at Stephen Maturin. The man was not smiling. Indeed he appeared completely serious, but then, Jack had never known him to joke or quip. He looked questioningly at his friend before speaking.
"Of what you speak, this would be a marriage of convenience..."
"On the contrary, I need someone to transcribe my work as a naturalist. She can read and write, my notes are in an awful state and indeed their needs conflict with the time I spend tending your crew."
"You do your utmost for them already I do not think you could do any more. And besides," Jack broke their gaze and strode towards the window, "it could be months before we return to England and to find a minister – "
"Am I not right to understand that a ship's captain may perform the role? You have that in your duties, do you not?" Stephen crossed the oak to look at the Captain, tying to make eye contact.
"Under extreme circumstances, yes," Jack confirmed, dismissively as he watched an almost invisible grey dot on the horizon move east to west.
"And what would be more extreme than this," pressed Maturin, "when you have a woman aboard with whom you don't know what to do, you are thousands of miles from anywhere to leave her, and she clearly has an independent will. You cannot spare men on her behalf and she would loathe you to, that I am convinced. Should I suppose that you prefer to see her at the bottom of the ocean like her brother?"
"Of course not, but..."
"So it is decided then."
"I will have to look up the ceremony. I have never performed it myself…" Stephen smiled as his friend looked took his eyes from the hazy horizon and looked at him, defeated.
"Now why doesn't that surprise me?"
Cicely looked sat up on the Captain's bed, wiping her face. Almost the whole day had passed since Aubrey had imprisoned her in the best luxury he had, and she looked again at the décor.
Beautiful ivory coloured ceilings, blue curtains framing the small window with a view of the stern. Mahogany detail on an oak backing. Gilt-framed pictures and mirror. A picture of modern times, so like her father's home in Gloucester.
She swung her legs from the eiderdown and meandered slowly towards the window. It was typical of Aubrey, Cicely thought, looking at the richness of his quarters and comparing it to the rest of the ship: kept modern and fresh to deliberately contrast with his men. To indicate rank and privilege, rather than for a want of a certain thing.
There was a ship on the horizon now; she could just see its sheets and foresail as it crossed the picture as if it were a two-dimensional painting. She glanced away and caught her own reflection in the Louis XVI-style mirror and wiped away another tear.
Oh Edward, she though, if you could only see me: my poor ragged faded hair since I cut it short in a hurry. My face lined and brown. It was you who valued my looks, not I. You who would dress my hair in the latest fashions when mother was gone. You so loved making me look beautiful.
Cicely stared at her reflection again, trying to curl the uneven strands of her hair that were growing at the back, wiping tears from her face as she went.
At least Aubrey had been generous: he had sent in men through the supervision of Lieutenant Pullings to provide her with hot water to bathe before returning an hour later to remove the copper and bring clean sailor's clothes.
But she couldn't look at it like that, no matter how hard she tried: the men had been serving her! Yesterday she had been on the deck with them, working with them, equalling if not rivalling through effort many of them. Yet now, as a woman, she was being treated like this!
Just then, a cursory knock came at the cabin door before it was opened by Pullings. Doffing his hat, the lieutenant strode in, before stopping and saluting.
"Can I leave now?" said Cicely quickly, towards the lieutenant. Pullings paused momentarily before shaking his head.
"If I may speak frankly Miss Hollum, I do not believe what you have done had been entirely fair on the captain." She looked at him in astonishment.
"He must fight a stronger warship without notice, and through his consideration for you, men must be left behind to ensure your safety. You have through your actions placed us at a significant disadvantage."
Cicely turned to look at the man. Her own age, she thought, by the looks of him, and seen action by the scar on his cheek. Born into the world the gender of advantage: a man. She narrowed her eyes before sinking down onto a stool near the bed, holding her head in her hands.
"So I'm not allowed to see anyone?" He shook his head.
"Not even James?" she persisted angrily. "I climbed the rigging to save his life, Mr Pullings, I'm his pair aboard this ship, I'm his friend!"
"Was his pair," said Pullings, his tone slightly less stern as it had been. "Now the captain is aware of what you are the offer of work as a mizzenlad is now void, as was any promise attached to it. He is compelled to return you to England, back to your father." Pullings sat on the next chair down to Cicely. "It's for respectability; for his men. He has to be seen to do the right thing."
"I cannot redeem my brother's soul unless I fight here. The sin he committed…" she turned to the lieutenant. "He will not find peace in heaven unless I clear his name."
"I'm truly sorry for your situation, Miss Hollum. The wishes your virtue to remain safe until you are delivered into your father's care." He considered the look on her face. "Would you have preferred he left you to fate aboard, unchecked? He takes his duty of care seriously and will not change his mind; the men respect him for his ways," he added.
Pullings got to his feet as Cicely's heart sank as her future became a bright spot of light diminishing slowly as time progressed.
"I'm here on guard. You are safe; no-one can enter, Miss Hollum." Pullings saluted, before closing the door behind him.
And turned to find William Blakeney behind him.
"Is Cicely well?" the midshipman asked excitedly. Pullings bent to his level.
"She appears fine, Will," said Pullings carefully, tapping the boy on the shoulder comfortingly. "But I still can't let you in, you know what the Captain's orders are."
Deflated, Blakeney turned from the cabin door and walked back onto the quarterdeck, and along the planks. Most of the men were working quietly, and as his watch was over he made his way down to the doctor's cabin.
Knocking, he hopped from one foot to another, waiting for a reply before slowly pushing open the door. Maturin looked up, his magnifying monocle, an invention of his own making to aid his work glinting off the candlelight.
"And how are you, Sir?" he said, looking at the half-dissected lizard on the oak table. "Have you found out anything interesting?"
"Ah, Mr. Blakeney," he replied. "Do come in." He glanced down at his latest surgical investigation. "I have indeed found that the joints in this particular species are bound together by a bimuscular system, allowing it to vary its pace and direction more easily and precisely than others of its genus." He pointed towards a tendon in the creature's leg, moving it with the handle of his scalpel to show the advantageous movement.
"Yes, sir," said Blakeney, looking down. "You know it's not fair!" he added, with a huff. "I know the Captain wants to keep Cicely safe, but he could at least let me see her." He looked at the doctor, whose eyes were on him. "She told me first, you know."
Stephen put down his scalpel and removed the straps from his magnifying glass and replacing them with his spectacles before looking at the lad.
"You have known Captain Aubrey far longer than I, Mr. Blakeney; have you ever known him to be anything other than proper?" The boy shook his head, and then looked back at the doctor.
"But she's going to go back to an awful life; her father's going to make her marry some dreadful man, and she can mizzen, " he added brighty, "and…" he swallowed, looking at the doctor mournfully, "I won't ever see her again!"
Stephen got to his feet, gesturing towards his chair and holding his monocle. Blakeney's eyes perked up at the offer of naturalistic delights, but then shook his head.
"May I ask why you are so concerned with Miss Hollum?" Maturin sat back down and looked at Will.
"When you were ill, sir…you had a fever. I came to look after you, but Cicely was looking after you…Miss Hollum. And I heard her tell you…I heard her say…"
"Yes?" Maturin looked over his spectacles
"…kind things to you as she looked after you." Will swallowed uncertainly. "Then I remembered Mr. Hollum's letters, when he read out to us about her. I know her from his letters sir, so well! Her eyes are the same…her face as beautiful. He kept saying how sad he was to lose her to himself sir, but told me before he died how he would be with his lovely sister now!"
The doctor patted the boy on the shoulder tenderly. He had been through much at his tender age; in addition to his rough life. A twinge of pain flicked in his lower abdomen and another thought struck…images of his feverous hallucinations…
"I just wish there was something we could do," he added quietly, looking at the table leg. The doctor raised Will's chin so he was looking him in the eye.
"It is strange you should mention that, Mr Blakeney for I was speaking to the Captain on such a subject this morning. He believes that should Miss Hollum be married when the Acheron attacks he would allow her to fight, under the circumstances and should her husband permit it. It would be respectable, and indeed a necessity." Maturin sat back down and looked at the lizard, moving back its intestine carefully and peering hard at its gall bladder.
"What do you mean, sir?" Blakeney questioned, eyes shining in anticipation. The doctor smiled a little.
"I have asked Captain Aubrey to perform the marriage service tomorrow, then Miss Hollum can fight as she wishes." There was a pause as the young midshipman worked it out.
"So…can I have your permission to see Cicely? Please, sir?" he added, excitedly, looking at the creature on the desk.
"Well, Mr.Blakeney, she hadn't actually said yes, yet," the naturalist replied, replacing his monocle for his spectacles and peering again at the lurid green flesh.
Blakeney crossed Maturin's cabin and retrieved his small sketchbook. He looked at the lizard, its innards discolouring, and took the stubby pencil Maturin was holding out for him, before glancing up at the man.
"She will, sir," said the boy happily, examining the small but perfectly formed guts of the reptile. "I know she will.
Jack Aubrey nodded as Pullings saluted before pushing open the door to his cabin, then promptly shut it again. He exhaled chiding himself for the unease he was feeling; a foolish notion when he had fought against the best that old Boney had to throw at him.
However the consequence of this action today would colour the perception his crew had of him, and despite their cheers at his concession when he spoke to them that morning he knew that many of them would still hold reservations about his judgment. Swallowing, he pushed down the handle of the door.
"Excuse me, Miss Hollum." Aubrey held out a large brown package in her direction, trying to look anywhere but at her clearly unbound form.
"Thank you," said Cicely, taking it and placing it onto the table…and gasped: the gown was exquisitely made from Chinese blue silk. Blue and jet pearls were embroidered on the bodice and, though Cicely was no expert in the world of fashion, Indian lace graced the collar and hem. It would have been very expensive to buy even without the lace and pearls, and Cicely wondered whether this wasn't in fact the most expensive piece of clothing she had ever seen.
"For someone special?" she said absently as she examined the garment carefully.
"For Mrs Aubrey," said Jack, nodding in her direction. "That's if we make it through the next day and night. However I think it would be more appropriate if…" He looked at the dress then at Cicely.
"I couldn't!" interrupted Cicely, holding the beautiful dress before him and looking at him in horror. She realised from his expression that he had interpreted it differently.
"I beg your pardon, Captain Aubrey, but you've bought this for your wife. I cannot wear it, even if I am to be married." Aubrey sighed.
"I insist," he replied calmly, folding his arms. "She has far too many dresses as it is. And besides, I think Miss Hollum, my good friend the doctor favours blue." Cicely felt herself blush a little as she looked at the dress in its exquisite beauty.
"Hm," coughed Aubrey, politely, as Cicely continued to stare at the dress, her eye wandering in awestruck approval at the beautiful silk stitching of butterflies in Puerto Rican indigo. "Do you mind if I ask why?" Cicely looked quickly.
"Because I loved my brother, sir," she said simply. Jack closed his eyes slowly in acknowledgement as she handed him the dress before stepping towards the Chinese screen that lay flat against the wall by the bed and pulling it open to its full width before taking the dress. Cicely stepped behind the screen and, throwing her service clothes over the screen, began to dress.
"I have a question for you, Captain Aubrey," she continued, slipping the dress over her frame before cursing inwardly: why wouldn't it fit?.
"Certainly," replied Jack, reaching towards the second roll of brown paper within the first and retrieved a highly boned corset. "Here," he added, placing it over the screen. Cicely rolled her eyes to herself: of course! For the last eighteenth months she had bound her breasts to make her chest flatter, which had been uncomfortable, but she had almost forgotten about these vestments of torture.
"Why did you not release him from your service? You surely could see he was not cut out for the life." Jack shifted from foot to foot uneasily.
"Frankly, Miss Hollum I could have. But it is not my duty to decide the fate of my men; they choose their own destiny. However I never gave up hope that Edward would develop into a competent midshipman, given the opportunity." Cicely smiled between further inward curses as she struggled to fit the corset. This was the first time she had heard the Captain refer to any of his men by their first name.
"Would you mind actually…" she said eventually, the garment finally defeating her. "This thing…" She felt his hands behind her then the corset tightening round her waist.
"There," he added, before pulling the sleeves of the dress to one side. Cicely put her arms out instinctively and allowed the Captain to dress her.
"You don't have to marry him; he is a Feinian, after all." Cicely gasped as the last bit of breath was squeezed out of her and she felt Aubrey smooth down the back of the dress, pulling in the ribbons at the waist.
"You made your decision, Captain. They are your rules, you agreed to allow me to fight for you should I consent and Mr Maturin was kind enough to help me out of it." And he asked me so politely and reasonably, without fuss she recalled, as Jack finished the hang of the dress by running his hands down the sides of the gown. She turned to face him.
"He's truly a good man, and a credit to you, Captain Aubrey," she finished. Jack looked at her, before taking a few steps back.
"Marriage is a serious business, Miss Hollum; are you sure you can accept one built on expediency?"
"They are your rules, Captain. I must do what I must." She walked across the room towards the mirror, stumbling on her first few steps as the weight of the gown and its restrictive nature compelled her to change her gait.
When she saw her reflection, Cicely swallowed: she couldn't remember the last time she had worn a dress so beautiful, or at least the last one she had worn at all.
"Here," said Jack, appearing behind her in the mirror holding a horse-hair brush and holding it out and Cicely took in her hair: despite having washed it, it was still ragged and unkempt. She turned to Aubrey, a lump forming in her throat.
"Would you be so good as to leave me?" she asked, struggling to hold back emotion. "Just for a few minutes," she added, noticing his surprised expression.
"Certainly," he said, and without ado strode towards the door. Cicely turned towards the mirror again, her eyes filled with salt water as she reached for the brush Aubrey had lain back down on his dressing table.
The tears dripped haphazardly onto the silk as she tidied her badly cropped hair into something presentable, then she replaced the brush and crossed to Aubrey's bed. Carefully, Cicely knelt at its foot, and put her hands together.
"Heavenly God, my brother will be waiting at the door of heaven for you," she said aloud, closing her eyes deferentially. "I pledge my marriage and my fight to his redemption, that he should find peace in your house and forever." She stopped, closing her eyes tighter, and repeating the prayer silently in her mind as she clenched her hands together stubbornly.
"Rob?" Cicely heard a familiar voice behind her and she opened her eyes, turning to see James behind her.
"James!" she said, getting to her feet unsteadily and stumbling slightly. James put out his hand and gripped her under her forearm.
"You look…" he began, frowning as he took in her appearance. Cicely blushed, looking down.
"Wrong," she finished. "After I'm married, and back in my proper clothes, I'll look right." Cicely smiled, but James continued to look worried.
"The Captain spoke to us and told us you was a gel. The men want you back, even Pollock. Pollock said he thought you was the cause of the bad luck, seeing as you were a woman. But then Nagel spoke up for you, and Chell. And Old Joe said 'twas the Admiralty that had put rise to women aboard ships bringin' bad luck as with a bad Captain they were temptation and too costly. But he said we all knew Captain Aubrey wouldn't have proposed it if you was a temptation to us" He looked at Cicely earnestly. "You don't have to marry him, Rob," he finished. Cicely shook her head.
"I have to do it for Edward, Jim," she said patting him on the shoulder and looking at him reassuringly. "It might be right he trusts my being aboard but the Captain has vowed to return me to my father. It could be worse: the Doctor is respectable, Jim. This way, you'll have your pair back. And I'm going to ask him to take me back as a mizzen once we win." James sighed.
"But Rob…Miss Hollum…"
" – Rob – " she corrected gently.
"I've been searching for my father for years. I know what it is to do all you can for those you love..."
"…and you'll find Fotherington soon enough…"
"But…to be in a loveless marriage, Rob, even above battle and glory over the Frogs…that's the bravest thing I've heard of…" James broke off and wiped his face before grabbed her close and thumped her on the back. Cicely smiled at her pair's embrace, but her smile was mostly at his partially erroneous assumption.
Just then, the cabin door opened. Cicely looked over James's shoulder and saw Aubrey smile in their direction. He coughed, and James loosed her and stepped away, saluting the captain as he stepped towards Cicely.
"Fillings," said Jack, turning towards James. "Your midshipman Mr. Blakeney requires your presence across the deck."
"See to it that you look smart for the ceremony." Cicely looked between him and the Captain and was almost sure she had seen a wink.
"Yessir," said James again, and scuttled through the open door. Jack Aubrey turned and looked at Cicely, smiling at her again.
"You look beautiful, my dear," he said, as he bent his left arm in her direction. "Dr. Maturin will be honoured." Cicely said nothing, but crossed over the oak and took his arm and he led her towards the daylight. Before they crossed the threshold, he turned to her, but Cicely spoke first.
"Please, Captain Aubrey. Do what he has asked you to do. Marry us." Aubrey looked back at Cicely, and nodded before leading her onto the foredeck.
Looking around at the faces of her crewmates, dressed like their Captain in their finest, Cicely realised she had never felt so conspicuous, more than ever in her life: to their left and right stood the salts, all in neat rows saluting their captain as they walked past. Before them, on the quarterdeck stood the midshipmen, Blakeney amongst them, who grinned at her unashamedly when she caught his eye and behind them was Pullings, Mowett and Hogg, and the Royal Marines in their scarlet suits, who saluted as they approached.
Cicely could feel herself begin to shake and realised almost too late that she had to step carefully up the steps to the quarterdeck and, having not compensated for her attire, stumbled slightly.
"Take your time, Miss Hollum," whispered Aubrey, steadying her. Cicely smiled gratefully: such a stickler for rules and hierarchy, she had not given him enough credit for being the gentleman he undoubtedly was.
And now as the railings of the bow came into view her racing heart pounded stronger still. All she had been through to get here: boarding ship after ship to get to South America. Finding the Surprise and John Fotherington aiding her accession. So close to her brother who was gone. Now, marrying before her compatriots, her kin, the ship's wonderful surgeon so Edward's soul could find peace.
"Three cheers for Robert Young," she heard as Captain Aubrey escorted her further. Cicely turned and looked at the crew below, feeling a tinge of humility: there shouldn't be this fuss on her account.
Cicely looked ahead, the Captain drawing her further still…she looked at the figure before her…at the back of the doctor's dress-coat…
…he turned…and looked at Cicely Emma Hollum dressed in the most beautiful dress on the high seas…
…the world faded around her as Cicely's nerves steadied...
… as she became lost in those green, glimmering eyes…
"Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!"
"James, you awake?"
The berth was almost black; only the light from the slits in the inner wall sections permeated into the dank darkness, which was enough for her to see the dull shapes of the men in their hammocks. Cicely walked towards the back wall, where she knew James's was and tried not to wake the snoring men she was passing on the way.
Following the wedding, she had gone with Maturin back to his cabin, and he had explained that he had agreed with the Captain that though she would take part in the battle, she would, for the sake of sensibilities, take up residence with him and carry out some work.
Cicely had repressing the urge to argue about and had asked permission from the doctor to at least change back into her sailing clothes. He had laughed before excusing his joviality, explaining she was at liberty to do what she pleased.
However this presumably did not extend to practicing manoeuvres as an hour later she heard the sound of the orders of war being called, the salts heaving cannon and irons, the officers and midshipmen directing.
Cicely almost stumbled over Gordon who for some reason had taken up sleeping on the floor, and lurched in the direction of her own hammock. Excellent, she thought, as she felt the rough hessian fabric brush her arm, it was still up.
In the same logical manner the he had proposed Maturin had then explained what Cicely was to do with his work: she would transcribe the information from his notebooks made during observations on the Galapagos Islands and Cicely had felt less inclined to mourn her exclusion from practice when she saw what delights she would be reading about, iterating his instructions obediently.
However this fascination only lasted two hours; Cicely had not imagined how long and laborious the job would be, especially still sitting there in the Captain's wife's dress; the doctor had not taken the request at her permission to change as a cue to help her. It had been Blakeney, who had come along near supper time to bring her some food who she had had to ask to unlace the incarceral ribbons tied so precisely by the Captain so she could be free of the dress and have the chance to return to her own britches and jerkin.
"Rob?" She heard James's tired voice emanate from his hammock.
"Give us a hand up, will you?" Cicely whispered, trying not to disturb the other men, and she felt James's hand on her shirt.
It was not as if Maturin had not been kind enough to allow her his bunk; he had set up a hammock at the other end of his quarters that evening. He had asked her whether she had eaten supper, and when she had responded to the negative had explained gently that she was no prisoner; that she could dine with the men should she wish. His only request, he explained was for her to sleep here for the sake of respectability and ever the gentleman made a deal of remaining outside allowing her to wash alone before bed.
As she splashed cold water onto her face, Cicely considered, not for the first time, his goodness and when he extinguished the candle half an hour later Cicely lay in the darkness, examining why, after such kindness had been shown her, she felt troubled.
"What are you doing here?" whispered the lad, as she climbed with his help into her old hammock. "The captain told us you'd be bunking with the doctor…" he left the sentence unfinished, as if the reasons for her not being there were too complicated for him to put into words.
"Can't sleep there," she replied quietly. "Not the same as here. Too enclosed." Cicely stopped and watched as the unspoken haze of division between them evaporated. "What did I miss?"
As she spoke, Cicely realised what was concerning her: two well-meaning and honourable men were, through their duty to her honour, smothering and constraining her; controlling her. That was the life she'd left in Gloucester; the life she had fought to escape.
Well she'd be damned if she was going to be held to their rules now, not when she needed information that would help her on the morrow, and when she needed the security of her pair. But...Cicely's mind began to doubt her bold impetuosity….
"The captain's got a plan," said James sleepily. "You know the whalers we picked up from Chatham? We're to fool the Phantom that we're a whaler too, hide the colours and get close before attacking…"
…well, she'd return at the dawn bell, she could say she'd been to the head. As the thought rolled over in her mind, remorse chided her for her betrayal of his trust…
"…once we get in close, Mr. Mowett'll get the sheets high, then we fly the ensign…" Cicely rolled over in her hammock so she could face James's direction and hear more clearly his description of manoeuvres.
…the way Maturin had spoke to her, logically and reasonably; so full of honour and respect; mildly but reverentially. Had it not been a marriage proposal she would have believed she was in the company of a learned man at a forum such as a debate or other….
"…the gun crews will fire an eight-routine all in. That'll sort 'em, so says Lamb…"
"Mh-hm," agreed Cicely absently. If the marriage were a contract of sorts, she must repay him for his kind commodious part of it by doing what he had asked regarding his books, even if she could not honour the promise she had made to sleep in his cabin tonight. He must never know her feelings and she must shun her affections for that reason.
But that would be hard to do, she added, following the kiss Maturin had given her directly after Aubrey had pronounced them "man and wife"…
"…the middies second, once over we're to feed the mainsail to an angle again to give Mr Killick time, then the sheet can be lowered and returned to normal…" James yawned.
…and not get distracted as she had done that afternoon. But it was curious why John Fotherington's name would be on a sheet of vellum at the back of the doctor's notebook (Albermarle, volume 4) along with seven others. She had studied the information for a moment, trying to see where it fitted in with Cannis Aurorae. Besides, Vichesse, Marlot, Burgoyne…these sounded like French names and since they didn't appear to be connected to botany or nature in any way, Cicely had replaced it between the pages from where it had fallen out.
"…Rob, you still awake?" James yawned again; and Cicely's mind was dragged from thoughts of the afternoon to the present.
"Yes" she whispered. "I was just thinking, there was something I need to tell you. Do you remember when you were ill? In the sick berth?"
"Not now Rob; we need to sleep…" Cicely stemmed the flow of conversation that had welled in her cerebellum. She would tell him tomorrow, sometime. Before the battle, at least. He must know about Old Joe's supposition that he was his father, and his part in her being aboard the Surprise.
"Do you think we'll get through tomorrow? I mean you and me?" Cicely heard the oak above them creak as James turned in his hammock.
"We're under the best Captain in all the Service…"
"Yes, I know." Cicely sighed inwardly. "But assuming we don't; I just want to say – "
"You too Rob," interrupted James quietly. "You're the best friend I've ever had, an' all. Now shut up and get some sleep."
Four bells tolled above the berth. Cicely opened her eyes and vaulted from her hammock quickly, almost landing on Chell. Without stopping to explain she rushed through the men who had arisen to begin their watch, and straight through the officers' mess, knowing that no-one would be there at this hour.
If she had had a chance to reflect Cicely would have realised this had been the first night that she hadn't been awoken with the dreadful dream of her brother drowning. The dream of Edward floating face-down in the ocean as the moonlight reflected off his hair. The one where Cicely finds herself going in to save him only to see his body, dead and stiff.
Three vital minutes of up-and-down decks it would save her, she knew as she opened the door at the far end which led onto the staircase. From there she hurried two at a time up to the first lower deck and turned right, down the corridor to where Stephen Maturin's cabin was.
Slowing her pace now, Cicely walked towards the door, pushing down the latch carefully and quietly as she could. He would still be in his hammock now, as it was only a quarter to five. Cicely could slip back into bed and wait until he rose.
She pushed open the door. Yes. Wait until he sat at his desk and she heard the scratching of his peacock-feather quill…
…as she stepped forward Dr. Maturin looked up from his writing, putting down the quill. Cicely stopped in her gait, and looked at him, his eyes looking between her and the page of transcription she had done the day before
"Er…umm.." she said foolishly, before closing her mouth; whatever she was going to say would be ridiculous. Regardless of the reason for her being up, it was obvious she had not occupied the bed all night. Maturin nodded towards the ledger.
"Excellent," he said, nodding towards her handwriting, "exactly what I was looking for. I don't think another man aboard this ship could have completed the work as accurately or quick."
"Er…" said Cicely again, running over his last sentence in her mind.
"And you're exhausted from this, I expect," he continued pushing his round-framed spectacles up his long nose, "so much so that you slept well and got up early for a breath of fresh air." He snapped the book closed when he'd finished, as if underlining the point that this was the end of the conversation.
But he had been so kind already! She could not allow him to make another concession in her favour.
"I think now we are married, you could risk calling me by my first name, Cicely," he said, still looking at her.
"Er…" Cicely could feel the confusion envelop her face as her mind rewound to the ceremony less than a day ago.
"Stephen," she began uncertainly. Maturin smiled at her gently, and nodded in confirmation.
"I expect that you were with your friend…Fillings…" he continued. Cicely nodded. "And I expect you're here to inform me that, as we have a busy day ahead of her you are off to breakfast now." Cicely nodded again, defeated. I will repay you, she told him silently, if it's the last thing I do. She turned to go, and Maturin looked down at his books. She had taken two steps, hand on the door when he looked back up again.
"Cicely, if it helps, fourth is far too late to mount a return from berths, even through the officers' quarters. For future reference, I generally rise at the second."
James looked at Cicely with wide eyes in wonder. "So my father is alive? Is that truly what Old Joe said? Did he mean it? It wasn't one of his stories, was it?"
Cicely bit into her ship's biscuit lunch and chewed quickly, trying not to think about the weevils that were falling through its substance and landing on the tin plate. He had been overjoyed at the thought of his father aiding her; he chipped in as she described her contact, before recounting the tale Old Joe had told him whilst unconscious; from what had described, James had believed he had imagined it all.
"No, he's right, Jim," said Bonden, sliding next to Cicely and looking at the lad. "Joe knew ye' father, right enough. And I bet the Captain remembers him, too." James grinned up at Wiggin, who was standing next to Bonden.
"And that's not the best part," she added, smiling at the three lads whose full attention she now had.
Cicely had been astonished by their readiness to accept her in her new stead; for the most part she had been treated by and large as Robert Young that morning; Callumay directing her to the acular keel, then Blakeney to the mainsail sheet. She had gone to work as she normally would, dressed in her usual clothing, and it had been a full ten minutes before she realised many of the men were staring at her.
Cicely had stopped running the sheet through when she had realised it, and the atmosphere between her comrades and herself was far too much to bear. It had been broken by Blakeney shouting at her to stop her slacking and then, like German marionettes the men went back to work.
As she'd scrubbed the deck that morning, Cicely had noticed a shadow above her, and had looked into the firm-set face of Joseph Nagel. She had got to her feet, slightly uncertainly, before he held out a grubby hand, saying it was good to see her back; their section of the deck had been getting far too shabby. A few moments later Killick passed her, gesturing to the floor. "Well done, lad," he'd added, patting her on the back.
And that had been that; no ceremony, just acceptance that she was who she'd always been: the lowest-ranking position of mizzenlad, Robert Young.
"Well?" said James, Bonden and Wiggin in unison.
"Well you know how I got on at Sao Paolo?" James nodded. "I had actually tried out for mizzenlad at the wharf first of all, and it was a fellow by the name of John Fotherington helped me out. Got me back safely to the town. Gave me tips about how I should be. Smart uniform. Who to speak to. When not."
"Oh, Rob!" he exclaimed, beaming at Bonden and Wiggin. "How wonderful! Thank you for telling me before the battle." He got to his feet and looked out across the sunlit ocean.
"That means he's out there somewhere," he added quietly, "waiting for me to find him." Bonden turned to Cicely.
"Watch it, Young, you'll have him cryin' next!" Both men laughed heartily, and Cicely joined them.
"When is the Captain to attack?" asked Cicely, turning to Wiggin. "I know it's the noon-after…" She stopped when she noticed Blakeney behind her. Both lads, and James who had turned from his own private soliloquy saluted him. Cicely glanced at them, and saluted him also.
"Young," said Blakeney. "Lads," he added, extending the conversation to them all. "The battle preparations are to begin. Report now to Lieutenant Pullings in your group order to receive weapons for the battle."
"Aye-aye, sir," they chorused. Bonden scuttled down to towards the mess, while Wiggin and James held fast, waiting for Young. Blakeney looked at them both.
"I need to brief Young on proceedings," he said simply. Realisation dawned on their faces, and at once Cicely felt herself turning from their comrade to a stranger in their eyes. Both lads saluted and made their way to the mid-deck. Will turned to Cicely.
"I think that Doctor Maturin wishes to speak to you before we start," said Blakeney, looking at her and smiling.
"Will, I'm fighting," replied Cicely, firmly. "He promised; or else why were we married yesterday?" She leaned against the railings of the ship and looked down. "If he rescinds…" she sighed, and smiled wanly at Will.
"Do you think that's likely?" he added, stepping closer to her and speaking to her softly. "I know he is a man of his word, and – "
"And so is the Captain," Cicely interrupted. "And he promised that I was to return to England. How likely is it that Captain Aubrey could persuade the doctor?" Will sighed.
"Well, I can come with you if you wish," he added, smiling and taking her hand. Cicely shook it free.
"What I wish, Mr Blakeney, is to be treated as Robert Young. The men treat me as such; they respect my wishes to fight the French. I just wish my superiors would as well." She smiled at Will again, rubbing his shoulder. "It's the only way I can be," she added quietly.
"Do you think you could be Cicely for just another five minutes?" Will asked, grinning impishly. "I do so prefer it when you're her." She nodded.
"OK Will, before I go to see the doctor, can you let me in on the plan? What does Robert Young have to do this afternoon?" Will smiled happily, and told her.
It went like this: the mizzenlads, ten of them including Cicely were to run the gun cotton to the cannon gunnery officers, having soaked them in oil and tar so as they could be fired easily. Once the ship was close enough to board, most of the able seamen, deckhands and officers would board, tackling the toughest of the enemy. After twenty minutes or so Pizzy would blow the bugle, indicating that many of the stronger enemy had had been killed and it would be left to them to follow at the rear to finish off the sick and wounded.
"…and the Captain has said I am to take full command of the ship as they fight," he finished proudly. Cicely smiled. To a lad his age and in his position that was indeed a great honour and she told him so.
"Come on," he said, glancing round to make sure Pullings wasn't about to pull him up, "I'll show you your crew deck," and Cicely followed him below to where the guncotton would be, before trailing after him along the route she would have to take in order to feed the gunnery section.
"Cicely," Will said, looking thoughtful. "Why do you want to fight in a battle?"
"Why does anyone?" she asked carefully. Will gave her look which said, "You've trusted me before. Trust me again."
"I'll be fighting for my country and for my brother," she said. Will nodded, then frowned. He means why because I'm a woman, not my motivation, she thought and changed tack.
"Which would you say is more exciting, Will, to fight in a battle or to hear about one after it had happened?"
"To fight," he'd replied quickly with excitement. "That's far more fun."
"So you would prefer that I missed out on the fun, because I'm a girl?" He shook his head, as he got the point.
"But you might get hurt," he added, looking mournful.
"I'll have you know I was getting hurt falling out of my brother's tree house before you were even thought of!" Cicely pulled Will close and gave him a sisterly hug.
"You might die," he continued, talking to her tunic. "I wouldn't want that, and nor would the doctor." Will looked up, his bright blue eyes shining. Cicely shook her head.
"That is likely. But I'll be doing what I need to do, and for the Captain too. Can you understand that?" He nodded, before pulling away, wiping a trickle of moisture from his cheek Cicely got down to his level and held his hand.
"I've one more thing to ask, Will…" he looked at her earnestly. "Don't ever tell the doctor about my true feelings, even if I die. Please?" she added, to stop him interrupting.
"Sh," he said, looking over her shoulder. "The doctor's coming." Cicely got to her feet.
"Ah," said Maturin, looking at them both. "I thought I may find you here. I understand the crew is preparing, Mr. Blakeney?"
"Aye, sir," replied Will, saluting the doctor. "I was just showing Young what sh- he has to do in the battle, sir, seeing as he missed out yesterday." He looked back towards the doctor. "If you don't mind sir, I'll be showing Young where to assemble?" He took a couple of steps in the direction of the steps towards the upper deck.
You adorable child, thought Cicely, making to follow him. How marvellous that at your age you can show such passive resistance to a man nearly three times your age when sounding as if you are doing your duty diligently.
"If I could relieve you of Young for just a couple of minutes, I wish to talk to him regarding the battle." Maturin gave Blakeney a look which told the lad he wished to be alone with Cicely.
"Yes, sir," replied Will, looking apologetically at Cicely for a moment before hurrying up the steps to the mid-deck. Maturin turned to Cicely.
"You are about to fight in a battle," he said, looking towards Cicely's downward gaze. "As am I," he added, brandishing the sword he had in his left hand. "Tell me, for the last time, are you prepared for this; to face all the horror that a battle entails?"
"I expect that the reason you are fighting is for the Captain, Dr – " she saw him raise his eyebrows, " – Stephen, is because all persons aboard ship are needed in one-to-one combat with the enemy? That every man should do his duty?" Maturin looked at her sharply, as if she has just recounted a fact to which she shouldn't be privy.
"You have told me before that you fight for your brother, you fight for Edward, instead of him. Is that truly necessary? Must you risk your life this day?" Cicely looked down, fixing her gaze on a knothole in the plank she was standing on, trying not to scream at him as the rage grew stronger in her very chest. She swallowed.
"It's as if you don't believe me," she replied, still looking down. You're a man of honour, she thought. Has the Captain coerced you?
"If I didn't believe you Cicely, I wouldn't have married you." She looked up into his face and saw…honesty; kindness; truth. Those qualities amongst the many for which she adored him. Cicely nodded.
"There is no other way," she confirmed.
"Then take this," Maturin said, handing Cicely an amber bottle. She glanced into her hand, before quickly trying to press it back into his.
"I cannot take this!" she said, horrified. "If you leave this with me now, I will not take it, and if I am killed today, you will have wasted a good deal of the medicine others who are wounded would need." She looked defiantly at him, until he received it back from her.
"If that is the case," he said, slipping the vial of laudanum back into his waistcoat pocket, "may I take this opportunity to wish you luck." Maturin bent to kiss her, but she stuck out a hand.
"Thank you, doctor," Cicely said, gripping his hand firmly. "Good luck to you as well."
"Men of the H.M.S. Surprise." Aubrey addressed them from the quarterdeck, looking down at five dozen battalions who would, in the course of the next three hours, wage war with the men of the French ship Acheron.
"My crew. My men. This is a day for which we have waited. This is the day for which we have prepared and toiled." He could see all of their faces now, reflecting the glory of his patriotic words. Jack surveyed his men; all clean as instructed, all primed and ready for battle.
"The phantom ship, the Acheron will be within our sights in less than five and twenty minutes." Including that damned fool Cicely Hollum.
Cicely Maturin of course, not Hollum now; against his own better advice Stephen had married her in order to fulfil her own sense of duty to her brother. The damned fool had stood by his word and allowed her to fight; even up until this morning he had hoped, though vainly, that Maturin would have convinced her to remain locked in his own cabin until the battle was over.
"They have declared that they will take us as a prize. Are we going to stand for that?"
"No!" chorused the men, heartily. "No!"
"NO!!" Jack beamed at his men, glancing to his left to Pullings, who pulled his hat in deference.
"The French ship is bigger and faster than ours with more men." He could hear murmurs of comment from the mid-deck. "However, they have one thing we do not have." Jack looked down at Cicely again, who was amongst her peers now. Who had accepted her for being Robert Young, of all things. Let's hope they remember this and do not try anything foolhardy or heroic in her defence.
"We have Surprise on our side!"
"Then listen all. We have done our routines. We know our drill. There will be no daring or valiant risks on behalf of anyone. This day we will take Acheron as a prize because God is on our side. God is on our side!"
"Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!"
"Come on!" yelled James as an enemy cannonball smashed into the top of the hull. "We need to get across there now!"
It was the middle of the afternoon now, and already the battle was in full swing. Aubrey's plan of to hoodwink the ship had gone exactly to plan and had sailed too close. Once this had happened the Captain had put his strategy into action, boarding the vessel first in order to tackle the mightiest of the enemy.
All bar the younger gunners and the mizzenlads had boarded with them and the battle raged strongly on the decks of the French frigate.
"Come on, Rob," he yelled again, and Cicely ducked as splintered wood flew in her direction. She could see James already on the horizontal rope ladders, held together with grappling irons which the crew had used to cross between the Surprise and the Acheron. Cicely jumped on behind, and began to follow, keeping him in her sights.
"You can do it!" James encouraged, looking back as she looked down at the swirling azure ocean below her, and she gathered all her strength about her in order to catch up with her pair. Before her, she could see, hear and smell the battle and every so often yells and screams of aggression being meted out permeated her being.
Cicely glanced across at the pair fighting now; Killick and what looked like a midshipman, swords meeting together, clashing and clattering like steel pans. She heard a yell in front of her and realised that James had made it across, and had met his first opponent almost at once.
Keep going, Cicely told herself. Once you get over there you won't think of it. You'll be with the enemy, fighting. Ahead of her as she crawled the shouts and screams were getting louder.
Three quarters of the way there, and she could see the deck of the Acheron. Almost there, she told herself and, focusing on its oak floor put her strength about her to pull herself when Cicely saw a man watching her move.
Before she knew it, the rope ladder had given away underneath her. It moved pendulously back towards the Surprise, however Cicely had let go, and thudded against the side of the French ship.
Winded, she pushed herself flat against the frame of the hull, and once the nausea began to ebb, she began to inch her hands across it quickly, blocking out the screams and shouts around her so she could concentrate.
Behind and to her left, she felt a 9-pounder thud into the Acheron, and heard the men behind its blow inside the ship reel and fall on the inner gunnery side. Wood splintered, and Cicely was showered with flying timber.
Move, she told herself urgently, as her hands gripped the outer frame of the gunport above her. Move to the port to your left. Inching her hands along further her foot kicked the wood of another gun port which, if her feet could be trusted, felt cold, indicating that it was empty.
Scrambling inside, Cicely headed to the steps to the upper foredeck, but was forestalled when a huge Frenchman got in her way. He raised a fist and punched her full in the chest. Cicely hit the deck full back, and the man stood over her, his greasy locks hanging over her, and his face showing aggression.
Just as he was about to pull Cicely up by the jerkin, another cannon ball thundered through the hull, making the man disappear. Cicely scrabbled to her feet, and realised that rather than disappearing, his demise had been hastened by his impact on the supporting beam of the deck, and his head lay two feet from the rest of his body.
Trying not to think about what had just happened, Cicely hurried herself up the steps to the foredeck. Weaponless now, her only chance was to get adecks and find or steal a blade to continue the fight.
Up the steps she went, listening to the more defined sound of battle now and Cicely could make out more distinctive sounds; blade steel clashing; steel thudding into flesh. Pitiful roars as men met their demise.
When she put her head above, what she saw was carnage. Seamen both French and English, where not engaged in on-to-one combat, were seeking their next engagement, or otherwise strewn dead or dying on the timber.
Before her, Callumay was engaged with a lad of his own age, probably a midshipman too; Peter had the upper hand presently, although to Cicely they looked evenly matched. Others too; Bonden, Chell, Nagel…in the chaos and confusion all were striking others of the Acheron, even Maturin had his sword aloft, fighting for the Captain.
Cicely looked down searching the deck now for an available blade and stepped forward in the direction of a dying Frenchman, a lad not much older than Robert, to retrieve one, straight into a half-dried pool of blood. Cicely stumbled, coming down on her right ankle awkwardly having just missed a fatal blow.
She got to her feet and, cumbersome weapon in hand struck out clumsily and away from her. He staffers back, having been incapacitated by Wiggin, behind him. He is replaced in her sights by a tall man, far bigger than any she had encountered, who had just brought down Hoole. This time, Cicely took the sword firmly and drove it into his shin.
Above the wound the man screamed and he lunged at Ciciely; blade of a Louis XVIII replica heading towards her shoulder. This time, it struck her, but it is an awkward blow and rather than taking off her arm sliced open the first three inches of fabric and grazing her skin, skimming her shoulder from her tunic so Cicely now had one crumpled sleeve and a top held up by one shoulder.
She dodged out of the second blow, and hurtled her way forward; this time she heard the man grunt behind her and she turned to find he was now dead on the deck; a pool of blood oozing out below him.
Without stopping to wonder what had happened Cicely plunged even deeper into the throng and noticed James stuck between the main sail mast, defending his life now, and inching ever closer to the floor as the man above him progressed further and further with each attack.
Just then, James ducked below the rigging, as the Frenchman's blow struck the mast, and Cicely advanced towards him, rage beginning to throb in her temples: how dare he attack her pair? Serves him right that his blade is now stuck in the mast.
Before she could get there though, the man chased off in the direction of James behind the rigging. Cicely followed him round, determined to mete out some revenge for James's close shave.
Just as she was about to assault the man, Cicely felt her legs go from underneath her and she was dragged behind the rigging housing. The rage that had filled her chest began to turn into fear as she saw her sword which she'd dropped become further away from her before she was turned over by the assailant and straddled, to prevent her from escaping, his hand clamping her mouth. And as she went to bite the hand that was restraining her, Cicely looked up into an altogether familiar face.
"Why if it isn't Mr Robert Young!" John Fotherington smiled broadly when she looked back at him, releasing his grip from her mouth and helping her up.
"John!" Cicely gasped, "What are you doing here?"
"Well, it's a pleasure to see you too Young, " he continued, ducking her back behind the wooden housing, "After I just saved your neck. Can't 'old it 'rgenst you mind, seein' as Aubrey saved mine not half an 'our 'go." Cicely looked back at him in incomprehension.
"'e just released me from the incarceration this French bathtub had me in; shook me by the hand 'e did, 'n all. C'mon." Without waiting for her to reply, John took her hand and pulled her behind the stern set of steps leading to the quarterdeck.
"But Mr Fotherington," Cicely said, throwing Fotherington a confused look. "I left you in Sao Paolo almost two months ago. How did you end up here?"
"Well, 's a good question, Young. Dunno 'ow I let it 'appen to meself, actually. I got caught up in some gamblin' with some men at Sao Paolo when I 'adn't been well on me luck. When I lost, they decided, since they couldn't find any actual gold on me that I would come with them and work on their ship. Great, I thought to meself, get back 'ome in no time and start again. Then when I got there, and I woke up in 'morning I was given immunity as a prisoner of war, 's long as I told 'em the secrets I been carryin'"
"Which is where I fed 'em a load of bilge water which sounded like what they wanted to hear. Still never let me go, mind." He looked Cicely up and down.
"But even better an' knowin' Captain Aubrey's still fer me, I'm happier to know you're safe, Robert Young." He clapped her on the back. "What 'appened 'ere?" he said, looking at her grazed shoulder.
"You should have seen the Frog," said Cicely, tying not to think about the mayhem she had insisted she had been a part of.
"But never mind me, John. Your son's here. James!" Cicely declared enthusiastically.
"James?" The older man looked at her in shock.
"He's been looking for you since you left Cadiz." She smiled, trying to smooth the transition of information to Fotherington.
"He's really here?" Cicely nodded.
"A mizzen, like myself." She smiled, but a thought struck her that something wasn't quite right. He was here, captured, yet he had gambled with the French who had taken him as their debt when they found he had no money. Seemed plausible, and yet…
"OK," continued Fotherington, patting her reassuringly on her left shoulder. "I'll find him which means I'll have to leave you. If you're going to continue this battle, what you need to know is that the French will only get so far before they stop. They'll weigh you up, like, to see how strong you are. If they can't defeat you they'll stop, and another Frenchie'll have a go. Takes 'em much longer, but it's a good tactic. Now, we need to get onto the quarterdeck, then I can see where James is. Wait a few moments before going up, then attack the strongest, I'll be behind you and we can bring him round together." Cicely looked into his round face, and nodded before scampering out from under his arm, and up the steps onto the quarterdeck.
The first man she sees is the Frenchman who had attacked James ten minutes ago. He had seemed rather strong, having cowed James into submission before the lad had darted away.
She raised her sword and took a swing at the man, missing, and bringing her back round to face the steps. John was quickly ascending now, but James was suddenly beside her.
"Cicely!" he screamed, wheeling around to his assailant.
"Mon dieu!" exclaimed the Frenchman, "are you not yet already dead?!"
Cicely dived forward, trying to trip up the Frenchman, who steps forward and in to the path of Fotherington's steps.
"John!" screamed Cicely as he levelled his sword not at the Frenchman but at James. "It's James. Your son!"
Fotherington looked down at her before impaling the Frenchman onto his sword, and turning again to James. Cicely got to her feet and shouted at Fotherington that James was his son. Fotherington turned malevolently towards Cicely, then she realises what had been bothering her: Fotherington had both legs. He looked in triumph now towards Cicely, pushing James down over the parapet and onto the foredeck. Cicely made to go in his direction, but stopped when John raised his sword to her neck.
"Yes, young lady, you noticed the detail. As did I when I saw you. It was very good, very good, " he intoned, "but one has to be an expert in espionage like myself to fool me. And even then, it would be a close thing."
"James," she muttered, as he backed her towards the railing that he had just pushed his son over. "Your son!"
"No son of mine would willingly slave in the hands of the Royal N, especially not for that fat Bavarian oaf that gracefully straddles the throne of Great Britain. Are your comrades of the HMS Surprise still in the dark about your gender? Or has the doctor already seen evidence of your womanhood?" Cicely stopped when she could feel the railing press into her back.
"Yes, it was such evidence on your clothes that the shopkeeper in Sao Paolo disposed of that confirmed it for me. That and your propriety; and you were too persistent in boarding the Surprise specifically.
"Yes, I know all about your secret..." Holding the sword in his left hand Fotherington pushed up her tunic and pulled at the bindings with the other, unravelling them with one hand underneath. As he withdrew his hand, Cicely instinctively covered her chest with her hand, until Fotherington pointed the sword tip to her throat.
With one swift movement, Cicely thrust her knee towards his groin. Damn, she thought, as she ducked under his right arm, missed.
Two steps later, and Fotherington had backed Cicely against the outer railing of the Acheron, and began to pull at her tunic. She froze as he came closer. She could feel his breath on her neck, hot and acrid. He threw down his sword, laughing.
"Pretty body like this was made for a fine dress, not shabby mizzen clothes." He moved his hand down her waist. You'll be my prize, for there will be none for the secrets I have shed here." Fotherington moved his left hand down onto her thigh, working his way up to the waistband of her britches. He brought it to rest on her backside and began to pull at the fabric, as he breathed heavily into her face.
Closing her eyes, Cicely reached down to his right hand and took the flesh between her thumb and fingers, twisting it until he screamed. He slapped her across the deck, nursing his hand.
"Whore!" he screamed at her. "I will have you…"
Cicely watched as he took a pistol from his pocket but instead of levelling at her, turned to the bow of the ship. She got to her feet, and looked in the direction of his shot. He was aiming at Aubrey.
"No!" she screamed in horror. "Why? You were his comrade! The men still speak of your heroic deeds! You saved the ship at Gibraltar!"
"Whatever gave you that gave you that idea? Old Joe?" Fotherington snarled, turning to look at her with distain. "Yes he knew me, before I found the pay was somewhat healthier coming from the coffers of Bonaparte. Espionage has been my game for a long time now, not least because they are not Protestant Heretics!"
Cicely gasped in horror as Fotherington cocked the pistol, and reposition his shot in the Captain's direction.
"No!" she screamed, moving in front of him. "How could you? He was your Captain! And he's your son," Cicely added, pointing where James lay unconscious on the foredeck.
"Once I rid Aubrey of that despicable habit called living, I will be the wealthiest man in the New World," said Fotherington slowly. "The war won't trouble me there, and I can live out my days in peace."
"NO!" screamed Cicely again as Fotherington squeezed the trigger. She kicked his hand holding the gun…the bullet's trajectory jerked with the force…and Chell fell dead from the crow's nest.
"Aah!" Fotherington roared in anger. "You baggage! I only had one shot." He threw Cicely onto the deck before grabbing her by what material was left of her tunic in his right hand, pulling her eye-level.
"How dare you interfere with my affairs…" Cicely kicked out towards the man, and tried to unpeel his hands from her. He tightened his grip so most of the material was round her throat.
"There's not just me. He is sought by many of the good men of Napoleon. Others will try. And next time you will not be in the position to interfere!" Taking three steps towards the edge of the ship, John Fotherington held Cicely over the edge. Below her, swirling waves of tempestuous ocean beat against the hull. Around her, though the battle still raged, gunners on the opposite side still firing and men still dying, Cicely could feel the breath being squeezed out of her as he held her by one hand over the turbulence.
"Others will try," she heard him say again, and she fixed him with a stare, into his mad eyes.
There was a single gunshot behind him. Stephen Maturin shot a single bullet through the back of Fotherington's head. As Cicely fell backwards, so did Fotherington; his eyes unfocused and delirious. She felt him fall on her as they tumbled over; the man falling on top of her as they plunged into the debris of the Acheron.
Cicely felt her head meet timber as she was pushed further and further down beneath the sea. She tried to swim from underneath him, but the lack of air in her lungs made her flounder as the light above her grew rapidly fainter as the seconds passed. Images of her brother drowning filled her mind as she closed her eyes and gave way to unconsciousness.
"...no…get away! Fillings!"
"Give her some air now, you too, Nagel, don't touch her!"
"Leave her to the doctor!"
Cicely's mind tried to piece together the familiar sounds that she was hearing. She knew she recognised them, but from where?
"He's busy with the wounded, James…"
She could feel cold hands on her brow now, and the sun, definitely the sun drying her clothes. Her clothes!
Cicely opened her eyes to see Joseph Nagel patting her face.
"Welcome back to the land of the living," he said quietly, "no need to move," he added as she tried to sit up.
"…F…F…" she began, then coughed.
"Here," said James, coming closer to her and slipping his jerkin off. Nagel gave him a look, before relenting and allowing James to roll it up and put it under her head.
"…Fotherington," she managed, looking up at James. "Your father…" James shook his head.
"Not my father," he said quietly. "The man who the doctor shot was a spy for Bonaparte. My father would never do such a thing." He took her hand and held it, but Cicely struggled to sit up, looking at him urgently.
"But Stephen…" she began, looking at James, before realising his confusion. "The doctor," she confirmed. "He must have known about Fotherington." Nagel smiled.
"Looks like we have our own spy," said Nagel, taking her other hand and with a glance at James, pulled Cicely to her feet.
"Come on!" he said cheerfully. "We won!" Cicely looked round at the scene of dreadful devastation. Mutilated bodies of dead French and English sailors bestrewed the deck, their faces fixed in masks of terror.
Then bells began to ring aboard the Acheron. Aubrey's men, Cicely included stood on the foredeck together as the Captain announced their triumph.
"Huzzah!" cried the men around them, "Huzzah!" Cicely looked around at the men, throwing off their black armbands in triumph, as they cheered. Edward was now at peace, Cicely knew, and smiled at James, who hugged he in celebration.
"…three cheers for Captain Pullings!" announced Aubrey as the men continued to cheer.
And it was then that Cicely, as she caught Maturin's glance briefly during the cheer, realised that although the day was won…
…and she had fought hard and cleared her brother's name…
...she now belonged anywhere but aboard a ship.
Cicely awoke in her hammock the day after the battle happy that she knew now what she must do.
The day before, despite fervent insistence from many of them to the contrary, she helped the crew clear away the dead, both French and English from the deck of the Acheron, and their own injured back to the Surprise.
The French dead they had left for the most senior officer of the now Navy-owned Acheron, who happened to be a seventeen-year-old midshipman. The English, whose number included Callumay, Doudle, Wiggin, Nash, Taylor, Old Joe and Chell, were honoured by a Christian burial at sea from the Surprise.
Cicely had stood there, once their decks were clear that evening, listening to the names of those killed being solemnly recited by the Captain following their shrouding.
Tears had flowed from her eyes unashamedly as she stood shoulder to shoulder, next to James and also to Fitzherbert, an able seaman whom she had helped gratefully back onto the Surprise.
Celebrations commenced thereafter and well into the night; the Captain declared double grog rations for all, and that the anchor would be weighed and all duties were suspended until the next morning.
The men sat adecks, making-merry: dancing and drinking; singing of what seemed like every shanty, jig and reel known to them all, and laughing about their victory that day. Cicely had sat and listened; already their feats were passing into legend. The day when Jack Aubrey won the greatest Pacific victory, over the Acheron, for the crown. When the enemy outnumbered the heroes, which made them more determined to fight and win.
When the doctor, to whom they toasted as he, the officers and Captain visited them following their own celebratory supper, killed the spy and saved the Captain, and therefore the day.
Cicely had sat and listened to it all, even when James nudged her trying to gain her rebuttal of the facts, but she shushed him, trying not to make eye contact with Maturin. It was only when Richards picked up his concertina, striking up "The Scotsman's Fair Maiden" and Nagel had pulled her into the centre of the group with the other men to dance that the look Maturin gave her before the officers left was of so strange that Cicely could not figure its meaning.
However Cicely did not have a chance to reflect on it until Blakeney had woken her up early the next morning sobbing into the men's berth where, it turned out, Maturin had told him she would be found. She'd sat adecks with the lad comforting him and reassuring him that Peter, his best friend aboard, would be in heaven now.
Will asked her whether Edward would have forgiven them all, and Cicely had said, of the kind brother she had known, there was no doubt. She held him close in her arms for comfort when he dissolved into tears, stroking his hair and remaining silent when Blakeney had soothed himself quietly by reminding himself she would still be there.
And once Blakeney had returned, now pacified to his bed, Cicely remained above looking out into the darkness, and reflecting on her situation.
Despite her knowing deep down that her brother was at peace, Cicely still realised that her time upon this ship was past. The men treated her as one of their own; she was still Robert Young to them, their mizzenlad, and accordingly she'd fought to work and live with them.
But what of the brutality she had witnessed – and committed? That was almost unbearable. Even though she had done it for Edward and, in the end, for her Captain. Worse still, she had made a grave mistake in marrying the doctor, for though he had helped her, she was in no position to repay the debt.
His position aboard was far too complex for her to be a consideration, of course. That list of names, about which she had told no-one, was clearly connected with counter-intelligence for the Crown: she could not let herself get in the way of that and were she to mention her wish to stay aboard, he would surely accommodate, such the gentleman he was. Not even his manly beauty she would allow to sway her. And what would God's punishment be for her treating marriage so nonchalantly?
With the decision to depart in some way in her mind that morning, and seemingly boundless energy as a result, Cicely made her way to the sick berth. In every available space men hung in hammocks, mostly slung from the beams, and where there was no space, others slept on the floor; broken and wounded limbs laid out to ease their pain. Many of them turned as she closed the door behind her.
"Morning'" she said in general, walking over to the window-side of the berth. "Pizzy," she said quietly. "How are you?"
The young boy grinned up out of a filthy face, his blonde curls flat against his head. He lifted his left leg in her direction, indicating where the lower part had been amputated that morning. Cicely stroked the boy's head; in another hour he'd feel it.
"Who closed this door? I instructed for it to remain open." Cicely stopped when she heard Maturin's authoritative tone. There were murmurs amongst the men and Cicely carried on looking at Pizzy for another couple of seconds before turning.
"Cicely," he continued, noticing her there.
Don't say anything kindly, she begged him silently. Please.
"And how do you fare, after your plunge into the great blue?" He smiled, and gestured towards her back. "I would be happier if you would allow me to examine you." She shook her head.
"You are most kind, doctor," Cicely replied, realising that many of the eyes in the busy berth had stopped to look at them, "but I'm well. And besides I would rather make myself of use to you in whatever way I can. Lieutenant Pullings has stood me down for a shift to recuperate."
"And so you should, in bed," replied Maturin evenly.
"That'll be Captain Pullings," replied Captain Pullings, interrupting them, "however I do feel you need some assistance, doctor, in order for your own wounds to heal," he continued. Cicely looked down to his leg where bandages were holding it together.
"It's nothing," he said, following her stare.
"It's a three-inch deep and ten inch wide gash from a second lieutenant, Young," clarified Pullings, grinning. "And it might have been worse if I hadn't been behind you." Maturin shot him a look. Pullings continued to grin.
"Perhaps you would like to start with Captain Pullings," said Maturin, "he is in need of rebandaging, and redressing. He is also taking a up hammock which I need for Rawlings, so I would be grateful if you could treat him adecks?" Cicely nodded as Pullings screwed up his face in obvious defeat.
Once they were outside, Cicely sat next to Captain Thomas Pullings, RN and carefully rolled up his sleeve, trying not to catch any of the dressing in it. She then crossed over to Mowett who was mizzening, requesting her ration of grog. At least it would be cleaner than the water aboard, having been distilled at least once.
"What a waste," commented Pullings as she began to unravel the cotton he had wrapped round the wound. "Rather think I should drink that to numb the pain."
"So when will you be sailing?" asked Cicely, ignoring his request and pouring the alcohol onto clean padding before wiping it over the star-shaped gash on his forearm. Pullings winced; but tried not to let it show.
"I'll be Captaining the Acheron back to Portsmouth this very afternoon," he replied, "Killick's going to choose half a dozen men to go with me so I can crew her properly, and I'll take half of the marines. We'll have to refit in Neodoro of course, so she will get home in one piece. And I'll probably have to retrain a carpenter; Captain Aubrey won't be able spare his."
"She's a fair prize," said Cicely, blotting away the liquid and glancing at the Acheron's mainsail just behind them. "I expect it will be a sadness for you to leave the Surprise. How long have you known the Captain?"
"More years than I care to remember," replied Tom, laughing heartily. "I was a midshipman not much older than Mr Blakeney when I first met Lucky Jack. He was a Lieutenant then, of the Sophie. My, we've had some times." He looked wistful, and Cicely continued to bandage the clean wound. "I will miss her," continued, patting the timber of the Surprise. "We've seen some action, certainly. As have you..." Pullings looked sideways at Cicely, who tied off her bandage and stepped back. She nodded in agreement.
"You're quite right, Captain Pullings," Cicely conceded. "As you were right then, when you spoke to me two days' ago." She sat down next to him on the deck.
"You did what you thought was best. For your brother. This I can understand that. Sometimes family concerns are the most important thing." He smiled in her direction, an empathetic smile which if she were another of her sex, Cicely was sure she would find endearing.
"He's at peace," she nodded, confirming the new Captain's unspoken words. "He wasn't one to hold onto conflict. And now I know more surely than I have ever done that I am in the wrong situation. After yesterday. After…" Cicely stopped and turned to him, looking into Pullings' brilliant blue eyes.
"You are of the new Century, Captain Pullings," she continued candidly. "And now I see your point of view. There was no place for me in the battle yesterday; I hindered Captain Aubrey; more men may have survived and for that I will always be truly sorry." Pullings held out his left hand and patted her own as she looked away.
"Far from it," replied Tom Pullings sharply. "I never have witnessed a woman in battle and I believe Jack thought you would get into it far deeper than you could handle and expect to be rescued when things got tough - "
"I – "
"But you far exceeded all our expectations," he finished, not allowing Cicely to interrupt. "You did exceedingly well, Cicely. And for the men to treat you as one of their own; that's proof enough."
Cicely looked at him as he spoke: of all the crew aboard, Pullings had been always come across to her as the least affable. She could see his strength now of a naval Captain and in time his reason and determination would make him loved in his stead, like Lucky Jack.
"You are clearly able to carry out a mizzen shift over a sustained period of time; that is certain. And I don't think you would have been discovered had it not for Will Blakeney…" Pullings smiled, but then frowned as he noticed a shadow fall across her face.
"Fotherington would have killed the Captain if you hadn't been aboard. The doctor would not have got there in time: I should know; we officers were instructed to relieve him of combat where we could. I tried but it took us both to finish off the stubborn Frenchie and by the time he was free it was – would have been too late." Cicely smiled.
"Thank you," she said, getting up. "However it matter not where my strength and personal character lies; on balance I should not have been there." Looking around her, she took in the men who had been well enough to take the shift following the battle; her own, for a time. She took in the quarterdeck, where Blakeney was directing the watch, and the sick berth whose open door revealed Stephen Maturin; doctor, naturalist and intelligence agent attending the first of these duties.
"I should not be here now," she said quietly, before turning back to Pullings. He stood himself and clapped Cicely on the shoulder.
"I've always need of a lad who can mizzen like you, Cicely," he said reassuringly. "Especially one who can nurse so expertly." He held up his arm in approval.
"I don't believe you would tolerate my presence aboard your own ship," said Cicely slowly, not quite daring to believe that her resolve could be met so easily. "I would be cumbersome to you; a nuisance –"
"You tolerated the situation here…"
"Because I had to. For Edward. I was foolhardy..."
"But you proved it could be done," Pullings said approvingly. "That goes a long way. You overcame your fear with courage, something which many could not." Cicely stepped away from Tom and looked out towards the ocean again. Ahead of them the Galapagos Islands hovered in the haze of the late morning sun. Pullings smiled.
"I leave this afternoon, returning to England with Acheron. Will Robert Young be amongst my crew?" Cicely turned to look at Pullings. The last piece of the jigsaw had just fallen into place. She saluted.
Following the end of the morning half-watch William Blakeney should have been returning to his bunk instead of creeping past the cookhouse. He should have headed left, down to the officers' berth, rather than right into the mess. And he certainly should not be following the voices he could hear above him.
However the start of the conversation he had picked up ten minutes ago had bothered him, so much so that he had crawled into the space at the back of the storage shelves, a secret passed on to him by the instigator of the exchange himself. Will squeezed between the top of the storage planks and the floor above, thanking fortune that he was still small enough to fit into he space.
"…if she indeed leaves with you, Tom, I cannot pretend to be sorry for it. I believe it a highly sensible course of action for Miss Hollum to take…" Blakeney had only just caught part of the Captain's dialogue and shuffled round to gain a more advantageous position.
"Sir," he heard Pullings reply. "I have already broached Cicely on the subject and she had agreed. In her capacity as Robert Young she will mizzen the Acheron until we reach Portsmouth."
"And then what?" Above Blakeney, he heard the doctor move. "She has not informed me of such situation."
"I do beg your pardon sir," Pullings replied, "Of course: your wife has expressed the wish to mizzen under my order aboard the commandeered "Acheron" and – "
"She does not need my consent…she does not need my consent, Jack: have I not already explained myself to that effect!?" There was silence, and indistinct voices before Maturin continued, "Excuse me, Captain Pullings. I need to speak to Captain Aubrey alone…"
Blakeney shuffled back, rubbing the back of his neck that was becoming twisted between the floor and ceiling. Cicely was to leave? A pang of worry washed over him before he shuffled forward to listen again.
"If she leaves, what will become of her?" Stephen paced back and forth along the floor above Blakeney. "She will not survive long alone. With her brother gone, how will she live?"
"It is surely her decision, Stephen, as you have made clear," replied Jack Aubrey, turning to look at his friend who was so obviously uneasy with the situation. "She will have considered it, surely?"
"She will have considered it," said Stephen, annoyed. "And as her husband, I will offer her board, and she will refuse it. Then she will insist that the marriage is annulled in order that I do not to insult her again. And when she falls on hard times, and cannot live she will bear it, and will probably decide that Robert Young needs to enlist in the Navy again…"
"You have spoken to her on the matter, then?" Stephen shot his friend a look.
"You mock me, sir," he replied bitterly. "She has passed nothing of intimacy to me since before the battle, as well you know."
"Then how – "
"Because that is how is!" Maturin banged his fist angrily on the oak panelling by the door. "Is it only I that can see that?" Jack looked at the emotion in his face; he had seen such passion before in his friend, but it had been confined to the care of his men and to the natural world. At length, he continued.
"You have feelings of affection for the woman?"
"Certainly not! I care for her, if that's what you mean. And if she were to remain I have work for her to do, plenty to aid the running of the ship. She is making good progress tending the wounded, and she herself has healed remarkably well." Stephen walked over to Aubrey's desk and looked at objects upon it: a Mercator map of the west coast of Ecuador; a sextant, various naval journals and logs.
"And when my crew are mended? When your work is complete? In the eyes of the law she is your property and as such, now I have allowed her to fight in Hollum's name I will not tolerate her as Robert Young. Will she not do as a wife? Is she not coercible?" Aubrey looked in all seriousness at the doctor.
"I would not be so audacious!" declared Stephen, folding his arms, annoyed. "I have considered her a free woman since the moment you wed us! Despite my better judgment I overlook her nightly disappearances to the crew decks because – " Aubrey raised his eyebrows in astonishment.
"Oh don't look like that; you trust your crew. She is clearly more comfortable there with Fillings and the others than with me." He paced round to the other side of the table and sat back down in his Queen Anne chair. Jack exhaled slowly; something didn't quite add up.
"I don't understand your logic, Stephen. You can command her as you wish, and yet you allow her free will. And when she chooses to exercise it in a clear and sensible manner you wish her to stay because you fear she will perish alone. Do you not agree that by her very presence that she is clearly capable of her own care?" Jack sighed, and placed both hands on the desk. "Where is she, anyway?"
"I sent her to collect bandages and medication from my cabin," sighed Stephen, holding his head in his hands. He looked up.
"My friend; I will allow her to stay, should you so wish." Maturin shot him a look of hope as Jack look out onto the main.
"She may," he continued, "however her work for me will cease and she must be declared openly to be your wife. Whatever you command of her is in your judgment and I will respect that." Maturin got to his feet.
"Then you will permit me leave to find my wife and wish her good fortune under Captain Pullings," Stephen placed an unsteady hand on the handle and went to turn it.
"Stephen?" Jack followed his reach to the handle and looked at his friend's face, sorrow edging onto it. "I beg of you to explain. Surely this compromise suits both our needs." Maturin took his hand off the handle.
"She insisted Higgins treat my wounds, Jack. She barely looks at me: I believe she has regretted her decision of marriage and cannot bear to be in my presence." He looked to the floor, before glancing at his friend.
"And despite this, you still wish her to remain? You wish, I think, for a situation which does not yet exist. Do you still insist you do not have feelings for Cicely?"
"If you'll excuse me," Maturin repeated, opening the door with a creak.
Blakeney wriggled out of the gap and down onto the cookhouse floor. Above, he heard the door of the Captain's cabin creak closed and the doctor pace out onto the deck above. He saw Maturin run his hand over his hair and stepping in the direction of the sick berth.
Blakeney ducked underneath the staircase as he saw Stephen pass, before watching as he mis-stepped and turning, pacing in the other direction, towards his own cabin.
Keeping six feet behind the doctor, Blakeney followed him across the first deck, dipping into the shadows as the doctor paused sporadically, as if inside fighting an urge to turn back.
Eventually Maturin reached his cabin, and placed a hand on the already open door as if to push it further open. Blakeney took another step as if to follow him, but pulled it back as the doctor retreated, looking over his shoulder.
And then, a scene justifying Blakeney's actions that were to come that afternoon, came to pass: the doctor peered round the door, watching Cicely within. From his position near the wall, Will could see Cicely. She was sitting at Maturin's desk, with the bandages she was bade to fetch before her.
Gently, she was looking at his large notebook in which he sketched and hand-illustrated the wonderful animals he had discovered on Albemarle and Chatham, outlining them lightly with her finger. Then she got to her feet and picked up the dress in which she had wed, holding it against her.
Go in, sir, he willed. Tell her.
Maturin took a few steps towards Cicely, making her jump. He took the dress from her carefully. She looked in his direction, and from what Will could see, she was talking to him about the crew, gesturing in the vicinity of the sick berth.
The doctor had taken the bandages from her, and the dress he hung as it appeared she was requesting behind the door.
He saw a few more words of conversation pass. Will knew she was informing him of her wish to leave and he was wishing her well. This was further confirmed to the boy when he saw the doctor go to kiss Cicely on the lips, but she turned so he caught only her cheek.
Why won't you tell her? he yelled silently to the couple, as Maturin stepped back through the door. And why won't you tell him?
Shrinking back against the wall, Blakeney waited until the doctor had passed and could hear him climbing the steps to the upper deck before he looked back in her direction. Cicely had seated herself back the desk and was continuing to look at the books.
"Will!" she exclaimed, looking up in surprise when she noticed him standing there. "How are – are you all right?" she said, when she saw his expression.
"I've come to say –" he began, before walking over to the doctor's bed and sitting down on it, holding his head in his hands. "I've…" he stopped, looking beseechingly at Cicely. She crossed the cabin and knelt before Blakeney, who was shaking.
"I've come to say that there's going to be a feast," he said, "a celebration before Captain Pullings sails the Acheron."
"That's good news," said Cicely, comfortingly, then rubbed his arm as tears began to flow. "And I expect Peter would have enjoyed it," she ventured soothingly. He looked at her sharply.
"Yes," he said. "And Tom," he added, before wiping away another tear. "Cicely, is it right what Tom told Captain Aubrey? That you're going to mizzen on the Acheron?" She nodded, and rubbed his shoulder. So that was it: Cicely knew he had a soft spot for her, but didn't quite realise how much he cared for her.
And now, come to think of it, how much she would miss his bright, happy-go-lucky face, keen and eager to become an officer; proudly and valiantly commanding the ship to victory in the battle.
"Captain Aubrey has let me battle for Edward," she said softly. "He will not allow me to stay aboard now; and here is my ideal opportunity to continue in his Service while I decide what to do next." Will looked at her, confused.
"Why can you not stay? You work well as a mizzen; and Captain Aubrey has no reason to complain of your work!" Cicely laughed.
"I'm afraid he does: what about my tendency to fight with other men when I disagree with them? And my insubordination? No, even if I were Robert Young – a boy…" she added, when he looked at her in doubtfully, "and as I'm not, he is far too decent to allow me to be Cicely Hollum."
"But – don't you care for the doctor any more?" Blakeney got to his feet, standing over Cicely. "Don't you remember telling me how you adored him? How you loved him…?" Cicely looked back in shock, getting to her feet and moving over to the window of the doctor's cabin, by his hammock…by his spare set of spectacles marking the pages of Erasmus Darwin's "Zoonomia".
"You do," he continued reproachfully, "I know you do. You loved him when he was ill – dying; you loved him when you married him, and you love him still!"
"Stop it!" Cicely said sharply, turning from the window and making Blakeney jump.
"Yes," she confessed quietly, approaching him gently. "I do. I do love him, and always will. Which is why I can dishonour him no longer and must leave the ship." Stepping towards Will she pulled the dress from the back of the cabin door and folded it over her arm and walked past him.
"But I love you," he called after her, beginning to sob. Cicely stopped dead, dropping the dress onto the floor and hurried back to him. Hugging him tightly, she rubbed his back comfortingly.
"And I you, Will. I'll never forget you. But your destiny lies on another path to mine." Cicely pulled him back and looked him in the eye. "When I read about Admiral Blakeney in the Times," she continued, wiping a tear from his cheek with his thumb, "and his glorious victory over the French; I'll remember you, Will."
"But I heard the doctor and the Captain talking," replied Will, "just now," he added, swallowing. "The doctor wants you to stay; he saw how well you treated Tom..." Cicely shook her head and smiled. He wants me to stay?
"Mr. Blakeney," she turned, but Will stood in front of her. "Please excuse me; I'm to see the Captain and return this." She gestured to the beautiful dress lying crumpled on the floor.
"You can't leave!" he cried, looking at her angrily. "I'll never see you again!"
"Will," she said calmly, trying to contain her emotions. "What use would I be aboard a working battle ship? Yes, I could nurse, and I could educate. When you're older, Will, you'll understand."
"But – "
"My failing," she quavered, her heart stinging as she spoke to the boy, "is that I am a woman, Will. Despite myself, I love him. With every fibre of my soul. And if I remain, I will be tormented because I know he could never love me back. That, rather than a gunshot, or a cannon, or sickness…" she held his shoulders, "will hurt me, will kill me," she put her hand to her chest, "here. I'm leaving Will because I will not be able to bear that."
"But he heard you!" he exclaimed. "When you were ill! He heard you tell him you loved him! And you told me about how you were lost in his green eyes!" Cicely smiled, gently. He didn't understand. How could he? He was only thirteen and besides her and his mother, he had never been in the company of females.
"I'll never forget your keeping of my promise, " she said, kissing him on the cheek before getting to her feet. "I'll miss you." Cicely turned and, picking up the dress, walked hastily towards the steps. The hardest thing will be telling James, she thought, as she began to climb the steps, he'd been through a lot. But from what she'd heard he was ripe for promotion now he was stronger.
"Cicely!" she heard Blakeney call after her. When she got to the deck she stopped and waited for him to catch her up.
"Good luck, Will," she said, smoothing down his hair.
"I'll miss you, Cicely," he replied, smiling. "We won't ever have a mizzenlad as good as you."
Cicely turned and began to walk without turning to look at Will she rapped on the door of the Captain's cabin.
"I understand that you have accepted the offer from Mr. Pullings to return to Portsmouth, mizzening the Acheron?" Cicely nodded as the Captain spoke. "If I may say, a wise decision. Your husband has agreed, of course.
"Before I leave, please accept this." Cicely held out the dress in which she had been wed. Aubrey frowned and shook is head.
"No," he said. "Sophie has too many dresses. You may keep it. And besides, it was your wedding dress." Cicely stopped, and looked back at the Captain, still holding it aloft.
"I don't think I'll be needing it for mizzening," she said slowly. Jack watched as she draped it over the back of the Queen Anne chair.
"No doubt you'll make a good job of it I'm sure. I must thank you for your work tending my sick men: Dr. Maturin informs me that even he could not have made as good a job with Captain Pullings as you did yourself." He looked up from his desk and looked at Cicely in her tunic that she had found time to repair herself, lengthening hair and boys' britches, before turning and surveying the ocean.
"I do have another offer for you to consider: a promotion from mizzenlad to nurse. Now I do not make this offer lightly, but it is not every day that a mizzenlad uncovers the identity of an enemy spy and saves her Captain's life." Cicely smiled with pride, despite herself.
"I think it is wise for me to leave, sir," she said slowly. "You've done more than enough for me. I wish to alleviate you both of your responsibilities." Jack turned, and looked at her carefully.
"What will you do, when you return to England?"
"Find work," said Cicely. "My father believes me to be dead. I cannot contemplate what he will do if he finds I am alive. A trade, I expect; Robert Young could become apprenticed, at least."
"And you wouldn't consider staying to assist your husband?" Jack sat down in his chair, and noticed her flinch. "I could not tolerate your residence a-nights with the men of course, and you must declare your status as the doctor's wife, however this may be preferable than chancing your luck back in England…"
"It was an honourable thing he did in marrying me, sir," Cicely replied, shaking her head. "If I were to remain, I don't believe I could bring him anything but shame." Aubrey looked at her for qualification. "I do not love him," she confirmed. There. She had declared it. She did not love Stephen Maturin. Aubrey got to his feet.
"Then it's agreed, Miss Hollum," he said, smiling as he extended a hand. "I release you from my service and wish you well." Cicely returned the smile and shook his hand. "Captain Pullings leaves at mid-afternoon. A celebratory feast is prepared; collect your belongings together and report to the mess."
"Yes, sir," she said, then saluted, before opening the door. Stepping out, Cicely turned to the right, and headed down to the berths.
Jack sat back down to his desk and picked up his quill. He looked at the orders he had nearly finished writing for Tom, adding "Robert Young" to the list of crew departing the Surprise. Just then, there was a knock on the door.
"Ah, Mr. Blakeney. What may I do for you?" Aubrey put down his quill and looked at the boy, who appeared agitated.
"There's something important you need to know, Captain – "
Following the feast, where the men and officers had dined together, Cicely descended to the berth and said her goodbyes to the crew. The first person she told had been her pair. James had patted her on the back a few times, and had taken it better than she had expected, or at least better than she would have done, Cicely had thought, if she had been losing him.
Before she turned to farewell the others, he had pressed into her hand a pocket watch, explaining that it had been his grandfather's When Cicely had tried to refuse, the look James had given her was one of such hurt that she had taken it and fastened the chain to the buttonhole on her tunic, so the face glimmered in the candlelight.
"Ar," said Nagel, clapping her on the back. "'s good to see yer go," he said, grinning at her.
"Good?" said James, looking horrified.
"Ar," he confirmed, clapping James on the back. "Leaves more Frenchies for the rest of us next time!" Cicely turned to Nagel who put something in her hands.
"For Mrs Warley. Just wanted 'er to know 'bout Will. That he died honourably fer us," he said. Cicely nodded, recalling the stormy cold night that the main mast was lost and Warley lost with it.
Cicely then looked across at the other men; Wade; Finch and Hoole, plus others beside, all clutching parchment; letters for their loved ones, no doubt.
Once she had stowed them into her hessian roll, Cicely made her way up to the deck, and stood with the other men who were to depart with the Acheron under Captain Pullings.
They saluted Captain Aubrey, who was overseeing their departure from the Surprise, and Killick began to pipe their departure.
Cicely glanced along the faces at the officers on the quarterdeck: Captain Aubrey, newly-promoted 1st Lieutenant Mowett and Midshipmen Heald and Donnay. Behind them, she could see the figure of Stephen Maturin, in the same dress coat he wore when they had been married.
Don't look, she told herself as she saluted and turned with the others, facing the back of Fitzherbert. Just as Killick piped the last note, she stepped forward, and onto the kick-plank.
"Cicely!" She turned to see Will before her. "Didn't you speak to the Captain?" Cicely glanced up at Aubrey, whose face had turned stormier at Blakeney's breaking with protocol.
"Yes, Will," she whispered, holding out a hand. "You know my decision. Goodbye," she added. Will shook her hand, looking over his shoulder and glancing at the Captain. Cicely turned to go again, but Will held her onto her hand.
"Will!" she interjected, aware that the men were watching her intently.
"Mr. Blakeney, do not delay that man in his duty!" Aubrey commanded from the quarterdeck, before stepping down to the foredeck.
"But sir –" Will shouted, then stopped, turning to Cicely.
"You must stay," he insisted, looking at her earnestly.
"But you love him!" Cicely felt a murmur ripple through the assembled men as Blakeney broke her trust loudly.
"Will," she said, ignoring his last comment, "I cannot nurse here; I'm a far better mizzen. And you are quite wrong," she glanced up at Aubrey who had appeared behind Blakeney. "There is nothing between the doctor and myself." She shook her hand free.
"And he loves you!" Blakeney shouted. Cicely looked around before crouching to his level, a tear welling in her eye. She lowered her voice to a whisper.
"You are wrong, Mr. Blakeney, sir. He cannot love me for I am a mizzenlad under Captain Pullings of the Acheron. Had circumstances been different, I would gladly nurse under Captain Aubrey, of the Surprise." And you would do well to remember it, she scolded herself.
"Er, Robert Young." Cicely got to her feet again, and looked at Aubrey. But it was clear it wasn't the Captain who had spoken.
And from behind him, Doctor Stephen Maturin stepped forward, and stood before her.
"I accept the appointment of Mrs Cicely Maturin to nurse aboard the Surprise under my direction, and wish to tell her…" he paused, but did not break his gaze "…that she is wrong in her assumption of my affection."
Maturin stepped towards her, and held out a hand for her to step down back onto the deck of the Surprise. The world spinning about her, Cicely took it.
"How could I not love you Cicely Hollum?" He asked quietly, pulling her into his arms. "You are brave, selfless…beautiful…" Cicely looked down, but Stephen picked up her chin and she shivered as he looked into her eyes, his own dazzling bright.
"It is also quite alarming your ability to handle a blade, I shall be in fear of my position as surgeon aboard this ship." Stephen stroked his hand across her back.
"Cicely!" said Will, quickly, but Jack Aubrey hushed him into silence.
Looking once more into her eyes, Stephen Maturin caught her in his arms, and pressed his mouth to hers. The world around Cicely melted away to leave just them both, together.
"Three cheers for the doctor. Three cheers for Robert Young…huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!"
One of these days I should pen the music to an air, thought Cicely, as she heard the ship's doctor and captain tune their strings. Maybe an aria; a change from Mozart and Handel at least.
Cicely looked at James, newly promoted to able seaman, being shown the ropes by Nagel, and Will Blakeney at the prow teaching the middies the sextant. She waved as Blakeney saw her, before guiding Daniel Richards' eye to the level of the mid-morning sun.
On second thoughts, it was their time; their friendship had endured despite Jack Aubrey's reservations. Their difference united harmoniously when they spent time together; Stephen came back from their evenings spent together enlivened and invigorated with a different eye for his work.
Cicely sighed and looked across the foredeck as a couple of the new mizzenlads step out onto the deck, bucket in hand. It should be her teaching them; she was as able as Frobisher.
However following the drama of recapturing the Acheron almost two months ago and her own domestic insurgency, Cicely had noticed the Captain was becoming more liberal with respect to her status amongst his crew and at a turn, Stephen more conservative, even chiding her for allowing the crew to speak informally to her.
Cicely had pointed out that, as a free woman, she was at liberty to put herself forward for mizzenlad again to which Jack, much to Stephen's annoyance, had stated that, as the best mizzenlad on the high seas Robert Young would be more than welcome as part of the Surprise's crew.
"Shall I go onto the next page, Sissy?" asked Pizzy, looking at her earnestly. Her self-extension to teaching the men to read had brought acclaim from both men, for which Cicely had been happy; she didn't think she could tolerate only the role of nurse to the men.
Bringing enlightenment through literacy was enough to keep her amply busy, she had overheard her husband comment to Aubrey, however Cicely was aware that Stephen Maturin knew her far better than she cared to admit, and as such, she there were some unspoken lines over which she hadn't crossed, including visiting her old shipmates below.
Cicely turned over the ship's Bible to the story of Jacob, pointing to the verse from where Pizzy should begin.
Now the Surprise was travelling back from Ecuador to the Galapagos Islands where she and Stephen would disembark until Aubrey's business in Singapore was concluded. The doctor had work to do, to uncover the secrets hidden in plain view upon these islands.
But there were other secrets too, ones bigger than these islands and the natural pursuits involved in discovering them held; bigger still than her gender.
Cicely stroked her stomach lightly through the blue Chinese silk of the unwieldy dress as the tall mountains of Rodondo rock loomed on the horizon.
If it's a boy, Edward she thought, before turning and watching Maturin return to his work that he had left laid out on the other side of the deck, lost in thought.
"That was clearly read," said Cicely, bending her knees to Pizzy's level, watching him go as the lad grinned happily at the praise.
She turned the pages of the Bible to the book of Judges, chapter three, verse one, then sat Cicely-like, cross-legged on the deck. Pizzy sat next to her and she began to point out the words as he read aloud…thinking about her life…and Edward…and the future…
…every cloud has a silver lining.