The sun beat mercilessly down upon everyone on deck and the smell of sweat hung heavy in the air as the Renown was prepared to make sail this evening. Men clambered up and down the riggings and shrouds making last-minute inspections of their handiwork. Some men were busy operating the pulleys that carried heavy barrels of salt beef and fermented cabbage over the side of the deck. There was also a coop of chickens that were also brought aboard that will supplement the officers' table in the wardroom. There seems to be no idlers on board at all. To many a landsman, such a display of hectic activity was close to complete confusion.
Cathy felt sweat prickle the back of her neck and cursed her heavy woolen material of her lieutenant disguise climbed aboard the Renown with the ease of four years in a navy disguised first as a midshipman on the Dreadnaught then a lieutenant. She glanced around the quarterdeck.
There stood three officers, two lieutenants lofty and proud in their uniforms and a midshipman who was just a boy.
Cathy paused to examine one of the lieutenants. He had a pair of solemn brown eyes set deep into a pale face with a straight sharp chin. A sense of severity and seriousness radiated from every part of him, from the tufts of curly brown hair showing under the brim of his cocked hat all the way down to the shiny silver buckles on his shoes.
The other lieutenant was almost the complete opposite to his fellow officer. His facial features were less severe and held an air of general liveliness, cheerfulness and a sense of mischief that was hard to place. Such an air cannot even be destroyed by his neatly arranged blond hair or his set of piercing blue eyes. But such differences between the two fellow officers were set aside by the large grins on their faces.
Cathy's initial excitement of meeting her fellow officers was marred by a feeling of worry that settled over her mind when she saw the blond lieutenant. She knew him. She knew him not as Lt. Henry Porter, but as who she really was, Lady Catherine Hudson, daughter of the earl of Exeter. Cathy pulled her cocked hat lower over her eyes. Pray that Archibald Kennedy would not recognize her. Cathy took a deep breath and murmured, "Since I started playing this game, I might as well play to the end."
Cathy walked towards the three officers. She placed one foot in front of the other measuring nonchalantly. Her walk betrayed nothing of her inner fears. She stopped in front of the group, briefly touching her hat to the lieutenants.
"Reporting for duty, sir, Lieutenant Henry Porter, fifth lieutenant," said Cathy keeping her voice level and low.
"Lt. Horatio Hornblower, third lieutenant, Mr. Porter," said the man with the curly hair solemnly and offered Cathy his hand. His eyes never left her face.
Cathy felt unnerved by those incomprehensible brown eyes. She was a good judge of people. But Hornblower's expression was hard to comprehend. Not a trace of his previous merriment was evident on his face.
"Lt. Archie Kennedy, fourth lieutenant," said Kennedy, offering his hand as well.
Cathy shook it as well, giving him a small smile careful not to meet his eyes. He didn't seem to recognize who Lt. Porter really was. Cathy finally let out a breath.
"And you are?" Cathy glanced at the midshipman who almost immediately started to shift from foot to foot and said with forced bravado: "Wellard, sir."
Cathy nodded and smiled brightly, "Good to meet you, Mr. Wellard."
"And you too, sir." Wellard answered, stopping his nervous shifting.
"Welcome aboard, Mr. Porter. It is a great pleasure to meet you. It is also great to know that I'm no longer the junior lieutenant on board," said Kennedy giving her a dazzling smile.
Cathy started to roll her eyes, Kennedy never changed. But she immediately restrained herself.
"It is a pleasure as well, sir," answered Cathy matching his smile with a crooked smile of her own. Addressing both of the officers, she said, "May I ask about the whereabouts of the first lieutenant, sir?"
"The captain would rather you reported directly to him, Mr. Porter," replied Hornblower stiffly. At the mention of the captain his expression darkened.
Cathy nodded and arched one eyebrow. "Aye aye, sir."
Most ships new officers only needed to report to the first lieutenant unless specifically requested by the captain. But Cathy soon dismissed it as being nothing. She slid past the three gentlemen towards the captain's cabin. This was real. She was going to see Captain Sawyer, national hero of the Nile. Cathy raised her arm and knocked on the dark wooden door, anticipation building up in her mind.
"Come in!" A sharp bark erupted from the cabin.
Cathy carefully removed her cocked hat from her head, tucking it under her arm as she emerged into the dim captain's day cabin. As her eyes adjusted to the dimness, she noticed the Captain staring at her with dark beady eyes filled with suspicion across the great table dominating the small room.
The Captain was not a large man, but his commanding presence seemed to fill the entire cabin. He had a long hooked nose which gave him a hawk like look. Wispy hair that could have been blond but was now white could not be tamed by the black ribbon, framed his large face. His dark eyes which still held suspicion peered at her expectantly. He countenance was like that of a lion waiting to pounce on his unexpected prey.
Cathy straightened suddenly feeling self conscience. Her fingers had started to drum on her leg, a bad sign. She stared straight past the captain determined to look confident and unbowed in the presence of this imposing man. She clenched her hands into fists.
"Lieutenant Henry Porter, fifth lieutenant reporting for duty, sir." Cathy found comfort in reciting these all too familiar lines. In those few phrases there was no room for judgment.
"So," he paused, leering at her down his nose. His expression still bore the look of suspicion he had earlier. "You are Lt. Porter, Captain Foster's nephew? "
"Err..Yes sir." Cathy was thrown completely off her guard by the surprising nature of this question.
"Captain Foster praised you most highly throughout the Admiralty and in his most recent letter to me," said Sawyer. He imitated Foster in a high-pitched voice. "Lt Porter is an aspiring young officer. A highly capable man. A very clever man. He passed his examination for lieutenant with the best of praises." He paused before continuing in his usual voice, "On and on and on. You are to prove to me that you are indeed the aspiring and capable officer your uncle claims you are."
Sawyer looked her up and down, sizing her up, taking in her small slight figure and most likely wondering how on earth Captain Foster would praise such a pathetic looking officer.
Cathy winced to herself, hoping the Captain did not sense her discomfort.
"Sir, I am afraid that I was unaware….." Sawyer cut across her.
"However," said Sawyer leaning across the table. "I have also heard that you have been accused of mutiny. "Mutinying against the rightful commander of the sloop HMS Charlotte. Is that not true?"
"No, sir. It was only a misunderstanding."
"No, sir. It was only a misunderstanding."Sawyer mimicked her. His voice suddenly turned dangerous. "If you are to do anything close to conspiring against me, you shall suffer a very painful death."
Sawyer stuck his large nose right in front of Cathy's face.
Cathy jumped before forcing herself to smile.
"It is my greatest pleasure to serve under a captain with such a reputation, sir. Anyone who utter any words of mutiny under your command are the most foolish of fools , sir."
Sawyer's lip twitched upwards.
Cathy could clearly see the contempt written all over his face.
"You are very deceitful, very deceitful, Mr. Porter," muttered the Captain. Suddenly, he barked. "Dismissed, Mr. Porter."
Cathy jumped again.
"Aye aye, sir," said Cathy meekly.
The sunlight and heat of the quarterdeck was blinding.
But Cathy was too engrossed in thinking about Captain Sawyer and his behavior to notice. Captain Sawyer was weird, which the opposite of who the famous naval hero Cathy had come to expect. Cathy frowned, but everyone has their bad days. Sawyer was just having one of his most likely. Slowly, she made her way to Hornblower, Kennedy and Wellard all of whom were observing her quietly.
"Mr. Hornblower, Mr. Kennedy, sir, and Mr. Wellard," greeted Cathy, briefly touching her hat.
"You have just spoken to the captain, Mr. Porter?" asked Kennedy. He smiled pleasantly at her.
"Yes, sir. I have." Cathy inclined her head slightly in acknowledgement. She noticed that Hornblower gave Kennedy a warning look which Kennedy steadfastly ignored. He continued.
"Have you met the Captain before?"
"I am afraid that I have never met the captain before, however I have heard of his achievements and reputation just like we all have, sir," answered Cathy. Hornblower was looking very dangerous.
"Then what do you think of him, if I may ask."
Cathy smiled dryly. Kennedy was fishing, she knew it. She chose her words carefully and diplomatically.
"We have all heard about his accomplishments at sea and in battle as a fighting captain, however I believe I cannot yet make a judgment about the captain as a man only after speaking to him for barely five minutes, sir," replied Cathy slowly.
Shouts and curses erupted from the mess deck below. There was some grunts from someone then cheering rose. Kennedy opened his mouth to ask Cathy another question.
Cathy groaned a fight amongst the hands.
Hornblower who seemed to reach the same conclusion as Cathy, broke in before Kennedy could interrogate her any further about Sawyer.
"Mr. Wellard, see what is going on below decks before it brings the captain on us again," muttered Hornblower.
"Aye aye, sir."
Hornblower glared at Kennedy who finally closed his mouth. Silence surrounded the three lieutenants on the quarterdeck only to be broken by the scuffle below decks. Cathy continued to stare forward observing the activity that on the deck below. The noise from the mess deck grew louder instead of softer. Wellard wasn't succeeding.
"I think I will go help Mr. Wellard, sir," said Cathy finally, breaking the silence.
"Yes." Hornblower nodded. Cathy walked calmly below. The shouts and cheers of the crew became even louder as she drew nearer to the fight.
Below decks, everything was a mess. The noise caused by the brawl seemed twice as loud inside the close quarters. All the crew members were pushing in around the fighters to find the best position to see the fight. Wellard was trying pitifully to tell them to stop.
Cathy pushed roughly through the crowd. Not noticing the lieutenant cocked hat on her head the their midst, the men jostled and pushed her about. Cathy groaned, she was going to have bruised ribs by the time this was finished. She wanted to pull out her pistol and shoot whoever was fighting. Taking in a deep breath, she shouted,
Pushing roughly through the throng of bodies, she stood in front of the two fighters. She gave them a venomous glare.
One of them, reminded her of a rat. His teeth protruded out of his lips and this mouth was slightly pouted also like that of a rat. Even his heavily scarred cheeks added to his rat likeness. The other man was arrogant, with such a large ego that impasses his status.
"Now, what is this about?" she demanded. The arrogant man guffawed loudly in disrespect.
"Let's say a light bit difference of opinions, you might say." Cathy's anger flared.
"You will address me as sir," barked Cathy. "The captain shall hear of this, have no doubts and the two of you would both be punished, severely."
She turned to go. But someone else, a gunner by his uniform was not finished.
"The captain likes his men to have some bare knuckle sometimes. Keeps them ready for the real thing, sir." The 'sir' was full of contempt.
"But you have disobeyed a direct order from a superior officer," said Cathy, gesturing at Wellard next to her. She glared at him.
There were footsteps on the stairs and Hornblower's voice rang out.
"And the punishment for that is death." Silence greeted her words.
Cathy gave the two men another glare before passing through the crew back onto the quarterdeck.
On the quarterdeck, Sawyer was already there. He gave the three lieutenants as they came up a hard look.
"It does not take three lieutenants to settle a brawl between the hands," he barked. "You are here to keep order. But what use are you to me when not one of you but all three of you are needed just to settle one brawl. You are all a lazy and incapable bunch."
Cathy opened her mouth to defend herself and the others who stood stiffly beside her. But she closed it again.
Sawyer glanced at them again, "Now! Get back to your watch, all of you!"
"Aye, aye, sir." Cathy muttered.
"Aye, aye, sir."
"Aye, aye, sir."
Sawyer unwaveringly ignored them while they made their way to the back of the quarterdeck. He glance imperiously at the sails and riggings.
"Mr. Buckland, get the ship under way," Sawyer ordered.
"Loosen, topsails!" Buckland shouted. Men immediately started to scale the shrouds and the order echoed around the ship.
Cathy glanced at the yardarms.
The wind picked up, billowing the sails.
Cathy saw in her mind's eye the shape of the Renown, the majestic ship sailing away with billowing sails into the sunset and endless horizons. She smiled slightly to herself, this was what she enjoyed, adventure. Adventure that could not be marred by hardships. This was what she lived for.