Chapter 16

I have just discovered the way that i can insert horizontal lines to separate the scenes, so hopefully it's going to be much clearer than before! Happy reading! And happy Easter!

Kennedy looked on with shock as the yardarm swung across the deck. He watched transfixed as Catherine fell down onto the deck, the yardarm swinging across her falling body. With blood rushing loud in his ears, he rushed over to the unmoving body of Catherine, another shudder cursed to the Renown and another yardarm creaked ominously.

"Mr Kennedy, man the capstan!"

The order ran loud and clear in Kennedy's mind despite the roaring of the fight, as he reached Catherine. Her division or what was left of it had grouped around her as did the midshipman, Stuart. Brushing them aside, he felt her pulse, no sign of bleeding. She was just knocked out cold.

"Mr Kennedy!"

A splinter flew through the air beside his head. Turning towards Hornblower and his disapproving frown, he shouted over the din, "Mr Stuart, get Mr Porter to Dr Clive immediately!"

Kennedy watched with fear growing in his stomach for her, as two men unceremoniously carried her below, dodging and ducking under the debris strewn deck. He turned back to the task at hand with a heavy heart. Peering into the sea, he could see Hornblower and Bush in two launches as the Spanish shot down at them, Kennedy hurried down below, slipping down the flight of stars in his haste. He felt a strange sense of disembodiment, as his mind was acting of its own accord, a program that was entered into his head since the age of fourteen as a midshipman.

"Man the capstan!" he shouted. "Come on, look lively!"

The men rushed around, preparing to push. Their actions considerably less sluggish than Kennedy had expected. Possibly due to the pressing urgency that arose from the desperate situation they were currently in. The ship gave a sickening lurch, creaking in protest against the strain. According to his trained ear, it won't be long before the boat would no longer be able to hold itself against the unrelenting act from the fort. The Renown was a fine ship, but even fine ships cannot last forever. Between decks, there was a putrid stench. The stench of blood hung in the air mixed with the scent of burning powder. The heat compounded this effect. The smell of singed wood also hung heavy in the air from the many heated shot that was flung at the hull. Kennedy waited desperately for bush to appear. To signal that they were ready to heave the Renown off the reef. His fingers could not help and jitter. In a moment of peaceful agitation, his thoughts stayed on Catherine, her expression as the yardarm knocked her out cold. He wondered what was happening on deck without her directing the unfurling of the sails and the preparation to sail out of the bay. Splinters flew constantly through the air. Nothing could be clearly heard over the sounds of the battle.

"Come on! Heave! Heave!" Bush's booming loud voice cried over the din. Kennedy whipped around, joy in his heart slowing seeping through like the light at the end of a long and dark tunnel. He turned back to the men at the capstan.

"Heave! Heave!"

Slowly, he could hear a slow creaking sound as the anchor pulled taunt against the Renown. More splinters flew through the air. The men stopping pushing for a moment. He cried louder.

"Heave! Heave!" He threw himself against the capstan too, crying "Heave!"

The other lieutenants joined him too. Slowly with each agonizing heave, the ship began to move under their feet. Slowly, slowly, the Renown righted itself. Happiness welled up in Kennedy's chest. They had hope.

Catherine's eyelids felt very, very heavy. She attempted to open them. But it was fruitless and pathetic. She groaned slightly. She moved her finger. Her whole body felt heavy, it was sinking into her cot. There was a slow swinging motion as the cot moved back and forth. She was still at sea. Weakly, she tried again to open her eyes. Yes, she could see the wooden boards on top of her now. A hammer drummed inside her head. She groaned again. There wasn't much light, she assumed it was candlelight, so it was probably night time. There was something in the air, a very unpleasant smell. It was sweat. Her sweat from wearing her frock coat. How long did she sleep for? She couldn't tell. Slowly memories began to flood back into her mind which before had been a blankness of pure bliss. These memories were enough for her to sit straight up in her cot. Pain blinded her as her head throbbed more strongly.

What happened in the battle? Was the Renown captured by the Spanish? Was she even on the Renown? Where was the captain? How are Kennedy and the other lieutenants? Panic seized her as she stumble from her cot to where her sword sat on her sea chest at entrance to her berth. As her fingers closed around the hilt, she paused. Her head throbbed and she confusedly touched her sea chest with the lamp on it. The familiar lettering of Henry Porter HMS Renown engraved on a metal plate fixed on it. Catherine remembered that her chest always sat near the entrance to her berth and that she always put her sword on it. That her greatcoat still hung on the bulwark. Untouched. The deck creaked above her. Booted footsteps of the officer of the watch resonated above. It was all very familiar. Feeling suddenly very foolish, she realised that she still was on the Renown and judging that she was still in her berth with her sword, the Renown was not captured or sank in which case she would be a ghost which was positive that she was not.

Catherine's head still ached but less than when she first woke up. The last thing she saw was the yardarm swinging towards her. She assumed that is was what make her unconscious. But how long was she unconscious for? God, she thought, she had been knocked out cold while the others probably played hero by bringing the ship out in one piece. So much for dear Mr Porter's career. She scoffed. Slowly, she dipped her hand into the washbasin which was still filled with clear water. Seawater of course, but it was cool and clean on her feverish skin as she splashed her face with it. Wiping her hands on a slightly soiled napkin, she picked up her sword, sliding it back into her belt and proceeded with some degree of caution onto the deck.

Slowly, still breathing heavily, Catherine treaded her way up the stairs onto the upper gundeck where she could detect the forms of sleeping figures huddled in their respective hammocks. Lanterns swung lazily to and fro above her head. Unsteadily, she hauled herself up onto the quarterdeck, her head still hurting.

"Sir!" A voice cried out in surprise from the railing beside her. In the dim light, she could make out the a small figure with the hat of a midshipman. Heads began to turn her way as Stuart cried out in surprise.

"Mr Stuart, good evening." Her voice came out thicker and heavier than her usual voice. She quickly scanned the deck, hoping to catch a glance of Kennedy. Or anything that would betray to her what had happened during the time she had been indisposed for. Turning back to her midshipman, she asked: "How had it been since the battle?"

"No more than two days sir!" was the bright reply. "We took the fort but it was under siege from the slaves, so we had to blow it up and Messrs Hornblower, Bush and Kennedy did a mighty good job of it and came back to tell the tale! But that was after we managed to capture the three Spanish ships as prizes. And we managed to keep everyone from the fort as prisoners in the brig to take to Kingston!"

Stuart could almost have puffed up his chest if he had the choice. But he was already standing as tall as he possibly could under the extreme pride he felt. Catherine frowned, her head continued to throb and she was aware of her hunger.

"What of the captain?"

"The captain was confined to his cabin for days now, ever since we left the bay!" Stuart had taken pains to keep his voice lowered as he said this.

"Thank you, Mr Stuart" she tried to maintain a light casual tone, but she could not share Stuart's enthusiasm. They were going to Kinston with a captain that was confined to his cabin. Her heart sank slowly as the implications of her words sank in. Even Sir Edward Pellow at Kingston may not be able to protect them.

"I'm taking the watch because we are short, Mr Hornblower is commanding the prizes and you being indisposed of….." he trailed off, embarrassed by what he just said.

Catherine muttered an intelligible reply to Stuart, not having heard what he just said. Sawyer had just walked past, an inch from her, guided by Hobbs who had draped his arm protectively over Sawyers's shoulders, murmuring into Sawyer's ear. Sawyer did not even have on a coat. His linen shirt was stained and yellow. His hair stuck out at odd angles even more than usual. His beady eyes were unfocused and his gait unsteady. Catherine could not feel but a little pity for the former naval hero. She had met his daughter and his family. They were a happy family. But she was still unsettled but she knew where they were going.

As Sawyer and Hobbs disappeared below onto the gundeck, Catherine quietly followed suit, trying to tread as stealthily and trying to keep her headache at bay. Down two flights of stairs into the lower gundeck. The hatch was open tonight as well. The step underneath her feet creaked. And she inwardly groaned. But Hobbs and Sawyer noticed nothing. They were bending over that hatch. That same damn open hatch. And they were murmuring. Her blood literally went cold. Cold sweat trickled down her forehead. Pain hammered her skull. She gritted her teeth. She did not need to go any nearer to guess the words of their conversation. Or Hobbs part at least.

Catherine watched from the shadows cast by a lonely lantern as Wellard stepped out.

"Evening Mr Hobbs." Wellard greeted Hobbs in a surprisingly clear voice. "There is no use his mind is lost."

Hobbs face broke into a sneer.

"You of all men would wish that!"

Wellard did not move, with jaws that tensed he muttered with determination: "I did not push him."

Catherine felt the touch of wool in her hand before a dull thud as Sawyer lay in the hold below. She felt cold, wondering just what did Sawyer see when he fell. Another set of footsteps sounded. It was Kennedy. Catherine dug her nails into her palm. She waited with breathless anticipation for Sawyer's reaction. She wondered whether she too should step out. But there was no opportunity.

Sawyer raised a bony hand, pointing shakily at Kennedy.

"I remember you!"

Catherine's eye momentarily widened.

"You're Admiral de Puresse!" he exclaimed. Catherine frowned. But she could not see Kennedy or Wellard's reactions to such a declaration. Hobbs however had a furious expression. His nostrils flared and his brows knitted in anger.

"Please take the captain back into his cabin." Kennedy said mildly.

"I swear he will remember. If not today, then tomorrow, but he will remember." Hobbs declared darkly. Catherine silently hoped that he would never as she silently treaded back the way she came before Sawyer and Hobbs discovered her presence and demand why she did not show herself. Such a confrontation that she would rather avoid at all costs especially when her head still felt like it was going to be split into two with every jarring step.