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 using 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, and then wondered why she had done so. Chiding herself as she remembered what she had been through to get there 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 him.
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's 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.