|"C'est dans le besoin qu'on reconnaît ses vrais amis."
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
Despite feeling a little tipsy after yet another evening spent in the company of two bottles of wine and a pretty young lady going by the name of Jenny, Midshipman James Norrington, just a few weeks shy of his lieutenant's exam, was still alert enough to realise that the noises coming from the longboat were not supposed to be there. He looked around, but there was nobody in sight, so he decided to examine the matter himself. A quick pull on the canvas, and he saw two pairs of eyes staring at him.
"Good grief, what are you two doing there?"
It was a rhetorical question. Finding one half-undressed seaman in the company of a pretty girl in a longboat in the middle of the night, Norrington didn't have to be a clairvoyant to see what was going on.
"If we assume that you're doing what I assume you're doing, you should not only take into account that it's morally wrong and sinful, but also very dangerous. Our captain is not known for great leniency."
That was the understatement of the year. Captain Norrington went by the nickname of 'Iron Charlie', and his younger brother already counted the days until he could leave the 'Relevance' behind for good. Watching good men being flogged for ridiculous 'offences' made his stomach turn. Certainly it was possible to maintain discipline aboard a ship with other measures?
At a glance, James and Charles Norrington bore a great resemblance. But one look into their eyes made it very clear that any similarities were superficial. Charles stood high in his father's favour, getting his captain's commission at a very young age, with many recommendations to his name. James, on the other hand, could only provide a great number of borrower's notes, due to his great love for beautiful women and dice of which the latter was, unfortunately, not accompanied by good luck.
When yet another demand for alimony was found among the borrower's notes, old Admiral Norrington had decided that it would be best for his younger son to serve under 'an iron command' so he may 'learn how the Navy works'. So far, all James Norrington had learned from his older brother was how the Navy should not work.
And now he had these two miscreants here. How old were they – 16? 17?
"Your name, if you may please."
"Thomas Gillette, Mr. Norrington, Sir," the youth stammered.
"Now then, Mr. Gillette, you're certainly aware that I have to inform the captain of this incident?"
Gillette paled. He knew what that meant. Norrington knew it as well, and looking at Gillette, who seemed to consist of nothing but skin and bones, Charles' 'disciplinary action' would very likely cause serious and lasting injuries. And what for? Two youths fooling around? This was hardly an offence that endangered the security of the 'Relevance' or the British Empire!
He shook his head.
"Leg it, you two. And make sure you won't be caught again; next time you might encounter someone with less lenience than me."
For a moment, the youths stared at him as if he had sprouted a second head. Then the girl jumped out of the boat and ran towards the gangway as if the devil was right behind her. Gillette climbed carefully out of the boat, his face red with shame.
"Thank you, Sir," he murmured.
"Go now, quick," James shooed him off. Gillette didn't need a second call and disappeared into the darkness.
James was just about to pull the canvas back into place when he heard steps behind him. He turned around and was greeted by the sight of Captain Charles Norrington and David Blane, the 2nd lieutenant.
"Well, well, well - now what are you doing here at this late hour, Mr. Norrington? Inspecting the longboat?"
James was so taken by surprise that he couldn't reply right away.
"I thought I heard some noise, Sir," he finally said. That wouldn't have convinced the cabin boy, yet his brother, and quite right, Charles was not amused. He pulled back the canvas, reached into the boat and picked up a bright red ribbon. The girl must have lost it.
"That's interesting, Mr. Norrington, don't you agree? Let me help your memory: is it possible you had a meet up with somebody here? A little tryst, maybe?"
"No, Sir," Norrington replied, who began to see what direction this conversation was taking. "I've not arranged to meet anybody."
"So how do you explain the ribbon then? Certainly not part of our uniform, is it?" Charles snapped.
"I can't explain it, Sir."
Charles stepped closer to his brother, and wrinkled his nose in disgust when he smelled the wine.
"You're a disgrace to our family, James. Wine, gambling and now this! I promised our father that I'd make a decent seaman out of you, and I intend to keep that promise. By God, I'll beat that demon out of you!"
He turned his back to James.
"Ten lashes for Mr. Norrington, Mr. Blane, for - well, 'indecent behaviour' will do, I guess."
"But Charles…" James tried to protest.
"And ten extra lashes for him as the other guilty part unfortunately went missing. That is, of course, unless Mr. Norrington will tell us who the other guilty part is."
James clenched his jaw.
"As there is no guilty part at all, I can't say anything," he said firmly.
"As you wish, it's your back, not mine, James. Ten extra lashes for disrespect towards a superior, Mr. Blane."
"I'm a midshipman! You can't have me flogged, this is against the law, Charles!"
The captain spun around.
"Aboard this ship, I am the law, James, and as far as you are concerned, I'm God! Nine more lashes, makes a total of thirty-nine."
He walked away without a second glance at his brother. Blane followed his captain with greatest approval. What an example for discipline this would give to the men! Punishing his own brother in such a harsh way! Of course, the crew wouldn't like it, but thirty-nine lashes were hardly a reason for a mutiny.
James had to hold onto the railing. His hands trembled and he thought he would have to throw up any moment. Thirty-nine lashes!
* * *
Ragetti's random notes: midshipmen, the "young gentlemen", were not subjected to the same rough corporal punishment as the "common seamen". James Norrington could have made a petition with the Admiralty against his brother, but as Charles Norrington was a major git and James Norrington was not, we'll unfortunately meet him again in one of the later chapters.
|CHAPTER 17: Old Debts
by Molly Joyful