|"Il vaut mieux Ítre marteau qu'enclume."
It's better to be a hammer than an anvil.
If Captain Charles Norrington noticed the discontented muttering of the crew, he did not show it. Of course he was aware that James hadn't done anything wrong; he had crossed the gangway only minutes minutes before Charles and Blane had approached him. But James must have seen somebody doing something, and had refused to inform his captain! James was undermining his authority, and that was something Charles Norrington couldn't tolerate. James was too lenient, too weak - but he wasn't, and he'd make sure everybody aboard was aware of it!
A decent flogging hadn't killed anybody yet, anyway. At least nobody of importance. Blane had instructed the bosun, who had bristled upon hearing that he was expected to flog the captain's brother, not to hold back during the execution of the punishment. This was to state an example, after all, and the ship's surgeon would be present. Should James break down, he'd interrupt the punishment and have the missing lashes administered later on. The crew would know once and for all that Captain Charles Norrington would not tolerate any insubordination aboard the 'Relevance'.
James couldn't have cared less for Charles' motivations; as far as he was concerned, he would tell people that he was a single child from now on. He was stripped to the waist and bound; that part seemed to be far more humiliating than the actual punishment to follow. Being exposed to the men in such a way, how would they ever be able to respect him again? James couldn't see the anger about an unjust punishment in the eyes of the men gathered on deck; disapproval was radiating from everybody, starting with the ship boys to the seamen right up to the first lieutenant, with exception of Lt. Blane, of course, who watched the proceedings with greatest interest.
James took a firm hold of the ropes, then he turned his head and saw Gillette, standing in the front row. He was glaring with obvious hate at the captain; guilt was written all over his face, and James could see how he battled with his conscience. 'Don't do anything heroic but stupid now, lad', he thought, and when he finally managed to catch Gillette's view, he shook his head slowly, but firmly.
Gillette understood and nodded.
The verdict was read out aloud, accompanied by one of Charles' pompous and annoying little speeches, and James could hear the thongs of the cat draggle across the deck. He prepared for the first lash - the first of thirty-nine, good grief - when he suddenly noticed that Gillette was standing next to him.
"What's that supposed to be? Go 'way there!" the bosun yelled, more worried for the safety of the lad than the upkeeping of discipline during that shameful spectacle.
Gillette reached out. His fingers brushed over James' lips, he placed something between the man's teeth, then quickly returned to his place.
James winced at the metallic taste. 'A lead bullet. How nice. At least I won't bite my tongue off now,' he thought. Gillette's view was now firmly locked with his, and James knew he wouldn't look away, no matter what happened.
He heard the whishing sound of the lash, and then a pain he'd never experienced or imagined in his life before exploded on his back. He bit down hard on the bullet, not wanting to give Charles the satisfaction of hearing him scream.
Only thirty-eight more to go.
* * *
Ragetti's random notes: in the days before anaesthesia, the only easily accessible painkiller was alcohol. When, after a battle, it became necessary to amputate limps or do anything else you really wouldn't have to undergo while you were still conscious, the surgeons put a piece of wood, rope or a bullet between the teeth of the unlucky patients so they wouldn't bite their tongues off. Hence the term "biting the bullet". This also sometimes happened during corporal punishments - if the fellow men of the culprit considered him to be worthy of such support, that is.
|CHAPTER 18: The Flogging
by Molly Joyful