Part 90

Part the Ninetieth: Hope Goes Below Decks



The ship in the distance was getting closer.


Hope looked between the brigantine they was chasing down and Sanders.  The captain went back and forth between the tiller and the corner of the quarterdeck like a cat stalking her prey.  She would adjust the rudder slightly, commanding Campbell to hold steady as she looked through her spyglass before she took the tiller and made a correction.


Just as the Gale got close enough for Hope to make out sailors in the upper rigging of the brigantine, Sanders turned to her as though she only just realized she was there.  “Ye’d best be going below with the others,” she said, “and be ready to offer a song if need be to get the men going.”


Hope made a noise.  It was not an actual word, more like the sound from a beast that wouldn’t move, grunting when the switch was applied.


“There be a better chance this works the less folk we have on deck,” said Sanders.  “And if it don’t and they start firing, yer best place to be is below decks.  Now move yer arse before I have ye in irons for it!”


Hope abandoned all objections and went straight down the hatch to the crew deck.


The whiffs of male sweat and expulsions that would occasionally waft up on deck from below did not prepare her for the full stench of the dead air beyond the hatch.  She felt her head start to spin as her feet reached the bottom of the steps.


Osei took her arm and guided her away from the hatch before it was covered, over to where Charity was standing, a cutlass in her hand.


“So,” Charity asked in a low tone, “l’proie de mer, we are closer, no?”


“We are closing in on her,” Hope replied, trying not to breathe.


“Are you sick, Hope?”


“No, it’s- By God, how do men stand it in here?”


Charity looked at her with a slight smile.  “You’ve never been below deck, have you?”


“Is it that obvious?”


“It takes getting used to.  At the least you have to learn not to think about what you are smelling; the less you have in mind l’source de odeurs, the easier it is to be among them.”


Hope tried to look through the dim light around the crew deck.  As her eyes got used to the gloom, she could make out the men shoulder to shoulder, their weapons in hand, ready for the assault.  She noticed their heavy breathing as they waited, their anticipation causing sweat to form on their brows.


Seeing the men so close together down in the space made thinking about the source of the smells well-neigh impossible…


“What if we don’t attack?” Hope asked.  “It wasn’t a sure thing that we were going to catch up with-”


A dull, loud thud gave the hull a rattle as the bow lurched up.


“What was that?” she asked.


“The jib’s been trimmed,” said Osei.  “We’re pouncing on her.”


The men in the hold growled like dogs about to fight for a piece of meat.  The smells of the men seemed even stronger to Hope now…

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All content Copyright © 2008 James Ryan

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