Part 141

Part the One Hundred Forty First: Keeping the Beat





A few hours had passed since the hold was emptied and the oars deployed.  By now the sound of the rammer hitting the deck was doing more than giving the men of the Gale a beat to row for their lives by.




For Hope, the time she was keeping with the rammer was the only thing keeping her awake.




She wasn’t afraid of the Casa for now.  If the ship had finished aiding the vessel the Gale had scuttled, she reasoned, then she’d have already seized them.  Every second the men were rowing and not fighting for their lives against the Spanish, she concluded, made it more likely that they’d still be alive by dawn.




And yet, she felt no greater comfort.  With all lights doused and under a moonless sky, she felt the faces of the rowers in the low light were glowering at her.




She stood on the quarterdeck, watching the crew put their backs into the oars in time with the rhythm she beat out.  The only ones not rowing below were Abigail, Samuels, Charity and van Herck.  The captain was adjusting the tiller to help the Gale make the most of the currents, and the surgeon needed Charity’s help to hold down van Herck’s left leg while he removed the few shards of bone and hanging skin left after one of the Casa’s shots went through it.




The rest of the crew did their best to keep rowing in unison, following the beat Hope stomped out.  But she watched some of the men start to slacken on their oars, their shoulders moving slower and slower out of time with the beat.


And while she couldn’t see them, she just knew there was resentment on their faces…




When she saw a man break and slip forward off his oar, Hope stopped drumming and rushed down to where he was on the deck.  She watched Osei and Herbert lifting Mesnil from the deck by the time she to his side.


“He’s a good lad,” said Herbert, “but probably not so good a rower.”


“Musician!” Sanders called from the quarterdeck.  “Why are ye not at yer station?”


“It’s Mesnil,” Hope replied.  “The strain nearly killed him.”


“And if we stopped for him we’d all be dead soon.  Now get back up here and continue!”


Hope took a look at the faces of the men around her.  The light was still bad, but closer in she thought she could now make out what they thought of her…


“I want to switch!” Hope said.


“What?” asked Sanders.


“He can keep the beat as well as I can.  And I can do some of the rowing.  At least until he’s better.”


There was a long silence as Sanders stood above the crew.  The distance between them gave Hope no sense of what was on her face.


Finally, she flung her hand at Hope in resignation before she returned to the tiller.  Hope handed Mesnil the rammer and grabbed the oars.




The peace of mind at being among the crew made every aching muscle in Hope’s shoulders and arms that night feel so much better.



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All content Copyright © 2009 James Ryan


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