Captain Fitts gripped the makeshift lectern and stared grimly down at the boards on which were inscribed the Articles of War.
In a terrible voice he boomed “Article Twelve: Every person in the fleet, who through cowardice, negligence, or disaffection, shall in time of action withdraw or keep back, or not come into the fight or engagement, or shall not do his utmost to take or destroy every ship which it shall be his duty to engage, and to assist and relieve all and every of His Majesty’s ships, or those of his allies, which it shall be his duty to assist and relieve, every such person so offending, and being convicted thereof by the sentence of a court-martial, shall suffer death.“
Mr. Midshipman Marlowe stared stonily ahead, full knowing that in the last action three of the landsmen assigned to his watch had done just that, cowering in the cable tier amidst the slime-hardened coils of hawser. That he knew and had not reported this to the Master-at-Arms was severe dereliction of duty. The Captain could disrate him, turn him before the mast as a common sailor subject to naval discipline in its harshest form.
And on the Thebes, naval discipline was at its harshest, worse than any ship he had known, perhaps the worst in the fleet. Three weeks ago Captain Fitts had ordered three thousand lashes for an ordinary seaman who had stolen a watch. The man had died midway through the punishment, lashed to the gangway and denying his crime in horrible shrieks as the full ship’s company looked on.
It was not a sight Marlowe wanted to see again, let alone three times over.
Note: I count myself among the millions of Patrick O’Brian fans, believing that his Aubrey-Maturin Canon is among the best books ever written. When I saw this photo, I couldn’t resist trying my hand in his style. The level of arcane detail in these books is mind-boggling, but if you stick with them you will soon be expert at the language and jargon of the golden age of sail. -JHC