By 0100, as the watch bell rang, my anger had somewhat dissipated. I no longer felt the rage bubbling in my blood! I decided to retreat to my cabin, and try to get some sleep! We would need all our reserves of strength when we reached the island!!
Dawn broke into my slumber, with sunlight beaming in shafts through the leaded glass windows of my cabin! Sounds from the deck drifted down to me. We were making good passage, I could tell by the slosh of water running along the ship’s side! I sat up, we were still heeling to port, the wind would seem to have held throughout the night! I had been asleep for about 6 hours! I felt refreshed and ready for the day, whatever it might bring! I then remembered the burial at sea service that I was due to perform during the forenoon watch…and my sadness returned! I washed in cold seawater from a jug on the wash-stand. Seaman Godfrey had knocked on my door when I had retired in the early hours, to replenish my usual fresh water supply with salt water…we needed to ration our fresh water reserves now that we had guests to think about! The water was cold, and smelt of brine. No doubt I would be left with a surface patina of white salt after I had dried! I sighed……but we had no options at the present.
I went on deck, after dressing in my best uniform rig, my heart was heavy. I hated having to do sea burials! Stepping through the hatch to the maindeck, I was aware of bright sunlight which hurt my eyes….a sign of bad weather in the offing? I might be wrong! The Westcountryman Jenkins had the watch. He hurried to report as I walked towards the lee rail.
“Wind still from the East Cap’n! Shifted a little during my watch! Backed a little more easterly sir! Speed is around ten knots! I have taken a sun setting….from our star sighting last night at midnight until now, I estimate we have made 87 miles! I have marked the chart sir…that leaves us with seven hundred miles to go to the island! I could cram on more speed with stuns’ls set sir?”
“No Mr Jenkins! We have the rails awash now!” All we needed was a broken yard, or worse still, a topmast broken!
“Send word for Mr Benney to join me would you?”
“Aye aye sir!” Jenkins scurried below, I walked aft to the sterncastle break…we were indeed making excellent progress, but, I would have to stop the ship to do the burial service!…or would I? I pondered for several minutes!! What if I conducted it from the quarterdeck? Off the stern? We could maintain our speed and course and not lose another valuable ten or twelve sea miles! I pondered the question as I climbed the poop ladder….It would be possible! We could rig the sled inboard of the after rail..I could also dip our colours at the point of burying the dead! My mind made up I retreated to the deck, to be met by Mr Benney.
“Mr Franklin’s compliments sir! There might be another to bury within the hour! But the first two ladies are prepared sir! I will bring them atop when we heave to sir?”
“No Mr Benney! I am sure the ladies would have liked us to make best speed to avenge them! We will do the burial service on the quarterdeck! Slip them from the stern rails whilst we’re underway! I think they wouldn’t mind too much!…It would take us half an hour to take in sail and then half an hour for the burial service, another half an hour to set sail again…in all we would lose time to the extent of nearly 20 miles!!! I don’t think the ladies would approve either do you?”
“But it would not be dignified sir!!” I was slightly shocked at Benney’s curt reply! Then realised, that as a West Country man…he held religious beliefs in high regard!
“Nevertheless Mr Benney! That is my intention! Be so good as to arrange it if you please! And….let me know if there will be two or three? I intend to bury them at 4 bells in the forenoon watch!”
“Aye aye sir!” Benney strode with purpose across the deck! His displeasure plain to perceive!
Jenkins walked towards me as I strode towards the steering platform.
“Cap’n sir? What time shall I call the topmen to take in sail?”
“We’re not heaving-to Mr Jenkins! They will be buried with full dignity whilst the ship is still underway…from the quarterdeck!”
Jenkins also looked shocked!
“With due respect sir! It is a burial service! I urge you to think again! The crew might not like it either sir!”
I pondered his point for several minutes…he might be right! I had a good crew, no malingerers, good men! True and loyal! I would ask their opinions!
“Right Mr Jenkins! Clear lower decks if you please! I will ask them!!”
I turned abruptly and left him standing open mouthed! He shook his head slowly and walked to the crews mess….I heard the muted cry of “Clear Lower Decks!”I climbed the poop ladder and stood with my hands braced on the poop rail, watching as seamen stumbled through the companionway ladders….
Ten minutes passed, then I got the message that all hands were indeed on deck except for the watchkeepers from the Morning watch who were catching some well earned rest!
I looked at their sea of faces, and wondered how many would wish me to heave-to?…how many, like me wanted to spill some blood? And…how many like me, felt the quicker the better!!!
(To be cont.......................)