Title: Rain on the Just
Word Count 900
Rain on the Just
Robert Eccleston was clenching his toes.
Clench, relax, clench relax, like someone making a fist. Logically the motion ought to warm them, or at least warm the water in his shoes. But all it did was drive the cold misery around in circles. When he removed his shoes later, he knew his toes would be white, the toenails almost blue, and the skin soggy and miserable. It had been raining for four days. Justinian leaked. Well, all ships leaked. But she was the worst he'd ever known. All of his stockings were already wet. He had no confidence that the rain would ever stop.
He pictured Justininan with a storm cloud over her forever-- forgotten by the rest of the sunny world.
“Mr Eccleston Sir--”
The midshipman was squaring his jaw, to stop his shivering. His face had been pinked by the wind this morning. It had been one of the few bits of color in the whole damn place. Now it was white. His lips were pale. He was wet to the skin too, despite his waxed boat-cloak. His hat was sagging.
“Yes Mr Kennedy.”
“Captain's compliments Sir, and he says to attend in his cabin.”
“Very well, Mr Kennedy.” Eccleston nodded. The boy turned away. Eccleston cleared his throat. “Mr Kennedy?
“Would you go to the galley please and fetch a cup of coffee for Mr Chad here?” Chad looked up, startled out of his own dull misery.
Kennedy assented and departed rapidly. If the boy had any sense he would steam a moment by the galley stove, and drink a cup himself.
“Thank you--' Chad murmured.
“Something to warm you, Francis.” Eccelston said. “He should be back quickly, he's a good lad.” There were some mids who would dawdle in their tasks, never be to hand where you looked for them. Kennedy was not one of those. He was brisk in his duties, for the most part.
Eccleston stepped into the passageway. It was still relatively cold here. Fire was a bad idea on any ship. But there was no wind here and no rain. The relief was immediate. He tucked his hat under his arm, and clawed at his hair. Best not to report to Keene with it entirely ahoo. Not, Eccleston thought, that the old man would care. He was kindly, if preoccupied. And his eyes were dim.
His voice had a proper snap to it, relic of years of habit, even if it was cracked with age. The door swung open.
The old man blinked up at him, then stopped to honk into an enormous handkerchief. He waved impatiently at Eccleston.
“Sit down man, don't stand there like a costive stork.”
Eccleston sat. It was even warmer nearer the deck. Keene kept heated brick beneath the desk. If Eccleston stayed very still, he reasoned, he would begin producing his own fog bank. His mouth twitched.
“Too bad. I could use a laugh.”
The old man shuffled through he papers on his desk. He seemed not to be looking anywhere in particular, but his hands emerged with a list.
“Hmm-- here we are. Mr Clayton has failed his examinations. He will be returning to our embrace today still a midshipman. Mr Simpson will return tomorrow, no doubt in the same condition. Mr Simpson needs more attention placed on his mathematics. Mr Clayton needs to spend less time dreaming with his violin. The younger boys are bright enough, but they are being set a poor example. As long as we remain at Spithead, we can educate, at least.”
There was a pause here.
“Aye Sir.” Eccleston's voice was dull. He had heard this before. He spoke because an answer seemed to be required.
“Another thing.” Keene shuffled again through the papers.
“There is a new midshipman arriving today. His name is Hornblower. Older than the usual run His father is an old friend of mine. I have not seen the boy since he he was in skirts-- but he seemed likely enough then. He is probably not stupid. Knows nothing of the Navy though.”
Eccleston nodded. His shivering had fined down, and finally stopped.
“That is all.” Keene said. “Wring the water out of young Hornblower once he boards. Then send him up to me.”
Eccleston stood. His toes squished. He had dripped a puddle on the deck. He saluted, and turned away. He heard Keene cough. It made Eccleston want to cough too.
On deck the wind had shifted. The rain was thinner, but more horizontal now. Chad had his long fingers wrapped around a mug.
“Is the coffee good?” Eccleston asked. Stupid question. The coffee was horrid. They all knew it. But it was hot. That was the thing.
“My coffee was good.” Francis Chadd replied. “Or-- well. Umm. It was hot at least.” This one is for you. Mr Kennedy said you looked to need it.”
“Well.” Eccleston said. He did not know hat to say after that.
He squinted through the horizontal rain. There, on watch, was damp dripping, pale lipped Kennedy. His had was going to need blocking.
“Shore- boat ahoy!” shouted Kennedy.