Word Count 790
Disclaimer I do not own Mr Bush,
even less so, his imagined youth
His face and hands were numb with freezing spray His arse was still on fire. Shifting his weight from side to side, did nothing to ease his misery. Will clutched tightly at the shrouds as the 'Hesperus'' rolled. He have to find time somehow to scrub the blood out of his trousers. At least he knew how best to do that. Cold water. Will grimaced. Having four sisters was good for some things.
Far below, faint on the wind, he heard the drums. The rest of the midshipmen were going to eat now, in the smell of hot food, in the close warm cockpit, laughing together, without him. Will's belly was empty and flat and shivering. It had contracted like a fist at the sound on the wind. He was drooling too. He swallowed, automatically.
He fancied for a moment that everyone had forgotten him. He wanted to put his head down and weep, or sleep. He could do neither. Perhaps the fellow mids had forgotten him, but he was sure that Lieutenant Bradley had not. They had shown their workings today, in preparation for inspection by the Captain on Sunday. Bradley, after teaching all week, had found deficiencies in Bush's geometry.
Mr Bradley had, therefore, demonstrated the effects of force and and arc motion by scientifically removing the skin from Will's bottom. And sent him aloft to masthead, to miss dinner.
The long twilight drew in, Will held on. After some time, he found a way to rest his chin, and he watched the shadows waver across the purpling water.
He was high above the ordinary world. The sounds below were muffled and distorted. Will did not own a watch. And the time, passing so slowly, did not really matter. The mast dipped and swung. He swung with it, one boy, alone in the freezing sky.
It was star-dark, by the time he was permitted to climb down. He usually liked the sensation of the deck coming up, fast and faster. He usually felt an inner smile, as he flew flew down, like a raindrop, or a glass bead on a string. But tonight he just wanted to reach the deck without moving his broken skin. He made it finally. He made sure to stand straight before Mr. Bradley, and speak up when spoken to.
“Get below, Mr Bush. I expect better from you in future.”
The berthing below decks was warm and dim. As he had expected, the food was long gone. The other midshipmen were glad enough to see him, but they did not ask him to join their evening games. There were no cards in sight, gambling and card-play were forbidden, of course. But Will knew they could bet on anything, raindrops, insects, anything. Tonight it was a breath-holding contest. They were both pop-eyed as frogs. Will never bet. They had stopped asking, bullying, cozening, long ago. He was poor fun.
It hurt to climb into his hammock. He could not help a hiss escaping from his clenched mouth. He arranged himself on his side, it felt odd to lie that way, he usually lay easy on his back. Will grimaced at the thought.
Nothing to be done. He closed his eyes, and composed his mind for sleep. He thought of the round earth, with the dark covering it like a black cloth draping. He pictured black silk, smoothed down over the land and sea, as if by a kindly hand. This was the dark covered him, and his little home, far away now. His mother and sisters were long asleep. Soft, the dark that covered them, soft the smell and the sound of the leaves by the house. Thinking of it hurt, it hurt in a place deeper than the skin of him.
Midshipmen were homesick. All of them. It was expected of them.
It was a misery that made them equal. It was as universal as trigonometry, or being bent over a gun. There should be comfort, Will thought, in the fact that the sons of earls sniffled too, missing their great estates. But it made Will feel no better.
Best not to think of his mother, or her cooking. Best not to picture his sisters, and the shadows of the trees. It was an absolutely bad idea to think how she reached up now to touch his face, how she saved him hot muffins, wrapped in a dishcloth. It was a bad idea. Far better to think of a kindly hand, draping the globe in darkness, and drawing the silk away to bring the day again. Far better to think of trigonometry.
Thinking of triangles, therefore, William Bush fell asleep.