Nicholas Monsarret's The Cruel Sea with Mary Renault's The Charioteer. Witten for Lilliburlero in Yuletide 2014. PG-13.
Torpedoed 200 miles off the coast
of Iceland, Compass Rose's crew manage to launch both lifeboats.
As they struggle to survive the first night, the boats drift apart,
leaving Sub-lieutenant Ferraby in sole charge of an injured Captain,
eight ratings, and passenger Lieutenant Ralph Lanyon, RNVR.
"Give me a hand, Ferraby, and let's get him over the side," said Lieutenant Lanyon.
The corpse was not Baker. It was a charred, filthy thing, covered in oil, the frozen angle of its head and limbs so fundamentally wrong Ferraby could master his disgust only by the greatest effort of will. There had been other men who died, during the night: Jones, who had died silently, slipping down into the waves, Cummins, who had grasped Hawkins' hand at the last and said, "You will let mother know, won't you?" which Ferraby had found almost unbearably pitiable, for Cummins was twice his age and a habitual entrant in the First Lieutenant's discipline report. Their bodies he had helped give to the sea with tender regret, for it seemed to him that there was still something individual about their dead flesh, but Baker - Baker's body was an appalling absence of being. His hands flinched from touch.
"Well done," said Lieutenant Lanyon, very quietly. "And, look. The sun is coming up."
The sun was coming up. Ferraby, squinting through bloodshot eyes, could see the heavy swell of the waves, still traced with oil. They had drifted in the night. He could not see the other lifeboat, although Lockhart's voice, exhorting, had rung through the dark hours. There were clouds on the horizon, thin and high, and through them the gold of the rising sun struck the sea into dazzling beauty.
"Looks like another fine day, sir," said Wells.
Beside him Lowry sniggered into his beard, but Ferraby was staring at the rolling reach of the waves and remembering another morning, long ago, before the baby, the night they had got engaged and he had seen Mavis home and, exalted, had walked until sunrise. The sun had risen above the moors in the same triumphant flush of pink and gold as it did now above the Atlantic. He had felt then as if he was sliding into a half-familiar harness, the traces of domesticity and contentment and responsibility welcome and cherished.
"Better have a roll call," muttered Lanyon beside him, very quiet.
"Yes, sir," said Ferraby automatically, his eyes sliding to the Captain, but the Captain had been ominously silent in the latter part of the night and lay slumped against the gunwale, his head on Hawkins' shoulder. "Sir?" Ferraby asked, leaning forward.
"Something up with his stomach," said Hawkins concisely.
"Only...bruised," said Ericson. "Better...soon. Is the boat...?" His eyes had closed.
"The boat's fine, sir," Hawkins said gently.
With a light load, the lifeboat was riding high in the water. It was a sound boat, teak, clinker-built in Cornwall where men still made their boats of wood, originally designed to withstand the rough seas of Portland and the Lizard. It would outlast its crew, but while they lived it would cradle them against the depth of the ocean uncomplaining. It would be, Ferraby realised with horrible shock, looking at the Captain's grey face, his first command.
"Well, men," he said awkwardly, and along both sides of the lifeboat the men of Compass Rose's crew stirred and turned to face him, their faces oil-stained and graven with exhaustion.
"Want me to make a list, sir?" Wells said.
"Yes, thank you," said Ferraby, with relief.
Wells reached for the locker at the bows. "Glad to see the Admiralty hasn't left us short," he said, peering inside. "Hard-tack and weevils for breakfast. Now then, Evans. Any injuries?"
He was holding a Navy issue pencil and a notebook already smeared with oil, but Ferraby was reminded how lucky they were to have both. If they hadn't had time to heave the lifeboats off their blocks before Compass Rose went down, there would be no rations, no water, and no boat. Things were going to go very hard indeed if a ship could not turn back from the convoy to pick them up, but they could have been on one of the rafts.
"Captain?" Wells asked. "Captain?"
"Everything all...?" Ericson said. "The boat...?" His eyes were closed. He seemed shrunk and tense with pain, all the purpose and drive of his captaincy reduced to the white clench of his fisted knuckles.
"The boat's fine, sir," Hawkins said again. He cast a worried look at Ferraby.
The only one of them with any medical experience was Lockhart, and he was in the other lifeboat. Ferraby drew breath to reply, and beside him Lanyon said, "This used to be my job. Shall I take a look?"
"Yes, please," said Ferraby, equally low, and raised his voice. "Shuffle along a bit, the Lieutenant's coming over."
"Lowry? Sprained wrist? Wrap it up nice and tight, there's a good lad," Wells said. "Hawkins, give him a hand."
Lanyon was talking to the Captain, very quietly. The sky was lightening overhead, clear and blue, one of those magical autumn days when the sun grasped at the last trailing edges of summer and the Atlantic sparkled and glittered, darkly ironic, as if it were little more than a boating lake. There were oars under the baseboards, Ferraby recalled, and charts in the locker, although all the squared paper and protractors in the world would not do them an ounce of good without a sextant and a chronometer. If anyone had remembered to bring them off the bridge it would be Lockhart, and Lockhart was in the other boat. Had to be in the other boat. They can't have sunk, Ferraby thought, staring at the empty sea.
"Eleven of us all told, sir," Wells said. "Shall I check the supplies?"
"Yes, if you would," said Ferraby. "Thank you." With a queer, sick feeling he realised Wells was trying to chivvy him into behaving as an officer should, but he had no frame of reference for shipwreck, there were no Naval regulations he had read that covered conduct in a lifeboat, and he was dully resentful that of all the officers of Compass Rose he alone was left. He wasn't cut out for this at all, he was a bank clerk, not a sailor. 'England expects every man...' he thought, wondered what Lockhart would do, and then in an instant called to mind his formidable mother-in-law. "Hawkins, there's a spare oilskin under that thwart. Use it for Lowry's wrist, and don't tie it too tight. Gregg, Allenby-" Rose was not looking too good, heaving over the side of the boat, and Wright had the tiller "-Evans, let's get some of these ropes coiled and out the way. Does anyone have a watch?"
"Mine's stopped, sir," said Hawkins.
"Not me, sir," said Allenby.
Ferraby's own was missing. "Well, I suppose we can make do," he said. "Step lively, then."
"The water cask's full, sir, and there's five pounds of biscuit, the new ones," Wells reported.
"Well done, yeoman," Ferraby said. "Take charge, will you? Best start off with a measure apiece." It was midmorning. If a ship had turned back from the convoy, she would surely have been here by now.
"Right-ho, sir," said Wells, cheerful. "We'll have to share, lads, so take turns." He began passing out the pannikin of water.
Lanyon, Ferraby noticed, had to help the Captain steady his hand. He had to look away. The Captain had been - the Captain was Compass Rose, part of her, solid and reliable as dockyard steel.
Lockhart had made the men in the other boat sing. Ferraby tried to imagine himself leading a chorus of Rock of Ages, and failed miserably. If only there was someone else - he caught Wells' eye, and swallowed. The pannikin had not yet come around his side of the boat. "Does anyone-" he began.
"Can we say something, sir?" Allenby asked. He jerked his head at the sea. "For them?"
"I'm afraid I don't-" Ferraby began, thinking of the Captain's voice reading Sunday Orders.
"I'll do it," said Lanyon, sitting back on his heels.
Somehow, Lanyon had managed to clean off his face, and his fair hair had dried close to his head, so that he looked unfeasibly well groomed. Strictly speaking, Lanyon was the same rank as Ferraby, but despite his RNVR stripes Lanyon was a supernumerary passenger. He was something to do with the Ministry, very hush-hush, and had come aboard along with the experimental asdic-set that was currently sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic. On the night watch, Ferraby had seen little of him, but Lockhart's occasional comment had suggested a formidably silent man who had spent most of his time in the new and hastily-constructed asdic hut in front of the bridge. Ferraby had supposed him a Ministry boffin, of sorts.
"If you're sure," he said, relieved.
"It's not the kind of thing you forget, sir," said Lanyon. "Do you mind if I..."
Ferraby was grateful enough for that sir. He shuffled over, and Lanyon sat down next to him. For a moment he bent his head over his gloved hands, and then he cleared his throat and began, "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live..."
They had all heard the service before, but never like this. Lanyon's voice was strong and steady, but the waves slapped against the side of the lifeboat with every pitch and heave, and they had to stop half-way through so that Rose could retch over the gunwale. Even so, Ferraby, who had always thought of divine service as simply one of those things one did, found himself unexpectedly caught up in words and tradition. There were so few of them, he thought, conscious of Hawkins' attentive stillness and Wells' unashamed tears, yet at the same time so very many, all those men who had died on ships from Cathay to Murmansk, on every ocean of the world. And Compass Rose - all those men who had gone down with the ship. Jones. Cummins. Baker, oh God...
"Amen," said Lanyon firmly, and thankfully said nothing more.
After Wells had issued their first rations, he and Ferraby consulted over how they should manage their resources. If a ship turned back for them, they could last. "We have to allow them time. A few days," Wells said somberly.
If it took longer than that - "Half measures," Ferraby said, hoping his voice sounded confident. "Double that for Rose." The lifeboat rolled abominably.
"We're all seasick," Gregg muttered.
"That's quite enough from you," said Lanyon forbiddingly. "The Lieutenant is perfectly correct. Does anyone remember our noon position? Oh-five-oh degrees at eighteen hundred hours, but before then?"
No one did, but Lanyon still took a pencil and a salt-stained notebook out of his pocket and started to make notes.
There was little left to do but wait. The boat was as tidy as they could manage, the Captain as comfortable as he could be. Rose, miserably seasick, was braced between Gregg and Allenby. Lockhart's men were probably still singing, Ferraby thought. How far was it Shackleton sailed? Lockhart would know. They could be in this boat for weeks. He could see Mavis' face when the telegram arrived, set and white. They had been so happy at the beginning, before Bennett, that had been the start of it - imagine if he were with us! Ferraby thought, and lost himself in a moment of cringing horror, imagining Bennett leering across the boat.
"All right?" asked Lanyon.
"Yes," Ferraby said.
What was it Morrell had said? The moment to be worried is when you stop shivering? He was cold, but not desperately so, although the faint warmth of the sun was beginning to fail and his uniform was still damp. He was not hungry, but miserably thirsty - he could feel the swollen press of his tongue against his teeth, and his throat burned with salt.
Not long, surely, until he could nod to Wells and issue the next measure of water.
Lanyon's voice slammed through the dark. "Gregg! What the bloody hell are you doing?"
"Just trying to get comfortable, sir," Gregg said. His voice sounded thin in the cold air, defensive.
"Well, do it without disturbing the rest of us, will you?" said Lanyon, unconcerned that if anyone had been sleeping, they were now very wide awake.
"He's a gonner any-"
"What did you say?" Lanyon's voice cut, ice cold.
"Swop places with me," Lanyon said. "Watch the boat. Easy now!"
Ferraby had not realised how heartening Lanyon's shoulder had been until it was gone. Settling into his place, Gregg was muttering under his breath. "All right?" Ferraby asked, remembering that old story. Something to do with Gregg's wife?
"Roll call, sir?" Wells said, from the bow.
"If you would," Ferraby said, and let the call and response wash through the night. He was shivering again.
"Heart of Oak?"
"Oh Christ, no, not again," said Allenby.
"Come, cheer up, my lads..." Wells had a powerful bass, Ferraby thought, joining in. After a moment, he could hear Lowry's reedy treble, and then Evans' surprisingly good baritone. "For who are so free..." Chapel, perhaps.
Mavis had a clear, sweet voice, when she sang.
The Captain was still alive at daybreak. "Are you in very much pain, sir?" Ferraby ventured. Lanyon had reported an internal injury. "He's not - it's a terrible thing to lose a ship," Lanyon had said.
"Boat," said the Captain.
"All's well, sir."
"Good," said the Captain. His hand gripped the biscuit, and then fell open, nothing left but crumbs. "Snorkers again, Bennett?" he muttered.
"It's Lieutenant Farraby, sir," said Farraby, his voice remarkably steady, despite the cold chill of terror.
"Oh, yes. All right, sub?"
"Yes, sir," said Ferraby. "Is there - can you keep him warm?" he said to Hawkins.
"I'll try, sir," Hawkins said. He was already supporting much of the Captain's weight. Beside him, Rose was still bent over the gunwale, Lanyon's hand braced at his back. "Looks like we might be here for a while," Hawkins added.
"We'll just have to make the best of it," Ferraby said, brisk enough, but he could not help looking at Lanyon.
Lanyon nodded back. "We've been lucky so far. Done?" he said to Rose. "Come on, then."
Heaved back into the boat, Rose looked terrible, gulping in air, his face pinched and grooved.
"Not looking too good there, old man," Evans observed.
"Shut up," said Ferraby. There was a terrible moment when he nearly said it again, shut up shut up shut up-At least the sea was calm. Another clear day. Mavis and the baby would be in the garden. Better think of them, and not Rose, and not the Captain, and not the vast depth of the Atlantic under the boat, dark and cold as death.
"Shouldn't wonder if the wind gets up," Wells said, staring up at the sky. The clouds were high, moving fast.
"No use giving the weather ideas, signalman," Lanyon said. He was smiling, a hard smile, devoid of humour. "Well, shall we batten down the hatches?"
Ferraby said, "I've never sailed a small boat. But Allenby has, I think." They had talked, a little, on the night watch. "Evans, you too? What would be the best plan?"
Fading, Lanyon's smile softened at the edges. He had very blue eyes, Ferraby thought, vaguely astonished, as if Lanyon's dispassionate efficiency had suddenly cracked to reveal something completely different underneath.
It was Evans who thought of the sheet anchor, and Wells who whipped the ropes together and Allenby who made the anchor itself. Lanyon, with the chart and the Captain's watch, who worked out where they might be - a depressingly inexact position - and where both current and wind were sending them. Wright and Ferraby braced the tiller and lashed down the boat cover, making of the night's ragged shelter a taut windbreak. A discarded tin of oil greased the centreboard, manned by Hawkins and Wells. Food and water were roped into place, seaboots and clothing assessed and repaired, seaboard calculated and weight redistributed. For Ferraby, who, racked by Bennett's malice, had caught only glimpses of comradeship and brotherhood on Compass Rose, his small crew was a revelation. His hands, oiled and blistered, next to Wright's; Evans describing skippering his dory through the tide races off Milford Haven; Well's careful instruction as he wove and knotted; Lanyon's tenderness with Rose and his unexpected and filthy stock of dockside ballads. Hawkin's rough compassion. Allenby, forgetting himself, "Good show, youngster." Here, for the first time, Ferraby was an integral part of a crew working as one. He found his place in the rough banter of his men, and kept it.
But the wind did rise, and with it the sea. The afternoon was bad. The night was worse, the boat rolled from crest to furrow, the men drenched, freezing, seasick, bailing incessantly. Only superhuman effort kept the Captain shielded. Yet wracked as the lifeboat was, every timber held, and her crew with her. For some of them, Hawkins and Allenby, there was a fierce exhaltation even at the height of the storm. Wells, roaring into the wind as he clung to the ropes, his massive body sheltering Ericson. For others, Wright, Evans, grimly determined, Lowry, struggling to cling to the boat with his sprained wrist, there was nothing more than the fight to survive. Gregg, whimpering soundlessly, terrified, knew nothing except a blind and grasping fear. Ferraby, who two days ago would have been lost, found himself part of the boat and its crew, his body attuned to every pitch and plunge. "Hang on in there, sir!" Evans shouted across at him. "We'll see dawn yet!"
"I believe we will!" Ferraby shouted back.
It was Rose who did not see sunrise.
In the middle of the night watch, the sky cleared. Suddenly, where there had only been darkness, there were stars. The wind dropped, the sea heaved but did not break, and beside Ferraby Lanyon, kneeling, was cradling Rose in his arms. "I'll tell him," Lanyon was saying, very quiet, although Rose was smiling. "You have my word on it."
Spray broke over the prow.
"...cottage," Lanyon said. "Two periwinkles on the windowsill and a rubarb patch. I argued against the dog, but he would have one." He had one of Rose's hands clasped in his. "So you see, there is always the chance...Wright, check that cleat, will you, it looks like it's lifting?...don't give up hope. Even at the darkest - well, I did not expect him, you see, and yet he made all the difference in the world."
Wright shifted uneasily at the tiller, Hawkins was saying to the Captain, just a blow, sir, she's holding up, and Gregg shivered convulsively, his eyes wide and fixed. Ferraby, belatedly parsing pronouns, found himself not repulsed but shocked into recognition. He had never heard that tone in Lanyon's voice, would not have believed it, but he had heard it in his own. He had not expected Mavis, nor the baby.
"Give a pull on that rope, sir?" Evan's voice was harsh against the sudden lull. "Check the anchor's still holding. Wright, you gonna just sit there, you bloody fool? Give us a song!"
Rose died just as the wind began to rise again. When Lanyon sat back, his head bowed, they knew it was over. Lanyon was tugging his gloves back on: it was only now that Ferraby saw the cruel disfigurement of his left hand, a ragged injury that had left him with little more than a claw. The sodden glove, limp, seemed ridiculously pathetic, its stuffed digits sagging as Lanyon tried to force his fingers into the leather.
After a minute or two, he stopped struggling, and bent his head into his hands.
"Sir?" Ferraby said, leaning forward. It seemed perfectly natural to grip Lanyon's shoulder.
"It could have been any one of us," Lanyon said, eventually. Then he looked up. "Never mind me," he said. "How is the boat?"
Christ, Ferraby thought. Christ. " All's well here. Wells?" His voice cracked. The wind was rising again, spray stinging his eyes. He had to shout. "Wells!"
At dawn, they gave the sea Rose's body, and then like seafarers everywhere they turned their hands to the boat, splicing frayed rope, checking for sprung planks, counting the cost in bruises and skinned knuckles and four inches of greasy oil-and-water under the baseboards. They had been bailing, on and off, all night.
"All right, lads, water," Wells said.
"About time," said Gregg.
"We're all thirsty," Evans snapped.
They were, a constant, slow torment, surrounded by water, inundated by it, their skin and clothing soaked. But to drink saltwater was to invite madness. Their lives depended on that store of fresh water.
Ferraby could see Wells' face. "What's the matter?"
Wells looked up. "There must a leak in the cask," he said, very slowly. Distressed, his Scottish accent was broader. "Just a small hole. Must have been - I don't know, must have slammed against-"
"How much is left?" said Lanyon.
"I don't - half," said Wells. "Half."
"Has the leak stopped?" asked Lanyon.
Along both side of the lifeboat, men's faces paled and tightened.
"We're halfway home, Lieutenant," Lanyon said. "If Viperous sent someone back when she reached port, they'll be here today or tomorrow, provided the weather stays fair. They'll have worked out our course drift, just as we did. But if there's no ship - if sparks didn't get a message out - then we'll have to row for it, and we're going to need every drop."
Ferraby had to look away from Lanyon's eyes. It was two hundred miles to the tip of Iceland at the best estimate, with no guarantee any ship would pick them up on route. They were exhausted, thirsty, underfed, their hands blistered... Mavis, Ferraby thought.
"Should I cut the ration, sir?" Wells said.
Ferraby looked back at Lanyon. His jaw set, his eyes narrowed, Lanyon looked as if he would get them home if he had to row every mile himself. In the face of that conviction, Ferraby felt his own resolve firm. "Yes," he said. "And if we're still out here tomorrow, we'll start rowing."
Lanyon's short nod was as heartening a recognition as the Captain's rare, "Well done, sub."
"Aye-aye, sir," said Wells.
"And better see if there's anything we can do to stopper that cask," Ferraby said. "We might need it."
"Thank you," Lanyon said, very quietly.
"My wife - you've got someone to get home to, haven't you?" Ferraby said, the words only between himself and Lanyon. "I mean." He had never been able to make Lockhart understand about Mavis.
Lanyon's hands, gloved, were clasped. Ferraby could see his fingers tighten, until the sodden leather paled. "It's just that," he said hurriedly, sharply aware he was trespassing, "Mavis, my wife - she-"
"It's quite all right, Lieutenant," Lanyon said. "No need to complicate matters."
"I love her," said Ferraby. "I love her so very much. But I can't, and - she's - and you, it was the way you said-" He stumbled to a halt.
"Ah," said Lanyon. "Yes. There is that." He was smiling.
Ferraby felt he had said nothing at all and far too much.
"We'll do our best to get home, sir," said Hawkins. "We've all got family. And Compass Rose was always a lucky ship."
"We're still in the sea lane," Wells said.
"There was a convoy five days behind us, wasn't there?" Lowry said. "ON129."
"Five days!" said Gregg. He looked sick and tired and defeated, but they all did. "Five days! You must be mad, the lot of you! We'll never get picked up - we're just going to drift here until we die, you fools - none of you can see the truth!"
"Sit down!" said Ferraby.
He spoke more sharply than he intended, but Gregg had paid no mind to the shift of the boat, or Lanyon's equally short command.
"And you - you and your perfect marriage-" Gregg was spitting the words out. "I won't have it, you hear me! I won't! I won't!"
"Now then, able-seaman-" said Wells.
"Don't you tell me what to do!" Gregg screamed. Wild-eyed and hysterical, he lunged up the boat.
"Hold her steady!" Lanyon shouted. "Stop-"
Gregg had already snatched the watercask out of Wells' hands. The boat was rocking violently - "Weight to the stern!" Ferraby shouted. "Watch that cask!"
"Don't tell me what to do!" Gregg screamed. "Don't you see - it's all over now!" He'd tilted the cask. Fresh water trickled down into the filthy wash of the gunnels. "Not so-" God alone knew how he kept his balance. Lowry, snatching for the cask, was pitched back and nearly lost over the side. Hawkins was trying desperately to keep the Captain safely braced. "It's all lies!"
"You bloody fool," said Lanyon. He spoke softly, but his voice carried, sharp.
"And what's it to you?" Gregg shouted. "You and your stripes, up there with the big bosses - I'll tell you, there'll be no place for men like you after the war, you...fairy."
He's absolutely gone, Ferraby thought. Gregg was standing, kept upright only by the good fortune of the mad, the boat bucking underneath him. Swell's getting up, Ferraby noted, and then thought, with a hysterical thread of amusement, might have to reef the sails. Gregg was not the only one tinged with madness. They were all nearly gone.
"You shan't have it!" Gregg screamed. "It's every man for himself, now!"
Lanyon said, cold and quiet, "But I'm the one with the gun."
It was in his right hand, a Luger, snub-nosed and brutal.
"Put the cask down."
Even the Captain stirred and blinked at the crack of Lanyon's voice. Ferraby felt his own spine stiffen. "Now then," he said, his throat salt-raw, his tongue stiff. "Gregg, you don't mean-"
The boat danced sideways, Still staring, Gregg stumbled against the gunwale, missed his step on the greasy base boards, and lurched backwards. His grip failed. "Wells!" Lanyon snapped, and slow and inevitable as a enraged walrus Wells rose, his great muscled arms reaching for the tumbling cask. Gregg was already half-way over the side, but one flailing foot caught Wells' elbow, and the cask, taking with it all their fresh water, skittered over the rail and slammed into the trough of a falling wave. "Wright, the tiller!" Lanyon ordered, "Get the oars out!"
The oars were mired in the mess at the bottom of the boat, rope and dead men's oilskins and seaboots, the weighted sack with the logs and the signal books. 'Better throw that overboard soon,' Ferraby thought, groping desperately through the slimy coils, his knees knocking against Evans' as they struggled. On the other side of the boat, Lanyon was just heaving his oar free, reaching for the rowlock and finding it loose, the pin missing. The boat yawed wildly, thrust too fast into the wind, and Ferraby, tugging at his own oar, could not get a grip on the oil-smeared wood. Two lengths away, receding, the cask bobbed and slid in the swell, and Gregg, splashing after, ducked under one wave and came up and then did not come up again. Lanyon was fumbling with the rowlock, forcing something through the socket - a pencil. That'll never hold, Ferraby thought, but Lanyon always had his notebook with him, must have had it in his pocket when the torpedo hit.
They had the oars at last. "Pull!" Ferraby said to Evans, the word as harsh in his throat as wire wool and his hands on fire with salt and blisters, but he knew it was useless. Already the cask was tipping over the crest of the horizon, lost, gone, and Wells, spotting, was looking in entirely the wrong direction.
"Come on, pull!" Ferraby ordered, playing the game to the last. They'd go out fighting, at least. "And, Wells, keep an-"
"Ship!" Wells shouted. His voice cracked. "Ship!"
In that moment, it seemed to Ferraby that all the pride and tradition of his service was encapsulated by that elegant steel prow slicing the waves.
Viperous had come back for them.
Just before they lowered the scrambling nets, Lanyon leaned over and said, "Here. You'd better take this. I'm not supposed to be armed."
He must have carried it for three days. A more imaginative man, or a darker, might have wondered if Lanyon had closed his hand around the grip and bargained with himself, enduring another hour, another day, with the prospect of escape lurking under his damaged fingers. Even to Ferraby, the sum of the thing seemed weightier than its size. He said, "I'll get it back to you, Sir," and tucked it carefully into his own pocket.
"Check the safety's on, next time," said Lanyon, very dry, and then he was reaching for the Captain. "They've sent the chair for you, sir," he said. "Nice and easy, now..."
They had picked up the first boat, Viperous shouted down, and two men on a raft.
After sick-bay where the ship's young medical officer had patched him up with brutal efficiency, after he had looked in on Lockhart, battered, but faintly snoring into a utility blanket, Ferraby, too astonished by his own state of living to sleep, took himself back to the sea. The destroyer's wooden deck had already been scrubbed clean of the oil Compass Rose's battered crew had dragged with them, and a single rating kept watch from the radio shed.
Ferraby, alone on deck, took a deep breath.. He had measured himself against Lanyon's bleak courage and not been found wanting: he had been a man among men, he could take this tale home to Mavis and the baby and be proud. He could tell her this, the story of the boat and the men who had crewed her and lived; he could tell her about the hymns, and Evan's sheet anchor, and the storm. She is, he thought, remembering how he had clung to the image of her face, part of this cruel Atlantic war already... although, perhaps best not to mention too much detail. With the faint horror of nightmare retold in the light of day Ferraby remembered Gregg, shuddered, and looked instead for the familiar slow heave of the encompassing sea. From Viperous' raised deck, the waves that had towered and threatened were very far away.
he leaned over the rail, the pistol weighed heavy in his pocket. Viperous
had set the lifeboat adrift, and it bobbed in their wake, black against
the pale glitter of sunlight on the Atlantic.