"Don't worry, kid, stick with me, and you'll grow up as bitter as the rest of us." Styles' own words echoed in his head as he looked at the lifeless body on the deck. That midshipman had got one look at him and puked up his guts straightaway. Still soft, that one -- the boy didn't even look that bad. Mr. Hornblower's face was different -- he didn't look sick, only stunned, and about as stormy as the clouds pissing down on them right this minute.
Captain Sawyer didn't give a toss for any of that. "What are you waiting for, Mr Hornblower, have the lubber thrown over the side."
Mr. Hornblower didn't move. No good could come of that.
"Do you hear, Mr. Hornblower?" Yes, sir, Captain Sawyer, sir, he heard you just fine -- and I can hear what he's thinking, like, and if he said it there'd be the devil to pay and no pitch hot.
"For God's sake, Horatio." That was Mr. Kennedy, looking out for his friend, like always.
"The lad's dead, sir. Nothing'll bring him back." Styles appealed to the junior lieutenant. "In't that right, Mr. Kennedy?"
"Yes, Styles, that's right."
"We can read over him later, sir!" Matthews, bless 'im, although Styles would lay money it wasn't the lack of a burial service troubling Mr. Hornblower, however much the man might look like a parson sometimes.
"Mr. Hornblower, get that man off my quarterdeck." Captain was running out of patience. Mr. Hornblower didn't seem to care. He took his own time standing up and getting his hat set just right before he looked at the captain like he was about to plant him a facer. Didn't do it, though. Didn't even give him the right bollocking anyone could see was on the tip of his tongue. Just looked at him like the Wrath of God, and said, "Aye aye, sir."
Once the weather cleared, they auctioned the lad's clothes at the capstan-head. Not sure why, really; it wasn't as if he had a widow or children who needed the money. Maybe they'd send it to his mum, if he still had one. Matthews would know. He was the bo'sun now, it was his job to know. Just like it was his job to auction off the things.
"What am I bid for this watch-jacket? Plenty of wear still left in it, for someone small enough to fit," Matthews called out. A young foretopman offered a few shillings, and it went to him.
The ceremony carried on, through striped Guernsey frock and Monmouth cap and carved neckerchief-slide. Business as usual. Now Matthews was holding up a bundle of white linen.
"Three pairs of drawers, all embroidered round the waistband... looks like one's got roses, one's got violets, and the last one's got marigolds. Speak up, now!"
A murmur went round the sailors. "Roses. That's Plaice's work, sure." "Stands to reason, Plaice was his sea-daddy." "Who wants to wear a dead man's drawers?" "I might could take the waistband off and use it for a shirt-collar, look proper fine on my shore-going rig, it would..."
Styles didn't hear what the final bid was. It didn't matter. The lad was dead, and nothing would bring him back.