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 A Day of Punishment

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PostSubject: A Day of Punishment   Thu Aug 28, 2008 3:16 am

“So, is this the man?” Cathern looked at the figure on his knees through the iron bars of the ship’s small brig. The young man reeked of alcohol and vomit. His appearance was no better than his foul smell. His clothes and hair were grimy with a mixture of sweat, blood and puke. He had vomited in brig and lain in it while passed out. The man kept his head downcast, unwilling to meet the eyes of his captain. His writs were bound in shackles. Johan stood beside Cathern and spoke quietly, “Aye, this is the drunken scoundrel, the thief.”

The man winced a bit at the words but said nothing. His head pounded from too much rum the eve before and from the beating he had received after being caught in his crimes. There was no doubt of his guilt though he himself barely remembered what he had done. “What is your name?” The quiet and feminine voice of the captain registered but he could not find the strength to answer. Johan bellowed out loudly, “The captain asked you a question you worm! Answer her! If I have to answer for you you’ll regret it you miserable thief!” The man’s stomach nearly heaved again. It would have been a dry heave. The seriousness of his situation was just now beginning to dawn on him through his hang over. In a low voice he whispered, “Francois Perot from Cherbourg, Captain”.

“So Francois Perot from Cherbourg, do you have anything to say for yourself? I am told you got drunk, stole a purse of coins and a small gold crucifix from one of the other crewman and when caught in the act by a powder monkey, you beat the boy of ten summers bloody before others came to his aid. What do you have to say for yourself?” Cathern crossed her arms across her chest and looked down at the wretch. Francois looked up for the first time, meeting Cathern’s eyes just briefly before looking away. “It was the drink. I don’t know what came over me. I swear Captain; I have never been in trouble before. I swear it! I swear I didn’t mean it! I swear….” The man broke down in sobs, ashamed of his guilt and fear of what his punishment might be. Cathern looked at Johan, her reliable first officer. “Is that true, has he been trouble free? And is he a worthy sailor?” Johan looked at the wretch and thought a moment, “Aye, this is the first bit of trouble he has caused and he is hard working with the ropes. It doesn’t excuse anything though. Jon, the young boy he beat, has a broken nose, and it looks two black eyes in addition to some teeth knocked out. He’ll live though.” Francois continued his sobbing, his shackled hands over his face.

Cathern motioned for Johan to follow her up for some fresh air. As they departed Francois was mumbling through his sobs, “I’m so sorry Jon…I didn’t mean it…so sorry….” The two went to the bow of the ship, the morning glow of the sun and fresh sea air welcoming them. “Well…what do you think Johan? He seems contrite enough but it’s no excuse for what he did. Discipline and order must be maintained.” Johan took his cap off and rubbed his head. He had started loosing his hair at a rapid rate since assuming the position of first officer. “It’s a bad business this. He could have killed the boy. And the theft of money let alone Renaud’s crucifix? Very bad business indeed this is. There are several offences here. Not just one. It cannot go unpunished Captain.” Cathern gave a sigh and nodded. “Very well. Tomorrow punishment will be meted out. Six lashes for drunken disorder, twelve lashes for beating Jon and he’ll be made to walk the gauntlet for his thievery. Inform the bosun’s mate that he’ll need to administer punishment tomorrow at high noon.

[more to come...]
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PostSubject: Re: A Day of Punishment   Mon Sep 08, 2008 4:52 am

The next day dawned and it was a scorcher. The crew was subdued, and not just from the oppressive heat and becalmed wind. There are few secrets on a ship and everyone knew what was to happen soon. Some said it was merely the drink and that punishment should be light. The powder boy took his beating like a man and would be better for it after all they said. Others felt that punishment should be harsh. On a ship with little privacy and scant space for a sailor’s few belongings, there were few things worse than thievery. Cathern paced in her cabin not liking having to pronounce sentence. It was one of the more unpleasant things about being the captain. Sure, some relished terrorizing the crew using the lash with gusto but that was not her way. There was a knock at the cabin door. “It’s time Captain.” Johan’s voice echoed through her door. Cathern took a deep breath, opened the door and strode out, Johan in tow behind her. The crew was already shuffling to the main deck.

The prisoner was brought up from below decks by the bosun with assistance from one of the other mates. There were jeers and boos from the crew that strongly advocated harsh punishment and the general murmur of conversation from the rest. The guilty man was tied by the wrists with arms outstretched to an upturned cargo hold grate with his shirt removed and back exposed. Cathern stood on the stairs leading up to the poop deck. With a nod from his captain, the drummer beat on his drum for a few moments to bring the crew to order. The crew quieted down immediately. Cathern cleared her throat and started to speak in a loud voice so all could hear.

“Thank you for your attention. One of the most unpleasant tasks a captain has is the enforcement of discipline. The man you see before you is guilty of drunkenness to the point of insensibility, of beating and injuring a fellow crewmate without justification or provocations, and most seriously, of the crime of thievery. There is no doubt of his guilt.” Cathern turned to look at the guilty man. “Francois Perot, you are guilty of these crimes and must be punished though it gives me no pleasure. A crew must have discipline and you have violated the orderly running of my vessel. You are sentenced to six lashes for your drunken conduct, twelve lashes for the beating you gave young Jon, and for the crime of theft you will walk the gauntlet. Do you have anything to say before sentence is carried out?” Cathern paused and waited for Francois to speak. The man spoke, but only in a quiet voice, “I take responsibility for my actions and apologize to any I hurt from my actions.” Francois spoke no more and Cathern nodded to the bosun to commence with the whippings.

The bosun gave the prisoner a bit of wood to bite down on then picked up the rawhide whip. He looked at Cathern who again nodded. The crew was quiet as the whip cracked through the air and hit the man’s back. Francois gave a cry but kept the bit of wood clamped in his teeth. Again and again the whip cracked in the air leaving bloody welts on the man’s back. After twelve lashes the bit of wood fell from Francois’ mouth, groans of pain becoming too much to hold it firm. The bosun picked it up and placed it back in the prisoner’s mouth. Six more lashes were administered after which Francois’ legs gave out. The bosun and another crewman untied Francois and stood him up. Blood was flowing freely from the lash marks but his ordeal had just begun. The ship’s doctor swabbed the wounds with a mix of alcohol and water. It stung and Francois let out cries of pain but managed to stay on his feet.

As the doctor tended to the lash marks, lengths of rope with a knot on the end was passed out to the crew. They took positions along the rail all the way around the ship. Walking the gauntlet was the punishment prescribed for theft on board most ships as it was considered a crime against the whole crew. When all crewmen had their bit of knotted rope and were in position, Francois was led to the rails and the worst part of the punishment started. As he walked in front of each member of the crew they each took swings at him with their knotted ropes. Many jeered at the criminal and beat Francois with a vengeance with their ropes. Others were more merciful, only hitting with minimal force but hitting never the less. Francois stumbled and fell several times and sometimes had to be steadied as he walked. By the time he circled the ship his body was bruised, bleeding, and full of angry welts. He was taken below and tended to by the doctor.

Cathern again addressed the crew. “Francois has taken responsibility for his crimes and has bravely accepted his punishment. While you might never trust in him again he deserves to be forgiven. He has atoned for his crime but let his example be a lesson to any of you that cannot control their drink or may be inclined to steal or commit other breaches of discipline. You are dismissed to your regular duties.” The crew slowly filed away to their tasks, their thoughts on what they had just observed. Cathern went to her cabin and had a stiff drink then rested on her bed, glad the unpleasant task was over.

~The End~
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