The Expected Failure Of Anwell Cusack
The Salted Orchard Part II
(Read Part I here.)
“Some of the men have asked to cut the ropes,” said Cusack.
“He doesn’t stink,” Winston replied. “He is beyond that.”
“There’s talk of sharks seen following the ship. For the last three days.”
“Pfah!” Winston said. “I don’t believe that. Even so, what is that? Fear? Or superstition?”
“It may be superstition.” Cusack paused. Then, he said, “There’s fear, too, that we may be spotted. They’d treat us as pirates.”
“You tell them that if they see another ship out here to cut the ropes. In the meantime leave him. It is my great comfort that he is there.”
“I want to know why—“
“Is there anything else, Captain?” Winston said.
Cusack stood silent before him. There was an almost imperceptible change in his bearing, His shoulders swelled. His chest rose higher with deeper breaths. They were small adjustments to an already menacing frame. Winston noted them. He smirked, then left Cusack to return to his quarters.
Cusack hated the man, the little fox. He did not know who he was or why he traveled with them. He was Hammond’s secret, the ship’s mystery. He had occupied the first mate’s quarters and dined in private with Hammond, though Hammond had always in the past eaten with Cusack and others. Now Hammond was done and this little fox had taken too much pleasure in it. If they’d had a bad falling out, then his present attitude could be explained, but he had been too embroiled in Hammond’s condemning to play it so innocent.
At the time, he did not suspect that Winston had incited the mutiny; something had gone amiss on this voyage and it could not entirely be this new devil. Hammond was in bad form and the crew, a rough lot of Moroccans and Spanish out of Valencia, had never fallen in. Hammond had been nearly locked away with Winston the entire week, and the crew came early to wickedness. On deck, Hammond had been ineffectual and seemed to care little when the men were insubordinate, only telling Cusack, “Keep them in line. Work them and get us quickly home.” Well, Cusack thought, there’s little I can do with this mean bunch if I ain’t the captain and the captain ain’t either. They’d soon as cut me as heed my orders, with no law and no captain and nothing to lean on ‘em. They’re only men now, and too many of them, and too much time makes an evil stew.
But then, a mutiny’s a sure road to hanging, and Cusack had heard of few of them in his time. The reasons for Hammond’s murder were all the time unclear. Rowdiness among the crew and poor stewardship were thin cause for rebellion, and even a gang as savage as this would have stopped short of the viciousness of Hammond’s sentence. But they were quick to follow Winston’s commands and cheered when their captain, a man they had seen little of and knew nothing about, was strung up and made to suffer an inhuman death.
Cusack’s own complicity had left him disoriented in the aftermath. He recalled and reviewed every stage of the voyage and each incident leading up to the revolt in an effort to make clean his conscience. In remembering, he saw Winston too often to believe naught but that he had engineered it. These men were bought; with no connection to Hammond and no higher morality than that of the lowest beasts, the price would have been cheap. And they’d have had no fear of justice: Winston had the look and authority of a nobleman.
To be sure, Cusack mused later, after his succession to captain gave him greater proximity to Winston, this man was rancid nobility, power-spoilt and ill-fitting in God’s scheme. He moved over the Earth cancer-like, propelled by villainy and boredom. He out-scoundreled the cutthroats and his class-born invincibility was an authority greater than any ship captain’s. He moved the men, like Lucifer moved the meanest devils against their Creator.
Cusack especially remembered the conversation he’d had with Winston in the captain’s quarters. The insurrection was commenced, the men screaming outside and Hammond sprawled bloody on the deck. It had come quickly, and before Cusack could act, Winston had pulled him aside.
“What are they doing?” Cusack cried.
“It’s mutiny. They mean to kill him,” Winston replied.
“But what for?”
“I don’t know. But I intend to let them.”
“You intend?” Cusack said.
“Hammond is my enemy.”
“That’s naught to do with me.”
“And you’ve naught to do with us,” Winston said brusquely.
“On my ship! On Hammond’s ship!”
“Hammond’s lost his ship, and I’ve chosen to end my quarrel with him. I warn you not to interfere.”
“I’ll stop this treachery and restore Hammond. If he’s to die by your hand, it’ll not be as cowardly as this. Not while he’s my captain. Move away.”
Cusack walked forward and when Winston did not step aside, he attempted to shove past the smaller man. Winston stood fast and grabbed hold of Cusack’s arm. His eyes flashed and held a corrosive glare at Cusack.
“You’ll die, too, Cusack.”
“Don’t threaten me!”
“You’re still necessary to me. Hammond’s death is sure. It’s pointless for you to accompany him.”
“You’ll die before he does.”
“Certain men have been instructed to kill you and Hammond if I die. The men out there—the mutineers—see you loyal to Hammond. I can protect you. Listen to me. Hammond is my enemy and I am going to kill him. You will return us to England. If you don’t like this arrangement, if you interfere with me, I will make sure you die. I know you are bold—you may try it anyway. So I will offer this, and you alone will know it: his widow is my enemy, too, and I will bring the news of her husband’s death to her. She will invite me in and ask me what happened to her husband and I will show her. Do you see, Cusack? You alone know that.”
“I’ll gut you, Winston.”
“Not here. That’s the arrangement. Before he dies, you’ll tell Hammond that his widow will be safe. Then you’ll take me to England.”
Read Part III here.