A Day (or So) in the Life
by Sue N.

**Chapter Three: Nelson**

Horatio was all but numb with shock. Not only was the
famous -- the legendary -- Admiral Nelson talking to
him, the man was actually COMMENDING him! Horatio's
head was swimming, and not from the brandy he had
consumed.

"Oh, the tale is all over Portsmouth by now," Nelson
was saying, pacing the spacious parlour as he would
his poop-deck. "I tell you, it is appalling! That two
young ladies should be molested in the streets --
ENGLISH streets, mind you! -- in the broad light of
day--" He turned back to Hornblower and regarded him
admiringly. "You and your comrade, Mr. Kennedy, did
the Navy proud, Lieutenant Hornblower, indeed you did!
And I am both delighted and honoured to know you!"

Horatio could say nothing, could only swallow and gape
rather half-wittedly at the admiral, his mind still
reeling. Nelson was not at all what he had expected,
was like no one he had ever met. Oh, he had heard the
man was small, but Horatio doubted he stood much above
five foot and a half. Even Archie would tower over
him! And he looked rather frail, an appearance
heightened by the empty right sleeve pinned across his
chest and the milky film discolouring his half-blind
right eye. Not yet forty-one, he had grey hair,
unexpectedly mild blue eyes and a full, wide mouth
that lacked any hint of sternness.

Yet, despite his lack of inches and apparent
fragility, warmth and force of personality poured from
him in a powerful, all-engulfing wave, giving to him a
stature that had nothing to do with size. He had none
of Pellew's severe, imposing air, nothing of Pellew's
god-like majesty. Rather, his open, enthusiastic
nature revealed itself in his every word, his every
gesture, immediately drawing to him everyone he met
and showing why Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson was not
merely revered, but deeply and fiercely loved by those
who served with and under him.

"My God, when I think what could have happened had you
two young men not been present, my blood chills!"
Nelson marvelled. "I dare say your captain must be
immensely proud to have such exemplary officers among
his company!"

Horatio blushed furiously and cleared his throat
uncomfortably. "I-- Well, that is--" God, where was
Archie? Why wasn't he here, putting all that
aristocratic charm to good use? "I doubt-- that
Captain Pellew even knows--"

"PELLEW!" Nelson cried with unabashed delight. "My
dear sir, do you mean to say that you sail under the
brilliant Sir Edward Pellew? Well, that explains it!"
He turned to Addington with a broad smile. "D'you see,
Sir Robert, it is as I have always said. A good
captain, mindful of his example, will raise an equally
good crop of officers, providing he has the right
material with which to work. Pellew, yes, of course!
Why, I should have expected nothing less! Good Lord,
if only I could get the man in my squadron-- With such
a frigate captain as he serving as my eyes, why, I
could find and whip any French or Spanish fleet that
dared creep from its harbour!"

Horatio began to feel as if he had stepped into a
hurricane. Nelson's personality filled the room like a
gale wind, quite overwhelming the shy and painfully
uncertain youth. Nothing in his life had ever prepared
him for an encounter like this.

"I say," Nelson said abruptly, turning back to the
young officer as a sudden thought struck him. "I've
heard of you! Hornblower. Yes, now I recollect.
Pellew's protege. Should have remembered at once.
Saved the fleet from the fire ships at Gibraltar, yes,
that WAS you, eh?" He drew himself up to his full
height -- not half the striking gesture it was with
Pellew -- and chewed his lower lip for several
moments, his gaze boring into Horatio. "You've
distinguished yourself a number of times, as I
recall."

Horatio, startled that Nelson should know anything
about him, raised his glass to his lips, in dire need
of a calming drink. Damn Archie! What was keeping him?

Nelson stepped closer to the young man, a half smile
upon his full mouth. "I don't reckon you would care to
transfer from a frigate to, oh, a 74?" he suggested
softly, seductively. "A flagship, perhaps? Say, MY
flagship?"

Horatio, caught while swallowing, choked upon his
brandy and coughed harshly, all but strangling
himself. His eyes and throat burned, and his mind
refused to function. "Trans-- transfer?" he gasped at
last, certain he must have misheard.

"I can always use a good man, a man who knows how to
use the mind the Almighty gave him." Nelson sighed
sharply, exasperatedly. "God, how it riles me
sometimes! So many officers content merely to follow
orders, to depend upon their captain or admiral for
instructions-- No, no, no!" He resumed his pacing, in
the full grip of one of his passions. "It will never
do! If the Navy is to survive and triumph, we must
have more men like Pellew! Original thinkers,
independent thinkers, men not afraid of new ideas or
unconventional ways! I cannot abide a stupid officer,
much less a stupid captain! Stupidity has sunk more
ships than cannon ever have!" He turned back to
Horatio. "Ever given thought to service aboard a
flagship?"

Horatio, still trying to breathe without coughing,
stared at Nelson through wide, dazed eyes, knowing now
how it must feel to find oneself caught in the
admiral's gunsights. "S-- sir, I-- I am indeed--
honoured-- by such an invitation, but-- I fear I-- I
must-- decline. I am-- Well, sir, Captain Pellew-- I
could not--"

Nelson smiled slightly and nodded. "I understand,
sir," he said quietly. "Loyalty to one's captain is a
fine thing, a noble thing. And Sir Edward is an
exceptional captain. You would do well to set your
course by him, Lieutenant. There's not a finer sailor
on the seas! Still--"

Before he could say any more, the ornate double doors
opened and Kennedy entered the room, accompanied by
the Addington sisters. At the girls' appearance,
Horatio and Sir Robert rose at once to their feet, and
Horatio breathed a silent prayer of thanks for his
friend's long-overdue arrival.

"Admiral Nelson," Addington said as the three young
people approached, "you know my daughters, of course."
The girls curtseyed gracefully, and Nelson gave each
in turn a gallant bow. "And," Addington continued,
reaching for Kennedy's arm to draw the young man
closer, "I have the greatest honour to present my
daughters' other saviour, Acting-Lieutenant Archibald
Kennedy, also of Indefatigable."

Archie winced at the use of his formal name, one he
had never liked. Still, it had been given him in
honour of his father's father, and he supposed he
would have to make the best of it.

"Mr. Kennedy," Addington said with a smile, "this is
Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson."

Though he had known who the small man must be, Archie
was nonetheless awed by the name, and by the mere fact
of being in his presence. His blue eyes were very wide
in his bruised face, and a soft, breathless "Oh!"
escaped him.

Nelson reached out with his left hand, still an
awkward, unfamiliar gesture for him, and firmly
grasped the young man's right arm, mindful of the
boy's bandaged hand. "My dear Mr. Kennedy," he said
warmly, holding Archie's arm for long moments and
gazing intently into that young, bruised face, "as I
have already told your comrade, Mr. Hornblower, I am
deeply honoured to make your acquaintance, and proud,
exceedingly proud, sir, to count you as a fellow
officer!"

Archie's mouth fell open, and it was only with some
effort that he managed to close it. "But, sir--
Admiral, I-- I--"

"Now, now, do not be modest, sir!" Nelson chided
gently, releasing Kennedy's arm at last and casting an
appraising gaze upon him. "What you and Mr. Hornblower
did for these young ladies was admirable-- No, damme,
it was heroic! Why, just look at your face! Yet for
all that they were bigger than you, I hear you gave
the villains the proper drubbing they deserved. Well
done, sir! Well done, indeed!"

Archie needed a drink, or to lie down again. His head
had still not entirely cleared from earlier, and now
Nelson's fervour was only adding to his confusion. The
revered, fabled Nelson, lauding him so--

No, no, it was impossible, of course! This was a
dream, delirium, the result of his concussion, it had
to be. How Horatio would laugh when he told him what
delusions he had entertained...
**********

In the captain's cabin aboard Indefatigable, Pellew
and his guests were partaking with great satisfaction
of a lavish meal, rich wine and lively conversation.
Bracegirdle, watching his captain without seeming to,
noted with relief that, salved by the balm of his
brother's jolly company, Pellew's nerves at last had
lost their brittle edge and the grim lines of strain
had faded from his face. Indeed, the captain appeared
as relaxed and as content as Bracegirdle had ever seen
him. And only now, upon witnessing Pellew wholly at
ease, did the lieutenant fully realize what a toll
these past three brutal weeks at sea had taken upon
the man.

First there had been the desperate battle with that
damned frigate and sloop, a fight that had lasted much
longer and cost more lives on both sides than had been
necessary. And then had come that savage storm off
Ushant...

"So the Frogs fought you tooth and claw, eh?" Israel
asked. "Strange. Usually the fellows will strike the
moment they know they're beaten."

"Yes, well, this man, this Captain De Saien, did not,"
Pellew answered with a tightly-restrained anger and
contempt. "He had two masts in the water, three of his
big guns blown to pieces, most of his officers dead or
dying, and still he refused to strike. By the time we
managed to kill him and end the bloody mess, the only
officer remaining to surrender was a wounded and
terrified midshipman. Cost me thirty men in dead and
wounded, and you see what he did to my ship!"

"Pity," Israel sighed as Pellew's steward refilled his
glass. "The French build magnificent ships, then give
them to scoundrels and fools. Two months ago, we came
upon a frigate, the Etoile-- Oh, she was a lovely
thing! A lively sailor, too, faster than Swiftsure. At
least, she should have been, had her captain been half
a sailor. By all rights, we should never have caught
her. She had the wind all in her favour, and a good
head start on us. But her captain poured on far too
much canvas, and she nearly foundered. When he tried
tacking -- and I still cannot fathom why he should try
that -- she missed stays. I tell you, it was a mercy
to her crew when we finally took her. That fool
captain would have killed them all!"

A wry smile curved about Pellew's fine mouth. "Perhaps
we should all give thanks this fellow Bonaparte joined
the Army rather than the Navy!"

"Aye," Bowles agreed. "He's fashioned one of the best
armies ever seen and is fairly dancing across Europe
with it. My brother is in the Army, and Randolph says
if we do not soon turn up a soldier of that same
calibre, we shall all soon be speaking French!"

"But even the best army would have to approach England
by sea," Bracegirdle pointed out, "and there we hold
the advantage. I've heard this Bonaparte fancies he
can walk upon water, but I should like to see him try
it with his artillery in tow!" Appreciative chuckles
met his jest, and he let them die away before
continuing. "Oh, I have no doubt he will attempt an
invasion, but against our fleets he will have no
success. And if we can hold him at bay long enough, a
few of France's so-called ëallies' might weary of the
burdens imposed upon them and turn upon their
masters."

"It is a welcome thought," Edward murmured quietly,
"but one I fear we dare not pin our hopes to. No,
Britain cannot afford to look to anyone save herself
for her survival. She has never yet failed to produce
the champion she has needed, and I am confident she
will not fail now. Somewhere in her ranks -- whether
it be in Europe, the Indies or India -- is the soldier
she needs, and I am certain we shall soon know his
name."

"Until then," Israel said lightly, "she has her Navy
to call upon, and I do believe we have, at least one
or twice, proved our worth!" Another laugh went round
the table, and glasses were raised in a spirited
salute. "And, speaking of worth and champions," Israel
went on when all had drunk, "I hear that Nelson is in
Portsmouth, preparing to take out another squadron.
Apparently," his eyes gleamed wickedly, "he has
recovered from the injury -- and humiliation -- he
suffered at Tenerife."

"Disasters happen, Israel," Pellew said quietly, again
thinking of Muzillac. "Over-confidence and poor
information have sunk many an ambition. Yet it need
not necessarily wreck a career. Particularly the
career of a man like Nelson. Indeed," again that wry
smile touched his mouth, "I have never yet known an
admiral who could not benefit from a dose of
humiliation. It forces a man to think, and that is
always to the good."

Israel's curiosity was immediately piqued. He had met
Nelson several times and, like so many others, had
fallen quickly under the man's singular spell. But his
brother, he knew, was a much sterner and far more
demanding judge of men than he, and might not be so
easily enthralled.

"So," he said lazily, trying not to sound too
interested, "you believe Nelson may have needed a bit
of humbling?"

Edward, however, was not at all fooled by his
brother's show of nonchalance, and decided to indulge
in a rare bit of fun. "Oh, surely what I believe is of
no importance?"

"You know it is!" Israel admitted sharply, vexed that
Edward, once again, had read him so clearly. "I want
to know your opinion of the man! What do you think of
Nelson?"

Edward shrugged slightly, in no hurry to relieve his
brother's curiosity; tormenting Israel would be a fine
bit of revenge for all the younger man's needling of
him. "About the man, I cannot say. I have never met
him. And while I understand that is not necessarily a
hindrance to most, I will not base my opinion of a man
on what I read of him in the newspapers or hear others
say of him." His brother's frown was twisting into a
scowl, amusing him no end. "As a sailor, however, and
an officer-- But your glass is empty, Israel. Will you
have more wine?"

"You are a maddening fellow, Edward," the younger
Pellew seethed, "the most maddening I have ever known!
And, yes, damn you, I will have more wine!"

Bowles only barely managed to suppress a chuckle,
while Bracegirdle concentrated solemnly upon
re-folding his napkin. Both men were enjoying
immensely the by-play between the brothers, and
relished seeing the warmth and humour Israel Pellew
brought out in his normally reserved and rigidly
formal brother. All the same, however, both men
thought it just as well no junior officers were here
to see their god-like captain made mortal.

"Very well, if you must know," Edward said at last,
knowing he could not in charity torment his brother
any longer, "I agree the man is a brilliant strategist
and an even more brilliant leader. That he is loved by
his officers and men is beyond question, and we all
know the English sailor does not love easily. Nelson
seems able to inspire his men to make any sacrifice,
face any danger, simply to do his will. And there is
much to be said for that."

"And much to be said against it," Israel added
shrewdly, studying his brother intently and sensing
his hesitation. "Something about him makes you uneasy.
What?"

Pellew frowned, and toyed idly with the stem of his
wine glass. "Not uneasy, really," he said softly,
slowly. "England needs heroes just now, God knows, and
Nelson is a hero. He has won great victories, and we
certainly have needed those."

"But you wonder at the cost," Israel surmised, knowing
his brother well.

Again, Pellew shrugged. "No victory comes without
cost, and some victories must come no matter the cost.
Even so, we must never forget the price paid, or those
who have paid it." He raised his dark gaze to his
brother's. "I have a horror of recklessness and waste,
and would hate to see English lives sacrificed to no
better cause than the advancement of one man's
career."

"You fear he may yet become another Dreadnought
Foster," Israel said, understanding at last. "No,
Edward, the man's no Foster, I assure you. Oh, aye,
he's got his vanity -- who among us hasn't? -- and he
can be overly mindful of his pride. But what he does,
he does as much for England as for Nelson, if not more
so. And I truly believe he is as anxious for his men
as you are for yours. Who can say?" he sighed, sitting
back in his chair and crossing his long legs before
him, smiling crookedly at his brother. "Perhaps one
day you shall meet him, and then you can judge the man
for yourself."

"Perhaps," Edward agreed. "After all, if he is in
Portsmouth, as you say, then our paths may yet cross."
**********

"A doctor's son, you say?" Nelson marvelled as he
deftly drew from Horatio details of his early life.
"Our circumstances are not so very different, then. My
father was a parson. Both honourable and necessary
callings, but," he gave a lively smile, "neither noted
for earning wealth or prestige."

Horatio chewed his roast beef rather self-consciously,
keenly aware of the admiral's unwavering attention. He
could not imagine why such a man would display this
interest in a lowly lieutenant.

"Nonetheless," Nelson continued with quiet conviction,
"I hold it is not a man's birth but his character that
decides what sort of officer he will be. After all, no
man may determine the circumstances of his birth, but
each man is responsible for setting the course of his
life."

"Yes, yes, exactly!" Horatio answered heartily,
startled to hear his own views expressed by Nelson. "I
believe any man, with determination, may better
himself and aspire to greatness. It is in how we
respond to circumstances, our choices, our decisions,
that make us what we are. Whether birth, and the
circumstances of it, serves as a help or hindrance
depends largely, I believe, on what we choose to make
of it."

Across the table from Horatio and Nelson, Archie was
finding it rather difficult to follow the conversation
between the two. Normally, he enjoyed such
philosophical discussions, had engaged in many with
his friend, but, tonight, he simply could not. To
begin with, there was the very pleasant distraction of
Lucy Addington, her beauty, her grace, the light music
of her voice and the sweetness of her smile. She was
as charming as she was lovely, intelligent and
widely-read, with a passion for music and literature
that matched his own. He could not imagine a more
wonderful way to spend an evening than being here,
with her--

Except that his head hurt miserably, and it was all he
could do to keep his cloudy thoughts focused. He had
had less than two glasses of wine, yet now suspected
that even that small amount might have been too much.
He could see both Lucy and her father gazing at him
with obvious concern, and made an effort to smile as
he forced down another forkful of food. If only he
could get some air...

"And what of you, Mr. Kennedy?" Nelson asked suddenly,
turning his attention to the young man who had been so
quiet throughout the evening. "Will you not tell us
something of yourself?"

Archie stopped chewing and looked up rather dazedly,
his mind slow to register the question. "Sir?"

Nelson studied the young man thoughtfully, recognizing
the signs of both infatuation and concussion. "Will
you not tell us something of yourself?" he repeated
more gently, restraining his natural effusiveness. "Do
you come from a tradition of the sea, or do you, like
Mr. Hornblower and myself, arrive from humbler
origins?"

Archie swallowed his beef with some difficulty,
embarrassed to find himself the center of attention.
At his side, though, Lucy gave him a soft, encouraging
smile, her brown eyes filled with reassurance.

"Well," he began hesitantly, "the Army is-- the
tradition in my family. My father served in it, as did
his. Both were colonels in-- in a Scottish regiment."

"Scottish? And colonels." Nelson smiled slightly. "I
take it your father is a lord, then."

"Yes, sir. Viscount Aylesford. My grandfather was the
Baron Aylesford, in Scotland, and was named viscount
for his support of the Crown in the Jacobite Uprising
of ë45. While I was growing up, though, we-- we lived
mostly in London, so Father could attend Parliament.
My brother, the future viscount, manages the holdings
in Scotland."

"Ah," Nelson said, "so you are the younger son."

Archie blushed and shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"The youngest, actually," he murmured. "I have two
older brothers, and an older sister. So when I
expressed the desire to go to sea, it-- it was not
vigourously opposed." Except for the family's concerns
about his fits...

"And you are an acting-lieutenant?" Nelson's stare --
half-blind as it was -- continued to bore into the
young man. "I suppose you shall be taking your
examination soon?"

Archie's blush deepened, and he dropped his gaze to
his plate. The subject of his examination was a
constant source of hope and terror for him. "It is--
my understanding, sir, that-- that should a board
convene while we are in port-- Captain Pellew will
forward my name."

"Well," Nelson said brightly, smiling broadly, "then
you are in luck! I happen to know that a board shall
sit in three days, and, from what I have seen of your
ship's condition, I am certain you shall still be here
then." He chuckled softly at the young man's stricken
expression. "Courage, sir! I have every confidence you
shall pass!"

Well, Archie thought dourly, that's one...

Horatio, watching his friend, frowned worriedly. He
had not seen Archie so withdrawn in a long time, knew
he was capable of much livelier conversation than
this. And he had hardly eaten at all...

"I'm sorry," Archie said softly, suddenly, laying his
napkin on the table and pushing his chair back. "I
fear I-- I am not good company just now. But the
wine-- My head--"

"Are you all right?" Lucy asked anxiously, laying a
small white hand on his arm. "You do look pale!"

He tried to smile. God, how pretty she was! But the
air about him was growing uncomfortably warm, the room
much too close--

"I-- Perhaps if-- if I got some air --"

"The gardens," Addington suggested kindly. "Through
the parlour." He frowned worriedly. "Should I send for
Dr. Canby?"

"Oh, no, sir, please!" Archie breathed, horrified that
he should be causing such concern. "I will be fine, I
am certain of it. I only need-- to clear my head." He
could see Horatio staring at him, deeply worried, and
knew at once what his friend feared. "It is nothing, I
assure you," he said with as much conviction -- and
meaning -- as he could muster. No, his blue eyes said,
it is not that at all.

Hornblower nodded his understanding and sat back, only
a little reassured. Not a fit, perhaps, but still...

Archie rose carefully to his feet and was grateful
when nothing untoward happened. His head throbbed a
bit harder, but at least he could stand.

"If you will excuse me," he said softly. "I am sorry!"
With that, he turned and made his way from the room,
praying he did not appear as unsteady as he felt.

Lucy rose at once to her feet and would have followed,
but for the voice that held her back.

"Lucy!" Elisabeth called warningly. "We have other
guests."

She halted, but continued to stare fearfully after his
departing figure. Hardly knowing she did so, she
clasped her hands together and wrung them tightly.

Addington watched her for some moments, considering,
then turned back to his guests. "Mr. Hornblower," he
asked quietly, "will you vouch for your friend where
my daughter is concerned?"

"For Archie?" Horatio gasped in surprise, unable to
imagine why such should be needed. "Why, yes, sir, of
course! Without reservation! I give you my word, he
may be trusted without question."

The old man thought a moment, then nodded. "Lucy, you
may go to him. But," he added sharply, "I expect you
both know how to behave!"

"Oh, thank you, Papa!" she whispered fervently, her
whole heart in her eyes and voice. Without another
word, she hurried after Mr. Kennedy, frightened she
would find him fallen along the way.

"Well, Sir Robert," Nelson remarked with the audacity
that only he would be allowed, "I pray you have no
objection to taking a naval officer into your family!"